Henry Corbin: From ‘The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism’ – The Heavenly Witness
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Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is a excerpt from Henri Corbin’s ‘The Man of Light, in Iranian Sufism’, chapter IV, VISIO SMARAGDINA, part 9. Page 86 to 89. Omega Publication for the 1994 edition. English translation from professor Corbin’s original French by Nancy Pearson.
9. The “Heavenly Witness”
‘And so now we come to the innermost secret of the mystical experience, to the decisive event already pre-sensed in the splendors of the “emerald vision.” The alternation between the first and the third person, the substitution of the one for the other, are only another way of stating the same paradox procreated-procreator, Contemplated-Contemplator-which the theme of Perfect Nature had already allowed us to grasp as being the supreme expression of individual spiritual initiation. In this realization of reciprocity alone can the features of the August Face be fleetingly glimpsed: a face of light which is your own face because you are yourself a particle of Its light. What the mystic, by virtue of his ardent desire, pursues and experiences is not a collective relationship shared by all alike in respect to a singular object, is not a relationship identical for all to which everyone has an equal claim in respect to one and the same object. No, this relationship is unique, individual, un shareable, because it is a relationship of love. It is not a filial relationship, but rather a marital one. An individual, unshared relationship of this nature can only be manifested, represented, and expressed by a figure which attests to the real presence of one alone to one alone and for one alone, in a dialogue unus-ambo. The figure of the “Heavenly Witness,” of the suprasensory personal Guide, thus guarantees with such certainly a theophany perceived by love alone, corresponding to a feeling of marital relationship, that its most characteristic manifestations-the flaming of photisms bearing witness to the reunion of “like with like”–come about at the moment of a state of love carried to its climax. The mystical experience de scribed by Najm Kobra thus comes to accord with the forms and experience of celestial love in Iranian Sufism.
“When the circle of the face has become pure [writes the shaykh], “it effuses lights as a spring pours forth its water, so that the mystic has a sensory perception (i.e., through the suprasensory senses) that these lights are gushing forth to irradiate his face. This outpouring takes place between the two eyes and be tween the eyebrows. Finally it spreads to cover the whole face. At that moment, before you, before your face, there is another Face also of light, irradiating lights; while behind its diaphanous veil a sun becomes visible, seemingly animated by a movement to and fro. In reality this Face is your own face and this sun is the sun of the Spirit (shams al-ruh) that goes to and fro in your body. Next, the whole of your person is immersed in purity, and suddenly you are gazing at a person of light (shakhmin nur) who is also irradiating lights. The mystic has the sensory perception of this irradiation of lights proceeding from the whole of his person. Often the veil falls and the total reality of the person is revealed, and then with the whole of your body you perceive the whole. The opening of the inner sight (basira, the visual organ of light) begins in the eyes, then in the face, then in the chest, then in the entire body. This person of light (shakhs nurani) before you is called in Sufi terminology the suprasensory Guide (mooaddam al-ghayb). It is also called the suprasensory personal Master (shaykh al-ghayb), or again the suprasensory spiritual Scales (mizam al-ghayb) (§66)”.
It has been given many other names, all reminiscent of the “midnight sun,” the witness in the vision of Hermes described by Suhrawardi (supra II, I and III, 1). Najm Kobra refers to the Guide of light as the Sun of the heart, the Sun of certainty, the Sun of faith, the Sun of knowledge, the spiritual Sun of the Spirit. And more explicitly still he says: “Know that the mystic has a Witness (shahid). He it is who is called the personal Master in the suprasensory world. He carries the mystic up toward the Heavens; thus it is in the Heavens that he appears (§69).“
The personal Guide in the suprasensory world is thus expressly designated as the shahid. It is a characteristic term in the vocabulary of those spiritual seekers who, in Sufism, should rightly be called the “faithful lovers,” because of the “divine service” they render to beauty by contemplating it as the greatest of all theophanies.92 When Najm Kobra refers more precisely to the “Witness in the Heavens” (shahid fi’l sama), the heavenly Witness, this epithet further accentuates the essential aspect of the shahid, of the “witness of contemplation,” meditated similarly by mystics such as Riizbehan or Ibn ‘Arabi, and it immediately places the original expression of the shaykh’s visionary apperception in the context of Iranian Sufism; lastly, this designation should make it impossible to distort the idea of the Shahid by an erroneous psychological interpretation and bring it down to the notion of the “Double” as being the shadow. For a “faithful lover” like Ruzbehan of Shiraz, every beautiful face is a theophanic witness because it is a mirror without which the divine Being would remain a Deus absconditus.
It is likewise significant that in Najm Kobra the “Witness in the Heavens” should be pre-sensed in the aspect of an outburst of flame visualized in the Heavens, and accompanied by a state of intense love. Between the heavenly person of the Guide of light and the object-that is to say, the earthly person loved with a celestial love-the relationship is an epiphany, since it even gives rise to the symptom visible to the eyes of the suprasensory senses of the presence of the “witness in the Heavens.” Since the latter is visible to the “eyes of light” only to the degree that the man of light frees himself from the crude ore of darkness, there is evidence that celestial love is the teacher initiating this liberation. This is why the idea of the shahid finds its place in a complete doctrine of mystical love, bringing together the earthly loved one and the “witness in the heavens” manifested as the Guide of light. Needless to say the phenomena here again have to do with the physiology of the “suprasensory senses.”
“Lo and behold! [writes Najm Kobra] while sojourning in Egypt, in a small town on the banks of the Nile, I fell passionately in love with a young girl. For many days, I remained practically without food and without drink, and in this way the flame of love within me became extraordinarily intense. My breath ex.haled flames of fire. And each time I breathed out fire, lo and behold, from the height of heaven someone was also breathing out fire which came to meet my own breath. The two shafts of flame blended between the Heavens and me. For a long time I did not know who it was who was there at the place where the two lbmt·s came together. But at last I understood that it was my witness in Heaven (§83)”.
Nothing could illustrate better than this experiental verification what we have been given to understand by the theme of the coming together of “like with like” (supra IV, 4): “every time a flame arises from you, behold a flame comes down from the heavens toward you.”
Another of Najm Kobra’s confessions suggests to us in a manner no less specific the connection constituting celestial love, by introducing the theme of the soror spiritualis.
“I departed [he writes], and behold, there appeared to me a Heaven that resembled the book of the Qoran. Four-sided figures were inscribed therein, outlined by dotted lines. The dots formed some verses from the sura Ta-ha (20:39-41): “I shed thee love from Me; that thou mightest be before my eyes when thy sister came to pass by.” Having understood these verses, I began to recite them. And it came to me by inspiration that their meaning related to a woman I knew who bore the name of Banafsha, while her name in the suprasensory realm waslstaftin (§160)”.
Do not look for the meaning of this last name in some Arabic or Persian dictionary; only Najm Kobra can explain it to us. Returning to the theme of the esoteric Names borne by certain beings in the suprasensory realm (§176), he interprets the name in question as signifying the “‘Ayesha of her time.” The very fact that the earthly woman bears an “esoteric” name, that is to say, has a name in Heaven (a name in the suprasensory world which is the world of the Guide and of the personal master), indicates, in a manner that is as discreet as it is eloquent, what celestial love essentially implies: the perception of a beautiful being in her heavenly dimension, through senses which have become organs of light; precisely, the organs of the “per son of light.”
And that is why Najm Kobra’s doctrine of love connects essentially with the doctrine of those for whom, like Rüzbehan, human and divine love are by no means opposed to one another as a dilemma demanding that the mystic make a choice. They are two forms of the same love; passages in one and the same book which one must learn to read (with “eyes of light”). To pass from one to another does not consist in the transfer of love from one object to another, for God is not an object; God is the absolute Subject. To pass from one form of love to another implies the metamorphosis of the subject, of the ‘ashiq. This is what the entire doctrine of Ruzbehan and that of Najm Kobra are intended to indicate, so that we should not be surprised if, for the same reason, Najm does not make the same distinction as do some devotees and pious ascetics be tween divine and human love. For the metamorphosis of the subject resolves the apparent dissonances in the paradoxes, the “pious blasphemies,” of ecstatics in love. It may be that the lover, addressing the earthly beauty, the object of his love, cries out: “You are my Lord: I have no Lord but you!” Perhaps those are blasphemous words; however, they arise from an emotional state, from an inner compulsion, which is neither conscious nor voluntary. These words are not uttered by the lover, but by the living flame of love, for the fire of love is fed by the beloved and the lover can but speak in the inspired language of the moment: “For you, I am lost to the religious and profane worlds; you are my impiety and you are my faith; you are what I was yearning for and you are the end and fulfillment of my desire; you are myself (anta ana).” The vehemence of this lyricism is finally appeased in a long quotation from Hallaj: “I am filled with wonder about you and me, that through yourself you make me as nothing to myself, that you are so close to me that I come to think that you are me.” (§81)
Still further(§101), Najm Kobra quotes another couplet attributed to Hallaj: “I am he (or she) whom I love; he (or she) whom I love is me.” The anonymous Iranian commentator on Ruzbehan introduces this same couplet to accompany the theme of Majnun when he has become the “mirror of God” (the state of Majnun to which the commentator relates the same Qoranic verses as those read by Najm Kobra in the constellations of the inner Heaven as relating to his soror spiritualis, because he knew her heavenly name). The shaykh expresses this further by saying: “It may be that the lover is entirely consumed by love, then he is himself love” (§82). That is exactly the doctrine of Ahmad Ghazali. When the lover has become the very substance of love, there is no longer any opposition be tween subject and object, between the lover and the beloved.
That is the metamorphosis of the subject expressed by the Neoplatonic identity of love, lover and beloved, and thar is the divine form of love. When Najm Kobra describes the four ascending degrees of love, he is concerned with this metamorphosis. To wonder why he makes no distinction between human love and divine love would be quite beside the point, would indicate the failure to perceive the meaning of the concomitance experienced in the reunion of the two flames between Heaven and Earth, of the synchronism between the manifestation of the Witness in Heaven, the suprasensory Guide, the Sun of the heart, and the knowledge of the “esoteric” name, of the “name in Heaven,” of the earthly beloved. Individual initiation ends here in this inner revelation; these are the steps proclaimed by the colored photisms, from the circle of darkness and the blue light of the lower ego, still given over entirely to sensory and sensual perceptions, up to the visio smaragdina of the Throne iridescent in orbs of light. In this way one can foresee what is common to the profoundly original spirituality of Najm Kobra and that of his great contemporaries, Sohravardi, Ruzbehan, Ibn ‘Arabi.’
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).