The Development of Metaphysics in Persia Part 10

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Al-Jili was born in 767 A.H., as he himself says in one of his verses, and died in 811 A.H. He was not a prolific writer like S_h_aik_h_ Mu?y al-Din ibn 'Arabi whose mode of thought seems to have greatly influenced his teaching. He combined in himself poetical imagination and philosophical genius, but his poetry is no more than a vehicle for his mystical and metaphysical doctrines. Among other books he wrote a commentary on S_h_aik_h_ Mu?y al-Din ibn 'Arabi's al-Futu?at al-Makkiya, a commentary on Bismillah, and the famous work Insan al-Kamil (printed in Cairo).

Essence pure and simple, he says, is the thing to which names and attributes are given, whether it is existent actually or ideally. The existent is of two species:--

(1). The Existent in Absoluteness or Pure existence--Pure Being--G.o.d.

(2). The existence joined with non-existence--Creation--Nature.

The Essence of G.o.d or Pure Thought cannot be understood; no words can express it, for it is beyond all relation and knowledge is relation. The intellect flying through the fathomless empty s.p.a.ce pierces through the veil of names and attributes, traverses the vasty sphere of time, enters the domain of the non-existent and finds the Essence of Pure Thought to be an existence which is non-existence--a sum of contradictions.[152:1]

It has two (accidents); eternal life in all past time and eternal life in all future time. It has two (qualities), G.o.d and creation. It has two (definitions), uncreatableness and creatableness. It has two names, G.o.d and man. It has two faces, the manifested (this world) and the unmanifested (the next world). It has two effects, necessity and possibility. It has two points of view; from the first it is non-existent for itself but existent for what is not itself; from the second it is existent for itself and non-existent for what is not itself.

[152:1] Insan al-Kamil, Vol. I, p. 10.

Name, he says, fixes the named in the understanding, pictures it in the mind, presents it in the imagination and keeps it in the memory. It is the outside or the husk, as it were, of the named; while the named is the inside or the pith. Some names do not exist in reality but exist in name only as "'Anqa" (a fabulous bird). It is a name the object of which does not exist in reality. Just as "'Anqa" is absolutely non-existent, so G.o.d is absolutely present, although He cannot be touched and seen.

The "'Anqa" exists only in idea while the object of the name "Allah"

exists in reality and can be known like "'Anqa" only through its names and attributes. The name is a mirror which reveals all the secrets of the Absolute Being; it is a light through the agency of which G.o.d sees Himself. Al-Jili here approaches the Isma'ilia view that we should seek the Named through the Name.

In order to understand this pa.s.sage we should bear in mind the three stages of the development of Pure Being, enumerated by him. He holds that the Absolute existence or Pure Being when it leaves its absoluteness undergoes three stages:--(1) Oneness. (2) He-ness. (3) I-ness. In the first stage there is an absence of all attributes and relations, yet it is called one, and therefore oneness marks one step away from the absoluteness. In the second stage Pure Being is yet free from all manifestation, while the third stage, I-ness, is nothing but an external manifestation of the He-ness; or, as Hegel would say, it is the self-diremption of G.o.d. This third stage is the sphere of the name Allah; here the darkness of Pure Being is illuminated, nature comes to the front, the Absolute Being has become conscious. He says further that the name Allah is the stuff of all the perfections of the different phases of Divinity, and in the second stage of the progress of Pure Being, all that is the result of Divine self-diremption was potentially contained within the t.i.tanic grasp of this name which, in the third stage of the development, objectified itself, became a mirror in which G.o.d reflected Himself, and thus by its crystallisation dispelled all the gloom of the Absolute Being.

In correspondence with these three stages of the absolute development, the perfect man has three stages of spiritual training. But in his case the process of development must be the reverse; because his is the process of ascent, while the Absolute Being had undergone essentially a process of descent. In the first stage of his spiritual progress he meditates on the name, studies nature on which it is sealed; in the second stage he steps into the sphere of the Attribute, and in the third stage enters the sphere of the Essence. It is here that he becomes the Perfect Man; his eye becomes the eye of G.o.d, his word the word of G.o.d and his life the life of G.o.d--partic.i.p.ates in the general life of Nature and "sees into the life of things".

To turn now to the nature of the attribute. His views on this most interesting question are very important, because it is here that his doctrine fundamentally differs from Hindu Idealism. He defines attribute as an agency which gives us a knowledge of the state of things.[155:1]

Elsewhere he says that this distinction of attribute from the underlying reality is tenable only in the sphere of the manifested, because here every attribute is regarded as the other of the reality in which it is supposed to inhere. This otherness is due to the existence of combination and disintegration in the sphere of the manifested. But the distinction is untenable in the domain of the unmanifested, because there is no combination or disintegration there. It should be observed how widely he differs from the advocates of the Doctrine of "Maya". He believes that the material world has real existence; it is the outward husk of the real being, no doubt, but this outward husk is not the less real. The cause of the phenomenal world, according to him, is not a real ent.i.ty hidden behind the sum of attributes, but it is a conception furnished by the mind so that there may be no difficulty in understanding the material world. Berkeley and Fichte will so far agree with our author, but his view leads him to the most characteristically Hegelian doctrine--ident.i.ty of thought and being. In the 37{th} chapter of the 2{nd} volume of Insan al-Kamil, he clearly says that idea is the stuff of which this universe is made; thought, idea, notion is the material of the structure of nature. While laying stress on this doctrine he says, "Dost thou not look to thine own belief? Where is the reality in which the so-called Divine attributes inhere? It is but the idea."[157:1] Hence nature is nothing but a crystallised idea. He gives his hearty a.s.sent to the results of Kant's _Critique of Pure Reason_; but, unlike him, he makes this very idea the essence of the Universe.

Kant's _Ding an sich_ to him is a pure nonent.i.ty; there is nothing behind the collection of attributes. The attributes are the real things, the material world is but the objectification of the Absolute Being; it is the other self of the Absolute--another which owes its existence to the principle of difference in the nature of the Absolute itself. Nature is the idea of G.o.d, a something necessary for His knowledge of Himself.

While Hegel calls his doctrine the ident.i.ty of thought and being, Al-Jili calls it the ident.i.ty of attribute and reality. It should be noted that the author's phrase, "world of attributes", which he uses for the material world is slightly misleading. What he really holds is that the distinction of attribute and reality is merely phenomenal, and does not at all exist in the nature of things. It is useful, because it facilitates our understanding of the world around us, but it is not at all real. It will be understood that Al-Jili recognises the truth of Empirical Idealism only tentatively, and does not admit the absoluteness of the distinction. These remarks should not lead us to understand that Al-Jili does not believe in the objective reality of the thing in itself. He does believe in it, but then he advocates its unity, and says that the material world is the thing in itself; it is the "other", the external expression of the thing in itself. The _Ding an sich_ and its external expression or the production of its self-diremption, are really identical, though we discriminate between them in order to facilitate our understanding of the universe. If they are not identical, he says, how could one manifest the other? In one word, he means by _Ding an sich_, the Pure, the Absolute Being, and seeks it through its manifestation or external expression. He says that as long as we do not realise the ident.i.ty of attribute and reality, the material world or the world of attributes seems to be a veil; but when the doctrine is brought home to us the veil is removed; we see the Essence itself everywhere, and find that all the attributes are but ourselves. Nature then appears in her true light; all otherness is removed and we are one with her. The aching p.r.i.c.k of curiosity ceases, and the inquisitive att.i.tude of our minds is replaced by a state of philosophic calm. To the person who has realised this ident.i.ty, discoveries of science bring no new information, and religion with her _role_ of supernatural authority has nothing to say. This is the spiritual emanc.i.p.ation.

[155:1] Insan al-Kamil; Vol. I, p. 22.

[157:1] Insan al-Kamil, Vol. II, p. 26.

Let us now see how he cla.s.sifies the different divine names and attributes which have received expression in nature or crystallised Divinity. His cla.s.sification is as follows:--

(1). The names and attributes of G.o.d as He is in Himself (Allah, The One, The Odd, The Light, The Truth, The Pure, The Living.)

(2). The names and attributes of G.o.d as the source of all glory (The Great and High, The All-powerful).

(3). The names and attributes of G.o.d as all Perfection (The Creator, The Benefactor, The First, The Last).

(4). The names and attributes of G.o.d as all Beauty (The Uncreatable, The Painter, The Merciful, The Origin of all). Each of these names and attributes has its own particular effect by which it illuminates the soul of the perfect man and Nature. How these illuminations take place, and how they reach the soul is not explained by Al-Jili. His silence about these matters throws into more relief the mystical portion of his views and implies the necessity of spiritual Directorship.

Before considering Al-Jili's views of particular Divine Names and Attributes, we should note that his conception of G.o.d, implied in the above cla.s.sification, is very similar to that of Schleiermacher. While the German theologian reduces all the divine attributes to one single attribute of Power, our author sees the danger of advancing a G.o.d free from all attributes, yet recognises with Schleiermacher that in Himself G.o.d is an unchangeable unity, and that His attributes "are nothing more than views of Him from different human standpoints, the various appearances which the one changeless cause presents to our finite intelligence according as we look at it from different sides of the spiritual landscape."[161:1] In His absolute existence He is beyond the limitation of names and attributes, but when He externalises Himself, when He leaves His absoluteness, when nature is born, names and attributes appear sealed on her very fabric.

[161:1] Matheson's _Aids to the Study of German Theology_, p.


We now proceed to consider what he teaches about particular Divine Names and Attributes. The first Essential Name is Allah (Divinity) which means the sum of all the realities of existence with their respective order in that sum. This name is applied to G.o.d as the only necessary existence.

Divinity being the highest manifestation of Pure Being, the difference between them is that the latter is visible to the eye, but its _where_ is invisible; while the traces of the former are visible, itself is invisible. By the very fact of her being crystallised divinity, Nature is not the real divinity; hence Divinity is invisible, and its traces in the form of Nature are visible to the eye. Divinity, as the author ill.u.s.trates, is water; nature is crystallised water or ice; but ice is not water. The Essence is visible to the eye, (another proof of our author's Natural Realism or Absolute Idealism) although all its attributes are not known to us. Even its attributes are not known as they are in themselves, their shadows or effects only are known. For instance, charity itself is unknown, only its effect or the fact of giving to the poor, is known and seen. This is due to the attributes being incorporated in the very nature of the Essence. If the expression of the attributes in its real nature had been possible, its separation from the Essence would have been possible also. But there are some other Essential Names of G.o.d--The Absolute Oneness and Simple Oneness. The Absolute Oneness marks the first step of Pure Thought from the darkness of Cecity (the internal or the original Maya of the Vedanta) to the light of manifestation. Although this movement is not attended with any external manifestations, yet it sums up all of them under its hollow universality. Look at a wall, says the author, you see the whole wall; but you cannot see the individual pieces of the material that contribute to its formation. The wall is a unity--but a unity which comprehends diversity, so Pure Being is a unity but a unity which is the soul of diversity.

The third movement of the Absolute Being is Simple Oneness--a step attended with external manifestation. The Absolute Oneness is free from all particular names and attributes. The Oneness Simple takes on names and attributes, but there is no distinction between these attributes, one is the essence of the other. Divinity is similar to Simple Oneness, but its names and attributes are distinguished from one another and even contradictory, as generous is contradictory to revengeful.[163:1] The third step, or as Hegel would say, Voyage of the Being, has another appellation (Mercy). The First Mercy, the author says, is the evolution of the Universe from Himself and the manifestation of His own Self in every atom of the result of His own self-diremption. Al-Jili makes this point clearer by an instance. He says that nature is frozen water and G.o.d is water. The real name of nature is G.o.d (Allah); ice or condensed water is merely a borrowed appellation. Elsewhere he calls water the origin of knowledge, intellect, understanding, thought and idea. This instance leads him to guard against the error of looking upon G.o.d as immanent in nature, or running through the sphere of material existence.

He says that immanence implies disparity of being; G.o.d is not immanent because He is Himself the existence. Eternal existence is the other self of G.o.d, it is the light through which He sees Himself. As the originator of an idea is existent in that idea, so G.o.d is present in nature. The difference between G.o.d and man, as one may say, is that His ideas materialise themselves, ours do not. It will be remembered here that Hegel would use the same line of argument in freeing himself from the accusation of Pantheism.

[163:1] This would seem very much like the idea of the phenomenal Brahma of the Vedanta. The Personal Creator or the Praj.a.pati of the Vedanta makes the third step of the Absolute Being or the Noumenal Brahma. Al-Jili seems to admit two kinds of Brahma--with or without qualities like the Samkara and Badarayana. To him the process of creation is essentially a lowering of the Absolute Thought, which is Asat, in so far as it is absolute, and Sat, in so far as it is manifested and hence limited. Notwithstanding this Absolute Monism, he inclines to a view similar to that of Ramanuja. He seems to admit the reality of the individual soul and seems to imply, unlike Samkara, that Iswara and His worship are necessary even after the attainment of the Higher Knowledge.

The attribute of Mercy is closely connected with the attribute of Providence. He defines it as the sum of all that existence stands in need of. Plants are supplied with water through the force of this name.

The natural philosopher would express the same thing differently; he would speak of the same phenomena as resulting from the activity of a certain force of nature; Al-Jili would call it a manifestation of Providence; but, unlike the natural philosopher, he would not advocate the unknowability of that force. He would say that there is nothing behind it, it is the Absolute Being itself.

We have now finished all the essential names and attributes of G.o.d, and proceed to examine the nature of what existed before all things. The Arabian Prophet, says Al-Jili, was once questioned about the place of G.o.d before creation. He said that G.o.d, before the creation, existed in "'Ama" (Blindness). It is the nature of this Blindness or primal darkness which we now proceed to examine. The investigation is particularly interesting, because the word translated into modern phraseology would be "_The Unconsciousness_". This single word impresses upon us the foresightedness with which he antic.i.p.ates metaphysical doctrines of modern Germany. He says that the Unconsciousness is the reality of all realities; it is the Pure Being without any descending movement; it is free from the attributes of G.o.d and creation; it does not stand in need of any name or quality, because it is beyond the sphere of relation. It is distinguished from the Absolute Oneness because the latter name is applied to the Pure Being in its process of coming down towards manifestation. It should, however, be remembered that when we speak of the priority of G.o.d and posteriority of creation, our words must not be understood as implying time; for there can be no duration of time or separateness between G.o.d and His creation. Time, continuity in s.p.a.ce and time, are themselves creations, and how can piece of creation intervene between G.o.d and His creation. Hence our words before, after, where, whence, etc., in this sphere of thought, should not be construed to imply time or s.p.a.ce. The real thing is beyond the grasp of human conceptions; no category of material existence can be applicable to it; because, as Kant would say, the laws of phenomena cannot be spoken of as obtaining in the sphere of noumena.

We have already noticed that man in his progress towards perfection has three stages: the first is the meditation of the name which the author calls the illumination of names. He remarks that "When G.o.d illuminates a certain man by the light of His names, the man is destroyed under the dazzling splendour of that name; and "when thou calleth G.o.d, the call is responded to by the man". The effect of this illumination would be, in Schopenhauer's language, the destruction of the individual will, yet it must not be confounded with physical death; because the individual goes on living and moving like the spinning wheel, as Kapila would say, after he has become one with Prakriti. It is here that the individual cries out in pantheistic mood:--She was I and I was she and there was none to separate us."[167:1]

[167:1] Insan al-Kamil, Vol. I, p. 40.

The second stage of the spiritual training is what he calls the illumination of the Attribute. This illumination makes the perfect man receive the attributes of G.o.d in their real nature in proportion to the power of receptivity possessed by him--a fact which cla.s.sifies men according to the magnitude of this light resulting from the illumination. Some men receive illumination from the divine attribute of Life, and thus partic.i.p.ate in the soul of the Universe. The effect of this light is soaring in the air, walking on water, changing the magnitude of things (as Christ so often did). In this wise the perfect man receives illumination from all the Divine attributes, crosses the sphere of the name and the attribute, and steps into the domain of the Essence--Absolute Existence.

As we have already seen, the Absolute Being, when it leaves its absoluteness, has three voyages to undergo, each voyage being a process of particularisation of the bare universality of the Absolute Essence.

Each of these three movements appears under a new Essential Name which has its own peculiar illuminating effect upon the human soul. Here is the end of our author's spiritual ethics; _man has become perfect_, he has amalgamated himself with the Absolute Being, or _has learnt what Hegel calls The Absolute Philosophy_. "He becomes the paragon of perfection, the object of worship, the preserver of the Universe".[169:1] He is the point where Man-ness and G.o.d-ness become one, and result in the birth of the G.o.d-man.

[169:1] Insan al-Kamil, Vol. I, p. 48.

How the perfect man reaches this height of spiritual development, the author does not tell us; but he says that at every stage he has a peculiar experience in which there is not even a trace of doubt or agitation. The instrument of this experience is what he calls the _Qalb_ (heart), a word very difficult of definition. He gives a very mystical diagram of the Qalb, and explains it by saying that it is the eye which sees the names, the attributes and the Absolute Being successively. It owes its existence to a mysterious combination of soul and mind; and becomes by its very nature the organ for the recognition of the ultimate realities of existence. All that the "heart", or the source of what the Vedanta calls the Higher Knowledge, reveals is not seen by the individual as something separate from and heterogeneous to himself; what is shown to him through this agency is his own reality, his own deep being. This characteristic of the agency differentiates it from the intellect, the object of which is always different and separate from the individual exercising that faculty. But the spiritual experience, according to the ?ufis of this school, is not permanent; moments of spiritual vision, says Matthew Arnold,[170:1] cannot be at our command.

The G.o.d-man is he who has known the mystery of his own being, who has realised himself as G.o.d-man; but when that particular spiritual realisation is over man is man and G.o.d is G.o.d. Had the experience been permanent, a great moral force would have been lost and society overturned.

[170:1] "We cannot kindle when we will The fire which in the heart resides".

Let us now sum up Al-Jili's _Doctrine of the Trinity_. We have seen the three movements of the Absolute Being, or the first three categories of Pure Being; we have also seen that the third movement is attended with external manifestation, which is the self-diremption of the Essence into G.o.d and man. This separation makes a gap which is filled by the perfect man, who shares in both the Divine and the human attributes. He holds that the perfect man is the preserver of the Universe; hence in his view, the appearance of the perfect man is a necessary condition for the continuation of nature. It is easy, therefore, to understand that in the G.o.d-man, the Absolute Being which has left its absoluteness, returns into itself; and, but for the G.o.d-man, it could not have done so; for then there would have been no nature, and consequently no light through which G.o.d could have seen Himself. The light through the agency of which G.o.d sees Himself is due to the principle of difference in the nature of the Absolute Being itself. He recognises this principle in the following verses:--

If you say that G.o.d is one, you are right; but if you say that He is two, this is also true.

If you say no, but He is three, you are right, for this is the real nature of man.[171:1]

[171:1] Insan al-Kamil, Vol. I, p. 8.

The _perfect man_, then, is the joining link. On the one hand he receives illumination from all the Essential names, on the other hand all Divine attributes reappear in him. These attributes are:--

1. Independent life or existence.

2. Knowledge which is a form of life, as he proves from a verse from the Qur'an.

3. Will--the principle of particularisation, or the manifestation of Being. He defines it as the illumination of the knowledge of G.o.d according to the requirements of the Essence; hence it is a particular form of knowledge. It has nine manifestations, all of which are different names for love; the last is the love in which the lover and the beloved, the knower and the known merge into each other, and become identical. This form of love, he says, is the Absolute Essence; as Christianity teaches, G.o.d is love. He guards, here, against the error of looking upon the individual act of will as uncaused. Only the act of the universal will is uncaused; hence he implies the Hegelian Doctrine of Freedom, and holds that the acts of man are both free and determined.

4. Power, which expresses itself in self-diremption i.e. creation. He controverts S_h_aik_h_ Mu?y al-Din ibn 'Arabi's position that the Universe existed before the creation in the knowledge of G.o.d. He says, this would imply that G.o.d did not create it out of nothing, and holds that the Universe, before its existence as an idea, existed in the self of G.o.d.

5. The word or the reflected being. Every possibility is the word of G.o.d; hence nature is the materialisation of the word of G.o.d. It has different names--The tangible word, The sum of the realities of man, The arrangement of the Divinity, The spread of Oneness, The expression of the Unknown, The phases of Beauty, The trace of names and attributes, and the object of G.o.d's knowledge.

6. The Power of hearing the inaudible.

7. The Power of seeing the invisible.

8. Beauty--that which seems least beautiful in nature (the reflected beauty) is in its real existence, beauty. Evil is only relative, it has no real existence; sin is merely a relative deformity.

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The Development of Metaphysics in Persia Part 10 summary

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