Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I want to thank you, my Dearest –

I want to thank you, my Dearest –
   for your sweet elusive presence,
for your lovely intangible smiles
   that make me hang on your lips.
Despite the sorrow you stir in me,
   I want to thank you, my Dearest.
For in not giving yourself to me
   you pull me to your heart always,
drawing me to untold wonders
   that exist beyond my narrow self.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Philosophical Prayer by Ibn Sīnā

‘Glory be to You, O God!’ say the rest of existents with the tongue of their condition and speech. You confer on each thing what it deserves according to wisdom, granting them existence – with respect to their [relative] nonexistence – as a grace and mercy. And so their essences and accidents glorify Your blessings, thankful for the abundance of Your graces. “For there is not a thing that does not glorify His praise, but you are not aware of their glorification. Verily, He is the Clement, the Forgiving” (Qur’ān 17:44). – So Glory be to You, O God, exalted You are!
   Since existence necessarily belongs to Your essence, contingency belongs to the existence of all others as an inexorable affliction. And as Your essence dispenses with having a quiddity (māhīya, ‘whatness’), while Your creatures are in need of it, we know that Your quoddity (annīya, ‘thisness’) is in absolute union with Your very quiddity – for Your attributes are not multiplied in Your essence.
   And we know with certainty that You are the First of existents in number, the oldest, the wisest, the most enduring, eternally and forever. Verily You are God, the One, the Unique, the Singular, the Absolute (al-Samad), who “has not begotten nor is begotten and to whom none is equal” (Qur’ān 112:3-4).
   O God, You confined my soul to the prison of the four elements, and charged them to prey on her like ravenous beasts. You compelled her to seek their satisfaction, and to abandon herself to them in their lusts, drawing her to the realm which “incurs wrath upon itself” (Qur’ān 1:7).
   O God, exalt my soul by safeguarding her from disobedience (‘isma). Have compassion on her by the mercy which most befits You, and by the overflowing generosity which is most suitable and appropriate for You. Accord her a continuous repentance wherein she reverts back to her celestial realm. Hasten her return to her blessed condition, and dawn on her darkness a Sun from the Active Intelligence. Dispel from her the darkness of ignorance and error, and actualize what lies dormant in her faculties. Bring her out of the darkness of ignorance to the light of wisdom and the brightness of intelligence. “God is the Guardian of those who believe: He brings them out of darkness into the light; as for those who disbelieve, their guardians are idols who bring them out of the light into darkness. Those shall be denizens of the Fire, and they shall remain in it forever” (Qur’ān 2:257).
   O God, show my soul images of worthy mysteries in her sleep, and change her dreams from chimeras to visions of beneficial things, and of true glad tidings. Purify her from the filth which her sensations and imaginations (awhām) have impressed on her, dispel from her the turbidity (kadar) of nature, and place her in an elevated rank in the realm of the souls.
   Praise be to God, who has guided me, sufficed me, protected me, and restored me!
   O God, I beseech You – O Necessary of Existence, O Cause of causes, O Ancient who shall yet be! (yā Qadīman lam yazil) – to preserve me from faltering, to extend the days of my life, and to place my aspiration in the work which pleases You.
   O God, purify my soul by the celestial effusion, and confer on me the virtues gathered for her in the natures of the brilliant stars, granting success to my objectives and pursuits.
   O Deity of the East and the West, Lord of the seven spheres that “run their course and hide themselves” (Qur’ān 81:16), and gush forth upon the world as gushing streams –

      Certainly they are agents of Your will,
         Whose virtues pervade the substance of all things.
      I have begun hoping for good from You –
         And I look to Saturn, to the soul of Mercury and Jupiter.


   O God, endow me by their effusion with a robe of splendor, the dignity (karāma) of the prophets, the delight of those dear (ahbā’) to You, the knowledge of the wise, the reverence of the godwary (khushū‘ al-atqīyā’), and free me from the realm of misery and transience. Place me among the brothers of sincerity, the companions of faithfulness, and the denizens of heaven, along with the truthful ones and the martyrs.
   There is no god but You, O Cause of all things, Light of earth and heaven. Bestow on me an effusion from the Active Intelligence, O Possessor of majesty and plenty. Purify my soul by the lights of wisdom, and enable me to be thankful for the grace You have conferred on me. Show me the truth as it is, and inspire me to follow it; and falsehood as it is, and preserve me from believing in it, or listening to it. Purify my soul from the clay of matter, O You who are the First Cause. –

      O Cause of all things, by whose
         Overflowing effusion they came into being,
      Creator of the layered heavens, who placed
         In their midst the earth and the seas,
      I implore You as a sinner seeking refuge –
         Forgive the faults of this negligent sinner.
     Purify my kind by an effusion from You, O Creator of all,
         From the turbidity of nature and of the elements.


   O God – Lord of the exalted beings, the heavenly spheres and the celestial spirits – human nature, along with the base desires of this world, have triumphed over Your servant. Make Your protection (‘isma) my shield against transgression, and Your piety a stronghold against turmoil; uplift me to Your unified, pure, and simple realm; for verily whatever You wish You are able to achieve, and You “encompass all things” (Qur’ān 41:54).
   O God, deliver me from the captivity of the four natures, and uplift me to Your most vast expanse and loftiest proximity.
   O God, confer on me a sufficiency that will sever the bonds of earthly bodies and cosmic dominion, and a wisdom that will unite my soul to the divine realms and heavenly spirits.
   O God, purify my soul by the noble Spirit of Holiness, illuminate my intellect and senses with far-reaching wisdom, and make the angels my intimate circle (unsī), instead of the realm of nature.
   O God, inspire me with guidance, strengthen my belief through contentment, and make the love of this world contemptible to my soul.
   O God, empower my soul to overcome fleeting desires, elevate my soul to the abodes of the everlasting souls, and place her amongst the noble, pure and precious substances in the gardens on high, by Your mercy, O Most Merciful of all those who are merciful!
   And may God bless the master of the messengers, seal of the prophets, Muḥammad the chosen one, and his family, the fountains of guidance, who point to the exemplary way, and may God bless his noble companions, the eminent masters. “[God is] sufficient for me, and how excellent a Trustee [He is!]” (Qur’ān 3:173).


[my translation]

Monday, January 13, 2014

From “The Attainment of Knowledge and Wisdom”

Excerpt from a letter by Ibn Sīnā in which he sends words of counsel to
a fellow philosopher (possibly Ibn Zayla) through the addressee.

Regarding the memento (tadhkira) which he requested to be sent back to him from me, as an instruction given to him from my heart, and as an elucidation uttered by me that would restore him to health, it is as if a man who sees had asked one who is blind, deprived of vision, to show him the way, as if a man who hears had inquired with one who is deaf and ill informed. Is it then for someone such as me to address him with a beautiful exhortation, a virtuous and suited parable, a guide and a pathway to deliverance which I would trace for him, leading to the end which he pursues?
   That said, may God – glory be to Him, the Exalted – be for him the First and the Last of every thought, the Inner and the Outer of every consideration. Let the eye of his soul be anointed with the collyrium (kuhl) of His contemplation, and let the foot of his soul be dedicated to standing in audience before Him; let him be a wayfarer by means of his intellect to the highest realm, and let him behold therein the magnificent signs of his Lord. And when he descends to the realm where he resides, then let him behold God through His traces; for verily He is the Inner and the Outer, who manifests Himself to all things through all things:

                        In all things is a sign of Him,
                                                Attesting that He is one.  

And when this state becomes for him a habitus, and this trait as a second nature, then the image of the supernal realm becomes engraved in his gemstone, and the sanctity of the divine reality manifests itself to his mirror. Thus he becomes familiar with the most exalted society, and savors uttermost delight. He then betakes himself to that which is worthier of his concern. Serenity (sakīna) emanates on him, and tranquility (ṭuma’nīna) envelops him. He looks to the lower realm with compassion for its people, seeking to weaken the bond that ties him to it and to alleviate its heaviness, disdaining attachment to it, despising its favors and recognizing the errancy of its ways. He remembers his soul, and she is to herself the source of her ceaseless joy. He marvels at this world and its people just as they marvel at him. Having parted from it, he is with this world as if he was not with it.
      So let him know that the noblest of movements is prayer, and the noblest of rests fasting; that the most beneficial of pious acts is charity, the purest of demeanors toleration, and the vainest of endeavors simulation. Let him know that his soul will not be delivered from filth so long as he pays attention to hearsay, disputation and controversy; that the best of acts is the one that emanates from the seat of intention, and the best of intentions the one that unfolds from the side of knowledge; that wisdom is the mother of virtues, and contemplative knowledge (ma‘rifa) of God the foremost of priorities. “Good words ascend to Him, and He elevates virtuous conduct” (Qur’ān 35:10).
   This is what I say. I seek forgiveness and guidance in God, the Almighty. I turn to Him in repentance, and He suffices me. I ask Him to bring me closer to Him. Verily He is the Hearing, the Near, the Responsive. “[God] is sufficient for us, and how excellent a Trustee He is!” (Qur’ān 3:173).

[my translation]

Sayings of Ibn Sīnā on Wisdom

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Sayings of the Shaykh al-Ra’īs, may his innermost self be sanctified:
   Wisdom is dearer to its people than this world and all that it contains. For verily, through wisdom they have known its real worth; thus they have found it repugnant, they have recoiled from it in disdain, and have abandoned it to its people and its children. They have realized that carcasses are suited for dogs, and that he who is assisted by God does not quarrel over them.
   Thus they have directed their efforts to the acquisition of knowledge and that which is beneficial. They have been diligent in performing acts of piety, and have devoted themselves to humble supplication in solitary retreats. They have taken upon themselves to edify their soul and to refine their morals according to wisdom, until they have purified their understanding, released their mind from error, purified their soul, and perfected their intellect. And so they have apprehended the universal and eternal realities, they have mingled with the spiritual, entered the company of the everlasting, the immaculate, pure, and perpetual beings.
   Their innermost self has revolved around the Throne, and their sight has become blind to all things besides Him. Thereafter they have journeyed to God, they have turned their back on what is not Him, until they arrived. Then they have known His majesty, and have beheld His beauty. They have rejoiced in His encounter, and have found delight in His splendor. They have remained poised between love and yearning, wonder and communion; they have stood in contemplative silence, as kings in tattered robes before that which discourse does not elucidate, expression does not clarify, and of which speech discloses nothing but the image.
   Thus. As for me, though I am not one of the sages, nor of the group of the learned and the pure ones, but rather recognize my shortcomings in these matters – tied as I am to ignorance and deficiency, though I hold that their aim is unachievable and their ends insurmountable, still I possess a lofty aspiration and a proud soul that abhors trivial things, that does not give her attention to vain hopes and delusions, that is not deceived by vile things, nor drawn to base things. –
   She is wont to say:

                  Of the high places, I aspire to the highest;
                        I am not content with a vile rank!
                  So, may I achieve the end (ghāya) of my desire,
                        Or else let death put me to rest!

– Rather, she directs her ardour and her gaze to the exalted beings, occupying herself with conceiving universals and abstracting intelligibles. She continuously sighs after the spiritual realities, and yearns for the perpetual and everlasting beings. Having known the Lord, she no longer craves for the vile things of this world, nor occupies herself with acquiring its debris, and no longer busies herself with gathering its dates and its spathes. 
Peace. Praise be to God, to Him alone; and blessings on Muhammad and on his godwary family.

[my translation]
Source: “Paroles d’Avicenne sur la Sagesse,” edited and translated by Jean Michot, in Bulletin de Philosophie médiévale 19, Louvain: S.I.E.P.M., 1977, pp. 45-49.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

One and Two

“one’s not half two. It’s two are halves of one

There is so much wisdom compressed into this opening verse to a sonnet by the American poet e. e. cummings. In this simple line, he suggests that unity is not achieved by cutting off one side and keeping the other; it is not achieved by eliminating the darkness and keeping only the light, nor by cutting off the irrational and keeping only the rational, nor by devaluing the feminine and exalting the masculine, nor again by avoiding winding ways and following only straight lines (and is the sirāt al-mustaqīm really, literally devoid of any curves? is it really possible at all, on this earthly plane, to ever follow only a rigid, straight line?); unity is not achieved by renouncing this world altogether and valuing only the Hereafter, nor by despising the profane and confining oneself solely to the sacred, nor by rejecting idleness for progress, folly for wisdom, laughter for severity, doubt for belief, spontaneity for ritualism, blasphemy for faith. This unity which is formed by the rejection of the other is only a seeming unity, and will never become entirely free from its opposite. When there are two, the silencing of one behind the voice of the other does not mean that only one is speaking. This unity is merely a surface appearance; eventually, the suppressed voice always breaks through.

one’s not half two. Its two are halves of one.

True unity is not achieved by abstracting and elevating one side of a duality, and cutting off the other: rather, it is found through the conjunction of opposites, passing through contraries to that which exists beyond them both. Consider this quatrain of AwḥaduddīKirmānī (13th century):

      Every heart that falls prey 
         to Your love’s sorrow 
      leaves behind both 
         the idol-temple and the Ka‘ba. 
      In loves way, blasphemy 
         and faith both are alike; 
      this way passes by both 
         the idol-temple and the Ka‘ba.

That Higher Unity is not found by utterly renouncing the idol-temple and utterly dedicating oneself to the Kaba. For the idol-temple and the Kaba, when sought for themselves, both are an object of worship from which a gain is sought, apart from God, and that object is still an idol, before which one is still a mercenary who seeks gain from a source of power and bounty, in exchange for the performance of ritual acts of worship. But when God is sought, when the Beloved is sought for the Beloveds sake alone, then both the idol-temple and the Kaba are transcended. Even as one goes to them, ones worship passes through them to the Beloved that exists beyond both the idol-temple and the Kaba. Even the idol-worshipper, if his/her end is that Beloved, will reach God through the idol. 
   This does not mean that one has to reject both the forms of the idol-temple and the Kaba altogether. It does, however, entail detachment from man-made forms (detachment, not rejection), so that they are no longer sought in and of themselves, but merely as different pathways to the Higher Unity which exists beyond them both. In this sense, the idol-temple and the Kaba both are alike. Hence, another quatrain of Kirmānī: 

      By God, only in annihilation 
         do you truly exist; 
      by God, my sober friends, 
         how sweet is this drunkenness! 
      And if perchance one day 
         you worship an idol for God, 
      I swear that from the idol 
         you will attain to the One. 

A typical response to the notion of “reconciliation of opposites is that it is surely awkward and repulsive to imagine something like the conjunction of good and evil. But this Higher Unity beyond opposites does not signify that the duality is to be fused (or confused) into one, that light and dark, fire and water, mind and heart, day and night, man and woman, etc. should become uniform, behave in the same way and reach their end by the same means, in a truly depressing compromise where fire no longer burns and water is no longer fresh, where day and night are both a dim glow without any variation of light, where there is no summer and no winter, just an even climate that feels like nothing, where thoughts are muddled up with emotions, and feelings squared out by the principles of reason. 
   This is not what is meant by the conjunction of opposites, it’s two are halves of one. That is merely a confusion of opposites, occurring on the plane of duality; as for the Higher Unity, it exists on a higher plane than that of duality: the One is not the one that is opposed to two. It is One, and there is no other beside it. It is not that there is one true God while all other gods are false gods. That God is not the One opposed to the Many. It is the One beyond both one and two.
   The idol-house and the Kaba, as opposite creeds (symbols of plurality and unity respectively), will always remain opposites on this plane, and whoever lives according to the laws of the realm of duality will always go to either one or the other, never both (unless they are indeed confused). But the one whose heart has been seized with longing for that Higher Unity, for the God beyond forms, sees that both the idol-house and the Kaba reach to the same end, whenever it is God, and nothing else, that is sought through them, and beyond them. As Aynulquḍāt Hamadānī wrote in the 12th century:

      I will set this creed
          and religion on fire,
      and put Your love
         in their place. 
      How long must I hide
         Your love in my heart? 
      My goal is You,
         not a creed or religion. 

Evil and good constitute together the very symbol and archetype of duality. Evil and good can never be conjoined, only confused, on the plane of duality. But when ones heart rises beyond duality, moved by existential love for that Transcendent Being who is Pure Unity beyond all opposites, then beyond these two extremes a reconciling Unity is discovered. A Unity which appeases the war that reigns between extremes in whoever and whatever exists according to the rules of this plane of duality, and to whom and which a radical choice between opposites is demanded.
   Opposites both participate in a common reality, as day and night balance together the diurnal cycle, as male and female participate together in human nature. Without the possibility for evil, what would be the meaning of good? How could we even apprehend it? But is the good which is the opposite of evil truly the good we are meant to pursue? Is the light which is the opposite of darkness the True Light? Is the belief which is the opposite of doubt true certitude (yaqīn)? Is there not a Higher Good that transcends the duality of both good and evil, and reconciles them on a higher plane, where evil is understood as as a means of learning what goodness is, and goodness as a means of learning what evil is?
   The solution to this tension is neither to live in a never-ending quest for the liberation of good from the clutches of evil, for the elimination of all evil, crookedness, darkness, doubt, impurity, and so on; nor is it to embrace both equally in confused carelessness as to what is what. The solution is not to make this relative good, which is the opposite of evil, ones aim and goal. For this relative good is never free from mixture with evil, and the battle between them will never end so long as we conceive them as enemies. The solution is not to seek one opposite and deny the other. Rather, looking beyond them both, having become a lover of that Pure Good that has no opposite, it is to live for that Pure Peace beyond both war and peace that reconciles all enmities, for that Pure Oneness which exists beyond both one and two.