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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Illumination

A term used to describe a state of spirituality and broadly equivalent to the term “enlightenment” in eastern religions. It refers to an inner realization of the nature of things that transcends words and forms.

In Christian spiritual literature, such as the writings of John of the Cross, illumination is the second of three major stages in the spiritual path: purgation, illumination and union. It is also referred to as the contemplative state or infused contemplation. It comes after one has gone through the purgation of the senses or appetites, and the soul becomes open to the infusion from a divine state of consciousness.

Among the SUFIS, illumination is similarly one of the stages of the mystical life that ends in union. The Sufi ’Attar describes illumination and enlightenment as the second and third of the “Seven Valleys” of the mystic, the first being the “Quest,” ultimately leading to the seventh, the annihilation of the self, the equivalent of the Union of the Christian mystics (Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, pp. 131-2). “The mystery of Being is now revealed to the traveler. He sees Nature’s secret, and God in all things. It is the height of illumination” (ibid., 131). These stages are almost identical with the Seven Valleys of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the BAHÁ’Í faith, who describes the second and third as the valleys of Love and Knowledge.

In the symbolic language of ALCHEMY, Underhill states that it is also the second of the three stages of the alchemical quest: when the AZOTH (or the mysterious substance mixed with sulphur, salt and mercury in the Athanor vessel or human being) turns black (purgation), white (illumination) and red (union) (Mysticism, p. 145).

To the NEOPLATONISTS, particularly Plotinus, illumination is the highest of three modes of knowledge: opinion, science, and illumination. The faculty through which the latter is attained is INTUITION. In Eastern philosophy or religion, the stage of illumination is equivalent to samadhi, satori, or the awakening of prajña.

Theosophy generally affirms the above views on illumination. It is the spiritual light of BUDDHI shining on the consciousness of the individual. Helena P. BLAVATSKY writes in Isis Unveiled: “The man who has conquered matter sufficiently to receive the direct light from his shining Augoeides, feels truth intuitionally; he could not err in his judgment, notwithstanding all the sophisms suggested by cold reason, for he is ILLUMINATED. Hence, prophecy, vaticination, and the so-called Divine inspiration are simply the effects of this illumination from above by our own immortal spirit” (IU I:306).

See also ENLIGHTENMENT.

V.H.C.

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