Being in Mulla Sadra and Ibn ‘Arabi

 Ali Shaykh al-Islami

There are several differences between the world of philosophy and that of gnosis or intuition. However, what brings these two worlds closer to each other and prompts their advocates to exchange ideas is the inclusive and comprehensive word of ‘being’. This word offers new outlooks and pleasant perspectives to both schools of thought, and interprets the order of being in such a way that by accepting unity in multiplicity and multiplicity in unity, one can interpret properly God, creation, the unseen, the seen, concept and form. In such a transcendent and noble sense, ontology presents all the rational and sublime thoughts of philosophy to gnosis so that it may employ them for knowing the exalted origin and making it known to others. Moreover, it offers all gnostic intuitions and illuminations to philosophy and makes it bring faith in all the inaccessible dimensions of intellection and confess the inability of reason to perceive what is beyond it. Obviously, this blessed union has not been obtained easily; rather they, [philosophy and gnosis] came into such a harmony after a lot of ups and downs and clashes, and after leaving several hardships behind.

An example of such a compromise at the beginning of philosophy can be seen in Ibn Sina’s philosophical ideas leading to some sublime gnostic stations in the 9th and 10th namats (parts) of his book, and its collective perfection is manifested in the Transcendent Philosophy. Nevertheless, one cannot forget the efforts made by insightful thinkers from the beginning to the end of such a compromise or reconciliation. They did their best to extinguish the fire of battles and settle down the confrontations of the intellect and love. Their aim was always to step into both fields and suppress the flames of chaos and war by creating gnostic-philosophical works. Had such efforts not been made, the alienation between the two would never been turned into unity. In order to know how crucial and important was this process of development, it would suffice to read a short example of the ideas of the well-known gnostic, Sayyid Haydar Amuli, concerning theologians and philosophers and see how he views others as being deprived of any kind of knowledge. He asserts that theologians and philosophers do not have the least access to reality, and that their knowledge is extremely meager not only in terms of knowing God but also in terms of self-knowledge and cosmology. These people, as they themselves confess are even ignorant of true accidents. He also quotes from Ibn Sina that having access to the reality of objects is beyond man’s power, and that we perceive only the external qualities of objects; we can not grasp the reality of the Exalted Origin, wisdom, the soul and psyche. Then he devotes a great part of his Jami‘ al-asrar to the confessions of eleven theologians and philosophers who have all admitted their inability in perceiving the realities. In this regard, we can refer to Fakhr al-Din Razi’s nostalgic tears that shed over his ignorance, that is, his thirty years in erroneous life. Ibn ‘Arabi has written a letter to him in this regard.

Regarding the above point, it is interesting to read the views of Muhaqqiq Tusi, Ghazzali, Ibn Sina, Afèal al-Din, Nasir al-Din Kashani, Kamal al-Din Maytham Bahrani, ‘Ali Ibn-Sulayman Wahrani, and, above all, ‘Abdulrazzaq Kashani as quoted by Sayyid Haydar in the introduction to his treatise, Istilahat sufiyyah. He says, “Praise be to God Who made me needless of hearings by helping me to see and saved me from idle talk.

What was discussed above was a short glimpse at a gnostic’s efforts which have been extensively described in 30 pages in Jami‘ al-asrar. The disagreements here are so serious that a prominent philosopher like Mulla Sadra, whose main purpose is to bring demonstration and faith into unity with each other, repents for his previous involvements with philosophy and theology in the introduction to his al-Asfar.

It is both interesting and surprising that amidst such confrontations, we get acquainted with a number of prominent, just and moderate characters whose major concern is to unite philosophical and gnostic ideas with each other and try to bring the dimensions of these two schools into proximity with each other. The composition of such works as Nusus, Misbah al-uns, Tamhid al-qawa‘id, and tens of others was intended for the same purpose. The efforts in this regard were so fruitful that the development of thought from the most primitive philosophical view to the highest form of intuitive perception was enhanced more than ever before. Moreover, philosophy and gnosis intersected at the point of being (wujud) in their final confrontations and both presented all they could to contribute to the elaboration of this central issue.

To explain and clarify their theology, gnostics resorted to this reality (being); likewise, philosophers considered this very ‘universal’ word as the most inclusive and deserving concept for interpreting their worldview. The subject of both sciences, that is, knowledge of God in gnosis and supreme knowledge in philosophy, is ‘being’, although approached differently. Both schools of thought have tried to reveal its horizons and sought the answers to all their inferential and intuitive questions from it. Finally, this system has been ordered in such a way to justify multiplicity, while maintaining unity; it does not view multiplicity as an obstacle or disruptor of unity and believes that all teachings are included in unity in multiplicity and multiplicity in unity.

Being is the most exhaustive concept that man’s perception can derive from his inner being and the surrounding world without any definition or intermediary and know about all creation following its infinite approach. In this way, he can truly create an epistemological unity between the philosopher’s inner and outer worlds, between the nature and what is beyond the world, and among the phenomena of being at every stage and station.

Accordingly, we can recognize and reevaluate ourselves and the realities surrounding us. This is only true about ‘being’ in its pure sense, since absolute being is the only concept that is compatible with every thing, whether in the mind, in the outside world, in nature, or in metaphysics, and whether necessary or contingent, and familiarizes us with all realities of being.

It is at this point that the issues related to being assume a marvelous depth and an unbelievable width, as Sabziwari says, “Its concept is the most sublime piece of knowledge, and its depth is a great mystery. Amidst the most evident concepts and the most complicated realities, being becomes the most basic subject of gnosis and philosophy, and, as a result, the Transcendent Philosophy comes into existence. In al-Asfar, Sadra says,

“Just see how amazing the discussion of ‘being’ is; the wise, in spite of agreeing with each other concerning its most evident and known concept, have had a lot of disputes over its reality. Some examples of related disagreements include the answers to the following questions:

“Is being universal or particular?”; “Is it contingent or necessary?”; “Is it substance or accident or non?”; “After all, does being exist or not?”; “Are particulars the same as quiddities or not?”, and “Is ‘being’ a joint, univocal, or graded word?”

In his al-Masha‘ir, Mulla Sadra says that since being is the most fundamental issue among the principles of wisdom, the basis for the first divine issues, and the pillar of the science of Tawhid and resurrection of the soul and body, he found it more useful to start his words with it in this treatise, in which the discussion centers around the realities of faith and principles of wisdom and gnosis.

To continue with his words, Sadra deals with being-related issues according to a specific order, and, finally, in the most sublime conclusion he derives from all discussions, not only does he learn that his philosophical thoughts have so much in common with Ibn ‘Arabi’s gnostic views, but also such commonality provides a new version of Ibn ‘Arabi’s gnostic school of thought. The reasons for such a conclusion can be found in al-Asfar, al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, al-Masha‘ir and Mulla Sadra’s other works. Later they can be compared with the first chapter of Muqaddamah-i Qaysari, whose writer has compiled the bases of Ibn ‘Arabi’s gnosis in 12 chapters to be able to prove that the way Mulla Sadra has traversed leads to a destination to which Ibn ‘Arabi had previously reached. It seems as if Mulla Sadra’s philosophical scheme of particular gradation of being is the demonstrable version of Ibn ‘Arabi’s gnostic theory.

Of course, we do not know how justified we are in making such a comparison; however, a study of Mulla Sadra’s book and probing into them, as well as a review of all the extensive and independent treatises and discussions by transcendent philosophers, including Fayè Kashani, Mulla ‘Ali Nuri, Mulla ‘Abdullah Zunuzi, Aqa ‘Ali Mudarress, Haj Mulla Hadi Sabziwari, Haj Sayyid Akbar Karbala‘i, Haj Shaykh Mohammed Hossein Isfahani, Mirza Mahdi Ashtiyani, ‘Allamah Tabataba’i, and, finally, Imam Khomeini on commentaries on Fusus al-hikam clearly reveal that all of them intended to bring these two theories into unity with each other. For an extensive discussion of this issue, interested readers are referred to Ashtiyani’s Asas al-tawhid. In this book, he has analyzed 30 theories in this respect and examined all their different aspects meticulously.

In previous parts, reference was made to al-Asfar, al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, Asrar al-ayat and some of Mulla Sadra’s other works. A careful study of his ideas proves how close they are to those of Ibn ‘Arabi.

Undoubtedly, those who are familiar with Sadra’s works feel the presence of Ibn ‘Arabi, particularly concerning the issue of being, in the collection of Sadra’s works at all times. It seems as if Sadr al-Muta‘allihin has written all these works as preliminaries to reach the same conclusion upon which Ibn ‘Arabi has stubbornly emphasized in his works, specifically, in Fusus al-hikam.




 Print This Document

Save This Document on Your System