Claude Bragdon: Seed to Fruit

By Peter Y. Chou

Preface: Professor Elaine Scarry's Seminar on "Imagining Colors" at the Stanford Humanities Center on February 13, 2008 inspired me to search some old files on color. Prof. Carol Shloss at the seminar told a story from Toni Morrison's novel Beloved (1988) about a woman about to die covering herself with a quilt with two patches of orange. It reminded me of a color project on the color orange I did at Foothill College (Autumn 1993). I recalled in Buddhist symbolism, orange is connected with condemned criminals and also death. Perhaps Buddhist monks wear the orange saffron robes to remind themselves that they must die to the desires of this world in order to experience the nirvana of the other shore. I located my old floppy disks and spent three hours reformatting the old files, converting Adobe Illustrator eps files to Photoshop jpg files and text files to HTML files. I also found Claude Bragdon's book Four-Dimensional Vistas (1923) in the Stanford stacks (BF1383.B83.1923) and located his beautiful quote on page 33 (Note: 33 is the highest degree for Freemasons and a symbol of transcendence). I also found a moving tribute to the color orange from the Dedication page of The Notebooks of Paul Brunton: Perspectives (Posthumous) (1984) which I've added to this web page.

The point, the line,
the surface, the sphere—
in the seed, stem, leaf,
and fruit appear.

Claude Bragdon (1866-1946)
     Four-Dimensional Vista (1923)

Color Symbolism: I was inspired by the simplicity of Claude Bragdon's poem "The point, the line, the surface, the sphere— in the seed, stem, leaf, and fruit appear." Using Adobe Illustrator 3.2, I drew a seed, from which grew a stem, four leaves, and a fruit. I chose the orange as the fruit because in China and Japan, orange is the fruit of the timeless tree, bringer of good fortune & immortality. In Christian art, orange is an attribute of Virgin Mary. It is a celestial fruit, symbolic of feminine principle, generosity, infinity, and perfection. In color symbology, orange represents the red of passion tempered by the yellow of wisdom. Buddha chose orange as his color for the monk's robe because it was formerly worn by condemned criminals. Perhaps, he did this to remind us that we are likewise locked up in the finitude of our ego-self, and only when we experience the beatitude of our infinite Cosmic-Self are we truly free. I'm reminded by Aristotle's Metaphysics (1072b): "In the beginning is not the seed, but the perfect", and decided to place my orange seed in the center of the sun. Since the sun is made of hydrogen (atomic number 1), and Oneness symbolizes perfection, we may consider the path of the seed to stem to leaf to fruit [point (0-dimension) to line (1-dimension) to surface (2-dimension) to sphere (3-dimensions)] as the way of wisdom. While becoming (growing) takes place in time, Being is here-&-now in eternity. The orange & the sun are one— both a circle of life.

Dimensional Sequences

Not only does nature everywhere geometrize, but she does so in a particular way, in which we discover dimensional sequences. Consider the transformation of solid, liquid, gas, from one to another, under the influence of heat. A solid, set in free motion, can follow only a line— as is the case of a thrown ball. A liquid has the added power of lateral extension. Its tendency, when intercepted, is to spread out in the two dimensions of a plane— as in the case of a griddle cake; while a gas expands cubically in all directions, as shown by a soap-bubble. It is a reasonable inference that the fourth state of matter, the corpuscular, is affiliated to some four-dimensional manner of extension, and that there may be states beyond this, involving even higher development of space.
    Next glance at the vegetable kingdom. The seed, a point, generates a line system— in stem, branches, twigs— from which depend planes in the form of leaves and flowers, and from these come fruit, solids.

            "The point, the line, the surface and the sphere,
              In seed, stem, leaf and fruit appear."

A similar sequence may be noted within the body: the line-network of the nerves conveys the message of sensation from the surface of the body to some center in the solid, of the brain— and thence to the Silent Thinker, "He who is without and within," or in terms of our hypothesis, "He who dwells in higher space."

— Claude Bragdon, Four-Dimensional Vistas
     Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1923, pp. 32-33 [BF1383.B83.1923]

Paul Brunton's Dedication to Orange

This Book Is Made Dedicate
to that Sage of the Orient at whose behest these pages were written: to one incredibly wise and ceaselessly beneficent. And further, I have wrapped this book in the bright orange-chrome coloured cloth even as you have wrapped your body in cloth of the same colour— the Sannyasi's colour— the mark of one who has renounced the world as you have. And if the dealings of the cards of destiny bid me wear cloth of another hue, command me to mix and mingle with the world and help carry on its work, be assured that somewhere in the deep places of my heart, I have gathered all my desires into a little heap and offered them all unto the Nameless Higher Power.

                                                                                              — P. B.

The Notebooks of Paul Brunton: Perspectives (Posthumous)
Larson Publications, Burdett, New York, 1984 (Dedication page)

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (2-19-2008)