Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Sufi cosmology and psychology


Arvan Harvat

The purpose of the present essay is to clear a heap of misunderstanding that has accrued around the Sufi concept of "latifa" ( pl. lataif ). As an adjective, the Arabic word latif means "subtle". During later development ( 12-17 centuries C.E. ) of Sufism, particularly in the area of Iran, Turkestan, Afghanistan and India, a welter of elaborate and frequently conflicting systems of esoteric psychology and physiology had developed; partly generated by endless musings of Sufi contemplatives over Qur'anic verses and hadith in search of cognitive clarification of visionary experiences; or, less likely, due to Hindu-Buddhist cultural exposure and influence.
The author has an obligation to demarcate his presentation from other, equally frequent ( or more frequent ) elaborations that have, regardless of best intentions, succeeded ( apart from enriching our vocabulary and glimmmers of penetrating analyses, particularly when set in a comparative perspective ) mostly in creating a quicksand-like confusion.
Therefore: 1. This article will not discuss dated Sufi archaic cosmology, which had arisen from the marriage of Hermetic spherical Ptolemaic cosmos and Neoplatonic notions that had percolated through Ikhwan ul-Safa and philosophers like Al-Farabi and Ibn-Sina/Avicenna.  This particular variant constitutes one of the two strands in Ibn-Arabi's comprehensive theosophy ( the other one being almost exclusively Neoplatonic in inspiration ); this one serving as a theoretical basis for spiritual discipline in many tariqas/Sufi orders, where a stage in  progression and purification of the "soul" ( terms will be defined later ) corresponds to a sphere/"planet" in Ptolemaic universe ( Halveti, Mevlevi & other orders. ) It would take us too far to delve into intricacies of the two doctrines, which under closer examination turn out to be irreconcilable and contradictory.
2. The following text will use Arabic and Persian technical terms only insofar as they constitute basic building elements of the exposition. Also, parallels with other esoteric doctrines will be drawn just to illustrate common bonds of spiritual experience.
3. This is not a historical review, nor a textbook on the particular aspect of Sufi contemplative life. So, only sketchy references on the most influential figures and practices will be found.
   The plan of the essay is as follows:
1. To give an overview of Sufi cosmology and psychology ( these two overlap to the degree that an exposition of one without the other would invalidate the entire effort ).
2. To analyze the so-called Lataif Sitta and its role in Sufi spiritual life. Also, various dubieties will be concisely addressed, as well as some historical milestones.
The author has tried to use the most authoritative and explicit literature he has yet found. Although these works exhibit familiar "fuzziness" and indeterminacy in approach, they by far surpass more popular and "alluring" fictions and treatises of Idries Shah or A.H.Almaas.

Sufi cosmology
Sufi psychology
The Lataif

printed reference References:

Mir Valiuddin: Contemplative Disciplines in Sufism
Mir Valiuddin: Quranic Sufism
Javad Nurbaksh: The Psychology of Sufism The Sufi Journal, 1994-1995
Titus Burckhardt: Amazon com Introduction to Sufi Doctrine
Henry Corbin: Amazon com History of Islamic Philosophy

Kheper index page
Topics index page
Islamic Esotericism

Sufi Cosmology


Arvan Harvat

We will present two doctrines, both based on Qur'anic revelation enriched and clarified ( or corrupted- depending on one's taste ) by Neoplatonic emanationist cosmology.
According to the first doctrine (ref), God has three dimensions/modes of Being before creation, followed by three worlds/planes of created cosmos. 1. The unfathomable God's Essence; Abyss of the Unmanifest Absolute. The Sufi technical tems are: Ghayb ul-Ghaib ( Mystery of Mysteries ), Amma ( Darkess ), Dhat/Zat ( Essence ). The corresponding spiritual stage is called Ahadiyyat- Oneness. This is equal to Plotinus's  One - To Hen , or to the Shaivite Tantric Paramashiva or Mahabindu.
2. The Manifest Absolute/God. The Sufi terms are Ar-Ruh al-Qudsi ( the Supreme Spirit ), Aql-i-Awwal ( First Intellect ) or Aql-i-Kulli ( Universal Intellect ). The corresponding spiritual stage is named Wahdah. The Neoplatonic equivalent of the Plotinus's doctrine would be Nous ( Divine Mind ), while certain schools of Tantricism speak of Shiva, or Shiva/Shakti union. N.B. There are tariqas and scholars who deny divine status of the First Intellect and relegate it to the realm of creation.
3. The God's creative energy as manifested through divine names and attributes ( ayan at'-thabita ).  The "energy"/creative aspect is clear from identification with Qur'anic notion of Nafas-i-Rahmani ( The Breath of Mercy ).  Also, it is termed Nafs-i-Kulliya ( Universal Soul ). The spiritual stage is Wahdaniyyat. The exact correspondence is with Plotinus's Psyche ( World Soul ). Shaivite texts refer to Shakti as activated Shiva's creative energy.
N.B. Having in mind all similarities with Neoplatonism, one must not overlook the difference: in Plotinus's system, emanations are hypostases of the One, flowing, as it were, "outward" and signifying the degradation of the Absolute.  On the other hand, the above noted processes represent a desirable unfoldment of the Absolute in Sufi mythic cosmology.
The second doctrine (ref) operates with two concepts. 1. The Unmanifest Absolute ( Alam-i-Hahut/the "world" of "He-ness", Hu-He being the Arabic term pertaining to God's Essence prior to manifestation. The "world" is just a symbolic reference. This, unmanifest dimension is frequently referred to only as Hahut). Of course, all other Arabic names given under the point 1. of the first doctrine are valid. The spiritual stage is Ahadiyyat.
2. The manifest Absolute ( Alam-i-Lahut/the "world" of God-ness, the root "Lah" one and the same as in Al-Lah (God). Also, generally spoken of as Lahut). The spiritual stage pertaining to Lahut is sometimes referred to as Wahdah, sometimes as Wahadiyyat. There is no consensus communis re this matter.
Both above elucidated doctrines share the same terminology re the stages of manifestation ( tanazzulat ) of the created cosmos. Following the emanationist scheme, we have top to bottom ( of course, not literally; these are dimensions of manifestation conveniently stratified ):
4. Alam-i-Jabarut/the world of power; also Alam-i-Arwah ( the world of spirits; ruh meaning spirit, arwah being the plural form ). Roughly corresponding to the world of Platonic archetypes, Shaivite Shivaloka ( the world of Shiva ), or causal world of Western occultism.
5. Alam-i-Malakut/the world of angels. This somewhat incongruous term is frequently replaced by Alam-i-Mithal/the world of similitudes.  This Henry Corbin's famous mundus imaginalis/world of imagination, Tantric Antarloka ( the intermediary world ), or subtle/astro-mental world of Western occultists.
6. Alam-i-Nasut/the world of humanity, better designated as Alam-i-Ajsam/the world of bodies. Tantric tradition speaks of Bhuloka/the world of earth. In Western occultism, the name is gross or physical world. To summarise on tabular form:
Kosmos /Alam Sufi terminology
Kosmos (general)
Neoplatonic equivalent - Plotinus
Tantric equivalent
 Western occultism - Theosophy and contemporary Hermeticism
The Unmanifest Absolute
The One
The Manifest Absolute
The Nous
Causal World
 Shivaloka (world of Shiva)
Causal Plane
Subtle World
Tantric Antarloka (intermediary world)
Mental Plane Astral Plane
Physical World
Bhuloka (world of earth)
gross or physical

printed referenceReferences:

Mir Valiuddin: Quranic Sufism
Titus Burckhardt: Amazon com Introduction to Sufi Doctrine

The Lataif

Kheper index page
Topics index page
Islamic Esotericism