Plotinus

00. [Oneness]

From Oneness, produce the ten thousand things; through the ten thousand things, govern the One.

– Shih-t’ao: ‘Hua-p’u’ chapter 7, ‘Harmonious Atmosphere (Yin Yun)’

No characteristics except its oneness <–

It is not a thing nor a thing in it

Neither white nor black, neither red nor green, of no color whatever

Beingless, becoming not, nameless

Where there is nothing but the one, nothing is seen

Ad Reinhardt: ‘ONE’, Unpublished Notes, 1966-67

…if all images are detached from the soul, and it contemplates only the Simple One, then the soul’s naked being finds the naked, formless being of the divine unity.

– Meister Eckhart: ‘The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense’

So long as something is still the object (vishaya) of our attention we are not yet one with the One. For where there is nothing but the ONE, nothing is seen.

– Rudolf Otto: ‘Mysticism East and West’, 1932 (and Meridian Books Inc. August 1957)

Our thought cannot grasp the One as long as any other image remains active in the soul.

– Plotinus: ‘The Six Enneads’

If he remembers who he became when he merged with the One, he will bear its image in himself. He was himself one, with no diversity in himself or his outward relations; for no movement was in him, no passion, no desire for another, once the ascent was accomplished. Nor indeed was there any reason or though, nor, if we dare say it, any trace of himself.

– Plotinus: ‘The Six Enneads’

It is no less than the Eternal and Infinite Oneness of God, the Certainty of Whose Truth burns up all except Itself.

– Abu Bakr Siraj Ed-Din: ‘The Book of Certainty’, 1952

Enter me, O Lord, into the deep of the Ocean of Thine Infinite Oneness

– Muhyi’d-Din Ibn Arabi

Does Islamic non-figurative art triumphantly proclaim the “Infinite Oneness of God “ or does it triumphantly proclaim again, with all other art, only the same “endless sameness of art.”

– Ad Reinhardt: ‘Art vs. History’, Art News,January 1966

Equality today means ‘sameness,’ rather than oneness.

– Erich Fromm: ‘The Art of Loving’, Harper & Row, New York, 1956

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02. “the one, the good”

Dean Inge tried to show that Plotinus ‘has three names for his Absolute – the One, the Good, and Beauty’. He remarks elsewhere, however (p. 102), that although Plotinus calls the Absolute the One and the Good, he does not call it the Beautiful.

– John M. Rist: ‘Plotinus, The Road to Reality’, 1967

03. “universe of sense”

Again, are those powers, entering the universe of sense, still within the First or not? If they are not, we have the absurdity that the First has been lessened, disempowered, stripped of power originally possessed. Besides, how could powers thus cut off subsist apart from the foundations of their being? Suppose these powers to be at once within the First and elsewhere; then the universe of sense contains either the entire powers or parts of them; if parts of powers, the other parts are There; if entires, then either the powers There are present here also undivided – and this brings us back to an identity omnipresent in integral identity — or they are each an entire which has taken division into a multiplicity of similars so that attached to every essence there is one power only – that particularly appropriated to it – the other powers remaining powers unattached: yet power apart from Being is as impossible as Being apart from power; for There power is Being or something greater than Being.

– Plotinus: ‘The Six Enneads’, Fourth Tractate ‘On the Integral Omnipresence of the Authentic Existent.’

31. “Advance toward the formless, what is without contour, Encountering nothingness”

As the soul advances towards the formless, unable to grasp what is without contour or to receive the imprint of reality so diffuse, it fears it will encounter nothingness, and it slips away.

– Plotinus: ‘The Good or The One’ VI, 9 [9]

The divine being is equal to nothing, and in it there is neither image nor form…[Therefore] When the soul…contemplates what consists of images, whether that be an angel’s image or its own, there is for the soul some thing lacking. Even if the soul contemplates God…the soul lacks something. But if all images are detached from the soul, and it contemplates only the Simple One, then the soul’s naked being finds the naked, formless being of the divine unity.

– Meister Eckhart: ‘Die Deutsche Werke’ 

The Sufis sought to lose what they currently perceived as labels, knowledge, concepts and to become empty (nothing) and attain the state of “void”; to attain a zero point so that they could become related to any state of being and achieve “everythingness”. Just as the discovery of zero in mathematics made the system possible, so too in the art of rebirth, the discovery of a state of “nothingness” (the void or emptiness) makes final integration a possibility.

– A. Reza Arasteh: ‘Final Integration in the Adult Personality’, 1965.

32. “supreme principle”

The Supreme must be an entity in which the two are one; it will, therefore, be a Seeing that lives, not an object of vision like things existing in something other than themselves: what exists in an outside element is some mode of living-thing; it is not the Self-Living.

– Plotinus: ‘The Six Enneads’

Plotinus has given its fullest development to Neo-Platonism. We will follow his working out of the two fundamental ideas which, in his view, sum up all philosophy.

(1) The Process of Emanation from a Supreme Principle, the one source of all existing things, explains the physical and the metaphysical worlds. According as this principle gives out its energy, it exhausts itself; its determinations follow a descending scale, becoming less and less perfect. The following are the successive steps in the process:

The One

At the head of the intelligible world, far removed from the world of sense (Plato), reigns One Supreme Essence. To safeguard its transcendence, Piotinus states it to be absolutely indeterminate (apeiron). No quality marks or defines it; nothing can determine it, for all determination implies limitation (negative theodicy). The Supreme Being has no attribute, not even intellect or will: knowledge and volition suppose a duality of knower and thing known, of that which wills and that which is willed; and all duality is irreconcilable with the infinitely perfect. However, as this negative concept has for basis the Divine perfection, Plotinus has recourse to positive descriptions, the insufficiency of which, moreover, he fully recognises. By preference he describes the Supreme Being as the First (to prôton), the One, the Universal Cause, Goodness (Plato), Light. Immutable in itself, this First Unitary Being does not diffuse its substance into other beings, as the advocates of substantialist pantheism maintain; but it permeates them by its activity (dynamic pantheism); and what we call the proper, specific substantiality of things is simply the product of this activity. Furthermore, this outflow of the Divine activity into all other beings is not direct and immediate; it is effected through the agency of intermediary forces which emanate successively from one another. And as the effect is always less perfect than the cause, these activities are arranged in gradation according to their respective degrees of perfection, each one occupying a position which is lower the greater the number of intermediate steps by which it communicates with the Divine energy. What are these intermediaries into which the Divine energy flows, as it were, by cascades? Plotinus reduces them to three: Intelligence and the World-Soul in the suprasensible order; and, in the sensible order, Matter.

– Maurice De Wulf: ‘History of Medieval Philosophy’, 1909

Only blankness, complete awareness, distinterestedness; the “artist-as-artist” only, of one and rational mind, “vacant and spiritual, empty and marvelous,” in symmetries and regularities only; the changeless “human content,” the timeless “supreme principle,” the ageless “universal formula” of art, nothing else.

– Ad Reinhardt, ‘Timeless in Asia’, Art News, January 1960

33. “hold to unity”

The chief difficulty is this: awareness of the One comes to us neither by knowing nor by the pure thought that discovers the other intelligible things but by a presence transcending knowledge. When the soul knows something, it loses its unity, it cannot remain simply one because knowledge implies discursive reason and discursive reason implies multiplicity. The soul then misses The One and falls into number and multiplicity. Therefore we must go beyond knowledge and hold to unity. We must renounce knowing and knowable, every object of thought, even Beauty, because Beauty, too, is posterior to The One and is derived from it as, from the sun, the daylight. That is why Plato says of The One, “It can neither be spoken nor written about.”

– Plotinus: ‘The Good or The One’ VI, 9 [9]