Glossary et al



This is an oddball collection of various technical and foreign-language terms which look like they need further definition. Also includes some of the match-ups between systems, that is, how terms from different systems have been funneled into single terms in the subject list

a posteriori – (Latin, used by Kant) based on sensory experience; knowledge considered to be true based on experience, observation, or existing data.

a priori – (Latin, used by Kant) known independently of sensory experience; carries necessity [and universality] with it as opposed to empirical judgments which cannot do this; reasoning or knowledge which proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience.

Ahimsa – (Hindu) doctrine of refraining from harming any living being; opposite of himsa (violence).

Apatheia – (Greek) freedom from the tyranny of the passions: an interior liberation that is the goal of monastic ascesis. It involves a state of stability in the virtues (not insensibility), in which one is no longer dominated by such impulses as anger, lust and fear, but has acquired the inner peace that frees one to love.

Asceticism – from Greek askesis, means simply training or practice, or the time of exercise. The Western usage tends both to reduce and to distort its original meaning by laying the emphasis on bodily self-mortification, sometimes implying a kind of morbid excess which makes of physical suffering not a means but an end in itself. But the original Greek word implied primarily a man who trained for something, whether in the field of a trade or an art, of athletics or spiritual endeavor. This training consists primarily of efforts to attain sobriety of mind and its spiritual fruits, whilst the mastery of the body and of the passions are subordinate and proportionate to this aim. (More on asceticism here.)

Brahmacharya – (Hindu) “is a mode by which the sense organs are withdrawn from the objects of the senses” (Gandhi). It “is not denial or control over one sense, but an attempt to bring all senses in harmony with each other”. In general usage it is taken to mean complete celibacy.

Causes – (as per Aristotle): Using the example of a sculpture:

  • the final cause: the objective, the reason why it was made
  • the formal cause: the design leading to its shape, form
  • the efficient cause: the maker of the statue and his instruments (also called the “instrumental cause”)
  • the material cause: the marble, bronze, wood etc. out of which it was made

In Swedenborg’s writings the “end or purpose” which he often talks about is the “final cause”. In (modern) scientific writings both the final and formal causes are denied, that is, there is a rejection of “intelligent design”, but because the human mind works as it does they allow the use of the “formal cause” but only as a way to understand phenomena, but not as an explanation for their origins.

Cogitation – (Latin cogitatio) is “an improvident looking about in the mind, prone to aimless wandering, aka imagination, fantasizing”. (See discussion, under “Meditation”, for the comparisons between cogitatio, meditatio, contemplatio.)

Conatus – (Latin, used by Swedenborg) impulse, or tendency to exist, striving, inclination.

Contemplation – (Latin contemplatio) the perception or vision of the intellect through which one attains spiritual knowledge. Contemplation has two main stages: it may be either of the inner essences or principles of created beings or, at a higher stage, of God Himself. Contemplation is the heart of what it means to be a monk (from the Greek monos meaning “alone”), or nun. “An unlimited clarity of the mind, suspended in admiration at the sight of wisdom”. Thus it is an unrestricted, all-embracing penetration of the mind into those things which are to be comprehended. (See discussion, under “Meditation”, for the comparisons between cogitatio, meditatio, contemplatio.)

Cosmos – (Greek) synonym for nature, the universe, the world. The root is cosm meaning “order” or “ornament” (hence “cosmetics”). Just as one may use cosmetics to adorn the face, so the cosmos is the ornament of God; it shows forth his beauty, harmony, and design.

Emptiness – (Hindu shunyata) voidness: is not Nothingness, but more a lack of substantiality, so a better translation is Non-Substantiality.

Esse – (Latin, used by Swedenborg) “to be”, actual being itself, essential nature; used when describing God as the only true Being.

Existere – (Latin, used by Swedenborg) existent, having life or being; used when describing creation.

Faith – (Greek Pistis) In Greek mythology, Pistis was the personification of good faith, trust and reliability. In Christianity, it is not only an individual or theoretical belief in the dogmatic truths, but an all-embracing relationship, an attitude of love and total trust in God. As such it involves a transformation of a man’s entire life.

Falsities – (Swedenborg) “confirmations of evils from thought: evils without falsities do not enter into the thought, for they are of the will only, and those things that belong to the will only, and not at the same time to the thought, cannot destroy, because they are non-rational. A man also does not then know that they are evils; but when he confirms evils in his thought, then they destroy his spiritual life, for then they are the man’s. Confirmations of evils from thought are falsities.”

Gnostic – for Sufis the word is arif: a mystic accomplished in esoteric knowledge of God. Alternatively: relating to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge; or an adherent of Gnosticism.

Hesychasm – (Greek hesychia, Eastern Orthodox Christianity) a word that bears the sense of tranquility, silence or stillness, and is linked with the idea of being seated, fixed, and so of being concentrated. So the term hesychasm is frequently applied to the whole complex of theory and practice which constitutes the spiritual path itself. A more restricted dictionary definition: “a quietistic method of contemplation for the purpose of attaining a beatific vision or similar mystical experience.”

Influx – (Swedenborg) the one-way progression of influences from God to the different levels of creation.

intuition – (as per Kant): a mental representation that is particular (not abstract), that presents objects concretely (as an image does). Space and time are the external and internal intuitions respectively.

Jesus Prayer – (Eastern Orthodox Christianity) the invocation of the name of Jesus, most commonly in the words, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’, although there are a number of variant forms. Not merely a ‘technique’ or a ‘Christian mantra’, but a prayer addressed to the Person of Jesus Christ, expressing living faith in Him as Son of God and Savior. It is a common experience of the Eastern Church contemplatives that initially one has to exercise persistence and real effort, and force the lips to repeat the Jesus Prayer; but in time, the prayer becomes gradually internalized, and finally self-activating as an unceasing rhythm within the heart, even during sleep. (See the “Pilgrim’s Tale”, a Russian Orthodox book, 19th century, for an autobiographical account.)
(Repetitive prayer is not confined to Eastern Orthodoxy. In Japanese Buddhism, for instance, Honen (1113-1212) advocated the repetition of the chant “All praise to the Amida Buddha,” known as the nembutsu.)

Karma – (Hindu) the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences; equivalent to adrasteia in Greek, meaning “inescapable”, derived from Adrestia, the goddess of revolt, just retribution and sublime balance between good and evil.

Logismoi – (Greek, Church Fathers) no precise single translation; means, in general, unwanted suggestive or tempting thoughts.

Logos – (as used in Christianity): the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, or the Intellect, Wisdom and Providence of God in whom and through whom all things are created. As the unitary cosmic principle, the Logos contains in Himself the multiple logoi (inner principles or inner essences, thoughts of God) in accordance with which all things come into existence at the times and places, and in the forms, appointed for them, each single thing thereby containing in itself the principle of its own development. It is these logoi, contained principally in the Logos and manifest in the forms of the created universe, that constitute the first or lower stage of contemplation.

Love of self – Maneri (Islam) uses “animal or lower self”; Catherine of Genoa (Catholic) “false self”; 4th Way “false personality”. These are all funneled into the “Love, of self” subject on the Search page. In Greek there are eight terms for love:

  • eros erotic love, also any love in which the lover wants something from the beloved, as in the love of the apprentice for the master artisan
  • philia affectionate love
  • storge familial love, as in love for children and parents
  • ludus playful love, or flirting or uncommitted love
  • mania obsessive love, sometimes seen as an imbalance of eros and ludus
  • pragma enduring love (a long stable marriage)
  • philautia self-love (lower self etc.)
  • agape selfless love, the highest form

Matter – “matter” or “material” is taken as the basic stuff from which all physical objects are made. From Dionysius the Areopagite we are told that “form is matter’s something; matter without form is nothing”, indicating the logical distinction philosophers make between matter and form; in practice, we always see the two together, never separately. From Plotinus we have: “in itself Matter is no thing, though not absolutely nothing; its nature is to be the recipient of forms; in itself it has no form; the distinction between form and matter is purely mental”. (See also Substance)

Maya – (Hindu) literally means “measuring the immeasurable”: the mind sees separation and suffering where there is only pure self-existence. The illusion or appearance of the phenomenal world.

Meditation – (Latin meditatio), which translates the Greek melete, which was originally used to indicate the repeating of a scriptural text in order to commit it to memory. This process of repetitive absorption was likened to the “chewing the cud” of ruminant animals in early Christian literature. Though early medieval meditatio is impossible to define precisely, we can think of it as a physical exercise of repetition aimed at an internal effect, the personal appropriation of the word of God. For the medieval monk, meditatio was the prolongation of lectio and at times was scarcely distinguishable from it. Meditatio (and its twin, ruminatio) began with the slow repetition, often audible, of a portion of the sacred text as an aid for its memorization. Its goal, however, was grasping the meaning of the text so that it might serve as a springboard for contemplative prayer. In other words, meditatio was the link between lectio and oratio.
Alternatively: it is an eager and persistent effort of the mind in searching and finding out; or a steadfast and careful speculation of the mind passionately fixed on the search of truth. The etymological sense: itari in medio: to be led toward the center (the center being the human heart).
Discussion of Cogitation, Contemplation and Meditation, as per Richard of St. Victor (from “Benjamin Major”):

Thus it seems to be an essential feature, common to all the three modes of thinking, that the mind has a certain faculty of seeing. For, if the mind sees nothing, none of these processes can be correctly defined, nor can we assert that they exist at all. It is a common quality of contemplation and meditation to deal with questions which are purposeful and to be wholly and constantly engaged in the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge.
But the action of the mind, which occasionally relaxes its efforts in order to think of inept and trivial things and, unrestrained by discretion, rushes into everything, still greatly differs from cogitation as such. For contemplation and cogitation have this in common, that they are borne aloft here and there in a certain free movement according to their inclination, and find no obstacle in their wandering. Yet, in this very process, they totally differ from meditation which always strives laboriously to comprehend every arduous problem, regardless of difficulties, to break down every hindrance and to penetrate into things obscure.
On the other hand, it often happens that, while our thoughts go astray, the mind assails something that it eagerly seeks to know and insists on finding out. While satisfying its desire the mind zealously applies itself to a search of this kind, it exceeds in the process the due measure of cogitation, so that its cogitation passes into meditation. A similar thing happens to meditation. When truth has been long sought and at last found, the mind frequently takes it up, marvels at it in exultation and persists in admiration for a long time. This means that the mind crosses the bounds of meditation, and that the latter passes into contemplation.
Thus cogitation, as we have said, rambles around in different directions, while meditation always follows its course in a fixed and forward motion to things lying further beyond. But it is the domain of contemplation to behold with wonder the sight of its own delight. It is there that this process differs so fundamentally from the other two.

Moksha – (Hindu) freedom, release from samsara (repeated cycles of birth, misery, and death caused by karma) and liberation from karma.

Near-Death-Experience – or NDE: an occurrence in which a person comes very close to dying and has memories of a spiritual experience (such as meeting dead friends and family members or seeing a white light) during the time when death was near. The “Story of Er” (Plato’s “Republic” 10.614–10.621) is an early account of an NDE.

Nous – (Greek) the spiritual mind or intuitive intellect, capable of direct apprehension of the truth of things. In philosophy “the mind or intellect”; in Neoplatonism “the divine reason regarded as the first emanation of God”; “the first and purest emanation of the One, regarded as the self-contemplating order of the universe”.

Noumenon – (Greek nooumenon pl. noumena) that which is apprehended by thought, from neuter of present passive participle of noein to think, conceive, from nous, mind; used by Kant as “a posited object or event as it appears in itself independent of perception by the senses”, that is a thing-in-itself as opposed to a phenomenon “a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen”.

Philokalia – (Greek) means love of the beautiful, the exalted, the excellent, understood as the transcendent source of life and the revelation of Truth. The Philokalia (book) is “an itinerary through the labyrinth of time, a silent way of love and gnosis through the deserts and emptinesses of life, especially of modern life, a vivifying and fadeless presence”.

Pleroma – (Greek) fullness, the state of total fullness or abundance, relating particularly to the nature of God; a technical term appearing in the NT only in John 1:1 and in the Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians; also in Gnostic treatises as “the spiritual universe as the abode of God and of the totality of the divine powers and emanations”.

Porneia – (Greek, Church Fathers) any illicit sexual activity in mind, word or deed; every kind of extramarital, unlawful or unnatural sexual intercourse.

Prelest – (Eastern Orthodox, used in the Philokalia) the nearest English equivalent to prelest seems to be beguilement, but the meaning of prelest is both wider and more technical; unlike beguilement it is a state rather than the result of a particular action. Prelest is the resulting state in the soul which wanders away from Truth. Or, paraphrasing Bishop Ignatiy Brianchaninov (d. 1867), it is “the corruption of human nature through the acceptance by man of mirages mistaken for truth; we are all in prelest“. So it links to the eastern term Maya.

Repentance – (Greek metanoia) signifies primarily a ‘change of mind’ or ‘change of intellect’: not only sorrow, contrition or regret, but more positively and fundamentally the conversion or turning of our whole life (towards God).

Shekinah – (Hebrew) the presence of God on earth, or a symbol or manifestation of His presence; the glory of the divine presence, conventionally represented as light or interpreted symbolically (Kabbalah).

Shunyata – (Hindu) see Emptiness.

Sin – (translation of Greek hamartia) the primary meaning of the Greek word (in NT) is ‘failure’ or, more specifically, ‘failure to hit the mark’ and so a ‘missing of the mark’, a ‘going astray’ or, ultimately, ‘failure to achieve the purpose for which one is created’. It is closely related, therefore, to illusion.

Soul and Spirit – The usage of the terms “soul” and “spirit” is not uniform across all authors and systems, but there is enough of a consensus within medieval and western usages to make an attempt at basic definitions. In many cases the spirit is equated with the “mind”. The sources (with my comments in italicized brackets):

  • soul: origin and beginning of the bodily life, centered on the heart, the forming principle of the body and gives it life; the source of all the bodily powers
  • spirit: from spirit come memory, understanding, and will and the powers of spiritual action; is the “unity of our higher powers”; from which we are rational and spiritual
  • soul: the soul is nothing but the life of man, while the spirit is the man himself; and the earthly body which he carries about with him in the world is merely an agent whereby the spirit is enabled to act fitly in the natural world
  • spirit: by a man’s spirit in the concrete nothing else is meant but his mind; by a man’s spirit is signified his intelligence and love-affection; the spirit possesses a form similar to that which the man had before (his death); the spirit has a heart and lungs as the man had in the world; it has therefore similar senses and motions etc.
  • Meister Eckhart: in her higher powers the soul is spirit and in her lower, soul [taking “higher powers” as “spirit”].
  • Evagrius Ponticus: what the eye is to the body, that the mind is to the soul[taking “mind” as “spirit”].
  • St. Anthony the Great: the body’s organ of sight is the eyes, and the soul‘s organ of sight is the mind [taking “mind” as “spirit”].
  • St. Gregory of Nazianzus: that which God is to the soul, the soul becomes to the body [where God is Life, matching up with Swedenborg’s “soul as the life of man”, ie. life from God].
  • St. Maximus the Confessor: the soul has three powers: first, the power of nourishment and growth; second, that of imagination and instinct; third, that of intelligence and intellect [so what is “spirit” to others becomes “powers of the soul”].
  • Nikitas Stithatos: intellect, reason etc. are some of the soul‘s “senses” [“senses” here matching to “powers of the soul”].
  • Hermes Trismegistus: “for that all living bodies are ensouled; whereas, on the other hand, those that do not live, are matter by itself” [agrees with “soul as the life of man”]; “the soul‘s irrational part is mortal; its rational part, immortal”, [conflates body, spirit and soul (of Swedenborg et al) into “soul” with various parts]; “a work of God’s own hands and mind, and of itself led by itself to mind”.
  • Plotinus: the soul neither comes into existence nor perishes; it is in itself the principle of life [matches up to “soul as the life of man”].
  • William Blake: the body is the visible part of the soul.
  • Swedenborg’s descriptions are the best for me. It would also be interesting to equate all of these with the various components (ba, ka and so on) in the Ancient Egyptian texts; but I am not going to try that here!

    Substance (and Matter) – (Swedenborg) there is one only substance, of spiritual origin, which proceeds by a kind of coagulation down through all the levels until it produces “matter” on the physical level. So matter (“material”) makes up our physical world, and is derived from substance, which makes up the spiritual world.

    Theology – (Christianity) denotes far more than the learning about God and religious doctrine acquired through academic study. It signifies active and conscious participation in or perception of the realities of the divine world—in other words, the realization of spiritual knowledge. To be a theologian in the full sense, therefore, presupposes the attainment of the state of stillness and dispassion.

    Turba – (Latin, Jacob Boehme) a turmoil, hubbub, uproar, disorder, tumult, commotion, disturbance; used by Boehme to signify the “wrath of God proceeding from the first principle”.