Michael Sebastian Noble-From Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s‘Hidden Secret’-Part 4: Perfect Nature and Spiritual Discipline
Sheikh Lotfollah mosque, Isfahan, Iran. Picture by Iranian photographer Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji.
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is the fourth and last part of a series devoted to some key excerpts from Fakr al-Din al-Razi’s ‘Hidden Secret’ (al-Sirr al-Maktüm), in the exciting ground-breaking study of Michael-Sebastian Noble, ‘Philosophising the Occult, Avicennan Psychology and the ‘Hidden Secret’ of Fakr al-Din al-Razi’, De Gruyter-2021.
Note: Al Razi’s quotations in Michael-Sebastian Noble’s translation are in italic. The rest is his scholarly apparatus and exegesis.
‘The fulfilment of those conditions relating to the management of the body and those relating to the soul’s disposition serves but one aim: to remove all distractions which may arrest the soul’s attention so that it can focus on connection with the celestial spirits.’ (From Chapter 6. part 7. foreword)
11.6. The Perfect Nature and Spiritual Discipline
The path if spiritual discipline involves:
‘Voiding the heart of everything except the remembrance of God, for the substance of the soul insofar as it exists in its original state and innate natural disposition (al-jibilla al-asliyya wa’l-ghariza al-fitriyya), is possessed of a passionate love for the presence (hadra) of the Divine Splendour. However, when it becomes attached to the body it becomes preoccupied with corporeal delights and base pleasures; its immersion in their pursuit becomes an obstacle which prevents it from inclining towards the original home (al-watn al-asli), the essential centre (al-markaz al-dhati), If man exerts his outmost in the elimination of these corporeal accidents (‘awarid) then, whilst the soul retains its original necessary concomitants (lawazim asliyya), the veiling dust and obstructing cover will be lifted. The light of God’s splendour will become apparent.’
Spiritual discipline is therefore a means of attaining divinely inspired knowledge that is complementary to rather than alternative to the method of demonstration and logical proof. Indeed, discursive reasoning plays a role in preserving from error the soul engaged in the way of spiritual discipline, for instance, by disabusing the aspirant of the mistaken belief that a certain truth or spiritual state marks the end of the journey: for, in reality the journey continues without end. In fact, Razi cautions against the path of spiritual discipline without the guidance of discursive reason. He says:
‘If the man who is engaged in spiritual discipline has not also embarked on the path of reflection and inference (al-nazar wa’l-istidlal) then perhaps in the levels of spiritual discipline he might experience powerful unveilings and overwhelming states and become certain that these states are the ultimate unveilings, the highest levels; this might become an obstacle preventing him from arriving at the goal. If, however, he is practised in the path of reflection and inference, and he distinguishes between a spiritual station that is impossible from that which is possible, then he will secure from his error. So, if a man has reached perfection in the path of reflection and inference, and is the bestowed perfection in the path of purification and spiritual discipline, then his soul will be on the principle of his innate disposition (kanat nafsuhu fi mabda’ al-fitra), perfectly suited to these spiritual states; such a man would have scaled the gnostic path of ascent to the furthermost limits. It has been related that Aristotle once said: “I used to drink but my thirst was never quenched. But when I drank from this ocean it was quenched such that I would never thirst again.” Mere speech cannot explain these spiritual states; they are beyond the reach of words. He who has not tasted does not know. He who has not witnessed cannot affirm their truth. And God knows best the Unseen.’
Detachment from the physical world and sensual stimuli is an essential means of disciplining the soul that it can become receptive to spiritual illumination which acts as an adjunct to discursive reasoning. It is one of the chief means by which a man may establish connection with his perfect nature. In ‘al-Sirr’, spiritual discipline, the erasing of physical desire and the magnification of the perfect nature induces its appearance. So, in ‘al-Matalib’ 8, concerning the Perfect Nature, Razi says:
‘When a state of purity and discipline, the rational soul is drawn towards the celestial spirit, which is the perfect nature, its original father, then from that perfect nature the essence of the soul will be imbued with a power by which it will be made great and its effects powerful.‘
End of part 4
and last post of the series