Oriental Mysticism (2)
CONCERNING THE NATURE OF GOD.
The necessity for a Creator recognized.THE Sufis consider it an axiom that the world must have had a Creator. They affirm that He is One, Ancient, First and Last, the End and Limit of all things, Incomparable, Unchangeable, Indivisible, and Immaterial, not subject to the laws of time, place or direction; possessing the attributes of holiness, and exempt from all opposite qualities. In this Sufiistic account of His nature. their account agrees with the opinion of the Oriental thinking world in general; but they further assert that He is Infinite and Illimitable, by which they mean not only without beginning or end, but also without determinate position of time, place, or direction. The Nature of God, according to them, is an infinite and illimitable light, a boundless and fathomless Ocean, compared with which the entire universe is more insignificant than a drop of water His Omnipresence. in the sea. There is no single atom of existent beings which God does not pervade, comprise and comprehend. God is always near to man, but man
is always far from God, because he is not aware of His proximity. The proximity of God to all created His proximity beings is the same, for the highest and lowest are alike in His sight. The light of God is the only thing that can reveal this proximity to the Traveller.
There are three grades of proximity to God which are out of the reach of human Intelligence: the proximity of Time, Place and Attributes. We can say, for instance, that Mohammed was nearer our own time than Christ; that the moon is nearer to the earth than the planet Jupiter; that Báyazíd Bístámí 1 more closely resembled Mohammed in qualities than did any even of the Prophet's contemporaries; but we cannot predicate this proximity of God. The verse of the Corán, "He is with you wherever you are" (Cor. cap. 57, v. 4), alludes to this mysterious proximity. Intelligence has no road to the discovery discoverable only by the Initiated. of it, but when its majesty has overshadowed the Illuminati, they perceive that in the sight of God Saints and Prophets, unbelievers and heretics, the loftiest of mankind and the meanest of brutes, are alike compared with Him. This is their explanation of the passage "Thou wilt see no distinction in the Creation of the Merciful One" (Cor. cap. 67, v. 3), and "God's is the East and the West, and wherever you turn your faces God is there." (Cor. cap. 2, v. 109.)
The Traveller who has discovered this proximity possesses the one thing needful, and has completed the journey to God, but until he shall have overcome
the restraints of time and place his steps can never border on the threshold of Eternity. Eternity, Eternity. in the Sufiistic sense, is the primal element of Cosmos, and takes in at one glance both past and future time. This idea is contained in the words of the Hadís: "There is no morning or evening with thy Lord." The passage in the Coran "Oh assembly of genii and men! if ye are able to pass out of the confines of Heaven, then pass out of them; but ye will do so only by the authority which God giveth you," (Cor. cap. 55, v. 33), points to the Majesty of Him of whose proximity we are speaking.
Solution of Questions arising out of the Sufi account.This Sufiistic account of the nature and proximity of God gives rise to many questions amongst their disciples. For instance, "In what way is the nature of God infinite and illimitable, in reference to the sensible and invisible world separately considered?" The answer, however, follows plainly from the previous statements. For since the nature of God is infinite and illimitable, and no notion of time, place, or direction attaches to it, it is equally above the highest conception of the invisible world, and below the lowest material object of the sensible world. Again, their statement concerning the proximity of God to all things alike, and His comprising and comprehending all things, seems irreconcileable with any conception that human intelligence can form of His Nature. This objection they meet by the following physical illustration.
Physical illustration Earth is dense, water compared with earth is subtle, air is more subtle than water, fire is more
subtle than air; and the subtle occupies a higher of the foregoing position. position in the scale of creation than the dense. Now although each of these four elements occupies a distinct position in nature they are susceptible of commixture, and are determined the one by the other. If, for instance, a vessel be completely filled with earth there will still be space for water, and when it will contain no more water it will still admit of the introduction of air, and when it will contain no more air it will still admit of the introduction of fire; the comprehensive and penetrating capacities of each being in proportion to their relative densities. It will now be observed that there is no particle of the earth in the vessel but is commingled with the water, and so on of the other three elements, each occupying its distinct and proper position according to its density. It is from the proper gradation and arrangement of these four elements in the world that the phenomena of nature arise; but they are nevertheless susceptible of commixture and conjunction. This again may be proved by experiment. If one thrust his hand into water it is moistened and not burnt, if into fire it is burnt and not moistened, but if he thrust it into boiling water it is both moistened and burnt, thereby proving that these two elements are susceptible of commixture and conjunction. That the four elements do occupy their distinct and proper positions in nature, is evident from the premises concerning their relative densities, for the denser cannot disturb or confine the more subtle. If all this be possible then in the case of material elements, how much
more possible is it in the case of the nature of God, which is immaterial and indivisible!
Further illustration of the same from psychology.Another and closer illustration is that taken from the connection of the human soul with the body. The soul is conjoined with the body, and does not merely reside in it; so that there is no atom of the corporeal frame distinct from or not pervaded, comprised and comprehended by it. The limbs may be separated one by one, and the body itself even cut into pieces without any wound or hurt accruing to the soul; for the body, which is the denser of the two, cannot disturb or confine the soul, which is the more subtle. In like manner the Nature of God pervades, comprises and comprehends everything, and is incapable of being disturbed or confined by anything.
The Subtle Nature of God.Again, since the Nature of God is infinitely subtle, nothing can ever veil or conceal it; for the more subtle a thing is the greater is its capacity for penetration. Thus the Sufis explain the expression of the Corán, "He is the Subtle the Wise 1," with reference to the Nature of God, as the only truly subtle nature. They say that this sentence would convince every one of the truth of the Mohammedan creed if they could but understand that this is the right interpretation of it. This proximity of God is implied in the
verses, "He is with you wherever you are; God seeth all that ye do" (Cor. cap. 57, v. 4). "I am nearer to him than his jugular vein" (Cor. cap. 50, v. 15). And many similar passages both of the Corán and the Hadís.
The foregoing arguments are intended speciallyObject of these Arguments. to confute the opinion that God is nearer to some men than others, namely, that the Wise approach nearer to Him than the Ignorant. Their great object, however, is the inculcation of the beautiful truth, that He is ever near to those who seek Him, whilst those only are far from Him who by their actions fail to acknowledge that He is Omnipresent and Omniscient, knowing and seeing all they do.
23:1 An eminent Sufí philosopher and poet. See Sprenger, Journal As. S. of Bengal, 1856, p. 134.
26:1 (Cor. cap. 6, v. 103). In Sale's version the word latíf is rendered gracious. I have, however, translated it subtle, which is its primary meaning, and accords with the Sufiistic interpretation.
CONCERNING THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD.
SHEIKH Sadr-ud-dín Rúmí 1 affirms that the Attributes The Distinction between Names and Attributes investigated. and Names of God are convertible terms; but Sheikh Sa’ad-ud-dín Hamawí 2 maintains that the Corán and Hadís contain no synonymous words whatever, and that it is incompatible with the character of a Sage to make use of two or more expressions to convey a single meaning. According to him Attributes are intrinsic and Names descriptive; the former relating to the Nature, the latter to the Aspect of
the being described. Works again relate to the Individuality. This is the opinion generally received among the Súfís. Sheikh Sadr-ud-dín, on the other hand, maintains that the Attributes of God are from one point themselves the Nature of God, and are contrary to it from another. They are themselves the Nature of God in this way, that where there is no existence save His Nature, His Attributes must of necessity be His Nature also. They are contrary to it in this way, that as things understood are necessarily various, the names used to express them must be various too, and must imply distinctions of meaning and idea. But all distinction and divisibility is contrary to the Nature of God.
Classification of the Attributes.The names applied to God, of Living, Eternal, Author or Disposer, and Omnipotent, imply His Eternal and Abiding Nature; actual names according to the Mohammedan theory having existed prior to their meanings 1. Such expressions therefore are the names of the actual names, and are called Positive Attributes. These names are called the four pillars of Divinity. Such names however as The Exalter and Debaser, The Giver of Life and Death, refer to attendant powers, and are called Relative Attributes. Lastly, such names as The Blameless, The Holy One, The Independent One, relate to the absence of imperfection, and are hence called Negative
[paragraph continues] Attributes. All the other names of God may be referred to one or other of these three classes, except the name Allah itself 1, which comprises all Allah. The name the attributes of His Eternal and Abiding Nature, for all the other names can be used to qualify it. The name Merciful, occurring in the initiatory formula, "In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate," is held in the next greatest reverence, although referring to the outward attributes of God only. The Corán says, "Say, Pray unto God (Allah), or pray unto the Merciful One (Ar Rahmán). By whichsoever of the two names ye invoke Him it is equal, for to Him belong the best of names." (Cor. cap. 17, v. 110.) All these names collectively or individually indicate One and the same God.
27:1 Also called El Kúnawi. Vide Hajji Khalfa, ed. Flügel, Vol. I. p. 350, &c.
27:2 Vide Hajji Khalfa, Vol. III. pp. 78, 582.
28:1 It must be borne in mind that one of the principal dogmas of Islám is that the Corán was preexistent to all created things, and by implication also the Arabic language in which it is written, and to which the names above mentioned belong.
29:1 The name Allah is abbreviated from Al-Iláh, "the God" par excellence.
CONCERNING THE WORKS OF GOD, PHYSICALLY CONSIDERED.
THE Works of God are of two kinds, visible and invisible. The Worlds perceived and conceived. The first is the Perceived, the second the Conceived World. The Perceived World is also called The Material, Visible, Created, and Lower World. The Conceived World is spoken of as the Invisible, Spiritual, or Future World, and the World of Command 2: this division is based on the words,
[paragraph continues] "Are not creation and command of Him?" (Cor. cap. 7, v. 52.) The material world may be described in detail, but of the spiritual world we must be content with a mere outline, for none but those who have gone hence, and entered into the spiritual life, can know the condition thereof: as Jesus Christ has said, "Except a man be born again he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven 1."
[paragraph continues] ( ). The first are subdivided into two classes, namely, Emanations and Agencies. Emanations Emanations. are what are addressed in the words of Mohammed, "Salve! in the majesty of God, in His Glory which was before the world began." They are called by the Mohammedans Maláïk Muhaymeh, i.e. Angels designated by the word hámú, "salve." Mohammed gives the following account of them: "Verily with the Most High God there is a luminous land, the sun journeyeth there in 30 days, in an orbit of 30 days, like the days of the world: its creation knows the Most High God, but there are others in the earth who know not God, the sons of Adam, and Iblís."
Agencies are, as it were, the door-keepers of Agencies. Divinity, and the means by which God's bounty is vouchsafed to man. The head and chief of them, according to the Muslims, is Mohammed, than whom there is no more exalted spirit. "I have created nothing more honoured in my sight than thee."
The Holy Spirit, or Gabriel, is, according to them, the last of this class of agencies, being the actual and intermediate agent of intercourse between God and man. "There is not one of us who hath not his assigned position."
The other beings whose existence is felt are also Agents. subdivided into two classes, namely, Agents and Powers. The former are the presiding genii, or personified laws of animal, vegetable and mineral production, whence the common saying, "Everything has its angel." Mohammed himself says, "An angel descends in every drop of rain or dew," and the mystics
assert that God does not create a single leaf upon a tree without the intervention of seven angels. The human soul, though compounded both of the material and the immaterial, is reckoned amongst this class. It is the masterpiece of creation, and the whole material world is placed under its control 1.
Powers.The Powers who form the second class are the Genii and Devils. They are created of fire, and constitute the lower order of beings in the invisible world. Some of them have a certain power over the race of man granted to them, but are rebellious against the Most High; of these Iblís is the Head and Chief. Others, again, although capable of harm, are subservient to the will of God.
The material world is also of two kinds, heavenly Of Heavenly and the Earthly. and earthly. The heavenly are the Throne and the Seat of God (or the Highest Heavens), the Seven Inferior Heavens, the Firmament and the Stars. The Earthly are the Face of the Earth, the Elements, Signs from on high (as thunder, lightning and rain), Compound Bodies (as minerals, vegetables and animals), the Sea, and other Works of God without end. Such is the Sufiistic account of the works of God, physically considered.
29:2 The command of God (kun fa kán), "be and it was," is here alluded to. The Sufis in their poetry frequently p. 30 speak of God as the Lord of káf and nún, i.e. of the two letters composing the word of command kun "be."
The Mohammedans although denying the Divinity of Our Lord recognize the inspiration of both the Old and New Testaments, which as well as the Apocryphal Gospels they frequently quote as authorities. They even assert that the promise of the Comforter referred to their own prophet, and support their arguments by an ingenious perversion of the text, reading περικλυτὸς for παράκλητος, the former being almost identical in signification with the name of Mohammed (Multum laudatus). The charge of inconsistency in not believing in our scriptures they meet by accusing the Christians of having themselves altered many similar portions of the original, and by maintaining that the mission of Mohammed, the Seal of the Prophets as he is called, abrogated all other religions. Thus Sa’adi says in his Bústán:
Has blotted out the library of all the People's creeds."
32:1 The accompanying table of the Mohammedan Cosmogony may assist the reader in understanding this and the following chapters.
CONCERNING THE WORKS OF GOD, METAPHYSICALLY CONSIDERED.
THE first thing that God created was the Primal The Primal Element. Element ( ), that is to say, the primal element of the entire Universe. This according to the Corán He created of Himself without any medium whatever, and in infinitely less space of time than the twinkling of an eye. "And it was not the business of an hour, but even as the twinkling of an eye, or quicker still." (Cor. cap. 16, v. 79.) 1 This Primal Element is designated by various other names, such as the Primal Intelligence, the Constructive Spirit, the Pen, the Mightiest Spirit, the Spirit of Mohammed (or the Laudable Spirit), and the like. It is so excellent
and subtle, that God alone knows its worth. It is the perfection of wisdom and propinquity to God, is ever yearning after Him, and ever present with Him; nor is there anything save this Primal Element that can directly approach Him, or become the direct recipient of His bounty.
The Primal Element is God's world, and the Universe is the world of the Primal Element. By this alone the Voice of God is heard, but its voice is heard throughout the whole Universe, conveying the behests of the Most High 1.
"The Pen."It is the Pen of God which at His command wrote down the Simple Natures, and in the twinkling of an eye they started into being, the Intelligences, Souls, Elements and Natures, the Heavens and the Stars 2. These then took up the task, and obeyed the second mandate by writing down the compound bodies, and straightway the Mineral, Vegetable and Animal Kingdoms sprung into existence.
This is the explanation of the words which begin the 68th Chapter of the Corán: "N, by the Pen, and what they write." The mystic letter represents the World of Power, the Inkstand 3 of God; the Pen is the Primal Element, and "what they write" refers to the Simple Natures. These are the scribes of God, and the words they write are the compound
bodies of nature. They are writing even now, and will write on for ever; for "were the sea ink it would not suffice for the words of my Lord 1." (Cor. cap. 18, v. 109.)
There are nine heavenly spheres, each higher than The Spheres. the preceding; the highest of all is called the Heaven of Heavens, or the Throne of God ( ). Each of these spheres possesses a Soul and an Intelligence, higher and more subtle in proportion to their order. The Intelligence of the Heaven of Heavens is called the Primal Intelligence, the Souls and Intelligences which occupy the other eight are identical with the Cherubim and Spirits of the religious account.
In point of time they precede the simple NaturesOrder Creation of above referred to, being eternal, while the latter are casual; in point of mental excellence, however, they rank after them. Their precedence over the Simple Natures is as the precedence of the Sun's Orb over its rays. The next in order of creation are the Threefold Offspring, i.e. the Mineral, Vegetable, and Animal Kingdoms. Both the metaphysical and the physical account agree concerning these last, that they are casual; but their account of what are called the Parents 2 differs.
Intelligence the beginning and the end.Because man was the final object of creation, and because when he has attained Intelligence he is complete, and because there is nothing beyond Intelligence, and Primal Intelligence was also the beginning of all things, ergo, Intelligence is the beginning and the end, and the circle is complete. This is proved as follows; a circle is traced by ascent and descent: descent is the attribute of the Simple Nature, and ascent the attribute of Compound Bodies; descent resides in Parents, ascent in Offspring; but both the Parents and the Offspring originated with Primal Intelligence, therefore Intelligence is both the beginning and the end, it refers alike to origin and return, to birth and dissolution, it refers to the Night of Power 1, and to the Day of Resurrection. Again, descent, the remoter it is from the origin, the coarser it becomes, and ascent, the remoter it is from the origin, the more refined it becomes; now the Primal Intelligence caused the descent of the lower world, and the ascent of the higher; therefore the former is much coarser than the latter; but they are still one and the same nature. But their nature originated from the Nature of God, therefore the true conclusion is that the Nature of God first was, and first returned, but was still the same Nature of God. "From Him was the origin, and to Him is the return" (cf. Cor. capp. 10, v. 4, &c.).
Some say that the originator of the Intelligences Degrees of Intellgences in the higher world of the lower world constitutes a tenth world, and call it the Intelligence of the Lunar Sphere, the Active Intelligence, or the Bestower of Form. Most philosophers, however, agree that there are ten Intelligences of the higher world, all active and originators of the Intelligences and souls of the lower world. The difference in the Intelligence of mankind is occasion degrees of Intelligence among mankind from this cause; Intelligences and Souls constitute the higher world, and the fixed stars and planets are their administrators in the lower world; through their influence, therefore, the differences observable in mankind are in, proportion to the differences existing between the various Souls and Intelligences of the higher world, and the differences existing between the fixed stars and the planets themselves. Now the various qualities of the last are innumerable; astrologers have discovered some of the properties of the seven planets, but no one can give any clue to those of the fixed stars.
Many of the differences of temperament observable Other Influences. among mankind are owing also to the influence of the seasons; accident of birth, health, fortune, longevity and the like again, are all considered as due to the influence of the Higher World; the method and means by which this influence is exerted is too mysterious and incomprehensible to be discussed.
In chapter 62, v. 7, of the Corán we find the The treasuries of the Universe. words, "To God belong the treasuries of the Heaven and the Earth;" these are then of two kinds, heavenly
and earthly. To the first class belong the heavens and the stars, every one of which is a treasury; to the second class of these treasuries belong earth, air, fire, and water; every plant and every animal, nay, every embryo, is a treasury in itself. "Verily there is nothing of which the treasury is not with Us." (Cor. cap. 15, v. 21). The treasuries of Heaven and Earth are countless; they may be called the Hosts of the Lord, as the Corán has it, "Verily to God belong the Hosts of the Heavens and the Earth." (Cor. cap. 48, v. 4.)
33:1 This passage is differently interpreted by the Arab commentators, and is made to refer to "the business of the last hour;" see Sale's translation.
34:1 Cf. Psalm xix. vv. 1-3.
34:2 The first two and the Heavens are denominated the Comptrollers: "and the Comptrollers for command." (Cor. cap. 79, V. 5.)
34:3 The letter N stands for the word nún, which is not only the Arabic name of the letter, but also signifies an inkhorn. Cf. AL BEIDHAWI'S commentary.
35:1 This idea of the Primal Element appears to have originated partly from a refinement on the ordinary interpretation of the text; "When He willeth aught He but sayeth to it, 'Be, and it is so'," where an undue significance is given to the pronoun it.
35:2 By these are meant the "seven climes," or "zones," (into which, according to the Mohammedan cosmography, the earth is divided), p. 36 and the four elements. They are called ‘Abá i haftána, "the sevenfold sires," and Ummát i Chahárgána, "the fourfold mothers."
36:1 The night on which the command Kun went forth, it is equivalent to the Chaos of the Mosaic cosmogony.
OF THE FOUR UNIVERSAL SOURCES 1.
Division of the Universe into four Sources.THE Sufis and Unitarians divide the Universe into four Sources, of which the first is the Nature of God the second, the Constructive Spirit; and the third and fourth are the Invisible and Sensible Worlds. This division is contrary to the doctrines contained in the Corán and the Traditional Law, although many even of the strictest Mollahs recognize it. These last say, however, that the First Source, that is, God, created the other three out of nothing, and will, when it pleases Him, reduce them to nothing again. The Unitarians maintain that it is impossible for that which is not, to be, and for that which is, not to be. That which exists, must ever exist, and that which exists not, can never exist.
How then, ask the Sufis, was the world made manifest? And the Unitarians reply as follows.
The First Source, which is God, is a hidden treasure, Reconciled with the Unitarian account. and He desired to be known 1. He therefore appeared, coming from internal to external being; this was the beginning of the Second Source or Constructive Spirit. This again appeared, and the third and fourth Sources were in like manner made manifest; they are the Invisible and Sensible Worlds. The manner in which these came into being, and from them all material objects, has been narrated in a previous chapter. Everything therefore proceeds from the First Source. The Source then which was a hidden treasure was the internal Nature of God, and every existent being a manifestation of His nature; consequently everything which exists is the nature of God, and there neither is nor can be any other existence save His.
It was to this doctrine that ’Abdallah ibn ’Abbás 2 ’Abdallah ibn ’Abbás. referred when he said, "I shall be accused of unbelief if I interpret aright the verse, 'It is God who hath created the seven heavens and of the earth like unto them, and His command descendeth between them, that ye may know that He hath power over all things.'" (Cor. cap. 65, v. 12.)
The Unitarians in general say that these four Precedence of the four Sources. Sources were always exactly as they are now, and have no precedence whatever, the one over the other.
[paragraph continues] For to assert that any one has such precedence, would be to assume that it must either have been imperfect and grown to perfection, or have been originally perfect and subsequently deteriorated; but any notion of deterioration is incompatible with existence, since that must be the existence of God.
The initiated amongst them, however, allow that the First Source has precedence over the Second, and the Second over the third and fourth; but they state that it is a precedence of order and mind, not of place or time; the precedence of the Sun's Orb over its rays, or of cause over effect, each having been manifested by the preceding.
Summary of the Unitarian account.The Unitarian theory may be summed up thus; God is the First Source, He is the hidden treasure who desires to make Himself known; the others are manifestations of the First, and the more manifestations take place, the more the First becomes known.
Sufiistic account.The Sufis maintain that these four Sources have a precedence the one over the other, both of time and place; such precedence as Adam has over Mohammed. The origin of the Universe is placed by them in Eternity (azal); that of the Constructive Spirit, the Second Source from which it sprung, in Eternity of Eternities (azal i azál), whilst the Nature of God, the First Source, is Sempiternal (lam yazul wa lá yuzál).
The Traveller then must overcome the restraints of time and place, before his footsteps can border on the threshold of Eternity.
There are other Unitarians, who explain the Four Sources as follows.
The First Source, the Nature of God, they call Another Unitarian account. an Infinite and Illimitable Light, a boundless and fathomless sea. The Second Source, the Constructive Spirit, proceeding from Him, is likewise an Infinite and Illimitable Light and a boundless and fathomless sea; it comprises and comprehends every existent atom, and governs and administers the entire Universe. The remaining two sources are manifestations of this Infinite Light, and the recurring phenomena of nature are but continued manifestations of the same.
Behold what fair and goodly sights they seem!
One glimpse I gave them of my glorious face,
And lo! ’tis now the universal theme.
In this the Unitarian account differs little from The Universe the Mirror of God. the Sufiistic; but the former say that the sole object of such manifestation was that God, the hidden treasure, might make Himself known. It is as it were the mirror of God; the mirror in which His majesty and perfection is reflected, the mirror in which He sees Himself.
The God of all, though oft invoked by many a different name.
The Universe is the mirror of God, and the heart of man is the mirror of the Universe; if the Traveller then would know God, he must look into his own heart; if he would know the light, he must look into his own heart. In short, if he desire to avoid sin
and ignorance, and to attain to holiness and wisdom, the guide that shall conduct him on his path is there, "a still small voice," that ever bids him "eschew the evil and choose the good."
Never tarried in the daytime, never sought repose at night;
Till I heard a reverend preacher all the mystery declare,
Then I looked within my bosom, and 'twas shining brightly there.
38:1 The Persians call them "seas."
39:1 Cf. the answer to David's enquiry quoted in p. 5.
39:2 One of the companions of Mohammed. Cf. Hajji Khalfa, Vol. II. p. 333.