Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Mullā Ṣadrā on the esoteric

Not surprisingly, Mullā Ṣadrā has plenty to say about the practice of esotericism, about taʾwīl and the proper attitude one needs to take on the Qurʾan and how one ought to use one's sense perception and intellect to grasp realities. Consider the following:

Know that the Qurʾan like the human is divided into what is enunciated (ʿalan) and what is held secret (sirr), and all of it has an exoteric and an esoteric aspect and the esoteric has a further esoteric aspect and so forth until the point where only God knows: ‘no one knows its meaning (taʾwīl) except God’ (Q. III.7. It is also related in the ḥādīth that ‘the Qurʾan has an exoteric and an esoteric aspect and its esoteric has another seven levels of esotericism’, which are like the levels that are esoteric in the human such as the soul (al-nafs), the heart (al-qalb), the intellect (al-ʿaql), the spirit (al-rūḥ), the secret (al-sirr), the hidden (al-khafī) and the most hidden (al-akhfā). 

What is manifest from what is enunciated (ẓāhir ʿalanihi) is the sensible and tactile artifact and the rolled up scroll that is held, but what is hidden from what is enunciated is what the esoteric sense (al-ḥiss al-bāṭin) perceives and resembles what the reciters and the memorisers store from their perceptions in their imagination and its like. The inner sense cannot perceive the pure meaning but as it is mixed with corporeal accidents even if it seems to be devoid of the sensible. Estimation and imagination like the exoteric sense are not present in the absolutely pure esoteric meaning such as the absolute meaning of humanity but rather in a sense that is mixed in extra-mental reality with accretions and veils such as [the categories] of quantity and quality and place and position. If either of the two [estimation and imagination] attempted to picture the absolute meaning of humanity without an extrinsic element, they would not be able to do so but rather all they could do is affirm a limited form with attachments drawn from the external senses…

These two levels of the Qurʾan are earthly and evident to every human that perceives. However, its esoteric aspect and its secret are two levels for the afterlife and each of them has degrees:

The first of the two is what the human spirit perceives through constituting it from the conception of meaning through definition and its essence, shorn of extrinsic properties, grasped by intelligible principles, such that it may be true of many, uniting in it opposites in unity. An example of this is that the human spirit cannot perceive what has not been stripped away from the stage of creation and shorn away the dust of the senses and not ascended to the stage of the command, since it is not a property of the sensible insofar as it is sensible to intellect just as it is not the property of the intellect to sense through a corporeal instrument. What is pictured through the senses is limited and specific to a place and a space and a time and a quantity and a quality. The intelligible essence cannot rest in what is discerned through the senses. The human spirit, rather, encounters true knowledge through an intelligible substance located in the world of the command, not located in a body, nor pictured through something internal to a sense or through estimation. 

The senses and what pertains to them deploy themselves in the world of creation (ʿālam al-khalq) and the intellect deploys what is in it in the world of command (ʿālam al-amr) and what is above both creation and command is most beloved to them both. God the exalted said: It is a dignifying Qurʾan in a hidden book that none may touch save the purified, a revelation from the Lord of the worlds’ (Q. LVI.77–80). Remember that it has properties that have stages and stations, the highest of which is dignity with God, and the lowest is descended in the world. There is no doubt that the word of God qua his word before its descent to the world of command, that is the preserved table (al-lawḥ al-maḥfūẓ) and before its descent to the world of the heavens of the earth, and that is the tablet of effacement and affirmation (lawḥ al-maḥw wa-l-ithbāt) and the world of creation and determination (ʿālam al-khalq wa-l-taqdīr), has a degree that is above all stages that none of the prophets may perceive except in the station of union, by forgoing these two states of being and by reaching the ‘two bows length or less’ and setting aside the two worlds of creation and command. As the most excellent of the prophets, peace be with him and his progeny: I have a moment with my Lord to which none can attain, neither an angel brought close (malak muqarrab) nor a messenger commissioned (nabī mursal). 

The possessors of this stage is chosen to encounter the Qurʾan with respect to this stage, alluding to this stage in His word, the exalted: None knows its meaning save God and those rooted in knowledge (Q. III.7), and his saying: As for one whose heart God has expanded for submission, such that he is a light from his Lord (Q. XXXIX.22). And in the narration: There is a form of knowledge that is like a hidden thing that none know except the knowers of God. God alluded to the station of the heart and of the esoteric sense in his saying: Verily in that is a reminder to one who possesses a heart or harkens while he witnesses (Q. L.37), and in his saying: Had we listened or had we thought we would not be of the people of the blazing fire (Q. LXVII.10), and in his saying: Shelter him until he hears the word of God (Q. IX.6), and in his saying: There is none among us save that he has a known station (Q. XXXVII.164), alluding to the stations of knowers in the degrees of knowledge, as he said: We raise in degrees whom we will and above every possessor of knowledge is a knower (Q. XII.76), and his saying: Those are the messengers, we favoured some over others (Q. II.253), and his saying: God privileged some of you over others in sustenance (Q. XVI.71).

In sum, the Qurʾan has degrees and levels just as the human has stages and stations. The lowest stage of the Qurʾan like the lowest stage for the human lies in its binding and cover just as the lowest degree of the human lies in its being a creature and passive. Every degree of it (the Qurʾan) has its bearers who memorise it and write it and they do not touch it except after purifying themselves from filth or from their incipience (ḥadathihim aw ḥudūthihim) and they sanctify it above attachment to their location or to their contingency (makānihim aw imkānihim). The husk of the human only pertains to the ink of the Qurʾan and its sensible form. The human of the exoteric husk cannot perceive but the outer meanings of the husk. 

The spirit of the Qurʾan and its core and its secret can only be discerned by those who discern, and it cannot be grasped by knowledge acquired by learning and reflecting, but rather by knowledge from him (al-ʿulūm al-ladunnīya), and we aim to explain these forms of knowledge and establish them by demonstrations God willing.

The reality of wisdom can only come from knowledge that is from him, and if the soul does not reach that stage it cannot be wise since wisdom is a gift from God the exalted: ‘he gives wisdom to whom he wills and whoever has been given wisdom has been given a great good’ (Q. II.269), and they are the ones who have arrived at this stage.

Know that since revelation (waḥī) has come to an end and the gate of messengership been closed, people no longer need messengers and the promulgation of the mission after the confirmation of the proof and the completion of the religion as God the exalted said: This day have I perfected for you your religion’ (Q. V.3).

The gate to inspiration is not closed and the support by the light of guidance has not been cut off since people – drowning as they are in these devilish whisperings – need warning and reminding but God has closed the gate to revelation (waḥī) and opened the gate to inspiration (ilhām) as a mercy from him to his creatures.

Mullā Ṣadrā, Mafātīḥ al-ghayb, I, 65-69.

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