|THE BASIC STRUCTURE OF METAPHYSICAL THINKING IN ISLAM: PART-2|
|Published by tislam|
|Wednesday, 02 May 2012 11:11|
The word " separation " (farq) primarily refers to the common-sense view of reality. Before we subjectively attain to the stage of f ana' we naturally tend to separate the Absolute from the phenomenal world. The phenomenal world is the realm of relativity, a world where nothing is absolute, where all things are observed to be impermanent , transient , and constantly changing. This is the kind of observation which plays an exceedingly important role in Buddhism as the principle of universal impermanence. The world of multiplicity, be it remarked, is a realm where our senses and reason fulfil their normal functions.
Over against this plane of relativity and impermanence, the Absolute is posited as something essentially different from the former, as something which absolutely transcends the impermanent world. Reality is thus divided up into two completely different sections. This dichotomy is called "separation" (farq ) . The empirical view of reality is called "separation" also because in this view all things are separated from one another by essential demarcations. A mountain is a mountain. It is not, it cannot be , a river . Mountain and river are essentially different from one another.
The world of being appears in a completely different light when looked at through the eyes of one who has reached the subjective state of fana' . The essential demarcations separating one thing from another , are no longer here. Multiplicity is no longer observable. This comes from the fact that since there is no ego-consciousness left, that is to say, since there is no epistemological subject to see things , there are naturally no objects to be seen . As all psychological commotions and agitations become reduced to the point of nothingness in the experience of f ana' , the ontological commotion that has hitherto characterized the external world calms down into an absolute Stillness. As the limitation of the ego disappears on the side of the subject, all the phenomenal limitations of things in the objective world disappear from the scene, and there remains only the absolute Unity of Reality in its purity as an absolute Awareness prior to its bifurcation into subject and object. This stage is called in Islam "gathering" (jam') because it "gathers" together all the things that constitute the phenomenal world and brings them back to their original indiscrimination. In theological terminology this is said to be the stage at which the believer witnesses God, and God alone, without seeing any creature. It is also known as the stage of "God was , and there was nothing else". This stage would correspond to what the Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu calls " chaos " (hun tun ) ." ( 1 4 )
The next stage which is the ultimate and highest is that of baqa' . Subjectively, this is the stage at which man regains his phenomenal consciousness after having experienced the existential annihilation of its own self. The mind that has completely stopped working at the previous stage resumes its normal cognitive activity. Corresponding to this subjective rebirth, the phenomenal world also takes its rise again. The world once more unfolds itself before the man's eyes in the form of the surging waves of multiplicity. The things that have been " gathered " up into unity are again separated from one another as so many different entities. This is why the stage is called "separation after unification" or the "second separation ". There is, however, an important difference between the first and the second "separation". In the "first separation", which is the pre -fana' stage both subjectively and objectively, the innumerable things were definitely separated from one another, each being observed only as an independent, self-subsistent entity. And, as such, they are made to stand opposed to the Absolute, again as two entirely different ontological domains between which there is no internal relationship. At the stage of the "second separation", too, all phenomenal things are unmistakably distinguished from one another through each one of them having its own essential demarcation which is peculiar to itself.
And this ontological dimension of Multiplicity qua Multiplicity is also unmistakably differentiated from the dimension of Unity. The "second separation", however, is not sheer Multiplicity, because at this stage all the essential demarcations of the things, although they are clearly observable, are known to be nothing other than so many self-determinations of the absolute Unity itself. And since the "unity" annihilates in its own purity all ontological differences, the whole world of being is here found to be ultimately reducible to one single metaphysical root. From such a viewpoint, what can be said to exist in the real sense of the word is nothing but this unique metaphysical root of all things. In this sense the Multiplicity which is observable here is Unity. The only important point is that "unity" at this stage is unity with inner articulations. And this stage is called "gathering of gathering" (jam' al -jam' ) for the very reason that the phenomenal things that have all been once reduced to the absolute unity of total annihilation at the stage of f ana' , i.e. the primary "gathering", are again "separated" and then again "gathered" together in this new vision of Unity. Thus the difference from this particular point of view between the Unity at the stage of fana' i.e. "gathering" and the Unity at the stage of baqa' or "gathering of gathering" consists in the fact that the Unity at the stage of fana' is a simple, absolute Unity without even inner articulation, while the Unity seen at the stage of the "gathering of gathering" is an internally articulated Unity. And Reality as observed at this latter stage is philosophically a coincidentia oppositorum in the sense that Unity is Multiplicity and Multiplicity is Unity. It is based on the vision of Unity in the very midst of Multiplicity and Multiplicity in the very midst of Unity. For as Lahiji remarks, Unity or the Absolute here serves as a mirror reflecting all phenomenal things, while Multiplicity or the phenomenal things fulfil the function of a countless number of mirrors, each reflecting in its own way the same Absolute, a metaphor which is singularly similar to the Buddhist image of the moon reflected in a number of different bodies of water, the moon itself ever remaining in its original unity despite the fact that it is split up into many different moons as reflections. (15)
He who has reached this stage is known in the tradition of Islamic philosophy as a "man of two eyes" (dhu al -'aynayn ) . He is a man who, with his right eye, sees Unity, i.e. absolute Reality, and nothing but Unity, while with his left eye he sees Multiplicity, i.e. the world of phenomenal things. What is more important about this type of man is that, in addition to his simultaneous vision of Unity and Multiplicity, he knows that these two are ultimately one and the same thing. Such being the case, he recognizes in every one of the actually existent things two different aspects: the aspect of f ana' and the aspect of baqa' . It goes without saying that the terms f ana' and baqa' are here taken in the ontological sense, although they are not unrelated to the subjective experience known respectively by the same appellations. The aspect of fana' in a thing is the aspect in which it is considered as something determined, individualized, and essentially delimited. In this aspect every existent thing is properly non-existent, a "nothing". For the "existence" it seems to possess is in reality a borrowed existence; in itself it is unreal (batil) and subsists on the ground of -Nothingness.
The aspect of baqa', on the contrary , is the aspect in which the same thing is considered as a reality in the sense of a determined form of the Absolute , a phenomenal form in which the Absolute manifests itself. In this aspect, nothing in the world of being is unreal. Every concretely existent thing is a peculiar combination of these negative and positive aspects, a place of encounter between the temporal and the eternal, between the finite and infinite, between the relative and the absolute. And the combination of these two aspects produces the concept of a "possible" (mumkin) thing. Contrary to the ordinary notion of ontological "possibility", a " possible " thing is not a purely relative and finite thing. As a locus of divine self-manifestation (tajalli ) , it has another aspect which directly connects it with absolute Reality. In every single thing, be it the meanest imaginable thing, the mystic-philosopher recognizes a determined self-manifestation of the Absolute.
This metaphysical situation is described by Mahmud Shabastari in his Gulshan-e Raz through a combination of contradictory terms as " bright night amidst the dark daylight " (shab-e-roushan miyan-e-raz-e-tarik). (16) The " bright night " in this expression refers to the peculiar structure of Reality as it discloses itself at the stage of the subjective and objective fans' in which one witnesses the annihilation of all outward manifestations of Reality. It is "night" because at this stage nothing is discernible; all things have lost their proper colours and forms and sunk into the darkness of the original indiscrimination. This metaphysical "night", however, is said to be "bright" because absolute Reality in itself that is, apart from all considerations of the limitations set by the very structure of our relative Consciousness is essentially luminous, illuminating its own self as well as all others. The second half of the above expression reads "amidst the dark daylight". This means, first of all, that this absolute Unity is revealing itself in the very midst of Multiplicity, in the form of determined, relative things. In this sense and in this form , the absolute Reality is clearly visible in the external world, just as everything is visible in the daylight. However, the daylight in which all these things are revealed to our eyes is but a phenomenal daylight. The things that appear in it arc in themselves of the nature of darkness and non-existence. This is why the "daylight" is said to be "dark".
These two contradictory aspects of Reality, namely, light and darkness, which are said to be observable in everything, bring us directly to the question: In what sense and to what degree are the phenomenal things real ? The problem of the "reality" or "unreality" of the phenomenal world is indeed a crucial point in Islamic philosophy which definitely divides the thinkers into different classes constituting among themselves a kind of spiritual hierarchy. Haydar Amuli in this connection proposes a triple division: (1) the common people (`awamm) or men of reason (dhawu al-`aql), (2) the privileged people (khawass) or men of intuition (dhawu al-`ayn), and (3) the privileged of all privileged people (khawass al-khawass) or men of reason and intuition (dhawu al-`aql wa-al-`ayn). (17)
The lowest stage is represented by those of the first class who do not see except Multiplicity. They are those who are firmly convinced that the things as they perceive them in this world are the sole reality, there being nothing beyond or behind it. From the viewpoint of a real mystic-philosopher, the eyes of these people are veiled by the phenomenal forms of Multiplicity from the view of Unity that underlies them. The phenomenal things, instead of disclosing, by their very mode of existence, Something that manifests itself through them, function as impenetrable veils obstructing the sight of that self-revealing Something. This situation is often compared in Islamic philosophy to the state of those who are looking at images reflected in a mirror without being at all aware of the existence of the mirror. In this metaphor the mirror symbolizes absolute Reality, and the images reflected in it the phenomenal things. Objectively speaking, even the people of this type are perceiving the images on the surface of the mirror . There would be no image perceivable without the mirror. But subjectively they believe the images to be real and self -subsistent things. The metaphor of the mirror happens to be one of those important metaphors that recurr in Islamic philosophy on many different occasions. Another metaphor of this nature is the sea surging in waves, which, in the particular metaphysical context in which we are actually interested, indicates that the people notice only the rolling waves forgetting the fact that the waves are nothing but outward forms assumed by the sea . Describing bow phenomenal Multiplicity veils and conceals the underlying Unity of Reality, Jami says : "Existence is a sea, with waves constantly raging, Of the sea the common people perceive nothing but the waves. Behold how out of the depth of the sea there appear innumerable waves, On the surface of the sea, while the sea remains concealed in the waves." I would take this opportunity to point out that Muslim philosophers tend to use metaphors and similes in metaphysics, particularly in the explanation of the seemingly self-contradictory relation between Unity and Multiplicity, or absolute Reality and the phenomenal things. The frequent use of metaphors in metaphysics is one of the characteristic marks of Islamic philosophy, or indeed we might say of Oriental philosophy in general. It must not be taken as a poetic ornament. A cognitive function is definitely assigned to the use of metaphors." (19)
This may rightly remind us of Wittgenstein's understanding of the concept of "seeing as". According to Wittgenstein, "seeing as" involves a technique in a way which normal "seeing" does not. Thus one might well be able to "see" but not be able to "see as". He calls this latter case "aspect-blindness". (20) In the same way, to discover an appropriate metaphor in the high domain of metaphysics is for Muslim philosophers a peculiar way of thinking, a mode of cognition, for it means discovering some subtle features in the metaphysical structure of Reality, an aspect which, no matter how self-evident it may be as a fact of transcendental Awareness, is so subtle and evasive at the level of discursive thinking that human intellect would otherwise be unable to take hold of it.
This said, we shall continue our consideration of the various stages in metaphysical cognition. Those of the common people who perceive nothing beyond Multiplicity and for whom even the word "phenomenon" does not make real sense have been said to represent the lowest stage in the hierarchy. A stage higher than this is reached, still within the confines of the common people, by those who recognize something beyond the phenomenal. This Something-beyond is the Absolute or in popular terminology God which is conceived as the Transcendent. God is here represented as an absolute Other which is essentially cut off from the phenomenal world. There is, in this conception, no inner connection between God and the world. There is between them only an external relationship like creation and domination. Such people are known in Islam as "men of externality" (ahl-e zahir), i.e. those who see only the exterior surface of Reality. Their eyes are said to be afflicted with a disease preventing them from seeing the true structure of Reality. The reference is to a disease or deformity peculiar to the eye called hawal. He who is infected with it always has a double image of whatever he sees. One single object appears to his eyes as two different things.
The second class of people according to the above-given division, are those who have attained to an immediate vision of absolute Reality in the experience of fana', both in the subjective and the objective sense, that is, the total annihilation of the ego and correspondingly of all the phenomenal things that constitute the external, objective world. But the people of this class just stop at this stage and do not go any further. To state the situation in more concrete terms, these people are aware only of absolute Unity. They see everywhere Unity, nothing else. The whole world in their view has turned into absolute Unity with no articulation and determination. Certainly, when these people come back immediately from the experience of fana' to their normal consciousness, Multiplicity does again become visible. But the phenomenal world is simply discarded as an illusion. In their view, the world of Multiplicity has no metaphysical or ontological value because it is essentially unreal. The external objects are not "existent" in the real sense of the word. They are just floating gossamers, sheer illusions backed by no corresponding realities. Such a view is in its fundamental structure identical with the Vedantic view of the phenomenal world in its popular understanding, in which the notorious word maya is taken to mean sheer illusion or illusion-producing principle.
Just as this popular understanding does gross injustice to the authentic worldview of Vedanta philosophy, the exclusive emphasis on the Absolute to the irreparable detriment of the phenomenal world in Islamic metaphysics fatally distorts the authentic view of its representatives. It is in this sense that Haydar Amuli accuses Ismailism of disbelief and heresy." (21)
From the viewpoint of the highest mystic-philosopher, even the people of this type, when they experience the vision of the Absolute, are actually doing nothing but perceiving the Absolute as it is reflected in the phenomenal things. But dazzled by the excess of light issuing forth from the Absolute, they are not aware of the phenomenal things in which it is reflected. Just as, in the case of the people of the first class, the Absolute served as the mirror reflecting upon its polished surface all the phenomenal things, so in the present case the phenomenal things serve as mirrors reflecting the Absolute. In either case, man usually takes notice of the images in the mirror, and the mirror itself remains unnoticed.
It is at the third stage, that is, at the stage of the "privileged of all privileged people" that the relation between the Absolute and the phenomenal world is correctly grasped as the coincidentia oppositorum of Unity and Multiplicity. It is, moreover, in this region that the cognitive value of metaphorical thinking to which reference has been made earlier is most profusedly displayed. Those whose consciousness has been raised to the height of baqa' after the experience of fana', experience the relation between the Absolute and the phenomenal as the coincidentia oppositorum of Unity and Multiplicity. Theologically speaking , they are those who are able to see God in the creature and the creature in God. They can see both the mirror and the images that are reflected in it, God and the creature at this stage alternately serving as both the mirror and the image . The one selfsame "existence" is seen at once to be God and the creature , or Absolute Reality and the phenomenal world, Unity and Multiplicity.
The sight of the Multiplicity of phenomenal things does not obstruct the sight of the pure Unity of ultimate Reality. Nor does the sight of Unity stand in the way of the appearance of Multiplicity.(22) On the contrary, the two complement each other in disclosing the pure structure of Reality. For they are the two essential aspects of Reality, Unity representing the aspect of "absoluteness" (itlaq) or "comprehensive contraction" (ijmal ), and Multiplicity the aspect of "determination" (taqyid) or "concrete expansion" (tafsil ). Unless we grasp in this way Unity and Multiplicity in a single act of cognition we are not having a whole integral view of Reality as it really is . Haydar Amuli calls such a simultaneous intuition of the two aspects of Reality the "unification of existence" (tawhid wujudi) and regards it as the sole authentic philosophical counterpart of religious monotheism.(23) The "unification of existence" thus understood consists in a fundamental intuition of the one single reality of "existence" in everything without exception. In the Absolute, which corresponds theologically to God, it sees "existence" in its absolute purity and unconditionality, while in the things of the phenomenal world it recognizes the concrete differentiations of the selfsame reality of "existence" in accordance with its own inner articulations. Philosophically this is the position generally known as "oneness of existence" (wahdat al -wujud), which is an idea of central importance going back to Ibn `Arabi .
The particular type of metaphysics based on this kind of existential intuition begins with the statement that the Absolute only is real , that the Absolute is the sole reality, and that, consequently, nothing else is real. The differentiated world of Multiplicity is therefore essentially "non-existent" (`adam). To this initial statement, however, is immediately added another; namely, that it does not in any way imply that the differentiated world is a void, an illusion, or sheer nothing. The ontological status of the phenomenal things is rather that of relations, that is, the various and variegated relational forms of the Absolute itself. In this sense, and in this sense only , they are all real .
The rise of the phenomenal world as we actually observe it, is due primarily to two seemingly different causes which are in reality perfectly co-ordinated with each other: one metaphysical, another epistemological. Metaphysically or ontologically, the phenomenal world arises before our eyes because the Absolute has in itself essential, internal articulations that are called shu'un (sg. sha'n) meaning literally "affairs", i.e. internal modes of being. They are also called existential "perfections " (kamalat), a conception similar in an important and significant way to Lao Tzu's idea of "virtues" (te) in relation to the way (tao). (24) These internal articulations naturally call for their own externalization. As a consequence, "existence" spreads itself out in myriads of self-determinations.
Epistemologically, on the other hand, this act of self-determination on the part of Reality is due to the inherent limitations of the finite human consciousness. The Absolute or pure "existence" in itself is sheer Unity . The Absolute remains in its original Unity in no matter how many different forms it may manifest itself. In this sense the world of Multiplicity is essentially of the very nature of the Absolute; it is the Absolute itself. But the original Unity of the Absolute appears to the finite human consciousness as differentiated into countless finite things because of the finitude of the consciousness. The phenomenal world is the Absolute that has hidden its real formless form under the apparent forms which are caused by the very limitations inherent in the epistemological faculties of man. The process here described of the appearance of the originally undifferentiated metaphysical Unity in many different forms is called in Islamic philosophy the "self-manifestation" (tajalli) of "existence". The conception of the tajalli is structurally identical with the Vedantic conception of adhyasa or "superimposition", according to which the originally undivided Unity of pure nirguna Brahman or the absolutely unconditioned Absolute appears divided because of the different "names and forms" (nama-rupa) that are imposed upon the Absolute by "ignorance" (avidya). It is remarkable, from the viewpoint of comparison between Islamic philosophy and Vedanta that avidya which, subjectively, is the human "ignorance" of the true reality of things, is, objectively, exactly the same thing as maya which is the self-conditioning power inherent in Brahman itself. The "names and forms" that are said to be superimposed upon the Absolute by avidya would correspond to the Islamic concept of "quiddities" (mahiyat, sg. mahiyah) which are nothing other than the externalized forms of the Divine "names and attributes" (asma' wa-sifat). And the Vedantic maya as the self -determining power of the Absolute would find its exact Islamic counterpart in the concept of the Divine "existential mercy" (rahmah wujudiyah).
However, even at the stage of self-manifestation, the structure of Reality as seen through the eyes of a real mystic-philosopher looks diametrically opposed to the same Reality as it appears to the relative consciousness of an ordinary man. For in the eyes of an ordinary man representing the common-sense view of things, the phenomena are the visible and manifest while the Absolute is the hidden. But in the unconditioned consciousness of a real mystic-philosopher, it is always and everywhere the Absolute that is manifest while the phenomena remain in the background.
This peculiar structure of Reality in its tajalli -aspect is due to what I have repeatedly pointed out in the course of this lecture; namely, that the differentiated world of phenomena is not self -subsistently real. No phenomenal thing has in itself a real ontological core. The idea corresponds to the celebrated Buddhist denial of svabhava or "self-nature" to anything in the world. In this sense, the philosophical standpoint of the school of the "oneness of existence" (wahdat al-wujud) is most obviously anti-essentialism. All so-called "essences" or "quiddities" are reduced to the position of the fictitious. The utmost degree of reality recognized to them is that of " borrowed existence ". That is to say, the "quiddities" exist because they happen to be so many intrinsic modifications and determinations of the Absolute which alone can be said to exist in the fullest sense of the word. In reference to the ontological status of the phenomenal world and its relation to the Absolute the Muslim philosophers here proposed a number of illuminating metaphors. In view of the abovementioned importance of metaphorical thinking in Islam I shall give here a few of them. Thus Mahmud Shabastari (25) says in the Gulshan-e Raz
"The appearance of all things "other" (than the Absolute) is due to your imagination (i.e. the structure of human cognition), Just as a swiftly turning point appears as a circle." Concerning these verses Lahiji makes the following observation. The appearance of the world of Multiplicity as something "other" than the Absolute is due to the working of the faculty of imagination which is based on sense perception and which is by nature unable to go beyond the phenomenal surface of the things. In truth, there is solely one single Reality manifesting itself in a myriad of different forms. But in this domain sense perception is utterly untrustworthy. For it is liable to see a mirage as something really existent when it is in truth non existent. It sees drops of rain falling from the sky as straight lines. A man sitting in a boat tends to think that the shore is moving while the ship stands still ." ( 2 6 ) When in the dark a firebrand is turned very swiftly, we naturally perceive a burning circle. What is really existent in this case is the firebrand as a single point of fire. But the swift circular movement makes the point of fire appear as a circle of light. Such, Lahiji argues, is the relation between the Absolute whose state of Unity is comparable to a point of fire and the world of Multiplicity which in its essential constitution resembles the circle produced by the movement of the point . (27) In other words, the phenomenal world is a trace left behind by the incessant creative acting of the Absolute.
The philosophical problem here is the ontological status of the circle of light. Evidently the circle does not "exist" in the fullest sense of the word. It is in itself false and unreal. It is equally evident, however, that the circle cannot be said to be sheer nothing. It does exist in a certain sense. It is real as far as it appears to our consciousness and also as far as it is produced by the point of fire which is really existent on the empirical level of our experience. The ontological status of all phenomenal things that are observable in this world is essentially of such a nature.
Another interesting metaphor that has been proposed by Muslim philosophers is that of ink and different letters written with it. (28) Letters written with ink do not really exist qua letters. For the letters are but various forms to which meanings have been assigned through convention. What really and concretely exists is nothing but ink. The "existence" of the letters is in truth no other than the "existence" of the ink which is the sole, unique reality that unfolds itself in many forms of self-modification. One has to cultivate , first of all , the eye to see the selfsame reality of ink in all letters, and then to see the letters as so many intrinsic modifications of the ink. The next metaphor that of the sea and waves is probably more important in that, firstly, it is shared by a number of non-Islamic philosophical systems of the East and is, therefore, apt to disclose one of the most basic common patterns of thinking in the East; and that, secondly, it draws attention to an extremely important point that has not been made clear by the preceding metaphors ; namely , that the Absolute in so far as it is the Absolute cannot really dispense with the phenomenal world, just as the "existence" of the phenomenal world is inconceivable except on the basis of the "existence" of the Absolute , or more properly, the "existence" which is the Absolute itself.
Of course, the Absolute can be conceived by the intellect as being beyond all determinations, and as we have seen earlier, it can even be intuited as such, in its eternal Unity and absolute unconditionality . We can go even a step further and conceive it as something beyond the condition of unconditionality itself."'
But such a view of the Absolute is an event that takes place only in our consciousness. In the realm of extra-mental reality, the Absolute cannot even for a single moment remain without manifesting itself. As Haydar Amuli says (30) " the sea , as long as it is the sea , cannot separate itself from the waves; nor can the waves subsist independently of the sea. Moreover , when the sea appears in the form of a wave, the form cannot but be different from the form of another wave , for it is absolutely impossible for two waves to appear in one and the same place under one single form".
Haydar Amuli recognizes in this peculiar relationship between the sea and the waves an exact image of the ontological relationship between the stage of undifferentiated "existence" and the stage of the differentiated world. He remarks : ( 3 1 ) " Know that absolute existence or God is like a limitless ocean, while the determined things and individual existents are like innumerable waves or rivers . Just as the waves and rivers are nothing other than the unfolding of the sea according to the forms required by its own perfections which it possesses qua water as well as by its own peculiarities which it possesses qua sea, so are the determined existents nothing other than the unfolding of absolute existence under those forms that are required by its own essential perfections as well as by its peculiarities belonging to it as its inner articulations ".
" Further, the waves and rivers are not the sea in one respect, while in another they are the same thing as the sea. In fact, the waves and rivers are different from the sea in respect of their being determined and particular. But they are not different from the sea in respect of their own essence and reality, namely, from the point of view of their being pure water . In exactly the same way , the determined existents are different from the Absolute in their being determined and conditioned, but they are not different from it in respect of their own essence and reality which is pure existence. For from this latter viewpoint, they are all nothing other than existence itself ".
It is interesting that Haydar Amuli goes on to analyse this ontological situation from a kind of semantic point of view. He says: (32) " The sea, when it is determined by the form of the wave , is called waves. The selfsame water , when determined by the form of the river, is called a river, and when determined by the form of the brook , is called a brook . In the same way it is called rain, snow, ice , etc . In reality , however, there is absolutely nothing but sea or water , for the wave , river , brook , etc . are merely names indicating the sea. 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 ". And he adds that exactly the same is true of " existence " or "reality" . There are still other famous metaphors such as that of the mirror and the image, and that of one and the numbers which are formed by the repetition of one. All of them are important in that each one throws light on some peculiar aspect of the relation between Unity and Multiplicity which is not clearly revealed by others. But for the particular purposes of the present paper , I think, enough have already been given.
The most important conclusion to be drawn from a careful consideration of the metaphors that have just been given is that there are recognizable in the metaphysical Reality or the Absolute itself two different dimensions. In the first of these dimensions, which is metaphysically the ultimate stage of Reality, the Absolute is the Absolute in its absoluteness, that is, in its absolute indetermination. It corresponds to the Vedantic concept of the parabrahman, the "Supreme Brahman", and to the neo-Confucian idea of the wu chi, the " Ultimateless ". Both in Vedanta and Islam , the Absolute at this supreme stage is not even God, for after all " God " is but a determination of the Absolute, in so far at least as it differentiates the Absolute from the world of creation. In the second of the two domains , the Absolute is still the Absolute , but it is the Absolute in relation to the world. It is the Absolute considered as the ultimate source of the phenomenal world, as Something which reveals itself in the form of Multiplicity. It is only at this stage that the name God Allah in Islam becomes applicable to the Absolute.
It is the stage of the parameshvara, the supreme Lord, in Vedanta, and in the neo-Confucian worldview the position of the t'ai chi, the "Supreme Ultimate" which is no other than the wit chi , the "Ultimate of Nothingness" as an eternal principle of creativity. Such is the position generally known as "oneness of existence" (wahdat al-wujud) which exercised a tremendous influence on the formative process of the philosophic as well as poetic mentality of the Muslim Iranians, and whose basic structure I wanted to explain to you in this paper. It will be clear by now that it is a serious mistake to consider as it has often been done this position as pure monism or even as "existential monism" . For it has evidently an element of dualism in the sense that it recognizes two different dimensions of reality in the metaphysical structure of the Absolute. Nor is it of course right to regard it as dualism, for the two different dimensions of reality are ultimately, i.e. in the form of coincidentia oppositorum , one and the same thing . The "oneness of existence" is neither monism nor dualism. As a metaphysical vision of Reality based on a peculiar existential experience which consists in seeing Unity in Multiplicity and Multiplicity in Unity, it is something far more subtle and dynamic than philosophical monism or dualism.
It is interesting to observe, moreover, that such a view of Reality, considered as a bare structure , is not at all exclusively Iranian . It is, on the contrary , commonly shared more or less by many of the major philosophical schools of the East. The important point is that this basic common structure is variously coloured in such a way that each school or system differs from others by the emphasis it places on certain particular aspects of the structure and also by the degree to which it goes in dwelling upon this or that particular major concept. Now, by further elaborating the conceptual analysis of the basic structure, taking into consideration at the same time the major differences which are found between various systems , we might hopefully arrive at a comprehensive view of at least one of the most important types of Oriental philosophy which may further be fruitfully compared with a similar type of philosophy in the West. It is my personal conviction that a real, deep, philosophical understanding between the East and West becomes possible only on the basis of a number of concrete research works of this nature conducted in various fields of philosophy both Western and Eastern.
(Taken from "The concept and reality of existence." Keio Institute of Cultural and Linguistic Studies, Tokyo, 1971. )