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Henry Corbin & Suhrawardi: From ‘The Sufi Book of the Word’ – Chapters III-IV-VI-VII & VIII

16th century Persian miniatures,

Isfandayâr and the Simorgh.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, are chapter III, IV, VI, VII & VIII from Suhrawardi’s treatise, ‘The Sufi Book of the Word‘-(Kitab Kalimat al-tasawwof)-from pages 161 to 165 in the 1976 Fayard French edition by Henry Corbin. English translation by Via-HYGEIA from the Professor’s original French of the original Arabic.’This treatise written in Arabic was not published until our present edition. Its authenticity is undeniable, not only because Shahrazori mentions it in his biography of the Shaykh al-Ishraq, but the content in it is in conformity with all Suhrawardi’s other works, and finally he mentions himself  his great ‘Book of the Oriental Theosophy’, formulating in passing a creed of an extraordinary clarity.‘ And further on: ‘All of Suhrawardi’s works are remarkable because of their evocative density. In a few pages and in a few lines, the Shaykh al-Ishraq succeeds to pin-point, like in a memento, most of all the major themes of the Ishraqi doctrine.’ From Henry Corbin’s introduction to his selection of chapters from this lengthy treatise.  Chapter XXIII & XXV were already translated last year. Coming soon will be chapters, IX, XIV & XXII. Some parts are not easy reading, we hope we made the experience, a pleasant one.


Chapter III

Of the fathoming soul as Word

…’The subject in you that ‘fathoms’ and uses the intellectual faculties (al-aquil) is independent of spatial dimensions and of everything that are inherent to them. It is it that the philosophers call, ‘fathoming soul’ (nafs natiqa), meanwhile the Sufis call it ‘secret’ (sirr), ‘spirit’ (ruh), ‘Word’ (kalima), ‘heart’ (qalb). To explain what the ‘Word’ is, we could say it is an essence (dhat) that is neither body nor corporeity, that it does not need a substrat in order to subsist, that it does know itself, and that it disposes at will of the usage of a body. The Word does not exist prior of the body. In fact, if it would pre-exist from it, or if there would be a multiplicity of Words without anything to differentiate them-which is unthinkable, because there is no differentiation prior to the  body: actions in the making, endured impressions, knowledge; all the Words would make but one only specie. But, what is inherent to a unique and similar essence, or what is to be found in all the numerical individualities of a similar specie, or if the whole is forming but only one differentiated thing. If the Words are but one very Word, that rule the totality of the bodies, then their whole would constitute but one egoity (ana’iya, a unique Subject), so that, what one knows would be identically known by the other. But, it does not work that way. And if the reality of the Word would be divided after being one, it implies that it would have been of a material nature; which you do know the impossibility.

Among the testimonies that compose the Book concerning the non-corporeal nature of the Word, there are these verses: ‘O you, my appeased soul, return towards your Lord, agreeing and agreed.’ (Qur’an, 89-27, 28). ‘The Angels and the Spirit rise towards Him‘ (Qur’an, 70-4). ‘In a dwelling (Corbin writes ‘séjour’, Yusuf Ali writes, ‘assembly’) of Truth, in the presence of a mighty King‘ (Qur’an, 54). ‘Their greetings will be : ‘Peace!‘ (Qur’an, 10-10). ‘Towards Him the Return shall be‘ (Qur’an, 5-18.Yusuf Ali writes: ‘And unto Him is the final goal (of all)‘ -identical to 40,3: ‘to Him is the final Goal‘). ‘On that very Day, it is a striving, a pull towards your Lord‘ (Qur’an 75-30). ‘Upon this very Day, the Return shall be towards your Lord‘ (Qur’an, 75-12. Yusuf Ali writes: ‘That Day will be the place of rest‘). ‘I came closer and became still‘ (Qur’an, 53-8). And so on, as they they are countless. It is unthinkable that what possesses a material dimension and the modalities of a material body could be present before God and meet with Him.

And among the testimonies found within tradition, there is this saying of the Prophet: ‘I spend the night by my Lord; He feeds me and gives me water‘, and this saying at the time of his passing: ‘The Supreme Companion‘. Once, a Shaykh was asked: ‘What is a sufi?‘ He answered: ‘The one that keeps God company outside of any location’ (Corbin writes: ‘en dehors de tout lieu’). There is this quote by Junayd, who was asked about divine Reality: ‘A song was heard for me in my heart and i sang in harmony with it. And we are everywhere He is, and He is everywhere we are.’ And there is this saying by Abu Talib Makki, about his teacher Hasan ibn Salim: ‘The location withdrew from Him‘. And about the Prophet: ‘That he He blinked outside of the where.’ And there is this quote from Hallaj: ‘My essence is resolved where there is no where.’ And this one by Abu Yazid Bastami: ‘I have sought my essence (dathi, my self) in the two worlds (astral and elementary); i did not find it.‘ Again, this saying by Hallaj: ‘God (or the Truth) is Unique, One, Alone, and Unifier. The Unique and the Oneness (tawhid) proceed in Him, from Him. The interval of the interval depends from Him.’ and elsewhere he declared about the sufi: ‘The sufi is of a monadic essence, he is neither ‘recipiens’ nor ‘receptus’ (Via-Hygeia note: See Hallaj, ‘The Book of Tawasin’, chapter IV )’. Every body is divisible, as are its modalities, but, the One is indivisible. There are many similar sayings about this to be found in Abu Yazid and in countless other sufis’ treatises.


Chapter IV

Of the vital pneuma as link between the Word and the body

The Word (the fathoming soul) is connected to both the sacrosanct world and the body’s realm. There is within a living being a subtile body, of a warm nature that is the result of the subtile part of the realm of the humors. The principle that originates it is the heart. The Philosophers call it pneuma (ruh, spirit). It is the support agent dealing with all the faculties, and is the mediator between the Word and the body. It happens that a limb may die, even though the Word freely disposes of the rest of the body. The meaning is that the pneuma is kept from penetrating the limb. This pneuma is different of the Spirit (Ruh) that is an attribute of God Almighty, i mean the one of which is said: ‘After having harmoniously formed him and that i have breathed my Spirit in him‘ (Qur’an, 15-29) and ‘Jesus, Maryam’s son, is a messenger of God, it is His Word he bestowed on Maryam’ (Qur’an, 4-171).


Chapter VI

Of the Intelligences or Cherubim that are the major Words

When the possible of the inferior ranks exists, it is because, already the Necessary Being has given birth to the possible of the higher ranks. Otherwise, by its monadic ‘dimension’, it would have made necessary the existence of the possible of a lower rank. Therefore, once we would suppose the existence of a possible of a higher rank, we necessarily would need to suppose a higher ‘dimension’ to the level of what would be the Necessary Being. Which is absurd. Then, as the Word (here the minor one, the fathoming soul) and the quiddities (or essences, mahiyat)-completely separated from the bodies and the need to rule them- are superior to the Word that makes the ordinary soul-because it is its responsibility to rule a body-it is then necessary that such essences (or Words, completely separated from matter) previously exist. It is them, that in the terminology of the philosophers, are called Intelligences (‘oqul), and in the terminology of the shari’at and the sufis, are called Cherubim (Karubiyun) and Tabernacles of Light (Soradiqat nuriya).

(Note: Due to the extreme dryness of some parts of the text in French,

we post here an example for you to compare with our working translation)


Chapter VII

Of the first Intelligence that is the imperative of the divine initial

As the First Being, of an essentially monadic nature, cannot make necessary the existence of a non-One, the first being that it makes necessary is therefore not a body (because the body is composed of matter and a form, dimensions and multiple properties); a body cannot be emanated without intermediaries from the first Being. The very first to emanate necessarily from it is a monadic Intellective Essence (jawhar ‘aqli wahdani, the First Intelligence, Aql awwal) and it is the initial imperative. God Almighty says it: ‘Our Imperative is a unique Word, like the blinking of an eye’ (Qur’an, 54-50).


Chapter VIII

Of the ‘Animae caelestes’ that are the median Words

Generosity is about giving what is necessary, without expecting anything in return. The person who offers a gift in order to receive praise or compliments, or to escape a reproof, is but a smuggler. The Sovereign divine is the One who owns the essence of all things, but whose own essence is own by nothing. The one that is self sufficient (al-ghani), is the one whose essence, or his perfection are not conditioned by nothing else but Himself. In short, the Necessary Being is the one that is above, that does not seek any aim in what lies below, because the idea of an aim include the idea of something of which the existence is favored (to non-being) as an agent. If somebody, for whom it would be beneficial to make something, abstains to produce it, this person will find himself deprived of what would have been beneficiary to him. How much the Necessary Being transcend all of this!

Know that the movement of the celestial Sphere is not a natural movement, because what is moving by the cause of its own nature, aims a something that suits it. When this aim has been reached, it stops. Therefore, whatever point the Sphere aims at by its movement, every time it leaves it (and its movement resumes after it has reached it). Its movement is not a natural movement, but a voluntary movement. As such, it has obviou-sly an aim. But this aim cannot be relevant to the via concupiscibilis or to the vis irascibilis, because there is no accretion that solicit it, nor any obstacle that bothers it. It cannot be about attracting praise from the lower realms, because it would be a perfection whose definition would be led by an outside opinion, and such cannot be the foundation of something of an everlasting necessity, which is the movement of the Sphere. As a matter of fact, how would it be otherwise, because what is below is not connected to what is above in a relationship that would matter? The aim the Sphere seeks cannot be something transitory, because then, when having reaching it or because of this she would be in a continuous state of despair, in the two hypothesis she would stop. It is then something complete. This is why the Sphere has a complete will, a complete knowledge and a FATHOMING WORD (kalima natiqa, the Anima caelestis). Its movement has for an aim to become alike its love object (ma’shuq).

Moreover, the Animae caelestis cannot be love objects among themselves; otherwise, their movement would be similar. Their love object cannot be also unique and similar for all of them; otherwise, in this case again, their celestial movement would be identical. No, each of them has a distinct love object, and it is the imme-diate cause it emanates from and that helps her by its light. Their respective love object, are Essences completely separated from the bodily world, i mean the CHERUBIM (kerubiyun). Each of these Cherubim effuses, respectively upon each of the Animae caelestis, the illumination of a light which rises in the East (Orient, Ishraq) and never ending delights. However, the Animae caelestis do have a common love object, it is the the First Being. It is for this reason that their respective movements look alike, in the fact that they are circular. Therefore, the celestial spheres are moving in a motion of extasy and pleasure. They bodies must also present the image of the sphere, because if they would persist in a determined situ, all the others would remain in virtual power. Therefore, it is impossible that all the situ are visited simultaneously. Hence, by the successive and uninterrupted passing through, from one situ to another, the image of something that is renewed by a perpetual renewal is maintained

In conclusion, the worlds are three in numbers: 1. There is the World of Intelligence (aql = Nous), and it is the Jabaruth. 2. There is the world of the Soul and the Word (median) and it is the world of Malakut. 3. and finally, there is the material and visible world that obeys to the Soul (itself obeying to the Intelligence, itself obeying to its Principle (mobdi).

(To be continued)




About Suhrawardi:🌿About Henry Corbin:
Henry Corbin & Suhrawardi: From ‘The Sufi Book of the Word’ – Chapters III-IV-VI-VII & VIII

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