The system of Plotinus is composed of three principles, from an ultimate First or highest Truth that he calls the One to an intermediary principle known as the Intellectual-Realm, the celestial sphere of Ideas, and finally to the lowest plane exemplifying the world of matter, the physical world or World Soul.The second hypostasis, or Intellectual Sphere, is the middle ground of our immediate reality. It mediates what is possible to what is actual in the realization of Divine Ideas. In the One all thought is summed, that is, all thought is a unity without any distinctions; words or concepts don’t exist here. As the One emerges from itself in quiet contemplation, Ideas take shape in the Intellectual-Principle, and become unique entities. This hypostasis, represents not only the Ideal realm of existence, but also the inner reality of our conscious awareness. We come to know and understand the foundation within us as a reflection or image of the ultimate source that gives life to the universe, as well as to all the things that flow from it. The physical reality of the intermediate hypostasis is what Plotinus refers to as the circuit. We live in a spiritual universe, but the universe exists objectively as well. From people to planets, stars, galaxies, and on to the edge of the universe, it is a multiplicity of things within a unity of thought. In reference to the solar system he says:
“The circuit does not go by chance but under the Reason-Principle of the living whole; therefore there must be a harmony between cause and caused; there must be some order ranging things to each other’s purpose, or in due relation to each other: every several configuration within the Circuit must be accompanied by a change in the position and condition of things subordinate to it, which thus by their varied rhythmic movement make up one total dance play.” Enneads IV.4.33.
The planets make up the circularity. They move through the heavens in an orderly manner. Plotinus notes that the sun also moves, but in a unique way, its motion, he decides, makes it a part of the circularity, along with the Moon, and this tilts his metaphysics in an awkward way. From the perspective of the planets, the sun is not in motion, it is the center, they circle around it. For the planets the sun is the Aristotelian counterpart of the ‘Unmoved Mover.’ Plato also believed that Soul is a self-moving principle, and that God is the first mover. In the view of Plotinus it is the One. As he says:
“What is true of man must be true of the universe, and much more, since all this order is but a representation of the higher: it must contain an untellably wonderful variety of powers, with which, of course, the bodies moving through the heavens will be most richly endowed.” Enneads IV.4.36.
On the scale of our solar system, planets bear the powers given within themselves, holding the spiritual essence that enables the Ideal of life as devolved from the sun, the One. They are held to their place in motion through the pattern of their individual magnetic fields bound by their unified gravitational attraction.
On a personal level, Plotinus taught that what we are can be realized from the perspective of the inner Self. His philosophy illumines the way leading to self-realization, and reunion with the unifying principle and power behind the life force. Within this spiritual field on a small scale, such as an individual soul, the System assumes a hierarchical order within living things. The lowest order of the third hypostasis, the planet Earth, forms the material world; thus souls within bodies, from the lowest manner of life to the highest, as though bidden from within, inherently seek their higher nature, and rise to the Intellectual Principle as their individual natures allow. This manifests in beings within the plant and animal kingdoms as the less evolved instinctual drive to survive. The more highly evolved human spirit, although usually unconscious of its hidden desire, is gently urged upward through matter to the Intellectual-Principle on the path leading to a knowledge of its source in the One.
Essentially we live our lives in the physical world directed by our senses, and go about the activities necessary to live our lives. But for Plotinus, it is possible to experience our origins from within ourselves. His metaphysical system works in two ways; being a mystical philosopher he claims that one can travel to the center of our being. This is not a journey for the feet, but of the soul, he says, it begins as an ascent to the source, which is also a movement reaching inward. Those that have made the trip say they experience the workings of creation from within themselves. In his words:
“The Intellectual-Principle in us must mount to its origins: essentially facing two ways, it must deliver itself over to those powers within it which trend upward; if it seeks the vision of that Being. . . .” Enneads III.8-9.
The Second Hypostasis is the mid principle, so the Soul can face upward to the One, or downward to the material world. The system as experienced in the phenomenal sense, the outer view, is a vision of life in the universe as we see it in the solar system, and reaching back through the galaxy to the beginning, and in physical terms the Big Bang.
“Each of the heavenly bodies, similarly, gives forth a power, involuntary, by its mere radiation: all things become one entity, grouped by this diffusion of power, and so bring about wide changes of condition. . . .” Enneads IV-4-35.
For the mystic, the inner trip to self-realization is an ascent to the godhead, or the One, but the One by definition cannot be known. Being the sum of all thought, comprehension here is not possible because there is nothing for comprehension to grasp. We think linearly in a process that moves from thought to thought, so the mystic attaining to the perfect vision often states that he “feels” the experience, and describes it as a state of rapture or bliss, most likely while hovering somewhere within the ethereal realm shared by the Intellect and the Light encompassing the central source.
“Intellection in us is twofold: since the Soul is intellective, and Intellection is the highest phase of life, we have Intellection both by the characteristic Act of our Soul and by the Act of the Intellectual Principle upon us–for this Intellectual Principle is part of us no less than the Soul, and towards it we are ever rising.” Enneads I.1.13.
The One, or the Good, is the source of our Ideals, and our knowledge of them, but it does not contain them. They remain for us to contemplate within our higher nature, and gently bind us to the goodness defined in our ethics, morals, and values, often expressed through duty, honor, and sacrifice. The origin of language begins here, and joins us together as a people sharing our thoughts and feelings with a knowledge of what ought to be the best, as opposed to the worst. From the Enneads he says:
“The Good comes to it as it was in its primal state but in accord with the condition of the Intellectual-Principle. The Good is the source from which the objects of contemplation come to be seen in the Intellectual-Principle; Intellectual-Principle has produced them by its vision of the Good. . . .the Good bestows what itself does not possess.” VI.7.15.
Another interesting facet of the Second Hypostasis has been debated for years. Philosophers have long wondered what the status of mathematics might be in the grand scheme of things. Some say that it represents the precise construction of objects as understood empirically, and that it had no meaning until we discovered it. Plato, and Neo-Platonic philosophers say that it must have always been here long before anything else came into being. Mathematics is a mental process that leads to understanding, it would still exist whether the universe was here or not. It cannot go away. Plotinus had this to say about it:
“Geometry and arithmetic are, we shall maintain, of a twofold character: in their earthy types they rank with Sensible Quality, but in so far as they are functions of pure Soul, they necessarily belong to that other world in close proximity to the Intellectual. This too, is in Plato’s view the case with music and astronomy.” VI.3.16.
Plotinus believed that numbers represent plurality, and are held within the Intellectual Principle, but the concept number derives from unity, or the One. The laws of physics are mathematical constructs that lead to knowledge, and knowledge to truth. They are an aspect of creation.
For Plotinus, the three realms that constitute reality embody a truth that answers the questions we were born to ask, and it is our nature to do no less than seek them out.