Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Some Notes on al-Hikma al-Yamaniyya

It was in a conversation with Ali Owjabi in Tehran almost 8 years ago that I first seriously considered how a school of 'Yemeni philosophy' provided an alternative to Sadrian philosophy.
The school of Mīr Dāmād was known as the Yemeni philosophy (al-ḥikma al-yamāniyya). His method involved a presentation of philosophy that existed before him primarily from the school of Avicenna, which he labels as ‘Greek philosophy’ (ḥikma yunāniyya) and then a critical exposition of the position replacing it with his improved argument which he described as ‘ḥikma yamāniyya’ based on the famous saying attributed to the Prophet: ‘Faith is Yemeni and wisdom is Yemeni (al-īmān yamānī wa-l-ḥikma yamāniyya).’ He considered all previous schools of thought (Peripatetic and Illuminationist philosophy, Ashʿarī theology, and even Twelver Šīʿī theology) to be incomplete and unreliable and their understanding of reality. His Yemeni position is not a purely ratiocinative one and extends knowledge and understanding beyond the confines of discourse (baḥṯ) and reason to the non-propositional, intuitive (ḏawq), immediate and mystically disclosed (kašf). Often he presents his argument by stating that he will first examine the ‘Greek’ philosophical position and then move onto the Yemeni one. As his primary concern is with the philosophy of theistic creation, his Yemeni philosophy is deployed to solve the problems of time and creation.

In Flaming Embers and Epiphanies (Jadhavāt va mawāqīt), a thoughtful contemplation written in Persian (his only major work in that language) of Moses’ encounter with the theophany of the burning bush on Mount Sinai, he describes different conceptions and level of creation:

Causation – which is a term for emanation, ‘making’ and bringing into existence – in the doctrine of ‘those rooted in knowledge’ (rāsiḫīn ʿulamāʾ) and the metaphysicians of Greek philosophy (ḥikmat-i yūnānī) and of Yemeni philosophy (ḥikmat-i yamānī) is of four types: ibdāʿ (origination, creatio ex nihilo), ikhtirāʿ (production), ṣunʿ (fashioning or creation in the higher intelligible world) and takwīn (generation or creation in the sub-lunar world).

Later in the same text, he analyses the ‘Yemeni’ understanding of numerical order and the existence of Platonic numbers as first-order emanations from the One, an important element of the argument concerning levels of creation from the One.

In one of his most important works on philosophical theology which like many others remained unfinished, primarily concerned with the problem of creation, The Straight Path (al-Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm), Mīr Dāmād set out what he intended to do in the work:

The one most desirous among creation for his Lord the Self-Sufficient, Muḥammad b. Muḥammad known as Bāqir Dāmād al-Ḥusaynī – may God make his afterlife good – presents to you, O brothers of mysticism, and expounds for you, O brothers of retreat and solitude, a solution to the confusion caused in you by the mass of teachers attempting to reveal the difficult relationship between the Eternal and the incipient, and [aims] to ease its difficulties with clear thought according to the method of Greek philosophy and of Yemeni philosophy and to investigate the discourse of those expounders and to wither them away with form writing and forthright exposition.

He clearly thought that those who had written before him on the issue of creation and time, including Avicenna, had failed to convince and he felt that he could produce a more robust argument and pin his Yemeni philosophy on the central doctrine of perpetual creation. Later in the text before he embarks on the main discussion of the doctrine, he distinguishes three types of prior non-existence based on Yemeni philosophy:

According to what we have acquired from the mature Yemeni philosophy ripened by the faculty of the intellect, obtained through demonstrative syllogisms and divine inspirations, it appears that incipience has three possible meanings:
First of them is the priority of the existence of a thing by essential non-existence and this is named according to the philosophers ‘essential creation’ (ḥudūṯ ḏātī)…
The second of them is the priority of a thing by its non-existence in perpetuity and eternity that is atemporal such that the thing is non-existent in a real sense through pure non-existence that is not qualified by continuity and its opposite. It then moves from this pure non-existence to existence and would appear to be the most appropriate to be termed it [incipience], that is perpetual creation (ḥudūṯ dahrī).
The third of them is the priority of the existence of the thing by its non-existence in time so that its existence is preceded by an element of time and this is called by the theologians temporal creation (ḥudūṯ zamānī).

The very notion of perpetual creation is directly related to his school of Yemeni philosophy. In al-Ufuq al-mubīn (The Clear Horizon), the text which was so popular in India, he begins by saying that the work on the nature of the metaphysics of theistic creation is the result of what came to him from ‘matured Yemeni philosophy and the pure, ecstatic philosophy of faith’.