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TAGS: Abdul-Baha, Writings and talks of; Archetypes; Creation; Interfaith dialogue; Philosophy; Sufism; Unity of Existence
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Original published in Makátib-i 'Abdu'l-Bahá, vol. 3, pp. 354-358, and Min Makátib-i 'Abdu'l-Bahá, pp. 274-277.[1]

Provisional translation provided by the Bahá'í World Centre, with notes by Keven Brown. See also Brown's article 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Response to the Doctrine of the Unity of Existence.

Tablet on the Unity of Existence (Sharh Wahdat al-Wujúd)

by Abdu'l-Bahá

translated by Bahá'í World Centre
date of original: 1919-10-27
He is God!

The preeminent leaders of the Sufis who have instituted the belief in the unity of existence (wahdat al-wujúd) did not intend by that existence this universally predicated existence which is a mental projection, for this general existence, which is a mental projection, is an accident among accidents inhering in the realities of contingent beings (mumkinát). The realities of the contingent beings are the substance (jawhar),[2] while this existence which is a mental projection, i.e. the universally predicated existence, is an accident which inheres in the realities of all things. The intention of the leaders, however, is an Existence with respect to which the realities of things are accidental; in other words, that Existence is preexistent and the things are originated (hádith). Therefore, what they meant by the word "existence" (wujúd) is an indescribable Reality by which all things come into existence. The meaning is that all things subsist by It, while that Reality is self-subsistent above all in the heavens and on the earth. The verse, "He is the Self-Subsisting, the Ever-Living" bears witness to this truth.

That Existence by which all things come into existence is one. Therefore, there is oneness of existence, but the generality of the Sufis think that the indescribable Reality has penetrated (hulúl) into innumerable forms, as it is said:

"The sea is the same sea it hath ever been from eternity,
the created realities are its waves and images,
the creation is naught in likeness but ice,
and Thou art the water which is its source."

In other words, although the indescribable Reality is sanctified above any description, they were forced to explain it; hence they explained it by recourse to [the concept of] existence.

To summarize, the generality of the Sufis thought that that Existence which is indescribable and cut off from our understanding is like the sea and the realities of things are like the waves. The waves are continually appearing and disappearing, but the sea is permanent and eternal. But for the people of Truth, the Bahá'ís, that hidden and unknowable Being is like the sun, which sheds its radiance upon all created things. All the creatures, whether mineral, plant, animal, or human, are illumined by the light of the sun; that is to say, its brilliant rays shine upon all things, and all things faithfully reflect the sun's light. If you look upon the stones, clay, trees, animals, and human beings, you will see that all are receiving the bounty of the sun. In the same way, the realities of all created things receive the bounty of the Sun of Reality, but the Sun of Reality does not descend from its sanctified station, nor does it penetrate into the created beings. "There is not a thing except it hath a sign pointing to His oneness."

The mystics, in general, believe that existence is limited to two conditions: one is God (al-haqq), and the other is creation. They believe that God is the inner reality of things and creation the appearance of things. As for the people of Truth, existence has three degrees: God and Command, which is the Primal Will, and creation. The Primal Will, which is the world of Command, is the inner reality of things, and all existing things are the manifestations of the Divine Will, not the manifestations of the Divine Reality and Identity. "His is the Command and the Creation" (Qur'an 7:54). As to the station of the Godhead, it is independent and sanctified from the understanding of created things, leave alone that it penetrates into their realities.

His Holiness, the Báb, may my life be a sacrifice unto Him, states that the meaning of the verse: "The sea is the same sea it hath ever been from eternity, and the created realities are its waves and images," is complete in the Primal Will, not in the Essence of God.

Moreover, the generality of the Sufis think that the indescribable Reality is like the number one and all creation is the repetition of that one. One has repeated itself and produced a second, and, similarly, one has repeated itself again and become a third. In like manner, consider all of the numbers. The numbers are a relative thing. They are established (thábit) [in the mind], yet they have no objective existence.

The question of the fixed archetypes (`ayán thábita)[3] of the mystics is like that of the numbers. Although they are mentally posited, they have no actual existence. This is a relative matter. As they say: "East and west, north and south, are posited, but they have no objective existence. The fixed archetypes are the [intelligible] forms of God's knowledge (al-suwar al-`ilmíyya al-ilahíyya) and they have mental being, but they have not inhaled the fragrance of actual existence." God forbid that it should be so! Were we to conceive them in this way [as forms of the essential divine knowledge], we would be making the preexistent the created, and the created the preexistent, and then it would become necessary for the Universal Reality to descend and penetrate into infinite forms in the realities of all things.[4] Whereas descending and ascending, entering and exiting, penetration, and mixing and combining are characteristics of bodies. Even the incorporeal beings are freed and sanctified from these imaginings, how much more so the Universal Reality. These attributes that we have mentioned are the attributes of spatial phenomena (mutahayyiz), not of the incorporeal.

In brief, the intention of the preeminent leaders of the Sufis is this: the meaning of "existence" (wujud) is that by which all things are realized, and that Existence is one. It is exalted beyond all description, invisible, inaccessible, and cut off from human understanding. But they still believe in two levels: God and creation, and they say that God has two levels: one is the state of absolute sanctity and incomparability (tanzíh) ("nothing is like Him"), and the other is the state of similarity and resemblance (tashbíh) ("He is the Hearing, the Knowing"). As Rumi says:

"O Pictureless One with so many forms, over Thee
both the anthropomorphist and the transcendentalist are headstrong.
At one time Thou makest the anthropomorphist a transcendentalist,
at another Thou causest the transcendentalist to be struck in bewilderment.
In Thine Essence, Thou art neither this nor that.
Beyond all imaginations from beginningless beginning, Thou!
Even `Ali calleth Thee in his ecstasy:
`O Young of Age, O Tender in Body!'"

His meaning, in brief, is this: that God has two manifestations (tajallí). One is without an intermediary, and one is with an intermediary. When God reveals Himself without an intermediary, i.e. without reflecting places and mirrors, to the one who has made comparisons to Him [the anthropomorphist], He causes him to become like the one who testifies to His unity [the transcendentalist]. And when God reveals Himself to the latter, through the intermediary of mirrors and reflecting places, He causes him to become like the former, to such an extent that the transcendentalist addresses Him: "O Young in Age, O Tender in Body!"

The truth is this: the reality of the Sanctified Essence cannot descend into the world of creation. For Him there is no entrance or exit, no descent or penetration, no mixture or composition. He is sanctified above all limitations. For example, it is the brilliance of the rays of the sun that shine upon the creatures of the earth All things become visible and are nourished by the light of the sun and faithfully reflect it. [Similarly,] in the height of sanctity He subsists holy and purified above all conditions, determinations, and distinctions; ever beyond the understanding of all created things. Rather it is the Primal Will, which consists of the rays of the Sun [of Reality], which is the cause of the manifestation and the appearance of beings. "This is the truth, and naught lies beyond the truth but error." Upon thee rest the glory of the All-Glorious.

    [1] I would like to thank Nader Saiedi for his kind assistance in providing alternative translations that better captured the meaning of certain technical terms in the following text.

    [2] Substance (jawhar) is roughly equivalent to essence (máhíyya) and reality (haqíqa), which refer to "that by which a thing is what it is." Substances, as Aristotle explains, "are subjects for all the other things [i.e. accidents] and all the other things are predicated of them or are in them" (Categories 2b.15). An example of a substance is man or horse, whereas the predicated accidents, according to Aristotle, consist of quantity, quality, relation, where, when, position, having, doing, and being affected. So if we say: "Socrates is existing," existence, in this case, is a predicated quality of the substance Socrates.

    [3] The term thábit (f. thábita) is notoriously difficult to translate in this context. William Chittick, an authority on this subject, had formerly translated it as "immutable" in his Sufi Path of Knowledge (1989), but translates it as "fixed" in his more recent work The Self-Disclosure of God (1998). I have translated it as both "fixed" and "established" in this article to maintain its primary sense, but thábit also has the technical meaning of "posited" which would more accurately convey the fact that the archetypes (`ayán) refer to the essences of things in themselves and not as something existent. They have mental being, insofar as they are established or posited in the created divine knowledge, but they do not have concrete being, since they are not actualized existents.

    [4] 'Abdu'l-Bahá consistently refutes the idea that the fixed archetypes are present in the essential knowledge of God (as opposed to His created knowledge, which is the Primal Will). For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, as for Shaykh Ah.mad and the Báb, this is incorrect since at the level of God's Essence His knowledge does not depend on objects of knowledge.

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