Friday, December 30, 2011

On Hurqalya and Zen

A previous post about the imaginal world made reference to the concept of Hurqalya, and in case anyone found that interesting ("Hello, is this thing on?"), we briefly return with a little more on that subject.

First, some more definition:

Suhrawardi ("the Martyr," 1153-91)...took the pagan teachings known to him -- those of the real Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, and Plato -- and combined them with Shi'ite Islam. At the center of Suhrawardi's theosophy is the same concept of a spiritual body that is developed by prayer and meditation. In this body, the adept can explore an inner world of supreme variety and wonder. Suhrawardi calls it Hurqalya. His French translator and interpreter, Henry Corbin, uses the term mundus imaginalis (the Imaginal World), urging his readers never to confuse it with the "imaginary" world of fantasy and fiction. Hurqalya is a real world, only it does not have a material substratum. It answers to the requirements of the scientific method, namely that anyone with the right equipment will discover its objective existence. However, unlike the radio telescope or particle collider, which inform the scientist of invisible and almost unimaginable realities, the exploration of Hurqalya requires the special tool of a highly refined astral or spiritual body: something as rare and hard to obtain as any piece of expensive hardware.*

As I commented in the post linked above, the ontological essence (whether this is a "real" place or not) is not a compelling issue for me. Suhrawarti's idea is that intensive prayer and meditation prepare one to enter an imaginal world. Zen training, on the other hand, reveals the so-called "ordinary" world as imaginal, too. No special preparation is required to enter it -- we are creating "the world" moment after moment as we grope about this planet. Indeed, even our understanding of self, this "I" that we carry around with us day after day, even that is an imaginal work: an aggregate of perceptions and impulses.

Zen Master Dae Kwang used to tell us there are universes everywhere -- "and they are all created by you." On the other hand, he also used to refer to our plans, desires, assumptions, and so on as "dreams." Here I would parse his words. "I" is not a dream: I could prove it by slamming my hand on this letter opener on my desk right now. Something is here that is not imaginary; but it is imaginal. Our plans, assumptions, desires, and even "I" are all imaginal: created by mind, yet very compelling and "real" to us.

The story of Zen is that all of this is an imaginal world, created by unprepared minds. The preparation, in this story, is for seeing the essence of this imaginal world and its boundaries.

Then what?

* Joscelyn Godwin, The Golden Thread: The Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions. Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books, 2007.


Ji Hyang said...


just got your letter, btw. Continue to be fascinated by your envelopes...

do.gong said...

Found your blog through
Enjoy your wanderings. Thanks for the tip on some different Christmas music.
Peace and blessings.