On Light, Knowledge, and a Japanese Goddess

Welcome to our monthly newsletter, dear reader,

• We begin our selection with De luce (“On Light”), a brief treatise on the physics and metaphysics of light, by Robert Grosseteste, 13th-century Bishop of Lincoln. This famous work, a challenging blend of philosophy, psychology and theology, carries echoes of the Persian “Philosophy of Illumination” by Suhrawardi, who preceded Grosseteste by about one century.

Light, which is the first form created in first matter, multiplied itself by its very nature an infinite number of times on all sides and spread itself out uniformly in every direction. In this way it proceeded in the beginning of time to extend matter which it could not leave behind, by drawing it out along with itself into a mass the size of the material universe.

• Next we have a chapter on the manifold aspects of the lesser known Japanese goddess Benzaiten (akin to Hindu Saraswati), a Janus-faced deity who moves freely between manifesta­tions, transforming from a woman into a dragon, a snake, or even a fox.

As Myoonten, this deity was also (and perhaps primarily) related to Tantric speculations about sound. We recall that Sarasvati appeared in the Rig-veda as a motherly, protecting figure, ensuring the efficacy of the prayers of sacrifice. Very early on, she was identified with speech (Vac)… she simultaneously represents the Word and the Mother, the source of creative power… the murmur of her waters evoked the sounds of music. As Vac, she was the consort (or daughter) of Brahma. She became the inventor of Sanskrit, the goddess of grammar, eloquence, intelligence, knowledge, and craft—hence her name Benzaiten, “Deva of eloquence and talent.”
Miyajima Torii gate
Torii (Shinto gate) by the temple of Miyajima, one of the great cultic centers of Benzaiten.

• And finally, to go further into the teachings on intellect and light, we bring you a selection of pages from the chapter on “Knowledge and Love”, in Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts, by Frithjof Schuon.

Intellectualism cannot fail to engender errors. It confers self-complacency and abolishes fear of God; it introduces a sort of worldliness into the intellectual domain. Its good side is that it may speak of truth; its bad side is the manner in which it speaks of it. It replaces the virtues it lacks by sophistries; it lays claim to everything but is in fact ineffectual. In intellectualism a capacity to understand the most difficult things readily goes hand in hand with an inability to understand the simplest things.