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]

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