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THE GRAMMAR OF HARMONY

Persian "Magic Carpets" of the Middle Ages were modelled on the Islamic garden, because such a garden in the Islamic tradition is symbolic of the inner sanctum of the heart. The soul itself is seen as a garden, the garden of paradise, and so the "magic" carpets transported the desert traveller to humanity's true home, to the paradise within. All of the many designs in Persian carpets are elaborations of the interplay between the three basic shapes: the circle, the square and the triangle. As we know from Pythagoras, in all ancient traditions the circle is symbolic of the unbroken unity (the world as a whole) of heaven. The square is symbolic of the materiality of our earthly existence (as per the four worlds), and the triangle (as per the Threefold Commonwealth) is symbolic of the world of our human consciousness (centre).

The geometric code that Prince Charles has called the grammar of harmony was evidently understood by every one of the major civilizations of the world. The temples of India, for example, reflect it profoundly. Many of them follow a similar design. At the centre sits a dark chamber and this is surrounded by a series of rooms that become lighter as they get nearer to the outside world. The symbolism is missed by most, but the point here is that all of creation bursts out of what the mystics of India called the "uncreated light" of the central unity. From this unity flows all of the teeming multiplicity of existence, symbolized by the rich decoration and intricately carved ornamentation of the temples' outer walls. Again, such temples are models of the universe, both its outer aspect and its inner one.

In China, 2,000 years ago, a contemporary of Plato, the Chinese sage Lao Tzu (3), wrote in the Hua Hu Ching:

The world and its particles are not separate, isolated things but rather one small particle contains the nature of the world just as the world contains the nature of each small particle; the nature of each is the same. The apparently single event is but a variation and a segment of the great whole and the great whole is the combination of all single events. Thus the single event contains the life experience of the whole.

It was, according to Prince Charles, the Arab world that salvaged much of the treasure from the ancient world. Slowly it infused Arab thinking so that when the great Abbasid Empire rose to prominence from the 8th century onwards the principles of harmony, balance and unity were central to the vast outpouring of craftsmanship and scholarship that characterized what has come to be known as “the Golden Age of Islam". Its epicentre was Baghdad (4), which enjoyed a spectacular flowering in scholarship and an approach to art and design that fused Arab thought and invention with that of Persia, Egypt, Europe and the Far East.

It is estimated that within 200 years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed, books were available in libraries that peppered the major cities of the growing empire. By the middle of the 13th century there were 36 libraries in Baghdad alone, where it was possible to read books on history and poetry, Greek and Islamic philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and medicine. Cordoba in Spain alone was said to have contained 400,000 volumes, attracting scholars from far and wide, bringing with them many Ancient Greek texts that had been salvaged from the ruins of antiquity to be translated into Hebrew and Arabic. These scholars advanced their knowledge in science, natural history, law, geography, history and medicine. Their studies covered everything from agriculture to building design and they made tremendous advances in optics and engineering. Their studies in medicine (5) created standard texts on the subject and they invented hospitals equipped with what amounted to emergency and accident wards. Their business acumen led to the development of sophisticated new business practices that are now common to the world – the notion of partnerships, the use of credit and the idea of banks exchanging currency.

It is the way, however, that they integrated into their culture the patterning of nature that is of particular significance here. The patterns of architecture and decoration that so defined this medieval culture depended on the so-called "Seven Sacred Principles" of Islamic architecture, the chief one being tawid, or unity. On every wall in the room, in every building and in whole cities, the aim was to create a sense of wholeness, the unity that rests in the heart of everyone. A central principle, taught in the universities that flowered from the 8th century (6) onwards in the Muslim world, was that things cannot be understood in isolation. Subjects were not taught separately as they are today. Instead, any one thing could only be known in a connected context within the universe.

WITHIN AND WITHouT: THE WAY oF PATTERNs

From Pythagoras and Plato onto the likes of Shakespeare, Bach and Blake, all of these artists were very clear that there is a harmony to the world that must be maintained. What is more, the difference we tend to see between the outside, material world and what we might think of as our own personal, mental space, for Prince Charles, within, is in fact an artificial distinction. We experience them both as a whole and therefore the balance we achieve within dictates how balanced our behaviour will be without. This is why the ancients considered humanity to be a microcosm of a macrocosm. They saw no separation between man and nature and between the natural world and God. Religion and science, mind and matter were all part of the living world made up of the whole universe.

Prince Charles and his colleagues, moreover, have attempted to demonstrate that the ancients' grasp of the geometry of the cosmos dictated the design of their stone circles and pyramids. In more recent times, furthermore, the fabulous treasures of the world's current sacred traditions, as well as the biological development of plants (7), the way in which animals organize their communities, the orbits of the planets and even key astronomical cycles of time, all follow harmonic patterns. This golden thread of inner learning, however, has undoubtedly grown weaker as the West's emphasis on the outer world has become greater. The depth of knowledge yielded when nature studied as "nature" became depleted as she began to be studied as a machine.

We need, now, to explore how these influences began a process of, for Prince Charles, "spiritual asset-stripping" that has now eroded completely humanity's former insight and wisdom as well as much of the balance that once shaped a very different perspective of the life we inhabit. Such a perspective suggests that it is perfectly possible to live in some sort of shiny, synthetic bubble of convenience so long as we ignore or at least brush under the carpet the corrosive effects that all this is having on the Earth and its essential life-support systems.

 
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