The outstanding significance of the Lawāih of Nur-ud-Din Abd-ur-Rahman Jāmi and the quality which puts this work apart in the list of mystical treatises is that it, in a scholarly fashion, offers a theologico-mystical doctrine of what the mind and heart of the mystic experiences in communion with the Divine.
The text of the Lawāih has been known for a long time in the translation of Whinefield, but it is an outstanding service rendered to the better knowledge of the system of thought of this great and famous writer, that Mr. Ahmed G. Chagla has adapted and re-arranged the lengthy texts in concise, short and well chosen sentences which strictly follow the argument of the author, dividing the text in different "Flashes" and thus giving to the work a compactness which makes it easy to read and easy to study in its deepest meanings. The re-arrangement of the work in "Flashes" - each into seven sub-divisions - and the titles, are by Mr. Chagla.
The five flashes in which the work has been divided, each of them expresses a definite and necessary part of the doctrine of mystical experience. In the First Flash the author explains what the human contribution to mystical experience should be and in the subsequent Flashes he describes, delimitates, and explains what the real mystical experience entails of wonderful depths and what it teaches to the soul about nature, the qualities of the divine, both in God and in the mystical soul which is as the mazhar, the 'theatre', of the divine.
In order to emphasize the fundamental positions in theological learning as the author explains them in his book, we will go through the different chapters in the hope that these short notes may not only be a guide to the right understanding of the book but also a sharpening of the taste for God, which the teaching of the author certainly will enlarge further and even satisfy to a certain extent.
THE FIRST FLASH (MAN)
The teaching of this chapter gives to the whole treatise a definite character. It definitely excludes quietism, fatalism in any form, and also pantheism.
The state of communion, unification, annihilation is, as the author explains, not merely the work of human endeavor. On the contrary, it is Truth, and therefore God Himself, Who produces these states, as the author says in "Annihilation". His own words are: "through the overpowering influence of Truth upon the inner man there remains no consciousness of aught besides Him".
From the other side it is not mere quietism. Man also has his part to play, as said in "Habit and Endeavour". Here a human role is admitted: "You must be on the alert that you may always be in the sense of intimate relationship..... that you maintain this relationship continually..... by emancipating yourself from attention to contingent forms.....which is possible only through hard striving".
The human role which is absolutely necessary for the divine work to have its effect, is this ascetical preparation of the soul in the 'via Purgativa', or as the author says, in "Unification" in: "purifying the heart and expelling from it attachment to all things other than the Truth".
Only after that is done the direct divine influence can wrap the soul in a mysterious communion (of "Divine attraction") which does not leave the human soul helpless but demands from it that it shall exert all its endeavor to develop and strengthen the experience caused by the divine attraction and simultaneously banish whatever is incompatible therewith.
This is clearly the via Purgative common to all sane and real mysticism because it distinguishes between human and divine activity and demands from the mystical soul that preparation which is necessary, in order that God may illumine the soul with His divine grace.
But does the author teach, that the outcome of this cleansing of the heart necessarily forces God to grant the exceptional graces of mystical union? The author does not state this position clearly, but one would almost conclude that this is admitted in his teaching, where he says in "MAN": Persevere in the cleansing of your heart "until He mingles Himself in your soul". If that is the case it would falsify a consistent mystical teaching, because it would give to the creature in some way power over God's own grace and benefits. It would also be contrary to what the author has stated above.
THE SECOND FLASH (BEING)
In the second and following Flashes the author explains what the mystical experience teaches about the nature of God and of the universe. God is the real Being, he says, and the only real Existence, because the existence of any being other than God exists only in thought (of. "Existence"). The author does not intend this to mean pure idealism or pantheism as is clear from what he says in the same paragraph: "The Self-Sufficient ..... on whom the existence of all other things depend and still more where he says that this idealism is "the attested experience of the intuitive apprehension of 'Men of Certitude'". It is the privileged souls who have been drawn to the vision of God and have seen that from His thought (Verbum, Logos) all creation springs so that seen in Him the creatures look like accidents. Being not only created by the Word of God they are also constantly kept in God's mind and His love. The mystic in his exalted state while favoured by intuition sees that as he is himself so also the whole creation is contained in the creative Self-Knowledge of God's own Word or, as St. Augustine says in the "Confessions": "Do the heaven and the earth then contain Thee, since Thou fillest them? Or does Thou fill them and yet overflow, since they do not contain Thee ..... art Thou wholly everywhere, while nothing contains Thee wholly?"
In the doctrine of God's attributes the author is clearly emancipated from the orthodox theological teaching of some Islamic schools, as well as from the early Mu'tazilite teaching. The attributes are distinct from God only in thought while in fact they are He really. The attributes which the author explains as divine attributes are: Power, Knowledge, Will. These he calls modes, which though distinct from each other in idea and therefore distinct from the real Being, in fact and reality they are nevertheless identical with Him. These attributes are not in Him many existences, but various modes. Did not St. Augustine say: "The three I spake of are: To Be, To Know, and To Will. For I Am, and Know and Will; I am Knowing and Willing; and I Know myself to Be and to Will; and I Will to be and to Know. In these Three then, let him discern that can, how inseparable a life there is, yea one life, one mind and one essence, yea lastly how inseparable a distinction there is, yea one life, one mind and one essence, yeas lastly how inseparable a distinction there is, and yet a distinction". Jāmi's doctrine comes very near St. Augustine's teaching about the Trinitarian view where we read in "Manifestation": "In the first Manifestation the Real Being revealed Himself of Himself to Himself".
This is the Manifestation in God Himself which was concealment before it was manifested in subsequent manifestations to the mystical souls.
In "Unity and Singleness" the author carries this teaching further. Unfortunately his meaning seems not to be as clear as we might have hoped for. The great fact which is brought out with emphasis is the distinction between Unity (Ahadiyyat) and Singleness (Wahadiyyat). What makes the real meaning of this passage rather cryptic is the very first sentence, where the author says: "the first self-revelation of the Real Being is a pure Unity and a simple potentiality". Unconditioned by modes and qualities this Being is called Unity, but conditioned by modes and qualities it is called Singleness. If we dare to suggest an explanation it would be the following one: that in the eyes of the creature that distinction in God of modes and qualities nevertheless always points at His Singleness and at His "Whole". As the "Whole" He is the Creator, Sustainer, etc. In His Singleness - His Uniqueness - He is Unity as well, namely the Unity of that what in His Self-Revelation consists in: Knowledge, Light, Existence, and Presence as explained in "Manifestation" - in short, those attributes which pertain to the Divinity and Sovereignty.
This God, Who as the Whole pervades the creation in "Forms and Modes" is seen as a form of Macrocosmos in which God's attributes and names receive their specific values. He seems to say that the whole world with all its substances reflects as in a theatre (mazhar) the most intimate character of God Himself, but of God as the "Unity of the Whole", Who is a God of absolute Singleness (Uniqueness) but in Himself a God of Unity. Or, as he says at the end of the second Flash, Istijlā is the jalā as contained in the inner divine life, namely the manifestation of the Real Being to Himself, this wonderful and unintelligible manifestation of the Absolute Self-Sufficient Who is Life and Knowledge and Being.
THE THIRD FLASH (THE ONE)
The whole of the author's teaching in this book testifies to the desire to build his mystical theory on a firm fundamental theological basis. This is indeed its outstanding quality. Knowing how difficult this is if it is a matter of theological and mystical teaching we should not be upset if we are confronted with problems where terminology is concerned. So one may ask: what does the author really mean by necessity and contingency in his first chapter of the Third Flash about "Abstraction". Are the archetypal ideas, generated in God's Self-Revelation as Being, Knowledge and Life or Love necessary or contingent? What can he mean by contingency in God where he defines: contingency is His external quality? This problem becomes even more complicated where he says that the divine modes, namely all the distinctions whether they are called difference and properties or appearance and characteristics, are represented under the form of the "archetypal ideas" in the stage called "Divine Thought" or Knowledge.
After he has forcibly drawn the line in "Transcendence" between Creator and creature, where he says that the Truth comprehends all beings as a cause comprehends its consequences and therefore does not comprehend them as a whole containing them as parts, after in "Changelessness" he quite clearly has explained the relationship between the Absolute Being and His creatures, which are His manifestations in modes and facets and as such connections and relations, connections however which cause no change at all in the Absolute, after all those very sound and revealing doctrines the author seems suddenly to go astray where he understands God's Absolute Being to be conditioned by a relative. But let us be careful not to do the author an injustice. It is as if he by this seeming contradiction wants to draw our full attention to what he makes follow in the conclusion about the essence of God, where he says: "that in the inner life He, the Absolute, has as it were a relative, because in Himself God is the lover and the beloved, the seeker and the sought, and therefore Existence, Knowledge, and Love. Well, if this relative is even possible in the inner life of God it must be reflected in the manifestation of the Absolute in creation.
Consequently in "Permanence" the argument goes on to say that the intelligible world as a permanent and immediate manifestation of the Being Itself is intelligible only in relation to the divine ideas. To accept any ideas in the intelligible world and meanwhile to accept that they could exist without this Being would be equal to atheism, because ideas are only intelligible ideas because they are manifestations of His self-revelation.
Here lies, according to the author, the main weight of his argument: In short, it is the intelligible world just as it is in the world of Being. The "Interlocution" and "Communication" underlies all existence even though it be in different degrees of sensibility or intelligibility. Just as the being points at the Being, thus intelligibility points at the Intelligible Idea. But here he repeats with force: beware lest you were to confuse the created with the Uncreated even in the names which they respectively are given.
Even after the explanations which have been given, the mystery nevertheless stands. In the first degree God is unmanifested, exempt from all limitation or relationship, so that He cannot be described by epithets or attributes or even designated by spoken or written word. Every attempt to know Him in this first degree would only result in utter stupefaction. In the following degrees of manifestations He is seen pervading the whole of creation from the mundane and contingent potential existences to the expressions of the universal soul in so far as all these pertain to the sensible world or at least to the exterior and sensible part of the intelligible world.
One feels, however, that all these distinctions are rather spun out in lengthy explanations and might even cause confusion without enhancing the real theological teaching. They are rather meant to serve as points of meditation if duly seen in their subservient role to the whole and to the main parts of the doctrine.
THE FOURTH FLASH (THE TRUTH)
As "Truth" God is one even though He may appear as multiple by reason of the numerous qualities in which He reveals Himself in substances and accidents. As Logos the "Truth is concealed in the Divine Mind" but His Manifestation through creation represents God n thousand different ways, every one of them created according to the reality to which it corresponds in the Truth of God. Thus the Reality is present in the "Universe" which in its substance is changed and unceasingly renewed at every moment and at every breath.
It would seem that the author confesses himself here a disciple of a atomistic Ash'arite teaching. Because he thinks that the Ash'arites teach that only accidents do not exist for two moments together, he erroneously says that they do not teach real atomism such as he wants to uphold himself. What the Ash'arites really teach is that because the accidents change every moment and because no substance can be without an accident, according to them, therefore, also the substances change every moment. He also objects to Idealism, but the reason is not so clear, because their teaching seems to be the same as his own. According to him the Idealists teach that in all parts of the universe, whether substances or accidents, there is continual change, such as he teaches himself.
With the Sophists he upholds the ideality of the universe but what makes his doctrine different from theirs is that according to him the Real Being underlies this ideality.
We must, however, not be unduly hard on the author for these teachings. Atomism as much as idealism, however much they may resemble the objectionable teachings of those schools, are proposed by the author only in order to enhance the mystery of God's all-pervading presence and action. His doctrine is not meant to be understood on a philosophical basis, but as a theologico-political expression of happenings which otherwise would lay outside the bounds of human language.
In "The Mystery" he carries on the same considerations. Again the atomistic character is fully emphasized. But what he here clothes in the appearances of atomism is that doctrine which pervades the whole book: that for the mystical soul there is only one substance. Consequently he can say in "The Essence" that "the universe is nothing more than a combination of accidents". Everything is as it were accident to the Real Existence or, as he says, "a single essence, that is the Truth or Very Being". How far the author is from real atomism is explicitly stated where he defines man as a rational being. Animal is defined, he says, as a "growing and sentient body, possessed of the faculty of voluntary movement". This is inconsistent with atomism first of all by its denial of predestinarian views and secondly by the fact that in atomism it would be a constantly renewed and therefore a constantly different subject in which an automatic and not a voluntary movement inheres. Nor could in that case a substance possibly be conceived as an entity which exists per se.
Against the philosophers the author brings forward a mystical consideration of the universe in which the Truth is the Very Being and all else is like accidental to the Truth. In relation to God all the particular substances are like accidents. However pantheistic this may sound ..... we have seen how strongly he rejects Pantheism! What bears like the appearance of pantheism and atomism is his special care to impress on us the truth of God's all-pervading presence and activity.
In "Unity" the author explains how all those accidental properties in creation, while present in the Divine Knowledge, cloak this Being for us in the veil of beauty. For the ordinary onlooker these creatures look like outward sensible objects but for the one who is initiated by divine grace into the sense of God, they are a concealment of God Himself, Who is the all-embracing Unity.
This doctrine is further explained in "Identity". He says the image of a thing is the same as the thing and is yet not the same. In the case of God's image, however, things are different. "All His Manifestations are identical with the theatres wherein they are manifested". "In all such theatres He is manifested in His own essence". This means that the things are divine because there is identity between God and the things. He is immanent in everything through His creating and preserving power. What kind of atomism he really professes is clear where he says: "outward existence can perform no act of itself. Its acts are those of the Lord immanent in it". Consequently power and action are ascribed to the creature and yet it is not really the creature but God in him who effects the actions.
Even though his doctrine might seem to involve atomism and a sort of pantheism the author makes it quite clear that he founds his doctrine on a kind of immanence which the Ash'arites would call "shirk". He rejects Ash"arism even stronger where he says in "The Good": "Being qua being is good", denying therefore that God can be the author of evil and sin just as the philosophers hold.
THE FIFTH FLASH (KNOWLEDGE)
In the last part of his work Jāmi, referring to the "Nusus" of Shaikh Saduddin Qunairi, says that knowledge is found in different degrees according to the perfection of being. "The more necessary Being a thing has, the greater its knowledge". Just as this is true of knowledge it is also true of the other perfections pertaining to Being such as life, power, will, etc.
Because of the immanence of essential knowledge of the truth in all things whatsoever, there is some knowledge in every creature even if it be only in the lower degrees of instinct and in general through the natural law. Just as water that through the knowledge imparted to it by the natural law does run downwards and avoids to rise. As the author says in "Purity": "the reality of existence is the essence of the Truth".
Resuming the whole argument at the end of the book in "Reconciliation" the author says clearly that the Majesty of Truth is revealed in two manners. The first manner is inward, subjective, and is called "Most Holy Emanation". It consists in the Self-Manifestation of the Truth to His own conciousness from all eternity under the forms of substances .....". From the Divine knowledge and will "the archetypal ideas of the intelligible world and also their characteristics and capacities" result.
The second manifestation is the outward, the objective revelation or the creation, which is called :the Holy Emanation" or the manifestation of the copy of the intelligible world such as has been described in the foregoing chapters.
It would seem from this examination of the doctrine proposed in this book, that while at first sight one might conclude to pantheistic, atomistic, predestinarian and even idealistic and emanatistic teaching, the author evidently has first of all in mind, be it even with the help of conflicting doctrines, to convey to the reader something of the mystery which is in itself unspeakable. Even though he uses those doctrines as a help and a means for clarification on specific points, it would seem to be quite clear that through the whole work runs one decisive teaching, It is, that for the mystic's eye the workings of God are mysteriously near to man and even immanent in every single creature but most of all in the human mind itself. Everything is possessed of God and for the earnest seeker the veils which hide Him will recede, or at least can recede if God so wills, once man - as the author started to say in the first part - by ascetical striving and self-abnegation, has prepared himself in order that God may enlighten him with grace. The great questin which ultimately decides the real character of this teaching lies in the fact whether the author considers this special grace to be of a natural or of a supernatural order. If the grace is of a natural kind, man may be favoured to see deeper into the reality of things, but it will never be God's own reality which he reaches but always His image which he in its highest form might grasp in natural intuition. But if the grace is supernatural, if it is a real gift of divine nature, only then the possibility arises that man after ascetical purification of the heart and of the whole mind may possibly be favoured with an intuition that can reach God is His own nature.
Even though it would seem that the author assigns the main role to God, this does nevertheless not do away with the fact that it is natural theology under neo-platonic influences which the author here proposes. To give a satisfactory explanation of mystical teaching which is free from pantheistic or monistic tendencies it is absolutely necessary that the author should explain what his point of view is in this matter. Transcendence of God id incompatible with every kind of immanence as long as one does not admit a special, supra-natural influence coming from God which lifts man from the natural plain to a divine one in which he participates really and truly in divine Truth itself. However, even though the author does not seem to have seen this issue, he may nevertheless have been moved by wonderful workings of God, which he wanted to express even though he did not dare to bring this mystery into the mazhar (theatre) of human words.
- J.J.A.M. Houben -
This concludes the Introduction by Professor J. J. A. M. Houben. The actual excerpts from Jāmi's Lawāih, as adapted and arranged by Mr. Ahmed Ghulamali Chagla, will commence on the next page. -AKC-