Oriental Mysticism (5)

18.07.2015 10:42



"Know thyself."LIKE the ancient sages the Oriental Philosophers hold the maxim " Know thyself," to be one of vital importance to the Traveller on the Road of Life. A considerable portion therefore of their speculative treatises is invariably devoted to the study of mankind.

ReligiousMuch difference of opinion exists as to the point of view from which man is to be discussed; the religious teachers asserting that since God created him from nothing he may be considered as an actual being whose characteristics are capable of diagnosis and definition.

and Metaphysical view of the question. The metaphysicians, on the other hand, say that it is impossible for that which is not, to be, or for that which is, not to be; they allow, however, that that which is may assume various forms and manifest itself in different ways, and prefer considering man as a particular manifestation of the one Universal

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existence of God. Both however agree in the propriety of the discussion, though upon different grounds.

Man constitutes the Lesser World, and everything Man, a world in himself. that is not man is included in the Greater World; and since every thing in the Greater World has its counterpart in the Lesser, the study of this is a duty incumbent upon all who aspire to spiritual knowledge. To know oneself is the "right way" ( ), for guidance in which Mohammed besought God in his prayer, "Guide us into the right way 1." Self-knowledge is the shortest road to the knowledge of God. When Ali asked Mohammed "What am I to do that I may not waste my time?" the Prophet answered, "Learn to know thyself."



51:1 Corán, opening chapter, v. 5.





THE Lesser World is the counterpart of the Greater. The Sources of his being. In the Greater World there are four Sources, namely, the nature of God, the Constructive Spirit (or Primal Element), the Invisible and the Sensible World.

The nature of God begets, the Constructive Spirit conceives, and the offspring is the tracts of heaven and the elements. The tracts of heaven again beget, and the elements conceive, and their offspring is the triple kingdom, Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral.

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In like manner there are four Sources in the Lesser World, namely, male and female generation, and the body and soul of man.

Intelligence his starting point and final aim.But the Constructive Spirit is identical with Primal Intelligence, therefore when man has attained to  intelligence he has completed his upward progress ( ), and reached the point from which he started;

the circle is thus complete. But Intelligence is in direct communication with God; therefore when man has attained to this point he has also attained to God. "From Him is the beginning, and unto Him is the return." The saying of Mohammed, "He who has seen me has seen God," refers to this, and not to any blasphemous assumption of divinity; for we must bear in mind that he is identified by his followers with Primal Intelligence.

Conception.It is unnecessary here to describe the first germination of the embryo; the curious will find a particular account of it, according to the Mohammedan theory, in Sale's Translation of the Corán, cap. 22, v. 5, and in the Arab commentators upon cap. 96.

Suffice it to say that according to them the cartilages, arteries, and nerves are formed during the first three months after conception; in the fourth month, whilst the sun is in the ascendant, the first germ of life appears; the limbs and members are next formed and nourished by blood, introduced through the placenta, by means of the umbilical cord; these are followed by the successive developments of the body and the soul, which arrive at Birth. perfection in the eighth month; in the ninth, when

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[paragraph continues] Jupiter is in the ascendant, the child is born into the world.

The embryo partakes of all four elements, earth, Successive developments. water, air and fire; now these in the Greater World produce a triple offspring, mineral, vegetable and animal. A similar division is therefore made in the human body. The members and limbs which are first formed partake of the four elements in different proportions, and the combined result corresponds to the mineral kingdom. The powers of attraction, contraction, absorption, digestion, rejection, growth and formation, are next developed in the members and limbs, which then require nourishment. This they receive in the shape of blood, introduced through the placenta; the chyme contained in this becoming matured is developed into the vegetative spirit, corresponding to the second division of the three kingdoms. When the digestive and other internal organs have become fully developed, the heart attracts to itself the essence of this vegetative spirit, and having further matured it, forms the life; the essence of this again is attracted to the brain, where, after being matured, it is developed into the soul, and the remainder dispersed through the nerves into the limbs, where it becomes the source of sense and motion. This corresponds to the animal kingdom of the Greater World.

Each of these developments occupies one month, embryo, mineral, vegetative and animal.

The senses are ten in number, five external and The senses.

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five internal. The external senses are Sight, Hearing, Taste, Smelling, and Feeling.

The internal senses are the Common Sense ( ), Imagination ( ), Apprehension ( ), Memory ( ), and Reflection ( ). The Common Sense is involved in the Imagination, and the Apprehension in the Memory; the two former are situate in the fore-part of the brain, the two latter in the after-part, and the Reflection occupies the middle. The Common Sense is so called from comprising every thing that perceives the outward senses. It comprehends visible objects, while the Apprehension apprehends invisible subjects.

It is the Common Sense which appreciates the real nature of all that the external senses perceive, as for instance, distinguishing a friend from an enemy by the marks of which the external senses take cognizance. The Reflection is that which similarly appreciates the conceptions of the Imagination.

The faculties.The motive powers are also of two kinds, causative and active. The active powers are subservient to and obey the causative, producing motion and the like at their instigation. The causative powers exercise two distinct functions, namely attraction for the acquirement of pleasure or usefulness, and repulsion for the avoidance of annoyance or harm. The former is called Lust, the latter Indignation.

Hitherto only those qualities of man have been

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treated of which he shares in common with the other animals; his spiritual and intellectual developments require another chapter.





EVERY animal possesses a vegetative spirit, a livingThe Spirit of Humanity. spirit, and an instinctive spirit; but man has an additional inheritance, namely the Spirit of Humanity. Now this was breathed by God into man directly from Himself, and is therefore of the same character as the Primal Element: "And when I have fashioned him and breathed My spirit into him." (Cor. cap. 15, v. 29). The Sufis do not interpret this of the Life, but of the Spirit of Humanity, and say that it is frequently not attained until a late period of life, thirty or even eighty years. Before man can how acquired. receive this Spirit of Humanity he must be furnished with capacity, which is only to be acquired by purifying oneself from all evil and immoral qualities and dispositions, and adorning oneself with the opposite ones. Sheikh Muhíy-uddín ibn ul ’Arabí 1, in his "Investigations" ( ), says that the words "and when I have fashioned him," refer to this preparation, and the rest of the sentence, "and breathed My spirit into him," refers to the accession of the Spirit of Humanity.


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Two conditions are therefore imposed upon the Traveller, first, to attain Humanity, second, to acquire capacity.

There are three developments of character that must be suppressed before man can attain to Humanity; the animal, the brutal, and the fiendish. He who only eats and sleeps, and gives way to lust, is mere animal; if besides these he gives way to anger and cruelty, he is brutal; and if in addition to 'all these he is crafty, lying, and deceitful, he is fiendish.

If the Traveller is moderate in his food, rest, and desires, and strives to attain a knowledge of himself and of God, then is the time for acquiring capacity by freeing himself from all that is evil and base, and adorning himself with the opposite qualities; after that by prayer he may obtain the Spirit of Humanity. constitutes real immortality. Some one has truly said that there is none of the perfection, essence, or immortality of man, save only among such as are "created with a godly disposition." When the Traveller has once been revivified by the Spirit of Humanity he becomes immortal, and inherits everlasting life. This is why it has been said that "man has a beginning but no end."

The Divine Light.If when he has attained this Spirit of Humanity, he is earnest, and does not waste his life in trifling, he soon arrives at the Divine Light itself. For "God guideth whom He pleaseth unto His Light." The attainment of this light is the completion of Man's upward progress, but no one can attain to it but those who are pure in spirit and in their lives.

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[paragraph continues] Mohammed asserted that he himself had attained it, "To the light have I reached, and in the light I live;" now this light is the Nature of God; wherefore he said " who seeth me seeth God."

The germ that contains the Primal Element of The Origin and Return of Man. Man is the lowest of the low, and the Divine Light is the highest of the high; it is between these extremes that the stages of man's upward or downward progress lie. "We have created man in the fairest of proportions, and then have thrown him back to be the lowest of the low, save only such as believe and act with righteousness; and verily these shall have their reward." (Cor. cap. 95, v. 4). This reward is said by the Sufis to be defined by the word ajrat, "reward," itself. This word contains three radical letters and ; stands for "return," for "paradise" and for , that is "those who have handed down the faith." Their acting righteously is their return to the Nature of God, for when they have finished their upward progress, and reached this they are in Paradise, and in the presence of their God. He therefore is a man, in the true sense of the word, who being sent down upon earth strives upward towards Heaven. These aspirations are indispensable to man; he might by the Almighty Power of God exist without all beside, even had the Heavens and the elements themselves never been; but these things are the aim and want of all.

It has been said that the Primal Element or The Spirit of Humanity identical with the Primal Element. constructive spirit as well as the Spirit of Humanity

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proceed direct from God. They are therefore identical, and are both included by the Sufis in the one term Concomitant Spirit. Now this Spirit, although distinct and individual, comprehends and governs the entire Universe. The Simple Natures are its administrators and exponents; of these the Seven Sires beget, and the Four Mothers conceive from the incarnation of this spirit in them, and their offspring is the triple kingdom, Mineral, Vegetable, and Animal. And so it is with the Lesser World of Man.

Now this Spirit hath two functions, external and internal; the external is revealed in the material generation just alluded to, the internal abides in the heart of man. Whosoever purifies his heart from worldly impressions and desires reveals this internal function of the Spirit within him, and illumines and revivifies his soul.

Thus the Spirit at once comprehends the Universe and dwells in the heart of man.


55:1 Fusús el Hikam, Metaphysical Investigations by Muhíy-uddín Mohammed ben ’Alí el Hátimí el Táyí ibn el Arabí.






Man's upward Progress.WHEN Man has become assured of the truth of Revelation he has reached the stage of Belief, and has the name of Múmin, "Believer." When he further acts in obedience to the will of God, and apportions the night and day for earnest prayer, he has reached the stage of worship, and is called an ’Abid, or "Worshipper." When he has expelled the love of this world from his heart, and occupies himself

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with a contemplation of the mighty Whole, he reaches the next stage, and becomes a Záhid, or "Recluse." When in addition to all this he knows God, and subsequently learns the mysteries of nature, he reaches the stage of Acquaintance, and is called ’Árif, "One who knows." The next stage is that in which he attains to the love of God, and is called a Welí or "Saint." When he is moreover gifted with inspiration and the power of working miracles, he becomes a Nebí, "Prophet;" and when entrusted next with the delivery of God's own message, he is called an "Apostle," Rusúl. When he is appointed to abrogate a previous dispensation and preach a new one, he is called Ulu ’l ’Azm, "One who has a mission." When this mission is final he has arrived at the stage called Khatm, or "the Seal." This is the Upward Progress of Man. The first stage is the "Believer," the last the "Seal."

After separation from the body, the soul of Destination of the soul, Man returns to that Heaven which corresponds to the stage which he has attained; thus the Believer at last dwells in the first or lowest Heaven, and the Seal in the Heaven of Heavens; for it will be noticed that the stages of upward progress correspond to the number of degrees in the Heavenly Spheres, namely, seven inferior and two superior.

The metaphysicians say that these stages and metaphysically explained. degrees do not in reality exist, but that the Heavenly Intelligence which corresponds to the degree of intelligence attained by Man attracts and absorbs his soul into itself after separation from the body.

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[paragraph continues] Thus every one who has attained intelligence corresponding to that of the highest sphere, his soul returns thereto; and he who has attained intelligence corresponding to the lowest sphere, his soul in like manner returns to that; those who have not attained intelligence corresponding to any of these will be placed in Hell, which is situate below the lowest sphere.

As each of the Heavenly Spheres is furnished with knowledge and purity in proportion to its position, the rank of Man's soul in the future state will, according to this last account, be in proportion to his degree of knowledge and purity of life while upon the earth.

The Upward Progress infinite.}The Unitarians say that man's Upward Progress has no end, for if he strive for a thousand years, each day will teach him something that he knew not before, inasmuch as the knowledge of God has no limit. So Mohammed says, "He who progresses daily is yet of feeble mind."

Simile illustrating the foregoing. The religious account says that the soul of every man returns to an individual place after separation from the body. This the metaphysicians deny; for how, say they, can the soul of a man return to a certain place when it has not originally come from a certain place? The soul of man is the Primal Spirit, and if a thousand persons live, it is the same spirit that animates them all; and in like manner if a thousand die, the same spirit returns to itself, and is not lessened or diminished. If a myriad persons build houses and make windows therein the same

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sun illumines them all, and though every one of them should be destroyed, the sun would not be lessened or diminished. The sun is the lord of the sensible world, and the exponent of the attributes of the Primal Spirit. The Primal Spirit is the lord of the invisible world and the exponent of the Nature of God 1.

When the heart of man has been revivified and Intelligence the aim of the Upward Progress.illumined by the Primal Spirit, he has arrived at Intelligence; for Intelligence is a light in the heart, distinguishing between truth and vanity, Until he has been so revivified and illumined, it is impossible for him to attain to intelligence at all. But having attained to intelligence, then, and not till then, is the time for the attainment of knowledge, for becoming Wise. Intelligence is a Primal Element, and knowledge the attribute thereof. When from knowledge he has successively proceeded to the attainment of the Divine Light, and acquaintance with the mysteries of nature, his last step will be Perfection, with which his Upward Progress concludes.

But dive he ever so deeply into the treasury of Retrogression how avoided.


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mysteries and knowledge, unless he examine himself and confess that after all he knows naught, all that he has acquired will slip through his hands, and leave him far poorer than before. His treasure of to-day should as much exceed the treasure of yesterday as an ocean exceeds a drop; but this can never be, unless he, leaving all else for contemplation and self-examination, have freedom and leisure to learn how poor he really is, and how much he needs the saving help of God.

Unitarian account.One class of Unitarians explain the Upward Progress of Man thus. They say that every atom of existent beings is filled with light;


Arise and look around, for every atom that has birth
Shines forth a lustrous beacon to illumine all the earth:


but that man walks abroad in darkness, blinded by the lusts of life, and laments the want of light that would, were he but aware of it, involve him in the glorious sheen of brightest day:


’Twere well to catch the odours that about our senses play,
For all the world is full of blasts to bear the sweets away.


Upward ProgressWhat they mean is this, that all existent beings are compounded of two things, darkness and light, which are indistinguishably blended together. The light belongs to the Invisible, and the darkness to the Sensible world; but the two are intimately connected, and the former exercises a paramount influence upon the latter. The object of man, according to them, is to separate the light from the darkness, that its nature and attributes may be understood, and in this consists his Upward Progress.

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Although the light and the darkness can never be entirely separated, for the one is as it were the veil of the other, the light can be made to prevail, so that its attributes may become manifest.

Now it is possible to separate thus far the light from the darkness in certain cases; in the bodies of men and animals, for instance, there are certain organs always at work, whose sole object is this separation. Thus, when food is introduced consists in the separation of Light and Darkness.into the stomach, the liver receives the cream and essence of it and transmits it to the heart; the heart, in like manner, extracts the essence of this, which is the life, and transmits it to the brain; lastly, the brain extracts the essence of this, and transforms it into the elixir of life, the real light of all.

The elixir evolved by the brain is the instinctive spirit, and is as it were a lamp in a lantern; but it gives forth after all but a flickering and cloudy light, and man's object should therefore be to strengthen and purify it by Renunciation and Contemplation, until it give forth the true light which is the Spirit of Humanity. When man has attained to this he necessarily becomes free from all that is evil, and is adorned instead with every good and noble quality.

The body of man is like a lantern, the Vegetative Man likened to a lamp. Spirit is the lamp, the Animal Spirit is the wick, the Instinctive Spirit the oil, and the Spirit of Humanity the fire that kindles all. "Verily its oil would almost shine even though no fire kindled it." (Cor. cap. 24, v. 35). In other words, the Instinctive

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[paragraph continues] Spirit should feed and supply the Spirit of Humanity, as the oil feeds and supplies the flame in a lamp. The Traveller must aim at completing this lamp, so that his heart may be illumined, and he may see things as they really are. When the Spirit of Humanity a "light upon light" (Cor. cap. 24, y. 35) has thus kindled the Instinctive Spirit, God "guideth whom He pleaseth to His own light" (idem), that is, to the divine light of His own nature, reaching which the Traveller's Upward Progress is complete; for "from Him they spring, and unto Him return."


61:1 The following from Tennyson's In Memoriam forms a beautiful protest against the ideas here set forth:


That each who seems a separate whole
  Should move his rounds, and fusing all
  The skirts of self again, should fall
Remerging in the general soul,


Is faith as vague as all unsweet:
  Eternal form shall still divide
  The eternal soul from all beside;
And I shall know him when we meet.





Summary.THE words quoted in the first chapter, "I am a hidden treasure, and I would fain be known," form the basis of the whole system of Sufiistic speculation. Considering the entire universe merely as a manifestation of God, produced by the agency of intelligence directly proceeding from Him, they rightly surmise that this intelligence is the only means by which He can be known.

Now man being with them the most perfect entity in the universe, is clearly the instrument by which the object of its creation is to be accomplished; but this object is that God should be known, and He can only be known through intelligence; therefore the attainment of this intelligence is the final aim of man.

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But as man sprung from the Intelligence which Development of the system. originated the Universe, and should, as has been just stated, tend to the same, the Sufis proceed to consider his existence as a circle meeting in the Intelligence which reveals the Godhead. This circle they divide into two arcs, the former called Descent (nuzúl), includes every stage, from the first scintillation from the original intelligence to the full development of man's reasoning powers; the latter arc, called Ascent (’urúj), includes every stage, from his first use of reason for its true purpose to his final reabsorption into the Divine intelligence. This is what is meant when they speak of the Origin and Return of Man.

The Ascent, or upward progress, naturally presentsIdea of the "Journey." itself to the Sufiistic mind in the form of a  journey, and the doctrines which profess to describe it are accordingly called the road (taríkat).

When a man possessing the necessary requirements The Tálib, or Neophyte. of fully developed reasoning powers turns to them for a resolution of his doubts and uncertainties concerning the real nature of the Godhead, he is called a Tálib, or Searcher after God.

If he manifest a further inclination to prosecute The Muríd or Disciple. his inquiry according to their system, he is called a Muríd, or One who inclines.

Placing himself then under the spiritual instruction The Sálik, or Traveller. of some eminent leader of the sect, he is fairly started upon his journey, and becomes a Sálik or Traveller, whose whole business in after-life is sulúk, devotion, (or, as the word signifies, the prosecution

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of his journey,) to the end that he may ultimately arrive at the knowledge of God.

1st stage, Worship.Here he is exhorted to serve God as the first step towards a knowledge of Him; this is the first stage of his journey, and is called ’Abúdiyat, Service or Worship.

2nd stage, Love.When in answer to his prayers the Divine influence or Attraction has developed his inclination into love of God, he is said to have reached the stage called ’Ishk, Love.

3rd stage, Seclusion.This Divine Love expelling all worldly desires from his heart, leads him to the next stage, called Zuhd, or Seclusion,

4th stage, Knowledge.Occupying himself henceforward with contemplations and the investigations of those metaphysical theories concerning the nature, attributes, and works of God, which have been described in the Second Part of this treatise, he reaches his next stage, which is that of Ma’rifat, Knowledge.

5th stage, Ecstasy.Now this assiduous contemplation of startling metaphysical theories is exceedingly attractive to an Oriental mind, and not unfrequently produces a state of mental excitement akin to the phenomena observed during the recent religious revivals. Such ecstatic state is considered a sure prognostication of direct illumination of the heart by God, and constitutes the next stage, Wejd or Hál, Ecstasy.

6th stage, Truth.During this stage he is supposed to receive a revelation of the true nature of the Godhead, and to have reached the stage called Hakíkat, or The Truth.

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He is then said to proceed to the stage of Jam’ 7th stage, Union. or Wasl, direct Union with God.

Further than this he cannot go, but pursues hisLast stage Extinction. habit of self-denial and contemplation until his death, which is, however, merely looked upon as a total reabsorption into the Deity, forming the consummation of his Journey, the last stage designated Faná, Extinction.

That stage in which he is said to have attained The Interpretation of Mystical Poems. to the Love of God is the point of view from which the Sufiistic poets love to discuss the doctrines of their sect; with them man is the Lover, God the Beloved One, and the journey above described is referred to allegorically as the distance which separates the lover from the object of his affection. The glossary which I have appended to this work will enable the student of Háfiz and other Sufiistic writers to interpret for himself the Mystical Poems of the East.


Thus far have we followed the Traveller upon his trackless path through every mystery, human and divine. But one thing now remains; if we, like him, aspire to reach the goal we must cast away the pride of intellect and boasted knowledge, and kneeling before the throne of God in humble thankfulness for the light He hath already vouchsafed, ask Him for guidance and protection who alone is "the light and life of men."