Front Page Titles (by Subject) XIV: The Vision of the Supreme - The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead
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XIV: The Vision of the Supreme - Plotinus, The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead [253 AD]
The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead, with Porphry’s Life of Plotinus, and the Preller-Ritter Extracts forming a Conspectus of the Plotinian System, translated from Greek by Stephen Mackenna (Boston: Charles T. Branford, 1918).
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The Vision of the Supreme
VI. 9, 3. What, then, is The One and what Its nature? We cannot be surprised to find It difficult to tell of since even Existence and the Ideas resist our penetration though all our knowing is based upon the Ideas.
The further the human Soul, or Mind, ventures towards the Formless (to what is either above or below Form and Idea), the more is it troubled; it becomes itself, as it were, undefined, unshaped, in face of the shifting variety before it and so it is utterly unable to take hold; it slips away; it feels that it can grasp nothing. It is at pain in these alien places, and often is glad to give up all its purpose and to fall back upon the solid ground of the sense-grasped world and there take rest—much as the eye, wearied of the minute and fine, is eased when it meets the large and bold.
Besides, the Soul when it ventures the vision unaided thinks itself baulked from the very fact that it can see only by completely possessing its object, that is by becoming one within itself and one with The One; perfectly assimilated to the object of its contemplation, it recognises no vision. Despite all this difficulty, there is a way; and this way must be taken by those that desire the life of Wisdom within The One. That which we seek is The One, the Principle of the Universe, The Good and the First; therefore, the way is to keep ourselves in the close neighbourhood of Unity, never allowing ourselves to fall away towards the lower sphere of Multiplicity; we must keep calling ourselves back from the sense-known world . . . to the Primals, from all that is evil to the Absolute Good; we must ascend to this Principle within ourselves, making ourselves one out of our manyness; that is we must become Intellectual-Principle alone by throwing the entire Soul in confidence into the Intellectual-Principle and so establishing it There that henceforth, in the plenitude of life, it shall take to itself all that the Intellectual-Principle sees and thus shall see The One, no longer asking aid from any sense, no longer paying heed to anything that comes by sense, but with pure Intellection and the topmost Puissance of the Intellective-Principle contemplating the All-Pure.
VI. 9, 4. Our greatest difficulty is that consciousness of The One comes not by knowledge, not even by such an intuitive Intellection as possesses us of the lower members of the Intellectual Order, but by an actual Presence superior to any knowing. The Soul, when it deals with matters of knowledge, suffers a certain decline from its Unity, for knowing is still an act of reasoning, and reasoning is a multiple act, an act which leads the Soul down to the sphere of number and multiplicity. The Soul, therefore, must rise above knowledge, above all its wandering from its Unity; it must hold itself aloof from all knowing and from all the knowable and from the very contemplation of Beauty and Good, for all Beauty and Good are later than this, springing from This as the daily light springs from the sun.
Hence it is that we read of the “Greatness, not to be spoken of, not to be written.” If we here speak and write, it is but as guides to those that long to see: we send them to the Place Itself, bidding them from words to the Vision: the teaching is of the path and the plan, seeing is the work of each Soul for itself. Some there are that for all their effort have not attained the Vision: the Soul in them has come to no sense of the Splendour There; it has not taken warmth; it has not felt burning within itself the flame of love for What is There to know, the passion of the lover resting on the bosom of his love. They have received the Authentic Light; all their Soul has gleamed as they have drawn near; but, they come with a load on the shoulders which has held them back from the Place of Vision; they have not ascended in the pure integrity of their being but are burdened with that which keeps them apart; they are not yet all one within.
The Supreme is not absent from any one—and yet is absent from all; present everywhere It is absent except only to those that are prepared to receive It, those that have wrought themselves to harmony with It, that have seized It and hold It by virtue of their own Likeness to It and by the power in themselves akin to the power which rays from It: These and these only, whose Soul is again as it was when it came from out of the Divine, are free of what Vision of the Supreme Its mighty nature allows.
VI. 9, 11. The Soul restored to Likeness goes to its Like and holds of the Supreme all that Soul can hold . . . that which is before all things that are, over and apart from all the universe of Existence. This is not to say that in this plunging into the Divine the Soul reaches nothingness: it is when it is evil that it sinks towards nothingness: by this way, this that leads to the Good, it finds itself; when it is the Divine it is truly itself, no longer a thing among things. It abandons Being to become a Beyond-Being when its converse is in the Supreme. He who knows himself to have become such, knows himself now an image of the Supreme; and when the phantasm has returned to the Original, the journey is achieved. Suppose him to fall again from the Vision, he will call up the virtue within him and, seeing himself all glorious again, he will take his upward flight once more, through virtue to the Divine Mind, through the Wisdom There to the Supreme. And this is the life of the Gods, and of Godlike men, a life without love of the world, a flight of the Alone to the Alone.