John Walbridge & Hossein Ziai-Asclepius And The Golden Chain İn Suhrawardi’s ‘Philosophy Of Illumination’
Votive relief in the shape of a temple. Pentelic marble, probably from Loukos, Arkadia. The relief depicts Asklepios, with Hygeia in the background. Behind Asklepios are his sons and his daughters. 400-350 BC
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is from the opening section of Suhrawardi’s treatise, ‘The Philosophy of Illumination’, page 1 and 2. Brigham Young University Press_1999. A John Walbridge & Hossein Ziai translation.
It is a wonderful example of how some of the illuminist currents of Islam have digested the complex and diverse Greco-Hellenistic-Latin heritage; developing a path of their own, preserving what could be preserved from that golden legacy in an Islamic context and building around it an impressive shrine of light. To name a few: The House of Wisdom in Bagdad at the time of Al Kindi, the Ikhwan al Safa writing their famous Encyclopedic Letters in Basra, Fakr al Din Razi preserving Harranian ageless wisdom, Al Biruni in Ghazni providing major contributions to many of our modern sciences and here, Suhrawardi, setting the field of his ‘ishraqi’ philosophy, the science of illumination into the light.
‘2. Know, my brethren, that your frequent demands that I record the philosophy of illumination have finally overcome my reluctance. Were it not for an incumbent obligation, a prior word, and a command given from a place, disobedience to which will lead to straying from the path, I would not have felt obliged to step forward and openly reveal it, for the difficulty therein is known to you. But you went on, my friends-may God direct you towards what He loves and approves of-begging me to write you a book in which I would tell what I have obtained through my intuition during my retreats and visions.
In every seeking soul there is a portion, be it small or great, of the light of God. Every one who strives has intuition, be it perfect or imperfect. Knowledge did not end with one people, so that the doors of heaven are shut behind them and the rest of the world is denied the possibility of obtaining more. Rather, the Giver of Knowledge, who stands at the clear horizon, is not stingy with the unseen (Quran, 81:23-24). The most evil age is the one in which the carpet of striving has been rolled up, in which the movement of thought is interrupted, the door of revelation bolted, the path of vision blocked.
4. In all that I have said about the sciences of lights and that which is and is not based on it, I have been assisted by those who have traveled the path of God. This science is the very intuition of the inspired and illuminated Plato, the guide and master of philosophy, and of those who came before him from the time of Hermes, ‘the father of philosophy’, up to Plato’s time, including such mighty pillars of philosophy as Empedocles, Pythagoras, and others. The words of the Ancient are symbolic and not open to refutation. The criticism made of the literal sense of their words fail to address their real intentions, for a symbol cannot be refuted. This is also the basis of the Eastern doctrine of light and darkness, which was the teaching of Persian philosophers such as Jamasp, Frashostar, Bozorgmehr, and others before them. It is not the doctrine of the infidel Magi, nor the heresy of Mani, nor that which lead to associating other gods with God-be He exalted above any such anthropomorphism!
Do not imagine that philosophy has existed only in these recent times. The world has never been without philosophy or without a person possessing proof and clear evidences to champion it. He is God’s vice-gerent on His earth. Thus, shall it be so long as the heavens and the earth to endure. The ancient and the modern philosophers differ only in their use of language and their divergent habits of openness and allusiveness. All speak of three worlds, agreeing on the unity of God. There is no dispute among them on fundamental questions. Even though the First Teacher (Aristotle) was very great, profound, and insightful, one ought not to exaggerate about him so as to disparage his master. Among them are the messengers and lawgivers such as Agathodaemon, Hermes, Asclepius, and others.’