Mansour Al-Hallaj – The Orchard Of The Gnostics

This is the tenth figure from the ‘Tawasin’, notice in the center of the circle of transcendance, the ‘circuit of completion’, locked-in itself. The ‘La‘s that surrounds it represent negation (nafi) of all directions (jihat). The two ‘Ha‘s on the sides represent the blockades (or obstacles) set before the undesirable, before all strangers. Only remains ‘Tawhid’ (Unity), and what lies below, is ephemeral.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, is a fragmentary treatise by Abū ‘l-Muġīth al-Ḥusayn ibn Manṣūr al-Ḥallāj, commonly known as Mansur al-Hallaj, the ‘Orchard of the Gnostics’ (Bustan al-Ma’rifa, garden of (intimate) knowledge or awareness).  It was quoted by Ruzbehan Baqli in his celebrated commentaries of Hallaj’s ‘Tawasin’ and edited by Professor Louis Massignon and published in his first edition of the ‘Book of the ‘Tawasin‘ in 1913-the ‘Sulaymaniye n*1028‘ manuscript being its source. We offer here our Via-HYGEIA English working translation of professor Stéphane Ruspoli’s French updated version of Louis Massignon’s own early translation. From page 381 to 385. We will share soon also excerpts from Hallaj’s ‘Book of Tawasin‘. This post is dedicated to our late friend, Colin Azim Looker, who is smiling upon our shoulders.


From Stéphane Ruspoli’s introduction

‘…In fact, this little ‘Orchard of the Gnostics’ is conceived for the adepts of the ‘non-knowing’ (French: non-savoir) who seek the bareness of thought and spiritual sobriety. And such is the meaning of ‘tanzih’ (transcendence), the via-negativa in Islamic Metaphysic.’

‘The doctrine of transcendence about the absolute Subject, which is the One, leads to an ‘non-knowing’. Hallaj denounces the inability of the creatures’ thought when facing the mystery of ‘Tawhid’.


The Orchard of the Gnostics

1.  Divine knowledge lies in the bosom of hidden ignorance and ignorance lies in the bosom of hidden Knowledge. Ignorance is the very attribute of who seeks to know, because the shape of knowledge escapes human conceptions, such as: ‘How to know Him? When there is no How. Where to know Him? But there is no  where. How to reach Him? But there is no reach. How to analyse Him? When no analysis is possible.

2.  Knowledge is never established by a defined object, nor by a conditioned object, nor by a laborious effort, nor by an attempt of approximation. Knowledge is ‘beyond the beyond’; it is beyond mesure, thought and the secret of consciences, beyond information and perception. All this is nothing but things happening-that before did not exist; and what does not exist and then ‘happens’ (or happened) can only happen in a determined ‘situs‘. How can these ‘happening’ things could conceive ‘the One that never ceased’, who was there before space directions, before the production of causes and means? How can they reach its end?

3. To the person who says: ‘I know Him by my loss’ (1). How can a lost subject know the Existing one to be found? To the person who says: ‘I know him by my existence’-we answer that two eternals cannot co-exist.(2) To whom declares: ‘I know Him by the fact I am ignorant of it’-we answer that ignorance is a veil and that knowledge beheld beyond the veil has no reality. To the person who declares: ‘I know Him by the Name’-we answer that the Name cannot be separated from the Named, by the fact that He is not created.

4. To the person who declares: ‘I know Him by Him-self’. He unconsciously seek two objects of knowledge at the time. To the person who declares: ‘ I know Him by his workings’-we will say that he is content of the Work with no considerations for the Worker (the Creation). To the person who declares: ‘I know Him as the  consequential fact of the impotence to fathom’-we answer that the impotent is prevented, so how is it possible in this case to fathom the Subject to know?

5.  To the person that pretends: ‘I know Him in the same manner He knows me’-he points to science and in doing this he reduces God into a fathomable object, but such object is distinct from the essence. And who is distinct from the essence (dhat), how could he fathom it? To the one who pretends: ‘I know Him as He calls Himself’-this person also contents himself of the received information (3), instead of seeking its real trace.

6. To the person who declares: ‘I know Him by the definitions’-we answer that the subject to know is a unique thing, neither definable nor divisible. To the person who declares: ‘The Subject to fathom fathoms Himself’-that person affirms that the knower stands in the interval, and that he is cornered by himself, but the Subject to fathom never ceased to be knowledgeable by Himself.

7. Such an astonishing pretention from someone who doesn’t even know the hair of his head! How could blackness produce whiteness? How can he pretend arrange the things of which he ignores the sum and the part, and he  knows neither the Last nor the First and ignores the causes and laws, the divine directives, the metaphysical truths and the theurgical subtleties? No! Such an individual cannot succeed to partake ‘The One that never ceases to be’.

8. Glory to the One who veiled Himself to them by the Name, the spoor and the mark He left behind within Creation! Glory to the One who veiled Himself to Men by speech, by the remarkable condition, by the attributes of perfection and beauty of the One that never ceases and never will. Knowing that the human heart is a mere ‘piece of flesh'(5) made hollow in which knowledge may dwell because its essence is divine. Comprehension to be obtained entail length and width, devotional deeds entails correct religious customs and submission to legal obligations. So it is with all the beings populating the sky and earth. But divine knowledge does not entail length and width, it does not dwell in the sky or in earth, nor it dwells inside nor outside, so it is the same with religious customs and legal obligations (to which the human are compelled).

9. Therefore, to the person that pretends: ‘I know Him by truth’. This person places his existence above of the object of his knowledge, because who knows something in truth becomes stronger than the object he just came to know at the moment when he is actually knowing. Miserable and insignificant thing than this ephemeral being, compelled to change, smaller than an atom-and who ignors that very atom! How could he pretend knowing He who is more tenuous to grasp than an atom? The true gnostic is the person who sees knowledge by the grace of the ‘Self-sufficient‘ (al-Baqi). Knowledge is established by a direct path of verbal revelation (nass) who overtakes him, and in this communication a divine property lies similar to the the ‘apple of the eye’ of the desired being (ma’shuq). (6).

10. Among the ephemeral being who knows he is stalled and limited when facing essential Knowledge, the eye withdraws itself in its ‘Mim‘, by the power of divine ipseity that severs and separates from all other thoughts. Such a rapture causes him first dread, then this dread changes into a burning desire (‘ishq), and sunrise and sunset become alike. (7) Then there is neither above nor below. This reconciliation of accessible knowledge available for the creatures endures in the vicinity of those for whom, ‘all paths are sealed’ and find no means of access. (8). Deep divine meaning are obvious to themselves, and depend not upon proofs the intellectual faculties can not even grasp and human abilities are unable to reach.


(unreliable part of the fragment)

11. Unique is the beholder of such Knowledge. The person who carries it out is an heretic; the one who rises in it is reduced to ashes; the one who is loyal to it is lost; the one who sees its shine is deceived; the one who pierces it violates it; the one who hides it is deprived of it.

12. Knowledge is “as it is, as it is, as it is”; it is “as He is, as He is, as He is”; “as it is, as He is, as it is!” (10) Its structure are its pillars and its pillars are its structure. His followers are those who are highlighting it, by her, for her. Knowledge is not Him and He is not Knowledge, but though He is nothing but Knowledge, and Knowledge is nothing but Him, and even better: “There is nothing else but Him!’ (11)

13. The Knower is ‘the One that sees‘, Knowledge belongs to ‘the One that exists‘. (12) Knowledge co-exist with the act of knowing, and is this very action. Knowledge dwells behind the known object. So, this sums up the case for Knowledge and those who are involved with it. Knowledge remains with the elite servants and close to them, its handling is the duty of chosen individuals. The unfolding of Knowledge is the companion of the desperate seekers, its negligence is the companion of the stupid individuals. Enough! God is God, and the creature is itself. That’s it, the end!


Notes by Stéphane Ruspoli

1. Implicite criticism of the Junayd’s paradoxes about the ‘finding of God and the loss of one-self, or about the alternance of knowledge and ignorance‘.

2. Therefore there is no trace whatsoever of Iranian dualism in the thought of Hallaj, whereas the Persian Mazdeism, which infiltrated itself as early as the first century among the Mandeans and the Gnostics, then among the Manicheans, opposes two antagonistic entities which are at the origin of creation: light and darkness, good and evil, wise Thought (Hormaz) and evil Thought (Ahriman). The proof lies in the Iranian ‘Bundahishn‘. Compare ‘A Manichean Psalm Book’, ed. Allberry, vol 2, Stuttgart 1938, psalm 223, page 9 and with  ‘Kephalaia of the Teacher’, ed.  I. Gardner, Brill 1995.

3. About ‘khabar‘ as indirect information of God, see ‘Tawasin’, paragraph 7 and 12.

4. This objection taken in a literal sense is contradicted by the facts. The black hair of man, when aging become white. But Hallaj here thinks about the darkness of human nature when compared with the shining light of God. As he says in the ‘Tawasin’: “My blackness bends before You and my heart believes in You.” (paragraph 10). Is it not the moral and spiritual transformation of the human being, that changes the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge, and pushes the soul in-to God?

5. The term ‘mudgha‘ essentially comes from a verse of the Qur’an (22-5) about the embryo-genesis:“We created you out of dust, then out of sperm (nutfa), then out of a leech-like clot (‘alaqa), then out of morsel of flesh (mudgha), partly formed, partly unformed in order that We may manifest (our Power) to you…”

6.  The ‘desired being’ is God. About the symbolism of the ‘apple of the eye‘ as transcendent theophany, see Ibn Arabi, ‘The book of the Theophanies’, Ruspoli ed., Th. n*2 page 118 and Th. 84, page 215.

7. This short overview about the processus of unveiling and extasy takes us back to the central thematic of the ‘Diwan’ (Hallaj’s poems). See Ruspoli: ‘Le Message’, Diwan, chapter on ‘Extasy’, and especially n*12; ‘The sun of the One I love has set by night‘.

8. Reminiscence of a saying of Bastami: “The path is sealed and the servant sent home.” By that, we ought to understand: Sent back to his ignorance.

9. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven bears violence and that “the violent are storming it”. The saying of the Gospel applies completely to Hallaj’s wild character: daring, never satisfied and always rebellious. ‘The inspired heretic’.

10.Ka-hiya, ka-hiya, ka-hiya…Ka-huwa, ka-huwa, Ka-hiya...etc’. The masculine and feminine ternary series likens God to His Knowledge: He is her, she is Him. Because in God, Being and Knowing are one. A pure action, and He is what He knows, alike He knows what He is. “My God, Man is so far back behind!”, would say Hallaj. But how to catch up such an eternal-delay?

11. Pronominal declension of the paradoxal identity. Their basis is the negation-affirmation dialectic, already implicit in the ‘Shahada‘: “la ilaha, illa Allah”(no God, but God!).

12. They are, obviously two attributes of God: ‘al-Basir’ and ‘al-Baqi’.


Stéphane Ruspoli’s 

Original French translation







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