Culture refers to the totality of human production in its relationship with nature and society, and the way they are used and passed down from generation to generation, and is also an indicator of the common hopes, goals and aspirations of society for the future.
The ability of culture to provide a common identity to human communities, to create societies, to serve as a societal memory by forming a connection between generations within the historical process and to provide for the continuity of identities is crucial to the existence of societies.
Culture became a feature of human life in the context of “cultivation” as human communities started working the land. This “process of production” was a human act that pushed humankind beyond its limits after a long period of passive existence in the face of nature with all other living beings. From that point onward, having gained the ability to shape their own lives, humans started to engage in production as cultural beings, expanding beyond being simple products of nature. This second nature –being one of cultural existence– is a historical arena in which humans were molded. Scattered when hunting and gathering, and nomadic when engaging in animal husbandry, people started to live in communities once they settled and started cultivating the land. This act of societal living gave rise to such cultural phenomena as “a certain space”, “a certain period of time”, “a certain environment”, “solidarity”, “common defense”, “accumulation” and “transfer.”
In encountering the idea of “a certain period of time” in particular, humankind was transformed into a “historical being.” Throughout history, human communities have created various “worldviews” that are reflected in their “ways of life”, and these ways of life are processed and developed with worldviews, thus creating different trajectories of “cultural processes”. What separates the different trajectories of these cultural processes is their “lifestyles”.
Lifestyle and Reality
Each human community lives within a certain, unique “lifestyle” that is also a unique world. There are many “world views” intertwined with life, but all are reflections of the same reality and are dependent upon it. In other words, reality is the only way to connect the numerous separate worlds, and the only way our efforts to peer through and get to know the truth can be meaningful.
“Reality” is how it is, while “reality to us” is our interpretation and reading of reality – our “method of knowing” and “theoretical system”. Thus, there is no interpretation that can comprehend reality in its totality. On closer inspection, it becomes clear that what we consider to be “reality” is in fact “the reality that we can grasp”. The reflections of reality in the consciousness are limited by the nature of the medium onto which they are reflected; and in the case of “perception”, this medium is the intellect itself. Thus, when we say “reality”, we are in fact talking simply about “a convincing world view”, and nothing more.
Conceptual Language and the Symbolic World
The acts of seeing, distinguishing, understanding and evaluating are closely related to the viewer’s existence, characteristics, character, lifestyle, living conditions, education level and personal interests. The mind, which gives shape to and conveys life as “a content for consciousness”, is bound by “conceptual language” and its abilities. However, a society is always more irregular and more complicated than how it is understood, expressed or comprehended, in that there is an expansive and intricate “span of symbolic life” in the layers of life and networks of relationships that cannot be reflected in the defined world of language.
Accordingly, the lifestyle of a society is buried in a conventional and symbolic structure that is diffused through habits before it becomes a content for consciousness. This symbolic background of cultures is made up of myths, legends, epics, tales and stories, and a culture draws on these sources on a continuous basis, as does the “identity power” of a society.
As consciousness shapes life, one’s living conditions, artistic skills, language and “forms of thought” play an important role. If life was not processed and expressed through art, and if language did not interpret and assign meaning to it for the consciousness, life could neither be understood nor achieve “continuity and development”.
Daily Life and Artistic Vision
The consciousness of the masses, who live their daily lives without recognizing natural and cultural objects, events or phenomena, is hidden within their emotions, and their social relations are regulated by the “common sense” of conventions. In this regard, they are unconscious witnesses to what is manifested. In its essence, life itself is real and lived without self-consciousness, as for life to become “a certain reality” or “a known reality”, it needs to be interpreted and manifested on a continuous basis; otherwise, its “self-meaning” would remain inaccessible.
In other words, history is nothing but the development of the “universal intellect” over time, in which intellect refers to the universal laws that express historical necessity. It is the artist who sees what everyone else misses; who can penetrate the depths of life and comprehend its deeper connections; and who can shed light on life by finding and unearthing what is meaningful. From this perspective, it is the artist that awakens others who are unconscious witnesses to life, and who shows them what they were unable to see. What the artist places before them is more than what exists, being a “design of the future”.
The artist does not leave nature and life as is, but rather dissolves and reconstructs its relationships, and produces through a “higher-level” production. The artist obtains new styles and places them before life, and these new appearances and artistic interpretations interact with life and provide culture with a superior form.
“Lasting works of art” are the “symbolic memory” of a society, connecting the past and the present as versatile life objects. They have the ability to convey knowledge “beyond time”, and to create an emotional effect between the lives of human communities who live in different periods in a one-way effect from the past to the present.
Works of art are just as real as natural objects in life, but they are at a higher level in the sense that they contain and signify more, being “human life and interpretation”. Each new generation is affected by works of art and makes its own new interpretations, and in doing so, forms a mysterious connection with the past, enters the realm of history and identity, and experiences the past through the superior forms of perception of the artist. The artist thus gains significance as a meaningful and aesthetic creature of history and culture, becoming something more than a natural being.
Giving Shape to Historical Essence
The ways in which people approach and interpret the world are subjected to constant modification in the individual –as reflected in their behaviors– and the conflicts and tensions that result from their accumulation alter the “historical essence” on a continuous basis.
Historical essence is formed out of the contemporary living conditions and social relations of each generation. Historical events thus gain meaning in relation to the perspectives and attitudes of the human communities that exist in the relevant periods. If we were to approach historical events by abstracting them from the people who actually lived through them, we would have nothing but a pile of lifeless events. As such, historical reality can only be meaningful to the extent that it is connected to living human beings – as the source of social life.
All products that are reflections of concrete life, such as language, art, religion, wisdom, philosophy, science, social order, etc. are aspects of the high culture that people create for themselves and by themselves, and that serve as “second nature”. These cultural forms, which serve as images and data for the consciousness, also function as the tools and media by which individuals interpret, discover and shape their identities.
As is the case with natural objects, cultural objects, events and phenomena also convey their “complicated content” to the consciousness via “forms” and through “images”. Being both dynamic and complicated, and with constantly changing relationships among them, they cannot be conveyed to the consciousness “as is”. Rather, interpretations are arrived at through “abstractions” and depending on “a bundle of theories”. No interpretation is definitive, as each is reliable only to the extent to which it can access the laws that govern the formation of, and relationships between, events.
The “contradictory” and “dynamic” nature of objects, events, and phenomena is confirmed or falsified, after being conceptualized through theoretical abstractions, via pragmatic action. This confirmation has been referred to as “relative truth”.
The methods that apply to the scientific knowledge generated by the empirical sciences based on the objective truth of “here and now” do not apply to fields such as social sciences, the arts, psychology and history.
Cultural Interaction and Change
The process by which individuals learn about and acquire culture through manners, training, education and physical relationships as they grow up, and depending on the environment in which they are born, is defined as “culturing”. The cultural integration, merging or synthesis that results from the encounters and interactions of different cultures is known as “acculturation”.
When a dominant community or society forces or pressures others to accept its own cultural elements, it is described as “assimilation”, and all such interactions can be found among the causes of “cultural change”. Societies also change on their own accord, as a result of natural relationships and internal factors, and this is a healthier form of change. The more intensive and continuous the relationships between cultures, the greater the contribution to the creation of a “universal civilization” in which, naturally, cultures partake to the extent they contribute.
Classification of Cultures
Cultures are classified on the basis of the objective mode of production, the relationships within production, the means of production, the social organization, and the “lifestyles” that cover and reflect all of these, and that distinguish them from each other through “authentic styles”. Developing an “authentic style” is a feature of societies that produces forms of high culture.
Indian society, which is a very good example of the cohabitation of diversity, built its cultural style around “Buddhahood”, born out of the Indian genius. By placing “nirvana” at the center of life, Buddha, in a sense, proposed decentralization, creating an environment in which none of the many cultural forms is dominant over the others, with interaction allowed to be natural and spontaneous. Standing in contrast to the “centrist” systems of thought in the West, India represents a separate and authentic style. In Indian life, each cultural form recognizes that its own existence as a sub-identity depends on the acceptance of the existence of others. The supra-identity, on the other hand, is Buddhahood, which is recognized as the end-goal in life and is accepted by each social segment as a goal to be achieved and a virtue to be obtained. “Buddhahood,” in turn, is nothing but “enlightenment” that is attained by following a specific path. To achieve this level of enlightenment, a person needs to harbor feelings of association, harmony and integration with each element of nature as an “organic natural being”.
Buddha-like enlightenment is individualized, and places greater emphasis on wisdom. In the words of Buddha, the enlightened person is like a “lotus flower” in a swamp. Socialization is not possible, as becoming widespread in society is bad for enlightenment, in that devotion to “Buddha” goes beyond a show of respect and turns into worship, and thus loses its essence by transforming into a religion.
The Chinese culture, of course, is another dominant lifestyle. In contrast to the fairness of the religions in the neighboring Indian culture, the Chinese world does not accord an important place to religion in life. Wise people like Confucius and Lao Tzu mostly preached about worldly morality based on actual relationships in life. In adopting a religion-free and godless world, based entirely on the products of the human intellect, the Chinese cultural style was pioneering in its representation of “the first experience of modern life”. Through its interactions with the neighboring Indian culture over time, Chinese society was also comfortable in adopting Siddhartha Gautama Buddha’s teachings, which were deemed to be compatible with its own intellectual morality, and the country has thus retained its “uniqueness” to the present day.
Among the primitive cultures, one is particularly distinctive, having served as a “source culture” from which contemporary civilizations borrowed heavily, being that of the Ancient Egyptians. Ancient Egypt was affected by the Mediterranean, and particularly the Anatolian and Caucasian civilizations, but managed to create a high-level civilization by processing all these effects. In the case of contemporary Western civilization, building blocks such as art, religion, philosophy and science in particular can trace their roots back to Ancient Egypt. The Ancient Egyptian civilization was based on the wisdom of Hermetic teachings, and the religious aspect of the Egyptian civilization was inherited by the Hebrews, while its art, philosophy and science was inherited by the Greeks.
The Greek culture was responsible for a giant leap in human achievement through art, philosophy and science, all of which were shaped by Greek genius. A culture should be considered capable to the extent that it produces universal criteria and forms for civilization. In this sense, ancient Greek society was more than capable. Life was freed from the yoke of a single will, and democratic life –which demands agreement between wills– was achieved thanks to the ability of Greek art and philosophy to grow human intellect, and to carry it from a “herd mentality” to “individual mentality”.
The Roman culture was legal in form. The Romans made use of Greek philosophy, but were ultimately overshadowed by it. Romans created the most intricately detailed laws, giving them a high and universal form. Being a Roman citizen meant having legal security – a privilege that rightfully served as a point of pride for the Romans when compared to other peoples. Strengthening law means strengthening social living, which is something the Romans did very successfully, and managed to turn into a lifestyle. The Roman Empire as a state also came to an end, like Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece had before it, but as states come and go, however, the cultures and societies that carry these cultures continue to exist through the change and transformation. For contemporary people, antiquity continues to live on in the memory of civilization.
There is no doubt that Hebrew society is the most interesting in human history, not only due to the suffering and genocide it endured, or their claim to be the chosen people. Their interest lies mainly in the sanctity of their history, their dissemination among all societies, and their achievement in establishing a new home and a new state after surviving for two thousand years as a stateless and homeless civilization living in permanent exile.
“Tradition” is the lifestyle of the Hebrew society, for whom following tradition is “a condition of existence”. For them, tradition is both an identity and a home, and their tradition is so strong that it binds even God. Moreover, the Hebrew tradition has been thoroughly tested, and has spread all around the world, being found today within all nations, and having survived, and even thrived, for thousands of years, despite the multitude of cultures it has encountered. This tradition gave birth to two great religions, Christianity and Islam, and formed the symbolic and conceptual background for the beliefs and thoughts of the nations that adhere to these religions.
The lifestyle of the Anatolian people is one of “reconciliation”. Their ability to adapt to different cultures and lifestyles is unique in world history, and geography has played an important role in the development of this capability. Described as “the land of Gods” and the “cradle of civilizations”, Anatolia sits at the intersection of the Western and Eastern cultures, serving as a meeting and reconciliation point of different cultures. What happens in Anatolia is better described as reconciliation than integration. Integration refers to the creation of a new, single culture from separate cultures by “turning multiplicity into one”, which results in the culture becoming closed and singular. Reconciliation, on the other hand, forms “positive connections” between separate cultures, allowing them to retain their characteristics and to remain open to new relationships. This is the source of the superior tolerance and adaptation capability of the Anatolian people.
The “mosaic” symbol proposed for Anatolian cultural life fails to depict the true reality, as cementing different cultures indicates a freezing and a lack of consent. The Anatolian people have created a symbol of their own in the form of ashure (Noah’s pudding), which symbolically sets differences aside with taste, but all the while maintaining differences. Anatolia is a large pot, and the Anatolian culture is the ashure being stirred within.
The Problem of Enlightenment
The problem of enlightenment is as old as the history of humanity. Human enlightenment started with the first “tool” created in the “fight for survival” in nature, and in this sense, enlightenment can be considered equivalent to “survival”. The first thing humans did was to resolve the problems they faced in the natural world. Their “goal” was to meet their needs, and thus to survive, and they built the “tools” and “means” to attain this goal as the first act of production, which provided them with relative freedom. Thus, the main concepts of enlightenment can be found in the very beginning of the story of humanity, and are related to the physical living conditions, including the fight for survival, problem-solving, emancipation, overcoming obstacles, producing tools, developing awareness and self-awareness, self-development and liberation.
Through the “division of labour” and “cooperation”, people acquired a “social” in addition to natural existence, while social living, passed down from generation to generation, equipped people with a third type of existence, being “historical existence”. All of these we can place under the heading of “culture”, indicating that humans are “cultural beings”.
Despite the multiplicity of different cultural styles in history, there is a single, deep-seated goal that is shared by all cultures and that applies to all human lives, being “freedom”. “The goal of freedom” exists within the heart of every person in every society, and yearns to be realized. Liberation is a process, and the goal will not be reached until it is realized for all humanity.
In this context, enlightenment refers to a conscious effort undertaken in the process of liberation. In every society one can find enlightened people who are able to transcend their own selves – those whose hearts burn with their desire for freedom and concern for all humanity, and who fight against ignorance, oppression and bigotry. They are like flowers in a field of crops. Accordingly, enlightenment can be considered the highest “lifestyle”.
Enlightenment as a Praxis
As a “social praxis,” enlightenment first emerged in Western Europe in the 17th century, and was conceptualized as such in the same time period by J. Locke, D. Hume, and I. Newton in Britain; Montesquieu, Voltaire and Diderot in France; and C. Wolff, Lessing, Herder and I. Kant in Germany, who were the leading pioneers and thinkers of the praxis of enlightenment.
Praxes emerge under certain historical conditions, and are products of a series of factors. The so-called Age of Enlightenment in Europe in the 17th century was similarly a product of multiple factors. The increase in international trade, the discovery of new lands, intercultural encounters, scientific discoveries and the strengthening of city-dwellers against the “aristocracy”, among other factors, formed the background for the praxis of enlightenment.
The praxis of 17th century Enlightenment mounted a fierce attack against concepts and institutions that obstructed development, and succeeded in transforming them. Lifestyles in pre-Enlightenment European societies were controlled by faith and the related institutions, and as a result, economic and political power were concentrated in the hands of certain people and classes. The people then started to gain a say in government, and in the organization of social and political life, with direct consequences on their own lives.
This was an unprecedented lifestyle for humanity. Everyone assumed “powers”, “duties” and “responsibilities” in social life, and became “individuals” with distinct identities. Becoming an individual meant becoming an adult, acquiring the power to lead one’s own life, and being liberated from supervision by others. People were no longer subjects or passive members of religious institutions in their social relationships, which was the case when they were under supervision, as each individual became an active citizen who was responsible for their own lives. In relative terms, the emergence of this new community, made up of free and responsible individuals, was an important milestone on the path to becoming a real society.
Reason and Enlightenment
There was a need to make sense of the spirituality that emerged with the social praxis of enlightenment – in other words, a need to complement spirit with “logos”, in that each individual was now left with their own talents and skills, would no longer be herded, and needed to understand what was going on for themselves. That said, understanding on its own was also not sufficient for the individual, as they were required to deal with difficulties and overcome obstacles. To this end, they needed a basic principle and a basic skill on which to rely.
In the preceding age, society had become lazy, following the orders of kings and emperors who were said to possess Godly powers, as well as the orders of their offspring. People had always attributed failure to outside forces, and were characterized by their “obedience to authority”. With the Enlightenment, people found a new master, but this master was resident in their own minds. According to I. Kant: “Reason is the governing faculty in humans, and the master of human life”, and Kant argued also that “People should go beyond the kinship of lineage and faith, and form the kinship of reason.” One particular quote by the German thinker became the motto of his period: “Have the courage to use your own reason.”
How, then, were we to use this faculty of reason, and how were we to manage it? These questions have since been answered. It was futile to try to tackle metaphysical questions with reason, as one tended to get stuck in dogma, which made no contribution to improving life. If this was the case, then reason could resolve problems by being grounded in the reality of life, for which empirical science was required. During the age of Enlightenment, people were invited to partake in the real life that they had hitherto scorned and had become estranged from as a result of their belief in the afterlife, as well as their own designs and hopes. People were now defined as “active beings”, and were called upon to stop being lazy. One particular problem faced was whether or not people would be able to develop their faculties of reason, for which there was a prescribed method: “Reason develops and progresses through methodological skepticism and critical attitude.”
In short, the Age of Enlightenment can be considered a cultural revolution in which people stopped perceiving themselves as objects in life, having been transformed into subjects of reason.
Time and Enlightenment
With the Enlightenment, “time” also acquired a new meaning in life, with the “cyclical time” of natural life and the “surreal time” of religious life being replaced by “time as a unit of production”.
The concepts of “social time” and “era” emerged as nation-states developed a collective sensibility under which societies could now be evaluated based on the historical and social time in which they were living.
Stages of Enlightenment
Enlightenment philosophers clashed with metaphysics, dogmatism, and scholasticism, moving humanity along the path of rational living and scientific attitudes, and achieving the second period of enlightenment in the history of humanity after that of the Ancient Greeks. Compared to the “metaphysical stance” of the Ancient Greek enlightenment, the 17th century Enlightenment was more advanced, having a “rationalist,” “humanist” and “secular” character.
This rationalist phase of the Enlightenment came with numerous problems, despite its positive aspects. The “abstract and formal” definition of reason, which was posited at the center of human life, failed to reflect the material needs and positions of the people within the social strata. Rationalists in this age considered reason to be an “absolute and universal” form. Kant’s proposition that “immediate categories” –assumed to be present at birth in all humans– are absolute, universal and never-changing, envisage all humans to have a single mental mold.
The apex of rationalism was Hegel’s “objective idealism”, through which he brought a new dimension to the principle’s methodology problem. From Aristotle to Hegel, the “logic” and “syllogism” approach treated objects, events and phenomena as having characters identical to themselves. From this perspective, each object is a substance, and is identical to itself – it cannot be something else; it does not change, transform or develop; all change is accidental, and the essence does not change. Renowned German thinker Hegel opposed all of these suggestions, as for him, objects, events and phenomena are not identical beings; but rather have a contradictory nature. Every object is a unity of opposites, and as a result, is dynamic and unstable. Hegel argued that humankind and human thought, just like events, evolve, progress and mature over time. In other words: “History is nothing but the development of the universal reason over time. Reason refers to the universal laws that express historical necessity.” According to Hegel, contradiction is the “essence of being” and the “principle of becoming.” What “exists” is what becomes. Contradiction gives rise to continuous mergers and separations, with each formation born out of a clash of opposites. “The finite” is not solely determined from the outside; its essence requires that it transcends itself and transforms into its opposite. Each proposition contains its negation. Synthesis is the negation of negation. In humans, as the most competent organisms, nature finds a mirror in which to reflect itself.
Humans are characterized by “consciousness” and “freedom.” A person initially carries a subjective consciousness; and as they grow, they comprehend the community of this rational consciousness. Through this comprehension, the “subjective consciousness” transforms into an “objective consciousness”, which first emerges in the form of “rights” or “common freedoms” that are codified as law through “contracts”. This contract is the “state” in its seed form. A person transforms into a superior form from an objective consciousness, and going beyond objectivity, enters the field of freedom provided by absolute consciousness. Consciousness thus progresses toward its intellect and integrity by reconciling contradictions. At the end of this dialectic, consciousness reaches its own consciousness, and recognizes and knows itself.
Consciousness reaches its own freedom, and rises above the state in the free fields of art, religion and philosophy. Hegel created a formal system in which concepts of thought were derived from one another.
Under the strong influence of rationalism, the 17th century Age of Enlightenment placed greater emphasis on the individual, and quite rightly so. People, as determined by the institution of the church and religious dogma, were lost and alienated from themselves, and were to be awoken and brought to their senses, through which the individual would be glorified.
Another thinker of the period, M. Scheler, said, “Humans exist only with a personality; for a being without personality, the word ‘human’ would be no different from the names of other beings.” Scheler made a further definition: “The human person is the person who behaves consistently, is strong enough to act on what is their own, independent enough to separate themselves from their body, and responsible enough to be accountable to themselves.”
Many other intellectuals not named here contributed to raising the awareness of people in the period of Enlightenment, but despite well-intentioned efforts, people were still conceived as abstract or ideal beings rather than in the context of their actual and material relationships.
After the Ancient Greek and 17th century periods of Enlightenment, a third stage of Enlightenment emerged with the dialectical and historical materialism of the second half of the 19th century. This teaching, penned by Marx and Engels, was focused on the actual person and their life. In methodological terms, it adopted Hegel’s dialectics, re-interpreted history and society under this light, and analyzed them in the context of “human action”. Under dialectical materialism, people became humans through production, and by changing nature through conscious effort, they also changed themselves. The mind does not simply reflect the material factors of the outside world, it also acts upon these factors as an effective force, and reproduces itself. In this process of reproduction, people become liberated, and control the events taking place in their dominion through “legal order”. They master their environment by changing the order of “necessity” and “chance” to “legal order” through scientific knowledge and taking action. The concept of “value” is based on action, in that for any value to exist, an action needs to be taken. What creates value is “labour”, and “labour” is a productive action, being a “conscious and purposeful activity”, and is the sole privilege of humans in nature. “Nature by itself” is turned into “nature for oneself” through action; but action needs to be continuous, as the moment it stops, it transforms into nature.
Dialectical materialism adopted social organization as a materialist attitude, and accordingly, scientific attitude requires that objects, events and phenomena, which are material things, be admitted as the sole source of knowledge and consciousness. As a result, laws aimed at governing social life should be derived from the structure of societies and their needs, and should take changes in society into account. Laws and institutions that have been valid and useful for a time start to negate their purpose by conflicting with the changing interests of society. This requires new laws to be made; and if the source of the law is sought in dogma or institutions of faith rather than social reality, it means that the interests of certain dominant groups or organizations are being protected.
An “objective consciousness” first takes form in “rights” (shared freedoms), and then in “laws”. People start contradicting “rights” due to the changing objective conditions, and this contradiction gives rise to “crime”, which in turn is treated with “punishment”. This is how rights develop. When this becomes widespread in society, the rights that develop do so as a social will, and new laws are made.
Scientific Attitude and Enlightenment
This third stage of Enlightenment crystallized into a scientific attitude over time, and this scientific attitude formed the universal base of lifestyle, while the cultural superstructure was made up of art, philosophy and other human activities. This lifestyle form is adopted by a small number of intellectuals in all societies, and one of the foremost challenges of our contemporary age is to disseminate this lifestyle throughout humanity as a whole through education. One of the most powerful activities in the shaping of people is “education”, which is such an important factor that it can even change biology. In a broader sense, “education” covers the entire system of social values. People can change these values, and thus recreate themselves, and this is why humans are free and powerful. Values, in turn, are based on action, or in other words, value is an action-related concept – for a value to exist, action needs to be taken.
Internal Enlightenment and Wisdom
“Internal enlightenment” can manifest itself as a reflection of the historical Enlightenment movements within the internal world of a person, or conversely, can be achieved through methods of “esoteric experience” in private following the traditional attitude. The historical roots of internal enlightenment are “Sanskrit” in the Eastern world, and “Hermetic” in the Western world.
The goal of these experience-based teachings is “wisdom”. The way and method of wisdom aim for internal freedom, competence and integrity. A wise person is distinguishable from others in their ability to experience happiness and joy under any condition. The way of wisdom can be described also as “psycho-cosmology”.
These esoteric undercurrents of wisdom, like artesian wells, have been connected to visible, factual history in different parts of the world, and for varying durations. The aphorism “Know thyself” written on the gates of Delph temples, and frequently repeated by Socrates, became “He who knows himself knows his Rabb (Sustainer)” in the words of the Prophet Muhammad. The motto V.I.T.R.I.O.L. in Latin is reflected in Rumi’s advice to “Travel from yourself to yourself” to find wisdom. Rumi also said, “Move toward yourself, for sleep is gone when you move.” This idea of returning to oneself and travelling to oneself represents an awakening on the path to self-realization. The same idea is reflected in the words of Anatolian man of wisdom Pir Sultan Abdal, who said, “We had been asleep and were awakened, we were counted among the living”, alluding to the resurrection of a dead consciousness. Another Anatolian wise man, İsmail Emre, hinted at the “ontological” aspect of this resurrection, “It is not the eye that awakens, nor is it the tongue that knows”. “Awakening” refers to gaining awareness, but it also has a deeper meaning related to the path of wisdom; referring to the awakening of the human abilities that have lain dormant, activating them and integrating them with acquired skills.
The wisdom approach argues that purely “intellectual” learning is insufficient for self-improvement, as that those who do not strive to go beyond intellectual knowledge will be reduced to a simple brain organ. The wisdom approach is concerned with action-based training rather than learning. Wisdom training aims to transform the individual by going through prescribed stages, setting free the existential potential, and becoming integrated and in harmony with the cosmic structure. Accordingly, each new station to which the individual evolves unearths a new level of being, and this evolution is the only way the individual can obtain “wisdom”. In the words of Niyazi Misri, “Come if you want wisdom to your knowledge, come if you want a cure to your problem.”
The wisdom approach views nature, and by extension, human beings, as a book to be read. Visions of nature are symbolized as a circle around a single center. What makes the circle significant is its relationship with the center. In this metaphor, the center symbolizes the principle of assigning meaning and unity of purpose (The circle represents multiplicity, as it consists of many points, while the center represents unity). In the words of Ibn Arabi, “All that exist are the endless words of God.” This of course resembles Plato’s theory of forms, which is well known to have been interpreted in two different ways. One uses intellectual concepts specific to philosophy to discuss the theory, which is what makes up the literature on Plato in the field of history of philosophy; while the other is “actual”, and was not revealed during the time of Plato for political reasons. His teachings were carried by his followers to Alexandria in Egypt and practiced there, and came to be known as Neo-Platonism. The most notable followers of Neo-Platonism included Philo of Alexandria, Ammonius Saccas and Plotinus.
Philo created the “theosophical” movement, merging Platonic philosophy with the teachings of the Prophet Moses, which had Hermetic roots. Philo thus attempted to merge faith and philosophy, and this was then taken up and developed further into Judaism, Christianity and Islam, known as the “gnostic teaching” (irfan).
After Philo and Plotinus, the Hermetic teachings met a new generation in Al-Andalus. In general terms, this juncture was a continuation of Neo-Platonism in which the “Gnostics” of the three Semitic religions –Judaism, Christianity and Islam– met with Ancient Greek philosophy. Rabbi Abba, Maimonides, Abraham Abulafia, and Ibn Arabi were among the most prominent names of this period, and it was at this time that the Hebrew Kabbalah was penned.
Maimonides deeply affected both Judaism and Islamic sufism (tasawwuf). Ibn Arabi, in particular, gained influence both in philosophy and sufism with his theory and methodology of “unity of being”. Born in Al-Andalus, Ibn Arabi traveled later to Anatolia and taught in Malatya, Kayseri and Konya, where his idea of “unity of being” served as a unifying philosophy for the heterodox structure of Anatolia. This view, proposing that nature and life forms that seemingly have different characteristics are in fact different manifestations of the same being, met with broad tolerance in Anatolia.
The generation of wise warriors (Alperen) who migrated from Khorasan to Anatolia were able to live freely and with tolerance in a land where the idea of unity of being was widely adopted. In this coherent cultural setting, wise people identified the end goal of life as becoming human –transforming into a “mature human being” (al-Insan al-Kamil)– and stressed that anyone who so desired could attain this maturity by passing through stages. The notion of “mature person” is not virtual or imaginary, and can be realized not through metaphysics or God-given talents, but through work and effort when following a training program supervised by wise people. This idea of wisdom that covers the Anatolian civilizations like a cream is worth examining, researching and adopting in the contemporary age.
The success of a culture, education or schooling is measured by the people it produces. The tree of Anatolian civilization has offered many flavors to humanity, from Thales, Diogenes, Saint Paul and Orpheus, to Haji (Haje) Bektash Veli, Yunus Emre, Pir Sultan, Rumi, Dadaloğlu, Karacaoğlan, Nesimi and İsmail Emre.
The Anatolian lifestyle is thus crowned with this wisdom.
* First published in Us Düşün ve Ötesi (Reason, Thought, and Beyond), no.1, 1998. Translated by Dr. Emre Eren Korkmaz, and revised by the editorial board.