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Of Najmuddin Kobra
(The founder of the Kobravi Sufism )
by Nima Hazini
Shaykh Najmoddin Kobra (d.618/1221), founder of the Kobraviyyeh Sufi Order, died at Urgench, near Khwarazm, when the city was overrun by the Mongol army, and presumably he is still buried there. His major work, _Fawa'ih al-Jamal wa Fawatih al-Jalal_, was critically edited by the German Islamicist Fritz Meier (Weisbaden: 1957) and can be found in any good university research library with a decent Islamics/Middle East studies collection. Meir's introduction discusses many details about the life, thought and oeuvre of the Shaykh, but also look at Richard Gramlich's _Die schiitischen Derwishorden Persiens_ 3 volumes (Wiesbaden: 1965) which provides additional details about Kobra's genealogy. Also, look at the works of Henri Corbin, especially his _The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism_ (Boulder: 1978) and _En islam iranienne_ 4 volumes (Paris: 1974).
Other secondary works which discuss Shaykh Najmuddin Kobra, his order and spiritual descendents, are `Abdurrahman Jami's _Nafahat'ul-Uns min Hadarat'ul-Quds_, ed. M. Tawhidi-Pur (Tehran: Kitabfurushi-ye Sa`di, 1336/1957), _Mukatabat-e `Abd al-Rahman Isfarayini ba `Ala al-Dawla Simnani_, ed. Herman Landolt (Tehran/Paris: 1972), Hamid Algar's article in The Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed., and Muhammad Isa Waley's essay entitled "Najm al-Din Kubra and the Central Asian School of Sufism" in _Islamic Spirituality II_ (ed.) Seyyed Hossein Nasr (New York: 1991), pp. 80-104. You might also want to check the appropriate Encyclopedia Iranica entry.
Najmoddin Kobra was a unique Sufi master and thinker, in that after Ayn'ul-Quzat Hamadhani, Suhravardi and before Ibn `Arabi he systematized an analytical Sufi metaphysical spiritual psychology based entirely on the visionary apperception of photisms of light. Like Indian Kundalini Yoga, this spiritual psychology (or more correctly, "pneumatology," i.e. science of the soul) posits seven subtle centers (the lata'if) surrounding the body which are progressively triggered and deepened as a spiritual novice advances on the Path. According to Ala'Dowleh Simnani, a successor of Kobra, these subtle centers also represent and correspond to seven archetypal prophets of the soul (i.e. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Solomon, David, Jesus and Muhammad).
The Kobravi Sufism of Najmuddin Kobra is also interesting from an important angle in that it exhibited a very pronounced crypto-Shi'ism. As such two overtly Twelver Shi'i Sufi orders, the Nurbakhshiyyah (now based in Pakistan) and the Zahabiyyah (now exlusively based in Shiraz), branched from it. Corbin has pointed out that the Kobravi method of scriptural interpretation, unlike some other contemporary Sufi masters of the time, demonstrated a method highly reminiscent of the style and approach of Isma'ili spiritual/scriptual exegisis (tawil) much like that of Nasir-e Khosrow or Abu Yaqub Sijistani. Of course, the philosophical/gnostic tawil approach was also utilized extensively by Twelver (ithna `ashari) authors such as Allama al-Hilli and others. However, not to the same extent and philosophical depth as the Isma'ilis, and only with the impact of the school of Kobra and Ibn `Arabi upon Twelver Shi'ism with such authors as Seyyed Haydar Amuli, Ibn Abi Jumhur al-Ahsai and Rajab Bursi did it gain the sort of wide intellectual currency High Gnostic Twelver Shi'ism is now known for. The only works currently available of Kobra's oeuvre still remains Meir's edition of the _Fawa'ih al-Jamal wa Fawatih al-Jalal_ and M. Mole's edition of several shorter treatises in _Traites mineurs de Nagm al-Din Kubra_ Annales islamologiques no.4 (Cairo: 1963). The first work I own, Mole's text/edition I've read, especially the treatise entitled _
Risalah ila'l-ha'im al-kha'if min lawmat al-la'im_ (Treatise to the Dozing [Seeker] Fearful of the Blamer's Blame). I also own Najmuddin Razi Daya's _Mirsad'ul-`ibad_ (ed.) Muhammad Amin Riyahi (Tehran: Bungah-e Tarjumeh va Nashr-e Kitab, 1352/1973) which is a summary
by one of Kobra's important student's and a contemporary of Rumi's of some of the key doctrines of the Shaykh (incidentally Rumi's father, Bahau'ddin Valad, was a disciple as well as a khalifa of Najmuddin Kobra ). Since it is difficult to summarize a profound spiritual figure such as Kobra in a few short paragraphs, I will let him speak for himself with four short translations from his _Fawa'ih_ done by Muhammad Isa Waley:
Know that the lower soul, the Devil, and the Angel are realities that are not external to you. You are they. So, too Heaven, Earth and the Divine Throne are not located outside of you; nor are Paradise, Hell, Life or Death. All of these exist within you, as you will realize once you have accomplished the initiatic journey and become pure. (Fawa'ih, par.67:32, trans. Waley).
You can only see or witness an object by means of some part of that same object. As we said, it is only the mine whence it came which a precious stone sees, desires, and yearns for. So when you have a vision of a sky, an earth, a sun, stars, or a moon, you should know that the particle in you which has its origin in that same mine has become pure. The more pure you become, the purer and more radiant will be the sky that appears to you, until in the last stages of the journey you travel within the Divine Purity. But Divine Purity is limitless, so never think that there is not something more exalted still ahead. (Fawa'ih, par.60:28-29, ibid.).
When you see before you a vast expanse opening out toward the distance, there is clear air above you and you see on the far horizon colors such as green, yellow, and blue, know that you are going to pass through that air to where those colors are. The colors appertain to spiritual states. Green is the sign of the life of the heart [this being the highest state]. The color of pure fire indicates the life of "spiritual concentration" (himmah), which denotes power [of actualization]. If this fire be dark, that betokens the fire of exertion and shows the seeker to be weary and afflicted after the battle with the lower ego and the Devil. Blue is the color of the life of the ego. Yellow is the color of lassitude. All these are supersensory realities that speak with him who experiences them in the two languages of inner tasting (dhawq) and visionary apperception. These are two reliable, mutually corroboratory witnesses: what you behold with inner vision you also experience within yourself, and what you experience inwardly you also behold with inner vision. (Fawa'ih, par.13:6, ibid)
This Face is in reality your own face and this sun is the Sun of the Spirit which oscillates in your body. Then your entire body is immersed in purity, and at that moment you see before you a person made of light, who generates lights. The spiritual traveler, too, then experiences his entire body as generating lights. It may be that the veil will fall from all individuality, so that you see totality through the totality of your body. The faculty of inner vision is opened first in the eyes, then the face, then the breast, then the whole body. This person of light in front of you is called by the People [Sufis] "the Supersensory Guide," and is also known as "the Supersensory [Personal] Master" or the "Supersensory Scales [of Judgment]" (Fawa'ih, par.66:31-32, ibid ).