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Corbin & Suhrawardi-From the Book of Tablets: ‘Of Active Imagination’

Painting, Shahnameh, Qazvin school, 1576, Reza Abbasi Museum, Tehran, Iran.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is another excerpt from ‘L’ Ange Pourpre, quinze traités de Sohrawardi’. Fayard, 1976. We continue here with Henry Corbin and his French translation of Sohrawardi’s major treatises with chapter XII of tablet 4 the ‘The Book of Tablets.’ (Al-Alwah al-‘Imadiyyah). Page 113 to 116. English translation by Via-HYGEIA.


Of the active Imagination, sometimes tree rising from Mount Sinai, sometimes cursed tree

When active Imagination is wholly preoccupied by spiritual realities, and when she focuses meditating about the divine sciences, it is then the blessed tree (Qur’an 24/35), because, as a tree has branches and bear fruits, the Imagination as well has branches which are the different sort of thoughts, and upon these branches we pick the fruit which is the light of certitude. This is the meaning of the Quranic verse: “He is the One who placed, for you, some fire within the verdant tree.” (36/80). The tree, it is this intellective Imagination. It’s verdancy, are the knowledges that contemplative meditation brings birth to. The fire, sets its action to return within the sacrosanct world. And this is what another verse typify: “Have you considered the fire that you make spring out?” (56/71), that is the secondary knowledges and the sacrosanct breaths you reach from the primary and innate knowledges. “Is it you that is growing this tree, or it is us that are growing it?” (56/72).

Another verse confirms it: “We made a tree spring out of Mount Sinai’. (23/20). Mount Sinai is the intellective horizon (of the pure intelligences). The (olive) tree produces oil and certain relishes for those who eat it for food. In other words, it is by this tree (the intellective Imagination) that we get the oil of the pure intelligences, and this oil puts the soul in a state proper to welcome the sacrosanct dazzling, to bear the conflagration of the lamp of certitude and the fiery presence of the SAKINA. Because, the divine sciences are the bread of the soul, as they are also the ‘bread of the Angels’, Pythagoras alludes to in his symbols and David in his psalms. In Arabic, Khobz al-Mala’ika, in Persian, Nan-e fereshtegan; in Latin, Panus angelicus. And this ‘bread of the angels’, it is the Sakina/Shekhina. Wadud Tabrizi adds in his commentary: “The bread of the angeli intellectuales and of the Angeli caelestes, as they don’t need any other food.” The sacrosanct flaming lights are the food that perpetuates their existence. And it is to this tree (the intellective Imagination) that this Qur’anic verse alludes to: “A blessed tree, an olive tree, which is neither from the East nor from the West” (24/35). Neither Eastern, which is purely intellective, nor Western, which is purely material. And this tree is the same with Mose’s tree, the flaming bush he heard the call from in the blessed Valley, when he says: “I see a Fire” (28/29) on the side of Mount Sinai. It is of the same tree that the words of this verse allude: “Igniting without a fire touching it” (24/35). This blazing fire it’s the sacrosanct Father (al-Ab al moqaddas), the HOLY SPIRIT (Ruh al-Qods), and it is the very Fire that proclaims: “Blessed are those in the Fire, the blessed who are wedded to HIM, and blessed are those who are around the Fire.” (27/8), who are the ‘Fedeli d’Amore’ that are observing attentively this Fire.

Our souls are the lamps that this sublime Fire ignites, according to this verse which is referring to this sacrosanct Fire and declares about Moses: “Behold Moses saw a Fire, He said to his family: ‘Stay here’.” (20/10). These last words mean a renouncing of his family, that is to say, his external and internal senses, according to this other verse: “Take off your two sandals” (20/12). And again, this other verse: “He saw a Fire on the side of Mount Sinai” (28/29) and this one: “Blessed who is in the Fire” (27/8) are in harmony with this one: “Maybe will I bring you some burning firebrand” (20/10), meaning a mass of blazing Fire. If we investigate further, this verse: “Blessed are those who are around the fire” (27/8) is in harmony with this other verse: “I will bring you some news” (27/7). In brief, the burning firebrand is for those who are themselves in the Fire (those who reached Haqq al-yaqin), while the ‘news’ is for those who are still around this Fire.

Take good heed of the eloquence of divine Revelation, how it expresses itself in parables, how it refers to the immaterial soul and to the things of the soul (intellective and intelligible) using sensible images, in conformity with what this verse tells: “God sets forth Parables for men, in order that they may receive admonition.” (14/25). And this verse testifies of it: “These parables we will set forth for mankind, but only those understand them who have knowledge.” (29/42). There is a verse that has a similar line: “There is in yourself (in your souls) Signs; don’t you see them?” (51/21). And this one: “We will show them Signs in the horizons and in their souls” (41/53) suggests that the marvels of the macrocosm have their image and their correspondences in the microcosm which man is. And this other verse is in harmony with the preceding ones: “All the testimonies that we tell you about the prophets are meant to firm your heart; in these testimonies come, beside Truth, an exhortation and a reminder to the believers.” (11/120).

In contrast, when active Imagination (here the phantasis) throws itself upon the things that are under the rule of the senses, and wanders ceaselessly from one thing to another, it prevents the soul to perceive the intelligibles and bring into her trouble and disruption. She is then (not the blessed tree anymore but) the tree a verse of the Qur’an speaks of, in the context of certain dreams, the ‘cursed tree’ (17/62). It is her, the scattered active imagination, which then confuses, mixes everything, troubles and perverts all things authentic. She is, as it is said in another verse: “similar to a bad tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, lacking any implantation.” (14/31), because she is ceaselessly in movement, unstable, never pausing.

This phantasis, perpetually in movement in the sensible things, it is the mountain that interferes between the intellective world (the world of the pure intelligences) and our souls. Don’t you see that when MOSES asks for vision, it was replied to him: “You will not see me, however, look at this mountain; if it stays motionless at its place, you will see me.” (7/143). Because this interfering mountain, in perpetual motion, prevents the soul (to have blinks of the sacrosanct world). Therefore, when the sacrosanct revelation springs from the un-real world of the phantasis, it crushes this interfering mountain, in accordance with what this verse says: “When the Lord manifested Himself upon the mountain, he crushed it and flattened it, and Moses fell down in a swoon.” (7/143). The rule of the human condition was interrupted by the manifestation of the rule of divine Reality. Having come closer to the spiritual Fire, the soul becomes burning and luminous, hidden from the vision of the multitude, immerged in the light of eternal subsistence.

The mystical theosophists (those who have the experience of the ta’alloch, of the theosis) preserve their secrets concerning the manner in which the soul finds its deliverance into the divine world, secrets we alluded to in our ‘Book of the Oriental Theosophy’ (hikmat al-Ishraq).


About Suhrawardi: 🌿 About Henry Corbin:
Corbin & Suhrawardi-From the Book of Tablets: ‘Of Active Imagination’

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