Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Crimson Intellect ('aql-i-sorkh) of Suhrawardi

In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful! 

Glory be to the Sovereign who rules over the two worlds with absolute dominion; for the existence of all that has been has been through His Being; the present existence of all that now exists is through His Being, and the future existence of all that shall exist will exist through His Being. He is the First, the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden; and He is seeing of all things. And salutations and blessings be upon His divine envoys, especially to Muhammad, the Chosen, through whom the seal was affixed to prophecy, and upon his Companions and to the Knowers of Religion, may divine favour rest upon them all!

One of my dear friends one day asked me the following question: "Do birds understand each other's language?" 
- "Certainly," I answered, "they do."
- My friend replied: "How do you know this?"
- "It so happens that in the beginning when He who is the Maker in the real sense wanted to manifest my being that not yet was, He created me in the form of a falcon. However, in the land where I was there were also other falcons; we talked to one another, we listened to the different words and we understood each other."
- "Very good," said my friend, "but how have things gotten the way they are now?"
- Well, this is how: "one day the hunters, Decree and Destiny, spread out the fillet of Predestination; they hid the grain of attraction in it as a bait and in this way successfully managed to take me a prisoner. They kidnapped me from the homeland that had been my nest and took me away to a faraway country. My eyelids were sewn together and they fettered me with four different kinds of chains; finally, ten wardens were appointed to guard over me: five faced me and had their backs to the outside; five others had their back to me and faced the outside. The five who were facing me kept me so tightly in a world of confusion that I forgot everything: my own nest, the faraway homeland and everything that I had known over there. I now imagine that I have always been just like I am now. 
            When some time had passed this way, my eyes reopened a little bit, and to the degree that they could see again, I began to look around. I began to see the things  that I had not seen for so very long and I admired them greatly. Gradually every day my eyes opened a little more and I looked at more things so I fell over with surprise. Finally my eyes reopened completely; the world showed itself to me just the way it was. I looked at the chains that tied me down; I saw that I was a prisoner of the ten wardens. I said to myself: "Apparently I will never be extricated from these four fetters or from these jailers so that my wings can open and I can fly again, free and unhindered from all bonds." 
            More time passed. Suddenly, one day I noticed that my jailers had relaxed their attention. "I could not have found a better moment," I thought to myself. Secretly I slipped away, and as well as I could I hobbled in my chains until I ended up on the desert road. There, in the desert, I saw someone coming my way. I walked to meet this person. I stopped and greeted him. With grace and consideration, the person returned my greeting. Observing a crimson reflection in his complexion, I thought I had met an adolescent. 
- "Young man," I said, "where are you going?"
- Child! Came the reply, "You are wrong in calling me that! I myself am the eldest of the Creator's children, and you call me 'young man'?"
- "But in that case, why aren't you like someone who is old?"
- "I really am one of the most ancient ones, a Sage whose essence is Light. The same person who made you a prisoner of the fillet, who put those chains around you and made those jailers guard you, also threw me into the pit of darkness a long time ago, that is the reason you see that crimson color around me. Otherwise I am completely white and luminous. Like anything white whose whiteness comes from solidarity with the Light, when it gets mixed with the night it appears sort of reddish. Watch at twilight and at dawn, both are white because they are connected with the light of the sun. However, twilight and dawn are a moment between the two: one side is towards day which is white and the other is towards night which is black, hence the purple of the dawn in the morning and of the twilight in the evening. Watch the astral mass of the moon when it rises. Although its light is a light borrowed, it is truly clothed in light, but one of its faces is turned towards day while the other is turned towards night. So the moon appears crimson. A simple lamp appears to have the same property; below, the flame is white, higher up it turns towards dark smoke; in between it appears reddish. Many other analogies or similarities can be given as an example of this rule"
- "O Sage, then where do you come from?" I asked this time.
- "I come from beyond Mount Qâf. That is where my home is. Your nest was there also. Alas! You have forgotten it!"
- "But what are you doing here?"
- "I am a perpetual pilgrim. Without letting up, I travel around the world and marvel at all its wonders."
- "What sort of wonders have you seen in the world?"
- "I have seen seven wonders: the first one is Mount Qâf, our home, yours and mine. The second is the Jewel that illumines the Night. The third is the tree Tûbâ. Fourth are the twelve workshops. Fifth is David's coat of mail. Sixth is the Sword. Seventh is the Source of Life."
- "I beg you to tell me the history of all that."
- "Alright, first there is Mount Qâf. It stands on top of the world that it completely surrounds; in fact, all together it is made up of twelve mountains. That is where you will go when you are freed from your chains, because that is where you were taken from and every being ultimately returns to the form it had initially."
- "What road do I take to get there?" I asked.
- "The road is indeed very difficult. You first see two mountains that already are part of Mount Qâf. The one has a very cold climate and the other is very hot. The heat and the cold of those places knows no limits."
- "Isn't that easy? I will go across the mountain with the hot climate in the winter and will travel over the mountain with the cold climate when it is summer."
- "Unfortunately, you are wrong. There isn't any season that the weather on those mountains gets any better."
- "How far is it to those mountains? I asked."
- "No matter how long and how far you travel, you will keep getting back to the place from where you left. It's like a compass where one point is fixed at the center and the other is on its periphery: as long as it keeps turning it always keeps getting back to where it started." 
- "Maybe it is possible to drill a tunnel through those mountains and then travel through the hole?"
- "Actually, it is impossible to drill a tunnel through them. On the other hand, those who have the aptitude can cross them in a single instant without having to dig at all. This is about a power that is similar to the one balsam has. If you hold the palm of your hand up to the sun long enough for it to become hot and if you then pour balsam drop by drop into your palm, the balsam passes through to the backside of your hand thanks to a natural power that it has. So also with you: if you realize the natural power in yourself to cross those mountains, then in an instant you will have crossed them."
- "How can you realize this power in yourself?"
- "I will give you a hint, if you are capable of catching it.
- "When I have crossed those first two mountains, is it then not easy to cross the others?"
- "Easy, certainly, but on condition that you understand. Some people remain forever captive of those two mountains. Others cross to the third and stay there. Still others get to the fourth, to the fifth and so on, to the twelfth. The smarter the bird, the further it will fly."
- "Now that you have explained Mount Qâf to me, I said, I beg you to tell me the history of the Jewel that illumines the Night."
- "The Jewel that illumines the night also exists on Mount Qâf; more precisely, it is located on the third mountain and the dark night becomes resplendent because of it. Nevertheless, it does not stay in the same state without any changes. Its light comes from the Tûbâ tree. Every time that it finds itself "in opposition" to the Tûbâ tree, relative to the place where you are, the Jewel appears entirely luminous, like a resplendent globe. When it is no longer opposite, but in a place closer to the Tûbâ tree, part of its luminous disk is hidden relative to you, while the rest continues to shine. The closer it gets to the tree Tûbâ tree, the more the dark part gains on the luminous part, all the while, mind you, relative to the place where you are, because in relation to the tree Tûbâ one hemisphere of the Jewel stays luminous. When it is the closest to the Tûbâ tree, it appears in relation to you as having become completely dark, while on the side of the Tûbâ tree it is completely light. Inversely, when it gets further away from the Tûbâ tree, it begins to illuminate in relation to you (that is, as seen from your side); the further it gets away from the Tûbâ tree, the stronger its light gets relative to you. The light itself never increases; the mass of the Jewel keeps the excess light for itself and the dark zone gets equally smaller. This goes on until the opposition of the tree Tûbâ happens again (that is, the greatest distance); then the mass of the Jewel keeps the light completely for itself.”  

The Jewel that illumines the Night

It's analogy

An analogy will make you see this. Perforate a little ball completely along its diameter and draw a line over the marks. Then fill a bowl with water and put the little ball on the surface of the bowl so that half of it is in the water. Let us suppose that in ten turns at a given moment the water has covered every part of the little ball (while it revolves around itself). If someone has observed this, looking from under the bowl, then they will always see one half of the ball plunged into water. Now if the observer is then placed just below the middle of the bowl and keeps looking at it in a slanted direction in relation to this vertical middle, then the entire half of the ball in the water can no longer be seen because to the degree that the direction of one's view differs from the middle, one ceases to see that part of the ball that is no longer in opposition to this vantage point. On the contrary, while looking this way, one will see part of the ball out of the water. The more obliquely one raises one's view towards the water level in the bowl, the smaller will be the part of the ball dipped into the water and the more one will see it out of the water. When one places oneself in order to see exactly level with the water in the bowl, one hemisphere will be seen in the water and the other out of it. Then if one's view is slanted more and more above the water level, more of one part of the ball will be seen, until one's view passes vertically through the middle of the bowl and one sees the ball in its entirety, but also completely out of the water. Someone will perhaps object that while looking from below the bowl, they see neither the water nor the little ball. We answer that of course they can be seen, on condition that the bowl is made out of glass or some other transparent material. Now when we deal with the bowl and the little ball of our example, it is the observer who has moved around the bowl in order to look at them. However, when we are dealing with the Jewel that illumines the Night and the Tûbâ tree, it is they themselves that rotate around a stationary observer."
- "Then what is the Tûbâ tree?" I then asked the Sage.
- "The Tûbâ tree is an immense tree in Paradise. Everyone is familiar with this tree every time they walk there. In the very heart of the twelve mountains that I spoke of there is a certain mountain. On that mountain stands the Tûbâ tree.
- "Does it bear fruit?"
- "All the fruit you see in the world is from this tree; the fruit you see before you all belongs to it. If the Tree did not exist there would be no fruit and no trees, no flowers or plants around you!"
- "Fruit, trees and flowers, what relation do they all have to this tree?"
- "Sîmurgh has her nest in the top of the Tûbâ. At sunrise she leaves her nest and spreads her wings over the earth. It is from the influence of those wings that fruit appears on trees and that plants germinate in the earth."
- "I have heard it said that it was Sîmurgh who raised Zâl and that it was with Sîmurgh's help that Rostam killed Esfandyâr."
- "Yes, that's true."
- "How did that happen?"
- When Zâl made his entrance into existence from his mother's womb, his hair and face where completely white. Sâm, his father, ordered that he be thrown out into the desert. His mother was just as profoundly disturbed at having brought him into the world. Seeing her son with such repulsive features, she consented to the order. So Zâl was abandoned into the wilderness. It was then winter then and cold. No one imagined that the child would survive there. A few days passed; his mother lost her resentment and felt pity for the child. "I will go into the wilderness", she said to herself, "I must see what has happened to my child". After arriving in the wilderness she found him: the child was still alive, Sîmurgh had taken it under her wings. When mother and child saw each other, Zâl smiled at her and the mother took him to her breast and nursed him. She wanted to take him with her, but then said to herself: "No, because they won't understand how he survived these days, I won't take him back to the house." She then abandoned little Zâl in the same place, under Sîmurgh's wings and hid herself in the vicinity. When night fell and Sîmurgh left the desert, a gazelle approached Zâl's crib and placed its breast on the child's lips. After the child was finished with her milk, the gazelle rocked it to sleep in its crib so Zâl would be safe from all troubles. Then the mother got up, moved the gazelle away from the crib and took the child home."
- "What secret is hidden there?" I asked the Sage.
- "I myself have asked Sîmurgh about this and this is what she said": "Zâl came into the terrestrial world under the attention of Tûbâ. We did not allow him to perish. We abandoned the fawn to the power of the hunters and put our pity into the heart of the gazelle, its mother, so that she took pity on him and gave him her milk. During the day I myself took him under my wings."
- "And the case of Rostam and Esfandyâr"?
- "This is what happened. Rostam did not have enough strength to defeat Esfandyâr and collapsed from fatigue. His father, Zâl, poured out supplications before Sîmurgh. However, Simûrgh naturally had the power that when someone held a mirror directly in front of her, or some other thing like a mirror, every eye that looked into that mirror would be blinded. Zâl made a breastplate of iron with a perfectly polished surface and put that on Rostam. Likewise he put a perfectly polished helmet on Rostam's head and hung pieces of mirror from his horse. Then he directed Rostam to place himself directly in front of Sîmurgh. Esfandyâr inevitably had to come at Rostam. The moment he came close, Sîmurgh's rays that fell on the breastplate and the mirrors reflected back into Esfandyâr's eyes; he became dazed and couldn't see anything anymore. He imagined and believed that he was wounded in the eyes because he caught a glance of two sharp points. He fell from his horse and perished at the hands of Rostam. Consider that the two points from the arrow made out of a branch of the gäz tree of which the recitals speak, are Sîmurgh's two wings."
- "Do you mean to say," I asked the Sage, "that in the entire universe there has been only one Sîmurgh?"
- "No, those who don't know, erroneously think so. Unless a Sîmurgh continuously descends down to earth from the tree Tûbâ while the one that went before her returns, that is, unless a new Sîmurgh continually comes, nothing of what is here can stay alive. Like what comes to the earth, so also a Sîmurgh goes forth from the Tûbâ tree out to the twelve workshops."
- "O Sage! I cried out, What are these twelve workshops?"
- "In the first place, realize that when our King wanted to organize his Kingdom, he organized our country first and then he put us to work. He instituted twelve workshops and in each workshop he put some apprentices. Then he also put the students to work so that below the twelve workshops a new workshop appeared and our King put a Master (ustâd) in there. This Master he appointed to his own work so that under this first workshop again another workshop appeared. In turn he put a second Master to work there so that under the second workshop yet another workshop appeared, entrusted to a third Master, and so on, until there were seven workshops and a Master especially appointed over each one. Then to each of the apprentices who were divided over twelve houses he gave a robe of honor. He also gave a robe of honor to the first Master and entrusted him two of the twelve higher workshops. To the second Master he also gave a robe of honor and of those twelve workshops equally entrusted him with two of them. Similarly with the third Master. To the fourth master he gave a robe that was the most beautiful of all; he did not entrust any of the twelve workshops to him but ordained him to exercise care over all twelve. To the fifth and sixth Masters he gave gifts just like he had done to the second and third Masters. When the turn came of the seventh Master only one workshop remained. This was given to him, but he was not given a robe of honor. The seventh Master then complained: "Every Master has two workshops and I have only one! Everyone has been given a robe of honor and I have been given none!" He was told that under his workshop two workshops would be built that he would be given the greatest control over. Under all of those workshops fields were laid out to be sown and their care was equally given to the seventh Master. Besides this, it was determined that a lesser robe would continually be made from the beautiful robe of the third Master and that in this way at every moment the robe of one would also be the robe of the other, like I explained about Sîmurgh."
- "O Sage," I insisted, "what is woven in these workshops?"
- "Embroidery, but they also weave things that no one has ever thought of weaving. David's coat of mail is also woven there."
- "O Sage, what is David's coat of mail?"
- "That coat of mail is made up of the various ties that are woven around you."
- "Why is it made?"  
The Two-pointed Arrow

- "In each of the four triads that make up the twelve higher workshops one link is made; from the work in these twelve workshops the result is therefore four links. But it does not end there. These four links are given to the seventh Master because he handles each of them. When they are placed under his control the seventh Master sends them to the field that he sows and there they remain for a certain amount of time in a state of rest. After that the four links are connected with each other and they form a tight fabric. Then they take a falcon like you prisoner and throw that coat of mail on it so that it is completely sown up."
- "How many links are there in each coat of mail?" I asked.
- "If you could count the drops of water in lake Omân then you could also count how many links there are in each coat of mail."
- "But is there a way to get rid of it?"
- "Through the Indian Sword."
- "In our country there is an executioner; this Sword is in his hands. It has become a rule that when a coat of mail has rendered the services that it must provide for a certain time and its time is over that this executioner strikes it with his Sword. That blow is so hard that all the links break and scatter."
- "For someone wearing that coat of mail are there differences in the way they receive that blow?"
- "Of course there are differences. For some the shock is so bad that had they lived a century and had they passed their entire life in meditation on the nature of the most intolerable suffering and what the greatest suffering is that can be imagined, they could still not imagine the violence of the blow that this Sword inflicts. One the other hand, for others the blow is much more easily received."
- "O Sage, I beg of you, what do I have to do so this suffering is made easy for me?"
- "Find the Spring of Life. From this Spring streams of water run down over your head until this coat of mail (instead of hemming you in tightly) becomes a simple garment that hangs around you with ease. This way you are invulnerable to the blow from this Sword. It is as if this Water makes the coat of mail supple, and when it is completely loosened up, the shock from the Sword is no longer felt."
- "O Sage, where is this Spring of Life?"
- "In the Darkness. If you want to take part in the Quest for this Spring, look for the same sandals that Khezr wears and progress on the road of confident abandonment, till you arrive in the region of the Shadows."
- "In what direction is that road?"
- "In whatever direction you go, if you are a real traveller then you will finish the journey."
- "But what does the region of the Shadows mean?"
- "It is the darkness of one's awareness. Because you are in darkness yourself. You simply have no awareness. When they who take this road see themselves as being in darkness then they have understood that they are here and now in the night and that they have never yet reached the clarity of the light of day. That is the very first step of a real traveller. It is only possible to raise yourself up if you start there. If someone therefore reaches that station then it is possible to go on from there. The seeker for the Spring of Life passes through all sorts of stupors and distresses. However, if they are worthy to find the Spring then finally after the darkness they will contemplate the light. They must not take flight before this light because it is a splendor that descends from the high Heavens upon this Spring of Life. When they have finished the journey and bathed in the Spring of Life then they are invulnerable to the blow by the Sword." As these verses have it:

Let yourself be bruised by the Sword of Love
And find eternity,
Because the Sword of the
 Angel of Death,
Is never a sign that you are among the revived --
Those who bathe themselves in this Spring will never be sullied. Those who have found the meaning of True Reality have arrived at the Spring. When they emerge from the Spring they have attained to that which makes them like the drop of balsam that you pour into the hollow of your hand after holding it up to the sun and which then penetrates to the back of your hand. If you are Khezr, then you too can cross Mount Qâf."
...  When I told these things to my dear friend who had asked me about them, he cried out: "You really are a falcon who has been captured into the fillet and who now gives chase to the game. Well, catch me then! To the cords of the hunter's saddle I will not be a bad prey." 

Yes, I am the falcon who the hunters of the world
are in need of at every moment.
My game are gazelles with dark eyes,
Because Wisdom is like tears that  pour through their eyelids.
Before me the literal meaning of words flee
Near me one knows how to catch the hidden meaning.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Hermetic & Avicennan "Recital of Salman and Absal"

From Corbin Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, pp. 210-215; 224-6.


In ancient times, before the deluge of Fire, there was a king named Hermanos son of Heraql. He held the Byzantine Empire to the shore of the sea, including the country of Greece and the land of Egypt. It was he who had caused the building of those immense theurgic constructions called the pyramids, against which neither the elements nor the centuries in their thousands have been able to prevail. This king possessed profound knowledge and extensive power; he was versed in the influences of the stars, knew natural properties, and practiced theurgic operations. Among his intimates was a Sage, Aqliqulas the divine, by whom he had been initiated into all the secret sciences. For a whole cycle this divine man had devoted himself to spiritual practices in a cave called the Sarapeion; for nourishment he ate only a few herbs every forty days, and his life reached the length of three cycles.

To this Sage the king one day complained that he had no child. The reason was that Hermanos had no inclination for women and could not prevail upon himself to approach them. As he continued to refuse to do so, despite the Sage's advice, the Sage realized that only one solution remained: to determine a suitable "ascendant" by astrological observation, procure a mandragora, and put a little of the king's semen in it, the Sage then undertaking to treat the mixture in an environment suitable for the operation, until it should be ready to receive a soul to govern it and become a complete human being. The proposal was carried out; the child born of this alchemical operation was named Salaman.

A nurse had of course to be provided for him. A young woman of great beauty, aged eighteen years, was found; her name was Absal; she set about caring for the child. Hermanos now asked the Sage what he could do to show his gratitude; the Sage advised him to undertake the construction of a gigantic edifice that neither Water nor Fire could destroy. For the Sage foresaw the revolt of the elements: the edifice was to be of seven stories; it would have a secret door to be known only to the Sages, for whom it would be a secure refuge; as for the rest of mankind, they might as well perish in the cataclysm. To these precautionary measures the king responded by proposing the construction of two edifices: one for the Sage and another that would serve at once to shelter their treasures, their sciences, and their bodies after death. Thus the two pyramids were built.

As for the child Salaman, when he had grown the king wanted to take him from Absal, but the boy was in despair, so great was his attachment to her. So the king left them together until the boy should have grown older. Thus Salaman's affection for Absal changed into love, and a love so passionate that he was entirely taken up with her and frequently neglected the king's service. The king summoned his son and addressed him in the terms usual in such cases. Their apparent brutality is, however, at once offset by the prospect that opens before a Hermetic Sage, and before him alone: the human being must seek to draw constantly to the world of the higher Light, which outshines every other light and is his true abode, whereas the abode of sensible things represents a condition lower than all others. An intermediate degree is attained when man becomes the contemplator of the "Lights of Victory," but the higher degree is to attain to knowledge of the ideal realities (haqa'iq) of all beings. Hence Salaman must abandon Absal: he has no need of her, she cannot help him toward this sublime goal. Let him act as a man, strong in his isolation, until Hermanos finds him a bride, a maiden of the celestial world who will be united to him for the eternity of eternities, and let him thus make himself pleasing to the Lord of the worlds.

It goes without saying that Salaman was not convinced by these most sage exhortations. He hastened to repeat the entire conversation to Absal, who advised him in her turn: "Pay no heed to that man's words. He would deprive you of present joys for the sake of promises of which the greater part are vain. I am a woman who answers to all that delights your soul. If you are an intelligent and determined man, go and reveal our secret to the king: you are not one who can abandon me, nor I one to abandon you." It would no doubt be better not to announce this decision in person. So Salaman confided it to the vizier, who undertook to transmit it. The situation now seemed hopeless; the king gave way to violent grief. His remonstrances remained as unconvincing as before, even when the idea of a compromise was suggested: let Salaman divide histime into two equal parts, one in which to profit from the teaching of the Sages, the other to be given to Absal. And so it was decided. Unfortunately, when Salaman, after having devoted all the stipulated time to the study of the exalted sciences necessary to his education, found that he must still serve the king, he had only one idea—to return to Absal and play with her. The king could not but admit that he was again defeated. He consulted his Sages: would not the only way to get rid of Absal be to have her killed? But the vizier protested firmly: let none make bold to destroy what he cannot himself raise up. If the king put this project into effect, it was to be feared that the very foundations of his dwelling would be overthrown and that the elements brought together to constitute his nature would dissolve. And this would not open the way for him to the choir of the Kerubim (in other words, the therapy of the soul can have as its goal not the destruction but only the sublimation of the sensible nature). The "child" must little by little discover for himself what it was incumbent upon him to do.

A kindly informer reported this conversation to Salaman, who immediately conveyed the news to Absal. Together they considered how best to frustrate the king's plans; finally, they resolved to flee beyond the Western Ocean. But the king received information of what they were doing; for he possessed two golden reeds, decorated with thaumaturgic designs and pierced with seven holes corresponding to the seven climes. By blowing on one of these holes, after placing on it a pinch of ashes, which then broke into flame, one was informed of what was taking place in the corresponding clime. Thus Hermanos learned where Salaman and Absal had hidden; he learned too that they were suffering all the miseries of exile (ghurba); he was touched, and ordered that they receive some little help. But since Salaman persisted in his voluntary exile, Hermanos' wrath presently turned upon the spiritual entities (ruhaniyat) of their passion, and he resolved to destroy these. For the two lovers, this was the most intolerable suffering and the most sinister torture: they gazed at each other, felt ardent desire, but could not unite. Salaman understood that what had befallen them was also caused by his father's anger; so he rose and went to the king to obtain remission. In a last effort, the king tried to make his son understand that he could not assume the throne and at the same time remain Absal's companion, for either kingship or Absal would claim him entirely. While he clung to the throne with one hand, Absal would be like a fetter fastened to his feet, preventing him from attaining the throne of the celestial spheres. And to confirm his words by a convincing experience, he had the two lovers suspended in this awkward position for a whole day. At nightfall they were set free.


Salaman and Absal were half brothers on the mother's side. Absal was the younger; he had been brought up in his brother's presence, and the more he grew, the more marked his beauty and intelligence became. He was well instructed in letters and the sciences, he was chaste and brave. So it came about that Salaman's wife fell passionately in love with him. She said to Salaman: "Bid him frequent your family, so that your children may learn from his example." And Salaman asked him to do so, but Absal absolutely refused to associate with women. Then Salaman said: "For you, my wife holds the rank of a mother." So Absal came to his brother's house.

The young woman showered him with attentions, and after a time privately told him of her passion for him. Absal showed distress, and she realized that he would not yield to her. Then she said to Salaman: "Marry your brother to my sister." Salaman gave him her sister to wife. But meanwhile Salaman's wife said to her sister: "I did not marry you to Absal in order that he should belong to you alone, to my injury; I intend to share him with you." Finally, she said to Absal: "My sister is a maiden of great modesty. Do not go to her during the day, and do not speak to her until after she has become accustomed to you." On the wedding night, Salaman's wife slipped into her sister's bed, and Absal came in to her. Then she could no longer contain herself, and hastened to press her breast against Absal's. Absal became suspicious, and said to himself: "Modest maidens do not behave in this fashion." At that moment the heavens became covered by dense clouds. A flash of lightning shot through them, its brilliant light disclosing the woman's face. Then Absal pushed her violently away, left the room, and resolved to flee.

He said to Salaman: "I wish to conquer all countries for you, for I have the strength to do it." He took a troop with him, waged war on several peoples, and, without incurring a reproach, conquered countries for his brother on land and sea, in East and West. Long before Alexander, he was master of the earth's entire surface. When he returned to his country, thinking that the woman had forgotten him, she relapsed into her old passion and tried to embrace him; but he refused and repulsed her.

An enemy having appeared, Salaman sent Absal and his troops to meet him. Then Salaman's wife distributed great sums to the leaders of the army so that they would abandon Absal on the battlefield. And so they did. The enemies were victorious over him; after wounding him, they left him lying in his blood, believing him dead. But a wild beast that was nursing young came to him and gave him milk from her teats. Thus he was fed until he was perfectly recovered and healed. Thereupon he sought out Salaman, whose enemies were then besieging and humiliating him, while he bewailed his brother's disappearance. Absal found him, took the army with its stores, and once again attacked his enemies; he routed them, took the greater part of them prisoners, and made his brother king.

Then Salaman's wife came to terms with a cook and a majordomo: she gave each of them a large sum, so that they served Absal a poisoned drink, and he died. He was a faithful friend, a being great in lineage and in desert, in knowledge and in act. His brother was in great grief over his death. He renounced the kingship and conferred it on one of his allies. Then he went into seclusion in secret conversations with his Lord. The Lord revealed to him the truth of what had taken place. Salaman made his wife, the cook, and the major-domo drink the poison that they had given Absal to drink, and they all three died.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

An Isma'ili discussion on the meaning of tawḥīd (the Unicity of God)

From Ḥamīd al-Dīn al-Kirmānī's al-Risāla al-durriyya (the Brilliant Epistle) Trans. by F.M. Hunzai in An Anthology of Isma'ili Literature: A Shi'i Vision of Islam Ed. Hermann Landolt, Samira Sheikh & Kutub Kassam (I.B Tauris, London: 2008),  pp. 89-97.

A questioner asked and said, ‘What is tawḥīd?’ It is known in our saying that it means ‘making muwaḥḥad (unified, one) (fiʿl al-muwaḥḥad)’ and the muwaḥḥad is the object of the muwaḥḥids. But it is not permissible for us to say that God is the object of the muwaḥḥids. Further, he said that tawḥīd is not possible without the imagination of a multiplicity; it is applicable only to what is made wāḥid (one) of the entire multiplicity. But in the divinity there is no multiplicity to make wāḥid out of it. Explain this for us.

First we say that the Mubdiʿ (Originator) … having no similitude, does not depend on the unification of the unifiers (tawḥīd al-muwaḥḥidīn), nor on the purification of the purifiers (tajrīd al-mujarridīn), so that He would leave His having no similitude if the unifiers do not unify Him, or that He would leave His transcendence (min ʿuluwwihi) from the characteristics of His originated things if the purifiers do not purify Him. But He … has no similitude whether the unifiers unify Him or not, whether the purifiers purify Him or not.

And it is the element (ʿunṣur) and nature of speech that, when someone intends to inform about the traces and essences that transcend the comprehension of the senses, its meanings become too narrow and too subtle (to convey them), let alone that which (even) the propositions of the intelligence and the soul cannot comprehend. Thus, speech is unable to denote that which is not like it. Thus, there is nothing in that which is composed of letters, such as a word or speech, which can denote the reality sought in tawḥīd. For what is intended to be comprehended about the Mubdiʿ … through a description, is far beyond the noblest meanings that the composed letters can convey.

Since this is the case and it is inevitable to speak and affirm what the rudiments of the intellect necessitate, namely, an agent from whom the existing actions came forth, nor is it possible to dispense with the expression of the subtleties of the imaginary thoughts that flash in the mind, and (since) the simple letters to which recourse is taken in expression and whence the speech and demonstration come forth, due to their limitation in bearing the subtle meanings, are unable to convey what is not from their element and incapable of informing about what is not from their substance, the speaker is compelled to speak with the most noble, most sublime and most subtle meanings that the letters can convey from their cognation (sunkh) and origin. When there is compulsion (to speak), then there is no more noble and more subtle meaning in the speech than wāḥidiyya (being one) and no more exalted than the meaning of our saying ‘fard’ (single), owing to the fact that, to that which has no similitude, fard may be applied more appropriately, from among that which is composed of letters, to Him than Mubdiʿ even if it does not befit Him. Since the name referring to His being Mubdiʿ is due to Him (only) by virtue of His ibdāʿ (origination) and He was there while there was no ibdāʿ¸ and He is not He without being fard. But He is fard forever. And He, as such, is fard due to the impossibility of the existence of His similitude.

Again, when the field of thinking is extended in attaining the most appropriate of the meanings which the composite letters convey to be said about the Mubdiʿ in bewilderment and compulsion, it is the fard which can be applied to Him – even though the meaning (of fard) is applicable to some of His originated things (mukhtaraʿāt), the field of thinking remaining confined to what the intellect comprehends through its light and to that which its propositions may comprehend of what is beyond it [i.e., the field of the intellect], namely, the meaning conveyed by our saying ‘fard.’ For the meaning of fardiyya (being single) in wāḥidiyya (being one) exceeds the meaning of wāḥid (one), aḥad (unique) and waḥīd (alone) in wāḥidiyya by virtue of its being ṣamad [one to whom people resort in their needs, that which has no emptiness, i.e., is self-sufficient]. And the meaning of fard in wāḥidiyya is not, upon careful examination, to be distinguished from the meaning of wāḥid by virtue of its having an additional meaning in wāḥidiyya, except by virtue of its being the cause of wāḥid. And that which is the cause always precedes the effect, about which we have spoken in our book known as Rāḥat al-ʿaql (Repose of the Intellect), with which the darkness of ignorance disappears and through which the light of justice speaks. We have written it as a preface and have extended the field of definition so that it may be helpful for what we want to speak about.

Tawḥīd does not mean – as we have said about the meaning of fard, the careful examination of the meaning in communicating about God – that He is fard, so that the one who carefully examines (the meaning) may be a muwaḥḥid. Nor is it the case that God is restricted to one particular meaning so that by virtue of that meaning, it may be established that He is fard. For the glory of His grandeur is in a veil making it impossible for the letters to render it by any means. And how can it be possible for the letters to render it while they barely erect in their composition a lighthouse to guide, whereas the water of His power overflows and they barely announce any information to speak with a meaning, small or great, but the incapability (of that) establishes itself and spreads? God, the Existentiator, the Worthy of worship, thus, transcends the rational propositions and the physical qualifications.

Tawḥīd, indeed, is an infinitive on the (grammatical) measure of tafʿīl. The philologists do not use this kind of quadrilateral verb-forms except for the one whose action is abundant. For instance, if someone massacres, it is said: ‘qattala fulānun yuqattilu taqtīlan fa-huwa muqattil.’ The one who kills only once is called qātil, but the one who massacres many times, qattāl. Tawḥīd, with respect to its meaning, has two aspects: One is related to the ibdāʿ of the Mubdiʿ… and the other to the act of the muʾmin (believer) who is a muwaḥḥid (unifier). With respect to the aspect related to the ibdāʿ of the Mubdiʿ, tawḥīd necessitates a muwaḥḥid who is the agent of wāḥid (al-fāʿil li’l-wāḥid) and a muwaḥḥad (unified), which is the object (of the muwaḥḥid) in the sense of wāḥid (one). And wāḥid is used in many ways, such as:

(i) A wāḥid is wāḥid by virtue of the finiteness of its essence (dhāt) toward the
sides by which it separates itself from others, such as the bodies of sensible
things. In this respect, it deserves to be called wāḥid. And its limitation
toward the sides and the comprehension of its limits, all this shows that this
wāḥid is contingent.
(ii) A wāḥid is wāḥid in the sense that it is given a specific meaning that is not
found in others, such as the property of the magnet in attracting iron. In
this respect, it deserves to be called wāḥid. And its specification with this
meaning, with the exclusion of the others, necessitates it to be contingent.
(iii) A wāḥid is wāḥid in the sense of essence (ʿayn), such as the essence of
whiteness, the essence of blackness, the essence of a substance and the essence of
a thing. In this respect, all of them deserve to be called wāḥid. And the fact
that this wāḥid, in its existence, depends on the existence of someone other
than who precedes it, and that its existence does not detach itself from its
essence, being always with it, as long as it has an essence within existence,
necessitates its being contingent.
(iv) And the wāḥid is wāḥid in an absolute sense. The absolute wāḥid betrays its
essential ‘pairedness (izdiwāj),’ which consists of the waḥdah (oneness, unity)
and its receptacle.

All these aspects (of wāḥid) necessitate that wāḥid be absolutely contingent. When it is established that wāḥid is absolutely necessarily contingent, then it necessitates that tawḥīd, which means ‘making one (fiʿl al-wāḥid),’ which latter pronounces the contingency of its (own) essence, does not befit the glory of the Mubdiʿ … Thus the Mubdiʿ, may He be sanctified, is muwaḥḥid in the sense that He is the Mubdiʿ of wāḥid and aḥad. As to (the aspect of) tawḥīd related to the muʾmin who is a muwaḥḥid, it does not mean that he ‘makes one (yafʿalu al-wāḥid);’ rather, it changes from its previous meaning that is ‘making one (fiʿl al-wāḥid)’ to another one. As when the particle ‘ʿan’ is used with the verb ‘raghiba,’ its meaning changes (from the previous one). For instance, when it is said, ‘raghiba fulānun ʿan al-shayʾ,’ it means ‘so-and-so disliked the thing,’ but the ‘raghiba’ alone means contrary to it [i.e., to like]. Thus, the meaning of tawḥīd of the muwaḥḥid (in the case of the muʾmin) is to divest the muwaḥḥad from a certain meaning. As in the sense of isolating (tajrīd) or separating (ifrād) a thing from another thing, it is said, ‘waḥḥadtu al-shayʾa ʿan al-shay’ (I isolated a thing from another thing).’

When tawḥīd (in this case) means divesting the muwaḥḥad from a certain meaning, as we mentioned, and divinity is a necessity whose existence cannot be repudiated, and the fact of the agency (fāʿiliyya) is a power that cannot be negated; and from among the things falling under existentiation, from the Originated Intellect (al-ʿaql al-ibdāʿī) to the Emanated Intellect (al-ʿaql al-inbiʿāthī), there is that which possesses the highest degree of knowledge, beauty, power, light, might, grandeur, nobility and sublimity, such as the Intellect, the Precursor (sābiq) in existence; and there is that which is below it in rank, such as the Successor (tālī) in existence, and so on till what is below them from the world of nature, and what it contains till the human intellect at the end – it is not impossible for an ignorant to think that the divinity lies in some of them. Each of these things (under existentiation) because of the subsistence of the traces (of creaturehood) in it, bears witness against itself that it is not God; then from that proposition it follows that the tawḥīd, which means to divest the muwaḥḥad (unified) – which because of the subsistence of the traces in it bears witness against itself that it is not God – from divinity, and to negate it from it and to isolate it from it and sustainership (rubūbiyya) and what is related to it, is the act of the muʾmin who is a muwaḥḥid, so that by that tawḥīd it may be established that the divinity belongs to someone else. As it is known from the things that fall under existence, there are things that have no intermediaries opposite to those that have intermediaries, such as blackness and whiteness that have intermediaries, such as redness, yellowness and so on. The things that have no intermediaries, they as such, have two sides, two states and two aspects. That is to say, when one of the two sides is negated by that negation, the other side is established, such as eternal and contingent. They do not have intermediaries between them; when eternity is negated from a thing, contingency becomes inseparable from it. And like substance and accident that have no intermediaries between them; when the characteristic of substance (jawhariyya) is negated from a thing, the characteristic of accident (simat al-ʿaraḍ) becomes inseparable from it. Then it is not imaginable that there is an intermediary between the Lord (rabb) and the vassal (marbūb), or between the Mubdiʿ (Originator) and the mubdaʿ (originated), as we have explained the meaning of our sayings, ‘the mubdaʿ is the essence of the ibdāʿ,’ in the book Rāḥat al-ʿaql. Then the muʾmin is a muwaḥḥid (unifier) in the sense that he divests the muwaḥḥad (unified), who is the mubdaʿ, from divinity, as he finds the trace of ibdāʿ and the subjects and predicates in itself. Thus, the Prophet … said: ‘Al-muʾmin muwaḥḥid wa-Allāh muwaḥḥid (The believer is a muwaḥḥid and God also is a muwaḥḥid).’

Again, the meaning of the multiplicity that is necessitated by our saying that ‘tawḥīd stands in two aspects’ is: either with respect to the fard (Single), may He be exalted … that is the ibdāʿ of multiplicity, that is multiple singles (afrād) and units (āḥād), or with respect to the muʾmin, who is divesting all these numbers and singles from the divinity, one by one.

And then, first we will tersely show the truth contained in our saying that ‘the fard is the cause of wāḥid,’ according to the capacity of the epistle, even though we have explained it in our books. We say that the existence of all those things that are the essence of the first effect (al-maʿlūl al-awwal) is from the essence of the cause, which is the effect, and the effect is the cause (hiya huwa wa-huwa hiya) by virtue of the effect in its existence being from the element of the cause. And it is the nature of the effect that nothing is granted to and nothing exists in it except what its cause itself has poured forth over it, for what exists in the effect exists in the cause out of which the effect came into existence. For if the existence of what exists in the effect were not in the cause, it would have been impossible to grant the effect that did not exist in its cause. For instance, fire that is the cause of heating in what adjoins it: had the heat not been existing and subsisting in the essence of the fire, it would not have been found in what adjoins it. And how can a thing grant a thing from itself while the field of its element is empty of it? Or how can it bestow a thing while the bones of its existence are worn out?

When this is the case, we thought to investigate whether the fard, which is the cause of numbers, can from its essence indicate the ranks of countable things or not. We found it by virtue of what is hidden in it, such as the letters, their conjunction, their disjunction, their signs, their kinds, their multiplication, their calculation, that it comprises and indicates the entire ranks which God has originated. And the ranks in arithmetic are twelve, even though in form they are nine, vis-à-vis existents. This is the form of twelve ranks hidden in the fard….And corresponding to those kinds are the letters of ‘lā ilāha illa’Llāh (There is no deity but God),’ which show the ḥudūd (ranks), over whom the light of Oneness pours forth, and upon whom are based the heavens and the earth and what they contain….The brilliant proof of what we have said in this regard is the existence of the seven letters vis-a-vis the lords of the cycles, through whom and through what is poured forth over the souls from them, the purpose of the spiritual form that is created in their cycles becomes complete. If you calculate the numerical values (of
the letters) according to the calculation of the jummal, they stand vis-a-vis the days of the sun in one revolution, which are three hundred sixty-five days; the result of the multiplication of the rank four into rank seven stands vis-a-vis the mansions of the moon in one revolution, which are twenty-eight mansions; the result of the values of the letters of the fourth rank according to the calculation of the jummal stands vis-a-vis the numbers of the lords of taʾyīd (divine help) from the ḥudūd (ranks) of every cycle, except the supreme of them which is one, stands vis-à-vis the Names of God … which he who counts them enters paradise, and which are ninety-nine names.

Had we not chosen brevity and decided that prolixity does not befit the epistles, we would have similarly expounded these ranks and numbers with which the abundance of the oceans of the friends of God, may peace be upon them, in sciences and the subtlety of the deduction of their followers from them, specifically and generally, would have been conceived. But this we have left so that the one who thinks about it may have happiness in every moment, and the one who reflects on it may renew for him a good deed in every instant from what shines to him from the wonders of wisdom.

Thus, it is evident that in the fard, by virtue of its being the cause of the wāḥid, are contained the ranks of all the countable [lit., that which fall under the number] existents, and that tawḥīd with respect to God is the ibdāʿ of the wāḥid and units (āḥād), and with respect to the muʾmin is to divest the divinity from the units. We say that the community, due to its deviation from the lords of guidance [i.e., the imams] and due to relinquishing the injunctions of obedience, does not reach (even) the remotest end of the ways of tawḥīd, except a few who follow the friends of God, the Exalted, on His earth, may peace be upon them. Therefore, the One Whom they worship with their descriptions of and belief in Him, is not searched for except (in) the one who exists and falls under origination (ikhtirāʿ), and His Essence is comprehended by the power of ibdāʿ. When the One Whom they worship is originated and over-powered, then their tawḥīd is short of that by which they would deserve the garden of paradise and its felicity, and falls short of that by which they can enter the garden of eternity and dwell in it.

And how can they reach the eternal blessings while the prerequisite of attaining them is to reach their source? It is unimaginable that a traveller may reach peace, pleasures, bounty and blessings in a desired abode while he is miles away from it. Nay, ‘Verily, the wicked will be in hell’ [Qurʾan, 82:14]. And indeed the negligent are in excruciating punishment. ‘Say, shall We inform you who will be the greatest losers by their works? Those whose effort goes astray in the life of the world, and yet they reckon that they do good work. Those are they who disbelieve in the signs of their Lord and in the meeting with Him. Therefore their works are vain, and on the Day of Resurrection We assign no weight to them’ [18:103–105]. God has refused to pour forth His light except over one who surrenders to His friends, and enters the house of His worship through its gate; one who made his tawḥīd to divest His originated things from (divinity) and his worship is surrendering to His friends; Whose obedience is his purpose and Whose disobedience his object of fear. And he knows that this world is the abode of tribulation whose star never falls and it is a dwelling of humiliation whose screw never turns. Its delights have to come to an end and what is loved from it is going to perish; its children are bound to extinction and mankind among them to resurrection [lit., gathering and dispersing]. We ask God … for help to attain peace from its ruses and to take a share from its benefits. May God make us and the community of the believers among the righteous and sincere servants and unite us with our pure lords in paradise (ḥaẓīrat al-quds) and in the vicinity of the Lord of the worlds.