Henry Corbin & Abd al-Karim al-Jili – The Journey of the Stranger & the Conversation with Khidr
Cover of the Suhail Academy 2000 English edition
of Titus Burckhardt’s extracts and French translation
of Jili’s ‘Universal Man’
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of VIa-HYGEIA, is text translated by Henry Corbin, taken from the best-known work of ‘Abd al-Karim Jili, the ‘Book of the Perfect Man’ (Kitab al-insan’ al-kamil), Cairo, 1886 and excerpted as article IV of his selection from traditional texts within his ‘Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth‘, Princeton-Bollingen Series, here the 1989 second edition. From page 153 to 159. The English translation from professor Corbin French is by Nancy Pearson.
‘Abd al-Karim al-Jili (1306-1403) was born near Baghdad, a descendent of the great saint and founder of the Qadiri dervish order, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani. Little has been discovered about his life, save a few glimpses of spiritual autobiography revealed in his writings, but it is known that he travelled in India, and then lived for a time in the Yemen. He produced more than twenty books, of which ‘Universal Man’ (al-Insan al-Kamil) is the most celebrated. His teaching follows that of Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, of which it can be regarded as a systematic exposition, though expressed in a manner which is uniquely his own. (from the Beshara edition of Titus Burckhardt selection of Jili’s ‘Universal Man’)
The Stranger, called by the name of Spirit, journeyed until he had reached the country called the country of Yuh. When he reached that heaven, he knocked on the door of the forbidden threshold.
A voice asked him, “Who are you, the lover knocking on the gate?”
He answered, “One faithful in love, separated from his own. I have been banished from your country. I have wandered far from those like you. I have been bound to the impediments of height and depth, of length and width. I have been imprisoned in the jail of Fire and Water, of Air and Earth. But now that I have severed my bonds, I start to seek an escape from the prison where I had remained….”
Then he found himself in the presence of a personage with white hair, who said to him, “Know that the world to which you return is the world of Mystery (‘iilam al-ghayb, the world of the suprasensory). The men belonging to it are great in num ber; they are sensitively helpful; they possess powerful methods; they provide plenty of scope. He who aspires to rejoin them and to present himself to them, must don their magnificent dress and be perfumed with their soft perfume.”
“Where do I procure garments? Where are these perfumes sold?”
‘The garments can be found in the market of sesame left over as surplus from the remainder of the clay of Adam. As for the perfumes, they can be obtained on the Earth of the Imagination.” If you prefer, you may reverse this explanation: in that case borrow the clothing from the cloth of the Imagination and the perfume from the Earth of sesame. For they are unquestionably two brothers (or two sisters), both belong to the same world called the world of Mystery or world of the suprasensory.’
‘Then I went away, first toward the Earth of Perfection, the original appearance of Beauty, called because of its aspects, ‘World of Imagination.’ In that very place I turned toward a personage in a sublime condition, of a high rank, and with sovereign power. He bore the name: ‘Spirit of Imagination’ (ra al-khayal) and a surname: ‘Spirit of Paradise’ (ra al-jiniin). When I had greeted him and stopped respectfully in front of him, he answered me with many welcoming greetings.’
‘I said to him, ‘Oh my lord, what is this world called the sesame left over from the clay of Adam?’
‘That is the subtle world,’ he said to me, ‘a world forever imperishable, a place that does not pass away with the succession of nights and days. God created it from that clay; he selected this seed from out of the whole mould, then he invested it with an authority that extended to everything, to the great as to the humble…It is an Earth where the impossible becomes possible, where the pure figures of Imagination are contemplated with the senses.‘
‘Will I find a road leading to this extraordinary dwelling, to this strange world?’
‘Certainly! When your active imagination will have attained all its perfection and all its plenitude, your capacity will expand till it makes possible the impossible, till it contemplates suprasensory realities of the Imagination under a sensory mode, till it understands allusive signs and deciphers the secret of the diacritical points of letters. Then you will have woven a garment from these suprasensory realities; when you have put it on, open for yourself a door giving access to the sesame.’
‘Oh my Lord, I fulfil the conditions, for I am already here and now bound by the cable of the concluded pact. I already know, through revelation and personal discovery, that the world of pure spiritual Entities is more manifest and stronger than the world perceived by the senses, as much for intimate experience as for visionary intuition.’
‘Then, after a murmur, he made a sign with his hand, and then I found myself on the Earth of sesame….When I had penetrated into this marvelous Earth and was perfumed with its strangely sweet perfumes, when I had con templated its marvels and strangeness, things so beautiful and so rare that they have still not entered into your thought and cannot be seen either in our world or even in our imaginable world, I sought to ascend to the world of Mystery.
At that moment I again found the Shaikh who had been my first guide, but I ascertained that practice of the divine service had made him so slim that he seemed to be a pure apparition, and that he had grown thinner than one would have thought possible. In spite of that, he had preserved all his inner strength and the same creative spiritual energy; he was just as impetuous and resolute as before, just as prompt both to sit down and to stand up, his brightness was like that of the full moon.
Having greeted him and my greeting having been returned, I said to him, ‘I wish to obtain access to the men of the world of Mystery (rijal al-ghayb, the Invisible Ones, the Superhuman Ones). There is no doubt that I fulfil the conditions.’
‘Then it is the time to enter,’ he said to me. ‘The time to reunite has come.’ With his ring he knocked on the door which remained closed hitherto and it opened very widely. I penetrated into the city of the marvelous Earth; its length and breadth are immense, its inhabitants have a knowledge of God such as is possessed by no other creature. There is no man among them who lets himself be distracted. Its soil is a pure and very white wheat flour; its Heaven is of green emerald. Its sedentary in habitants are of a pure race and of high nobility; they recognize no other king than Khidr (al-Khadir). It was precisely with him that I deposited my luggage. Entering into his presence, I kneeled down and proceeded to present my greetings. In his turn, he bid me welcome as does one friend to another. Then he invited me to be his guest, and with a smile that put me perfectly at ease, he said to me, ‘Well! Now say what you have to say.’
‘My lord,’ I said, ‘I would like to question you about your sublime situation since your condition is so difficult to conceive that our words become entangled when we wish to describe it, although some people blindly persist in so doing.’
‘I am,’ he said to me, ‘transcendent reality, and I am the tenuous thread that brings it very close. I am the secret of man in his act of existing, and I am that invisible one (al-batin, the absconditum, the esoteric) who is the object of worship. I am the cylinder that contains the Essences, and I am the multitude of tenuous threads projected forth as mediators. I am the Shaikh with the divine nature, and I am the guardian of the world of human nature. I cause myself to be in every concept and to be manifested in every dwelling. I appear epiphanized through every form, and I make a “sign” visible in every Sura. My condition is to be esoteric, unusual. My situation is to be the Stranger, the traveler. My permanent dwelling place is the mountain of Qaf. My halting place is the A’raf. I am he who stands at the confluence of the two seas, the one who plunges into the river of the Where, the one who drinks from the source of the source. I am the guide of the fish in the sea of divinity. I am the secret of the embryo, and I already bear the adolescent. I am the initiator of Moses. I am the First and the Last diacritical point. I am the unique Pole that is the sum of all. I am the Light that scintillates. I am the full moon rising. I am the decisive word. I am the splendor of consciences. I am the desire of the seekers. Only the Perfect Man (al-insan al-kamil), the ingathered Spirit, reaches and finds access to me. As for all the others, my rank is well above the dwelling place where they are established. They have no knowledge of me; they see no vestige of me. On the other hand, their dogmatic belief takes shape for them in some one of the forms of religion professed by men. They masquerade ridiculously in my name; they paint my symbol on their cheek. Then the ignorant, the inexperienced, rests his gaze there, and he imagines that indeed to be what bears the name Khidr. But how is that related to me, what have I to do with that? Or rather, what is this poor cup in relation to my jar? Unless it is said, in truth, that this is also a drop of my ocean, or an hour of my eternity, since its reality is that of a tenuous thread among my tenuities, and that the way followed by those is a way among my ways. Then, in this sense, I am also this fallacious star.’
‘What is the distinctive sign?’ I asked him then, ‘the symbol of one who reaches you, of one who takes up lodging in your outer sanctuary near you?’
‘His distinctive sign,’ he said to me, ‘is concealed in the knowledge of the creative power, its exalted knowledge is involved in the science of the essencification of the Essences.’
‘Then I questioned him on the different categories of the ‘men of the Invisible’ (rijlll al-ghayb, those of the world of Mystery).’
‘There are some among them,’ he said to me, ‘who are Adamites, and there are some among them who are pure spiritual entities. They form six categories differing as to rank.
The first category is the preeminent one; they are the Perfect Ones, the great Initiates who follow in the footsteps of the prophets and who remain invisible to the creatures of this world, because they are hidden in the Mystery which is designated as the plane on which the Merciful is enthroned. They are not known, they cannot be described, although they are Adamites.
The second category consists of the intimates of supra sensory planes, the Spirits that inspire the hearts. The spiritual Guide manifests by taking their form, in order that mortals be led by them to inner and outer perfection. They are Spirits; they are, so to speak, pure apparitional forms, in that they have the faculty of producing a visual representation of themselves. They travel, taking their departure from this visible world; they reach as far as the field of the mystery of being. Afterwards, they may pass from the hidden to the visible state. Their breath is entirely a divine service. They are the pillars of the Earth, keeping watch for God over the tradition and precepts.
The third category are the Angels of inspiration and impulses who, during the night visit the Initiates and converse with the Spirituals; they do not show themselves in the world of sensory perception; they are not known by ordinary men.
The fourth category are the men of confidential psalms throughout their ecstasy. They are perpetually out of their world. If one ever meets them, it is always in another place than where they were supposed to be found. They manifest to other men by taking form in the world of sensory perception. When the Spirituals happen to meet them on these detours, they initiate them into the mysteries of the invisible and inform them of realities kept secret.
The fifth category are the men of the wild lands; they are the privileged in the world. They are a race of Adamites, they can make themselves visible to humans, then they conceal them selves. When they are addressed, they answer. Most often, their dwellings are in the mountains and in the deserts, in streambeds or on riverbanks. Sometimes there are sedentary ones among them; then they choose among the cities some dwelling where they elect to reside; but it is not a place in which they would put their trust, any more than it satisfies the desired ambitions.
The sixth category are those who resemble sudden inspirations of thought, having nothing in common with demonic suggestions. They are children whose father is mental discourse and whose mother is the active imagination. No one pays any attention to what they say; their like do not inspire ardent desire. They are between the false and the true; they are both people who have lifted the Veil and people who remain in front of the Veil. “And God is the True, he is the guide on the Way” (Qur’an, 33: 4 ). “Near him is the archetype of the Book” (Qur’an, 13:39, umm al-kitab, “the mother of the Book”).’
Nancy Pearson, after years spent in India and the Far East, encountered the Work in England. At the end of World War II, she followed the Ouspenskys to Franklin Farms in New Jersey. At one time, she was secretary to J.G. Bennett and at another to John Steinbeck. She was a writer and translator, her translations including works of Henry Corbin and Leo Schaya. In 1977, she helped found a group in San Antonio, Texas, remaining an active member of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York until her death in 1982 at the age of 77. (from the Gurdjieff.org website).