Reading: Concrete Approaches
to the Intuition of Being

from God, Zen and  the Intuition of Being

If our sight has been dulled by too long an exposure to the fact of existence, then something must come along to shake us loose and make us really see what is in front of our eyes. Our ordinary experience must be magnified so that existence appears before us with its original face. Maritain suggests that there are various paths that can lead to this intuition. He mentions Bergson's duration, Heidegger's experience of anguish, a "feeling at once keen and lacerating of all that is precarious and imperiled in our existence..."(18), and Gabriel Marcel's sense of fidelity, but he stresses that all these approaches are insufficient in themselves. For though they are pregnant with ontological values, they do not deliver the intuition in all its naked intelligibility.

"The experience in question gives information only of itself." We must let "the veils - too heavy with matter and too opaque - of the concrete psychological or ethical fact fall away to discover in their purity the strictly metaphysical values which such experiences concealed."(19)

Here examples drawn from philosophy should not lead us to the conclusion that there must be something vaguely scholarly or theoretical about these concrete approaches. There is not. The propitious circumstances are woven into the fabric of our daily lives. A sudden manifestation of the beauty of nature can lead us in this direction, as can the discovery of human love, or simply an unexpected moment of insight with no obvious antecedents.

What are these experiences like? Raissa describes one that took place before their baptism, while she was in a car which was passing through a forest:

I was looking out the window and thinking of nothing in particular. Suddenly a great change took place in me, as if from the perceptions of the senses I had passed over to an entirely inward perception. The passing trees had become much larger than themselves, they assumed a dimension prodigious for its depth. The whole forest seemed to speak of Another, became a forest of symbols, and seemed to have no other function than to signify the Creator."(20)

Maritain finds a similar experience described in the autobiography of Jean Richter. "One morning when I was still a child, I was standing on the threshold of the house and looking to my left in the direction of the wood pile when suddenly there came to me from heaven like a lightning flash the thought: I am a self, a thought which has never since left t me. I perceived my self for the first time and for good." (2 1)

What distinguished the powerful experiences that could lead us to the intuition of being from those that, in fact, do so? Perhaps the inner questioning that permeated the life of someone like Raissa becomes focused and creates a fleeting pathway to being. Then the alluring palpability of the concrete gives way to another dimension, the inner world of metaphysics. What is this world like? It is the task of metaphysics as a science to attempt to conceptually articulate what is given in intuition.

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