Oriental Mysticism, by E.H. Palmer, , at sacred-texts.com
The necessity for a Creator recognized.THE Sufis consider it an axiom that the world must have had a Creator. They affirm that He is One, Ancient, First and Last, the End and Limit of all things, Incomparable, Unchangeable, Indivisible, and Immaterial, not subject to the laws of time, place or direction; possessing the attributes of holiness, and exempt from all opposite qualities. In this Sufiistic account of His nature. their account agrees with the opinion of the Oriental thinking world in general; but they further assert that He is Infinite and Illimitable, by which they mean not only without beginning or end, but also without determinate position of time, place, or direction. The Nature of God, according to them, is an infinite and illimitable light, a boundless and fathomless Ocean, compared with which the entire universe is more insignificant than a drop of water His Omnipresence. in the sea. There is no single atom of existent beings which God does not pervade, comprise and comprehend. God is always near to man, but man
is always far from God, because he is not aware of His proximity. The proximity of God to all created His proximity beings is the same, for the highest and lowest are alike in His sight. The light of God is the only thing that can reveal this proximity to the Traveller.
There are three grades of proximity to God which are out of the reach of human Intelligence: the proximity of Time, Place and Attributes. We can say, for instance, that Mohammed was nearer our own time than Christ; that the moon is nearer to the earth than the planet Jupiter; that Báyazíd Bístámí 1 more closely resembled Mohammed in qualities than did any even of the Prophet's contemporaries; but we cannot predicate this proximity of God. The verse of the Corán, "He is with you wherever you are" (Cor. cap. 57, v. 4), alludes to this mysterious proximity. Intelligence has no road to the discovery discoverable only by the Initiated. of it, but when its majesty has overshadowed the Illuminati, they perceive that in the sight of God Saints and Prophets, unbelievers and heretics, the loftiest of mankind and the meanest of brutes, are alike compared with Him. This is their explanation of the passage "Thou wilt see no distinction in the Creation of the Merciful One" (Cor. cap. 67, v. 3), and "God's is the East and the West, and wherever you turn your faces God is there." (Cor. cap. 2, v. 109.)
The Traveller who has discovered this proximity possesses the one thing needful, and has completed the journey to God, but until he shall have overcome
the restraints of time and place his steps can never border on the threshold of Eternity. Eternity, Eternity. in the Sufiistic sense, is the primal element of Cosmos, and takes in at one glance both past and future time. This idea is contained in the words of the Hadís: "There is no morning or evening with thy Lord." The passage in the Coran "Oh assembly of genii and men! if ye are able to pass out of the confines of Heaven, then pass out of them; but ye will do so only by the authority which God giveth you," (Cor. cap. 55, v. 33), points to the Majesty of Him of whose proximity we are speaking.
Solution of Questions arising out of the Sufi account.This Sufiistic account of the nature and proximity of God gives rise to many questions amongst their disciples. For instance, "In what way is the nature of God infinite and illimitable, in reference to the sensible and invisible world separately considered?" The answer, however, follows plainly from the previous statements. For since the nature of God is infinite and illimitable, and no notion of time, place, or direction attaches to it, it is equally above the highest conception of the invisible world, and below the lowest material object of the sensible world. Again, their statement concerning the proximity of God to all things alike, and His comprising and comprehending all things, seems irreconcileable with any conception that human intelligence can form of His Nature. This objection they meet by the following physical illustration.
Physical illustration Earth is dense, water compared with earth is subtle, air is more subtle than water, fire is more
subtle than air; and the subtle occupies a higher of the foregoing position. position in the scale of creation than the dense. Now although each of these four elements occupies a distinct position in nature they are susceptible of commixture, and are determined the one by the other. If, for instance, a vessel be completely filled with earth there will still be space for water, and when it will contain no more water it will still admit of the introduction of air, and when it will contain no more air it will still admit of the introduction of fire; the comprehensive and penetrating capacities of each being in proportion to their relative densities. It will now be observed that there is no particle of the earth in the vessel but is commingled with the water, and so on of the other three elements, each occupying its distinct and proper position according to its density. It is from the proper gradation and arrangement of these four elements in the world that the phenomena of nature arise; but they are nevertheless susceptible of commixture and conjunction. This again may be proved by experiment. If one thrust his hand into water it is moistened and not burnt, if into fire it is burnt and not moistened, but if he thrust it into boiling water it is both moistened and burnt, thereby proving that these two elements are susceptible of commixture and conjunction. That the four elements do occupy their distinct and proper positions in nature, is evident from the premises concerning their relative densities, for the denser cannot disturb or confine the more subtle. If all this be possible then in the case of material elements, how much
more possible is it in the case of the nature of God, which is immaterial and indivisible!
Further illustration of the same from psychology.Another and closer illustration is that taken from the connection of the human soul with the body. The soul is conjoined with the body, and does not merely reside in it; so that there is no atom of the corporeal frame distinct from or not pervaded, comprised and comprehended by it. The limbs may be separated one by one, and the body itself even cut into pieces without any wound or hurt accruing to the soul; for the body, which is the denser of the two, cannot disturb or confine the soul, which is the more subtle. In like manner the Nature of God pervades, comprises and comprehends everything, and is incapable of being disturbed or confined by anything.
The Subtle Nature of God.Again, since the Nature of God is infinitely subtle, nothing can ever veil or conceal it; for the more subtle a thing is the greater is its capacity for penetration. Thus the Sufis explain the expression of the Corán, "He is the Subtle the Wise 1," with reference to the Nature of God, as the only truly subtle nature. They say that this sentence would convince every one of the truth of the Mohammedan creed if they could but understand that this is the right interpretation of it. This proximity of God is implied in the
verses, "He is with you wherever you are; God seeth all that ye do" (Cor. cap. 57, v. 4). "I am nearer to him than his jugular vein" (Cor. cap. 50, v. 15). And many similar passages both of the Corán and the Hadís.
The foregoing arguments are intended speciallyObject of these Arguments. to confute the opinion that God is nearer to some men than others, namely, that the Wise approach nearer to Him than the Ignorant. Their great object, however, is the inculcation of the beautiful truth, that He is ever near to those who seek Him, whilst those only are far from Him who by their actions fail to acknowledge that He is Omnipresent and Omniscient, knowing and seeing all they do.
23:1 An eminent Sufí philosopher and poet. See Sprenger, Journal As. S. of Bengal, 1856, p. 134.
26:1 (Cor. cap. 6, v. 103). In Sale's version the word latíf is rendered gracious. I have, however, translated it subtle, which is its primary meaning, and accords with the Sufiistic interpretation.