I was a hidden treasure, and I desired to be known; therefore I created the creation in order that I might be known. ~ Hadith Qudsi
Origen, Dionysius the Areopagite, Jacob Boehme, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, Vladimir Solovyov and Nicolas Berdyaev, for example, show in their works a progress which is very advanced in substantially bringing together intelligence and the intuition of faith. ~ Valentin Tomberg
Jacob Boehme has to be termed the greatest of Christian gnostics. The word gnosis I employ here not in the sense of the heresies of the first centuries of Christianity, but in the sense of knowledge basic to revelation and dealing not with concepts, but with symbols and myths; contemplative knowledge, and not discursive knowledge. This is also a religious philosophy or theosophy. ~ Nikolai Berdyaev (Studies Concerning Jacob Boehme)
In Christian Gnosis, Wolfgang Smith reveals himself as a follower of Franz von Baader in the stream of Christian theosophy. That is why he concludes his work with the ideas of Paracelsus, Jacob Boehme, and Meister Eckhart. Smith interprets the latter figure as the sources of a distinctively Christian Trinitarian nondualism, not inferior to the nondualism of the Vedanta. This post will deal with Smith’s chapter on Jacob Boehme, and the final one with Meister Eckhart’s Trinitarian nondualism.
Jacob Boehme is the model of the esoterist for the coming Age: He was a layman—a cobbler by trade, just like my grandfather—was married and raised a family. Yet behind that quite ordinary looking exterior, he was undergoing a profound spiritual transformation. He tried to live an obscure life; his first book was distributed just to his friends. Toward the end of his life, he was finally able to dedicate his time solely to his spiritual writings, thanks to some wealthy patrons.
Excursus on Gnosis
Berdyaev describes the foundation of Boehme’s gnosis in the following paragraph:
We ought to be re-united with the traditions of the theosophy and anthroposophy of J. Boehme, in truth with a Christian theosophy and anthroposophy. And moreover, even more deeply ought we to be re-united with the traditions of the esoteric, hidden Christianity. But the fruition of the great traditions of Boehme and of Christian gnosticism ought to be creative, it ought to guide along the path of a completely new, creatively-active knowledge. Modern people, seeking God and the Divine life, are very afraid of thought and knowledge, and the basic thrust of their will often becomes anti-gnostic. They admit the possibility only of a passive, abstract knowledge. They cannot accept knowledge as a creative act, bearing life into the light of the world, of knowledge as being and life. ~ Nikolai Berdyaev (Theosophy and Anthroposophy in Russia)
The fundamental notion is that gnosis is creative. Discursive knowledge, on the other hand, is passive and abstract, i.e., it is something to be absorbed as is. Gnosis is the knowledge of the heart. It is creative in the sense that the knower needs to raise his level of being, and that is a creative process. In other words, he needs to be the artist of his own life, his own soul; only in that way can he hope to achieve gnosis.
The next notion is that Boehme has both a cosmology and an anthropology. They are intimately related as the macrocosm to the microcosm. By knowing himself, man knows the macrocosm, and by knowing the macrocosm he knows himself. This was more fully developed by Boehme’s follower Johann Gichtel, who showed that the planets are related to the inner states or chakras.
Of course, this assumes a traditional cosmology that involves the following degrees of existence:
- Mineral or physical
- Celestial or Angelic
Those states of being also exist within man, even if most people live their lives at the levels of plant and animal life, with excursions into the truly human state or perhaps higher states. As a matter of fact, it is considered a marker of high intelligence and good education to believe that only the mineral or physical state of being actually exists. Thus, all interior life is believed to be the result of electro-chemical processes. For them, I have selected this theme song.
The following sections briefly summarize Boehme’s system in order to understand Smith’s interest. As we pointed out, this should not be read as passive, abstract and discursive knowledge to be passively received. Instead, make the effort to re-experience Boehme’s vision in your own consciousness.
The Ungrund or Abyss
Boehme has his own particular interpretation of Traditional metaphysics. In common with them, he starts with the unmanifest source or all, describes the Law of Three that makes manifestation possible, and then the Law of Seven indicating the stages of that manifestation.
The Ungrund desires to reveal himself through manifestation. The universe is the outcome and development of One Grand Thought. All things are governed by one central law and all planes of existence are related. This is the Law of Correspondences.
The Abyss contains within itself everything and nothing, i.e., everything potentially but nothing manifestly. Within the Abyss is an eternal uncreated Will (Byss). It desires to become manifest, to be something.
The Will fashions a Mirror which reflects all things, making them manifest. The Mirror is Eternal Wisdom, Eternal Idea, Virgin Sophia, and the Infinite Mother, while the Will is the Infinite Father. Like the Tao, Boehme describes this relationship: Abyss => Duality => Trinity.
The Father-Mother begets a Son; these energies are diffused by the Holy Spirit. Through the union of the Will and Wisdom, the unmanifest becomes manifest, the latent becomes active.
In Guenon’s system, the Ungrund is non-being, and Being is its first principle. Boehme claims, moreover, that the Ungrund is God as he is in himself. The Ungrund makes the Ground, i.e., Being, which is the Father. This is similar to the Palamite understanding assuming that the Ungrund is the unknowable essence of God, and the Father is the energies, or the Act of Being as in Thomist metaphysics. The Logos concentrates those energies, which are diffused through the Holy Spirit. Thus, the generation of all things takes place and the unmanifest becomes manifest.
Obviously, this should not be understood temporally, since it is all prior to time itself.
In Symbolism of the Cross, Rene Guenon describes the three gunas, which are “essential, constitutive and primordial qualities or attributes of beings envisaged in their different states of manifestation”. Boehme likewise recognizes those qualities. There are two which he calls Fire and Light. These contrasting principles exist in all things. The third manifests in our external nature. This can be summarized as:
- Fire, Wrath, Law, Dark Principle, latent and unmanifest (non-being)
- Light, Mercy, Love
- Manifestation or Being
The Dark Principle is unmanifest, since it would be understood as the wrathful or vengeful aspect of God. Nevertheless, Man has free will, so he can will the dark principle. A contrast is necessary for conscious awareness. This is not a problem provided it is transmuted by the Light or Love Principle. Otherwise, man is in the “false imagination”, resulting in a misunderstanding of God and the World.
In other Traditions, these principles are called
- Brahma the Creator/Shiva the Destroyer,
Vishnu, then, is the Preserver, balancing the two principles. This requires knowledge and wisdom gained through experience. This reconciles Law and Love. By following Truth, man transmutes evil into good, otherwise he becomes a slave to evil.
The Polarity occurs on every plane of manifestation. It is reflected as
This Polarity – or Sex – is the law of all manifestation, the creative power of the universe. That is the cosmic order and any deviation from it is disordered.
Boehme says there are seven properties or forces through which the Divine energy operates. Each quality has its own essence, forming together one harmonious whole. They permeate all manifest things. Although Boehme talks about them as if sequential, they operate simultaneously, outside of time. These are the seven qualities, followed by their names:
- Contraction: The desire drawing all towards itself (Desire)
- Friction: expansive force creating a dual action and differentiation. Desire going into multiplicity (Motion)
- Sensibility: rotary motion of 1 and 2. The wheel of life. (Sensation)
- Lightning or Fire: The Spirit diffuses a mild light, transforms the dark principle, ending strife
- Love or Light: love binds, builds up and harmonizes the principles of joy
- Audibility: intelligible or vital sound. The manifestation of Life. (Intelligence)
- Essential Wisdom: gathers the previous six into one harmonious whole
Contraction, Friction, and Sensibility form the “Dark Principle”. Contraction is the desire drawing things to itself; it is harsh, cold, and sharp. It is a kind of magnetic attraction, congealing Nothing into Something. Friction is expansive, thus causing differentiation. It is desire becoming multiplicity. Sensibility is the wheel of life brought about by the action and reaction of Contraction and Friction. This wheel is experienced as wandering and anguish, which amasses itself into an Essence. In other words, the first principle is Attraction, then Repulsion, resulting in Circulation.
The Lightning Flash is the eruption of the Spirit, who transforms the Dark principle by the suffusion of Light. This ends the Strife of Attraction and Repulsion. This is the beginning of Consciousness and Life.
Love then builds up and harmonizes the principles, bring joy and perfection. Audibility brings intelligence. Finally, Wisdom brings harmony and bliss.
This process is the “Great Work”, the Magnum Opus, that must be performed in each of us in order to reclaim our original nature and “the great transmutation which Christ Jesus accomplished in His Own Person.”
The Created Universe
The Uncreated Heaven is perfect and complete and is part of God. However, the Created Universe is outside and apart from God. Therefore, it needs to develop from incompleteness to completeness. This does not exhaust God, who is Infinite, but rather enriches him.
God produces from his own eternal nature and wisdom, in which all things exist as possibilities of manifestation. Created things manifest successively in time. Creation is in Equilibrium, the harmony of the active forces (Light) and passive forces (Dark).
Creation unfolds through endless circles. Outside the circle of the Uncreated heaven, there is the created heaven or angelic world. There are three hierarchies headed by Michael, Lucifer, and Uriel (corresponding to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).
Fall of Lucifer
Although the Dark Principle is passive and unmanifest in God, and never becomes active, the possibility of evil arises in free beings. Free beings can choose to be centered in the natural egoic Self. This is to remain at the level of Contraction. Or else they can be centered in the Light Center, the expansive power of Love. Evil and disorder enter the world when creatures become centered in that lower self. Once selfish desire is kindled, it just becomes stronger. Instead of letting the Divine Light reconcile opposing forces, they get stimulated resulting in anguish. Life becomes struggle and anxiety.
Evil first entered the Cosmos when Lucifer, the head of our universe, became self-centered thereby rejecting the divine order. Lucifer’s fall was the result of pride and the pursuit of knowledge apart from God. He rejected the feeling of humility in the face of the Divine mysteries. Curiosity and the desire for novelty became dominant. Thus evil, Hell, and the Dark Principle entered the world.
Our personal task, therefore, is to reconcile the extremes of the forces of Darkness and Light. As the Hermetists taught, that is necessary for the recovery of the Prima Materia, the element of immortality. Then it can be molded by the Will for creative purposes, without painful toil, “transforming work into play”.
This must begin with self-knowledge in order to recognize the Luciferian temptations in our own souls. This should be easy to do, since Lucifer is the Prince of this World.
Earth was situated spiritually within the sphere of Lucifer. Lucifer split the world into Darkness and Light, separating God’s Wrath from God’s Love, making Equilibrium difficult. The world became dense and gross.
As we pointed out above, man is not just a “rational animal”, but rather a composite being containing elements of all things. Thus he has facilities to know things on all planes, including the physical, astral, physical, and divine things.
The human race was ethereal, so Adam was a luminous being permeated by a celestial essence. His mind was innocent, no knowledge of evil, without avarice, pride, envy, or anger. Adam’s body was not dense, since the inner life was the master of the body. Adam’s inner life was in touch with Heaven; he could communicate with God, the angels, and nature. His being was tripartite, in harmony with each other:
- Spirit: light principle
- Soul: dark principle
- Body: in the world of sense formed through the union of the light and dark principles
Nevertheless, virtue requires the possibility of vice and the experience of temptation. So Adam was tempted by Lucifer, decentering his attention onto the world. He was tempted to experience the pairs of opposites, thus disturbing his previous state of Equilibrium. This was the Fall into duality: the experience of each side of light and dark in isolation.
Hence, our task to reconcile these opposing principles. Unlike Lucifer’s Fall, Adam did not really wish to oppose God, but merely to experience earthly pleasures. Therein lies the clue to the way back.
Adam and Eve
Originally, Adam was a dual unity, including Eve. Boehme describes Adam-Eve like this:
Adam was a man and also a woman, and yet neither of them distinct, but a virgin full of chastity, modesty, and purity, namely the image of God.
When Adam’s attention was enticed by the world, Eve (the feminine part of his nature) prompted him to separate. Noting that the animals were male and female, he/they were overcome with desire to copulate like mammals.
Adam’s deep sleep refers to his forgetfulness of the angelic world; he then awoke in the external world, separated from Eve. He lost the unitive consciousness in dualistic thinking. They ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, becoming subject to death, decay, and corruption. Now part of the sidereal universe (i.e., under the stars), they lost awareness of anything higher.
Because of Lucifer and Adam, even nature has become gross. In the world there is a mixture or alternation of the two principles of the Dark and the Light. There are storms and beautiful weather; poisonous plants and delicious fruit; savage beasts and noble animals. Curse, decay, corruption, and death struggle with blessing, health, and life.
Man has sunk to the animal plane of existence, tending towards the bestial. His inner disposition is like the animals. Man must extirpate these instincts to become wholly human, and restore the image of God. Adam should have restored creation to order, following the fall of Lucifer. Unfortunately, he is unable to bring the opposing forces into Equilibrium. Christ, the second Adam, re-establishes man in his primal dignity as Lord of Creation.
Atonement and Redemption
Jesus was a Divine Human Being with the essence of both God and Mary; he combined the highest part of the masculine (forcefulness) with the best attributes of the feminine character (tenderness). Christ is the Son of Virgin Mary, but also of the Heavenly Virgin who united herself with Mary.
Whereas Adam fixed his imagination on the lower world, Jesus fixed his imagination wholly upon the Father subjecting the lower principle to the higher, re-establishing equilibrium. The resurrection body is paradisiacal body, which eventually disappeared (ascended to Heaven). Heaven is not a distinct place, but interpenetrates the physical universe. This is hidden from normal sight.
Regeneration by the Holy Spirit is required for Equilibrium. This requires and inward transformation, not just an historical faith in Jesus. Man must forsake the principles of Darkness and the world (lust and appetites). The Light principle was lost through Adam but regained with Christ. Prayer is the means to soar above the center of nature. Will and desire become one. It is necessary to be in harmony with the Divine Will, and then conscious union and knowledge of God.
On earth, the soul is already either in heaven or hell. So it does not “go” anywhere after death, yet the soul is fixed at the moment of death and cannot be changed. However, souls in a half-regenerate condition can ultimately reach heaven after a period of purgation.
Creation was the act of the Father, the Incarnation was the act of the Son, Holy Spirit will bring about the end of the world. This will bring about nondual awareness. This is reminiscent of Joachim of Fiore.
Wolfgang Smith, then, interprets Boehme’s theosophy in a nondual way. Christ is the Incarnate God who reveals himself. This happens on several levels:
- On the plane of eternal nature as the summation of the septenary cycle
- On the plane of human history as Jesus of Nazareth
- God becomes incarnate in all who are born in Christ
The first is creative and the second is redemptive, i.e., the restoration of a state which had been lost. Man and cosmos are in flux, a “kind of samsara”, which will have its fulfilment in the Kingdom of God.
Smith concludes this chapter with three questions:
- Does Boehme’s doctrine differ from the Kabbalah?
- Is it Trinitarian?
- Is it Nondualist?
The answer to the first question is a qualified Yes, with some adjustments. But what is more interesting it the idea of a Trinitarian Nondualism, which Smith will develop more fully in the final two chapters on Meister Eckhart. Specifically, Deliverance is not a matter of just knowing the transcendent Father, but of knowing both the Father and the Christ. This is one act of knowing, not two, and is incarnational as well as transcendent. The Mystical Union is the Supreme Identity or, as Boehme describes it:
What is void of will is one with the Ungrund … which is God himself.
Postscript on Personal Development
I’ve avoided discussing what is most discussed: e.g., the life and sanctity of Boehme, his siddhis, the sources of his doctrines, or whether they are heterodox. Ultimately, the need to be comprehended, if at all, internally, in one’s conscious life.
This is clearly difficult because of the falls of Lucifer and Adam. We have lost our birthright gift of understanding transcendence due to our attachment to the glamor of the world process. These are some exercises in conscious awareness that you can try at home.
- Lucifer exchanged an intellect centered on God to one centered on the world. Cunning, guile, idle curiosity, and the like, replaced genuine creativity. See The Intellectual Center for the distinction between the higher and lower functions of the intellect.
- Adam rejected a vision of wholeness for dualist knowledge and attachment to the natural world. He entered a world of Strife instead of one of Love, all the while assuming he can somehow remain on the “pleasant” side of duality.
- In that state, it is assumed that only the physical world exists and all problems have a scientific or material solution. The very idea of a quest for higher consciousness is rejected.
- By his attachment to sexual reproduction and its ersatz simulations, he finds it difficult to refocus attention upwards. The same sexual energy could be used to achieve the original wholeness, or alchemical marriage, or even like Dante and Beatrice, to achieve the mystical union.
These aspects of consciousness need to be experienced personally. Unless there is an awareness of being in a fallen state, then the very idea of redemption makes no sense.
NOTE: The main source used for Boehme’s teachings is Five Christian Principals< ?i> by Rene Cossey.