the Water of Life
© Wim van den Dungen
perishing but His Face.
Like fish we say to the Ocean of
"Why didst Thou send up waves
and throw us unto the driness of water and
Rûmî : Mathnawî, V, 600
Allâh said :
"I was a Hidden Treasure, so I loved to be known."
attributed to the Prophet -
according to Ibn'Arabî proven through unveiling
The Sûfî philosophers
adhering to "wahdat al wujûd" (unity of being)
distinguish between being-as-being (One & Necessary) and
being-as-existence (multiple & possible), between being indeterminated and
determinated. Not unlike Spinoza they witness multiplicity as an
expression, a modality of being-as-being (cf.
"substance" in the Ethics). Not unlike ps.-Dionysius they
declare being-as-being irreversibly ineffable, incomprehensible &
uncomparable (i.e. the One Alone without a second).
warns you about His Self. (3:28)
The unfathomable depth of the tranquility of the limitless ocean of light
(being-as-being) has no waves (being-as-existence). All of existence
(both unmanifest and manifest) is ever-changing in ever-new creations
depending on the properties of the ocean qua ocean, i.e. the Divine
Names existing in the Oneness of Divine Existence. They urge towards the
creations and are not the original indiscriminate essence of this
ocean of the most dazzling (but to us blinding) light without shores, an
essence which remains hidden & alone (with no second). These
properties prepare the coming of the waves whereas the supreme property of
the ocean of light is called love, the unfolding movement of life.
The elements of the metaphor of the "ocean of light & life"
unfolds simultaneously on various ontological strands or levels :
essence of being = the
ocean without shores
Divine Existence = the
ocean qua ocean
creation, the factual
things = the waves of the ocean
the perishment of all
factual things = the water itself
the survival of the
face of everything = drinking the water of life
The essence of being is hidden but the existence of this same being is
The human mind goes through stages (levels or strands of
cognition characterized by different textures and mental operators - cf.
the rational mind functions within the boundaries
established by the domain of reason, whereas intellectual reason
transcends them altogether :
(I) (domain of reason) Existentialism (the forms of denial of Plato's
"essentiality" of being rooted in the Ideas) conjectures that
only the phenomenal accidents ("ens" or "mawjûd") exist for
nowhere is "being-as-being" (as pure "actus essendi") observable as such. Hence,
"existence" is always some
"x" that exists phenomenally, and this existence is an accident.
The weakness of this position is its inability to grasp the radical
& absolute impossibility to objectify being-as-such
(reality-as-it-is). According to Ibn Sînâ existence is a
peculiar kind of accident.
(II) (domain beyond reason) Essentialism concludes that the former peculiarity is due to to the fact that
no thing is self-subsistent. Being-as-being is the sole necessary, eternal, unchanging
Essence which can not be objectified. All other modes of being are only the
so many, divergent waves of existence, necessarily interacting with
each other on the surface of the ocean. Each wave differing from the others
(and so no real comparison is possible). Being-as-existence is an intricate
network studied by reason. But unveiling shows how the existence of
the waves is only borrowed from Sheer Being, undifferentiated
The sea can not be separated from the waves, nor can the waves exist
without the sea. All these waves of light have names and create worlds,
but there is nothing but the sea and its water. The water of the sea is
always the selfsame water. Only the color of the cup determines its
The mystic who plunges into this ocean of light annihilates everything he
or she is (cf. "fanâ" or "annihilation"). What is
left is utter darkness because of the nearness to the Absolute light. In
that darkness the "Water of Life" is hidden (cf. Lâhîjî : Gulsan-e
Ráz, v.122 in
1994). To drink this water (a metaphor of
"baqâ" or "survival") is to
recover from total oblivion and survive as the perpetual witness of the
Absolute. It means that one is reborn as a
totally renewed & perfected human being in the unperishable light
which is the Face of the Absolute (22:88).
is Independent of the worlds.
All of existence happens in the essence of
Being, the Uniquely Sheer Essence of the Divine, the One Alone, being now as
always. Being One without oneness and Alone without loneliness. Unity
without diversity, multiplicity, differences, determinations or conditions.
annihilates in the One Alone, or comes to be in this One. Nobody is the same as,
or other than, or together with this One. There is only the essence of the
Divine, the One Alone who creates nothing forever for "everything is
perishing but His Face" (28:88).
This Being is the only necessity. It is
necessary that there be no real existence but the essence of Being. Also : there is
no uniting or being with this One, neither union or separation. Sheer Being is
the One who joins and the One joined. The One unites with Itself but Itself. Only the
essence of Being is real. Everything other is unreal. It is impossible to
objectify The One for there is no subject to witness It.
No image, concept or insight
is able to unveil this core of Being. This explains why perplexity is the
outcome of the proces of unveiling (like a return to the place one never
ps.-Dionysius wrote :
"There is no speaking of it,
nor name nor knowledge of it. Darkness and light, error and truth - it is none
of these. It is beyond assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of
what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond every
assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and, by virtue of
its preeminently simple and absolute nature, free of every limitation, beyond
every limitation ; it is also beyond every denial."
Mystical Theology, chapter five - translated by
Luibheid, 1987, my
Haydar Âmulî wrote :
"In truth (i.e. in its
absolutely unconditioned reality) it bears no name ; there is nothing whatsoever
to indicate it. No, it is a matter of sheer linguistic convention even to
designate it by the word sea itself."
Jâmir'al-Asrâr, 206-207, translated by
Describing Sheer Being is to go astray (cf. Ansârî). In order to describe
something one has to define its limitations. Existence can not transcend existence. Negate Existence and nothing but Essence remains.
This sole Reality is related to nothing. But, as the Magister Maximus claimed :
only Divinity (Existence) describes the Essence (Futûhât al-makkiyya,
him not associate anyone with his Lord's worship.
The "profession of The
God's unity" (or "tawhîd" from "wâhid" or
"one") : "There is no god only The
God" implies that there is nothing except Allâh. The Absolute
in Its absoluteness is singled out for unity. The
Essence of Allâh is a unity strictly and only for Allâh to be in, the unique,
sheer essence of being called "the unity of being" ("esse
subsistens"). The One Alone ("ahad" or "one") is a
unity ("ahadiyya") of being which is substantially (essentially)
absolutely unique and hence absolutely alone (without a second).
Spinoza wrote :
"By substance I understand that which
is by itself and has to be conceived through itself, i.e. the conception of
which does not presuppose the conception of something else from which it should
have been derived."
Ethics, part one, definition 3, my
If we posit a second it is unreal. Such a
conjecture is however illusionary, for there is only the Absolute. Hence, all
events that seem to happen are nothing else but the Absolute.The unity of being is not
"first" or "last". It is without beginning and end (like an
The "Animator of the Religion" wrote : "Allâh
Most High is the meaning of before the before and after the after ; without Him,
before and after have no meaning. Were this not so, 'He is alone.' 'He has no
partners.' would have no meaning."
Kitab al-ahadiyyah or A
Treatise on The One Alone (translated by Tosun, B. :
Divine Governance of
the Human Kingdom, Fons Vitæ - Louisville, 1997, pp.235-236.
This is the Unitary Principle underlying the whole theology of
Allâh and hence the foundation of "islâm", submission (to The God).
The "Seal of the Saints" wrote : "Nothing
issues from the Perfect without being in accordance with the appropriate
perfection. So there is no imperfect thing in the cosmos whatsoever. Were it not
for the accidents which give birth to maladies, man would enjoy himself within
the form of the cosmos, just as the cosmos enjoys itself, and he would delight
in it, for it is the garden of the Real ... So perfection is an intrinsic
attribute of the things, while imperfection is an accidental affair whose
essence is perfection."
Futûhât al-makkiyya, I 679.31 - translated by
1989, my italics.
us is there, but has a known station ;
we are the rangers, we are they that give glory.
Allâh's Existence or Divinity
is called "oneness" because this Name encompasses all possible Divine
Names and brings them under an all-comprehensive unity, called "Absolute
I-ness", the core of Divine Existence. This Absolute I-ness implies the
determination of otherness or not-I-ness. Hence the level of Divine Existence is
duality under the all-comprehensive firstness of the Absolute unfolding
multiplicity. Here, in the context of Sufism, "Divinity" is solely associated with Existence and does not stand for Essence plus Existence
(compare this with the notion "Divine bi-polarity"
The Greatest Shaikh wrote :
"Freedom is a station of the
Essence, not of the Divinity."
Futûhât al-makkiyya, II 226.22 - translated by
From the perspective of Allâh's Essence or unity of being, all of Existence,
i.e. both Divine Existence and the creations, are unreal. Moreover, Existence is
unfree. Although there is nothing in the creations which is like The God, the
latter's Existence as Divinity is determinated by the forms of all possible
Divine Names (urging towards so many creations). This means that although Divine
Existence is the Form of forms, the ultimate Oneness of all possibilities ever,
It is without the unconditionedness & undeterminatedness of the Essence of
being, namely the Self of Allâh. This Face is only for Allâh to know.
"Allâh" is the first of the 99 Divine Names and also the last, the
100th Name. In the beginning, in the permutations and at the end The God IS the
selfsame Absolute Being. The God has no second and
is both the hidden Unity of Being, namely Sheer Being, and the revealed Oneness of
Compare this Divine variety with the countless beautiful jewels contained in the
infinite treasurehouses of Divine Existence encompassed by the Absolute I. Each
jewel reveals a part of this hidden treasure
(containing an infinite number of Divine
Self-disclosures) and urges towards reflection/creation of multiple universa or
The "son of Plato" wrote : "Do You not see the one who sets
up 'the image on the screen' ? He sets it up only so that the viewer will
realize the knowledge of wujûd's actual situation. The viewer sees numerous
forms whose movements, activities, and properties belong to one entity that has
none of this. What brings these things into existence, making them move and
stand still between us and Him, is the screen that is set up. It is a separating
limit between us and Him, through which the distinction occurs."
Futûhât al-makkiyya, II
311.2 - translated by
The God is uniquely both singular origin of incomparable Majesty (as
Essence) AND multiple accomodations for an infinite variety of forms urging
towards a plurality of actual worlds (as Existence) under the Oneness of Divine
Consciousness and Its Absolute I. Divine Multiplicity reveals,
unveils & presents possibilities which (like all the rest) are part of the
Essence of the Absolute (without parts and undivided). These forms receive the
active nonduality of the Essence and give It determination. The God is the Self-discloser whose Self is not witnessed
by those who witness, through their own Selves, the manifestations of the Names. These forms are not
unconnected but are bound together by the Oneness in the Consciousness of the
Divine, namely the Presence of the Majesty of the Words, the receptive pole of The God.
other than The God is The God's Self-disclosure. Hence, only the Essence of
Being is without disclosure, forever hidden and curtained, Absolutely REAL. All
Divine Names of
Multiplicity can disclose themselves, except "the One"
("al-ahad") and "the Unique" ("al-wâhid"). They come
close as possible to something denoting the Essence of The God the Most High.
serve not those you serve apart from Allâh,
but I serve Allâh, who will gather you to Him.
The creations are absolutely unreal viewed from the essence of the Most High but
relatively real insofar as they are the ultimate manifestation of Divine
Self-disclosure, namely the Names and their creations. This manifestation is
nothing less than the movement of life or the activity of love. The worlds are
but traces of the incessant loving activity of the Divine through unveiling,
creation, formation & manifestation. Because the worlds are Divine Self-determinations they acquire a reflection of Divine Existence (in Itself
relative from the Absolute viewpoint, namely that of Absolute Being, the Essence
or Self of The God). This reflection is the movement of life called
From the viewpoint of Divine Consciousness, focussed on the manifestation of
infinite possibilities, the hidden treasure is without essential value. Not one
possibility is real, except the Self of The God. Only Sheer Being is without
shores and so able to accomodate the Divine and burn its Love (stop the
motions). The ocean qua ocean is forced to measure the borderless and
finds its own wholeself by BEING an ocean without shores and nothing else. But
as existence, the ocean qua ocean is the determination of all possible
forms, creations, worlds & events in it.
The God is thus both bipolar, namely a hidden Essence & an unveiling
Existence. The latter, the Divine, is also polar for the "most
beautiful" Divine Names are Terrible (base or imperfect and cause of chaos)
or Beautiful (perfect and cause of order). Allâh's Presence as hidden treasure implies both absence
& presence. But Allâh's Presence as Essence is absolutely
withdrawn, incomparable, unknown, ineffable & never revealed.
"To conceive of God as distant, through
His greatness, power, majesty, holiness, and so on, is to understand Him as the
yang element in a yin/yang relationship. We have no effect upon Him, while
everything we are and everything we do derive from His activity."
Murata, S. :
Tao of Islam, SUNY - New York, 1992, p.53.
the unity of being nothing would exist. Without all of existence,
the Absolute is now as always the same unbroken Unity with Himself, being The
One Alone who's Self belongs from eternity without beginning to Himself,
Self-disclosing in a multiplicity of forms under the Oneness of Beauty.
As only the Absolute in its absoluteness transcends the ocean qua ocean,
no creature moves beyond THAT which shelters its essence as a fixed, eternal
object in Divine Consciousness. For in reality everything which happens is Sheer Being. Only the essence of Being, the Absolutely Absolute,
the Ocean without shores accomodates Divine Existence which -through its
all-comprehensiveness- describes it.
Hence only the Divine accomodates the Real.
people, you are the poor toward Allâh,
and Allâh - He is the Independent, the Praiseworthy.
The word "ghinâ" is
"independence", "autarchy", i.e. being in need of nothing.
This is the situation of The God. Its opposite "faqr" is "poverty" or "need",
i.e. the situation of the creatures. All of
existence absolutely depends on the essence of Being in order to exist. Only the cosmos as a whole and each
member of Perfected Humanity being a
form encompassing all forms. But, were it
not for Sheer Being, all things would go on nullifying themselves and plunge
into oblivion & non-existence. The solidity of reality revealed by the
senses and grasped by the rational mind is only a veil covering, curtaining
the implicate order of Being, the Oneness of Multiplicity and Unity of
Aloneness. When this veil is transfused by the intuitional light of the
intellect only total submission to the motionless (timeless) ongoingness of
Divine Self-disclosure prevails. This is the Veil of Unknowing for the
Self of The God is only for Him to know.
Rûmî wrote :
"Like fish we say to the Ocean of
Life, 'Why didst Thou send up waves and throw us unto the driness of water and
clay ? (...) The Ocean replies, 'I was a Hidden Treasure, so I wanted to
be known' : 'I was a treasure, concealed behind the curtain of the Unseen,
hidden in the retreat of No-place. I wanted My Beauty and Majesty to be known
through the veils of existence. I wanted everyone to see what sort of Water of
Life and Alchemy of Happiness I am."
Mathnawî, V, 600 -
The "ocean of life without shores" is the key metaphor of Sheer Being.
It is an ocean of light, for absolute darkness does not exist. The
"water" of this ocean is one single reality of internal essence and
external existence which runs
through all the modes, dimensions & articulations of being, manifesting differently at each level.
There is no spacetime involved, only ontological rank (cf. Hamadânî's
"rutba"). Existence are the waves of the ocean of life. They are various forms
assumed by the ocean. This is the spirito-cosmological situation. Its
structure as a whole is reflected in the each human being. Hence, each human being is a microcosm.
Water takes on the color of the cup. The preparedness or face determines the form of
the reception. Nobody swimming in the water of the ocean of life is prepared enough to move
beyond it. Each wave is unique.
Perfected Humanity, bridging the interval of being completely, has all possible
forms except Unity of Being Itself. Their microcosmos being ruled by their own Selves serving The
God, they rule the macrocosmos (cf. "khalîfa" or viceregency). But
they are unable to know their proper essence, which is nothing less than the
essence of all the rest, namely Sheer Being or the Absolutely Absolute.
Although they have survived as Self or face they realize that even this
has no substantiality outside the Face of the Absolute.
Each Self is the face of a unique form of human existence. No two Selves are
identical, although they all participate in the wonderous magnificence of life
which is continuously changing
and develops a myriad of forms of existence. No Self dies for each face exists as eternal objects
in Divine Consciousness, the Oneness of Multiplicity. Through annihilation they merely
wake up and consciously survive
by seeing everything as The God. One can not be annihilated or come to be in
The Magister Maximus wrote :
"Therefore, if you know
yourself without being, not trying to become nothing, you will know your Lord.
If you think that to know Allâh depends on your ridding yourself of yourself,
then you are guilty of attributing partners to Him -the only unforgivable sin-
because you are claiming that there is another existence besides Him, the
All-Existent : that there is a you and a He."
Kitab al-ahadiyyah or A
Treatise on The One Alone (translated by Tosun, B. :
Divine Governance of
the Human Kingdom, Fons Vitæ - Louisville, 1997, p.236).
How to go about ? Everything depends on the activation of a seemingly dormant
conscious function which transcends the object-knowledge derived from
empirico-formal cognition. It is able to take off
the veils that hide reality-as-it-is from our conscious waking. Only with
both eyes opened is unveiling ("kashf") secure. Reason should
never be abrogated. Often though, the rational mind finds counsel through
intuitions, inspirations & insights offered by this higher function of
consciousness, mostly working by way of imagery & visualisation.
should cause thee to die from thyself and live in Him."
'Abd al-Qâsim Junayd
Three stages define the path of the Sûfî mystic : leaving, annihilation
("fanâ") & subsistence ("baqâ" - survival), going from
non-reality ("bâtil") to reality ("haqq").
In the first stage one
leaves the realm of multiplicity through ascetic practices ;
In the second stage
("fanâ") reality-as-such is encountered as an effusion ("fayd") of the
light of the Absolute which necessarily results in the complete breakdown of
the I-form of identity. All elements are brought back to their original
nothingness or non-existence. This extinction comes from an intense
concentration of the mind praying to & in rememberance of The God. One
has to clean ("takhlîs") the mind of its relations with anything
other than the Absolute. The raging of the waves calms down and the eternal
tranquility of the limitless, timeless, indeterminated ocean remains. The
worlds lose their seeming solidity and existence desolves in absolute
indiscrimination, never realized as an object, but only as the Ultimate
Subject or "my" Lord of revelation, Mind-Reality. Everything one
knew, had or was is gone in this all-prevasive ground, and like a drop of
water falling down to meet the ocean, one
vanishes in it, desolves, only to be ocean ;
In this last stage
("baqâ"), the Water
of Life is drunk and the forms & identities reappear but they are
deprived of all ontological self-subsistence. The wave is the ocean
as a wave. The entities are experienced as
relatively real particularizations of the Oneness of Absolute Consciousness or
Existence-as-such. They are Her Cups receiving a part of the ever-present water. All creatures drink of this Water of Life but only the saints (who
are completely themselves) are fully aware of the marvelous, formidable,
wonderous & awesome happening this brings amidst the daylight. Namely that absolute
unity manifests in the very midst of multiplicity. They survive in
the Absolute because they bridged their interval of being with their own
whole-Selves, essence or Face. As eternal objects they exist in Divine Consciousness and Her
Majesty, the Oneness of a Multiplicity of Divine Names.
according to Junayd a final
stage has to be added : that of sobriety, allowing the mystic to experience
the Divine in the interior of the heart while being actively engaged in the
Shabastarî wrote :
the whole world is a mirror, each one of the things is a mirror. Even in a
single atom hundreds of suns are shining."
Gulshan-e Ráz, v.145, translated by
initiated : 3 I 2000 - last update : 25 XI 2005 - version n°2