The Development of Metaphysics in Persia Part 9

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The combination of these two particularises the Absolute matter. A material body is forms of darkness plus obscure substance, made visible or illuminated by the Abstract light. But what is the cause of the various forms of darkness? These, like the forms of light, owe their existence to the Abstract light, the different illuminations of which cause diversity in the spheres of being. The forms which make bodies differ from one another, do not exist in the nature of the Absolute matter. The Absolute quant.i.ty and the Absolute matter being identical, if these forms do exist in the essence of the Absolute matter, all bodies would be identical in regard to the forms of darkness. This, however, is contradicted by daily experience. The cause of the forms of darkness, therefore, is not the Absolute matter. And as the difference of forms cannot be a.s.signed to any other cause, it follows that they are due to the various illuminations of the Abstract light. Forms of light and darkness both owe their existence to the Abstract Light. The third element of a material body--the obscure atom or essence--is nothing but a necessary aspect of the affirmation of light. The body as a whole, therefore, is completely dependent on the Primal Light. The whole Universe is really a continuous series of circles of existence, all depending on the original Light. Those nearer to the source receive more illumination than those more distant. All varieties of existence in each circle, and the circles themselves, are illuminated through an infinite number of medium-illuminations, which preserve some forms of existence by the help of "conscious light" (as in the case of man, animal and plant), and some without it (as in the case of minerals and primary elements). The immense panorama of diversity which we call the Universe, is, therefore, a vast shadow of the infinite variety in intensity of direct or indirect illuminations and rays of the Primary Light. Things are, so to speak, fed by their respective illuminations to which they constantly move, with a lover's pa.s.sion, in order to drink more and more of the original fountain of Light. The world is an eternal drama of love. The different planes of being are as follow:--

The Plane + 1. The Plane of Intellects--the of Primal parent of the heavens, Light. 2. The Plane of the Soul.

+ 3. The Plane of Form.

+ 1. The Plane + 1. The Plane of of ideal the heavens.

+---- form. ------------ 2. The Plane 2. The Plane of of material + the elements:-- + forms:--

(a). The heavens (a). Simple elements.

(b). The elements:-- (b). Compounds:-- 1. Simple elements I. Mineral kingdom.

2. Compounds:-- II. Vegetable kingdom.

I. Mineral kingdom. III. Animal kingdom.

II. Vegetable kingdom.

III. Animal kingdom.

Having briefly indicated the general nature of Being, we now proceed to a more detailed examination of the world-process. All that is not-light is divided into:--

(1). Eternal e.g., Intellects, Souls of heavenly bodies, heavens, simple elements, time, motion.

(2). Contingent e.g., Compounds of various elements. The motion of the heavens is eternal, and makes up the various cycles of the Universe. It is due to the intense longing of the heaven-soul to receive illumination from the source of all light. The matter of which the heavens are constructed, is completely free from the operation of chemical processes, incidental to the grosser forms of the not-light. Every heaven has its own matter peculiar to it alone. Likewise the heavens differ from one another in the direction of their motion; and the difference is explained by the fact that the beloved, or the sustaining illumination, is different in each case. Motion is only an aspect of time. It is the summing up of the elements of time, which, as externalised, is motion. The distinction of past, present, and future is made only for the sake of convenience, and does not exist in the nature of time.[137:1] We cannot conceive the beginning of time; for the supposed beginning would be a point of time itself. Time and motion, therefore, are both eternal.

[137:1] S_h_arh Anwariyya fol. 34a.

There are three primordial elements--water, earth, and wind. Fire, according to the Is_h_raqis, is only burning wind. The combinations of these elements, under various heavenly influences, a.s.sume various forms--fluidity, gaseousness, solidity. This transformation of the original elements, const.i.tutes the process of "making and unmaking"

which pervades the entire sphere of the not-light, raising the different forms of existence higher and higher, and bringing them nearer and nearer to the illuminating forces. All the phenomena of nature--rain, clouds, thunder, meteor--are the various workings of this immanent principle of motion, and are explained by the direct or indirect operation of the Primal Light on things, which differ from one another in their capacity of receiving more or less illumination. The Universe, in one word, is a petrified desire; a crystallised longing after light.

But is it eternal? The Universe is a manifestation of the illuminative Power which const.i.tutes the essential nature of the Primal Light. In so far, therefore, as it is a manifestation, it is only a dependent being, and consequently not eternal. But in another sense it is eternal. All the different spheres of being exist by the illuminations and rays of the Eternal light. There are some illuminations which are directly eternal; while there are other fainter ones, the appearance of which depends on the combination of other illuminations and rays. The existence of these is not eternal in the same sense as the existence of the pre-existing parent illuminations. The existence of colour, for instance, is contingent in comparison to that of the ray, which manifests colour when a dark body is brought before an illuminating body. The Universe, therefore, though contingent as manifestation, is eternal by the eternal character of its source. Those who hold the non-eternity of the Universe argue on the a.s.sumption of the possibility of a complete induction. Their argument proceeds in the following manner:--

(1). Everyone of the Abyssinians is black.

? All Abyssinians are black.

(2). Every motion began at a definite moment.

? All motion must begin so.

But this mode of argumentation is vicious. It is quite impossible to state the major. One cannot collect all the Abyssinians past, present, and future, at one particular moment of time. Such a Universal, therefore, is impossible. Hence from the examination of individual Abyssinians, or particular instances of motion which fall within the pale of our experience, it is rash to infer, that all Abyssinians are black, or all motion had a beginning in time.


Motion and light are not concomitant in the case of bodies of a lower order. A piece of stone, for instance, though illuminated and hence visible, is not endowed with self-initiated movement. As we rise, however, in the scale of being, we find higher bodies, or organisms in which motion and light are a.s.sociated together. The abstract illumination finds its best dwelling place in man. But the question arises whether the individual abstract illumination which we call the human soul, did or did not exist before its physical accompaniment. The founder of Is_h_raqi Philosophy follows Avicenna in connection with this question, and uses the same arguments to show, that the individual abstract illuminations cannot be held to have pre-existed, as so many units of light. The material categories of one and many cannot be applied to the abstract illumination which, in its essential nature, is neither one nor many; though it appears as many owing to the various degrees of illuminational receptivity in its material accompaniments.

The relation between the abstract illumination, or soul and body, is not that of cause and effect; the bond of union between them is love. The body which longs for illumination, receives it through the soul; since its nature does not permit a direct communication between the source of light and itself. But the soul cannot transmit the directly received light to the dark solid body which, considering its attributes, stands on the opposite pole of being. In order to be related to each other, they require a medium between them, something standing midway between light and darkness. This medium is the animal soul--a hot, fine, transparent vapour which has its seat in the left cavity of the heart, but also circulates in all parts of the body. It is because of the partial ident.i.ty of the animal soul with light that, in dark nights, land-animals run towards the burning fire; while sea-animals leave their aquatic abodes in order to enjoy the beautiful sight of the moon. The ideal of man, therefore, is to rise higher and higher in the scale of being, and to receive more and more illumination which gradually brings complete freedom from the world of forms. But how is this ideal to be realised? By knowledge and action. It is the transformation of both understanding and will, the union of action and contemplation, that actualizes the highest ideal of man. Change your att.i.tude towards the Universe, and adopt the line of conduct necessitated by the change. Let us briefly consider these means of realisation:--

A. _Knowledge._ When the Abstract illumination a.s.sociates itself with a higher organism, it works out its development by the operation of certain faculties--the powers of light, and the powers of darkness. The former are the five external senses, and the five internal senses--sensorium, conception, imagination, understanding, and memory; the latter are the powers of growth, digestion, etc. But such a division of faculties is only convenient. "One faculty can be the source of all operations."[142:1] There is only one power in the middle of the brain, though it receives different names from different standpoints. The mind is a unity which, for the sake of convenience, is regarded as multiplicity. The power residing in the middle of the brain must be distinguished from the abstract illumination which const.i.tutes the real essence of man. The Philosopher of illumination appears to draw a distinction between the active mind and the essentially inactive soul; yet he teaches that in some mysterious way, all the various faculties are connected with the soul.

[142:1] S_h_arh Anwariyya fol. 57b.

The most original point in his psychology of intellection, however, is his theory of vision.[142:2] The ray of light which is supposed to come out of the eye must be either substance or quality. If quality, it cannot be transmitted from one substance (eye) to another substance (visible body). If, on the other hand, it is a substance, it moves either consciously, or impelled by its inherent nature. Conscious movement would make it an animal perceiving other things. The perceiver in this case would be the ray, not man. If the movement of the ray is an attribute of its nature, there is no reason why its movement should be peculiar to one direction, and not to all. The ray of light, therefore, cannot be regarded as coming out of the eye. The followers of Aristotle hold that in the process of vision images of objects are printed on the eye. This view is also erroneous; since images of big things cannot be printed on a small s.p.a.ce. The truth is that when a thing comes before the eye, an illumination takes place, and the mind sees the object through that illumination. When there is no veil between the object and the normal sight, and the mind is ready to perceive, the act of vision must take place; since this is the law of things. "All vision is illumination; and we see things in G.o.d". Berkley explained the relativity of our sight-perceptions with a view to show that the ultimate ground of all ideas is G.o.d. The Is_h_raqi Philosopher has the same object in view, though his theory of vision is not so much an explanation of the sight-process as a new way of looking at the fact of vision.

[142:2] S_h_arh Anwariyya fol. 60b.

Besides sense and reason, however, there is another source of knowledge called "D_h_auq"--the inner perception which reveals non-temporal and non-spatial planes of being. The study of philosophy, or the habit of reflecting on pure concepts, combined with the practice of virtue, leads to the upbringing of this mysterious sense, which corroborates and corrects the conclusions of intellect.

B. _Action._ Man as an active being has the following motive powers:

(a). Reason or the Angelic soul--the source of intelligence, discrimination, and love of knowledge.

(b). The beast-soul which is the source of anger, courage, dominance, and ambition.

(c). The animal soul which is the source of l.u.s.t, hunger, and s.e.xual pa.s.sion.

The first leads to wisdom; the second and third, if controlled by reason, lead respectively to bravery and chast.i.ty. The harmonious use of all results in the virtue of justice. The possibility of spiritual progress by virtue, shows that this world is the best possible world.

Things as existent are neither good nor bad. It is misuse or limited standpoint that makes them so. Still the fact of evil cannot be denied.

Evil does exist; but it is far less in amount than good. It is peculiar only to a part of the world of darkness; while there are other parts of the Universe which are quite free from the taint of evil. The sceptic who attributes the existence of evil to the creative agency of G.o.d, presupposes resemblance between human and divine action, and does not see that nothing existent is free in his sense of the word. Divine activity cannot be regarded as the creator of evil in the same sense as we regard some forms of human activity as the cause of evil.[145:1]

[145:1] S_h_arh Anwariyya fol. 92b.

It is, then, by the union of knowledge and virtue that the soul frees itself from the world of darkness. As we know more and more of the nature of things, we are brought closer and closer to the world of light; and the love of that world becomes more and more intense. The stages of spiritual development are infinite, since the degrees of love are infinite. The stages, however, are as follows:--

(1). The stage of "_I_". In this stage the feeling of personality is most predominant, and the spring of human action is generally selfishness.

(2). The stage of "_Thou art not_". Complete absorption in one's own deep self to the entire forgetfulness of everything external.

(3). The stage of "_I am not_". This stage is the necessary result of the second.

(4). The stage of "_Thou art_". The absolute negation of "_I_", and the affirmation of "_Thou_", which means complete resignation to the will of G.o.d.

(5). The stage of "_I am not; and thou art not_". The complete negation of both the terms of thought--the state of cosmic consciousness.

Each stage is marked by more or less intense illuminations, which are accompanied by some indescribable sounds. Death does not put an end to the spiritual progress of the soul. The individual souls, after death, are not unified into one soul, but continue different from each other in proportion to the illumination they received during their companions.h.i.+p with physical organisms. The Philosopher of illumination antic.i.p.ates Leibniz's doctrine of the Ident.i.ty of Indiscernibles, and holds that no two souls can be completely similar to each other.[147:1] When the material machinery which it adopts for the purpose of acquiring gradual illumination, is exhausted, the soul probably takes up another body determined by the experiences of the previous life; and rises higher and higher in the different spheres of being, adopting forms peculiar to those spheres, until it reaches its destination--the state of absolute negation. Some souls probably come back to this world in order to make up their deficiencies.[147:2] The doctrine of trans-migration cannot be proved or disproved from a purely logical standpoint; though it is a probable hypothesis to account for the future destiny of the soul. All souls are thus constantly journeying towards their common source, which calls back the whole Universe when this journey is over, and starts another cycle of being to reproduce, in almost all respects, the history of the preceding cycles.

[147:1] S_h_arh Anwariyya fol. 82.

[147:2] S_h_arh Anwariyya fol. 87b.

Such is the philosophy of the great Persian martyr. He is, properly speaking, the first Persian systematiser who recognises the elements of truth in all the aspects of Persian speculation, and skilfully synthesises them in his own system. He is a pantheist in so far as he defines G.o.d as the sum total of all sensible and ideal existence.[148:1]

To him, unlike some of his ?ufi predecessors, the world is something real, and the human soul a distinct individuality. With the orthodox theologian, he maintains that the ultimate cause of every phenomenon, is the absolute light whose illumination forms the very essence of the Universe. In his psychology he follows Avicenna, but his treatment of this branch of study is more systematic and more empirical. As an ethical philosopher, he is a follower of Aristotle whose doctrine of the mean he explains and ill.u.s.trates with great thoroughness. Above all he modifies and transforms the traditional Neo-Platonism, into a thoroughly Persian system of thought which, not only approaches Plato, but also spiritualises the old Persian Dualism. No Persian thinker is more alive to the necessity of explaining all the aspects of objective existence in reference to his fundamental principles. He constantly appeals to experience, and endeavours to explain even the physical phenomena in the light of his theory of illumination. In his system objectivity, which was completely swallowed up by the exceedingly subjective character of extreme pantheism, claims its due again, and, having been subjected to a detailed examination, finds a comprehensive explanation. No wonder then that this acute thinker succeeded in founding a system of thought, which has always exercised the greatest fascination over minds--uniting speculation and emotion in perfect harmony. The narrow-mindedness of his contemporaries gave him the t.i.tle of "Maqtul" (the killed one), signifying that he was not to be regarded as "S_h_ahid" (Martyr); but succeeding generations of ?ufis and philosophers have always given him the profoundest veneration.

[148:1] S_h_arh Anwariyya fol. 81b.

I may here notice a less spiritual form of the Is_h_raqi mode of thought. Nasafi[150:1] describes a phase of ?ufi thought which reverted to the old materialistic dualism of Mani. The advocates of this view hold, that light and darkness are essential to each other. They are, in reality, two rivers which mix with each other like oil and milk,[150:2]

out of which arises the diversity of things. The ideal of human action is freedom from the taint of darkness; and the freedom of light from darkness means the self-consciousness of light as light.

[150:1] Maqsadi Aqsa; fol. 21a.

[150:2] Maqsadi Aqsa; fol. 21a.

II. Reality as Thought--Al-Jili.

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The Development of Metaphysics in Persia Part 9 summary

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