Milton’s striking metaphor in Paradise Lost, the oxymoron Darkness Visible, is unparalleled in referring light (lumen) itself to something like a hellish tomb of veritable blackness. Robert J. Edgeworth in his essay entitled, Milton’s ‘Darkness Visible’ and ‘Aeneid’ 7, writes:
I suggest that Milton meant what he said: the flames of Hell radiate a positive, palpable darkness which extinguishes light (symbol of the divine in Milton as in the Christian tradition generally: God is absent from Hell) wherever it reaches-a powerful negation of light, and not merely a light which is weak or fitful…
The flames of Hell give no light; what is called dark here on earth is the brightest it ever gets in the underworld.
Contemporary literature and films focus extensively on this connotation, like William Styron’s book Darkness Visible that describes the descent into the darkness of madness; as well as the Hindi film Darkness Visible, a real psychological as well as spiritual thriller revolving around a young man whose own body houses a demonized spirit of a Rakshasa. While such connotations are engrossingly entertaining, it needs to be stressed that there are also affirmative meanings of the term; this blog series will stress such realizations and will boldly contend:
The light of the luminous can only be discerned through a darkness visible.
More often than not metaphors of light dominate spiritual landscapes. Before falling into this conditioned and highly prejudicial mindset, one must take careful note of what befell poor Icarus when he flew too closely into the rays of the sun:
A boy creates a magical pair of wings from bee’s wax and feathers, and begins to fly. He flies higher and higher despite his father’s warnings, continuing ever upward toward the light of the sun. He is consumed by his drive toward the light until the wax in his wings begins to melt in the sun’s heat, his feathers drop away, and he falls into the Aegean Sea and drowns.
We might sum up the moral of this tale in this way: “Too much light and your wings may be lost.” Yet within the religious traditions of many denominations there is often a largely unbalanced emphasis on embracing light and following a sole trajectory of ascension. As the myth of Icarus informs us, though, the inevitable curse and course of those who chase spiritual light is that they must eventually fall back down to Earth. In less mythic terms: The more we walk toward the light, the longer our shadows grow behind us. The route back to the source, then, is not upward to the light, but downward into darkness. (Ross Heaven & Simon Buxton, Darkness Visible: Awakening Spiritual Light through Darkness Meditation, Destiny Books 2005)
The work just quoted was my major inspiration for this series, which is closely akin to a sister series from 2016, Beyond the Rainbow Body:
Beyond the Rainbow Body, can also serve as a metaphor for going beyond all that is perceivable and demonstrable. When one contemplates this metaphor it becomes an absolute assurance that always remaining within the confining categories of the known and verifiable can be a most limiting enterprise. The realization will eventually dawn that it is the unknown and the unlimited-depths of dark spacelessness within the Void that, like “Dark Matter”, is the Real Imageless Substance that is woven throughout the pattern of existence. The ancient Essenes-sect expounded that the Absolute was more about darkness than light. In this sense they were in league with Pseudo Dionysius–for him the Absolute was a via-negativa–the absence of light. Think of it—Darkness is the Real Eternal Delight—it is the essence of the Imageless Eternal-Self. Darkness IS deathlessness itself. Light suffers from limitations, like the death of a Star that soon turns-inward into a Black Hole which Alone remains. Darkness is the womb out of which everything is born and into which everything will eventually return—the Dark Womb of Tara, Our Lady of the Void. Light is born but the darkness is always there—it is deathless. The ancients were well aware of this and incorporated various spiritual-vehicles in which to participate in this sensory-deprived-Dark Realization.
Indeed, this Darkness Visible is a Luminous One, something of which The Zennist wrote emphasizing that this is more of a “spiritual descent” rather than ascending into flights of fancy which is “just more of the same, samsara; rather we must descend into the void–into a place ‘we do not know’…descending into the void transcends the psychophysical organism…wherein only pure light can come through, like boring a tiny hole into the fabric of samsara.”
The above work by Heaven and Buxton is also in league with this Spirit of Luminosity as prayed by Dionysius the Areopagite:
“Direct our path to that topmost height of mystic Lore which exceedeth light and more than exceedeth knowledge, where the pure, absolute and immutable mysteries of heavenly Truth are veiled in the dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence, outshining all brilliance with the intensity of their Darkness and surcharging our blinded intellects with the utterly impalpable and invisible fairness of glories surpassing all beauty.
Let this be my prayer…. For by unceasing and absolute renunciation of oneself and all things, one shalt in purity cast all things aside and so shalt be led upwards to the Superessential Ray of Divine Darkness.” (ibid)
As today’s accompanying image depicts, the Zen Ensō can be likened unto a sole circular brushstroke that shines within the darkness of the void, thus illuminating It As Pure Translucent Light, empowering us to Recollect THAT most primal Darkness Visible—a boundless sea of Eternal Delight that is at once comforting and nurturing as the Bodhiwomb Itself.
“Mystery and imagination arise from the same source. This source is called darkness….Darkness within darkness, the gateway to all understanding.” LAO-TZU