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Newsletter for November 2009

Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12


by Allama Dr. Mohammad Iqbal
(An excerpt from his doctoral thesis, "The Doctrine of Metaphysics in Pershia", a rare document)


            Motion and light are not concomitant in the case of bodies of a lower order. A piece of stone, for instance, though illuminated and hence visible, is not endowed with self-initiated movement. As we rise, however, in the scale of being, we find higher bodies, or organisms in which motion and light are associated together. The abstract illumination finds its best dwelling place in man. But the question arises whether the individual abstract illumination which we call the human soul, did or did not exist before its physical accompaniment. The founder of Ishraqi Philosophy follows Avicenna in connection with this question, and uses the same arguments to show that the individual abstract illuminations cannot be held to have pre-existed, as so many units of light. The material categories of one and many cannot be applied to the abstract illumination which, in its essential nature, is neither one nor many; - though it appears as many owing to the various degrees of illumination receptivity in its material accompaniments. The relation between the abstract illumination, or soul and body, is not that of cause and effect; the bond of union between them is love. The body which longs for illumination, receives it through


 the soul; since its nature does not permit a direct communication between the source of light and itself. But the soul cannot transmit the directly received light to the dark solid body which, considering its attributes, stands on the opposite pole of being. In order to be related to each other, they require a medium between them, something standing midway between light and darkness. This medium is the animal soul - a hot, fine, transparent vapour which has its principal seat in the left cavity of the heart, but also circulates in all parts of the body. It is because of the partial identity of the animal soul with light that, in dark nights, land-animals run towards the burning fire; while sea-animals leave their aquatic abodes in order to enjoy the beautiful sight of the moon. The ideal of man, therefore, is to rise higher and higher in the scale of being, and to receive more and more illumination which gradually brings complete freedom from the world of forms. But how is this ideal to be realized ? By knowledge and action. It is the transformation of both understanding and will, the union of action and contemplation, that actualizes the highest ideal of man. Change your attitude towards the Universe, and adopt the line of conduct necessitated by the change. Let us briefly consider these means of realization:

            (a) Knowledge. When the Abstract illumination associates itself with a higher organism, it works out its development by the operation of certain faculties - the powers of light, and the powers of darkness. The former


are the five external senses, and the five internal senses - sensorium, conception, imagination, understanding, and memory; the latter are the powers of growth, digestion, etc. But such a division of faculties is only convenient. "One faculty can be the source of all operations (1)." There is only one power in the middle of the brain, though it receives different names from different standpoints. The mind is a unity which, for the sake of convenience, is regarded as multiplicity. The power residing in the middle of the brain must be distinguished from the abstract illumination which constitutes the real essence of man. The philosopher of illumination appears to draw a distinction between the active mind and the essentially inactive soul; yet he teaches that, in some mysterious way, all the various faculties are connected with the soul.


            The most original point in his psychology of intellection, however, is his theory of vision (2). The ray of light which is supposed to come out of the eye must be either substance or quality. If quality, it cannot be transmitted from one substance (eye) to another substance (visible body). If, on the other hand, it is a substance, it moves either consciously, or impelled by its inherent nature. Conscious movement would make it an animal perceiving other things, The perceiver in this case would be the ray, not man. if the movement of the ray is an attribute of its nature, there is no reason why its movement should


be peculiar to one direction, and not to all. The ray of light, therefore, cannot be regarded as coming out of the eye. The followers of Aristotle hold that in the process of vision images of objects are printed on the eye. This view is also erroneous; since images of big things cannot be printed on a small space. The truth is that when a thing comes before the eye, an illumination takes place, and the mind sees the object through that illumination. When there is no veil between the object and the normal sight, and the mind is ready to perceive, the act of vision must take place; since this is the law of things. "All vision is illumination; and we see things in God". Berkley explained the relativity of our sight-perceptions with a view to show that the ultimate ground of all ideas is God. The Ishraqi Philosopher has the same object in view, though his theory of vision is not so much an explanation of the sight-process as a new way of looking at the fact of vision.


            Besides sense and reason, however, there is another source of knowledge called "Dhauq" - the inner perception which reveals non-temporal and non-spatial planes of being. The study of philosophy, or the habit of reflecting on pure concepts, combined with the practice of virtue, leads to the upbringing of this mysterious sense, which corroborates and corrects the conclusions of intellect.


            (b) Action. Man as an active being has the following motive powers:



            (a) Reason or the Angelic soul - the source of intelligence, discrimination, and love of knowledge.
            (b) The beast-soul which is the source of anger, courage, dominance, and ambition.

            (c) The animal soul which is the source of lust, hunger and sexual passion.


            The first leads to wisdom; the second and third, if controlled by reason, lead respectively to bravery and chastity. The harmonious use of all results in the virtue of justice. The possibility of spiritual progress by virtue, shows that this world is the best possible world. Things as existent are neither good nor bad. It is misuse or limited standpoint that makes them so. Still the fact of evil cannot be denied. Evil does exist; but it is far less in amount than good. It is peculiar only to a part of the world of darkness; while there are other parts of the Universe which are quite free from the taint of evil. The sceptic who attributes. the existence of evil to the creative agency of God, presupposes resemblance between human and divine action, and does not see that nothing existent is free in his sense of the word. Divine activity cannot be regarded as the creator of evil in the same sense as we regard some forms of human activity as the cause of evil(1).


            It is, then, by the union of knowledge and virtue that the soul frees itself from the world of darkness. As we know more and more of the nature of things, we are brought closer and closer to the world of light; and the love of that world becomes more and more intense. The stages of spiritual development are infinite, since the degrees of love are infinite. The principal stages, however, are as follows:


              (1) The stage of " I ". In this stage feeling of personality is most predominant, and the spring of human action is generally selfishness.

              (2) The stage of " Thou art not Complete absorption in one's own deep self to the entire forgetfulness of everything external.

               (3) The stage of "I am not". This stage is the necessary result of the second.

              (4) The stage of “Thou art” The absolute negation of "I", and the affirmation of "Thou", which means complete resignation to the will of God.
              (5) The stage of "I am not; and Thou art not”. The complete negation of both the terms of thought - the state of cosmic consciousness.
            Each stage is marked by more or less intense illuminations, which are accompanied by some indescribable sounds. Death does not put an end to the spiritual progress of the soul. The individual souls, after death, are not unified into one Soul, but continue different from each other in proportion to the illumination they received during their companionship with physical organisms. The Philosopher of illumination anticipates Leibniz's doctrine of the Identity of Indiscernibles, and holds that no two souls can be completely similar to each other(1).



When the material machinery which it adopts for the purpose of acquiring gradual illumination, is exhausted, the soul probably takes up another body determined by the experiences of the previous life; and rises higher and higher in the different spheres of being, adopting forms peculiar to those spheres, until it reaches its destination - the state of absolute negation. Some souls probably come back to this world in order to make up their deficiencies (1). The doctrine of transmigration cannot be proved or disproved from a purely logical standpoint; though it is a probable hypothesis to account for the future destiny of the soul. All souls are thus constantly journeying towards their common source, which calls back the whole Universe when this journey is over, and starts another cycle of being to reproduce, in almost all respects, the history of the preceding cycles.


            Such is the philosophy of the great Persian martyr. He is, properly speaking, the first Persian systematizer who recognizes the elements of truth in all the aspects of Persian speculation, and skilfully synthesises them in his own system. He is a pantheist in so far as he defines God as the sum total of all sensible and ideal existence(2). To him, unlike some of his Sufi predecessors, the world is something real, and the human soul a distinct individuality. With the orthodox theologian, he maintains that the ultimate cause of every phenomenon, is the Absolute Light whose illumination forms the very essence of the universe. In his psychology he follows Avicenna, but his treatment of this branch of study is more systematic and more empirical. As an ethical philosopher, he is a follower of Aristotle whose doctrine of the mean he explains and illustrates with great thoroughness. Above all he modifies and transforms the traditional Neo-Platonism, into a thoroughly Persian system of thought which, not only approaches Plato, but also spiritualises the old Persian Dualism.. No Persian thinker is more alive to the necessity of explaining all the aspects of objective existence in. reference to his fundamental principles. He constantly appeals to experience, and endeavours to explain even the physical phenomena in the light of his theory of illumination. In his system objectivity, which was completely swallowed up by the exceedingly subjective character of extreme pantheism, claims its due again, and, having been subjected to a detailed examination, finds a comprehensive explanation. No wonder then that this acute thinker succeeded in founding a system of thought, which has always exercised the greatest fascination over minds - uniting speculation and emotion in perfect harmony. The narrow-mindedness of his contemporaries gave him the title of "Maqtul" (the killed one), signifying that he was not to be regarded as "Shahid" (Martyr); but succeeding generations of Sufis and philosophers have always given him the profoundest veneration.


I may here notice a less spiritual form of the Ishraqi mode of thought. Nasafi(1) describes a phase of Sufi thought which reverted to the old materialistic dualism of Mani. The advocates of this view hold that light and darkness are essential to each other. They are, in reality, two rivers which mix with each other like oil and milk(2), out of which arises the diversity of things. The ideal of human action is freedom from the taint of darkness; and the freedom of light from darkness means the self-consciousness of light as light.







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