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The Japanese Hara Theory & its Relations to East & West, Part 2

Robert_Fludd_-_Utriusque_cosmi_Historia_-_1617-19 [1]

The relationships of microcosm and macrocosm as illustrated in Robert Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi Historia, 1619

2,914 words

Part 2 of 2

An inquiry into the doctrine of the “center” in the West would indeed be of much interest for the purposes of a further comparison, but it presents special difficulties because esoteric knowledge in the West has taken the form of cryptograms, and has been clothed in abstruse symbols and myths of many meanings to which a uniform interpretation, such as modern critical thought desires, cannot always be given. We shall therefore only make a few references.

The ancient traditions about the sacred stone, the betilos are known; it had the meaning of a “center,” it was known to Rome under the name of abadir. The etymological derivation of betilos from “beth-el” or “house of God,” is not to be excluded.[1] This was also the name given by Jacob to the stone he used as a pillow when, in his well-known dream, he had the vision of the house of God and of the gates of Heaven. It was, moreover, the name given by Jacob to the town near to the place of his dream. Now, certain Western esoteric doctrines, of cabalistic origin, have developed these symbols into a theory of the basic center.

Thus, referring to the fact that in Genesis the original name of Beth-el was Luz, it has been noted that luz is the Hebrew name of an “indestructible osselet,” in which the words “bone,” and “indestructible” have been used in an allegorical sense, not material but spiritual. Agrippa says that “from it, like a plant from a seed, the human body sprouts again in the resurrection of the dead—and this quality is not ascertained by reasoning but by experience.”[2]

But the fact is that in Aramaic “luz” is precisely the bone attached to the lower end of what is curiously enough known as the “sacrum,” at the basis of the spinal column, that is to say precisely at the place where the Hindu Tantric Yogic teaching locates the basic center, the muladhara; the religious concept of the “resurrection of the dead,” homologated in this exegesis with the initiatic idea of spiritual reintegration; Agrippa’s reference to the fact that it is a question of a matter of experience (inner experience); lastly, the idea, which is always part of the same tradition, that in the vicinity of Luz access was to be found for reaching a symbolical hidden city, one in which “the Angel of Death cannot enter nor have over it any power”[3]—all this might lead us to an order of ideas similar to that of the esoteric doctrine of the hara as basic center.

It is difficult to give evidence, in the secret Western traditions, of the precise location of the lower center in terms of hyperphysical anatomy, because it is likely that this knowledge has not had in the West the development that characterizes the Hindu and Far Eastern doctrines. One of the few existing documents is the work of a disciple of Boehme, Georg Gichtel which appeared in 1696 under the title Theosophia practica; it is also illustrated by several colored plates, the work of Johann Georg Graber, which refer to the occult constitution of fallen man and of regenerated man.

They show a zone which might correspond approximately to the hara, as it is placed in the lower part of the body, but centering in the genitals. In the plates showing unregenerate man it bears the writing: “the dark world, the root of the souls in the center of Nature.” Thus we find the idea of a basic center (root-center), “center of Nature” in the language of Boehme, is more or less equivalent to the “center of the Earth” in the language of the Far East. In another plate we find attached to this zone, the words “Hell, Satan.”

But in the doctrine as a whole set forth by Gichtel, a doctrine which certainly brings together elements of previous experiences and traditions, it would seem that this dark and infernal character is not intrinsic to the lower center, that it is only referred to as the manner in which the primordial principle, the Urgrund, of the divine manifests itself in fallen man, and that it is only necessary to effect a certain transformation in that center to bring about the regeneration of man, the union of the principle of “Light” with the principle of “Fire” which were disassociated by the Fall. Let us quote these two passages from Gichtel:

Below the heart, where (in Living Man) the divine Light of the World resides, there is the divine, magic eye of marvels, and the Fire, which in the regenerate is the place where the Father generates the Son, who is in the heart. In the others it is the Fire of Divine Wrath. It is the bottom of Heaven and of Hell, and of the visible world whence come good and evil, as also light and darkness, life and death, blessedness and damnation. . . . It is called the Mysterium Magnum because it contains two beings and two wills.

The lower part of the body is therefore referred, as in the doctrine of hara, to a primordial, non-dual, principle: but with an ambivalent character. But the palingenesis conceived by Gichtel is not completed in the lower seat, but rather in the higher one, more especially in the heart, from which a vinculum is removed, symbolized by a serpent coiled round the sign of the Sun—it is the vinculum of the Ego—and a light is lit which is the principle of the palingenesis of the body and of the formation of the “perfect, angelic man.” The correspondence with the theory of hara is therefore only partial.

A last indication we find in the illustrations to the work of Robert Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi Historia (Oppenheim, 1619), in which the human body is inserted in circles pointing to the correspondences between macrocosm and microcosm; the center of these circles is in the lower part of the body, more or less in the genitals, where we find written “Centrum.” Something similar is found in Agrippa[4] and in other writers of the same esoteric trend. The anonymous text De Pharmaco Catholico speaks in symbols of an “infernal nitre” which is a “fiery magic key” with the power to destroy a principle which seems to allude, through the symbols used, to the exterior and individual Ego.

It should however be noted in considering all this that the hara is not placed in the genitals, and that there is no reference in the Far Eastern doctrine to the secret power of sex which seems, by this way, to have been taken into consideration by the Western theories, and which is also not absent in the Tantric theory of the muladhara and the kundalini. Therefore the hara doctrine, as compared to similar traditions, including Asian ones, offers features of its own, which give rise to the problem of its origin and its foundations.

As a matter of principle, the subject with which we are dealing should, in a certain sense, be objective. It has always been thought that what may be called “spiritual corporeality” is not a matter of philosophical opinions but of knowledge; it would therefore seem that there should be no more differences on the subject than there are on the anatomy and physiology of the physical body, which do not differ in men of different races and civilizations.

Should the divergencies now mentioned be real, and not due to imperfect information or formulation, one might indeed wonder if they are not accounted for by a difference in the man of the Far East not only in his existentialist attitudes but also in his hyperphysical structure. This difference would then account for the diversity in the methods of spiritual realization.

In all that we have said till now we have referred above all to what can be deduced from the extracts of Japanese teachings published in Dürckheim’s book. It will be suitable to add a few words about what the author himself has to say, for he has not only explained and described the doctrine of hara but, with the enthusiasm of a neophyte, he has become its apologist and, as we have noted, he has seen fit to attribute to it universal validity, making it therefore extensible to Western Man: this most ancient path, that of hara, would also be a new one, to be used for “a decisive task of our time” (p. 183), for a necessary rectification of a decentralization of which Western Man is above all guilty and from which he is suffering.

We shall deal later with this last point. For the moment we will note that the framework in which Dürckheim has placed the doctrine of hara makes it in part more acceptable. We would again remind the reader that the problem does not involve the general views held by Zen and by similar schools, on the liberation from the Ego, on finding centralization and an invulnerable stability, on acquiring the capacity to “act without acting.” All that raises no difficulty. But the question is that of the specific relation established between these spiritual aims and Eastern practice directed towards hara, with the corresponding emphasis on the importance of the lower part of the body. Dürckheim attenuates the specific and drastic character of this doctrine, for he speaks also, though not without fluctuations, of a higher dimension of the whole process. He quotes the proverb: “You cannot win heaven if you neglect the earth, if you do not first say yes to the earth,” and he sees in this what is meant by transporting one’s center to the hara. This transfer would then have (as in the Hindu and Chinese teachings referred to above) the meaning of a simple preliminary stage. “The hara,” he says on p. 123 “reveals the terrestrial center of being but not yet the celestial center.” In a certain sense, the transfer to the hara would make it possible to cast off the spell of the ego, it would enable the deeper vital forces, from which man has detached himself, to rise within him to free him and shape him.

We are reminded that “every real ascent into the spirit is preceded by a descent into the center of the earth.” This indeed is a teaching held in common by many traditions both of the East and of the West. On the religious plane it has given rise to the symbolism of Christ descending into Hell before ascending into Heaven, and to that of Dante’s journey in the Divine Comedy.

Parallel and more specific symbols are given, as noted by Dürckheim (without however adequately developing the corresponding features) by the Western doctrine of hermetic alchemy. A well-known formula of this tradition ascribed to Basilius Valentinus, is that of the anagram VITRIOLUM, interpreted as Visita Interiora Terrae Rectifi cando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Veram Medicinam. Here again the idea is that of a descent to the center of the earth to find the Philosopher’s Stone, the real medicine, i.e., the principle of the reintegration of the human being.[5]

However it remains to be seen whether the specific doctrine of hara can be placed within this wider framework. We have, indeed, already pointed out the difference existing between the several definitions of hara understood in a non-material sense. Hara is not only called the center of the earth, the dark zone of the depths, but it is also called the “casket of the divine,” the seat of the One, even of a superior unity and of the “non-dual state.” This means that an absolute value is given to it, the value of a totality.

Dürckheim himself is constantly alternating between one of these meanings and the other; now he sees in hara the center of primordial unconscious life, now (as at p. 113) the seat of a transcendency, for it is there that contact is taken with the “überweltlichen Kräften seines Wesens.” It would therefore seem difficult to deprive the doctrine of hara, taken as a whole, of its character of a kind of monistic doctrine centered in the lower regions, centered, that is to say, more towards “Life” and the “Earth” than towards “Being,” or the true totality.

If we turn to the message that the teaching and the path of hara may offer to the Westerner, some precise reservations must be made. One may, of course, condemn the artificial and unilateral “upward centralization” not of the Western man in particular, but of the West of modern times, a centralization corresponding to the prevalence of the cerebral and purely individual Ego with no deep roots. But one must take care that a reaction to this does not lead us to that irrationalism, and vitalism which has made himself felt in many branches of our more recent Western culture, ranging from the theories of Bergson to those of Klages on the “mind as the antagonist of the soul”; from the views of Spengler to those of psychoanalysis in general and to those of C. G. Jung in particular.

We are far from sure that Dürckheim is not affected to some extent by this irrationalistic attitude. Does he not speak (p. 142) of a leap to be taken “into the sphere of the primordial life acting on the Unconscious.” Jung, with his devious theory of archetypes and of a pseudo-process of individual integration, would not express himself otherwise. If thus misinterpreted—and in the West all the assumptions for such a misinterpretation are present—the doctrine of hara might lead to a reversed integration, to a dissolution of the Ego, not into what lies above the individual finite consciousness—the true Transcendency, the Absolute One—but into that which is below it—“Life,” the sub-conscious, the reign of the “Mothers,” the Freudian “Id.”

The process of the irrationalists and of the psychoanalysts against the fictitious Ego, split and full of tensions, is indeed in function of this regressive direction: and it is a real nuisance that Jung was entrusted with the task of writing introductions to a number of oriental and western esoteric and mystical works, inclusive of those of Zen and the text of the “Mystery of the Golden Flower,” with a view to explaining them and “giving them scientific value” by interpreting them just on the lines of his doctrine of the “unconscious.” But when Dürckheim speaks of a return to “Universal Life,” we seem to recognize this same irrationalistic pathos of the mysticism of Life, although he often speaks also of Transcendency.

If the Ego, more especially in the Westerner, fears, as Dürckheim says, to take a leap into the sphere of primordial life and of the unconscious, this is not without existential reasons. As we have referred to the hermetic teachings about the descent into the lower regions of being, a descent related to the phase of “dissolution” (“Operation of the Black” in technical terminology), it will be well to refer also to the other teaching of the same tradition, according to which this spiritual adventure—not free from risks—should be undertaken only by those who possess what the text-books call “the grain of gold,” the “incombustible sulfur,” or the “spermatic seed.” These expressions allude to a principle which can overcome the crisis of dissolution and re-arise in a subsequent stage which is that of real reintegration.[6]

Now, it may be supposed that the modern Westerner is badly lacking in this principle and it for this that so far as he possesses a certain equilibrium, he instinctively fears to plunge into the “obscurity of the formless One, in order to reach the light” (p. 132), having for this fear good reasons. The existential atmosphere of the Western World in general is entirely unfavorable to adventures of that kind, and for this reason it is not desirable that doctrines of an esoteric character, such as those referred to, should be divulged in the West. They might give rise to the delusion that they could be used for the purposes of a general process of recovery, when, as a matter of fact, they can only have beneficial effects for an exiguous number of exceptionally qualified persons.

Matters stand otherwise in the East, both as the result of a different heredity and because of the survival of schools, traditions, and institutional cadres, and also perhaps because of that different structure of the “non-physical corporeality” of which we made mention as a hypothesis to explain to ourselves some anomalous aspects of the theory of hara. The valid element of this theory is perhaps limited to the general task of enucleating a “centered” human type, possessing as such a sound basis and calm strength; alike far from an excess or a lack of the Ego; from egocentric rigidness and from accessibility to vital and irrational forces. The task, however, is one which, in the case of the Westerner, will have to be fulfilled in a specific form, in keeping with his tradition and with the finer factors that condition him.

East and West, vol. 9, no. 1–2 (March–June, 1958): 76–84.


1. Cf. R. Guénon, Le Roi du Monde, It. ed. (Milan, 1927).

2. De Occulta Philosophia, I. 20.

3. For references on this matter see the collective work Introduzione alia Magia (Milan, 1955), Vol. I., pp. 115, 141.

4. Theosophia practica, II. 6; IV, 18–20.

5. De occulta philosophia, IL, 27.

6. On hermetic doctrines see our La tradizione ermetica nella sua dottrina, nei suoi simholi e nella sua Arte Regia (Bari, 1948).