Knowledge and the Sacred [1]

~Seyyed Hossein Nasr

In the beginning Reality was at once being, knowledge, and bliss (the sat, chit, and ananda) of the Hindu tradition or qudrah, hikmah, and rahmah which are among the Names of Allah in Islam and in that “now” which is the ever-present “in the beginning,” knowledge continues to possess a profound relation with that principial and primordial Reality which is the Sacred and the source of all that is sacred. 

Through the downward flow of the river of time and the multiple refractions and reflections of Reality upon the myriad mirrors of both macrocosmic and microcosmic manifestation, knowledge has become separated from being and the bliss or ecstasy which characterizes the union of knowledge and being. 

Knowledge has become nearly completely externalized and desacralized, especially among those segments of the human race which have become transformed by the process of modernization, and that bliss which is the fruit of union with the One and an aspect of the perfume of the sacred has become well-nigh unattainable and beyond the grasp of the vast majority of those who walk upon the earth. But the root and essence of knowledge continues to be inseparable from the sacred for the very substance of knowledge is the knowledge of that reality which is the Supreme Substance, the Sacred as such, compared to which all levels of existence and all forms of the manifold are but accidents. 

Intelligence, which is the instrument of knowledge within man, is endowed with the possibility of knowing the Absolute. It is like a ray which emanates from and returns to the Absolute and its miraculous functioning is itself the best proof of that Reality which is at once absolute and infinite.

In paradise man had tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Life which symbolizes unitive knowledge. But he was also to taste of the Tree of Good and Evil and to come to see things as externalized, in a state of otherness and separation. The vision of duality blinded him to the primordial knowledge which lies at the heart of his intelligence. But precisely because this unitive vision resides at the center of his being as well as lying at the root of his intelligence, knowledge continues to be a means of access to the Sacred and sacred knowledge remains as the supreme path of union with that Reality wherein knowledge, being and bliss are united. 

Despite the tasting of the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil and all the subsequent falls of man recorded in different manners by the various religions of the world, knowledge remains potentially the supreme way to gain access to the Sacred, and intelligence a ray which pierces the density and coagulation of cosmic manifestation and which, in its actualized state, is none other than the Divine light itself as it is reflected in man and, in fact, in all things in different manners and modes. 

It is, however, human intelligence which, despite the fall and all the resulting impediments and obstacles existing within the human soul which prevent intelligence from functioning fully in most instances, remains the central theophany of this Divine Light and the direct means of access to that Original Reality which “was” at once the source of cosmic reality “at the beginning” and is the origin of all things in this eternal “now,” in this moment that always is and never becomes, the “now” which is the ever-recurring “in the beginning.”

Today modern man has lost the sense of wonder, which results from his loss of the sense of the sacred, to such a degree that he is hardly aware how miraculous is the mystery of intelligence, of human subjectivity as well as the power of objectivity and the possibility of knowing objectively. Man is oblivious to the mystery that he can turn inwardly upon the infinite world within himself and also objectivize the world outside, to possess inner, subjective knowledge as well as knowledge of a totally objective order. 

Man is endowed with this precious gift of intelligence which allows him to know the Ultimate Reality as the Transcendent the Beyond and the objective world as a distinct reality on its own level, and the Ultimate Reality as the Immanent, as the Supreme Self underlying all the veils of subjectivity and the many “selves” or layers of consciousness within him. Knowledge can attain the Sacred both beyond the subject which knows and at the heart of this very subject, for finally that Ultimate Reality which is the Sacred as such is both the knower and the known, inner consciousness and outer reality, the pure immanent Subject and the Transcendent Object, the Infinite Self and Absolute Being which does not exclude Beyond Being. 

Despite the layers of the dross of forgetfulness that have covered the “eye of the heart” or the seat of intelligence, as a result of man’s long journey in time, which is none other than the history of forgetfulness with occasional reversals of the downward flow through divine intervention in the cosmic and historical process, human intelligence continues to be endowed with this miraculous gift of knowledge of the inward and the outward, and human consciousness continues to be blessed with the possibility of contemplating the Reality which is completely other and yet none other than the very heart of the self, the Self of oneself.

From: Chapter 1, Knowledge and its Desacralization 
[Knowlegde and the Sacred]