Ibn 'Arabi and the Mystical Journey:

A First Attempt to Understand Ibn ĎArabiís

The Journey to the Lord of Power
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

by
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

John G. Sullivan

Department of Philosophy

Elon College
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

prepared as part of NEH 1999 Summer Seminar for College Teachers on

"The Literature of Islamic Mysticism"

held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,

June 14 - July 16, 1999

under the direction of Dr. Carl W. Ernst


(This is an exploratory work. Comments may be sent to me via my e-mail: sullivan@elon.edu)

OUTLINE -- A PERSONAL APPROACH TO SUBDIVIDING THE TREATISE


 
  A) Preliminary Work to be done by the Seeker

[a] "Your first duty is to search for the knowledge which establishes

your ablution and prayer, your fasting and reverence.

You are not obliged to seek out more than this.

This is the first door of the journey;

[b] then work;

[c] then moral heedfulness;

[d] then asceticism;

[e] then trust."

B) The Ascent

[I-a] Unveiling of the sensory world.

[I-b] Unveiling of the imaginal world.

[I-c] Unveiling of the world of abstract meanings.

[I-1] God will show you the secrets of the mineral world

[I-2] God will show you the secrets of the vegetal world

[I-3] God will show you the secrets of the animal world.

[I-4] The Infusion of the world of life-forces into lives

[I-5] "If you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the Ďsurface signs"

[I-6] Next the light of the scattering of sparks becomes visible.

[I-7] Then the light of the ascendant stars (tauhid) and the form of universal order

[I-8] The proper adab for entering into, standing in and leaving the Divine Presence.

C) What is the Knowledge that awaits you in the Divine Presence?

[II-1] Knowledge of degrees of speculative sciences & other things -- sustenance of preachers

[II-2] Revealing Form and Beauty -- sustenance of poets

[II-3] Degrees of qutb -- highest station of Sufi hierarchy and one able to see with both eyes (rational & imaginal) the unity perspective and the mercy flowing from it

[II-4] [Of Diversity and Deeper Unity]

[II-5] The world of dignity and serenity and firmness

[II-6] The world of Bewilderment and Helplessness and Inability

[II-7] Seeing the Gardens ascending and Hell descending

[II-8] [Of Ecstasy and Light and Seeing the Original Forms of the Children of Adam]

[II-9] The Throne of Mercy

[II-10] The Pen (First Intellect) and the Mover of the Pen

[II-13] Full sense of Fana:

"you are [i] eradicated, [ii] withdrawn, [iii] effaced, [iv] crushed, then [v] obliterated."

[II-14] Full sense of Baqa

"you are [i] affirmed, [ii] made present, [iii] made to remain, [iv] gathered, and then [v] assigned."

D) The Return: Ibn ĎArabiís Closing Comments
 
 

Poet Robert Bly has remarked that the interesting overlap in the first half of the twentieth century was between ethics and psychology. The interesting overlap in the second half of this century is between psychology and mythology -- opening a wider, more cosmic viewpoint. The study of the medieval Sufi master Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240) offers resources to enter such a wider, cosmic viewpoint.

First, Ibn ĎArabiís thinking encompasses God, the cosmos and humankind -- or, in an alternate way of speaking, a set of viewpoints encompassing the metacosmic, macrocosmic and microcosmic. In his work, we meet an immensity requiring a spiraling upward and outward, downward and inward until there is deepening understanding of all three interconnected "realities."

Second, Ibn ĎArabi presents a world that is fluid and ever changing. The world can be seen literally but also "imaginally" -- everything being what it is and an image of a further reality. Ecologist and self-styled "geologian" Thomas Berry predicts that the religious sensibility appropriate for an ecological awareness will be shamanic. Ibn ĎArabiís sensibility has a number of resonances with a shamanic viewpoint. For a beginner seeking to grasp the figure of Ibn 'Arabi, the experience is like seeking to grasp the wind or a mist or the traces of his teacher Khidhr. You feel you are entering an immense world of mystery and miracles, shamanic and shapeshifting. In the image from one of Rumiís poem, Ibn ĎArabi moves "back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch."

Third, Ibn ĎArabi stands very deeply in one tradition yet offers a perspective that allows an honoring of a number of valid religious perspectives. Both of these features put him at odds with modern thinkers yet possibly useful for post-modern thinkers. E. M. Adams has noted that a key difference between pre-modern and the modern periods is that the modern period asks "What do we want and how can we get it?" while the pre-modern [and possibly post-modern?] asks "What does reality require of us?" Ibn ĎArabi asks what does reality require of us? And he asks that while he is deeply embedded in the Islamic tradition. Thus, he proceeds even in the training of Sufi students by opening the conditions for what Chittick calls in a felicitous phrase "the self-disclosure of God." At the same time, he is able to honor all of the prophetic traditions -- known and unknown -- that are valid guides to a life wherein humans manifest the names of God.

All of this is an invitation to explore the mysterious genius Ibn 'Arabi, born in Andalusia exactly 100 years before Dante. As Dante focuses on the year 1300 as the time he was at the midpoint of his life (age 35), so Ibn ĎArabiís turning point is the year 1200 when at the midpoint of his life he is urged through a vision to leave Spain and make his pilgrimage to Mecca.

The primary model for Sufi accounts of mysticism was the Prophetís night journey (isra) where he went from the near temple (Mecca) to the far temple (Jerusalem) and then was taken upward through the planetary spheres and beyond -- to "within two bow lengths or nearer to Allah." In the planetary spheres, Muhammad met earlier prophets -- traditionally Adam (Moon), Jesus (Mercury), Joseph (Venus), Idris (Enoch/Elias) in the Sun, Aaron (Mars), Moses (Jupiter), Abraham (Saturn). [I present this scheme as a chart in Section A of this paper.] Mention is made of the night journey and the culminating vision in at 17:1 and 53:1-18 of the Quíran respectively. Numerous hadith and commentaries clustered around these suggestive passages.

Ibn al-íArabi treats the mystical ascent-and-return in four key places. He recounts his own mystical journey through the stars in The Nocturnal Journey (Kitab al-Isra) written in 594. He writes the work I shall consider The Journey to the Lord of Power (Risalat-ul-anwar fima yumnah sahib al-khalwa min al-asrar -- literally "Treatise on the lights in the secrets granted one who undertakes retreat.") in 602 / 1204. And he leaves us two key passages from the Meccan Revelations (Futuhat) at chapters 167 and 367.

My point of entry is the short work entitled in translation The Journey to the Lord of Power, a work composed in Konya in 602/ 1204. This work was written very soon after Ibn ĎArabi left Spain and made his pilgrimage to Mecca -- written to answer questions of an unnamed friend who was himself a saint and Sufi master. Unfortunately, we have the answers without having the questions.

"I shall answer your question, O noble friend and intimate companion,

concerning the Journey to the Lord of Power (may He be exalted) and

the arrival in His presence and the return, through Him, from Him

to His Creation, without separation." (25)
 
 

James Morris notes that Ibn ĎArabi prefers the term "night journey" (isra) to that of "ascension" (mi'raj) for three reasons: (a) The phrase "night journey or voyage" is not limited to ascent alone but includes equally ascent (from creation to God) and return (from God to creation). (b) The phrase accents the hiddenness of the process. (c) The phrase, from the verb form, highlights the active part played by God in the journey.

The very notion of "journeying to God" is paradoxical. Since all is of God, any journeying is only for our benefit -- so that we can deepen our capacities to understand what always is; so that we can recognize Godís "signs in the souls and on the horizons." (Quíran 41:53) So we can become more aware of both the timeless perspective of God and the timebound, unfolding perspective of humans. As T. S. Eliotís put it: "We shall not cease from exploring and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." This is the first paradox. The second is like it: we would not begin to seek unless we were first sought by God. Our seeking is from Him, as Rab'ia realized so beautifully.

Here is what Ibn ĎArabi will discuss:

The nature of the journey to Him.

The procedure of standing before Him.

What he says to you.

The nature of the return from Him to the presence of His actions.

The absorption and [more exalted still] the return.
 
 

A hermeneutic note: A Sufi retreat -- perhaps something on the order of a 40 day retreat -- is the backdrop for this work. We in the 20th century will perhaps think of such a retreat from the standpoint of the retreatant and what he or she will gain (i.e. basically in psychological terms). However, I shall hypothesize that our understanding of such a retreat might be better served to see the retreat in a more shamanic way. Suppose that the retreatant was led to expect visions ( whether in the body or in the imaginal world matters not). The visions reveal something of the person having them certainly, and they may also reveal inspiration from God. If such were the expectations, then we should expect images. We should expect the landscape of such images will be coextensive with the "koranization of memory." Such an opening to dreams and visions, to images and signs can be dangerous. Such a retreat is hardly for everyone. It should only be undertaken at the direction of a shaykh -- a shaykh who is experienced enough to interpret the images and signs for the highest good. But first, the shaykh who is master of the retreat needs to assess the varying conditions of the seekers. Ibn ĎArabi points to the following conditions:

"The balance or imbalance of the seeker's constitution.

The persistence or absence of his motivation.

The strength or weakness of his spiritual nature.

The straightfowardness or deviation of his aspiration.

The health or illness of his relation to his goal." (26)

Some seekers possess all the favorable characteristics, other seekers are more mixed in character -- combining some favorable and some unfavorable characteristics. The shaykh must be able to "read" his students and know when sufficient preliminary work has been done so that the retreat will have chance of success.

Again, there are many realms. Yet, Ibn ĎArabi (Shaykh al-akbar) will remind us strongly that, in retreat, we are to focus on this world -- "the place of responsibility, trial (or testing) and works." (27) Elsewhere Ibn ĎArabi teaches that all created things have their haqq (truth) and this truth/nature has a normative dimension. The nature of each thing makes demands on us -- that we act appropriately toward each thing. The creation as a whole makes claims on us, establishes obligations for us, is the arena where God tests us and the place where we are assigned tasks or works to do. The retreat, we might say, takes us to the roots of this realm in knowledge and returns us to this realm in service.

In this world, we are to gain knowledge with struggle so that this form (level of awareness) is available to us in the next world to contemplate in ease. "It would be best for you if, at the time of your contemplation, you were engaged in labor outwardly, and at the same time in the reception of knowledge from God inwardly." (29) Receptiveness to God is the key. But what is the goal? Perhaps we would do well to remind ourselves of Ibn 'Arabi's teaching concerning the perfect man.

All that God has made reflects the Divine Names and further particularities. For everything made is, in a sense, a particular name. Yet simplification and courtesy keep our thoughts in line with the 99 Divine Names found in the Qu'ran. Even the mineral, vegetal and animal realms reflect the Divine Names, but, Ibn Arabi teaches, only humans innately have all of the Divine Names. Only humans can manifest the Divine Names in their unity, rather than spread out throughout the cosmos in diversity. Of course, it is most rare for all of the names to be consciously manifested in the mirror of one human being -- and to be manifested in a balanced way. Yet this is possible and the Islamic world looks to the Prophet as such a perfect one. This human/divine potential and the "work" to actualize it are basic for understanding the Sufi quest through the eyes of Ibn Arabi. Yes, the yearning is to be with the Beloved, to disappear so all dualisms vanish, so that lover and love and beloved are not separate, so that as Shams of Tabriz says: "I You He She We In the garden of mystical lovers these are not true distinctions." Yet even here we come from the human side, not the divine side. The human mystic may think of tasting God in this life. However, Ibn ĎArabi begins, not with the human perspective, but with the Divine perspective. From this perspective, we are drawn to notice that we exist to manifest God whose Names we already bear potentially within us.

"If you want to enter the presence of the Truth and receive from Him without intermediary, and you desire intimacy with Him, this will not be appropriate as long as your heart acknowledges any lordship other than His. For you belong to that which exercises its authority over you." (29)
 
 
Thus, at the beginning, there will be a move away from the world (as involving people's busyness and talk) to seclusion and silence. (Shaykh Ibn Arabi tell us that the word for retreat "Khalwa" has its roots in a hadith qudsi "Whoever remembers Me in himself I remember him in Myself, and whoever remembers Me in assembly, I remember him in an assembly better than his." The root of khalwa is al-khala -- the void in which the world existed before creation.)

Below I divide the work in ways that follow the ascent and descent structure mentioned by Ibn ĎArabi. I emphasize that these divisions are mine and that they are provisional. Use of them may show that this was not the structure Ibn ĎArabi had in mind. In fact, we might remain open to the fact that the treatise might have taken a very different shape had it not been prompted by Shaykh Ibn Arabi answering questions from a friend.

A) Preliminary Work to be done by the Seeker

It seems clear enough that the first part of the work concentrates on preliminary work -- what has been called in the West the via purgativa. Consider the following passage:

[a] "Your first duty is to search for the knowledge which establishes

your ablution and prayer, your fasting and reverence.

You are not obliged to seek out more than this.

This is the first door of the journey;

then [b] work;

then [c] moral heedfulness;

then [d] asceticism;

then [e] trust.

And in the first states of trust, four miracles befall you. These are the signs

and evidence of your attainment of the first degree of trust. These signs are

crossing the earth,

walking on water,

traversing the air,

and being fed by the universe.

And that is the reality within the door.

After that, stations and states and miracles and revelations

come to you continuously until death." ( 30)
 
 

Spiritual discipline is incumbent before entering on retreat. The seeker needs training for character, abandonment of heedlessness, and endurance of indignities. The advice is this: Go shut yourself in and do not yield to seeing people. And "occupy yourself with dhikr, remembrance of God, with whatever sort of dhikr you choose." For example "Allah, Allah."

Beware corrupt imagining. Be careful of your diet. Keep your constitution in balance.

Influences may come like the pain the Prophet felt when Gabriel transmitted the Qu'ran. Be careful to distinguish angelic and demonic influences. Angelic influences will be followed by coolness and bliss and will not alter your form but will leave knowledge. Protect yourself by repeating the dhikr.

Articulate what you intend. Make a personal declaration (a sort of mission statement or commitment). For example, "There is nothing like God and I will cling to nothing save God. I will accept nothing less than God." Expect that your commitment will be tested.

Before going further, I wish to present a fuller picture of Ibn ĎArabiís cosmology -- not because this structure is explicitly utilized in The Journey to the Lord of Power, but because much said here presupposes knowledge of the fuller scheme.

A simplified picture of that cosmology is presented below. For a more complex story see the Appendix II to this paper.
 
 

Allah (Reality Itself)

Unknowable Essence

The 99 Wonderful Names

(Attributes and Actions and Effects)

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[the so-called "Process" of Creation or Emanation]

Intellect

World Soul

Nonmanifest -- Natures of things

the Prime Matter

the corporeal (physical & imaginal) "base stuff"

the shaping

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

the Created Universe (all beings "other than God")

Throne

Footstool

-------------------------------------------

Starless Sphere (Paradise is usually located

Sphere of Fixed Stars between Starless and Fixed Stars)

Saturn (Abraham)

Jupiter(Moses)

Mars (Aaron)

SUN (Idris / Enoch)

Venus (Joseph)

Mercury (Jesus)

Moon (Adam)

------------------------------------

ethereal fire

air

water

earth

**********************************************************************************************************

Also to be pictured -- types of beings

{Humans} -- in one sense humans take precedence over angels and jinn because they

can display the 99 Names

Angels (created from light)

Jinn (created from fire)

Humans (created from clay)

Animals

Plants (Vegetals)

Minerals



 
 
 
 

B) The Ascent

I am treating the material here as an ascent pattern. Ibn ĎArabiís first comments introduce three modes of knowing and the "worlds" that are known from each set of operations. I treat them as one complex "step":

[I-a] Unveiling of the sensory world. Receive but do not stay at this level.

[I-b] Unveiling of the imaginal world.

In the imaginal world -- abstract intelligible ideas descend in sensory forms. (Yet who knows the meaning save a prophet or another whom God wills?)

For example, suppose you are offered something to drink. Choose water. If no water, choose milk. If both are offered, mix them together. If honey is offered, drink it. If wine is offered, take care unless mixed with rainwater.

The imaginal world is a level of "the between" (bazakh, an isthmus, an intermediary zone) Receive but do not stay at this level.

[I-c] Unveiling of the world of abstract meanings. Receive but do not stay at this level.
 
 

Consider this illustration:

Higher --------> The Spiritual or Intellective World -- something like the "principles" of things

Middle --------> The Imaginal World -- the between -- hidden meanings clothed in images

Lower --------> The Bodily or Physical, Material World
 
 

After mentioning these various modes of knowing, Ibn ĎArabi offers another hierarchical chain.

Lower Portion of Great Chain 20th century thinker E.F.Schumacherís notation

The Human designated as M + X + Y + Z where Z represents the

distinctively human.

The Animal designated as M + X + Y where Y = consciousness

The Vegetative designate as M + X where X = life

The Mineral designate as M for materiality

The first three levels (mineral, vegetal, and animal) are reminiscent of a poem of Rumi where he speaks of the mineral dying and coming to live as a plant, the plant dying and coming to live as an animal, the animal dying and coming to live as a human. Why, he asks, is the human afraid to die to what is higher? Also as we move up the great chain, the higher, more complex beings integrate more potentialities than the lower. Thus, the mineral exists in a material mode,

the plant exists + lives,

the animal exists + lives + has consciousness,

the human exists + lives + has consciousness + a higher calling.

For Ibn ĎArabi, this higher calling is to manifest the names of God. As we shall see, Ibn ĎArabi speaks of the passage through these levels as "dissolving" or leaving behind some aspect (perhaps as sole or predominant identity modes).

[I-1] God will show you the secrets of the mineral world -- the harmful and beneficial qualities of every stone. Do not become enamored with this world. If you let go and occupy yourself with dhikr, He will free you from this mode and unveil the vegetal world.

(During the first unveiling let your nourishment be what increases heat and moisture) [I-2] God will show you the secrets of the vegetal world -- the harmful and beneficial qualities of each green thing. If you let go and occupy yourself with dhikr, He will free you from this mode and unveil the animal world.

(During this second unveiling let your nourishment be what balances heat and moisture)

[I-3] God will show you the secrets of the animal world. The animals will greet you and acquaint you with their harmful and beneficial qualities and how they proclaim majesty and praise. Here if you are simply reminded by them of your own type of dhikr, this is imaginal; if you witness the variety of their own dhikr, that is true perception.

"This ascent is the ascent of dissolution of the order of nature, and the state of contraction (qabd) will accompany you in these worlds." (39)

Consider the notion of dissolution as a form of letting go. Perhaps we let go of certain identifications with these worlds outside ourselves and within us. We might think of letting go of tendencies to survive at all cost, tendencies to grow and nourish and reproduce at all costs, tendencies to act out the instinctual drives of animals. I am reminded of Paul Macleanís work on the triune brain. To release from clinging to any level allows emerging qualities to become manifest.

[I-4] The Infusion of the world of life-forces into lives
 
 
At this juncture, we expect the appearance of the human and perhaps this is what Ibn ĎArabi has in mind in speaking of how life-forces are infused into lives. I think here of what Chittick calls "The Breath of the All-Merciful." I think of God infusing life into Adam. I think of the loving kindness of Jesus, who is associated with life-giving. The influence of the life-force is according to disposition and the influence has, we might add, a normative, faith-initiating power. Ibn ĎArabi writes: "Then He reveals to you the infusion of the world of life-forces into lives, and what influences this has in every being according to its disposition, and how the expressions (of faith) are included in this infusion." (39)

[I-5] "If you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the Ďsurface signs"
 
 

Commentator ĎAbdul-Karim Jili is unsure of the meaning of "surface signs." He believes Ibn ĎArabi is speaking of "signs of state." Suppose we read this as the seeker moving to supra-consciousness. Fear may enter as the states or visions focus on "surface signs." The esoteric tradition sees surface as opposed to depth, outer as opposed to inner. So we might think of surface and outer here as concerned with multiplicity. Suppose the states reveal the mind-boggling number and variety of living creatures, the vastness of cosmic power, the unfathomable layers upon layers of diversity. Without the counter-balance of unity such visions might appear kaleidoscopic and terrifying. Returning to the practice of dikhr would be especially needed here.

[I-6] Next the light of the scattering of sparks becomes visible.

Perhaps here there is a higher intuition, as if there was a glimmer of the sparks being associated with God, but not enough of a glimpse to hold the unity. God becoming diverse and spread out in all creatures would also appear terrifying. Could this be why Ibn ĎArabi gives the advice: "Veil yourself from this and persevere in the dikhr."

[I-7] Then the light of the ascendant stars and the form of universal order
 
 

The commentary states that "the ascendant stars" (tawalií) is a technical expression for the lights of the declaration of tauhid (the Divine Unity -- There is no God save God). Such an affirmation arising in the hearts of the gnostics extinguishes speculative proofs and intuition and leaves only the prophetic revelatory proofs in place.

The "form of universal order" refers to the appearance of God in the form of creation. Yet here the seeker will know essential existence as composed of haqq (truth) and khalq (creation). The diversity will be seen in its roots in oneness.

[I-8] The proper adab for entering into, standing in and leaving the Divine Presence.
 
 

The result of the journey thus far is "perpetual contemplation of the Divine Names, the Manifest and the Hidden." Looking back on this ascent, there is a receiving of divine knowledge -- a receiving and giving, contraction and expansion, ["contraction" and "expansion" being Sufi terms for contrition and exaltation.] Also there is instruction in protecting the heart -- the place where the states arrive. There is also the knowledge that "all ways are circles. There is no straight line." (40) Internalizing this advice would seem to ready the seeker to enter the Presence and receive from God.

All that Ibn ĎArabi relates thus far, seems to be a kind of "advanced via purgativa" -- a way of purgation or advanced preparation to receive what is to be received. But what do you receive, what do you know, when you have opened yourself in these ways to God? Confronting this question is equivalent to making the ascent in terms of gaining knowledge. This brings us to the next of my sections.
 
 

C) What is the Knowledge that awaits you in the Divine Presence?
 
 
 
 

The next section of the Journey seems to make good Ibn ĎArabiís promise to treat what one learns in the Divine Presence. Interestingly, there are states of what may be received. So the journey continues, one might say, even in the Presence of God. Here is how Ibn ĎArabi outlines this next phase. Notice that the knowledge gained is broadly speaking "religious knowledge -- in this case, the deepening of what is already present in the Quíranic revelation.

[II-1] Knowledge of the degrees of speculative sciences and other things

"If you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the degrees of speculative sciences, sound integral ideas, and the forms of perplexing questions which confuse understanding. He reveals the difference between supposition and knowledge, the birth of possibilities between the world of spirits and the physical world, the cause of that genesis, the infusion of the Divine Mystery into the domain of His loving concern, and the cause of abandoning the world by effort or otherwise -- and other related matters." (40 & 43)
 
 
What is this first set of gifts? Perhaps we might think of them as a kind of infused rational knowledge such that one senses where and how the sciences are correct and where they are running off track. Some of this knowing echoes Ibn ĎArabiís distinctions among the intellective world, the imaginal world and the sensory world. Abdul-Karim Jili comments that "the infusion of the Divine Mystery into the domain of His loving concern" refers to "the unity of Essence in the world of the Names, the unity of the Intellect in the world of the spirits and the unity of the Throne in the world of bodies. This unity is the essence of mercy. The unity penetrates into the people of Godís concern until it pervades their essences, their attributes, and their actions as it pervades the Divine Essence, Intellect, and Throne." (86)
 
 
This is a major learning if taken to heart. Perhaps of a piece with Ibn ĎArabiís reflections on the hadith "My mercy has precedence over my wrath." This type of knowledge is needed by the preacher who elaborates the teachings and clears up doubts. It is the type of knowledge needed to see through misfortunes to realize that all is in Godís hands. It is the sustenance of the preachers.

[II-2] Revealing Form and Beauty
 
 

If one does not stop here, then other revelations follow.

"He reveals to you the world of formation and adornment and beauty, what is proper for the intellect to dwell upon among the holy forms, the vital breathings from beauty of form and harmony, and the overflow of languor and tenderness and mercy in all things characterized by them." (43) From this level, as Ibn ĎArabi notes, comes the sustenance of poets.
 
 

Before proceeding further, a brief excursus is in order. In other places, Ibn 'Arabi speaks of three basic sources of knowing -- prophetic reports, rational investigation, and unveiling (a knowing from the heart with strong ties to imagination). Some modern religious sensibilities might rate "knowing through reports" as lowest and either rational investigation or unveiling as higher (as both of the latter appeal to some form of experience). For Ibn 'Arabi, on the contrary, prophetic revelation is the strongest and most solid yet he believes we need both rational investigation and unveiling to have complete knowing of that which the Prophet reveals to us. Ibn ĎArabi speaks of the two categories of the names of God -- correlated with the "two hands of God."

The left hand tends to dispersion, ignorance, darkness (at least in a sense). More positively it reminds us that we do not know God (tanzih) -- stressing incomparability. So that the rational investigation would be useful to hold that aspect. The right hand would tend to unity and self-awareness -- stressing what is similar (tashbih). Here the way of the lover would unveil similarity and tend to closeness. Thus seen, II-1 and II-2 appear as left and right hand knowledge and they will be integrated by the figure of the qutb below.

[II-3] Degrees of qutb

The "qutb" or axis or pivot is the highest station in the Sufi hierarchy. "The qutb is directly responsible for the welfare of the entire world. The qutb is said to be the spiritual successor of Muhammad." (Glossary, Journey to the Lord of Power, p.114) All that has been seen before is, Ibn ĎArabi says, from the world of the left hand. From this station onward, we witness the world of the right hand "and this is the place of the heart." (43) As mentioned above, consider the right hand as representing mercy and unity; the left as representing punishment and separation. From hereon, we more and more realize the unity perspective of the qutb and the mercy flowing from it.

The degrees here have to do with the following items: [Insofar as you can mirror some of the features of the qutb], "You are given the divine wisdoms and the power to preserve them and integrity to transmit them to the wise, and you are given the power of symbols and a view of the whole, and authority over veiling and unveiling." (43)

More than the poet alone or preacher alone, the qutb harmonizes both aspects, understanding the incomparableness of the Divine (tanzih) and the similarity of the Divine (tashbih), being able to hold both the universal perspective of timelessness and the "moving image of eternity" in which humans dwell.

[II-4] [Of Diversity and Deeper Unity]

Consider how diversity and opposition might appear as one returns from grasping something of the unity of all things in God. Ibn ĎArabi says that here " He reveals to you the world of fever and rage and zeal for truth and falsehood; the foundation of apparent difference in the world, the variation of forms, discord and hatred." (44) Then you notice the world of jealousy and the unveiling of the Truth before the most perfect of His faces. Here you see "sound opinions and true schools and revealed traditions and you will see as a knower that God Most High has adorned them, among the holy knowledges, with the most beautiful adornments." All stations greet you with honor and reverence and exaltation and you know the degree of the Divine Presence and each one loves you in its essence. (44) Nonetheless, as the commentary points out. This is still not God and if you rest here you will have failed to complete your journey. With every station, the seeker must continually receive insight and let go. These high states can be especially dangerous.

[II-5] The world of dignity and serenity and firmness

In this stage of the journey, you know "the ruse (makr), the enigmas and the secrets, and other matters of this sort." (44) It would appear that this knowledge has similarities with what is called in the Zen tradition "skillful strategies." To live the paradoxes or double viewpoints. I recall a Zen story of a Zen master with his disciples who take refuge on their winter travels in a mountain shrine with many wooden buddhas. The master takes some of the buddhas and burns them to warm himself and his students. His students are scandalized. In the morning, they awaken to find that the master has risen before they did. He is prostrate before the ashes of the burnt buddhas. To hold the paradoxes is essential.

[II-6] The world of Bewilderment and Helplessness and Inability

This is the highest heaven. (Does this mean we are at the planet Saturn again or near the starless realm? Or at the First Intellect? If so, we are circling once again.) To approach the "inexpressible being-nature of God" is to be thrown into bewilderment, yet "gazing here bequeaths life." The reference reminds me of the final lines in Danteís Divine Comedy:

How weak are words, and how unfit to frame

My concept -- which lags after what was shown

So far, Ďtwould flatter it to call it lame!

Eternal light, that in Thyself alone

Dwelling, alone dost know Thyself, and smile

On Thy self-love, so knowing and so known!

The sphering thus begot, perceptible

In Thee like mirrored light, now to my view --

When I had looked on it a little while --

Seen in itself, and in its own self-hue,

Limned with our image; for which cause mine eyes

Were altogether drawn and held thereto.

As the geometer his mind applies

To square the circle, nor for all his wit

Finds the right formula, howeíer he tries,

So strove I with that wonder -- how to fit

The image to the sphere; so sought to see

How it maintained the point of rest in it.

Thither my own wings could not carry me,

But that a flash my understanding clove,

Whence its desire came to it suddenly.

High phantasy lost power and here broke off;

Yet, as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars,

My will and my desire were turned by love,

The love that moves the sun and other stars.

[II-7] Seeing the Gardens ascending and Hell descending

Usually, the gardens ascending and hells descending are located between the fixed stars and the starless heaven. (See Appendix.) Either we have circled to this level again or we are seeing these worlds from a Godís eye perspective or perhaps we are spiraling back over this content but from a higher received state of knowledge. "And He reveals to you the works connected to each of these two abodes."

[II-8] [Of Ecstasy and Light and Seeing the Original Forms of the Children of Adam]

Of Ecstasy: "If you do not stop with this, He reveals one of the sanctuaries where spirits are absorbed in the Divine Vision. In it they are drunken and bewildered. The power of ecstasy has conquered them and they beckon to you." (47)

Of Light and Bliss: "If you do not stop with this beckoning, a light is revealed in which you do not see anything other than yourself. In it a great rapture and deep transport of love seizes you, and in it you find bliss with God that you have not known before. All that you saw previously becomes small in your eyes and you sway like a lamp." (47)

Of our Original Forms: "And if you do not stop with this, He reveals the [original] forms of the sons of Adam. Veils are lifted and veils descend. And they have a special praise which [when you hear] you recognize, and you are not overcome. You see your form among them, and from it you recognize the moment which you are in." (47)
 
 

[II-9] The Throne of Mercy

If you do not stop he reveals to you the Throne of Mercy (sarur ak-rahmaniyya). All is upon this Throne.

"If you regard everything you will see the totality of what you knew in it, and more than this: no world or essence remains that you do not witness there. Search for yourself in everything. If it is appropriate, you will know your destination and place and the limit of your degree, and which Divine Name is your Lord and where your portion of gnosis and sainthood exist -- the form of your uniqueness." (47) And if you do not stop here, there is yet more.

[II-10] The Pen (First Intellect) and the Mover of the Pen

The Pen or First Intellect is the first creative principle. Ibn ĎArabi calls it "the master and teacher of everything." Here one receives an over-all sense of creation -- a sense that what the Pen writes is a coherent story, that creation is a unified whole. But if you do not stop with this, God reveals the Mover of the Pen, the right hand of truth.

To understand the design is one thing; to understand the design and see it arising out of its cause, God is another. And further to see the oneness in the created world as an expression of mercy and loving kindness is another deepening still.

This sense of the hadith that Godís mercy has precedence over his wrath was one of Ibn ĎArabiís deepest insight from his own night journey.

[II-13] Full sense of Fana

Suppose we think of fana not simply in the focal sense of annihilation, but also in lesser degrees of relinquishing, letting go, dying to. Suppose we think of baqa not simply in the focal sense of continued presence after fana but also in lesser degrees of rising to a new station, being born into a new way of seeing and being. Then we could say that fana and baqa are dynamics throughout. In leaving one station, you die to your identification with that station. The witness self withdraws observes that you are more than this way of grasping the world. You "looks back" at the station you were inhabiting as a way of knowing you have rather than a way of knowing you are. American psychologist James Mark Baldwin once remarked that every genuine act of self-sacrifice is an act of self-enhancement. And, I might add, the self that is sacrificed is not the same as the self that is enhanced. The smaller (less expansive) self is let go in order for the larger self to emerge. These themes mark both the Sufi teachings of stations and states and modern developmental theory.

Yet if there are deaths and renewed life over and over again, still there are major instances of fana (annihilation) -- dissolving into the nothingness from which you came. I will speak of major fana or, perhaps better, fana as a station. Ibn ĎArabi says that here "you are [i] eradicated, then [ii] withdrawn, then [iii] effaced, then [iv] crushed, then [v] obliterated." (48 -- numbering mine)

Austrian writer Heimito Von Doderer once wrote a one sentence autobiography. He said: "I began my life breaking windows; I end my life becoming a window." The Sufi who undergoes fana will understand about becoming a window or a mirror that reflects only God.

[II-14] Full sense of Baqa

If you do not stop with fana, then Ibn ĎArabi says, "you are [i] affirmed, then [ii] made present, then [iii] made to remain, then [iv] gathered, and then [v] assigned." (48 -- numbering mine)

The robes of your degrees are conferred and they are many. "You return to your path and examine all you saw in different forms until you return to the world of your limited earthly sense." It has been said:

"You make your path by walking." Ibn "Arabi would agree. He writes: "The destination of every seeker depends upon the road he traveled." (48)

To have processed all of this is, in a way, to have made a return. Yet such knowledge makes us primarily a servant. Ibn ĎArabiís closing comments give us some hints as to how the knowledge becomes character and how the character issues into acts of service.

D) The Return: Ibn ĎArabiís Closing Comments

Among those who make this journey, some are entrusted with Godís word and some are not. Those entrusted with one or more of Godís words become the inheritors of the prophet of that word. The full Muhammadan perspective balances all the words of all the prophets, or, from another perspective, manifests all the Divine Names in balanced fashion.

Some seekers "stop at fana" and these do not return -- that is, they do not live in this material plane as functioning societal presences. Rather they remain in fana -- lost in God, often uttering ecstatic sayings. They have not fully reentered the world.

Other seekers do return and manifest the Divine among the brethren. All things being equal, those who return are higher than those who, in being absorbed in God, do not "return" to ordinary life. Those who return will be either saints or prophets. Both groups share knowledge without acquired learning, action by, the heartís intention (himma), and the ability to see the world of images in the sensory world. (see 55) They differ in how they address the people. The commentary says "The saint addresses whoever is behind and following him. The prophet addresses whoever is before him, through fundamental authority, not through their following. And the saint speaks from behind the veil of his prophet, while the prophet speaks without a veil -- that is, without the mediation of another prophet." (96) Ibn ĎArabi explains that the saint receives via the mediation of his or her prophet. He writes: "Although the two classes share a common ground -- the stations of divine realizations -- still the ascent of the prophets is through the fundamental light itself, while the ascent of the saints is through what is providentially granted by that light." (55) Saints ride in the wake of their prophet.

"Know that the certain, enduring, perfect sage is he who treats every

condition and moment in the appropriate manner, and does not confuse them.

This is the state of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) for he was

two bow lengthsí distance or less from his Lord." (59)

In the return, beyond states and "the blending of worlds," the mystic must develop "the stage of divine wisdom appearing within the customary outward principles." (60) "He will say unceasingly with every breath, ĎMy Lord, increase me in knowledge while the heavenly sphere turns by Your breath.í and let him strive that his Moment be His breath." (60) To be in the Moment seems to be in a state wherein God could say, "I am the eye by which he sees and the ear by which he hears." Whether the Moment brings closeness or distance, the Sufi mystic remains as servant and does not leave the moment by craving after what was or longing for a different future. As with Dante, the will is aligned. Life is lived in His will. Dante closes his great journey with the words: "Yet, as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars, my will and my desire were turned by love, the love that moves the sun and other stars." Ibn ĎArabi says: "Through the knowledge which arises in contemplation, [the attainer] turns to face what is beyond each appearance: the Truth beyond appearances. For the Apparent One, though He is one in essence, is infinite in aspects. They are His traces in us." (64) The words echo: "There is no God but He, everything perishes except His Face." (Quíran) And I think of Nicholas of Cusa speaking of "the Face of faces, veiled as in a riddle." Of Abu Saíid pointing to the true saint "who walks among the people, and eats and dwells with them, and buys and sells in the market, and marries and socializes, yet never forgets God for a single moment." In the end, this is what the night journey produces.

"And may the blessings of God be upon our Master Muhammad, and upon his family and companions; and peace. And praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds." (page 64 -- last words of the treatise)

John G. Sullivan

Elon College

July 12, 1999


Appendix I: Three modes of knowing plus a simplified version of Ibn ĎArabiís Cosmology:

Prophetic Revelation

Prophets

Intellectual knowing ------------------------------ Unveiling (intuitions of heart)

Scholars/Jurists/Philosophers Sufis (on path saints)

Utilize reason which is abstract & Utilize an imaginative, meditative heart --

rooted in tanzih (Godís incomparability) images rooted in tashbih (Godís similarity)

************************************************************ ****************************************************************

Allah (Reality Itself)

Unknowable Essence

The 99 Wonderful Names

(Attributes and Actions and Effects)

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[the so-called "Process" of Creation or Emanation]

Intellect

World Soul

Nonmanifest -- Natures of things

the Prime Matter

the corporeal (physical & imaginal)"base stuff

the shaping

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

the Created Universe (all beings "other than God")

Throne

Footstool

-------------------------------------------

Starless Sphere

Sphere of Fixed Stars

Saturn (Abraham)

Jupiter(Moses)

Mars (Aaron)

Sun (Idris / Enoch)

Venus (Joseph)

Mercury (Jesus)

Moon (Adam)

------------------------------------

ethereal fire

air

water

earth

**********************************************************************************************************

Also to be pictured -- {Humans}

types of created beings Angels

Jinn

Humans

Animals

Plants (Vegetals)

Minerals


 
 
Appendix II: íArabiís Cosmic Order using 28 letters of alphabet

(from William Chittick Self-Disclosure of God, pp. xxix-xxxii )

The Intellective World

1. Hamza -- the First Intellect (Highest Pen)

2. Haí -- Universal Soul (Preserved Tablet)

3. ĎAyn -- nonmanifest Nature -- what underlies the "four natures" -- (heat and cold) + (dry and wet)

4. Haí (dot below H) -- the Last or Dust Substance (Prime Matter) -- like nature, remains unknown except through traces -- fills the Void and is underlying matter /potential of everything in universe except Intellect and Soul

Higher Realm of Imagination

5. Ghayn -- The All Body, the Manifest -- a corporeal substance from which every corporeal and imaginal body is shaped and formed.

6. Kha -- Shape, the Wise -- through shape, the bodily things of the universe become distinct from one another

*********************************************************

7. Qaf -- the Throne, the All-Encompassing -- mentioned in Quíran (20:5) as where the All Merciful sat. First bodily thing that assumes a specific shape. Encompasses the entire manifest universe including world of imagination.

8. Kaf -- the Footstool, the Grateful -- the first imaginal thing -- locus of where God lets down his "two feet" which are the foot of mercy and the foot of mercy mixed with wrath. Above footstool, only mercy -- Footstool embraces the heavens and the earth (2:255) -- the manifestation of cosmos demands good and evil, suffering and happiness, commands and prohibitions. "True gratitude [is] possible only after this division, . . . true gratitude [recognizes and accepts] Godís mercy and guidance and [thanks] Him in every state, whether we consider the state beneficial or harmful." Self -Disclosure of God, xxx)

Bodily World starts here with the Celestial Spheres

9. Jim -- the starless sphere -- the black satin sphere, the Independent -- free of the specific stars or planets that designate the lower spheres. (In Dante, the Primum Mobile -- source of motion)

[Paradise is located here between the starless sphere and the sphere of fixed stars]

10. Shin -- sphere of fixed stars, the Determiner. The twelve constellations of the zodiac appear here and this sphere can be divided into the twenty-eight waystations of the moon. This disequilibrium 12/28 = 6/14 = 3/7 drives the constant movement and change in the lower realms.

11. Ya -- the [7th] or highest heaven -- the Lord -- Saturn (Saturday) -- Abraham

12. Dad (dot under D) -- [6th heaven] -- the Knowing -- Jupiter (Thursday) -- Moses

13. Lam -- the [5th heaven] -- the Subjugating -- Mars (Tuesday) -- Aaron

14. Nun -- the [4th heaven] -- Light --

holds a central spot in bodily/imaginative worlds SUN (Sunday) -- Idris (Enoch)

15. Raí -- the [3rd heaven] -- Form-giver -- Venus (Friday) -- Joseph

16. Taí (dot under T) -- the [2nd heaven] -- Enumerator Mercury (Wed.) -- Jesus

17. Dal -- the [1st or lowest heaven] -- Clarifier Moon (Monday) -- Adam

The Elemental Globes -- pictured as four concentric globes within the influence of moon

18. Taí -- the fire -- the Gripper [The 4 elements can be seen as giving 19. Zaí -- the air -- the Alive rise to the progeny or kinds of beings

20. Sin -- the water -- the Life-giver in the spiritual (though less than God),

21. Sad -- the earth -- the Death-giver. in the imaginal and in the bodily worlds.]

The Progeny -- children of the fathers (celestial spheres) and mothers (the 4 elements)

22. Zaí (dot under Z) minerals -- the Exalted the Spirituals

23. Thaí -- plants -- the All-Provider 25. Faí -- the angels (made of light) -- the Strong

24. Dhal -- animals -- the Abaser 26. Baí -- the jinn (made of fire) -- the Subtle

27. Mim -- human beings (made of clay) -- the All-Comprehensive

28. Waw -- the levels, stations -- the Uplifter of degrees

differentiation of humans into indefinite number of types & individuals each ranked in excellence

Appendix III: Comparison with DANTE: THE PARADISE as a MYSTICAL ASCENT

Here the training in love is shifting -- from the moral/political perspective of Hell and Purgatory -- to -- the mystical, the trans-human or "God's eye" point of view which, in being beyond space and time, can be everywhere at every time -- NO-WHERE and NOW-HERE. Each event increases the love.

The first three spheres are, in my view, first sketches of faith, hope and love.

Thus, faithfulness and unfaithfulness hint at a deeper FAITH without an opposite -- call it SOURCE FAITH

Thus, hope and despair hint at a deeper HOPE without an opposite --- call it SOURCE HOPE

Thus, loving and not-loving hint at a deeper LOVE without opposite --- call it SOURCE LOVE

First Sphere -- the Moon -- Two women appear; they were nuns but were forced to leave the convent to marry. Piccarda is the speaker. There are different functions -- some now higher and later lower yet all are equal in glory. "E sua voluntade e nostra pace." His Will is our Peace. Hierarchy and equality. Second Sphere -- Mercury -- only men appear; Justinian is the speaker. Mixed motives.

Third Sphere -- Venus -- Two men and two women -- a noble friend, a wonderfully wild woman, a troubadour and a harlot.

************************************************************************************************************************

The next four spheres correspond to a higher development of the cardinal virtues --

practical wisdom (Sun), courage (Mars), justice (Jupiter) and temperance (Saturn).

Fourth Sphere -- the Sun -- Image: 1, 2, and 3 rings of 12 flames each. Three speakers -- Thomas, Bonaventure, and Solomon. On learning and love and reconciliation. St. Francis' love of Lady Poverty. St. Dominic's love of learning so as to tend the garden. Solomon on the resurrected body. To know and not know; to love and not love; to know and be known; to love and be loved.

Fifth Sphere -- Mars -- Image: two rays form an equal-armed cross. A vision of Christ -- the one who died and rose again. Then Cacciaguida. Finally eight warriors are pointed out. Paradox here?

Sixth Sphere -- Jupiter -- the realm of rulers. Image: the Eagle. "Diligite iustitiam qui iudicatis terram." The "M" grows a neck and becomes an eagle. A corporate voice speaks here. The Many and One. Justice and Mercy.
Seventh Sphere -- Saturn -- the contemplatives. Image: A Golden Ladder -- contemplatives moving up and down between the 2 worlds. Peter Damian. St. Benedict.

*************************************************************************************************************************

Sphere of the Fixed Stars (Zodiac),

Dante is examined on faith (by St. Peter), on hope (by St. James) and on love (by St. John)

*************************************************************************************************************************

Primum Mobile -- Source of motion.

Dante undergoes a huge reversal of centers. Up until now, he had seen from an earth-

centered perspective. Now he sees that the center is in God and the spheres revolve around

God with the Primum Mobile being closest to him. Looking from the standpoint of God and

the invisible angels, Dante sees that each sphere is in the care of a class of angels.

*************************************************************************************************************************

Mystical Rose

Finally Dante moves through a river of light to glimpse the Mystical Rose -- that great stadium wherein all the redeemed rest. Beatrice returns to Rose. St. Bernard is final guide.

Above the Mystical Rose is GOD -- ONE AND TRIUNE -- the Ever-Present Origin and End of all things. Dante also glimpses the mystery of the incarnation --the divine/human natures of one person Jesus the Christ.