The Divine Comedy

But already my desire and my will
Were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed,
By the love which moves the sun and the other stars.

Dante Alighieri
[1265 Florence-1321 Ravenna]

The Divine Comedy written 700 years ago stands all times and is considered as the “chefs-d’oeuvre of literature”. It takes the reader on a fascinating voyage to the afterlife, across the realms of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso vivified in strong visual imageries and leaving an indelible imprint as one partakes in Dante’s journey. Renown as Sommo Poeta –the Great Poet, Dante wrote his timeless masterpiece at the age of 35, at the time when he had to leave his hometown Florence to spend the rest of his life in exile.

Though he sets out on an individual journey in Divine Comedy, it is a communal journey on becoming human, the immortality of the soul and what awaits us in the other world in reflection of our acts and choices made during our life on earth. The vivid imageries sway the traveler from a terrifying scene of hell to a sublime corner of contemplation and further on to an exhilarating realm in paradise.

Dante’s guides in this voyage are Virgil who leads him through Inferno and Purgatorio and Beatrice, Dante’s platonic and mystical love who died at an early age greets him and guides him across the stages of Paradiso.

The souls who are destined to go to Inferno are taken by Charon, the boatman whose duty is to get them across the river Acheron to the gates of hell where they have to remain in one of the circles of pain and suffering depending on their eternal punishments.

Michelangelo, The Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel
They cling to the boat to be saved from hell but are thrown back by Charon’s oar.

At the gates of hell sits the leopard, the lion and the wolf; representing lust, pride and avarice respectively and all three confront Virgil and Dante.

The Gates of Hell, Gustave Doré

After passing the gates of hell, Dante and Virgil enter Inferno which is shaped like an inverted funnel comprised of 9 circles; each circle represents a different vice or weakness of human nature and its retribution.

Inferno, S. Boticelli

1st circle : good pagans and leaders
2nd circle: sexually promiscuous
3rd circle: the gluttons
4th circle: thieves and spendthrift wasters
5th circle: the angry ones
The gates of lower hell, the city of Dis
6th circle: heretics
7th circle: violence; the violent ones against nature, property, body, murderers, tyrants, the blasphemous, sexual perverts, suiciders
8th circle: fraud and corruption; false prophets, hypocrites, fraudulent advisors, politicians, seducers, flatterers, swindlers, sorcerers
9th circle: treachery; traitors to family and friends, to guests, to law, to country and to God.
Center point of the earth: the evil –Lucifer (Satan) who was originally created with the highest intelligence but was rejected from heaven because of his rebellion and pride (Purgatorio XII.25).

The residents of Inferno are like shadows of the mistakes committed in life for they must repeatedly endure the same acts that they have done on to others on earth, all the while fully aware of their situation and yet captivated in their own wrongdoings. The punishments have strong physical representations which intensify the reality of the experiences in settings such as dark forests, deep swamps, and rugged mountains.

Gustave Doré
Virgil addressing the false conselors in the deep abyss.

As for evil, it resides in the gravitational center of the earth and has a strong pulling force on human beings in the material world and it is not apart from man (Inferno XXXIV. 110-111). Though all is created good, humans can go either way as God has granted them free will and that makes the fallible nature of man when he surrenders to evil. Such was the story of Adam who was naturally disposed to the good before he fell by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Paradiso VII.26).

Purgatorio is the realm of purification from the worldly mistakes and sins committed with a hint of greed, envy, pleasure seeking or anger. The sensations of remorse and love prevail the spheres of Purgatorio with the hope of gaining back the dignity of the soul. Virgil explains to Dante as he shows the way, that too much thought can be dangerous for it may paralyze action:

Why is your mind so caught up in a tangle,”
My master said, “that you slacken your pace?
And what does all this whispering matter to you?
 
Come on behind me, let those people talk;
Stand like a solid tower which does not shake
Its top whatever winds are blowing on it;
 
Because the man in whom thoughts bubble up
One after the other, goes wide of the mark,
Because one thought weakens the force of the another.

Purgatorio V. 10-16.

The residents of Purgatorio remain there to endure their trials in the shadows of those tainted thoughts of the past insofar to purify their souls.

All created things have implanted in them an instinct or “natural love” (Purgatorio XVII.91-94) which carries them to the pre-ordained place: for example, that in fire draws it towards the sphere of fire, and that in matter draws it down towards the central point of the earth. But man’s instinct as a rational soul is natural love or “primal will” (Purgatorio XVIII.49-60) that draws him back to the “intellectual light, full of love” of the Creator in the Empyrean.

Paradiso XXX. 40.
Gustave Doré
The proud, bow and bend their knees under weight of the stones they are carrying; in allegory to humility.

On the summit of the Purgatorio, the river Lethe is situated. It is the river of forgetfulness, the waters of which remove the painful memories of the past mistakes and sins, and vivify the soul. The redeemed souls who finish their terms in Purgatorio and who become eligible to leave, wash in this river and pass on to a stage in Paradiso.

Paradiso, ruled by justice and reason, is filled with love and the grace of divine benevolence.

Now you are wondering and wondering, say nothing;
But I will loosen for the hard bonds
In which your subtle thoughts are tying you up.

Within the length and the breadth of this kingdom
There is no such thing as a place left for chance,
Any more than there is sadness, thirst or hunger;

For whatever you see has been established
By eternal law, so that everything fits
As closely as the ring does to the finger.

The king by whose power this kingdom stays
In so much love and in such delight
That no one dares to will anything beyond it,

Creating all minds in the happiness
Of his own sight, endows them with grace
Differently, as He pleases; and that is enough.

Paradiso XXXII. 49-64.
Salvador Dali

The leading cardinal virtues which bring people to paradise are pure faith, altruism, prudence and courage. Souls have different constitutions by creation. Their potential capacities are different but God treats them with equity, in the sense that his grace fulfills the individual souls in proportion to their innate capacities for love and for reason (Paradiso III.89-90). Beatrice is entrusted with the mission to guide Dante across the stages of Paradiso which is in the higher realm located outside the earth. It is shaped like an amphitheater made of 9 circles. Each circle is represented by a planet and the highest of them arches to the realm of infinity.  

Moon –represents inconsistency; place of those who are good in heart but could not complete their vows.
Mercury- represents love of fame, those who did good works but for glory and fame remain here. 
Venus –planet of carnal love, for ones who are in the grip of strong material attractions.
Sun –symbol of God’s illuminating grace, ultimate wisdom.
Mars –courage
Jupiter – justice.
Saturn – moderation and restraint
8th heaven –of faith, hope and love. Ladder of contemplation from Saturn reaches up here.
9th heaven –Crystalline, the fastest sphere and the furthest of the material heavens; time, space and nature begin here.
10th heaven –Empyrean, the Essence which is beyond space, time and matter.

The level of happiness increases in proportion to the height of each heavenly sphere. Bliss, the eternal happiness of the soul is possible to attain by practicing virtues, and by purifying the soul. Spiritual maturity can only be gained with practice, knowledge, reason and love. Obstacles in the pursuit of happiness are human faults and weakness.

One of the famous lines of the book, short and lucid:

E’n la sua voluntade è nostra pace.
(And in his will we find our peace.)
Paradiso III. 85

The souls who could reach the level of comprehending the Truth acquire the merit to be in the presence of God and to remain there eternally in absolute felicity of being in His union. Empyrean …It is the sea to which everything flows. It is the 10th and the final stage –the stage of Perfection where all is encompassed in pure light. It is the seat of God and the archangels who are close to him. It happens here in Empyrean when, under divine illumination, Dante sees the face of God in Beatrice.

I saw rain down upon her so much happiness
Borne by those holy intelligences
Which were created to fly at such high altitudes,

That all I had seen before that
Did not keep me so suspended in wonder
Nor showed me so much of what God was like.

And that love which came down to her
Singing “Ave Maria, gratia plena”
Spread his wings out before her now.

Paradiso XXXII. 88-94.
Salvador Dali

Duygu Bruce
January 18, 2019

Sources of Compassion and Happiness

 

I have been pondering on the question: Is compassion inborn or can it be acquired through learning and practicing in a lifetime? Though I easily recognize compassion when I see it in another person, it is difficult for me to evaluate how compassionate I am as a person or if the degree of my compassion varies depending on the context. When I observe the people (more…)

The Novice Who Had Some Gold


A novice had a little store of gold.
His sheikh knew this, although he had not been told.

There was a journey that they had to make –
The two set out, the young man and his sheikh;

Then night came to the valley where they walked,
And into the path they followed forked,

The novice trembled for his hidden gold
(Which makes its owners less than bold);

“Which way to you advise?” he asked his sheikh.
“There are two paths; which is the best to take?”

The sheikh said: “Throw out what you cannot hide,
Then either way will do –you decide.”

Let gold win someone’s heart, and when that is done
Even the devil, out of fear, will run.

When gold is weighed, what arguments ensue:
“One grain too many!” “No, one grain too few!”

A king when cheating people, but a fool
When faith is mentioned –a bewildered mule.

The man whom shining gold can lead astray
Is captured by the world, he is lost his Way.

October 25, 2018

Farîd-od-Dîn ‘Attâr (1146-1221). The Canticle of the Birds. Translated from the Persian by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis. Paris: Diane de Selliers, Éditeur, 2013.

The Moths and the Flame

 

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle’s light,

And they decided one of them should go
To gather news of the elusive glow.

One flew till the distance he discerned
A palace window where a candle burned – (more…)

Words of Truth

On the path of Truth, all faiths and religions are one, race and color have no relevance, and there is no difference between men and women.[1]

This saying is from Words of Truth, the unique book of wisdom I am going to write about today. Compiled by Dr. Bahram Elahi, Words of Truth is a collection of sayings based on the teachings of his father Ostad Elahi (1895-1974). Having read it a few years ago, I go back to it whenever I am in need of an answer or looking for guidance. It is a handbook of wisdom, and of practical points on how to conduct a “good life” while becoming a true human being.

Ostad Elahi was a renowned Persian magistrate and musician who dedicated his life to the search of Truth, and to acquiring self-knowledge. Having spent first 25 years of his life in asceticism and traditional spirituality, he renounced traditional mysticism in order to join society. He undertook the judicial career to become a magistrate, and started to build his innovative approach to spirituality. Ostad Elahi’s approach is based on his personal experiences, observations, and research. The key features of his teachings are practical and adaptable to everyday life, regardless of religion or gender.

His lifetime quest for Truth resumes:

“Truth” is knowing what we are, where we have come from, what duties we have here and where our ultimate destination lies. To access the Truth, we must devote ourselves to the pursuit of this knowledge and seek to understand it through practice.[2]

 In this quest for Truth, the essential prerequisite is to become truly human.

A true human being’s natural inclination is to always strive to have a positive impact; his actions benefit society and he is well-liked by others. In other words, when a person becomes truly human, his nature dictates that his actions always be beneficent[3]…[he] rejoices in the happiness of others and shares in their sorrows. The other sign of a true human being is to feel an aversion toward vile deeds and all that is contrary to one’s conscience and dignity.[4]

 However, there is a major obstacle in the pursuit of Truth, which is the inevitable “confrontation with the imperious self”[5]. This confrontation entails an ongoing fight against the imperious self’s instincts and illegitimate desires that urge for immediate gratification. It also does not take into account reason or law, or the rights of the others. This fight thus accumulates “a strong negative psychic energy which is harmful for the soul and which prevents us to see the Truth”[6].

One should strive to strengthen the body, while at the same time fortifying the soul such that the body, with all its means, remains subservient to the soul. This approach to confronting the imperious self is analogous to a new science of medicine intended to purify the soul that I’ve come to realize through personal experience. The whole of the twelve years of asceticism that I endured prior to entering public service had less spiritual value than just a single year spent in a professional work environment.[7]

 The coherence of one’s actions, words and conduct in society is emphasized as an essential part of becoming human.

Words are one thing, for them to have an impact is another. By practicing that which we believe, our actions and words are endowed with impact. It is action alone that yields impact.[8]

Throughout the book, one can find answers to essential questions such as:

  • How to become a true human being and remain virtuous while living in society?
  • How to fight against the imperious self and advance in our quest for the Truth?
  • The immortality of the soul and what awaits us in the other world?

Words of Truth may be like a treatment for the soul. Every time I reopen this book and read even a few words, it cultivates an inner richness in me, and I see its noticeable impact on my everyday life. Its simple and sincere language provides me with the tools I need to enrich my self-knowledge and, who knows, to become one day a true human being.

If you want to discover Words of Truth for yourself, it’s published and available in the following languages:

D.Bruce

15 June 2018

[1] Saying 21

[2] Saying 1

[3] Saying 4

[4] Saying 277

[5] Introduction, French edition page 16 (translated by the author of this article) .

[6] Introduction, French edition page 16.

[7] Saying 322

[8] Saying 337

Homage to Hafez-e Shirazi

 

A flower- tinted cheek, the flowery close

Of the fair earth, these are enough for me –

Enough that in the meadow wanes and grows

The shadow of a graceful cypress tree.

I am no lover of hypocrisy;

Of all the treasures that the earth can boast,

A brimming cup of wine I prize the most –

This is enough for me!

 

To them that here renowned for virtue live,

A heavenly palace is the meet reward;

To me, the drunkard and the beggar, give

The temple of the grape with red wine stored!

Beside a river seat thee on the sward;

It floweth past –so flows thy life away,

So sweetly, swiftly, fleets our little day –

Swift, but enough for me!

 

Look upon all the gold in the world’s mart,

On all the tears the world hath shed in vain;

Shall they not satisfy thy craving heart?

I have enough of loss, enough of gain;

I have my Love, what more can I obtain?

Mine is the joy of her companionship

Whose healing lip is laid on my lip –

This is enough for me!

 

I pray thee send not forth my naked soul

From its poor house to seek for paradise;

Though heaven and earth before me God unroll,

Back to thy village still my spirit flies.

And, Hafız, at the door of Kısmet lies

No just complaint –a mind like water clear,

A song that swells and dies upon the ear,

This is enough for me!

 

Hafez-e Shirazi

Translated by Gertrude Bell

The Hafez Poems of Gertrude Bell. 2007. Maryland: Ibex Publishers, p.73.

 

The 5 characteristics of people who well take care of their mental health

For most people being mentally healthy means being up, alive and happy. For they know that mental health needs taking care equally as the body does. Going on being in the midst of thousands of thoughts crossing the mind every day and different shades of emotions coloring one’s mood, all the while being exposed to numerous stimuli from the external environment how can the human being keep his or her mind clear, healthy and in well order?

Here are the 5 things they do which bring them the “mental wellness”:

  • Attention and mindfulness: The typical practice is taking 3 minutes of pause every day to review their actions, choices and reactions.
  • Seeing the good: They spend effort to see the good in whatever happens and with whoever it happens to be such that it becomes a daily exercise for their mental wellness.
  • Self-compassion: They regard themselves with compassion, aware of their shortcomings they know they are not perfect and they are willing to forgive themselves.
  • Physical well-being: As one takes care of his body, it gives way to take care of the mind and the soul as well as reducing the stress and depression levels.
  • Altruism: They help others. Consequently, they become happier and such kind of happiness lasts longer. They live longer.

 

Duygu Bruce

April 25, 2017

Psychology Today, March 2017.

Journey of the Souls

One of the richest books I’ve read about the spiritual worlds and the life of the soul. Michael Newton, PhD, the renowned hypnotherapist is set out to write this phenomenal book based on the case reports of 29 patients that he worked with in his professional practice as a counselor and therapist. He reflects on his life, and becoming the author of this book in the following recollection: (more…)

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