[Journey to the Lord of Power (II)]

“The Realms, although they are many, are all derived from six. The first Realm is [the pre-existence in which we were asked the question] ‘Am I not your Lord?’ Our physical existence has removed us from this Realm. The second Realm is the world we are now in. The third Realm is the Interval through which we travel after the lesser and greater deaths. The fourth Realm is the Resurrection on the awakening earth and the return to the original condition. The fifth Realm is the Garden and the Fire. The sixth Realm is the Sand Dune outside the Garden. And in each of these Realms are places which are Realms within Realms, and the realization of them in their multiplicity is not within human power.

In our situation we only need an explanation of the Realm of this world, which is the place of responsibility, trial, and

Know that since God created human beings and brought them out of nothingness into existence, they have not stopped being travelers. They have no resting place from their journey except in the Garden or the Fire, and each Garden and Fire is in accordance with the measure of its people. Every rational person must know that the journey is based upon toil and the hardships of life, on afflictions and tests and the acceptance of dangers and very great terrors. It is not possible for the traveler to find in this journey unimpaired comfort, security, or bliss.

For waters are variously flavored and weather changes, and the character of the people at every place where one stops differs from their character at the next. The traveler needs to learn what is useful from each situation. He is the companion of each one for a night or an hour, and then departs. How could ease be reasonably expected by someone in this condition?

We have not mentioned this to answer the people fond of comfort in this world, who strive for it and are devoted to the collection of worldly rubble. We do not occupy ourselves with or turn our attention to those engaged in this petty and contemptible activity. But we mention it as counsel to whoever wishes to hasten the bliss of contemplation in other than its given Realm, and to hasten the state of fana’, annihilation, elsewhere than in its native place, and who desires absorption in the Real by means of obliteration from the worlds.

The masters among us are scornful of this [ambition] because it is a waste of time and a loss of [true] rank, and associates the Realm with that which is unsuitable to it. For the world is the King’s prison, not His house; and whoever seeks the King in His prison, without departing from it entirely, violates the rule of right behavior (adab), and something of great import escapes him. For the time of fana’ in the Truth is the time of the abandonment of a station higher than the one attained.

Revelation corresponds to the extent and form of knowledge. The knowledge of Him, from Him, that you acquire at the time of your struggle and training you will realize in contemplation later. But what you contemplate of Him will be the form of the knowledge which you established previously. You advance nothing except your transference from knowledge ( ‘ilm) to vision ( ‘ayn); and the form is one.

[In contemplation] you obtain that which you ought to have left to its proper Realm, and that is the House of the Other World in which there is no labor. So it would be better for you if, at the time of your contemplation, you were engaged in labor outwardly, and at the same time in the reception of knowledge from God inwardly. You would then increase virtue and beauty in your spiritual nature, which seeks its Lord through knowledge received from Him through works and piety, and also in your personal nature, which seeks its paradise. For the human subtle nature is resurrected in the form of its knowledge, and the bodies are resurrected in the form of their works, either in beauty or in ugliness. So it is until the last breath, when you are separated from the world of obligation and the Realm of ascending paths and progressive development. And only then will you harvest the fruit which you have planted.”

Source: Ibn Arabi, Journey to the Lord of Power, pp. 27-9

[‘What am I?’]

“The reality of the soul as the true core of our being makes a vital difference to the idea of personal identity, that is, how we answer the question ‘What am I?’ From what can be said about the soul’s role in perception, it can be seen that there is one way in which soul and body are not only complementary realities [transcendent and immanent], but that each is exactly the inverse of the other. For the common sense idea of identity—based on the body—the ‘I’ or self is one more physical entity among others, and it is wholly contained by a physical world which is made up of other such things. It is a certain kind of organism which runs about on the surface of a certain kind of planet, and is therefore relative by definition.

Conversely, for the soul, the body and the whole physical world which the body belongs to, appear as content. While the body is essentially something contained, the soul is essentially a container of phenomena. Its content is a world-representation which has the body or ego at the center. This does not mean that the common sense idea of the self as a physical entity is false in itself, only that it is extremely one-sided. The complete ‘I’ or self is indeed this physical entity plus the world-containing and world-representing soul. The world, as it appears from one’s unique point of view, is in a real sense a part of one’s identity as well, therefore.People are aware that Gilbert Ryle applied the dismissive expression ‘the ghost in the machine’ to the idea of mind or soul as a substantive reality, but we can now see the irrelevance of this remark once the soul is understood as the container of the representations which make up for us the body and its relations with other physical things. An alleged soul which could be contained by the body, therefore, like an internal organ or an actual ghost in a house, would, on this basis, be just a contradiction. By reason of the soul, therefore, the true and complete self cannot be a passive item in the flow of natural phenomena. A vital part of its being is in effect the stage upon which this flow of phenomena is represented and privately made known, in a way which is distinctive to the person concerned.

The full development of personal identity, which includes the activity of the soul, points towards the traditional idea of the self as microcosm. The idea of the microcosm is that of an epitome of all realities, from the most subtle to the most material, comprised in a separate unity or ‘little world’. This idea has been revived in recent years in the Anthropic Principle, which seeks to explain our ability to understand everything in the universe on the grounds that all cosmic realities are present to some degree in each human individual.”

Source: Robert Bolton, Self and Spirit, pp. 58-60

[Journey to the Lord of Power (I)]

“Praise is due to God, the Giver and Originator of Reason, Ordainer and Institutor of the Transmission. His are the grace and the might; from Him are the power and the strength. There is no God save He, Lord of the Tremendous Throne. And may the peace and blessings of God be upon him in whom are established the signs of guidance, whom He sent with the light by which He guides—and misleads—whom He wills; and upon his noble family and pure companions, until the Day of Judgment.

I shall answer your question, O noble friend and intimate companion, concerning the Journey to the Lord of Power (may He be exalted) and the arrival in His presence, and the return, through Him, from Him to His Creation, without separation. Certainly there is nothing in existence except God Most High, His attributes, and His actions. Everything is He, and of Him and from Him and to Him. If He were to be veiled from the world for the blink of an eye, the world would vanish at one stroke; it only remains through His preserving and watching over it. However, His appearance in His light is so intense that it overpowers our perceptions, so that we call His manifestation a veil.

I shall first describe (may Allah grant you success) the nature of the journey to Him, then the procedure of arriving and standing before Him, and what He says to you as you sit on the carpet of His vision. Then the nature of the return from Him to the presence (hadra) of His actions: with Him and to Him. And I shall describe absorption in Him, which is a station less than the station of return.

Know, O noble brother, that while the paths are many, the Way of Truth is single. The seekers of the Way of Truth are individuals. So although the Way of Truth is one, the aspects it presents vary with the varying conditions of its seekers; with the balance or imbalance of the seeker’s constitution, the persistence or absence of his motivation, the strength or weakness of his spiritual nature, the straightness or deviation of his aspiration, the health or illness of his relation to his goal. Some seekers possess all of the favorable characteristics, while others possess only some. Thus we see that the seeker’s constitution, for instance, may be a hindrance, while his spiritual striving may be noble and good. And this principle applies in all cases.

I must first make clear to you the knowledge of the matrices of Realms, and what those Realms imply in this place. The Realms (mawatin) is a term for the substrata of the moments in which things come to exist and experience actually occurs. It is necessary that you know what the Truth wants from you in any Realm, so that you hasten to it without hesitation and without resistance.”

Source: Ibn Arabi, Journey to the Lord of Power, pp.25-7

[“Time is the magnitude of motion when the size of its earlier and later are brought together in the mind.”]

This Japanese Zen calligraphic drawing beautifully shows ‘creation’ through the simple progression from the absolute unity of the circle, through the triangle (with three points forming a qualitative transition from the pure, abstract elements of point and line to the tangible, measurable state called a surface) symbolizing the passage between the transcendent and the manifest realms, to the manifest form of the square (representing materialization).

[Unity and Multiplicity]

“From both the metaphysical and natural points of view it is false to say that in order to arrive at two, you take two ones and put them together. One only need look at the way in which a living cell becomes two. For One by definition is singular, it is Unity, therefore all-inclusive. There cannot be two Ones. Unity, as the perfect symbol for God, divides itself from within itself, thus creating Two: the creator unity and the created multiplicity.

Unity creates by dividing itself, and this can be symbolized geometrically in several different ways, depending upon how the original Unity is graphically represented. Unity can be appropriately represented as a circle, but the very incommensurability of the circle indicates that this figure belongs to a level of symbols beyond reasoning and measure. Unity can be restated as the Square, which, with its perfect symmetry, also represents wholeness, and yields to comprehensible measure. In geometrical philosophy the circle is the symbol of unmanifest Unity, while the square represents Unity poised, as it were, for manifestation. The square represents the four primary orientations, north, south, east and west, which make space comprehensible, and it is formed by two pairs of perfectly equal yet oppositional linear elements, thus graphically fulfilling the description of universal Nature found in Taoist and other ancient philosophies.

The square (above) represents the earth held in fourfold embrace by the circular vault of the sky and hence subject to the ever-flowing wheel of time. When the incessant movement of the universe, depicted by the circle, yields to comprehensible order, one finds the square. The square then presupposes the circle and results from it. The relationship of form and movement, space and time, is evoked by the mandala.”

Source: Robert Lawlor, Sacred Geometry: Philosophy and Practice, pp. 16, 23

[What is Sufism?]

“[I]n answer to the question ‘What is Sufism?’: From time to time a Revelation ‘flows’ like a great tidal wave from the Ocean of Infinitude to the shores of our finite world; and Sufism is the vocation and the discipline and the science of plunging into the ebb of one of these waves and being drawn back with it to its Eternal and Infinite Source.

‘From time to time’: this is a simplification which calls for a commentary; for since there is no common measure between the origin of such a wave and its destination, its temporality is bound to partake, mysteriously, of the Eternal, just as its finiteness is bound to partake of the Infinite. Being temporal, it must first reach this world at a certain moment in history; but that moment will in a sense escape from time. Better than a thousand months is how the Islamic Revelation describes the night of its own advent. There must also be an end which corresponds to the beginning; but that end will be too remote to be humanly foreseeable. Divine institutions are made for ever. Another imprint of the Eternal Present upon it will be that it is always flowing and always ebbing in the sense that it has, virtually, both a flow and an ebb for every individual that comes within its scope.

There is only one water, but no two Revelations are outwardly the same. Each wave has its own characteristics according to its destination, that is, the particular needs of time and place towards which and in response to which it has providentially been made to flow. These needs, which include all kinds of ethnic receptivities and aptitudes such as vary from people to people, may be likened to the cavities and hollows which lie in the path of the wave. The vast majority of believers are exclusively concerned with the water which the wave deposits in these receptacles and which constitutes the formal aspect of the religion.

Mystics on the other hand—and Sufism is a kind of mysticism—are by definition concerned above all with ‘the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven’; and it would therefore be true to say, in pursuance of our image, that the mystic is one who is incomparably more preoccupied by the ebbing wave than by the water which it has left behind. He has none the less need of this residue like the rest of his community—need, that is, of the outward forms of his religion which concern the human individual as such. For if it be asked what is it in the mystic that can ebb with the ebbing wave, part of the answer will be: not his body and not his soul. The body cannot ebb until the Resurrection, which is the first stage of the reabsorption of the body—and with it the whole material state into the higher states of being. As to the soul; it has to wait until the death of the body. Until then, though immortal, it is imprisoned in the world of mortality. At the death of Ghazali, the great eleventh-century Sufi, a poem which he had written in his last illness was found beneath his head. In it are the lines:

A bird I am: this body was my cage

But I have flown leaving it as a token.

Other great Sufis also have said what amounts to the same—but they have also made it clear in their writing or speaking or living—and this is, for us, the measure of their greatness that something in them had already ebbed before death despite the ‘cage’, something incomparably more important than anything that has to wait for death to set it free.

What is drawn back by spiritual realisation towards the Source might be called the centre of consciousness. The Ocean is within as well as without; and the path of the mystics is a gradual awakening as it were ‘backwards’ in the direction of the root of one’s being, a remembrance of the Supreme Self which infinitely transcends the human ego and which is none other than the Deep towards which the wave ebbs.

What is drawn back by spiritual realisation towards the Source might be called the centre of consciousness. The Ocean is within as well as without; and the path of the mystics is a gradual awakening as it were ‘backwards’ in the direction of the root of one’s being, a remembrance of the Supreme Self which infinitely transcends the human· ego and which is none other than the Deep towards which the wave ebbs.

To use a very different image which will help to complete the first, let us liken this world to a garden—or more precisely, to a nursery garden, for there is nothing in it that has not been planted there with a view to its being eventually transplanted elsewhere. The central part of the garden is allotted to trees of a particularly noble kind, though relatively small and growing in earthenware pots; but as we look at them, all our attention is caught by one that is incomparably finer than any of the others, which it far excels in luxuriance and vigour of growth. The cause is not naked to the eye, but we know at once what has happened, without the need for any investigation: the tree has somehow been able to strike root deep into the earth through the base of its receptacle.

The trees are souls, and that tree of trees is one who, as the Hindus say, has been ‘liberated in life’, one who has realised what the Sufis term ‘the Supreme Station;’ and Sufism is a way and a means of striking a root through the ‘narrow gate’ in the depth of the soul out into the domain of the pure arid unimprisonable Spirit which itself opens out on to the Divinity. The full-grown Sufi is thus conscious of being, like other men, a prisoner in the world of forms, but unlike them he is also conscious of being free, with a freedom which incomparably outweighs his imprisonment. He may therefore be said to have two centres of consciousness, one human and one Divine, and he may speak now from one and now from the other, which accounts for certain apparent contradictions.”

Source: Martin Lings, What is Sufism?, pp.11-14

[How to Read Mevlana]

Rumi’s poetry is widely considered one of the great masterpieces of Islamic literatures, and Rumi is now the best-selling poet in America. This talk will serve as a deep introduction to Rumi’s masterpiece, by taking the audience inside the main teachings and structure of the Masnavi. No background or language is necessary.

Dr. Omid Safi is a leading public Muslim intellectual in America. He is a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam and the current Chair for the Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion, the largest international organization devoted to the academic study of religion.

Omid is an award-winning teacher and speaker, and was nominated six times at Colgate University for the “Professor of the Year” award, and before that twice at Duke University for the Distinguished Lecturer award. At the University of North Carolina, he received the award for mentoring minority students in 2009, and the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

He is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2003). His work Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, was published by UNC Press in 2006. His Voices of Islam: Voices of Change, was published by Praeger in 2006. His last book was published by HarperCollins, titled Memories of Muhammad, and deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has a forthcoming volume from Princeton University Press on the famed mystic Rumi. The Carnegie Foundation recognized Omid as a leading Scholar of Islam in 2007-2008 for studying contemporary Islamic debates in Iran. That topic will be the topic of his next book from Harvard University Press. His volume on American Islam is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.