The Five Storied Palace – journey around the symbolic cosmos

…in the company of Dante, with some notes for twenty-first-century travellers.

Tour of the CosmosBy Ratnagarbha. This essay first appeared in Urthona Issue 9.

Dante’s great epic poem The Divine Comedy describes the poet’s journey through hell, purgatory and finally his ascent to paradise. The Divine Comedy explores with great metaphysical clarity and sublime poetry the medieval model of the universe. By Dante’s time, this model, drawing on various Classical sources, had become an elaborate web of symbolic connections between man, the natural world, the planets, the stars and the orders of angels. There is so much detail here that it is easy to get lost, so for convenience I have divided Dante’s cosmos into five levels – The Five Storied Palace.

To begin I will attempt simply to evoke a picture of the traditional universe in its broad outlines. Next I will survey each storey of Dante’s palace, and at each level take note of the surprising degree of common ground that exists with Buddhist cosmology. There will also be a few fascinating glances at the Middle-Eastern Sufi view of the same territory. These illuminating asides come from the works of Henry Corbin, the great French scholar of Islamic culture who writes with great insight about the symbolic worlds of the Sufi mystical philosophers. Finally, I will attempt to sum up, with some suggestions about how we might make use of this material in our own lives.


A Tour of the Ancient Cosmos

This journey will take the form of an ascent, an ascent to the North, to the Pole of the world. From this vantage point we will survey the overall scheme of the traditional world view, and observe those features which are, in broad outline, the common inheritance of mankind. This is not, of course, a journey to the North Pole reached by arctic explorers, rather it is a journey towards the Cosmic North, towards the Pole Star – the spindle of the universe. Henry Corbin speaks of this journey to the Pole as the Quest for the mystical Orient, the Orient which, paradoxically, is not to be found by travelling east: “This mystic Orient, the Orient-origin, is the heavenly pole, the point of orientation of the spiritual ascent. Acting as a magnet to draw beings…towards the palaces ablaze with immaterial matter. This is a region without any co-ordinates on our maps: the paradise of Yima, the Earth of light, Terra Lucida…”1

Let us take flight towards this Cosmic North, up into dark blue evening sky. As we ascend higher and higher the air becomes darker. Looking down we see nets of sparkling lights from the cities of the north, then just the occasional gleam from a homestead deep in the forest, and finally just darkness, complete and total darkness. But our flight continues until, very dimly, we make out a hint of green radiance, a strange greenish glow which begins to get brighter. The dim green becomes a diffuse emerald light, glowing in front of us, as if a green sun were about to rise. This green radiance grows stronger and brighter, it fills more and more of our field of vision, until we feel as though we were being bathed in gentle green light. Rippling veils of diaphanous light are all around us, they seem to descend from the heavens like vast cosmic mantles. Eventually, as our eyes begin to accustom to this marvellous display, we recognise that we are within the centre of the aurora borealis, the ‘black light’ of the Sufi masters which illuminates (in Corbin’s words) “the divine night of superbeing”. By this light all the wonders of the spiritual universe are to be revealed. As our eyes adjust to its otherworldly radiance we begin to make out behind the aurora, as if behind a veil, the form of an enormous mountain. Many jewels and other precious substances seem to be lodged in the rocks of this peak; they flash and glint in the pulsing emerald light, inviting us to begin the ascent of the cosmic mountain; a mountain which could equally well be a tree as tall as the universe, or a spindle of light which extends from earth to the Pole Star.

Many strange beings dwell on the mountain: Elves and Orcs are there as well as Nereids, nymphs and satyrs. There are palaces carved of jewels and gardens of light filled with wonders, but we must not stay long in this paradise for we have come to survey the view from the top of the mountain. From this awesome height we see that the world is a great disc of water surrounding the mountain. Looking out across the disc we see all the lands of men, and all the oceans, which link up into a great ring of water that surrounds the entire disc. Perhaps the ocean is surrounded by a ring of mountains, or perhaps it just curves back upon itself and is lost to sight. Beyond the great ocean there is vacant darkness, or so it appears at first; but as we strain our eyes we see that space beyond our world is not dark and empty, in fact it is filled with light, filled with innumerable points of light, merging into one another at the limit of vision. Somehow we sense that these glints are the light from other universes, unimaginably distant – millions upon millions of other worlds, each with their own seas and mountains, spread out like a net of jewels across the depths of space and time.

But by looking upwards we find an even more awe inspiring vista. For above the great mountain, and encircling it, we see a series of bright spheres, one inside the other like Russian dolls. Each higher sphere is brighter and richer in colour than the one below. They merge into an unbroken sea of radiance, too dazzling for the eye to take in. There is sound too, our ears are bathed by a subtle drone of scintillating harmonies, as if all the instruments ever invented were playing at once, yet all in harmony. Dimly we sense that as one ascends, the sound also becomes more and more sweetly overpowering.

This, then, is the universe of our ancestors, the universe of Dante and Plato, the universe expounded by the Buddha in the Pali scriptures and embellished with baroque splendour in the Mahayana sutras. We will now go on to look at the traditional cosmos in more detail, with the great Dante Alighieri as our guide.

Tour of the CosmosMiddle Earth

Perhaps the best place to begin is with our own world of earth and sky and human habitation – Middle Earth. This medieval term, now well known through Tolkien’s works, is a good designation for the ground floor of the great palace. It is situated, as might be expected, midway between heaven and hell. Those who are more familiar with Buddhist scriptures than Dante will recognise Middle Earth as Jambudvipa, the Rose-Apple island, home of the human race. The ancient Indian Buddhists saw our earth as one of four islands which float in a great disc of water. The disc was definitely flat, with various hells to be found below it, and the four islands arranged around a central ring of golden mountains (more of these later). The disc was supported, not by a mythical beast, but by two crossed vajras (invincible thunderbolts made of diamond), representing the two primary substances of the cosmos.

Dante AlighieriDante’s universe was in some ways more sophisticated. He saw the earth as a globe and situated his hells in the middle of it. This view he derived from the ancient Greeks, who made some precise deductions about the nature of the nearby physical universe. Some of the ancient pre-Socratic philosophers even went so far as to postulate that there were many universes, but this strand of thought was unfortunately lost to later Western tradition. For Dante the earth is a unique point at the centre of the universe, infinitesimally small compared to the vastness of the stellar bodies and the spheres they inhabit, but definitely at the centre. Buddhism has always taught that there are billions upon billions of other inhabited world systems; so in this respect, at least, the ancient Buddhist view is actually closer to our own than the mediaeval model. In any case the flat earth has its advantages, for it suggests that our three dimensions are not the only ones. There are other dimensions which can be experienced in ‘imaginal’ space as ‘above’ and ‘below’ our world. The evocative term ‘imaginal’ was used by Henry Corbin to designate the inner world of the soul. In Arabic this is the alam al-mithal (or mundus imaginalis in Latin) the universe of the mind. In order to experience this imaginal space we must surely begin by opening ourselves up to the possibility of there being other modes of being, as it were ‘out there’. For those dimensions, though in a sense ‘inner’, are not just subjective fantasies; they exist with their own special mode of presence and can be experienced by anyone who makes the effort to retrace the journey laid out by the visionary philosophers of the past. All of our experience, after all, is mediated through the mind, and all modes of experience, whether dream, fantasy, or vision have (like our day to day world) an objective pole and a subjective pole – a ‘self’ and a ‘world’. The objectivity of the dream or vision, must therefore be acknowledged and explored, if we are to understand its meaning. As Corbin says of the cosmos of Sohravardi, the 12th Century Iranian mystical philosopher:

This innerness must in no way be confused with anything that our modern terms subjectivism or nominalism may be supposed to refer to…this view, generally speaking, leaves no alternative but to take the suprasensory universe as consisting of abstract concepts. On the contrary, the universe which in Sohravardi’s neo-Zorastian Platonism is called the mundus imaginalis or the ‘heavenly Earth of Hurqalya’ is a concrete spiritual universe.2

Journey into hell

Dante’s journey into imaginal space begins with a spiritual crisis. He finds himself at the midpoint of his life in the middle of a dark wood; he is lost, uncertain of the way forward:

Halfway along the road we have to go,

I found myself obscured in a great forest,

Bewildered, and I knew I had lost the way.

It is hard to say just what the forest was like,

How wild and rough it was, how overpowering;

Even to remember it makes me afraid.

So bitter it was, death is hardly more so;

Yet there was good there, and to make it clear

I will speak of other things that I perceived.

Inferno Canto 1. Lines 1 – 9.3

The good that Dante finds in the wood is the great classical poet Virgil, who offers to guide him out of the darkness. Virgil explains that Dante cannot escape the forest by ascending the shining mountain that he desires; he must go right down into the bowels of the earth, down even to the lowest circle of hell. From there they will be able to escape to Mount Purgatory, on the other side of the globe. Entering upon a deep and thorny crevasse the pair find themselves at the gateway to hell, above which these words are chiselled:

Through me you go into the city of weeping;

Through me you go into eternal pain;

Through me you go among the lost people

Before me there was nothing that was created

Except eternal things; I am eternal:

Abandon hope, all you who enter here.

Inferno Canto 3. Lines 1- 9.

Dante follows Virgil though a series of nine descending circles. At each level there are found different kinds of sinners with appropriate tortures being meted out to them. For example, near the bottom of hell we find a circular ravine full of boiling pitch where the swindlers (those who got rich by dishonest means) are boiled without respite. Elsewhere in the dark circles we find burning sands, rains of fire and all manner of other tortures, most of them savagely appropriate to the crime committed in the world. The Buddhist hells are similarly arranged in various levels. Generally there are said to be eight hot and eight cold hells, of increasing intensity, where again the degree of pain fits the seriousness of the deeds committed. However, being a Buddhist hell, it is the mental state in which a particular act was done that is considered to be primary. There can be no rigid allocation of particular punishments for particular crimes as in Dante’s hell. The common principle is that for Dante and the ancient Buddhists hell existed; it was something to be feared as much or more than suffering in this life. We can think here of the great Zen master Hakuin, who in his early life was so afraid of the flames of hell that he chanted a mantra constantly and with great intensity to give him protection. Nowadays we might think that such a person was suffering from paranoid delusions, but in fact it was Hakuin’s problem with hell that propelled him with meteoric force onto the spiritual path.

cosmos4The Otherworld

So much for hell. Next, the third storey of the palace, above hell and Middle Earth. This storey is somewhat ambiguous in its positioning – it can be found above, or below or sometimes hidden within Middle Earth. The Celtic peoples were particularly familiar with this realm – the term ‘Otherworld’ is a rendering of the Irish Sídhe or the Welsh Annwyn. The Celts regarded these places as the source of all power and magic within this world – heroes went there to find their faery brides and do battle with elvish warriors. The main focus of the Otherworld is generally the cosmic mountain, but its influence is felt everywhere by those who are receptive. On certain nights of the year the door to this hidden realm was open, especially at sacred places such as ancient burial mounds. Certain places in Middle Earth do indeed seem to be more strongly connected with the Otherworld than others. Mountains are often gateways to it, some more so than others.

For Dante the Otherworld appears primarily as the Earthly Paradise which is situated at the top of Mount Purgatory. His cosmic mountain stands in the middle of the Pacific, on the exact opposite side of the globe to Jerusalem. In contrast to the Celtic Otherworld it is principally a place of moral improvement, where repentant sinners ascend through various levels, gradually purifying themselves by undergoing punishments scarcely less severe than those of hell. However, they are bathed by the clear light of the southern skies and ministered to by magnificent angels – some of them with green wings! For Dante, the most important event that occurs here is his meeting with Beatrice. Beatrice is his beloved female guide, embodiment of sublime beauty and divine wisdom. She is found by Dante, surrounded by Nymphs, in the most refined earthly sphere, the paradisal garden on top of the cosmic mountain.

Turning now to the Buddhist Otherworld we meet a very strange structure. You may remember that Middle Earth is one of four islands floating in a great sea. The other three islands are inhabited by all kinds of strange beings peculiar to Indian mythology, but the strangest feature is that in the centre of the ocean, with the four islands surrounding it, we find a great ring of circular mountains made of pure gold. Inside this ring is another ring, twice as high, and so on – seven rings of mountains in all. In the very centre, within the seven rings there is Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain. Here live the lower gods, those of the realm of desire, who correspond roughly to the inhabitants of mount Olympus in the Greek pantheon.

I have not seen a definitive explanation of the symbolism of these seven rings, probably there is no such explanation available, so some sympathetic guesswork is required. Kloetzli in his book Buddhist Cosmology suggests that one could take the seven rings of mountains to be associated with the courses of the seven heavenly bodies known to the ancient world. That is the sun, the moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Neptune and Mars. In the classical world view, best known from Plato’s description in his Timeus, these bodies were attached to crystal spheres, which rotated about the earth in different but mutually resonant motions (thus giving rise to the famous music of the spheres). So it does not seem too far fetched to see these rings of mountains as having a position somewhat analogous to the crystal spheres. The gods and goddesses of ancient India circled in their chariots around the central pole of mount Meru, and were associated with the heavenly bodies just like the classical Pantheon; so the rings of mountains do seem like an image of the heavens translated onto a mythic terrestrial plane. Thus the cosmos becomes a landscape to be explored with the inner eye, and the lights of heaven “those intricate traceries in the sky, the loveliest and most perfect of material things (Timeus)” are reflected on the imaginal earth in mountains of the loveliest and most perfect element.

In both Eastern and Western cosmology the planets are said to influence the earth through the laws of astrology. Dante follows here the general mediaeval scheme in assigning to each of the planetary spheres a governing intelligence (Mars for aggression, Venus for Love, and so forth) which influences nature and the natural part of man – his soul remains the concern of the almighty:

The soul of every animal and plant

Is drawn from its compounded potency

By the beam and movement of the sacred lights.

But your life breathes without intermediary

The highest goodness, and makes it in love

With him, so that it then desires him.

Paradiso Canto 7, lines 139 – 145

Even if we do not believe the laws of astrology, contemplating the rhythm of those ‘sacred lights’ in their slow majestic dance through the heavens is a marvellous practise. They can draw us into feeling that we are part of a subtle web of connections that exists between earth and heaven.

The Angelic Realms

Now at last it is time to ascend even higher, into the pure abodes. The 4th storey is that of the angelic realms, above the planetary heavens, where luminous beings dwell who are neither male nor female, in a realm of bliss and light we can hardly imagine. In some traditions this realm is reached by a bridge from the top of the cosmic mountain. Sohravardi, our mystical Sufi/Platonist speaks of “The mountain of dawns from whose summit the Chinvat Bridge springs forth to span the passage to the beyond.”. Here we meet the Angel of Initiation Sraosha who will lead us to his abode which is “self illuminated within and adorned on the outside with stars”. Perhaps it is best to say very little about these glorious realms. Even Dante finds words beginning to fail him as he ascends above Mount Purgatory through crystal spheres of increasing subtlety and luminosity, and thence to the 8th sphere of the fixed stars. Beyond this there is the primum mobile, the 9th and final sphere, the very apex of the phenomenal universe, where time and space have their origin. In the brilliance of this realm Dante’s guide Beatrice becomes almost too beautiful for him to look at. She warns Dante at one point that if she were to smile he would be unable to bear it:

If I smiled you would become as was Semele

When she was turned to ashes.

For if my beauty which lights up the more

As you have seen, the higher we ascend

Upon the stairs of the eternal palace,

If it were not tempered, it would so shine

That at its brilliance your mortal power

Would be a branch split by lightning.

Paradiso Canto 21, lines 4 – 12, adapted.

Later, however, Dante’s guide “Raises his mind to Paradise” and he is able to “Look straight at the light which came from my sweet guide. Which as she smiled blazed from her holy eyes.” Just as for Dante the highest heaven is a sphere of pure light beyond the stars, so in the Buddhist cosmos we leap into the realms of pure form by ascending 100,000 yoganas above mount Meru. Here dwell the Brahmas. The word Brahma literally means growth, evolution, swelling of the spirit; and Brahmas are powerful beings who are permeated with certain blissful positive emotions. These are the four Brahma Viharas (divine abodes) of universal love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. There are altogether 17 Brahma-realms of increasing refinement, beauty and purity. We have such heavens as ‘Immeasurable Splendour’, ‘Immeasurable Beauty’, ‘the Well Seeing’, ‘the Effortless’ and many others. As one ascends through these heavens one is able to take in ever more expansive vistas of the universe; from the higher realms one surveys 1000 million worlds, while the very highest, those corresponding to the 4th absorption, give a view that is said to be without measure. I have the impression that it makes most sense to think of these higher realms being shared between more and more world systems, so that the highest realms, as it were, encompass a whole galaxy.

Ultimate PrincipleThe Ultimate Principle

We have now ascended to the pinnacle of the universe. We have gained a vantage from where we can look deep into the fiery mists of time and space, and see millions upon millions of worlds floating like motes of dust in the cosmic void. From this vantage we may begin to wonder what connects all of this together? How is it to be understood, if at all? To the ancients the answer was simple: the scheme of the universe was dependent on some kind of ultimate reality, from which the many levels of the cosmos ultimately derived their existence. This is the fifth storey of the palace, the principle which will give unity and meaning to the whole.

Buddhist teachers tended to frame this ultimate reality in terms of mind and inner experience. One ascended to an ultimate level of consciousness, Nirvana, which was not to be found anywhere within the symbolic universe. In this state, the manifold phenomena of existence, both inner and outer, were seen as being all dependant on each other; not ultimately separate, and lacking any fixed, unique essence. Some later traditions, particularly the Tathagatagarbha school, asserted that while this mind sees all as insubstantial, its nature can be hinted at by being spoken of as eternal, substantial and blissful.

This brings the Buddhist view just a little closer to Dante’s, for whom, of course the ultimate reality is God, the ‘still centre’ of the universe. Rather than resolving everything into a non-dual flux of phenomena, the mediaeval world view stressed the principle of hierarchy. The universe descended in a series of emanations from God’s ‘supreme light’, the levels of existence becoming progressively darker and more prison like, the further they were from their source. Dante, as we have seen, ascends through these levels, and at last arrives at the supreme paradise, sphere of the ultimate good, which lies beyond the primum mobile. He stretches his imaginal powers to convey some of the wonders of this realm and it is worth following him there. Strengthened by gazing upon Beatrice’s smile, and by her adroit resolution of his (justified?) doctrinal doubts, Dante is at last able to bear the ‘simple light’ of the divine abode. This is what he sees:

And I saw light in the form of a stream

Of resplendent brilliance, in between two banks

Painted with all the marvels of the spring.

From this river there issued live sparks

Which everywhere settled themselves in the flowers

Like rubies which have been set in gold.

Then, as if the scents had made them intoxicated,

They sank once more into the marvellous swirl;

And as one entered it, another flew out.

Paradiso Canto 30, lines 61 – 69.

Beatrice now urges Dante to satiate the “deep desire that burns and urges him” and drink from the water to know of its true nature. He does so and a greater vision is revealed: the stream of light becomes a circle of brilliance which resolves into a vision of the courts of heaven as a rose – a rose of pure beings who are the greatest of the saints of the church (interestingly the angels are on a lower level than this final vision). This rose is a series of ascending tiers of increasing luminosity which ‘give off a scent of praise’ to the sun at their centre. We have here a mandala like figure of luminous beings rapt in devotion to the eternal light at their centre. Surely a Buddhist’s vision of Nirvana, though metaphysically quite different, should be no less luminous and inspiring than the paradise revealed by Beatrice’s divine smile.


Tour of the Cosmos

Having sketched (I hope with sufficient vividness) a picture of the symbolic cosmos, it is time to draw some conclusions. How might these wonderful vistas of light and colour be made relevant to our spiritual lives? The first point I wish to make is simply that it is easier to make spiritual progress if we can let go of (or at least loosen) our materialistic views of the universe. We many have some faith in the Three Jewels (the Buddha, his teaching and his community) but if we believe that we are surrounded by blind, inert matter our ideals will be compromised. For example: if the earth is simply a lump of various kinds of rock and molten lava with a skin of organic activity on the surface, then it will not shake and tremble when the Buddha gains enlightenment. When reading of His great victory over birth and death we will be forced to say to ourselves “Ah Ha! That is a metaphor for an inner realisation.” But this is exactly what it is not. The earth itself shook and trembled, that is the effect of enlightenment! To call this an image, a poetic device, will not do. It leaves enlightenment in the realm of subjective experience, and our own spiritual lives blighted by an unnatural dislocation; a dislocation between our inner ideals and the world we move about in.

So we are left with a dilemma. On the one hand the symbolic reality of the dharma is thwarted and reduced in potency by being constrained to inhabit a nebulous subjective sphere. We need a world where even the rocks can be changed by metta (loving kindness). But on the other hand the scientific world view works. For nearly every physical phenomena there is an explanation that makes sense, to deny this is to deny our own rational faculty. We cannot, for example, return to the innocence of not knowing that Venus the planet is a globe shrouded in sulphurous gas, and not at all a fit dwelling place for a goddess.

The solution I propose to this dilemma is a simple one. Firstly, we take the symbolic universe as the primary reality, in so far as it supports the dharma. In particular we need to feel that we live in the middle of a vast cosmic hierarchy. We need to have a sense that this is the very stuff of life, otherwise life itself is ultimately purposeless. Secondly, we take the scientific universe as one level of that vast hierarchy; a subset, valid in its own terms and very useful for bringing us more material comfort, but only a subset. It may loom large in our minds because of the way we have been moulded by our culture but in reality it is a tiny chink of what is there.

Thus the earth which is a globe floating in space comes to be contained within a symbolic reality that we can approach by contemplating those ancient images which we have been exploring. An example may help to clarify matters. Proclus, the Neo-Platonist, writes of the Heliotrope, a flower that follows the course of the sun. To Proclus this flower is worshipping the sun, offering prayer to the sun:

What other reason can we give for the fact that the Heliotrope follows in its movement the movement of the sun…? For, in truth, each thing prays according to the rank it occupies in nature, and sings the praise of the leader of the divine series to which it belongs, a spiritual or rational or physical or sensuous praise; for the Heliotrope moves to the extent that it is free to move, and in its rotation, if we could hear the sound of the air buffeted by its movement, we should be aware that it is a hymn to its king, such as it is within the power of a plant to sing.4

For the botanist, of course, the plant’s behaviour is explained as an evolutionary adaptation, probably just the result of a mechanism for catching more light on its leaves. Let us be honest, do we in our heart of hearts believe that Proclus is right? More likely we tend towards the view that the botanist has the truth about the physical world, whereas Proclus is speaking a poetic truth. In other words we think that the flower does not really worship the sun but we may project an imaginative device upon it for our own benefit. Suppose instead we were to embrace a view of the sensual world where nature acts in concordance with spiritual realities; so that a flower is an embodiment of a particular ‘flowerness’ which extends right up through the angelic realms to the lotuses of Pure Lands (the Buddhist vision of paradise). Natural flowers and the lotuses of Buddha realms are not completely separate but both are part of a chain of ‘flowerness’. The botanist’s flower subsides to being a small subset of the sensual world, a chink within a chink. And we are free to see the poppy, for example, not merely as a symbol for Amitabha (the red Buddha of infinite light), but as an emissary of Amitabha in the sensual world. To say ‘symbol for’ suggests that we are projecting an image from our minds onto a neutral world. To say ’emissary of’ suggests that to see Amitabha in a red flower is to vibrate with the flower’s true nature. This way of looking at things suggests that ultimately rocks, flowers, ourselves, and the Buddha are Mind with a capital M. But until we reach that level of experience let us overcome the dreary view that we alone are psychically alive and the universe ‘out there’ dead. Let both be charged with life. Let the element of fire below be connected to sun which is the fire of the gods of the natural world, let this sun be connected to the fire of angelic intelligence, and let the fire of angelic intelligence be connected to the sun of Transcendental Wisdom.5 May the Buddhas be to us like the Angel of Initiation Sroasha and reveal these wonders as we are ready.


Notes and Bibliography

For more details on mediaeval cosmology see C. S. Lewis’s very readable The Discarded Image, Cambridge University Press, paperback.

The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, Henry Corbin, Shambala publishers, Boulder, 1997, paperback, is a good introduction to Henry Corbin’s particular way of looking at the Sufi tradition.

For a fascinating introduction to Dante and his cosmos see Dante: Philomythes and Philosophies, P. Boyde, Cambridge University Press (paperback and h/b).

W. Randolph Kloetzli’s Buddhist Cosmology (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, 1989) is an erudite and somewhat eccentric introduction to the subject.

Myriad Worlds is a recent and more accessible introduction to Tibetan Buddhist cosmology, in paperback.

(1) From the first chapter of The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, Henry Corbin. Shambala, Boulder, 1997. paperback.

(2) As above, also from the first chapter.

(3) All quotes from The Divine Comedy are from C. H. Sisson’s translation. Oxford Classics.

(4) Quoted in The Creative Imagination of Ibn Arabi, Henry Corbin, Bollingen Series XCI, Princeton.

(5) Passage on ‘the sun of seraphic intelligence’ paraphrased from Walter Pater’s essay on Pico Della Mirandola, Essays on the Renaissance, Oxford Classics.

RatnagarbhaRatnagarbha (Ambrose Gilson) is the editor of Urthona Buddhist arts magazine. He is a poet and freelance writer in the area of art and the evolution of consciousness. He loves Bach, Vaughn Williams, Gothic architecture and the wild places of England. He lives in Cambridge, UK.
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One thought on “The Five Storied Palace – journey around the symbolic cosmos

  1. The inner always overcomes the outer

    “Outward beauty can never last, it is marred always if there is no inward delight and joy. We cultivate the outer, paying so little attention to the thing inside the skin; but it is the inner that always overcomes the outer. It is the worm inside the apple that destroys the freshness of the apple.”

    Jiddu Krishnamurti –

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