The Third Eye

Contemplation in Action: Week 1

The Third Eye
Thursday, June 29, 2017

In the early medieval period, two Christian philosophers offered names for three different ways of seeing, and these names had a great influence on scholars and seekers in the Western tradition. Hugh of St. Victor (1078-1141) and Richard of St. Victor (1123-1173) wrote that humanity was given three different sets of eyes, each building on the previous one. The first eye was the eye of the flesh (thought or sight), the second was the eye of reason (meditation or reflection), and the third was the intuitive eye of true understanding (contemplation). [1]

I describe this third eye as knowing something simply by being calmly present to it (no processing needed!). This image of “third eye” thinking, beyond our dualistic vision, is also found in most Eastern religions. We are onto something archetypal here, I think!

The loss of the “third eye” is at the basis of much of the shortsightedness and religious crises of the Western world, about which even secular scholars like Albert Einstein and Iain McGilchrist have written. Lacking such wisdom, it is hard for churches, governments, and leaders to move beyond ego, the desire for control, and public posturing. Everything divides into dualistic oppositions like liberal vs. conservative, with vested interests pulling against one another. Truth is no longer possible at this level of conversation. Even theology becomes more a quest for power than a search for God and Mystery.

One wonders how far spiritual and political leaders can genuinely lead us without some degree of contemplative seeing and action. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that “us-and-them” seeing, and the dualistic thinking that results, is the foundation of almost all discontent and violence in the world. [2] It allows heads of religion and state to avoid their own founders, their own national ideals, and their own better instincts. Lacking the contemplative gaze, such leaders will remain mere functionaries and technicians, or even dangers to society.

We need all three sets of eyes in both a healthy culture and a healthy religion. Without them, we only deepen and perpetuate our problems.

Gateway to Silence:
Be still and still moving.

References:
[1] Hugh of St. Victor, De Sacramentis christianae fidei, 1.10.2;
Richard of St. Victor, The Mystical Ark, 1:3-4. See Richard of St. Victor, trans. Grover A. Zinn (Paulist Press: 1979), 30, 155-158.
[2] See David Berreby, Us and Them: The Science of Identity (University of Chicago Press: 2008).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 28-29.

Image Credit: The Incredulity of Thomas (detail), painted by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio between 1601 and 1602. Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam, Germany.

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