Plotinus on Beauty and Ugliness of Soul

Plotinus and the Eclectic School

Plotinus (204-270 AD) was the most influential figure amongst the Neo-Platonists – the “Eclectic Philosophical School” founded by Ammonius Saccas. They were the first to call themselves “Theosophists” and were also known as “Philaletheans”, meaning “Lovers of Truth” and “Analogeticists,” because of their emphasis on the law of correspondence and analogy in spiritual and philosophical teachings.

Plotinus, who some considered to be Plato reincarnated, was held in very high regard by H.P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Movement, and she devotes a good few pages in her book “The Key to Theosophy” to talking about Ammonius Saccas and the Neo-Platonists, who she first mentioned in her very first book “Isis Unveiled.”

It should be understood, however, that neither Ammonius Saccas, Plotinus, or their followers ever actually referred to themselves as “Neo-Platonists” or to their teachings as “Neo-Platonism.” This term was coined over a thousand years later by scholars as a convenient means by which to describe and identify them.

In the “Theosophical Glossary,” HPB says of Plotinus that he was “the noblest, highest and grandest of all the Neo-Platonists after the founder of the school, Ammonius Saccas. He was the most enthusiastic of the Philaletheans or “lovers of truth,” whose aim was to found a religion on a system of intellectual abstraction, which is true Theosophy, or the whole substance of Neo-Platonism. … He taught a doctrine identical with that of the Vedantins [i.e. the majority of the Hindus], namely, that the Spirit-Soul emanating from the One deific principle was, after its pilgrimage, re-united to It.”

She also writes that Plotinus and his closest disciple Porphyry followed and practiced “the pure Indian Raj-Yoga training, which leads to the union of the Soul with the Over-Soul or Higher Self (Buddhi-Manas).”

The leading lights of Neo-Platonism were certainly initiates of the Esoteric Doctrine, the Sacred Science known as the Theosophia – “Divine Wisdom.” Neo-Platonism was, according to HPB, the last attempt in that era by the Great Brotherhood to present the TRUTH in the midst of – and as an opposing force to – all the falsehood and fraud of the young Christian Church. Some of the most well known and influential Neo-Platonists after Ammonius Saccas and Plotinus were Porphry, Iamblichus, Proclus, Cassius Longinus, and the young female philosopher Hypatia.

But the darkness has always hated the light. “The dispersion of the Eclectic school,” writes HPB in the second volume of “Isis Unveiled”, “had become the fondest hope of the Christians. It had been looked for and contemplated with intense anxiety. It was finally achieved. The members were scattered by the hand of the monsters Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, and his nephew Cyril – the murderer of the young, the learned, and the innocent Hypatia!”

The brutal murder in the 5th century AD of Hypatia – “soon become an unrecognizable mass of flesh and blood, pounded to jelly under the blows of the club of Peter the Reader … her youthful, innocent body cut to pieces, “the flesh scraped from the bones,” by oyster-shells and the rest of her cast into the fire, by order of the same Bishop Cyril” – marked the setting of the sun of Neo-Platonism and the beginning of the Dark Ages, a period in which the majority of the Western world was plunged into mental and spiritual darkness through the enforcement of ignorance, falsehood, and fear by the Christian Church, which today reveres the man who orchestrated Hypatia’s murder (and who was also a proven thief and fraud) as one of the first and greatest “Saints” of Christianity.

Plotinus’ written discourses and treatises are known collectively as the Enneads. That which follows is a choice selection of excerpts which capture the essence of his famous first treatise titled –


Take, then, an ugly soul. It is dissolute, unjust, teeming with lusts, torn by inner discord, beset by craven fears and petty envies. It thinks indeed. But it thinks only of the perishable and the base. In everything perverse, friend to filthy pleasures, it lives a life abandoned to bodily sensation and enjoys its depravity. Ought we not say that this ugliness has come to it as an evil from without, soiling it, rendering it filthy, “encumbering it” with turpitude of every sort, so that it no longer has an activity or a sensation that is clean? For the life it leads is dark with evil, sunk in manifold death. It sees no longer what the soul should see. It can no longer rest within itself but is forever being dragged towards the external, the lower, the dark. It is a filthy thing, I say, borne every which way by the allurement of objects of sense, branded by the bodily, always immersed in matter and sucking matter into itself. In its trafficking with the unworthy it has bartered its Idea for a nature foreign to itself.

If someone is immersed in mire or daubed with mud, his native comeliness disappears; all one sees is the mire and mud with which he is covered. Ugliness is due to the alien matter that encrusts him. If he would be attractive once more, he has to wash himself, get clean again, make himself what he was before. Thus we would be right in saying that ugliness of soul comes from its mingling with, fusion with, collapse into the bodily and material: the soul is ugly when it is not purely itself. It is the same as with gold that is mixed with earthy particles. If they are worked out, the gold is left and it is beautiful; separated from all that is foreign to it, it is gold with gold alone. So also the soul. Separated from the desires that come to it from the body with which it has all too close a union, cleansed of the passions, washed clean of all that embodiment has daubed it with, withdrawn into itself again – at that moment the ugliness, which is foreign to the soul, vanishes.

For it is as was said of old: “Temperance, courage, every virtue – even prudence itself – are purifications.” … For what is temperance, rightly so called, but to abstain from the pleasures of the body, to reject them rather as unclean and unworthy of the clean? What else is courage but being unafraid of death, that mere parting of soul from body, an event no one can fear whose happiness lies in being his own unmingled self? What is magnanimity except scorn of earthly things? What is prudence but the kind of thinking that bends the soul away from earthly things and draws it on high? …

The more intellective it is, the more beautiful it [i.e. the soul] is. Intellection, and all that comes from intellection, is for the soul a beauty that is its own and not another’s because then it is that the soul is truly soul. … A divine entity and a part, as it were, of Beauty, The Soul renders beautiful to the fullness of their capacity all things it touches or controls. …

What is this vision like? How is it attained? How will one see this immense beauty that dwells, as it were, in inner sanctuaries and comes not forward to be seen by the profane? Let him who can arise, withdraw into himself, forego all that is known by the eyes, turn aside forever from the bodily beauty that was once his joy. He must not hanker after the graceful shapes that appear in bodies, but know them for copies, for traceries, for shadows, and hasten away towards that which they bespeak. For if one pursue what is like a beautiful shape moving over water – Is there not a myth about just such a dupe, how he sank into the depths of the current and was swept away to nothingness? Well, so too, one that is caught by material beauty and will not cut himself free will be precipitated, not in body but in soul, down into the dark depths loathed by The Intelligence where, blind even there in Hades, he will traffic only with shadows, there as he did here. … We must close our eyes and invoke a new manner of seeing, a wakefulness that is the birthright of us all, though few put it to use. …

“How can one see the beauty of a good soul?” Withdraw into yourself and look. If you do not as yet see beauty within you, do as does the sculptor of a statue that is to be beautified: he cuts away here, he smoothes it there, he makes this line lighter, this other one purer, until he disengages beautiful lineaments in the marble. Do you this, too. Cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labor to make all one radiance of beauty. Never cease “working at the statue” until there shines out upon you from it the divine sheen of virtue, until you see perfect “goodness firmly established in stainless shrine.” Have you become like this? Do you see yourself, abiding within yourself, in pure solitude? Does nothing now remain to shatter that interior unity, nor anything external cling to your authentic self? Are you entirely that sole true light which is not contained by space, not confined to any circumscribed form, not diffused as something without term, but ever unmeasurable as something greater than all measure and something more than all quantity? Do you see yourself in this state? Then you have become vision itself. Be of good heart. Remaining here you have ascended aloft. You need a guide no longer. Strain and see.

Only the mind’s eye can contemplate this mighty beauty. But if it comes to contemplation purblind with vice, impure, weak, without the strength to look upon brilliant objects, it then sees nothing even if it is placed in the presence of an object that can be seen. … Let each one therefore become godlike and beautiful who would contemplate the divine and beautiful.

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You may also like to read Plotinus on The ONE Supreme Reality, Plato and Aristotle, Dismantling the Christian Edifice, Theosophy: The Ancient Wisdom, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, and How to successfully study the Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky.

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