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Henry Corbin: Prayer is not a request for something

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Henry Corbin: Prayer is not a request for something
Photo: Sioux Invocation, 1907. The Dakota man is wearing breechcloth and holding a pipe, with his right hand raised skyward. Photograph is by Edward S. Curtis.



'Prayer is not a request for something: it is the expression of a mode of being, a means of existing and of causing to exist, that is, a means of causing the God who reveals himself to appear, of 'seeing' Him, not to be sure, in His essence, but in the form which precisely He reveals by revealing Himself by and to that form... Prayer is the highest form, the supreme act of the Creative Imagination.'

(Henry Corbin)



Recommended Reading:

'Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth'
By Henry Corbin (Author), Nancy Pearson (Translator)

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This book is perhaps the best place to begin exploring the Marvellous Land of Henri Corbin. Corbin was a treasure, an intrepid scholar who did more than anyone to open Western eyes to the spiritual world of Iran: poetic, visionary, Sufi, Shi'ite, seamed with ancient Zoroastrian and Gnostic ideas, a world with which the West has so much in common (Plato, Monotheism, Utopia, Redemption,) yet which remains so exotic and veiled.

Corbin abandoned Western philosophy, believing it had gone astray way back in the 14th century when William of Ockham introduced Nominalism. Iranian philosophy went the opposite way, towards an extreme Realism, a Platonism that would have startled Plato. Plato's Realm of Ideas is mainly an epistemological shortcut: its Shi'ite equivalent, the "Alam al-Mithal," (remember that from Frank Herbert's "Dune?") is far more substantial and habitable, like the higher worlds visited by shamans.

This book is a guide to that "Imaginal" world: not the concrete sensory world but not imaginary either, perfectly real, perceived in visionary states with the eyes of the spirit. Corbin's long introduction supplies the philosophical and historical background, and his anthology of texts offers opalescent travellers' tales, streaked with Suhrawardi's Light mysticism, the intricate theosophy of Ibn `Arabi and Shi'ite themes of concealment and transfiguration.

Corbin does himself no favours as a writer, a true French intellectual in preferring to express the profound by means of the impenetrable. But anyone who can struggle through the viscous prose and discover what an astonishing tale he has to tell, will surely want more. "Alone with the Alone" and "The Man of Light" are still more opaque, but go even further in revealing one of the most fascinating worlds of thought in existence.

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