I am constantly re-reading Henry Corbin’s The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism.
I have until now been unable to find a full text by this brilliant representative of the eastern tradition of Sufism. Until for a while ago, when I just happened upon a book named “Adab al-Suluk: A Treatise on Spiritual Wayfaring“, on www.al-islam.org . The Translator’s preface filled in some details I was unaware of, from reading Corbin’s analysis of many of the themes that Najmoddin Kubra takes up in his treatises, that is – the details about the life and developement of the shaykh who would assist, through his disciples who also became great saints (wali) and teachers (murshid), to found many Sufi orders, many of which exist until this day, among them the Dhahabiyyah and Qurbaniyyah orders.
Also, that he and his disciples tried to fight off the Mongolian hordes attacking their village, where Najmoddin Kobra had founded a hospice with his family. It was here his disciples received tuition, wrote their treatises and commentaries and lived for long periods of their lives.
From the author’s preface to the Treatise:
O slave of Allah! Know that you are a wayfarer (salik)seeking your Lord and ultimately one day you would meet Him, as said in a tradition: Whoever hopes to meet God should know that the time of the meeting will come. And you should know that God, the Exalted, by leis perfect Might and Wisdom has destined two journeys for the Children of Adam. One of them is involuntary (qahri), and the other one is voluntary (ikhtiyari).
As to the involuntary journey, the starting point is the father’s loins (sulb); the second stage is the mother’s womb; the third stage is the physical world; and the fourth stage is that of the grave, which is either a garden out of the gardens of paradise or is a pit out of the pits of hell.The fifth stage is the Day of Resurrection, which is equal to fifty thousand years of this world. After that stage you will reach your eternal home and attain the real abode ‑ that is, the abode of peace (dar al‑salam)and the paradise of security and peace, in case you are among the felicitous and the friends of the Haqq; or your home will be the abode of fire and torture, if, God forbid, you should be among the wretched and the enemies of the Haqq, as Allah has said: “On the Day of Resurrection a group will be in paradise and a group in hell.” Every breath that you take is a step towards the stage of death. Every day of your life is equal to a parsang. Each month is like a stage (marhalah)and each year like a station (manzil). Your journey is like the movement of the sun and the moon ‑ yet you are oblivious of this journey and movement ‑ and in your ignorance and forgetfulness you have failed to make ready and equip yourself properly for the station (manzil)of the grave and the onward journey to the station of the Day of Resurrection and your eternal and real home.
But the voluntary journey is of two kinds: one is the journey of the souls and the hearts toward the Almighty and All‑powerful King of the world. The second is a physical journey (safar jismani)in the earth of God. We will devote a separate chapter to each one of these two journeys, so that you receive the required guidance for attaining their goals and are guided in preparing the means, in opening the gates, and in learning the principles (adab), which will be your companion and assistant in matters relating to every good and piety, and so that it assists the people of love (`ishq)and yearning during their journey, and serve insha’ Allah ta’ala, for the compiler as a provision for the Day of Resurrection vis‑a‑vis his Lord (Mawla).
O Lord, open the gates of Your grace and mercy to us! O Lord, Who art Bounteous and Magnanimous!
The involuntary journey has begun, for every living, breathing human being. It has to begin like this, because it is the way everything in the biological, incarnate condition begins. That Jesus was born of a virgin is made a point in Orthodox christologies in that he did not possess this involuntarity, that he was perfectly like the future humanity, promised in the Gospel about the Kingdom, from birth. That he did not depend on sexuality to come into existence. There is dissension over this – there was dissension going already when the canonical gospels were written. The sequence of birth almost did not make into the Gospel of Luke, who made a concentrated bid for an alternative christology by introducing the Davidic lineage into the corporal Jesus through genetical inheritance. Which would be difficult to reconcile with the fact of the virgin birth, since this lineage descends into Joseph, not Mary.
What do the travellers on an involuntary journey have to hold on to, to hope for? That the Lord is Merciful.
This is in itself interesting, because we see here that this course, this progression through time, through hardships not chosen and which ultimately will prove to result in no reward – the natural order – does not bring Man closer to God, or to ultimate truths, far from it; moreover, this natural order of things negates the ability of Man to choose and take responsibility for his choices and his own actions. Here one can only hope that the executioners blade is sufficiently sharp, so as to kill more than to maim. There is something to wake up from, and it is a terrible, terrible dream.
Given the peculiarly manichaean-sounding practices (colored photisms, the phenomenon of progressive concentration), theories and approach of this medieval sufi shaykh – as I have found them in Henry Corbin’s discussion on the themes in the Man of Light , the journey in the earth of God should provide much to ponder.
Going back to Henry Corbin’s Man of Light in Iranian Sufism.
Central to the book is the theme of orientation. It is also a central theme for myself.
My subjective experience of the universe, given a very peculiar light, is that there are events and worlds which coincide on several levels, and that the chief characteristics of these are illusionary, temporal manifestations and aspects of the foundational and eternal Being. While making a whole lot of itself, sound and fury, the world of the phenomenal manifestations signifies, if we look for meaning, absolutely nothing. Truth does not insist so loudly, for it has really no true and real opponent. Yet such an Agon, such a struggle, that occurs in the minds of men these days.
The first true impression of our own condition is not a pleasing sight. Here there is no golden age. Here is no more paradise. Here is no more the childlike innocense we think of, when someone speaks about the world before the great war began, before evil and good became available for us to use or abuse. Yet, nuances does not serve the very optical task we have taken upon ourselves – while we may receive visionary impulses, all in greys, we do not see object and subject alone, distinguished from all else, before we allow ourselves to become divided completely. Full stop. Let me explain this situation. Our great sorrow is that our cultures have allowed the human soul to become the bearer of culture, tradition, values, languages, religions, philosophies, sciences and all else that occupies societies, civilizations and similar “things” (which do not exist by themselves – without flesh and blood, without incarnate beings, without the human individual, all that would be left is artefacts and artful ruins.) – to the degree that the developement of the soul is evaluated from its ability to comprehend the aforementioned, to remember the “fathers and mothers”, to repeat, imitate and fulfill the past in new and fascinating ways. This is the paraded “wisdom of men”, the common heritage of generations past and generations to come. It also devalues the intelligent self into a mere servant of culture. The living organism is subject to a paracite which only secretes more of itself into its host. So the world is annihilates the soul,so to speak. While the task would be, to paraphrase Valentinus, “to dissolve the world, while not ourselves dissolved in the same action.” That is to say, we become totally distinguished, in our understanding and experience, from our envoirment, from our situation, from our so-called fate – from society, from “the world”. It is important because above all each single one of us is first and foremost our selves, and secondly human, and thirdly intelligent and participant beings in a vibrant and living universe. The worlds constructed by letters, numbers and variables relative to culture, history and ideology – are only so real that they have substance; they have only form and substance in the eye of the beholder, within the mind, in the hearing ear, in the participant body. Are we not well advised, then, to remember that the dependence of the former is upon the latter, and that the latter – the very last thing we discover in the whole multiverse of options, our self – carries all responsibility if the former is allowed to invade and finally devour whatever intelligent spark is left within itself.
The seeker should know which is which, or else meaning leaks out of the jar on the way from the well – Who “would have eternal life?”, and who “would die” – which fulfills the law, which negate and abolishes it, who is the object of love, who is the lover – who observes, who acts – who answers and who ask. The conventional, culturally conditioned answers to many riddles which paradoxically is carried from generation to generation by way of the culture, the tradition itself – predictably serves to make obscure the reason why the riddles were put forward; as challenges to conventional wisdom and the knowledge of “everyone”.
This condition, this confused and overloaded experience of reality, self and whatever authority figure serves as “god” or “prinsciple” in this triad – Valentinus compares, in the Gospel of Truth, to a confused dream wherein the role of the observer and participant is not clearly defined, where at one time one is pursued, and at another one is the pursuer. If all this confusing motion was arrested, and someone pressed a “freeze” button on the curious VCR of life – no one would have been able to explain which was what. The Post-modernists would jump at such an opportunity to speak about this great rush of nothing and inexplicability, an occasion to delve deep and wide into the meaninglessness of meaning and the meaningfulness of the meaninglessness and suggest you flip a coin and draw a diagram on the results.
Henry Corbin’s book describes the way several different personalities in the Iranian tradition of Sufism attempted to make headway out of the situation into which they were born. A chief theme is the new pole of orientation – which is the new person, which develops a new sense apparatus – and finally is enabled to see the new world; ever renewed in Spirit, not dross – in Light.
I will attempt to say more about these things at a later occasion.
this is an incredible post, terje. now i’ll have to hunt down this corbin book.
the confluence of gnosticism and sufism is as impressive as that between gnosis and zen– there’s so much in mystical islam for the gnostic student. i’m always reading and rereading shah’s collections of sufi parables and finding great enlightenment in these simple stories.