Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, is an excerpt from professor Algis Uždavinys’ work ‘Ascent to Heaven in Islamic and Jewish Mysticism’, published in 2011 by The Matheson Trust. ‘The motif of ascent to Heaven may be viewed as an archetypal topic of exceptional metaphysical importance in the history of religious and philosophical discourse.‘(From the Introduction).
Chapter 21-The Journey Through The Divine Names
The Name of God is the coincidence of all opposites,1 therefore the Sufi gnostic travels (ascends and descends) within the cosmic Book (inside the Name’s body), himself being a written (and animated) word of the same Text:
‘God makes him journey through His Names, in order to cause him to see His Signs (17:1) within him. Thus (the servant) comes to know that He is what is designated by every divine Name whether or not that Name is one of those described as “beautiful”…. Thus when God makes the saint (al-wali) travel through His most beautiful Names to the other Names and (ultimately) all the divine Names, he comes to know the trans formations of his states and the states of the whole world’.2
Ibn ‘Arabi provides several accounts of his own mi’raj. According to Brooke Olson Vuckovic: “Ibn ‘Arabi asserts that an individual’s spiritual capacity is something that is unalterable, which explains why only a few are able to complete the journey to heaven. Such a journey is an initiation rite….Those who ascend are of various ranks, somewhere between the novices, the prophets, and Ibn ‘Arabi.”3
During these spiritual journeys, different celestial sanctuaries and gardens with their “ascending steps” are revealed, but the traveller is striving to attain the vision of his pre-existent self and recognize his archetypal Lord. Ibn ‘Arabi presents descriptions of his mi’raj that are simultaneously cosmographic pictures of a dreamlike reality, manuals of mystical training, and guides of one’s creative theosophical imagination. In fact, the whole journey is an invocation which is dramatically externalized and turned into an amazing miraculous narrative in which even the stones are glorifying and invoking God. This is so, because all visible and invisible forms of the dynamic cosmic Text (like the different modes of Plotinian contemplation, theoria, of descent and ascent) are designated as “faces” (wujuh) of God. It means that the perfection of each thing is tantamount to the visage of al-Zahir, that is, of God (the Name) manifested as an external eidetic composition of being. Therefore Ibn ‘Arabi says: “Know that the Paradise which is pre-destined for those who will come to it in the next life is before your eyes already, this very day….You are there now” (Futuhat al-makkiyyah, III.13).
Chodkiewicz comments on this assertion by mentioning that this is presumably why the Prophet was able to say that the space contained between his tomb and his pulpit is “one of the gardens of Paradise”. Also:
‘The ascent of the wali is an apotheosis of his sight, whereby a reality is revealed to him which has always been present to all beings, but which the majority of them will not perceive in the world unless they have learned how to “die before death”…. This blindness of him who looks at theophanies without seeing them is the root of sin and the very substance of its punishment. Only the man escapes it who is aware of “his own reality”…who knows himself to be the theophany of a divine Name and its place of manifestation (mazhar)’.4
Ibn ‘Arabi emphasizes the difference between the ascents of awliya and those of Muhammad, the last Prophet, whose high rank allows him to travel through the principial or fundamental Light (al-nur al-asli), whereas his mystical followers have access only to what is reflected of it. The ordinary ascenders resemble the Jewish king Buluqia, as described in Alf laylah wa laylah (The Thousand and One Nights). This king travelled from Egypt to the bayt al-maqdis and then ascended to the heavens, meeting Muhammad-Metatron beyond the seven celestial Seas.
According to Ibn ‘Arabi, the awliya ascend to their Wali (their Governor, Lord, with whom the covenant of mutual responsibilities and promises is made) only in spirit, visiting thereby the imaginal realm between this world and the realm of pure divine lights. In spite of this strategical reservation, Ibn ‘Arabi’s ascent or, more precisely, the description of his ascent, constructed in accordance with the rules of the contemporaneous popular literary genre differs little from the Prophet’s mi’raj:
‘For example, both ride Buraq to the heavens, both are welcomed and greeted by the prophets in the same order and fashion; both witness the four rivers of heaven; and both go beyond the Sidrat al-Muntaha. The element of physicality of Muhammad’s journey and the “sight” of God alone differentiate it from that of Ibn ‘Arabi. . . . When Ibn ‘Arabi rises to the same location, he states that he inherits knowledge (‘ilm) about the secrets of this earth and the heavens. Ibn ‘Arabi is not given distinct instructions for his community as a ritual and formal community leader, but instead is given knowledge and the secrets of the heavens as a knowledge and insight leader’.5
This is so, because in the universe of Islam neither Abu Yazid nor Ibn ‘Arabi can play the role of rasul (in the sense of having a successional law-giving mission). However, they still resonate with the faithful followers of Endumeranki, the legendary king of Sippar and one who serves as a prototype of Enoch in Second Temple Judaism. Ibn ‘Arabi states:
‘Know that prophethood and sainthood possess three things in common: a knowledge not derived from study… the faculty of acting through spiritual energy alone (himma)…and finally the sensible vision of the imaginal world (‘alam al-khayal). On the other hand, they differ from each other as far as the divine discourse is concerned, for the divine address to the saint is other than that made to the prophet, and it must not be imagined that the spiritual ascensions (ma’arij, pl. of mi’raj) of the saints are identical to those of the prophets….The ascensions of the prophets are effected by means of the principial Light (al-nur al-asli), whereas those of the saints are effected through what is reflected of this principial light‘.6
1. William C. Chittick, ‘On Sufi Psychology: A Debate between the Soul and the Spirit, Consciousness and Reality’, p. 350.
2. Ibn ‘Arabi’s quotation taken from Dan Merkur, ‘Gnosis’, p. 227.
3. Brooke Olson Vuckovic, ‘Heavenly Journeys, Earthly Concerns: The Legacy of the Mïraj in the Formation of Islam’, New York & London: Routledge, 2005., p. 130.
4. Michel Chodkiewicz, ‘Seal of the Saints’, p. 167.
5. Brooke Olson Vuckovic, pp. 132-33.
6. Michel Chodkiewicz, op. cit., pp. 52-53; see also ‘Ibn ‘Arabi, ‘Risalat al Anwar’, tr. Rabia Terris Harris (New York: Inner Traditions International, 1981), P· 55·
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