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TAGS: Dualism; Interfaith dialogue; Islam; Lawh Basit al-Haqiqa (Tablet of the Uncompounded Reality); Monism; Philosophy; Sufism; Unity of existence
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Abstract:
The conflict in Islam between philosopher-mystics who adhere to the philosophy of existential oneness (wahdat al-wujud) and those who oppose this view as heresy.
Notes:
See Momen's translation of this Tablet.

Mirrored with permission from irfancolloquia.org/u/momen_haqiqa.


Tablet of the Uncompounded Reality:
Introduction

by Moojan Momen

published in Lights of Irfan, Volume 11, pages 203-212
Wilmette, IL: Irfan Colloquia, 2010
Below the following PDF, see also a draft copy of this article in HTML.
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See translation of this Tablet.

Abstract:

This paper consists of an introductory survey together with a provisional translation of Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet of the Uncompounded Reality (Lawh Basít al-Haqíqa). The subject of the Tablet is the unresolved conflict in Islam between philosopher-mystics who adhere to the philosophy of existential oneness (wahdat al-wujúd) and jurists and others who oppose this view regarding it as heresy and blasphemy. Bahá'u'lláh seeks to resolve the issue and bridge the gap between the these two attitudes of mind by showing how both viewpoints can be true when taken within the context of the concept of the Manifestation of God.

Translator's Introduction

The tablet known as the Lawh Basít al-Haqíqa (Tablet of the Uncompounded Reality) dates from the Akka period. In this tablet, Bahá'u'lláh deals with one of the principle issues that has run through the Islamic world from the Middle Ages onwards. This is the controversy between two positions concerning the nature of the relationship between God and His creation. These two positions existed from the earlist days of Islam and eventually became known as Wahdat al-Wujúd (existential unity, oneness of being) and Wahdat ash-Shuhúd (unity in appearence only). The former was the position taken by the followers of Ibn al-`Arabí (d. 638 A.H./1240) and was more common among those inclined towards Sufism and mystical philosophy. The latter was the position commonly taken by jurists and was given its name by Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindí (971 A.H./1563-1034 A.H. - 1034/1624-5) in the 17th century.

In brief it may be said that those who supported the position of Wahdat al-Wujúd maintained that Being is one--it is that which exists. Since existence is also one of the essential attributes of God, then it may be said that all things are subsumed in the one Absolute Reality that we call God. This one Reality has different aspects according to the way that it is viewed.

Those who held to the opposing position of Wahdat ash-Shuhúd maintained that God is beyond any conceptualizations that can be made of Him; he is wará' al-wará thumma wará' al-wará thumma wará' al-wará (beyond the beyond, then beyond the beyond, and again beyond the beyond)(1). Hence the mystics' experience of unity or union or any apprehension of God through mystical experience is subjective only and has no objective validity. The unity that mystics claim with God is only an appearance and has no substance.

In Iran, the concept of wahdat al-wujúd had a powerful influence especially upon many philosopher-mystics. The most important of these was Sadru'd-Dín Shírází, known as Mullá Sadrá. It is Mullá Sadrá whose dictum "All that which is uncompounded in Its Reality is, by virtue of Its [absolute] Unity, all things" (kullu ma huwa basítu 'l-haqíqa fa-huwa bi-wahdatihi kullu 'l-ashyá') is quoted and commented upon by Bahá'u'lláh in this tablet. This dictum is one of the cornerstones of Mullá Sadrá's philosophy and is explicated in several of his works: al-Hikmat al-Arshiyyah (the Wisdom of the Throne)(2), al-Mabda wa'l-Mu`ád (the Origin and the Return)(3), al-Mashá`ir fí Ma`rifat Alláh (the Staging-Posts in the Knowledge of God)(4), and al-Hikmat al-muta`áliyya fi'l-Asfar al-`aqliyya al-arba`a (The Transcendental Wisdom concerning the Four Journeys of the Rational Soul).(5)

In his work, al-Hikmat al-Arshiyyah, the Wisdom of the Throne, Mullá Sadrá takes as his starting point the traditional philosophical concept that all things are composed of quiddity (mahiyyah, that which answers the question "what is it?") and being (wujúd, that which gives existence to the quiddity). He then goes on to demonstrate that if an entity A has something B negated of it (i.e. if A is stated to be "not B") and if B is something that itself has being (i.e. is not merely a statement of privation or imperfection, such as "not blue" or "illiterate"), then A cannot be uncompounded in its essential reality since it must be composed of at least two aspects, an aspect by which it is A and an aspect by which it is not B. (These two aspects cannot be identical since that would mean positing that the very essence of A is something privative such that anyone who intellected "A" would also immediately intellect "not B"). Hence the converse of this must also be true, that which is uncompounded in its reality can have nothing that has being negated of it--otherwise it would consist of at least two aspects: an aspect by which it is such (such as A) and an aspect by which it is not some other (such as not B, not C, etc.), and would therefore not be uncompounded in its essential reality. Hence "that which is uncompounded in its reality" must necessarily be "all things".(6) Elsewhere, Mullá Sadrá makes it clear that "that which is uncompounded in its reality" is the "necessarily existent (wájib al-wujúd)", i.e. God(7), and this is the definition also given by other writers.(8)

Mullá Sadrá's pre-eminence in the field of Iranian Shi`i mystical philosophy (hikmat) meant that this idea was adopted and commented upon by numerous other philosophers. For our purposes, the most significant of those who commented upon this dictum was the Shaykhí leader, Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í. He severely criticized this dictum of Mullá Sadrá because of its implication of existential monism.

Shaykh Ahmad wrote in several of his works commenting upon this dictum. The most extensive of these critiques was in a commentary that he wrote on Mullá Sadra's work the Mashá'ir (composed in 1234/1818-9 in Kirmánsháh). He also deals with this subject in his last major work, his commentary on Mullá Sadrá's Hikmat al-`Arshiyya (completed in 1236/1820-1 in Kirmánsháh). In the latter, he states that this dictum is erroneous because:

He [Mullá Sadrá] has concluded that if one negates something of it and this negation is comprehended in the mind, then this necessitates composition. And we say to him: the uncompounded reality is a pure matter, not something from which nothing can be negated because your words that "it is something from which nothing can be negated" is similar to your words that "it is something from which something can be negated"; for in both cases there is need for composition. There is need for composition from existent matter and non-existent matter in what you have rejected and there is need for composition from existent matter and existent matter in what you have taken recourse in, and it is that from which nothing can be negated.(9)

This subject is also arises in a treatise that Shaykh Ahmad wrote for Mullá Muhammad Damaghání in 1232/1816-7, and in a treatise written for several unnamed Sayyids in (date not known)(10). In the last-named work, Shaykh Ahmad states that:

When he (Mullá Sadrá) says "the uncompounded reality is all things", this expression would suggest that He [God], praised be He, is all accidents (hawadith), since things are accidents. The error of this statement is clear since accidents are in the realm of of contingence (al-imkán) and the necessarily [existent], praised be He, is pre-existent (azal) and is not in the realm of contingence . . .

Shaykh Ahmad goes on to give several possible meanings of Mullá Sadrá's dictum and demonstrates the falseness of each.(11)

The Báb, in a few places, criticizes the doctrine of wahdat al-wujúd as it was generally understood among Sufis. He disapproved, in particular, of the concept that God could somehow be considered to be dispersed among created things. In the course of this criticism, he mentions the concept of basít al-haqíqa. In his Risála adh-Dhahabiyya(12), the Báb states that:

Most of the Islamic philosophers, the peripatetic philosophers, the followers of Mulla Sadrá (as-Sadrá'iyyin), and the Theosophical philosophers (al-iláhiyyin) have erred in their explanations of this station. The signs of the effulgences (tajalliyát) of creation were mistaken by them for the countenance of the Essence [of God]. Thus they went along with erroneous statements concerning the Eternal Archetypes (a`yan thábita) being in the Essence [of God] in order to establish His knowledge (praised be He)(13); and with mention of the Uncompounded Reality in order to establish causality (`illiyya) in the Essence [of God]; and with mention of the connection between the Essence [of God] and [His] actions and attributes; and with the mention of the oneness of Being (wahdat al-wujúd) between the Creator (mújid) and the one who has gone astray (al-mafqúd). All of this is absolute heresy (shirk mahd) in the estimation of the family of God, the Imáms of justice, for God has always been the All-Knowing without the existence of anything having form and shape (? -- shay'un bi-mithl ma inna-hu kana shayyár). Just as He does not need for His being alive the existence of anything other than Him, He also does not need for His knowledge the existence of objects of knowledge. And the Essence [of God] continues to be connected to things. The causation (`illiyya) of created things is His handiwork (san`ihi) and this is the [Primal] Will, which God has created through itself by itself without any fire from the Essence [of God] touching it. And God has created existent things through it and it continues. The All-High does not speak except through it; and the All-High does not give any indication of its essence (dhátiyyatihá). And God has not given any sign of His Essence in [the whole of] creation (al-imkán), for His Being (kaynúnátihi) sets beings apart from being known, and His Essence (dhatiyyatihi) prevents essences from being explained. Verily the relationship of the [Primal] Will to Him is like the relationship of a verse [of scripture] to God. It is a relationship that is conferred upon Creation not upon the Essence [of God], for It is sanctified from the mention of any indications or relationships or evidences or signs or stations or effulgences or breezes relating to It; and that being the case none can know It except Itself. And such expressions as Oneness of Being and the mention of the Uncompounded Reality is witness, in the estimation of the people of the covenants (ahl al-`uhúd), to its falsity, for He is the one who there is no-one other than He with Him. How then is it possible to say any words concerning His Being. On the contrary, all signs in the world of Láhút, Jabarút, Malakút and Mulk are possibilities of the hearts and souls [of human beings] and what has occurred to their imaginations. All who describe God, except Himself, have lied and deceived for anything other than Him is not of Him and cannot speak on His level and cannot have existence with Him, even the purest expression of the Oneness of God. And I have set forth proofs in two thousand manuscripts (fí'l-nuskha al-alifayn) in explanation of the secret of the confusion (? - ilhá') of the errors of the words of these men. The beginning of the saying of such words is the passage from Muhyi ad-Dín, may God delay his punishment, such as what he has said in the Fusús [al-Hikám}. And this is sheer idolatry (shirk) in the estimation of those who have inner knowledge (ahl al-butún).

And in a letter addressed to Mírzá Muhammad Sa`íd of Zavárih(14), the Báb states:

And with regard to the reply concerning the uncompounded reality, which the philosophers have mentioned in order to assert that there is Being between the Creator and the one who has gone astray, there is no doubt that this is erroneous in the estimation of one who possesses the musk-like fragrance of fair-mindedness.

Bahá'u'lláh takes a much milder and more accommodating attitude towards the monist ideas in Sufism. In the Baghdad period, he spent some time associating with Sufis in Sulaymaniyya. He also wrote several works in the Sufi style and idiom. Among these were the Seven Valleys (Haft Vádí), the Four Valleys (Chahár Vádí), and the poem Qasída `Izz Varqá'iyyih (The Ode of the Dove) which was written in the style of the famous poem at-Tá'iyya of the Sufi poet Ibn al-Fárid Although Bahá'u'lláh wrote less on overtly Sufi themes in later years, the tablet which is the subject of this paper and which was revealed in the Akka period is one of those in which he returns to some of these themes.

Given the fact that both Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í and the Báb had written on the theme of Basít al-Haqíqa, it was perhaps inevitable that someone among his followers would ask Bahá'u'lláh for his comments on the theme of Mullá Sadrá's dictum. It would appear from the text that one of Bahá'u'lláh's followers, named Husayn, had been asked by someone who was a follower of Mullá Sadrá to ask for Bahá'u'lláh's comments on the question of Basít al-Haqíqa and this tablet was revealed in response to the question.

In this tablet, Bahá'u'lláh again displays his benevolent attitude towards Sufi themes. He refrains from condemning Mullá Sadrá's dictum outright, and instead states that those who have condemned this approach have misunderstood it and have taken it too literally.

Bahá'u'lláh first explains the nature of the division among Muslims over Mullá Sadrá's dictum and the associated concepts. He brings forward verses from the Qur'an in support of both positions. For those who follow Mullá Sadrá's position, which he here calls Tawhíd-i-Wujúdi (existential oneness), Bahá'u'lláh quotes the Qur'anic verse "All things perish save [His] face" (28:8, cf. 55:27) and interprets this to support the position of those those who assert that the only reality is the Divine Reality. For those who opposed Mullá Sadrá's position, which he here calls Tawhíd-i-Shuhúdí (oneness in appearence only), Bahá'u'lláh quotes the Qur'anic verse ""We shall show them Our signs on the horizons and in themselves." (41:53) This he interprets as saying that any evidence of union between the Divinity and creation is only the result of the fact that the signs of God are apparent in all things.

Having defined the two sides of the conflict, Bahá'u'lláh asserts that those who have attacked Mullá Sadrá's position have looked only at the literal meaning of his words rather than the underlying meaning. He then goes on to give an interpretation of Mullá Sadrá's dictum in terms of the concept of the Manifestation of God. This is one of Bahá'u'lláh's most explicit statements of one of the most interesting and controversial aspects of his doctrine: his assertion that all of the statements that occur in the scriptures relating to God (including references to His names and attributes, and statements about His actions and commands) refer in reality to the Manifestation of God, since no statement can be made about the Essence of God, which is unknowable.

The tablet then continues with Bahá'u'lláh's statement that there is no benefit to be gained from disputing such points. Indeed, Bahá'u'lláh asserts that his appearence renders all such disputation secondary. Whichever side of the argument an individual is on, his status with God depends only on whether he accepts or rejects Bahá'u'lláh.

The text which is translated here(15) is that published in the compilation Alváh Mubarakih Hadrat Bahá'u'lláh: Iqtidárát wa chand lawh digár (usually known as Iqtidárát, no date, no pace of publication, pp. 105-116), the facsimile of a manuscript in the hand-writing of Mishkín-Qalam, dated Rajab A.H. 1310/January 1893. The text of this tablet has also been published in Ma'idih Asmání (vol. 7, pp. 140-7) and by Alexander (Aleksandr) G. Tumanski (d. 1920) in his translation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Kitabe Akdes, Zapiski Imperatorskoy Academii Nauk S. Petersburg, 8th series, vol. 3, no. 6, 1899, pp. 61-4. Manuscripts of this tablet include one in the collection of manuscripts bought from Mr. Dunlop of the British Legation in Tehran by the University of Leiden (Manuscript Or. 4971, section 7, item 1).

Notes

1. Sirhindi quoted in Burhan Ahmad Faruqi, The Mujjaddid's Concept of Tawhid, Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, repr. 1970, p. 81.

2. In this paper the text for this work is taken from Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í's commentary on the work (see note 9), the translation is adapted from James Morris, The Wisdom of the Throne (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981).

3. In this paper, use has been made of the Persian translation by Ahmad Ardikání (Tihran: Markaz Nashr Danishgáhí, 1362).

4. The Arabic text used is that found in unnumbered pages at the back of the Persian translation by Ghulam-Husayn Áhangí (Tihran: Intishárát Mawla, 2nd printing 1361).

5. Qumm: Maktabat al-Mustawfi, 1378/1958, vol.1, p. 116-7

6. Morris, Wisdom, pp. 98-9. A similar argument can be found in al-Mashá`ir, Mash`ar 6 of Manhaj 1 (Persian translation, p. 63).

7. See for example, al-Mabda, pp. 52-3

8. Muhammad Sharíf Al-Jurjání, for example, in his dictionary of religious terms, Kitab al-Ta`rífát (Beirut: Maktaba Lubnan, 1969) states that al-basit can be considered in three ways. The first of these is al-haqíqí, which is "that which has no parts (or divisions, juz`) to it at all, such as the Creator, exalted be He." (p. 46).

9. Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í Sharh al-`Arshiyya vol. 1 (Kirman: Sa`ádat, 1361), pp. 80-1

10. For details of these works and manuscript and published sources for them, see M. Momen, The Works of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í (Bahá'í Studies Bulletin Monograph, no. 1, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1991, nos. 22, 25, and 39, pp. 52, 55-6, 64-5.

11. Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'i, Majmu`a ar-Rasá'il, vol. 30, (Kirman: Matba`a al-Sa`ádat, second printing, n.d.), pp. 131-2

12. Iranian National Bahá'í Manuscript Collection, vol. 86, pp. 95-6. I am grateful to Stephen Lambden for finding this and the next quotation in this paper.

13. This refers to the assertion that if Knowledge is an essential attribute of God, then the Eternal Archetypes of all created things must be within the Essence of God in order for there to be something that is the object of God's knowledge.

14. Iranian National Bahá'í Manuscript Collection, vol. 69, p. 422-3

15. I am grateful to Keven Locke for some suggested corrections to the translation and to Jack McLean for his suggestions for the improvement of the English text. Others who suggested improvements and corrections to my commentary include John Walbridge, Nima Hazini, and Bijan Masumian

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