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on October 3, 2004
The philosophic and religious thought of Plotinus, a third-century philosopher and mystic, was primarily responsible for initiating the philosophical movement we call Neoplatonism and was an important influence on the development of early Christian thought. Plotinus' writings were published by Porphyry, who was one of his students, in six books of nine sections and was called the "Enneads." Plotinus' ideas can be very difficult for many people to grasp, especially in this modern age which is so beset with empiricism and materialism and looks on mysticism and religious meditation with a skeptical eye. We are fortunate now to have Brian Hines, a longtime serious student of meditation, metaphysics, and philosophy, write a book in easily-understandable language to explain the many concepts, some of them very obscure, that Plotinus presents in his "Enneads."

The book, entitled "Return to the One: Plotinus's Guide to God-Realization," is, however, more than just a theoretical explanation of Plotinus' thought. It is also a practical guide to the procedures that Plotinus suggests will enable an individual to accomplish what he or she really longs for, which is to return to the "One," which, as the author points out, "may be thought of as 'God,' if this more familiar term for ultimate reality is stripped of its personal or theistic connotations." The One or God, according to Plotinus, is not only the supreme inconceivable reality but also the principle of all realities.

The invisible world as well as the visible world, man included, is nothing other than a derivation or emanation from the One. The One is true happiness for man; but as man cannot reach full knowledge of the One by reason, so also he cannot possess happiness of himself; his intellectual knowledge is not sufficient. Man needs a superior help in order to reach the One and to possess the One. This superior help comes from the One who, beyond all forces of reason, manifests itself to man, and makes him happy. Plotinus calls this "ecstasy." Toward this all his speculation points. The monistic metaphysics of Plotinus may be considered in two ways: as progression downward from the One (or God) to the world in the divine emanations; and upward toward the world of the One (or God) through morality. Emanation is marked by four degrees: matter, world soul, Nous, and God or the One. All the degrees of being partake of the divinity, but in a different way (the monism of Plotinus' thought).

Now if all this sounds a bit strange or alien to you, that is understandable; mystical philosophies are not much in vogue today. Plotinus might have difficulty in our contemporary world getting enough university students to register for his course on "A Guide to God-Realization." I suspect that the closest we have been in this country to something akin to Plotinus' work in the academic arena would be when Josiah Royce, that great, but unappreciated, American philosopher, teaching at Harvard toward the end of the nineteenth century, was the major expositor of metaphysical idealism and monism. But, if you are intrigued by the mysteries and obscurities of Plotinus' philosophy and want to learn more, then I would suggest you can't go wrong by using Brian Hines' book as a resource to guide you on your way toward understanding.

First, he introduces the reader to some preliminaries, providing some background on Plotinus, discussing philosophy as a way of life and the making of a leap of faith, and, very useful to the beginning student of Plotinus' thought, the author provides some tips on reading the writing of Plotinus based on the author's own experience. Second, Hines proceeds to explain four main concepts: The One, The Many, The Soul's Descent, and The Soul's Return. An understanding of each of these ideas is essential to understanding Plotinus at all. The author, however, seems to recognize that many readers will be unfamiliar with formal philosophical analyses or with matters of mystical thought and practice. Thus, his descriptions, explanations, and interpretations are written in plain, ordinary language without any of the "techno-speak" which is the curse of so much of philosophy written today. Lastly, a final section of the book is a wrap-up area where the author does some summarizing and draws some conclusions from what has been said already, and discusses a "science" of spirituality, Neoplatonism and its relationship to Christianity, and the legacy of Plato and Plotinus.

I called this book a "resource" earlier in this review, but I did not mean to imply that it was a text you consulted from time to time when you needed it. The book can easily be and should initially be read through from beginning to end. What I meant by applying the term "resource" to this work is that the author provides some important material at the end of the book, material which is not always provided by authors to help their readers go beyond the text they've just read. Hines provides notes to the references he cites throughout the book, as well as a bibliography and the necessary index. That's pretty standard stuff for most books, although not all authors writing today necessarily provide all these helps.

Hines, however, has gone beyond merely providing this standard stuff for the reader. He has a section called "Suggestions for further reading" which could well be a model for authors of potentially difficult nonfiction books. He not only suggests books for further reading; he breaks them down into five categories: Translations; Non-scholarly overviews; Scholarly yet accessible books; Seriously scholarly treatises; and Related works. The books in each category are then commented on, quite often in some detail. What a boon to the reader! I wish more writers would do this.

I highly recommend "Return to the One" to all those interested in the philosophy of Plotinus, the general history of Western philosophy, religious philosophy, or mystical philosophy. The subject is interesting and important and Brian Hines' prose is crisp, concise, and easily understood.
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on June 14, 2006
Plotinos (Latin: Plotinus) is not well known to the general public, much less than Plato in whose tradition he stands. Nevertheless Plotinos is well known in smaller circles on behalf of his enormous influence on Western mysticism, and not less as a very original philosopher. However his writings are not read very often outside the small circle of lovers. And this is understandable because what is left of them, is mostly restricted to an - although extensive - collection of loose and often smaller tractates, after adaptation bundled by his pupil Porphyrius. Due to Plotinos' influence on christian mysticism and on philosophy in its stricter sense many introductions to his work are written from those viewpoints, and so are rather christian-theological or more strictly philosophical. Too soon forgotten then is Plotinos' objective of a view of life that is to be lived, and this as well without reference to christian theology and without the modern opposition of philosophy and practice. Perhaps it might even be said that in so far the tradition of the hellenistic mystery schools was integrated or still got some place within the christian West, this mainly took place through Plotinos and the neoplatonism inspired by him.
Ofcourse it is possible to look at Plotinos in the ways described, and this even has become the norm for a long time in the past. But historically and practically it is possible to read the original Plotinos in a way which does not take those interpretations as the norm. A way which is distinct and at least as original. This is my opinion after reading Brian Hines book. However what I am not capable to do, is tracing exactly the accordance of his interpretation with Plotinos' texts or rather with the system entailed and described in those. Nevertheless I have no argument at all to suppose that Hines' interpretation is not relevant or not correct. He uses the best known sources and resources (including important secondary literature), the same as are used by other scholars. Fascinating is that Hines' interpretation delivers a view in much more accordance with the old interpretation of philosophy as part of a spiritual school of life, such as were a reality in the Classic Age. As well as with the way of psychological development which we also meet in Indian philosophies. Plotinos is a very psychological philosopher. [...]

In the first part of his book Hines gives a number of points to be attentive to in reading and interpreting Plotinos and his texts, as well as a justification of his method.

Then he summarizes the system of Plotinos in the form of chapters about aspects of his philosophy, selected and composed according to the way indicated in the system itself. First the aspects of the One and the Many, next the aspects of the way the soul goes from its descent from the One to the Many and its ascent from the Many back into the One. In this way the at first sight rather strange because rather technical philosophy of Plotinos becomes astonishingly "concrete" and actual, psychologically and spiritually profound. I recall the titles of a number of those chapters: God is the Goal, One is Overall, First is Formless, Infinity is Ineffable, Reality is a Radiation, Universe is a Unity, All is Alive, Truth is Transparent, Form is Foundation, Intelligence is Intuitive, Psyche is a Pilgrim, Descent is Debasement, Choice is Compulsion, Reason is Restricted, Image is Illusion, Suffering is Separation, Soul is the Self, Without is Within, Simplicity is Superior, Fear is a Fiction, Vision is Veracity. Very rich in content, these chapters are built around much cited and central statements and sentences from the works of Plotinos and present a clear interpretation of them in modern language within the context of modern ideas. Not just that many insights from philosophy and psychology are presented in passing but one now also sees how profound Plotinos' views are in comparison with these. And this in a way understandable to not only christians or professional philosophers but to everyone with interest in and some knowledge of modern (religious or spiritual) psychology and modern thinking about it.

Hines concludes his book with some chapters in which he elucidates some more general topics and problems, such as how to interpret the philosophy of Plotinos taken as a whole, how to interpret the relation between this neoplatonism and christianity, what might be the heritage of Plato and Plotinos and what might be the messages for us entailed in all this. That is to say for our search to find truth and regarding what we might or should be willing to invest to reach that goal.

His book ends with well described suggestions for further reading and / or study, and it comprises a good index.

Altogether this is a very valuable introduction into the original philosophy of Plotinos. Not difficult to read, nor does it reduce to meaninglessness the sometimes profound or complex questions that can be posed. On the contrary, this book is often elucidating and inspiring.
Very much recommended.
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on August 4, 2008
Hines' book comments and expands on a variety of paragraphs from the Enneads, a set of treatises by Greek philosopher and mystic Plotinus. The "central message . . . .is that what each of us truly longs for, even if we don't consciously realize it, is to return to the One--which may be thought of as `God'. . ." Even in translation Plotinus is difficult for the modern reader, and Hines does a good job of making this very religious philosopher accessible.

Plotinus is often Buddhist and sometimes Christian in his outlook. No matter what their stance, this book can help readers of all traditions identify the yearnings that drew them in the first place. Hines concludes, "If religious pursuit is viewed as akin to a trek up a mountain with God at the apex, then the various religions may be conceived as paths that attempt the ascent up different vertical divisions of the mountain." His point is not merely that the differences are differences of symbol, language, and understanding of revelation. His point is a deeper one: that the Divine One offers us unity, not mere relationship with Another. In these chapters, Christians might find themselves thinking of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; Buddhists might think of Buddha Nature or even Dependent Arising in general.

Hines has a gift for short, memorable comments:
* The soul isn't in a body: it is a body that is in the soul.
* Simplicity is a reliable guide to truth.
* If I'm bad it isn't because the Devil made me do it. I'm just insufficiently filled with the Good.

Many readers will disagree with Plotinus' concept of each soul's pre-existence, the idea that each of us has had "an enduring soul-essence" that has been reborn in this universe. His thoughts on the subject, as well as Hines' comments, are still worth reading and pondering. If you disagree, keep reading, and focus on what else he says, that each of us is more than just the "I" that we know ourselves to be.

There are things to disagree with in this book. There are also things to learn, and many opportunities for growth. You'll come away feeling like God is your friend: God is present to all beings . . . the world participates in God.
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on July 29, 2005
I love Plotinus and his work, but I had never found anybody who described it with suck simplicity and clarity. Hines must be commended for his hard work and for all the huge help that he provided for spiritual seekers. I hope to see this book translated in many languages and becoming widely known. There is so much trust in stupidity today and reading this book has been a refreshing, comforting experience, like going Home.
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on August 18, 2004
Brian Hines in his book, RETURN TO THE ONE, has presented with persuasive originality, the elegant and illuminating world of an early Greek rationalist and mystic, Plotinus. It holds up a sharp, clear lens to penetrating spiritual insights that are ageless and universal. The reader is able to see that these verities are also compatible with the Western paradigm.

Brian's interpretation of a very difficult work, the ENNEADS, is in itself a formidable accomplishment. Plotinus felt his oral lectures and communication with others conveyed a deeper understanding than the written word. He was, therefore, reluctant to write. He did leave collections of writings, which his student, Porphyry edited and it became, the ENNEADS. Brian vividly introduces the reader to this work. He selected salient quotes from the source and then gives thorough and illuminating interpretations. Hines's refreshing and creative response to the ENNEADS allows us to become artful and creative listeners. We too, can enter into dialogue with Plotinus. With swift, and sure strokes, Hines cuts through difficult thought and opens new paths for those who are willing to hear and respond. On page 69, words like, "a beautiful soul sees beauty in every nook and cranny of creation. He also attracts and enchants all who come in his presence, for in and through himself he radiates godlike qualities," attests to this creative originality to share these insights with other.

It is clear that in this book the word "philosophy" means: love of Wisdom. Brian invites us, as did the Ancient Greek Philosophers, to seek and embrace wisdom.

I greatly enjoyed reading this book. Real thought, real reason coupled with wisdom and passion runs everywhere in this book. I teach Philosophy and Religious Studies and I will use the book as a valuable reference book in all my classes.

He writes easily and well. His wisdom runs deep and helps you to reflect your own experiences. An intoxicating read. His blend of historical facts juxtaposed with mystical affirmations adds scholarly depth while simultaneously sustaining the intuitive side of our nature. He is ringing the bells that can still sing.

Brian is not a detached analyzer. Yet he strives towards a blend of objectivity and subjectivity while still being a strong advocate of Plotinus's teachings. But he then adds: "it is just a personal opinion to be taken as such."

Reading this provocative book will, hopefully, help us to better understand our spiritual roots and to better understand ourselves. A poem, "Seeds," now comes to mind. It is as follows:

I have plea.

Please come with me,

Leave behind the old Reality,

Find the seed,

And garden tenderly.

Take in the new that always was,

And there you will find

The image of the you to be,

For all eternity.

Patricia Herron

Philosophy & Religions Studies

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on September 7, 2007
For years I've been telling friends, "You must read Plotinus--he's the single greatest mind in the Western mystical tradition." But when they pick up his great classic, the Enneads, they complain they can't understand a word! The problem is the English translations are geared for readers with an extensive knowledge of ancient Greek philosophical terminology.
I'm so grateful to Brian Hines for writing a book that makes Plotinus' profound and incredibly inspiring insights accessible to everyone. With bracing clarity and vivid examples Hines "unpacks" the Enneads, explaining the master's brilliant realizations in terms people today can easily understand.
Lucid and luminous, Return to the One is a contemporary spiritual classic.
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on August 13, 2005
I am so impressed with the authors ability to open us up to explore the timeless philosophies of Plotinus.The author takes us on a wonderful mental journey that explores the vista of the soul as it leaves the One and returns with so many spiritual gifts acquired along the way. I feel a wonderful excitment about advancing through this journey instead of the usual fear of the unknown. This book has changed my expectations and the Philosophy coraborated by so many other philosophers renders this book so believable. I also enjoyed his style.
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on February 20, 2009
I had a question: How do you go from Plato to Ficino? The path seemed to go through a few obscure (for me at least) romanized philosophers, like Plotinus, Porphiry, Iamblichus, etc. I took a volume of the Enneads (the 3rd Ennead) from the library and... I couldn't keep my concentration. It was even stranger than Ficino, Bruno, etc. I just didn't understand what was going on. Then I decided to get this book.

This is a good introduction/summary/study to Plotinus philosophical thought. How do I know it is good? Well, first of all, it makes sense. It answers many questions, and do that very clearly. If you are new to Greek philosophy, you'd probably think it is repetitive or even too mystical. Nothing of the sort: Mr. Hines is telling it as it is. Plotinus must be read slowly and reflexively. Now I have re-started the Enneads and this time I have a general picture to guide me, thanks to Mr. Hines.

Second, the author explains concisely some "features" of Greek thought that help understand Plotinus better, which I found very fitting and to the point. This "help" could have been overlooked easily, as so many authors do, but it should result very useful to many readers. If you'd like to expand on this kind of "background" topics, I could recommend Jean-Pierre Vernant's books, specially "Myth and Thought Among the Greeks", which is kind of dense, but infinitely rewarding.

Third, Mr. Hines is not afraid of explicitly quoting from contemporary authors, specially from Pierre Hadot, "Plotinus" (I have bought this book now and it is next in the queue). This is something to praise. Many authors of popular books feel the need to appear as entirely original or as something like "monolithic", and go quietly plagiarizing others. Mr. Hines here gives a lesson on humility and realism.

Only one negative comment: In the Introduction, Mr. Hines wastes (in my opinion) a full paragraph explaining the usage of "he" and "she" in his book, and apologizing in advance in case someone finds it sexist, etc. Then in the book itself almost all of the examples and illustrations from ordinary life he uses are quite sexist: women are worried about love relationships and like putting on make-up; men are worried about work and like sports, etc. Personally I don't care so much. I just want to point out the paradox.

As a summary: this is a good book about a difficult subject. If you are not particularly interested in Plotinus or Neoplatonism, this book could be tedious. But if you are planning to plunge into the Enneads, and you are not a scholar, you will probably need some help: buy this book!
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on February 5, 2010
Never in my life have I enjoyed a philosophy book so much. It is easy to read and understand. The author has a real talent for taking mystifying passages and expressing them in plain English. This book was a joy to read. I wish the author would write an entire series of books based on explaining the "Great Ones"! Well done and many thanks. Your book really fed my soul!
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on March 25, 2005
Brian Hines, author of "Return to the One: Plotinus's Guide to God-Realization", has written an excellent interpretation of this mystic philosopher's rational explanation of creation, human life and spiritual longing. Plotinus argues for the necessity of a return to our source to fulfill the purpose and potential of our lives and describes our spiritual and material condition in astounding, compelling detail. The author's interpretaions are scholarly and incisive as he discusses the bracing rigor of the early Greek philosopher's thought in a uniquely humble, unpretentious and good-humored manner. This riviting and readable book is useful for thinking clearly about the nature and demands of any spiritual discipline, and I highly recommend it to spiritual seekers and strugglers of any persuasion.
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