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The One-fold God

Singularity & Plurality
in the Name(s) of Unity of the Divine
in Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity & Islam


by Wim van den Dungen

"Brahman" : the Workless Supreme

In Brahmin circles (the high cast priests of India) the Name "Brahman" stands for the untranslatable eternal, imperishable absolute and refers to everything, both pre-creation & manifest (actually part of Creation). The notion Brahman is both "formless" & "form", and therefore the first category of a non-dual theology is explicitly suggested in :

"What is perishable, is matter ("pradhâna"). What is immortal and imperishable, is the soul ("hara"). Over both the perishable and the soul the One God ("deva") rules. By meditation upon Him, by union with Him, and by entering into His being more and more, there is finally cessation from every illusion ("mâyâ-nivrtti")." 
Svetasvatara Upanishad, First Adhyâya, 10.

the All

In the Nâsadâsîya or "Creation Hymn" from the Rigveda we read concerning pre-creation :

"Who really knows ? Who will here proclaim it ? Whence was it produced ? Whence is this creation ? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen ?"
Rigveda : Creation Hymn, 10.129.6. (translated by W.Doniger O'Flaherty, 1983)

This points to the existence of a unique Creator who exists before the gods & creation. In the case of the Creation Hymn, "Prajâpati" is His name. In the Vedas "Prajâpati" is often named "Lord of Creatures". Together with "Brahmâ" (rarely mentioned) "Pratjâpati" emerged from "Hiranyagarbha", the "golden egg" of the Rigveda, the animating principle in all creatures whom all gods obey. "Brahmâ" and "Pratjâpati" are different names for the same, unique Creator.

The Hindu Model
transcendent order formless "Brahman" uncreated
creating Being
imperishable, impersonal "Brahman" "Nirguna Brahman" absolute Being
pre-creational immanent order manifest "Brahman" the Creator or "Brahmâ"
personal Brahmâ, the start of "mâyâ" "Saguna Brahman" & "samsâra" the Supreme Being creates the Gods
  Divine immanent order manifest "Trimûrti" create - sustain - destroy
Brahmâ, Vishnu, Shiva the balance between life & death (dharma) Gods & Goddesses ruling the world

For the Hindu yogi, "Brahman" is the impersonal, imperishable absolute salvic goal (cf. "nirguna-Brahman" in Vedânta). But He is also worshipped in many forms. This is His "personal" polarity as both a unique Creator or "saguna-Brahman", called "Brahmâ", "Îshvara" ("Lord of the Universe"), "Pratjâpati" ("Lord of the Creatures") or "Paramâtma" ("Oversoul") and billions of gods & goddesses.

"That which is above the sky, that which is beneath the earth, that which is between these two, sky and earth, that which people call the past and the present and the future - across space alone is that woven, warp and woof. Across what then, is space woven, warp and woof ? That Brahmans call the Imperishable (aksara). It is not coarse, not fine, not short, not long, not glowing (like fire), not adhesive (like water), without shadow and without darkness, without air and without space, without stickiness, odorless, tasteless, without eye, without ear, without voice, without wind, without energy, without breath, without mouth, without measure, without inside and without outside. Verily, at the command of that Imperishable the sun and the moon stand apart."
Brihad-Âranyaka Upanishad, 8th Brâhmana, 7 - 9 (translated by R.E.Hume, 1877)

The Hindu Trinity of three Supreme Gods (or aspects of the Supreme) known as the "Trimûrti" ("Brahmâ" or "Îshvara", "Vishnu" & "Shiva") is the ontological blueprint of creation itself ("Brahmâ"), the sustenance ("Vishnu") & the regeneration-through-destruction ("Shiva") of "samsâra", the realm of illusion ("mâyâ"). In India today, nearly no worship is offered to "Brahmâ". The story goes that after He had created everything, He was left with nothing to do. He remains idle until the day "Shiva" looks at the world and destroys it. At that point "Brahmâ" is again needed to create other Gods & another creation, etc.

"Îshvara" is the supreme yogi and guides the Hindu mystics in order for them to merge with the Imperishable "Brahman". They intent to leave the creational cycle and so do not want to be caught up in the work of the Creator, considered to be illusionary. Have they not discovered their soul ("âtman") is nothing less than the unique, absolute, formless & totally transcendent Imperishable ("nirguna Brahman") ? Is the enlightened one God because s/he has moved beyond the Cosmos (helped by "Brahmâ", i.e. supreme operational illusion - cf. Shankara's view that "Îshvara" is the superimposition of human enlightened consciousness on the Imperishable) ? Unity with "Brahmâ" would not abrogate illusion and Divine suffering, i.e. the final release aspired.

"As pure water poured forth into pure water becomes the very same,
So becomes the soul, O Gautama, of the seer who has understanding."
Katha Upanishad, II.i.15

In the inner core of the soul ("âtman") the Hindu mystic thinks he discovers "Brahman", i.e. in essence he is absolute & actually transcends the Cosmos as a whole. Theo-ontologically "Brahman" is thus always bi-polar : a "real", imperishable "Brahman" versus the unique "Lord of the Universe" & therefore "Lord of Illusion" ("mâyâ"), i.e. "Brahmâ".

"BRAHMAN" = the All = the Divine
(formless) = "âtman"
Imperishable Absolute, the Real Lord of the Universe & Illusion
the "âtman"
the "anâtman"

It has been argued that Hinduism is a monotheism. However, instead of One God there are millions of Deities. As each Deity is a manifestation of the One God, Hinduism is henotheist. The same can be found in Ancient Egypt, but in an ante-rational mode.

"YHVH" (the) "ALHYM" :
the first metaphysical Name of the Divine

The Divine Word given to Abraham was "Elohîm" ("ALHYM"), a plurality of Divine Faces, pronounced as "Eloha" in the singular. To Abraham the "Elohîm" are living, creative forces, able to love and to change the world as they will (the "Sephiroth" of the qabalah).

"And YHVH appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamrê as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day ; And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him : and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, Adonaï (...)"
Genesis, 18:1-2, my italics.

These Divine energies were more than a collection of "higher beings". They are the manifold expression of One who's essence remained unrevealed. But the manifold of Divine expressions are recognised (known) as the energies of a transcendent Divine nature. "Eloha", the first of the "Elohîm", is the Father of all higher beings, the Father of the heavens. "Elohîm" appears as a plurality under the unity of Adonai, the vocal form of the ineffable "YHVH". Abraham was unaware of the Name of the Creator Himself.

Next, Moses climbed the sacred mountain, the Horeb. "YHVH" (the) "Elohîm" revealed the core of Divine exteriority.

"And Moses said to Elohîm, Behold, when I come to the children of Israel, and shall say to them,
the Elohîm of Your fathers hath sent me to You ; and they shall say to me, What is His Name ? what shall I say to them ?
And Elohîm said to Moses : "AHYH" (I AM AND WILL BECOME) (...)
And Elohîm said moreover to Moses, Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel,
YHVH the Elohîm of Your fathers, the Elohîm of Abraham, the Elohîm of Isaac, and the Elohîm of Jacob, hath sent me to You (...)"

Exodus, 3:13-15.

The Name revealed to Moses is "AHYH". "YHVH" implies the transcendent "Ain Soph (Aur)", the ineffable essence of the Divine, or God, described in terms of a reality beyond being, beyond absence of being and veiled by negatives ("Deus absconditus"). "AHYH" is the revelation of the existence of the Divine within the created order, i.e. the transcendent-in-immanence or the "higher being" of the monarchy of a Creative Crown.

"YHVH" being ineffable, is pronounced as "Adonai" (or YHAdonaiVH). "ALHYM" (or "Elohîm), a masculine plural ("Eloah" is the singular form, "Allah" in Arab) of a feminine noun, indicating neutral plurality & receptivity to the creative impulse, is the "Divine presence" within the created order (cf. the "shekinah" of qabalah). "Elohîm" is creational as shown by the first three words of Genesis : "B'RASHITh BaRA ALoHIM ...", "In the Beginning the "Elohîm" Created ..." "Elohîm said" (343) occurs 10 times (cf. the 10 Emanations or "Sephiroth"). "Elohîm" is repeated 32 times in the first chapter of the account (cfr. the aleph-beth (22) + 10 Sephiroth or the 32 Paths of Wisdom of the Tree of Life).

"Elohîm" is related to the majestic revelatoric plurality of the singular hidden "YHVH" and is translated as "the holy Gods" or "Gods & Goddesses". It expresses the totality of Divine attributes (or exterior) and underlines the variety with which the Divine manifests in creation (God-in-Nature). The "Elohîm" are not idols for no "Eloah" (singular) can constitute Divine existence without reference to "YHVH", the uncreated silence.
Again henotheism.

"YHAdonaiVH est l'Être unique, la matrice de toute vie, Celui qui a été, qui est et qui sera. Les Elohîms en expriment les puissances créatrices infinies. (...) N'oublions pas que si YHAdonaiVH est Unique, Elohîms est pluriel. Les prophètes n'ont jamais aspiré à voir surgir un univers monolithique : l'Unité qu'ils annoncent n'est pas faite d'uniformité, mais, nous y reviendrons, d'une universelle et vivante diversité, dans l'unité de l'Être qui la fonde, YHVH. Mieux que monothéistes, ils sont théomonistes."
Chouraqui, A. : Moise, du Rocher - Paris, 1995, p.181-182, my italics.

The Divine is conceived as onefold but bi-polar. The Unity is called "YHVH". Its exterior or existence is called "Elohîm". The Divine Name indicates a Unity but the Name Itself is a duality. The bi-polarity is expressed in the Name Itself.

Essential Distinction
Closed, Absent, Remote, Potential Divine
Disclosed, Present, Near, Actual
"YHVH" One
absolute, eternal, infinite singularity the
relative, temporal, finite living plurality

YHVH is singular, ineffable, uncreated & infinite. The "Elohîm" are Divine creative energies, plural & rooted in the infinite but fully part of the created order (i.e. a super-being within cosmos). The Name "YHVH Elohîm" indicates both singular & plural aspects of the Divine and so stands for the totality of all that is Divine. The Name "YHVH" can not be vocalized. It indicates a "negative", pre-Cosmic, Divine Absolute Infinity.

The essence of the Divine remains unknown.

First Remark on the Deconstruction of the word "God"

The use of the word "God" should never be uncritical. Let us try to identify how this word is used and with what reality it is supposed to correspond (cf. Wittgenstein II). Writing our comments in the margin of the traditional (monotheistic) theologies will be the method. Let us define monotheism in a straightforward way : numerically, there is only one God. Theomonism (accepted by mystical monotheists) breaks away from this singularity, allowing the one "essence" to create a multiple "existence" (of the Divine).

The original, pre-Biblical, pagan meaning is suggested by the etymology of "God", most probably related to the Sankrit "hûta", sacrifice, the one called upon (related to Agni, the god of fire). Only ca. 825 CE does the word receive its Biblical connotation. Before that, the Nordic tribes associated "God" with a superman able to influence the destiny of Nature and Man (cf. Sacrifical Kingship). Not unlike the Romans, these superman related to "the Gods". "Mars" of the Roman Pantheon is called "God", "Eros" is called "God" too. They were very powerful natural forces, to be distinguished from demons or heroes. However, in these polytheist & henotheist theologies, no clear trace of bi-polarity is to be found. The distinction between creation & pre-creation is not made (in Ancient Egypt it is explicit).

The translation of "YHVH" by "Kyrios" (the Greek for "Adonai", "Lord"), "Elohîm" by "ho Theos" and the subsequent identification of "Kyrios" with the god Zeus obliterated the original bi-polarity of the Hebrew Name of the Divine, "YHVH Elohîm" (the latter was given as "YHVH God" and "YHVH" became effable as "Jahweh" or "Lord"). As "Theos" was a singular, the plurality of "Elohîm" was lost too. "Lord God" and "YHVH Elohîm" do not convey the same meaning. In the first Latin translations, "Elohîm" became "Deus", "God", "Dieu", "Gott", "Bog" ... These facts serve the deconstruction of "God" well. They show that almost all current translations of the Bible are wrong. They have not taken the historical bi-polarity into consideration and have corrupted the original texts.

Divine Name Old Translation Better Translation
"YHVH" "Kyrios" "Domine" "Lord" or "Jahweh" "Theos" "Deus" "God" "Dieu"
"ALHYM" "Theos" "Deus"
"YHVH ELOHÎM" "Lord God" "God the Energies"

Hence, the theology of the Old Testament does not figure in the translations ! Both the original theomonist historical reality of the Abramic Semitical tribes & the Mosaic tradition imply that "YHVH" should be identified with "God" but left ineffable and so replaced by "Lord". "Elohîm" is a plural and nearly impossible to translate. "YHVH the Elohîm" suggests "Lord the Creators". This is unsatisfactory ("Elohîm" is feminine) and it sounds strange. It is wise to leave "Elohîm" stand untranslated (cf. Chouraqui, 1989).

Peter, John, Paul & the synoptics uncritically accepted the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The suggestion that in the Name of the Divine two aspects are operative (a singular hidden essence versus a plural disclosed existence) was lost. Later Thomas of Aquinas interprets "Theos" as "He who sees all" or "He who burns as fire", evacuating all pre-Christian connotations. "Theos" was translated as "Deus" and "Deus" as "God".

So every use of the word "God" which is not subjected to the consequences of these historical & linguistic facts is unable to understand the Old Testament properly. The above facts should be primordial to any philosophy of mysticism seeking to characterise the absolute in the religions "of the Book", i.e. Judaism, Christianity & Islam.

The "Divine" Translators : "Elohîm" becomes "Theos" ...

The translators of the Septuagint (starting in the middle of the 3th century BCE) identified the Hebrew Name of the Divine "YHVH (the) Elohîm" with the Greek "Kyrios ho Theos", "Kyrios Kyrios" or "Despotes Kyrios", the gods of Hellenism (Chouraqui, 1995). Hellenized Judaism was rejected by mystical, eschatological currents (Essenes, Enoch), but it did influence the writers of the New Testament. Besides traditional Judaism, Hellenized Judaism was influenced by contacts with Iran, for after the end of the Exile many Israelites remained in Media and Babylonia (at Nahardea). At the same time, Iran's myths of salvation, apocalypse, eschatology, angels & demons and the dualism between light & darkness influenced Judaism, in particular the revolutionary movements like those of Qumrân (Widengren, 1955). So Zoroaster was identified with Seth or Balaam, who fortold the Star of Jacob (Numbers, 24:15-17). Hebrew & Pahlavi literatures exchanged literary material such as visions of holy men caught up into heaven (like Isaiah, cf. Haug, 1870).

A lot of this material can be called "gnostic", meaning :
(a) an initiation by direct personal knowledge (or "gnosis") of the Divine and
(b) the doctrine the world was created by an evil god called "Ialdabaôth" or "Sacla" ("Thou art mistaken, Sacla !", cf. Pistis-Sophia or "the child who traverses places", cfr. Nag Hammadi's Secret Book of John).

Jewish mysticism was nourished by the vision of the Throne towards which the soul of the seer was uplifted on a Chariot through celestial, heavenly spheres which were guarded and so she (not unlike the dead in the Egyptian religion) needed sacred words & seals to move further on. The mystic ascends the heavens. Although more than one parallel with gnostic teachings may be found, scholars are tempted to believe it was the gnostic sects who received parts of their theories from Judaism (Doresse, 1958), for certain mystical themes were developed quite apart from gnosticism and most "gnostic themes" incorporated in Judaism are in accord with authentically Jewish thought of which the gnostics were not aware.

Philo of Alexandria (ca. 25 BCE - ca. CE 50), who considered the Septuagint as divinely inspired (relieving him to refer to the original text), understood God as absolutely "apoios", qualityless. God is incomparable and ineffable. He draws upon Pythagorean ideas of the One as transcendent "nous", on Plato's ideas about the One in his Parmenides & on the distinction between "hyparxis" (unqualified) and "poiotês" (qualified) being of the Middle Academy. For Philo, God's essence in itself is beyond human experience, knowledge or mystic insight, but his exegesis of the "Divine text" often forced him to contradict his negative theology !

God is being "per se" (unlimited) as compared to being "per accidens" (limited). God alone has true being. This being is one, i.e. simple, unified, indivisible. It is the first principle, immaterial, unchangeable. This ineffability is elastic for God is also Mind, Maker & Father, acting benevolently and out of His goodness ! These latter features belong to the "via eminentiae" and should not be taken literally. Philo repeatedly claims that we cannot even make negative statements of God, who is beyond categories altogether. The various positive properties attributed to God are all subsumed as expressions of the "logos" or "second God", who manifests God as thinker & actor. However, that which differentiates the creature from God is no positive being, but the negation & limitation of the creature whereby its participation in the unlimited being (of God) is constituted as a being distinct from God.

With the Name "YHVH (the) Elohîm", the sharp metaphysical distinction between God's essence & God's existence was not drawn. Clearly the unity of the God of the Hebrews was never disputed,  as all of creation is embedded in YHVH. Hence the ontological question of "creation" & "pre-creation" was solved by simply stating that God is One and that all Creations are His. The Greeks (who studied in Egypt) ontologically distinguished being & beyond being (also : before or after being). As polytheists they were not concerned with maintaining the unity of the Divine (as henotheists persue). It was Plato who defined the Supreme Idea as "beyond being" (Republic, 509b). For Plato the idea of the good was a kind of limit of limitations. Later Porphyrius, the pupil of Plotin, would define the One as "not-being beyond being".

This ineffability of the One God was taken as an indisputable axiom both by neoplatonic philosophers & medieval mystics. But it was not popular, for how to address prayers & supplications to an absolutely apophatical God ? Stricly speaking, once one has denied the possibility of linguistic description nothing more can or should be said. When the neoplatonic axiom of ineffability is accepted in too strong a sense, God can not be immanent too. Logically the expression "For any attribute A, God is not A" will in the case of strict ineffability destroy the distinction between "sayable" and "ineffable" or "un-saying" (for not-A predicates God and so contradicts itself).

So in the Septuagint plurality, variety & diversity in the Name of the Divine were lost to the advantage of a sterile monotheism leading to the neoplatonic notion of an absolute transcendent God, infinite & ineffable ground of all beings. This absolute, transcendent God is none other than "YHVH". Because the plural manifestation of God was abrogated (by translating "Elohîm" as "Theos") the "God of the philosophers" seemed abstract, impersonal, unreachable and hence impossible to worship.

Qabalah : God's Creation as Revelation

"See now that I, I am He, and Elohîm is not with Me :
I kill, and I make alive ; I wound, and I heal ..."
Deuteronomy, 32:39.

Although nothing can be said about "YHVH", qabalists associate God with "Ain Soph Aur". This formula contains the so-called "negative veils" separating "YHVH" from His Creation (cf. the "cloud of unknowing" of English mysticism).

Ain there is none (like God) or absolute incomparability
Ain Sof there is no limit (to God) or Infinite Space
Ain Sof Aur there is no limit to (God's) Light, or Infinite Light

One of the most original contributions of Jewish mysticism (the qabalah) to metaphysical cosmology is the idea of "tzimtzum" (withdrawal), developed by rabbi Isaac Luria (1534 - 1572), who studied under Moses Cordovero in Safed. This notion was also developed in the texts of the "contemplatives" (cf. the Sepher ha-Iyyun).

God creates the cosmos in that area ("tehiru", the Aramaic for "pure emptiness") where He is exiled. Elements of this idea are also to be found in Sepher Yetzirah were it is said God "engraved" ("chakak") 32 mystical paths of wisdom. To engrave implies something is taken out to create & seal meaning. The notion of withdrawal was also known to hermetism, for in § 15 of the Asclepius we find :

"By space I mean that in which the ensemble of things is contained. For the whole of this ensemble could not have existed if there had not been a space to support the being of all things (for no thing could have existed without that a place for it had been prepared)."
Corpus Hermeticum : Book 1, § 15.

Revelation is possible because God choose to be absent. God contracts the Infinite Light of a part of Infinite Space to a point of absolute singularity (= the first Sephiroth, called "Kether", Crown), emanating the cosmos. "Ain Soph Aur" equals the uncreated Ineffable ("YHVH" or God) and Kether is the created Creator, emanating the "logos" (= second Sephiroth, called "Chockmah", Wisdom). Kether is God-in-Manifestation.

Kether is the alternation-point between uncreated & created, between manifest (actual) and formless, pre-creational (potential). Kether is Creator and so "Elohîm", but Kether is "Elohîm of Elohîm", the Supreme Monarch who is nothing less than God's existence, His "I AM".

Regarding the doctrines of the qabalah, three major literary references should be kept in mind :
(1) the Sepher Yetzirah, written down between the second & fourth centuries ;
(2) the Sepher Bahir, which appeared in the Provence in the 12th century ;
(3) the Sepher Zohar, composed by Moses of Leon in the 13th century.

In the Zohar the notions of withdrawal & residue are made the cornerstone if its cosmogony.

In the comments on Genesis we find :

"At the outset the decision of the King made a tracing in the supernal effulgence, a lamp of scintillation, and there issued within the impenetrable recesses of the mysterious limitless a shapeless nucleus enclosed in a ring, (...) The most mysterious Power enshrouded in the limitless clave, as it were, without cleaving its void, remaining wholly unknowable until from the force of the strokes there shone forth a supernal and mysterious point. Beyond that point there is no knowable, and therefore it is called Reshith (beginning), the creative utterance which is the starting-point of all. (...) There was indeed a "brightness" (Zohar). The Most Mysterious struck its void, and caused this point to shine. This "beginning" then extended, and made for itself a palace for its honour and glory. There it sowed a sacred seed which was to generate for the benefit of the universe (...) Thus by means of this "beginning" the Mysterious Unknown made this palace. This palace is called Elohim, and this doctrine is contained in the words, "By means of a beginning (it) created Elohim" The Zohar is that from which were created all the creative utterances through the extension of the point of this mysterious brightness."

Zohar, 15a

The mysterious limitless is God's essence, Infinite Space. The King, the most mysterious Power, the Most Mysterious & the Mysterious Unknown indicate God's essence, wholly ineffable. The mysterious point is Kether, the first Sephira, the beginning. Its extension results in the Palace, God's exterior, called "Elohim", pregnant with a holy seed. While it brought forth in silence, that which it bore was heard without (16b). Kether is called "Cause of causes", but is not the "Cause above all causes" (22b). Kether, the Palace (or extension of Kether) & the holy seed (generating for the benefit of the universe) are all part of God's exterior. Kether, the point, is "Cause of causes". God however, is above all causes but causes Kether to emerge (by means of strokes). So the "Cause above all causes" says it has no colleague, partner & number, and therefore it is said : "and Elohim is not with me." (22b) Kether is called "mysterious" because as a point shining forth within God's Infinite Space it can not be said to be absolutely distinct from God although from its extension the universe God's exterior Palace is created ("and Elohim said"). The "Cause above all causes" is the Supreme Cause to be distinguished from the Palace (of the Sephiroth). "There are lights upon lights, one more clear than another, each one dark by comparison with the one above it from which it receives its light. As for the Supreme Cause, all lights are dark in its presence." (22b-23a).

God's so-called "negative existence" may be compared with "active emptiness" or "pure potentiality", i.e. the empty set of all possibilities (or {Ø}). This set is not identical with non-existence or "passive emptiness", i.e. the root of all numbers, zero or no possibility at all (or 0). The equation {Ø} = 1 holds only for Kether.

empty set of all possibilities active emptiness, active void {Ø} is all potential identification
withdrawal, contraction contracted potential manifested {Ø} = 1
absolute singularity : being monarch of manifest being "1" is the First Identified
zero or no possibilities :
passive emptiness, passive void 0 is nothing engendering nothing

The unity of God can never be made manifest, but God enters into the cosmos through the mediation of 9 Sephiroth emanated by Kether (cf. the "Lightning Flash") which are a manifestation of God in the cosmos. The Divine is both outside ("YHVH") & inside ("ALHYM") creation. Devotion & mystical experience ("devekut") are guaranteed because created humanity -by contacting these hyper-beings- returns to Kether and hence to God (regressive accessibility of the One). The "logos" emanates the matrix of the Cosmos (= the third Sephiroth, called "Binah", Understanding).

These first three emanations (Kether, Chockmah & Binah) are called "supernal Sephiroth" because all other emanations (out of Binah) are triadic reflections of this ultimate triadic hyper-being (i.e. immanent "Divine" triadic being). According to the qabalah, 10 Divine "Elohîm" super-exist in the highest plane of the Cosmos (called "Olam-ha-Atziluth"). The first three form the highest possible union of Divine immanence possible in a finite & temporal Cosmos.

The "Elohîm" are nothing less than "the Divine-in-process", "Divine Beings" or "hyper-beings" which are manifestations of God. They allow us to know God is (the Palace) but never what God is (the King). God is never known as such (radical apophatism).

Hence, the absolute beyond of being, not-being & hyper-being is called "God" (i.e."YHVH", ineffable and called "Adonai" or "Lord" for ever and ever "Deus absconditus"). The "summum bonum" of created being is called "Elohîm" ("Deus revelatus"). The "Elohîm" are the Divine energies or God's existence immanent in the Cosmos and so represent the absolute & transcendent ("YHVH", God) within the immanent & relative cosmic arena ("ALHYM". They are the Divine part of the Cosmos and its source of permanent nourishment.

The Judeo-Qabalistic Model
transcendent order essence of God : {Ø} uncreated, creating Being
"YHVH", God, the Lord "AIN SOPH AUR" absolute Being
immanent order manifest being :
"1" + ...
created entity
Kether, Chockmah, Binah Supernal Sephiroth :
the Divine World
supreme hyper-being creating being
7 Sephiroth
(Tree of Life)
Creative, Formative & Physical Worlds being
7 Qlipoth
 (Tree of Death)
Infernal Worlds not-being

Radical Christian Apophatism
versus Dogmatic Trinitarism

Intelligent Christians like ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite invented the neologism "hypertheos" to indicate the beyond of ultimate, supreme (hyper)being identified by Christian theologians with the ultimate idea of the Good ("summum bonum"), which it however radically transcends. In that respect John the Scot rightly distinguished between, on the one hand, the uncreated & creating order (God's apophatic hidden essence, "YHVH") and, on the other, the created & creating order (God's katapathic revealing existence ; the Sephiroth emanated by "ALHYM"). Clearly heretical thinking !

It was Marcellus of Ancyra, who had pamphleted against Origen's emphasis on the independence of Father, Son & Holy Spirit (as three hypostases), who realized the unity of God is prior to all plurality. God as God is one, and can only be called "three" in a relative sense because of the activity of the Divine plan in creation & redemption. For him, any distinction between Father, Son & Spirit is temporary & relative to the created order.

The Apophatic Model
transcendent order essence of God uncreated, creating Being
the One Impassible, Ineffable absolute Being
immanent order manifest being created & creating hyper-being
Father (ABBA) shares in the impassible essence of God supreme hyper-being creating being
Christ His unique Son is the salvic "logos" of the Father the Father's first creation
Holy Spirit is the mediating love between Father & Son proceeds from Father & Son

This apophatic model runs against the Platonic, katapathic idea of the "Good" (cf. Augustine) and unmasks the personal, anthropological representation of the Divine (associated in Judaism with "ALHYM") to discover the impersonal groundless ground of All.

When we study the history of the formation of the dogmatic notion of "one essence with three persons" the personalisation of the exterior of God becomes evident (cf. the Roman Empire resurrected as the Catholic Church). This is even more so when we become aware how the Christo-dogmatic model bluntly "tears the veil" by personalising the nameless, impassible, ineffable transcendent order, and this to the extent of actually creating a pre-creational Christ-figure who is one Person with two natures, of which one is human ! This notion defines the Orthodox position.

In this way, they claim that "through and in Christ" humanity is Deified. To the Greeks and their intellectual mysticism, this was absurd, to the Jews blasphemy on a gigantic scale. The fact the pre-creational order is a forteriori pre-temporal & pre-spatial whereas any "eternal process" still implies an eternal time was beyond the logic of the Fathers of the Church. How explain the importance of the historical events of Christ's life if He is essentially beyond time ?

The Christian Dogmatic Model
transcendent order pre-creational Persons of God uncreated Trinity of Absolute Being
the One Father the independent Divine nature of God : principle of origin unborn principle of the Persons without principle, ground of being
His unique Son
the Divine salvic "logos" of the Father : principle of filiation the Father's generation who creates all
Holy Spirit the mediating Divine love between both (West) or the Divine spiritualization (East) who proceeds from Father & Son (West) or who proceeds from the Father (East)
immanent order manifest being relative, created being
Mary, mother of Jesus Christ
mother of mothers, queen of angels, mother of God
mediates between Christians & Christ the Catholic Church

"And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery,
which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God,
who created all things by Jesus Christ."
Ephesians, 3:9, my italics.

What is so startling in this model, is the actual inflation of the transcent order with katapathic ideas, largely (neo)Platonic philosophies & Late Hellenistic values. Unfortunately, the absence of logic is not felt as a problem (the first massive spread of Christianity was amongst the poor, uneducated, often enslaved classes). Throughout history, the Church of Rome cherished an untrustworthy spiritual dialect : although Vatican I (1782) learns that God is "simplex omnino" (completely simple), Christocentric devotion makes the historical Jesus "God".

Learned theologians (like ps.-Dionysius & Thomas Aquinas) stressed the importance of the unity of God and clearly incorporated the logical identification between transcendence & singularity (this is in conflict with the Dogmatic Model). Nevertheless, the popular personalisations of God, the "official" creation of an army of saints and recently the deification of Mary were not abrogated for reasons of their abstract theology, nor were the masses educated in the truth of the matter (still reserved to the higher clergy). The massive rise in the last 20 years of the number of official "Catholic" saints (due to John Paul II) is suggestive of the still unsatisfied need for a personalisation of the Divine and the elaboration of the lower, horizontal mediations (between Saints & Mary) instead of actively promoting the higher (directly in the Holy Spirit between each individual & God).

"Allah" and the 99 most Beautiful Names

A radical approach of the difficult task of acknowledging the bi-polarity of the Divine, executed without dividing the Name of the Divine (Judaism) nor confusing it (Christianity), was realised in the "tawhîd" (from the same root as "wahid", or "one") of Islam, i.e. the strong affirmation of the Divine Unity as the Fundamental Principle of all possible spirituality. Moreover, this urban religion favoured the acquisition of knowledge (Christianity and free study do not match) and the universal characteristics of the mystical experience became an integrated & living part of the mystical theology and the spiritual practices of Sufi masters like Ibn'Arabî, Junayd, Rûmî ... In principle, the patchwork of Islam allowed for more local deregulation than was the case in the Ancient Mysteries and in Western Catholicism. Nevertheless, Sunnite theology ("kâlam") also raged against heresy (cf. Ibn Yaymiyya's denial of Ibn'Arabî's speculative mysticism).

The first principle of Islam or submission to "Allah" is given in the "shahâdah", the First Pillar, testifying two facts :

(1) "ashhadu an" or "I bear witness that" : "lâ ilâha illa'llâh" or "there is not god but 'Allah'" &
(2) "ashhadu an" or "I bear witness that" : "Muhammadun rasul Allah" or "Muhammad is the messenger of 'Allah'".

The first section ("no god") means :
by negation ("nafy") that if there is no second, there is no cosmos. The second section ("but 'Allah'") means :
(b) by affirmation ("ithbât") that only "Allah" is real. There is nothing but the Real.

Moreover, "Allah" reveals Himself to each person in His own incomparable way, as the Qu-rân explicitly explains.

The second part shows that, although each believer is unique, "Allah" revealed His Book to Muhammad alone and hence only made him His servant elect. This implies the spiritual community of the Prophet or "sunna" is necessary to complement the message of Islam and allow the emergence of a Muslim community. This "sunna" is recorded in the "hadîth" or recorded traditions.

Before Muhammad, the "Ka'aba" was -to many dispersed Arab tribes- one of the more important sacred places. An area of 32 km around it was sacred space wherein no violence was allowed. It housed 360 (presumably Semitical) gods (one for each day of the year) and "Allah" was considered as the "supreme" (cf. the henotheism of the Middle Kingdom in Ancient Egypt). At the beginning of the 7th century, "Allah" had grown in importance, and the "Ka'aba" was regarded as dedicated to Him. A lot of Arabs believed that "Allah" and the "God" of Jews & Christians were identical. So to unite the tribes, the Qu-rân distinguished between "ilah" (god) and "Allah" (best translated as "The God"). The word "god" is used in all kinds of situations were human beings take something else than "Allah" as an object of worship, adoration & service. So any type of supposed independent entity is associating others with "Allah" (or "shirk", to share, to be a partner, to give someone a partner).

The essence of "tawhîd" ("kalimat al-tawhîd") is the first fact testified in the "shahâdah" : "there is no god but 'Allah'". How to understand this ?

At first it only seems an affirmation that "Allah" is the "supreme". This can be understood as if "Allah" is the "summum bonum" of being, which is the case, for nothing escapes Him. But the equation "Allah" = "the Heavenly Father" (of Christianity or the "Kether" of the qabalah) -although true- is nevertheless incomplete.

The essence of the Divine Unity expressed by "tawhîd" is its all-comprehensiveness. Although Divine bi-polarity is acknowledged, no independent, quasi-independent or pseudo-independent relationship between the transcendent & the immanent order is suggested (as was the case in Judaism & neoplatonism). Although "Allah" is the transcendent, He is at the same time the immanent. He is the "Real" and so from His perspective the Cosmos is illusion, unreal. But when creatures investigate that same Cosmos, they discover the signs of His Self-disclosure and arrive at the truth the world is Real because He is everywhere & all the time recreating it. These definitions are truly mystical (and always contain formal contradictions & elliptical logics). They try to reveal the two sides of something simultaneously with their arabesque "tertium comparationis" (cf. Introduction to a Colorful Recital).

"Allah" = "The God" = the Divine
"hidden" : Allah's Essence or the Unity of Being "manifest" : Allah's Self-disclosure
"Real" His 99 most Beautiful Names
Names of Essence What "Allah" is not. Names of Attributes What "Allah" is. Names of Acts
How "Allah" interrelates.

The "tawhîd" implies "nothing is like Him" (42:11), so no one knows "Allah" but "Allah". This guarantees the infinite increase of our knowledge, expansion which will never end, for a new horizon was, is & will always present. This is radical apophatism, for "the Real" is the ineffable, essence of "Allah". No creature can move beyond Creation and merge with the hidden essence of "Allah". For good reasons the influence of Hindu theology on Sûfism was criticised by orthodox Sunnites. The foundation of the salvic theory of both Sânkhya, Yoga, Vedânta (based on the Vedas) is the belief the core of the soul of human beings (the "âtman") is ontologically identical with the Imperishable Brahman, i.e. the "hidden" polarity of the Divine. As a consequence, some Sufi masters thought they had become "Allah" and saw the "Ka'aba" circumambulate around them !

Nevertheless, the revelation of The God encompassing both His Imperishable Essence & His Creation (i.e. the notion founding Islam and known as "tawhîd" or the proclamation of the Unity of the Divine) is also very strong in the Vedas. Brahman is conceived of by him by whom It is not conceived of. He by whom It is conceived of, knows It not (cf. Kena, second "khanda"). Brahman has form & is formless. Brahman is the major category in a non-dual theology acknowledging the bi-polarity of the Divine. The major difference between this form of Hinduism and Sunnite theology being the radical interpretation of "tawhîd". Hence it becomes inconsistent to say "Brahman" is Imperishable (wholly transcendent) and at the same time ontologically identical with the human soul ("âtman"). The consequences of the Hindu salvic model (ontological unity with the Imperishable) are rejected (for this would imply creation and the essence of the Absolute would be identical, which refutes the incomparability of the Absolute). 

Ibn'Arabî had his own interpretation of "tawhîd" and distinguished between the Absolute in absoluteness and Allah. The former being the truly ineffable essence of being, i.e. Real Unity, and the latter existing as a modification of sheer being but still Real because of the all-encompassing Oneness of The God. In his view, "Allah" is pointless without creation, which is His limitation (see also On Being and the Majesty of the Worlds, 1999 & Against the Free Will, 1999).

The words "Allah" & "Brahman" both indicate the bi-polarity of the One Divine. These concepts of a non-dual theology (the only possible theology consistent with the experience of the mystics) stress the unity of the Divine instead of one of the poles of the bi-polarity.

In Judaism, the bi-polarity itself is given a name : "YHVH (the) ALHYM". In Christianity the bi-polarity is camouflaged & forced into the intellectual margin (how many priest & bishops are really aware of the difference between "theos" and "hypertheos", let alone its theological consequence for exclusive katapathism ?). Brahmin priests & Sunnite theologians operate with completely different salvic schemes & appreciations of creation. The Hindu wants release from this universe, which s/he considers as illusion (so Divine incarnations are very welcome here). The Arab mistrusts a personalized incarnation of the Divine (even perfect man does not know His essence), and discovers the signs of "Allah" in the world which is the result of His Self-disclosure (the 99 Names). For the Hindu, Divine beings incarnate regularly (in times of great need). The claim made by a particular human being to be the hidden essence of "Allah" is -to Sunnite standards- insane. In India, millions worship spiritual masters as incarnations of "Vishnu", "Shiva" or one of the "Shakti's" ... These diffence could not be more pronounced.

Second Remark on the Deconstruction of "God"

The problem with the better translations given above, is the remaining obscurity concerning the first character of the drama, "Elohîm". The extremely important verses of Exodus : "And Elohîm said moreover to Moses, Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel, YHVH the Elohîm of Your fathers, the Elohîm of Abraham, the Elohîm of Isaac, and the Elohîm of Jacob, hath sent me to You (...)" are startling when we are forced to consider that "Elohîm" is a plural associated with a plurality of patriarchs. Moreover, "Elohîm" is a feminine form. This does not make things easier to understand the text and deconstruct it to arrive at an approximation of the various meanings of the One bi-polar Divine, this unique absolute reality, a one-fold polarity, remote & near.

Clearly the use of the word "God" is not without problems. One should always check in what tradition it is used and try to find out what is exactly meant. To confront the Christian tradition we rejected the translation of "Elohîm" as "God". The latter word is used to indicate the hidden, remote, totally transcendent Divine order. As a consequence the role of the Divine in the immanent order becomes blurred. Especially in the Old Testament "Elohîm" is impersonal but also personal, although the latter meaning becomes more pronounced in the later books.

In the qabalah, "Elohîm" is associated with the "Shekinah" or the Divine Presence which accompanies Israel. This Presence is feminine, but manifests in different forms. Clearly Messianism and the Presence of the "Shekinah" are related themes. The presence of the Messiah guarantees the full return of the "Shekinah" and so He restores the lost bond between "Adonai" and Israel.

In the New Testament, the notion that Jesus is "God" is associated with the inadequate translation of "Elohîm" as "Theos", for -if we consider the Hebrew text- the superb figure invoked in Daniel 7:13-14 is clearly a majestic manifestation of "Elohîm" (the "Son of man" as an "Elohîm"). Christian theology added the uniqueness of the "Son of God", suggestive of the transformation of the plural "Elohîm" into the singular "Eloah" ...

The Islam does away with all this. It returns to a radical monotheist apophatism (known to Judaism) : the essence of "Allah" can NEVER be experienced, known, understood, grasped etc. However, the identification "Allah" = "YHVH" is NOT complete, for the latter name is intricately interwoven with "ALHYM" but can not be identified with it ("YHVH" is absent). This contrary to "Allah" who can be identified both with "YHVH" and "ALHYM" ! 

Technically, the word "Divine" is used in Sufism (mystical Islam) to denote Divine Existence only.

"Allah" = "The God"

The first fact is : "there is no god but 'Allah'". "Tawhîd" implies no being (which is always part of Creation) exists independently from "Allah". Hence, "Allah" oversees both transcendent & immanent orders.

"Through this unveiling you will see that the Real Himself is the proof of Himself and of His Divinity, while the cosmos is nothing but His self-disclosure within the forms of the immutable entities, which cannot possibly exist without that self-disclosure. The self-disclosure becomes variegated and assumes diverse forms in accordance with the realities and states of the entities. We gain this knowledge after knowing that He is our God."

Ibn-Arabi : Fusûs al-hikam or Metaphysics of Imagination, III.112.13 (translated by W.C.Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, SUNY - New York, 1989, p.298.)

So from the point of linguistics, the word "God" should not be used to identify "Allah". A better translation of "Allah" is "The God".

The unknown "God" (cf. YHVH, 1995 - "YHVH") is the Essence of "The God".

"Allah" = the All = "The God"
the Essence is an eternally unknown Unity ("tawhîd")
Both perspectives simultaneously apply :
(1) Essence of "Allah" : IT
(pre-creational, Alone)
(2) Existence of "Allah" : HE
(out of Aloneness)
The God knows Himself nobody else knows Him (incomparability - "tanzîh") The God Self-discloses His Essence through the Names (similarity - "tashbîh")

The known "Elohîm" are the Existence of "The God", i.e. His Self-disclosure as Divine Names and cosmos (His Self-disclosure within entities : our forms in Him).

Symbolizing the bi-polarity of the one-fold Divine

Let us logically characterise the unknown God as "{ø}" (the empty set) and the Creator as "1" (the standard).

Suppose following general categories & equations :

The God
the All
{ø} + 1 +   ... 99
essence + existence
God & His Divine Exterior
the Essence
{ø} : essence "Deus Absconditus"

Divine Existence

"1" + ... 10 (99)
"Deus Revelatus"

(1) Hinduism :

A multiplicity of Gods & Goddesses created by one Imperishable God ("nirguna Brahman"), both the impersonal unknown absolute & the personal Lord of the Cosmos, Creation & Creatures. The latter is -broadly speaking- worshipped as "Vishnu" or "Shiva". "Brahmâ" stands aside and is conscious of every event.

The Divine is : {ø} + "1" ("1" = a multiplicity of Gods & Goddesses).

The God "Brahman" Imperishable + "mâyâ"
God  "nirguna Brahman" the Imperishable

Divine Existence

"saguna Brahman" or "Brahmâ" etc. the Illusionary

(2) Judaism :

The "YHVH" is unknown. With 10 "Elohîm" or "Divine Names" He created the Cosmos.

The Divine is : {ø} + "1" ("1" revealed as "10" Divine Beings) :

The God "YHVH ALHYM" God and His Creation
God "YHVH" ineffable, unknown

Divine Existence

"ALHYM" Divine Presence ("Shekinah")

(3) Christianity :

The one God is the best of being & creates the world out of His goodness.

The Divine is : {ø} reduced to "1" (called "the one God") but  "1" = "3" (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) :


Father, Son & Holy Spirit eternal circumincession

Divine Existence

Divine energies auto-diffusion

(4) Islam :
"Allah" is Inward (essential unity of being) and Outward (Divine existence of attributes or Names).

The God is : {ø} + "1" ("1" revealed as the "99" Names of "The God")


hidden Essence ("dhat")

The God

"Allah" hidden & manifest

Divine Existence

manifest the 99 most Beautiful Names

The equation : "The God" = "unknown God" + "Creator" holds.

The case of Buddhism

To situate Buddhism, let us distinguish between these models of the Divine :

  1. Semitic model : God is One and Alone. He, the sole, singular God, is an unknown and unknowable Divine Person, Who Wills good and evil alike (cf. Judaism & Islam) ;

  2. Greek model : God is a Principle of principles, the best of the best (Plato), the unmoved mover (Aristotle), the One even ecstasy does not reveal, impersonal and in no way evil or tainted by absence or privation of being (Plotinus), the First Intellect (Ibn Sina), a "God of the philosophers" (Whitehead). This abstract God figures in intellectual theologies, humanism & atheism. In the latter, by the "alpha privativum" of the Divine, as in a-theism, an absolute term is produced, but this time by negation instead of by affirmation. God is reduced to an abstract & absolute "no-absolute" - in popular Greek religion, the Deities are anthropomorphic ;

  3. Christian model : God is One essence in Three Persons : God the Father revealed by God's incarnated Son, Jesus Christ, because, in and with God the deifying Holy Spirit. A God of Love, never impersonal, always without evil (pure of heart) and sole cause of goodness (Christianity) ;

  4. Oriental model : The Divine All, is One sheer Being present to Itself and in every part of creation in terms of a manifold of impersonal & personal Divine Self-manifestations (theophanies), as we see in Ancient Egypt, Alexandrian Hermetism (gnosis), Paganism, Hinduism (Vedanta), Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism and Hermeticism.

Buddhism, contrary to Hinduism, is transtheistic. It wants to move beyond the dogma of the "Deus revelatus". It has no Divine Revelation (and so no "holy" book) and affirms all phenomena (ignorant & wise) to be simultaneously empty of permanent essence or substance and functionally interdependent from beginningless time. It accepts the Divine as the luminous nature of the mind of sentient beings, but does not attribute any eternalizing accident to its inner and outer manifestations (or display of energies).

Buddhism has integrated negative theology and has not given in to the realist & idealist substantialization of foundational, dogmatic theologies, giving rise to so many katapathic "illusions". Its revolutionary nature is precisely the unmasking of the world and its so-called creative Deities (or Creative God) as appearing otherwise than they truly are. The world and its Deities are empty of substance and the latter represent karmic exceptions in the all-comprehensive network of interdependent phenomena. Eventually, even they face their own downfall, and loose the karmic advantage with which they lure their worshippers. Depleted of merit, they "die" and return to the other "worlds" of the world-systems.

To be empty of substance implies that after prolonged & serious rational analysis, no eternal, continuous, permanent, solid, substantial ground or foundation can be found anywhere. Not in the mind. Not in the world. Hence, there are no rational grounds to accept a Creator God or an eternal soul. The way of the Buddha is reasonable & experiental. Nothing more is needed. However, God and the soul are substantializations (fixations) of the continuous change happening in cognitive thought between object & subject. To stop the objective change ad hoc an eternal object is posited (God). To end the subjective alterations ad hoc an eternal subject is invoked (soul). Because these objects are eternal, they cannot establish causal relationships with other objects (cf. Nagarjuna) and become isolated, self-righteous & irrational (cf. Kant's "perversa ratio").

For Buddhists, the Divine exists, but it is never turned into a thing. Beyond mind and world, the Divine is the experience of the absolute in the interval (gap or nowness) between two conceptual thoughts. Nothing can be said about this, except what deep meditators intuit : mind, space, light, clarity, brilliance, unbounded wholeness.


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initiated : 11 I 2000 - last update : 05 VII 2007 - version n°7