Friday, July 20, 2007

Thus light is born in the darkness of what in India is called the “cave of the heart”. It is the light of Him who enlightens the whole world, the sun which rises in the hirdaya akasha, (i.e., the sky of the heart) At this stage, as St. Paul says, man follows “righteousness, faith, charity, peace with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart”. How different are the fruits of the heart now, and in this is seen the great transformation worked by Christ in the heart.

The Icon as a way into meditation.

The artist, if he is a painter of religious themes, must himself be a man of prayer. That is why a majority of the icon painters were themselves monks. The Hesychast played a prominent part during the Iconoclastic controversy, as defenders of images. It might seem strange to the modern western mind that those who cultivated a purely spiritual and abstract view of both themselves and exterior reality, should be at such pains to preserve the tradition of icons. Mysticism, as often understood in the West, is the negation of images, even mental ones. This was a position that we find well expressed in the Apophatic tradition of Christian mysticism. But it is important to note that though the Advaitic philosophy that we find in India, says that the ultimate reality is beyond name and form, there has been nothing comparable to the Iconoclastic controversy in Eastern religions. Here the icon has a place, not as representing the ultimate Truth, but as a way of reaching towards that Truth. It is for that reason that images based on what is called the Mandala, or Yantra in Hindu and Buddhist meditational practices, have an important and vital role in the process of stilling the mind, and bringing it down to the seat of the heart.

The dark night of the soul, the cloud of unknowing, these are experiences beyond the province of what can be imagined. But essentially, I believe that in Eastern experience, (and by his I mean not only Eastern Christian, but Hindu and Buddhist experience too), there is no dark night of the soul, for the cloud is the light-bearing cloud in which the disciples witnessed the Transfiguration. Darkness, I feel, has a different significance in the Far East from the darkness that seems so world denying in European climes. Darkness in Indian thought, for example, is related to the womb, and it is from this darkness, that light emerges. Thus we find in the Isa Upanishad, a concept of darkness as another type of knowing, and seeing:

Into blind darkness enter they
That worship ignorance;
Into darkness greater than that, as it were, they
That delight in knowledge……

Into blind darkness enter they
Who worship non-becoming
Into darkness greater than that, as it were, they
Who delight in becoming……

With a golden vessel
The Real’s face is covered over.
That do thou, O Pushan, uncover
For one whose law is the Real to see…
What is thy fairest form—that of thee I see. He who is yonder, yonder Person (purusa)—I myself am he !
Isa Upanishad, 9,12,15 16(b)

Here darkness is related to formlessness, but it is not opposed to form, any more than it is opposed to light. Rather, it is the silence which lies behind the word, or within the very rhythm that characterizes music. It is that stillness, from which movement derives its force.

The ultimate climax of the spiritual ascent of the heart is for the Hesychast, a state of heightened sight, and the vision of God is the vision of light. Though the Godhead (Brahman, the ‘Ground of Being’) is beyond the imagination, transcendental, impossible to see; nevertheless He is seen in the transfigured Christ who has come forth from Him; “He who has seen me has seen the Father”

In a way, the image of the Trinity, as conceived of in the imagination of the Indian contemplative tradition, is this interplay between form and formlessness, light and darkness, movement and stillness. In the primal cave of the heart, the Creator is discovered as the ultimate depth, which cannot be seen, or heard, or touched, because, it is one with the seer, the hearer, and the Person who is conscious through the senses. It is like the power of consciousness which lies behind being conscious. But this energy becomes manifest, and embodied. This is the mystery of incarnation, of the sacramental sign. It is described as the golden vessel, the visible form of the invisible, and inexpressible mystery. It is this form that ultimately overflows with the joy of an experience that once again leads the worshipper to a Truth or Reality that cannot be put into words or images. That is the movement that leads us back to the nameless and formless Being who is also the Spirit.

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