3: The Perfect Individual as a Mirror
The Perfect Individual, as a perfect reflection of God, is given special status in the world. The Perfect Individual is the only creature that manifests all the Names or Attributes, of God, and therefore is the only creature that fully manifests Being. The question arises: “if the Perfect Individual perfectly and completely reflects God or Being, then is this individual somehow more ‘real’ than other individuals?” The answer to this question will always be yes and no. The reason for this paradoxical answer/non-answer is evident within the mirror analogy employed by Ibn al- ‘Arabi.
The being of the Perfect Individual is not conducive to a linear or systematic description. Much like radii extending from the center of a sphere, the different themes outlined here could be discussed in any order, each one leading to and connecting with the others. A key concept within Ibn al- ‘Arabi’s school of Sufism is the idea of unveiling, which refers to the process by which the initiate is made aware of a previously unknown level of existence or truth. The knowledge was already in front of this person, but hidden under a veil. Through various unveilings, the individual is granted a progressively clearer vision of truc Reality. This chapter seeks to lift away veil after veil to present a clear vision of the Perfect Individual’s ontological and metaphysical status. This will be accomplished by:
1) discussing and analyzing the specific elements within the mirror analogy as a rhetorical tool used by Ibn al- ‘Arabi;
2) Analyzing and exploring the Ibn al- ‘Arabic term wujud and its two meanings of “being” and “finding,” and the implications it has for the Perfect Individual; and finally,
3) using the conclusions from the previous sections to form a picture of how and why the Perfect Individual exists in a paradoxical state of being.
The mirror plays a key role in understanding and describing the paradoxical claims of Ibn al- `Arabi. Because of this, it has to be the point of departure for this chapter. The mirror analogy is important, especially in its relation to the being of the Perfect Individual. The first clue to understanding this is to look at how the mirror is used to describe the creation of the universe. In the first chapter of the Bezels of Wisdom, Ibn al-`Arabi lays out the basics of his ontology and metaphysics by describing how God created the universe.89 He begins by explaining that God or Reality wanted to see the manifestation of His Essence in another object, which would allow Him to see “His own mystery”, so He created the universe. He further explains that:
...For the seeing of a thing, itself by itself, is not the same as its seeing itself in another, as it were in a mirror; for it appears to itself in a form that is invested by the location of the vision by that which would only appear to it given the existence of the location and its [the location’s] self-disclosure to it.”
89 This description is very different from the one given in the last chapter, but it is in no way contradictory. 9° Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 50.
In order for God to see His own mystery, He has to see His Attributes manifested in an object other that Himself. Ibn al- `Arabi describes this need as similar to the phenomenological experience of viewing oneself in a mirror. An individual can look at him/herself using only his/her own naked eye, but this is fundamentally different from looking at oneself through the means of a mirror. The mirror manifests a quality of otherness upon the individual that would otherwise remain hidden and unknown. The otherness is not given to the individual by another person, but is given by him/herself, for the other is none other than him/herself. The image in the mirror, as Ibn al- `Arabi says, imbues the individual with a form that “would only appear to it given the existence of the location” and which is only knowable to the individual because of the location’s “self-disclosure.”
Meaning that, from one perspective, the form in the mirror is no different than the form of the individual, but from another perspective, it is intrinsically different given the altered location. This distinct location denotes this otherwise unknowable quality to the individual, this quality of comparability. Only through another can a person begin to understand and manifest such qualities as compassion, anger, wrath, mercy, etc. By these means the original subject (God) can manifest all the varying aspects of (His) Being, and can find or discover these new attributes that would not concretely exist if there were no other to whom to relate (Himself).
The second aspect of the mirror analogy, relates to humanity and the Perfect Individual. A mirror only functions when it possesses the attribute of reflectivity. A mirror for Ibn al- `Arabi was a finely polished sheet of metal. The flatter and smoother it was polished, the better its reflective capacity. Any blemish or roughness would hinder the subject’s ability to see itself, the resulting image being distorted or hazy.91 Humanity, in particular the Perfect Individual, imbues the universe with its reflective quality: “Thus the [divine] Command required [by its very nature] the reflective characteristic of the mirror of the Cosmos, and Adam was the very principle of reflection for that mirror and the spirit of that form.”92 According to the Qur’an, Adam (humanity) was the final and ultimate act of creation. This ultimate act culminates in the Perfect Individual of whom Adam was the prototype. The Perfect Individual is the most concrete actualized form of God.
91 R.W.J. Austion, ed., Bezels, 48-9 R.W.J. Austin explains this in his introduction to the first chapter of the text. 11e describes this type of mirror as serving “to illustrate better the metaphysical problems” with which Ibn al- `Arabi was dealing.
92 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 51.
This means that the Perfect Individual is accorded a special and important position: “It is by his [the Perfect Individual’s] existence that the Cosmos subsists… So he is called the Vice-Regent, for by him God preserves His creation, as the seal preserves the king’s treasure… Even so is the Cosmos preserved so long as the Perfect Man remains in it.”93 The Perfect Individual’s position then, according to Ibn al- `Arabi, is one of preservation and dominion. If Perfect Individuals were to cease existing, the universe itself would cease to exist. Ibn al- `Arabi further elaborates on this idea: “God made him [Adam] a spirit for the Cosmos and subjected to him what is high and low, by virtue of the perfection of his form.”94 The Perfect Individual is here described as the spirit of the Cosmos. He/she, as the crowning piece of creation, is the soul of all existence, which means that if this soul vanishes then the rest of existence would become a dead lump of matter. The mirror image has these two aspects that are important for understanding the link to the Perfect Individual:
1) the universe was created to function as a mirror for God; and
2) the Perfect Individual is the conscious agent who is the means for this function of the universe to take place.
94 Ibid., 253. Ibid., 65.
Note: Mirror as to triangles:
- Mirror Analogy
It could be argued that the mirror analogy is merely a literary device, a specific convention that is meant to describe the ambiguous relationship between God and the universe. Ibn al- `Arabi himself says that true understanding of this relationship is the highest level of knowledge available for any created being, and that only a select few are granted this.95 He goes on to say, describing this highest knowledge, that “In your seeing of your true self, He is your mirror and you are His mirror in which He sees His Names and their determinations, which are nothing other than Himself. The whole matter is prone to intricacy and ambiguity.”96 Thus suggesting that, even if this knowledge is only fully comprehended by a select few, Ibn al- `Arabi is using it in his writings in such a manner that these knowers would immediately understand what he is describing.
This convention, for the purposes of philosophical dialogue, will be considered a specific form of argumentation that forces the reader to accept paradoxical assertions. What is the distint thought process that the reader is meant to go through when encountering this analogy? How does this thought-process lead to conclusions that cannot adequately be stated in words?
Three points related to these questions will be discussed:
1) the ambiguous nature of the mirror analogy;
2) how it is fertile ground for paradoxical argumentation; and
3) the form of the paradoxical argument.
The ambiguity inherent in the mirror analogy is due to the shifting relationship between the subject and the object. R.W.J. Austin, in his translation of The Bezels Of Wisdom, comments that:
In the mirror we have a very apt symbol of the divine-cosmic polarity. At one extreme of the relationship cosmic Nature threatens to absorb and assimilate the subject in the infinity and complexity of his creative urge, while, at the other, the divine Subject seems to annihilate Nature in the reassertion of identity, each being, at once, another and non-other.97
Austin identifies two vying perspectives within the mirror analogy. The first perspective, that of Nature, the universe, involves subsuming the subject/God into the mirror’s reflection. The object/nature, in the form of a creative act of the subject, desires to consume the entire subject. The cosmos, in order to fulfill its purpose, must reflect all aspects of the Divine.
97 ‘bid, 48-9.
In doing so it pulls Being into the objective realm of non-being. The second is the perspective of the subject, which requires that at every moment it be affirmed over the object. The reflection or creation, in relation to the Subject, is nothing. The reflection only has a form so long as the subject stands in front of the mirror and sustains its, the reflection’s, being. In this relationship, the subject can always hold this power over the object, creation or the reflection. At any moment, the subject can move away, yet it chooses not to because the object or reflection offers the subject a new understanding of itself; therefore, the relationship between the subject and object is one of give and take. The two are in a perpetual dialogue; the one trying to pull the other fully into it, while at the same time the other attempts to negate it and assert its absolute and sole being. However this is not the full picture, there is a third perspective that is given being within this dialogue. At the point where the two extremes meet a third moment is created, the moment where the subject and object realize their identity. It is within the dialogue of struggle that the two sides realize their identity. The one can never triumph over the other, because it is simultaneously another and non-other. Thus, the mirror analogy is constantly shifting between the relationship of duality and the struggle of the two sides, and the relationship of identity, the moment of transcendence beyond the struggle.
Michael A. Sells outlines the purpose of this ambiguity. The mirror analogy points out the insufficiency of a single statement or perspective given on its own. Each part, which opens and hides something, always leads to a further paradox, never to a concrete answer, but only to another question. Sells explains:
It is the moving image rather than any particular frame that is significant. The perceptual shift symbolized by the mirror serves as a bridge between what is said and how it is said. It constitutes not only the subject of Ibn ‘Ibn al- ‘Arabi’s discourse (the mystical experience of passing from duality to nonduality) but also the meaning event, the semantic dynamic of the text.98
98 Michael A. Sells, Mystica! Languages of Unsaying (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 64.
‘The mirror analogy is used to illustrate the experience of mystical union or identity. It attempts to elicit an understanding in the reader by forcing him/her to go beyond the paradox, to grasp the essence of the connection that is beyond words. As a meaning event it is not merely a literary device, but a specific type of argumentation. In the introduction to his bonk, Sells refers to this type of reasoning as apophasis, saying through unsaying. Sells says:
Apophasis can reach a point of intensity such that no single proposition concerning the transcendent can stand on its own. Any saying (even a negative saying) demands a correcting proposition, an unsaying. But that correcting proposition which unsays the previous position is in itself a “saying” that must be “unsaid” in turn. It is in the tension between the two propositions that the discourse becomes meaningful. That tension is momentary. It must be continually re-earned by ever new linguistic acts of unsaying.99
Sells describes precisely what is happening in the mirror analogy. The tension between the two sides within the analogy creates a similar process in Ibn al- `Arabi’s thought. The one side affirms that the subject and object, the thing and the reflection, are identical, while the other side denies this, saying that only the subject exists, the object has no being and therefore falls into nothingness. Over and over again the paradox will be used to assert this tension, but it is not meant to remain in a duality. In fact, this tension of “unsaying” is meant to unveil to the disciple the mystical truth that lies between the two. Neither statement can stand on its own, the identity of the reflection and object or the non-identity/duality of the two; taken together they create a paradox. The reader is not meant to stay within the paradox, but to transcend this and reach the understanding of imagination and the place of barzakh, more of which will be discussed in the exploration of wujud, the state of being and finding, which is indispensable to the mirror analogy.
99- Sells, 3.
- Wujud: The Starting Point of the Ontological and Metaphysical Problem
Having presented a picture of the type of argumentation implied by the mirror analogy, it is now time to examine the specific elements of the argument’s premises to demonstrate its paradoxical conclusion. The key to unraveling this complexity lies within the concept of wujud, for essentially this whole problem revolves around being. The Ibn al- ‘Arabic word has multiple English translations. William Chittick explains:
“Finding” renders the Ibn al- ‘Arabic wujud, which in another context, may be translated as “existence” or “being”. The famous expression “Oneness of Being” or “Unity of Existence” (wahdat al-wujud), which is often said to represent Ibn al-`Ibn al- `Arabi’s doctrinal position, might also be translated as the “Oneness” or “Unity of Finding.” Despite the hundreds of volumes on ontology that have been inspired by Ibn al-`Ibn al- `Arabi’s works, his main concern is not with the mental concept of being but with the experience of God’s Being, the tasting (dhaw q) of Being, that “finding” which is at one and the same time to perceive and to be that which truly is.I100
Chittick here presents two concepts. Firstly, wujud can refer to “being”, thus pointing to a traditional ontological framework, and leading to an enquiry about the state of the Perfect Individual. The term, in this sense, signifies the status of God and the cosmos or creation. Being belongs solely to God, thus wujud can only be rightly attributed to Him. However, the cosmos and humanity are said to reflect the Names and Attributes of God, therefore, on one level, they have wujud through God, that is, they have relative wujud. Used in this sense, wujud refers to the framework of the being of “existents” in relation to God. Secondly, the term can refer to “finding”, which infers discovery and exploration. In this sense it is not static, but experiential.
100 Chittick, The Sufi Path, 3.
The emphasis, no longer on structure, is on the act of discovering God in the world and the self. The individual must uncover the identity between the two. Only by consciously “looking” into the mirror can identity be discovered. “Being” must be “found.”
The two different meanings of wujud lead to an understanding of the same thing. The first, “being”, is the exploration of the reflection in the mirror compared to and contrasted with the object; while the second, “finding”, is the exploration of the act of reflection, uncovering the purpose behind looking into the mirror and the knowledge sought in doing so. Each aspect helps answer the questions about the Perfect Individual, but in doing so two other terms or concepts must be made clear, those of barzakh and imagination. These terms refer to being and finding respectively, and, as will be shown, are both interconnected and indispensable to understanding the Perfect Individual.
Barzakh is a boundary or isthmus between two things. As such, it is neither one side nor the other, but relationally can be said to be either or both. Ibn al- `Arabi defines it as “between-between, a station between this and that, not one of them, but the totality of the two “101 Barzakh is a specific state or position within the cosmological and ontological structure of existence. Ibn al- `Arabi describes this state in terms of the mirror analogy: “Try, when you look at yourself in a mirror, to see the mirror itself, and you will find that you cannot do so. So much is this the case that some have concluded that the image perceived is situated between the mirror and the eye of the beholder.”102
101 Ibn al- `Arabi in Chittick, The Self-Disclosure, 333. 102 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 65.
How does the barzakh link the un-relatable together? How does the Perfect Individual as a barzakh him/herself become a mirror?
The barzakh borrows attributes from both sides of that which is separates, and links the formerly un-linkable together. Ibn al- `Arabi explains this concept as analogous to the structure of a syllogism. He says:
Thus, bringing or coming into being is based on a triplicity, or rather a bipolar triplicity, one being of the Reality, the other of the creature. This [principle of triplicity] pervades to the existence of ideas arrived at by logical proofs. Thus, a proof arrived at by syllogism is made up of three parts in a particular way that inevitably yields a result… The proof comes into being when this particular arrangement occurs, which is the binding of the two premises together by the repetition of one term, producing a triplicity.1°3
This refers to the act of creation. Creation cannot occur out of a solitary “one”, rather, it must stem from a triplicity, from a syllogistic relationship. God is infinite and perfect. He is complete wujud. Creation is finite and imperfect. It only has relative and dependent wujud. A triadic relationship is found in the triplicity of the syllogism. Ibn al- `Arabi explains this in terms of the barzakh: “Know that nothing is produced from the One (al-ahad)… and nothing is originally produced from the two unless there is a third that joins them together (yuzawwijhuma) and becomes the unitor.”104 The three terms are God, the universe and the Perfect Individual. The Perfect Individual is the middle term, thus the barzakh. This relation of the two premises might be phrased something like this:
All Perfect Individuals are a reflection of the universe.
All things that are a reflection of God are Perfect Individuals. (Here assuming that a reflection is identical to the thing reflected.) …
All things that are a reflection of God are things that are a reflection of the universe.105
103 lbid., 142.
104 lbn lbn al- `Arabi, Al-Futuhat al-makkiya vol. 3 (Cairo, 1911), 166, quoted in Huda Lutfi, “The Feminine Element in lbn Ibn al- `Arabi’s Mystical Philosophy,”Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics 5 (Spring 1985): 12.
105 The details of this argument’s soundness will be analyzed in the coming section on ontology.
This is a valid, AAA-1 syllogism that relies on the rule of the distributed middle. The middle term, humanity, is needed to establish a link or common ground between the subject, God, and the predicate, the universe. In order for this to be a valid syllogism, the middle term needs to be distributed at least once in the premises. Distribution means that X is related to the whole of Y, while non-distribution implies that X is related to only part of Y. Let A/ Perfect Individual, B/ God and C/ universe. In the first premise A, as the subject, is distributed, meaning that it is related to the whole of C. In the second premise A, as the predicate, is undistributed, meaning that it is related to only part of B. Since A is related to the entirety of C this implies that the part of A that is related to B is also a part that is related to C. This being the case, the conclusion, linking B and C, follows from the premises, because B and C are related to each other through their relationship to A. The question is: “what is the status and being of this middle term?” The easy answer is that A is a barzakh. Ibn al- `Arabi says:
The perfect human being brings together the form of the Real and the form of the cosmos. He is a barzakh between the Real and the cosmos, a raised-up mirror. The Real sees His form in the mirror of the human being, and creation also sees its form in him. He who gains this level has gained a level of perfection more perfect than which nothing is found in possibility.106
The Perfect Individual holds a fluctuating position where he/she is or reflects the Real or God and the universe. This perfection seamlessly combines the spiritual and the physical. But it is not enough to understand this position, and this is where imagination becomes important.
1061bn Ibn al- `Arabi, Futuhat Makkiyya (Beirut, 1968), 398, quoted in Salman H. Bashier, Ibn al-‘Ibn al-Wrabi’s Barzakh: The Concept of the Limit and the Relationship between God and the World (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004), 116-7.
- Khayal / Imagination
Imagination is the active faculty whereby the individual perceives the permeation of God within creation, where he/she experiences both sides of the barzakh. Chittick says: “Just as our imagination is the barzakh between our spirits and bodies, so also existence is the barzakh between Being and nothingness.”I07 Imagination lies between the Spirit, Being or God and the physical universe. The following section explores how the mirror of imagination works in the individual, and especially in the Perfect Individual.
The interpretation of the realm of imagination requires an active consciousness on the part of the Perfect Individual. Bashier comments: “To understand the manner of this interpenetration, a special kind of knowledge is needed, which is possessed by the Perfect Man alone.”I°8 Imaginal knowledge is knowledge of the permeation between the Real/God and creation. This knowledge is not readily available. An individual must attain a special position. He/she must attain the perfection of the perfect mirror. Izutsu expands on the idea that this knowledge is hidden from most of humanity:
He [God] has concealed the reality by an infinite number of particular `determinations’, all of which are regarded as `other’ than God Himself, so that, in this view everything appears as something `other’ than the rest of the things as well as `other’ than the Absolute. And the view of `other-ness’ covers the reality of Being from the eyes of ordinary people.109
107 Chittick, The Sufi Path, 113.
108 Bashier, 117. 109 Izutsu, 240.
God has covered up or veiled His true nature from creation through differentiated existence. Each and every thing within existence is a concrete manifestation of one or more of the Divine Attributes. These Attributes, when analyzed into Names, such as the Loving, the Merciful, the Wrathful, etc., are revealed to be nothing more than relationships. The ordinary person can only see these as individualized and separate items within the world. Ibn al- `Arabi says:
The spirit becomes corporealized to
eyesight through imagination,
so halt not with it, for the affair is
110 Ibn al- `Arabi quoted in Chittick, The Self-Disclosure, 333.
Imagination sustains both the manifest other-ness of creation and the spiritual Oneness of God’s true Essence. The key for the Perfect Individual is to acknowledge both of these at every moment. The purely physical is transcended, not through rational reflection, but through acts of dhikr, remembrance, that is, by actively sustaining conscious awareness of the presence of God. The exact nature and importance of this remembering will be discussed in the section on metaphysics.
The statie meaning of “being” needs to be analyzed in greater detail as it relates to the ontology of Ibn al- `Arabi. In the section on the barzakh, a syllogism about God, the universe and the Perfect Individual was given. Here the soundness of the argument will be analyzed. Analyzing the being of the cosmos and of humanity reveals three levels of reflectivity. Each level is a line in the syllogism. The first line, “All Perfect Individuals are a reflection of the universe”, refers to the connection between the universe and humanity. The second line, “All things that are a reflection of God are Perfect Individuals”, refers to the intricate relationship between God and humanity. By analyzing these two levels/relationships the part of the soundness of the syllogism can be deduced.
The idea that humanity111 is a reflection of the universe comes from Ibn al- `Arabi’s creation story. The universe was created so that God might see all His Attributes or Names manifested, but, as Ibn al- `Arabi explains, there was a flaw:
The Reality gave existence to the whole Cosmos [at first] as an undifferentiated thing without anything of the spirit in it, so that it was like an unpolished mirror. It is in the nature of the divine determination that He does not set out a location except to receive a divine spirit, which is also called [in the Qur’an] the breathing into him [Qur’an XXI: 91]. The latter is nothing other than the coming into operation of the undifferentiated form’s [innate] disposition to receive the inexhaustible overflowing of Self-revelation, which has always been and always will be.112
He qualifies the idea about the nature of the universe as a reflection in a mirror, by saying that the Cosmos was created as an unpolished mirror. Essentially this says that it was merely a rough piece of metal, an object that is not yet fully formed to be what it in essence should be. The Cosmos was not created to stay in this undifferentiated form, but rather to eventually hold the spirit of consciousness. Ibn al- `Arabi posits that nothing is created without being inherently designed to furnish the “inexhaustible overflowing of Self-revelation”. Every existent is created to house Self-revelations, which are the manifestations of the divine Names or Attributes.
The mirror of the Cosmos, while being of the best quality, remains unfinished if left by itself. This is why God created humanity to act as the reflective agent of the universe. With humanity in place, in the middle, the universe can fulfill its reflective function. Having said this, it becomes clear why the relationship between humanity and the cosmos is a reflective one. The cosmos could not reflect the Attributes of God on its own, but needed this ability of humanity. Humanity as the barzakh between God and the cosmos serves as the mirror, reflecting both sides. As a reflection of the universe, humanity reflects the entire universe within itself; this being the case, it can then be positively affirmed that humanity is a reflection of the universe.
111 Here the connection will be made referring to humanity in general and not the Perfect Individual, because in a broad sense the totality of humanity manifests perfection, in the sense that perfection lies within every individual even if it is waiting for manifestation.
112 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 50.
The second premise, that all reflections of God are humanity, allows God to see His attributes as fully actualized and differentiated from one another. The difference here between humanity and the cosmos is that humanity can be conscious of this reflection and its proporties, while the cosmos in general cannot. While the cosmos can be referred to as the “Big Individual” humanity can be referred to as al-kawn al-jami, “the being that gathers together” or the small universe, the microcosm. Humanity, like the cosmos, reflects all of the Names or Attributes of God, but unlike the cosmos, it does this in a more concentrated manner. Again, this refers to the status of humanity as barzakh. In such a position, humanity is also open to the reflection of God, and in this role humanity becomes, on one level, identical to Him.
God’s reflection is identical to that of the universe. The universe can be described as al-insan al-kabir, the “Big Man”. This is because its outward form is the manifestation of all the Names or Attributes of God. Taken as a whole, the universe reflects all aspects of God. Each of its individual parts is the manifestation of one aspect of God, no more. Izutsu explains: “The most salient feature of the Big Man is that every single existent in it represents one particular aspect (Name) of God, and one only, so that the whole lacks a clear delineation and definite articulation, being as it is a loose conglomeration of discrete points.“113 This means that the cosmos in general manifests the entirety, but when looking at its specific features, it lacks a clear and comprehensive articulation. Thus in its entirety the cosmos is seen as a complete reflection of God, but upon closer inspection it is found to be of a vague nature. The purpose of creating the cosmos was for God to see Himself as other. The cosmos fulfills this by manifesting all of the Names. However, the cosmos fails to do so completely because it lacks a clear unity, but this is why humanity is necessary. Humanity, particularly the Perfect Individual, provides the means whereby the cosmos and God can be connected in a meaningful relationship.
113 Izutsu, 210.
The metaphysical aspect of wujud as finding pertains to the concept of imagination. Finding involves the Subject or God, actively searching to discover new qualities in His mirror image, and the “object”, humanity, searching to discover God. This section explores how the act or state of finding links Creator and creation in a mutually dependent relationship.
Creation is a personal mode of discovery for God. Humanity is the means whereby God can discover Himself. However, paradoxically, the means to God’s discovery is through humanity discovering their Oneness or identity with God. Two passages from Ibn al- `Arabi explain this: “For the Reality, he [humanity] is as the pupil is for the eye through which the act of seeing takes place.”114 And, “Thus He suggests that knowledge of Him is inferred in knowledge of ourselves.“115 The first passage suggests that humanity is the reflective and conscious element in the universe, and that it is through this element that the seeing by God takes place. Not only is humanity the consciously reflecting barzakh, but it is also the organ through which sight occurs. The second passage refers to the other side of the barzakh. Humanity also reflects the universe. The Perfect Individual uses imaginal understanding to see God within the universe and within him/herself.
114 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 51.
115 ‘bid., 54.
Henry Corbin elaborates on this idea:
It is true, of course, that without the divine (haqq) which is the cause of our being, and without us who are the cause of its manifestation, the order of things would not be what it is and God would be neither God nor Lord. But on the other hand, though it is you, the vassal of this Lord, who hold the “secret of his suzerainty” because it is realizing through you, nevertheless, because your action in positing Him is His passion in you, your passion for Him, the active subject is in reality not you.116
Although God is the source of humanity’s being, humanity is the source of God’s knowledge about Himself and His status as God and Lord; His Divinity is acquired only through humanity postulating Him as such. However, this finding does not originate in the individual, but is inherent in God’s purpose for creation. This does not separate God and creation, but links them in a mutually dependent relationship, like the connection and relation between subject and object in the mirror.
The specifics of the relationship between God and creation revolve around the individual’s unique understanding of and personal relationship to God. God in His Essence is One, but in respect to His Attributes or Names is many. Izutsu explains: “All men are naturally endowed with the same ontological `comprehensiveness’, but not all men are equally conscious of the `comprehensiveness,’ in themselves.”117 This consciousness is contingent upon the level of unveiling the individual has undergone through spiritual awakening or Divine revealing. What is important is that each individual, given the depth of his/her understanding, has a different conception of God. The Perfect Individual understands this complex theory of divinity, and acknowledges God in all forms. Ibn al- `Arabi affirms this by saying: “So, beware lest you restrict yourself to a particular tenet [concerning the Reality] and so deny any other tenet [equally reflecting Him], for you would forfeit much good, indeed you would forfeit the true knowledge of what is [the Reality].”118
116 Henry Corbin, Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Ibn al- ‘Arabi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 125.
117 lzutsu, 237.
118 lbn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 137.
The Perfect Individual understands that one view is not necessarily truer than another. God, in respect to His Attributes or Names, is infinitely diverse. Most people are confined and limited to a specific view or understanding of God and think anything that is different from their conceptions is wrong. The truly knowledgeable, i.e., the Perfect Individuals, know, however, that God cannot be limited to the specific beliefs of any one person or group. They understand that while God, in reference to His Names, can be considered comparable and limited, in accordance with His unknowable Essence he is neither. The key is to understand the two in relation with one another. The Perfect Individual acts as a bridge between the two, and manifests them both. Bashier says in this vein:
These forms of belief, which resemble transcended moments in the intellectual growth of the Perfect Man, can be reduced eventually to two fundamental moments: the moment in which the Real is represented as related to the finite forms of manifestation, and the moment in which the Real is represented as totally unrelated to any finite form of manifestation.I19
119 Bashier, 121.
Thus, in conclusion, the Perfect Individual not only fulfills the role of a barzakh, but he/she also embodies complete understanding of the paradoxical ambiguity of barzakh. It is in this position that the individual can be said to have being.