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 On the Water of Life 

©  Wim van den Dungen

On Essence

On Unity

On Oneness

On Love

On Service 

Everything is perishing but His Face.
Qur'ân 28:88 

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 ?"
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). 

Allâh warns you about His Self. (3:28)

  • the Absolute in Its absoluteness ("dhât") : essential Unity of being (dim = 10)

  • the Absolute in the Oneness of Unveiling : Divine Existence (dim = 9)

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 known. 
The human mind goes through stages (levels or strands of cognition characterized by different textures and mental operators - cf. Piaget) :
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 & unconditioned. 

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 color.

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 Izutsu, 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)

On Essence 

Allâh 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.

Nobody 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 left). 

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."
The Mystical Theology, chapter five - translated by Luibheid, 1987, my italics.

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 Izutsu, 1994.

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, I 41.9).

On Unity 

Let 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 translation.

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 ocean without shores).

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 Chittick, 1989, my italics.

 On Oneness 

None of 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" developed elsewhere).

The Greatest Shaikh wrote :
"Freedom is a station of the Essence, not of the Divinity."
Futûhât al-makkiyya, II 226.22 - translated by Chittick, 1989.

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 Multiplicity.

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 cosmoi.

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 Chittick, 1998.

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.

Everything 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 as close as possible to something denoting the Essence of The God the Most High.

 On Love 

I 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 "love".

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. : The Tao of Islam, SUNY - New York, 1992, p.53.

Without 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.

 On Service 

O 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 - translated by Chittick, 1983.

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.

"Tend to your heart."

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 God.

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.

"Allâh 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 world.

Shabastarî wrote : "Behold, 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 Izutsu, 1994.

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initiated : 3 I 2000 - last update : 25 XI 2005 - version n°2