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  • 9/13/2003

Every Branch in Me: Essays on the Meaning of Man

Edited by Barry McDonald

 very Branch in Me: Essays on the Meaning of Manis a collection of articles by leading perennialist authors that are unified by a single theme: nothing that is properly human can be separated from the intrinsically spiritual nature of man. The subject matter of this book, therefore, may be termed "spiritual anthropology." The specific topics are diverse, touching upon many important aspects of human experience, including the meaning of work, the role of laughter in spiritual life, relying upon God during a time of illness, the spiritual significance of clothing and the importance of seeking a spiritual guide. All of these essays, however, affirm with a single voice that man may only truly exist in relation to God's Being, and that at his center man possesses a nature which is theomorphic.

The contents of this book offer a genuinely spiritual antidote to the impasses of despair and nihilism which are the final outcomes of the secular and relativist ideologies of our time. This book is a fountain of light and a window into the wisdom of the saints. On the whole, this book professes a rigorously sacred world-view which links the meaning of man to the Reality of God, forming one of the most compelling restorations of serious metaphysical thought in the last one hundred years.

Every Branch in Me does not present itself as any kind of compendium; it does not seek to give us a representative sample of teachings taken from the world's major religious traditions. Nonetheless, one cannot help observing that the Eastern traditions are only lightly represented. True, there are a good few passing references to the East, but one would have been grateful for some more extended considerations of Oriental teachings about the human vocation. By way of illustrating the point one might adduce Coomaraswamy's profoundly important essay on "The Bugbear of Democracy, Freedom and Equality" as the kind of piece which might usefully have complemented the material in this anthology, sitting comfortably alongside such essays as Jean Louis Michon's "The Vocation of Man According to the Koran". (Coomaraswamy's essay can be found in The Bugbear of Literacy, 1979.) Given the burgeoning Western interest in the traditions of the East, especially Buddhism, a contribution on the Buddhist understanding of "that state hard to attain" (the human realm) might also have served a useful purpose. But one does not want to resort to the well-worn stratagem of reviewers who are more concerned with what is not done than with what is actually in front of them. Nor should the various remarks above about the spiritual impoverishment of modernity be allowed to suggest that the intent of this anthology is essentially negative. The follies of modern thought, foregrounded in several essays, are only discussed in order to clear away those prejudices which obscure traditional teachings. The sovereign purpose of this anthology, as the editor reminds us, is to reawaken a sense of man's sacred vocation and thus to immunize us against "the despair and nihilism which are the final outcomes of the secular and relativist ideologies of our time".

It might be said that the structure of Every Branch in Me is polyphonic: various melodies and motifs recur throughout, with each being inflected in new and different ways but always sustaining the central theme. The editor is to be commended on not only the selection of materials but their arrangement. Like all of the books produced by World Wisdom, this one has been meticulously and attractively produced.

Table of contents:

1-To Have a Center
Frithjof Schuon
2-Loss of Our Traditional Values
Thomas Yellowtail
3-Modern Psychology
Titus Burckhardt
4-Man in the Universe
Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Tage Lindbom
6-The Mystery of the Two Natures
James Cutsinger
7-Do Clothes Make the Man?
Marco Pallis
8-Holy Fools
Patrick Laude
9-Work and the Sacred
Brian Keeble
10-The Role of Culture in Education
William Stoddart
11. Every Branch in Me
Kurt Almqvist
12. On Being Human
Joseph Brown
13. The Vocation of Man According to the Koran
Jean-Louis Michon
14. The Forbidden Door
Mark Perry
15. Even at Night the Sun is There
Gray Henry
16. Outline of a Spiritual Anthropology
Frithjof Schuon
17. The Prodigal Returns
Lilian Staveley
18. Hope, Yes; Progress, No
Huston Smith
19. The Survival of Civilization
Lord Northbourne
Biographies of Contributors


Hope, Yes; Progress, No

I no longer desired a better world, because I was thinking of creation as a whole: and in the light of this more balanced discernment, I had come to see that higher things are better than the lower, but that the sum of all creation is better than the higher things alone.

—St. Augustine, Confessions, VII, xiii, 19

I only pass on to others what [has been] passed on to me. If there is any lack of learning in my writing, any obscurity of expression or superficial treatment, you may feel sure that it is in such places that I am most original.

—St. Bellarmine

Hope is indispensable to human health—to psychological health most immediately, but because man is a psychosomatic whole, to physical health as well. Situated as we are in the Middle (hence middling) World, vicissitudes are a part of the human lot: external vicissitudes (hard times), and internal vicissitudes—the “gravitational collapse” of the psyche that sucks us into depression as if it were a black hole. Against such vicissitudes hope is our prime recourse. Ascending a sheer-faced cliff, a mountaineer can lodge his pick in an overhead crevice and, chinning himself on it, advance. Hope is the psyche’s pick.

In the primordial outlook hope is vertical, or at least transhistorical. “Vertical” here means that the fundamental change that is hoped for is an ascent of the individual soul through a medium— the world—which does not itself change substantially but provides stable rungs on which the soul can climb. Or in cases where the prospect is viewed collectively and in worldly terms—as in the Kingdom of God that is to come “on earth,” the coming age of the Maitreya Buddha, or Islam’s Day of Resurrection—it is assumed that this Kingdom will differ in kind from the history that preceded it and will be inaugurated by God’s direct if not apocalyptic intervention. In neither its individual nor its collective version is progress in the traditional sense envisioned as sociopolitical, the gradual amelioration of man’s corporate lot through his collective efforts and ingenuity.

 By contrast, the modern version of hope is emphatically historical. And its imagery is horizontal, for its eye is on an earthly future instead of the heavens. In one sense all hope is future-oriented, but that of modernity is doubly so—for mankind as a whole as well as for the individual. In fact, hope for an individual is for the most part tied to hope for history; it is on the hope that human life as a whole can be improved that hope for the individual primarily relies. If the traditional view rested its case on the fact that in boiling water bubbles rise, the modern view hopes to escalate the water itself.

What affected this Copernican revolution in the way hope—or progress; the same thing—is conceived? Three agents.

The first was science. Around the seventeenth century the scientific method began garnering information at an exponential rate. True, its findings pertained to physical nature only, but even so, the vista was breath-taking. Moreover, by virtue of improvements that occurred in methods of experimentation, the new understanding of nature could be proved to be true. It seemed evident; therefore, that in this one respect at least, corporate progress was being effected. Never again would mankind be as naïve as it has been regarding its habitat. On the heels of this progress in pure understanding came science’s utilitarian spin-off, technology. It multiplied goods, relieved drudgery, and counteracted disease. Since these are not inconsiderable benefactions and, like the findings of pure science, can be dispensed—bestowed on people, unlike character, say, which each individual must acquire for himself—it again looked as if mankind as a whole was advancing. History was getting somewhere.

These two causes for the rise of the vision of historical progress are well known. The third reason has been less noticed because it is privative; it involved not the appearing but the vanishing of something. Science and technology would not have changed man’s outlook a fraction as much as they did had they not been reinforced by scientism. Its epistemological assumption that only the scientific method gives “news about the universe” produced the ontological conclusion that corporeal reality is the only concrete and self-sufficient reality there is. In a single stroke the mansion of being was reduced to its ground floor. The consequence for hope was obvious: if being has no upper stories, hope has no vertical prospect. If it is to go anywhere—and hope by definition implies a going of some sort—henceforth that “where” could only be forward or horizontal. The extent to which the modern doctrine of progress is the child, not of evidence as it would like to believe, but of hope’s élan—the fact that being indispensable it does spring eternal in the human breast and, in the modern world view, has no direction to flow save forward—is among the undernoted facts of intellectual history. If the ratio between evidence and hope in the idea of historical progress were to be laid squarely before us, we would be humbled in our estimate of ourselves as rational creatures.

The Illuminated Rumi
 Coleman Barks, Michael Green, Rumi, Lauren Marino, Maulana Jalal al-Din Rumi

Book Description:

Rise up nimbly and go on your strange journey to the ocean of meaningsIn the mid-thirteenth century, in a dusty marketplace in Konya, Turkey, a city where Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist travelers mingled, Jelaluddin Rumi, a popular philosopher and scholar, met Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish. Their meeting forever altered the course of Rumi's life and influenced the mystical evolution of the planet. The bond they formed was everlasting--a powerful transcendent friendship that would flow through Rumi as some of the world's best-loved ecstatic poetry.Rumi's passionate, playful poems find and celebrate sacred life in everyday existence. They speak across all traditions, to all peoples, and today his relevance and popularity continue to grow. In The Illuminated Rumi, Coleman Barks, widely regarded as the world's premier translator of Rumi's writings, presents some of his most brilliant work, including many new translations. To complement Rumi's universal vision, Michael Green has worked the ancient art of illumination into a new, visually stunning form that joins typography, original art, old masters, photographs, and prints with sacred images from around the world.The Illuminated Rumi is a truly groundbreaking collaboration that interweaves word and image: a magnificent meeting of ancient tradition and modern interpretation that uniquely captures the spiritual wealth of Rumi's teachings. Coleman Barks's wise and witty commentary, together with Michael Green's art, makes this a classic guide to the life of the soul for a whole new generation of seekers.


In a magnificent meeting of words and visuals, of ancient tradition and modern interpretation, this beautiful book assembles in one volume the timeless work of 13th-century Sufi poet and philosopher Jelaluddin Rumi. Extraordinary, contemporary, full-color collages capture the richness of Rumi's teachings.

John Scottus Eriugena (Great Medieval Thinkers)
by Deirdre Carabine, Dierdre Carabine

Book Description:

This volume provides a brief and accessible introduction to the 9th-century philosopher and theologian John Scottus Eriugena--perhaps the most important philosophical thinker to appear in Latin Christendom in the period between Augustine and Anselm. Eriugena was known as the interpreter of Greek thought to the Latin West, and this book emphasizes the relation of Eriugena's thought to his Greek and Latin sources.


This is an introduction to the 9th-century philosopher and theologian John Scottus Eriugena, who was perhaps the most important philosophical thinker to appear in Latin Christendom in the period between Augustine and Anselm. Eriugena was known as the interpreter of Greek thought to the Latin West, particularly as teacher to Frankish emperor Charles the Bald, and this book emphasizes the relation of Eriugena's thought to his Greek and Latin sources.
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