Chapter Seven: Mulla Sadra: His Teachings
Sadr al-Din Shirazi, known as Mulla Sadra, appeared nearly a thousand years after the rise of Islam and his works represent a synthesis of the millennium of Islamic thought which preceded him. He was thoroughly versed in the Qur’an and Hadith, Islamic philosophy and theology, Sufism and even the history of Islamic thought, and must have access to an unusually rich library. To all his knowledge must be added his own intellectual powers as a philosopher and visionary and intuitive capabilities as a gnostic (‘arif) who was able to have direct experience of Ultimate Reality or what in the later school of Islamic philosophy and theosophy is called “gnostic experience” (tajruba-yi ‘irfani). His knowledge of the revealed sources of Islam was probably more extensive than that of any other Islamic philosopher. It included intimacy not only with the Qur’an, but also well-known commentaries, not only prophetic Hadith but also sayings of the Shi’ite Imams whose philosophical significance he revealed for the first time.
His Qur’anic commentaries and Sharh usul al-kafi (“Commentary upon the Usul al-kafi” of Kulayni) and commentary upon the Light Verse (ayat al-nur), both among the premier masterpieces of Islamic thought; attest to his incredible mastery of the Qur’an and Hadith.
Mulla Sadra and earlier Islamic Philosophy
Mulla Sadra was also knowledgeable in the deepest sense in the schools of Islamic philosophical thoughts before him. He knew Peripatetic (mashsha’i) philosophy intimately, especially the thought of Ibn Sina, upon whose Shifa’ he wrote a major commentary. But he was also well acquainted with later Peripatetic, such as Nasir al-Din Tusi and Athir al-Din abhati, upon whose al-Hidayah (“The Guide”) he wrote a commentary which was destined to become one of his most popular works, especially in India. He was also a master of Ishraqi thoughts and copied a number of the visionary recitals of Suhrawardi in his own hand as well as writing a major commentary in the form of glosses upon the Hikmat al-ishraq (“Theosophy of the Orient of Light”) of the master of the school of illumination. He was also well versed in both Sunni and Shi’ite kalam or theology, especially the works of al-Ghazzali and Imam Fakr al-Din Razi whom he cites often especially in the Asfar (“The Four Journeys”) which is the masterpiece and like the mother of all his other books. Moreover, he was well acquainted with Shi’ite kalam which included Twelve -Imam Shi’ism to which he belonged as well as Isma’ilism whose works he studied carefully including philosophical tracts such as the Rasa’il (“Treatises”) of the Ikhwan al-Safa’.
Finally, it is most important to realize Mulla Sadra’s mastery of the doctrines of Sufism or gnosis especially as taught by Ibn ‘Arabi.
In certain issues such as eschatology, he borrows heavily from the Andalusian master, and the last book of the Asfar, in which he deals with al-ma’ad or eschatology is in fact replete with extensive quotations from Ibn ‘Arabi’s al-Futuhat almakkiyyah (“The Meccan Illuminations”).
Moreover, he had a special love for Persian Sufi poetry and quotes from its masters such as ‘Attar and Rumi even in the middle of his Arabic works. Part of this knowledge is derived from the earlier masters of the School of Isfahan such as its founder Mir Damad, a school which Mulla Sadra belonged, but his knowledge in these matters goes beyond any of his teachers and represents his own extensive study of the major works and sources of Islamic thought.
The synthesis of previous schools of thought and modes of knowing
Mulla Sadra synthesized not only various schools of Islamic thought but also the paths of human knowledge. His own life, based upon great piety, deep philosophical introspection and reasoning and purification of his inner being until his “eye of the heart” opened and he was able to have a direct vision of the spiritual world, attests to the unity of the three major paths of knowledge in his own person. These three paths are according to him revelation (al-wahy), demonstration or intellection (alburhan, al-ta’aqqul) and spiritual or “mystical” vision (al-mukashafah, almushahadah).
Or, to use another terminology prevalent among his school, he followed a way which synthesized al-Qur’an, al-burhan and al-‘irfan, which corresponds to the terms above.
Mulla Sadra’s epistemology is directly related to that Suhrawadi and the school of Illumination in general, a school in which distinction is made between conceptual knowledge (al-‘ibn al-busuli) and present knowledge (al-‘ibn al-buduri), forms of knowledge which are unified in the being of the possessor of knowledge on the highest level, a person whose Suhrawardi calls hakim muta’allih, literally a wise man, philosopher or theosophy who has become imbued with Divine Qualities and become “God-like”. Conceptual knowledge is gained through concepts in the mind of that which is to be known whereas present knowledge implies the presence of the very reality to be known in the human intellect without the intermediary of mental concepts such as when one knows oneself, the intelligible or the divine realities. Such knowledge is illuminative and beyond the realm of ratiocination, but it is not without intellectual content. Mulla Sadra accepted this ishraqi thesis, to which he added the significance of revelation as a foundational source of knowledge of a philosophical or theosophical order. The tradition of Islamic philosophy in Persia accepted fully this truth and awarded to Mulla Sadra the title of Sadr al-muta’allhin, that is, foremost among those who according to Suhrawardi belong to the highest category of possessors of metaphysical knowledge. No higher title could be given to anyone in the context of the world view in which later Islamic Philosophy functioned.
In any case the grand synthesis of Islamic thought created by Mulla Sadra is based on the synthesis of these three ways of knowing through which he was able to integrate the earlier schools of Islamic schools into a unified world and create a new intellectual prospective known as alhikmat al-muta’aliyah which a number of leading scholars of Islamic philosophy who have written on him in European languages, such as Henry Corbin and Toshihiko Izutsu, have translated as the “transcendent theosophy” marks the birth of a new intellectual perspective in the Islamic world, one which has had profound influence during the later centuries in Persia as well as in Iraq and India, while the term alhikmat al-muta’aliyah had been used in a more general and less defined sense by a number of earlier Islamic thinkers such as Qutb al-Din Shirazi. In analyzing the various aspects of Mulla Sadra’s thought we are in reality studying the hikmat al muta’aliyah which became a distinct school of Islamic thought much like the Peripatetic (mashsha’i) and Illuminations (ishraqi) schools. Mulla Sadra was in fact so devoted to this term that he used it as part of the title love his major opus which is al-Asfar alarba’ah fi’l-hikmat al-muta’aliyah (“The Four Journeys Concerning Transcendent Theosophy”).
The foundation of the “transcendent theosophy” and the whole metaphysics of Mulla Sadra is the science of being (wujud), which is used by him to denote both existence, in the sense of the existence of objects, and existence that is not in any way privative but which also includes the Divine Principle, bPure Being and even theAbsolute, which is beyond being as ordinarily understood. Much of his writings, including nearly all of the first book of the Asfar, is devoted to this issue and he returns again and again to it in such works as al-Shawahid al-rububuyyah (“Divine Witnesses”), al-Hikmat al-‘arshiyyah (“The Wisdom of the Throne”), al-Mabda’ wa’lma’ad (“The Origin and the Return”) and especially Kitab al-masha’ir (“The Book of Metaphysical Penetration”) which is the most important summary treatment of this subject of his writings.
The study of being
At the heart of the whole philosophical exposition of Mulla Sadra stand the gnostic experience of being as Reality. Our usual experience of the world is that of things which exist, this ordinary experience serving as the basis of Aristotelian metaphysics which is based on existents (mawjud). For Mulla Sadra, however, there occurred a vision in which he saw the whole of existence not as objects which exist or existents but as a single reality (wujud) whose delimitations by various quiddities (mahiyyat) gives the appearance of a multiplicity which “exists” with various existents being independent of each other.
Heidegger complained that Western metaphysics had gone astray since the time of Aristotle by studying the existent (das Seiende), to use his vocabulary, and that the proper subject of metaphysics was existence itself or das Sein with whose study he was starting a new chapter in Western Philosophical thought. As far as Islamic philosophy is concerned, such a distinction was made three centuries before Heidegger by Mulla Sadra who according to himself received through inspiration a vision of reality in which everything was seen as acts of existence (wujud) and not objects that exist (mawjud). The vast development of Sadrian metaphysics is based on this basic experience of Reality and subsequent conceptual distinctions made on the basis of this experience of wujud as being at once one, graded and principal.
Mulla Sadra distinguishes dearly between the concept of being (mafhum al-wujud) and the reality of being (haqiqat al-wujud). The first is the most obvious of all concepts and the easiest to comprehend while the second is the most difficult for it requires extensive mental preparation as well as the purification of one’s being so as to allow the intellect within to function fully without veils of passion and to be able to discern wujud as Reality. That is why one of Mulla Sadra’s most famous followers, Hajji Mulla Hadi Sabziwari, writes in the Sharh almanzumah, which is a summary of the master’s doctrines, its (wujud’s) notion is one of the best known things, but its deepest reality is in the extremity of hiddenness.8
A consequence of the gnostic experience of being is the realization of its unity, which is called wahdat al-wujud. This fundamental doctrine of Sufi metaphysics is associated with Ibn Arabi but has possessed many interpretations ranging from the extreme interpretation of it by the Andalusian Sufi and philosopher Ibn Sab ‘in, according to whom only God is real and nothing else exists in any way, to Ibn ‘Arabi’s interpretations, which sees the manifested order as theophanies (tajalliyat) of the Divine Names and Qualities upon the mirror of nothingness, to the multiplicity of existence as the rays of the sun in relation to the sun. The rays of the sun are not the sun and at the same time is nothing but the sun.
In the Asfar, which contains a history of Islamic philosophy9as well as his own teachings, Mulla Sadra deals extensively with various understandings of this central doctrine before turning to the exposition of b his own views. 10 In any case, wahdat alwujud is a cornerstone of Sadrian metaphysics without which his whole world view would collapse.
A companion doctrine is tashkik al-wujud or the gradation of being. Being is not only one but it also participates in a gradation or hierarchy from the Being of God to the existence of the pebble on the beach. Every higher level of wujud contains all the reality that is manifested below it. Here Mulla Sadra basses himself upon the Suhrawardian doctrine of differentiation and gradation according to which things can be distinct from each other through the very element that unites them such as the light of the candle and the light of the sun which are united by being both light and yet are distinct from one another also by light which is manifested in the two cases according to different degrees of intensity.
Being is like light in that it possesses degrees of intensity while being a single reality. 11 The universe in its vast multiplicity is therefore not only unified but is also thoroughly hierarchical. One might say that Mulla Sadra accepted the idea of the “great chain of being” which has had such a long life in the West from Aristotle to the eighteenth century but in the light of the unity of being which gives a completely different meaning to the doctrine of cosmic and universal hierarchy.
The views of wujud are complemented by the principle of asalat al-wujud or principality of existence. To understand this doctrine, it is necessary first of all to turn to the classical distinction in Islamic philosophy between existence (wujud in its meaning of being related to the world of multiplicity) and mahiyyah or quiddities which in its original Latin form is derived directly from the Arabic mahiyyah. 12 All objects are composed of these two components, the first corresponding to the answer given to the question “is it?”, and the second to the question “what is it?” The question posed in later Islamic philosophy, and especially by Mulla Sadra, is which of these elements is principial and bestows reality upon an object. Mulla Sadra’s own teacher Mir Damad and Suhrawardi are considered as followers of the school of principality of quiddity (asalat al-mahiyyah) whiles Ibn Sina is considered as a follower of asalat al-wujud, although in his case this doctrine takes on a completely meaning than in Mulla Sadra since the former did not believe in wahdat al-wujud.
In any case in his youth, Mulla Sadra followed his teacher Mir Damad and only after another visionary and gnostic experience came to realize that it is wujud which bestows reality upon things and that the mahiyyat are literally nothing themselves and are abstracted by the mind from the limitation of a particular act of wujud. When we say that a horse exists, following common sense we think that the horse is a reality to which existence is added. In reality, however, what we perceive is a particular act of wujud which through the very fact that it is manifested is limited to a particular form which we perceive as a horse. For those who have realized the truth, the fact that a horse exists becomes transformed into the reality that the act of wujud which through the very fact that it is manifested is limited to particular form which we call horse. The form of mahiyya of the horse has no reality of its own but derives all of its reality from the act of wujud.
Reality is then nothing other than wujud, which is at once one and graded existential the reality of all things. The metaphysics of Mulla Sadra can in fact be understood by understanding not only these principles but also their interrelations. Wujud is not only once but also graded. And it is not only graded but also principal or that which bestowed reality upon all quiddities, which in themselves possess no reality at all. The vast metaphysical edifice created by Mulla Sadra and his whole theology, cosmology, psychology and eschatology rely upon the three principles of whdat al-wujud, tashkik al-wujud and asalat al-wujud and it is only in the light of these principles that his other doctrines can be understood.
Trans-substantial motion and creation of the world
One of the most striking doctrines of Mulla Sadra is trans-substantial motion (alharakat al-jawhariyyah) which is the basis of his explanation of many of the most difficult problems of traditional philosophy including the creation of the world and the whole meaning of becoming in light of the Immutable and the Eternal. As is wellknown, earlier Islamic philosophers, especially Ibn Sina, had followed Aristotelian natural philosophy in accepting motion (al-harakat) only in the categories of quantity (kamm), quality (kayf), situation (wad’) and place (‘ayn), all of which are accidents and denied explicitly the possibility of motion in the category of substance. Ibn Sina’s main argument was that motion requires a subject that moves and if the very substance of an object changes through Tran substantial motion, and then there will be no subject for motion.
Mulla Sadra opposed this thesis directly by saying that any change in the accidents of an object requires in fact a change in its substance since accidents have no existence independent of substance. He asserts that there is always “some subject” (mawudu’un ma) for motion even if we are unable to fix it and delimit it logically. Mulla Sadra asserts that the whole of the physical or even psychic or imagine universes which extend up to the Immutable or luminous Archetypes are in constant motion or becoming. Were it to be otherwise, the effusion (fayd) of being could not reach all things. This trans-substantial motion, which Henry Corbin calls “I’inquietude de l’etre” referring to the existence of the universe below the level of the intelligible and archetypal realities, is not to be, however, confused with the re-creation of the world in every instant as taught by the Sufis. In the Sufi doctrine at every moment the universe is annihilated and re-created.
Previous forms return to the Divine Order and new forms are manifested as theophany. That is why this doctrine is called al-labs ba’d al-khal (literally, dressing after undressing of forms).
In contrast Mulla Sadra’s doctrine has been called al-labs ba’d al-labs (that is, dressing after dressing). This implies the form and matter of an existent become themselves the matter for a new form and that this process goes on continuously as if one were to put on one coat on top of another. All beings in this world are moving vertically as a result of trans-substantial motion until they reach the plenum of their archetypal reality. The sperm become a foetus and grows to the form of a baby who then is born and continues to grow from one form to another until he or she reaches full maturity and the body becomes weaker as the soul grows stronger until one dies and reaches the “imagine world” and finally the Divine Presence. Each state of this movement contains the forms of the earlier states of existence, while this Tran substantial movement continues throughout all these stages.
It is important to emphasize that Mulla Sadra’s dynamic vision of the world in constant becoming, which implies the continuous intensification of the act of wujud within a particular being, must in any way be confused with Darwinian evolution.
For Mulla Sadra, the beings of this world are manifestations of the light of wujud cast upon their archetypal realities which through the arc of descent (al-qaws alnuzuli) bring various creatures into the realm of physical existent. Trans-substantial motion marks the ascent (al-qaws al-su’udi) through which the ever increasing intensity of light of light of wujud allows existents to return to their archetypal realities in the supernal realm. For Darwinism, on the other hand, there are no such things as archetypal realities and the species, far from reflecting celestial archetypes, are merely forms generated by the flow of matter in time. Furthermore, for evolution the role of wujud, its unity, gradation and principality are meaningless whereas for Mulla Sadra they contribute the vaery foundations of his metaphysics. Also for Mulla Sadra trans-substantial motion teleological and has an important spiritual role to play. The universe is moving toward a perfection which is its purpose and end and the spiritual progress of humanity is also achieved through a mode of transsubstantial motion. A saint is not only more perfect than others. It might be said that him or her is of a more intense degree than in less perfect human beings. It would therefore be grave mistake, as committed by a number of modernist Muslim thinkers, to equate al-harakat al-jawhariyyah with Darwinian evolution.
The doctrine of trans-substantial motion is the key for the solution of many problems for Mulla Sadra, including that of the creation of the world debated for eight centuries before him by the Islamic philosophers and theologians. As is well known, the falasifah believed the world to have had no origination in time but to have been originated beyond time by God, the world thus being eternal (qadim) while the mutakallimun claimed that the world was created in time (hadith), an issue which was discussed in many classical works of Islamic thought such as al-Ghazzali’s Tahafut alfalasifah.
The philosophers claimed that if the world were created in time, it would require a change in the Divine Nature which is impossible because God is immutable.
The theologians believed that if the world were qadim, then something eternal would exist besides God and would not even be caused by Him. Different Islamic thinkers sought to solve this problem in different ways, including Mulla Sadra’s own teacher, Mir Damad, who came up with the idea of al-huduth al-dabri, origination of the world not in time (zaman) nor in eternity (sarmad), but in dahr or aeon, and he became celebrated for the exposition of this doctrine.
Mulla Sadra rejected his dichotomy of views altogether by pointing to the doctrine of trans-substantial motion. If the cosmos is changing at every moment, at each instance of its being, it is different from what it was before and what it is now was non-existent before (masbuq bi’l-‘adam). Therefore, one can accept the doctrine that the world was created from nothing (ex nihilo) while accepting the continuous and uninterrupted effusion (fayd) of the light of being which none other than the Divine Light is. He thus seeks to provide a philosophical explanation for one of the most difficult of philosophical issues in not only Islamic thought but Jewish and Christian as well.
The union of the intelligent and the intelligible
Another of Mulla Sadra’s major doctrines, again related inextricably to the rest of his metaphysics, is that of the union of the intellect and the intelligible (ittihad al-‘aqil wa’l-ma’qul). This doctrine was asserted by Abu’l-Hasan al-Amiri in the fourth/tenth century but rejected thoroughly by Ibn Sina and later Islamic philosophers. But it was resurrected by Mulla Sadra and given a new meaning in the context of the unity of wujud and trans-substantial motion.
According to him at the moment of intellection the form of the intelligible (ma’qul), the possessor of intellect (‘aqil), and even the intellect itself (‘aql) become united in such a way than one is the other as long as the act of intellection lasts.
This doctrine is not only important for Mulla Sadra’s theory of knowledge, but is also of great significance for the understanding of the role of knowledge in human perfection.
Through trans-substantial motion the act of knowing elevates the very existence of the knower. According to a hadith of the Prophet, “knowledge is light” (al-‘ilm nurun), a principle which is also foundational to Mulla Sadra’s thought. The unity of the knower and the known implies ultimately the unity of knowing and being.
The being of man is transformed through the light of knowing and being. The being of man is transformed through the light of knowledge and also our mode being determines our mode of knowledge. In this profound reciprocity is to be found the key to the significance of knowledge for Mulla Sadra and of the idea that knowledge transforms our being even in the posthumous state. The writings of Mulla Sadra are replete with various applications of this doctrine and he returns again and again to the principle of the ultimate of being and knowing.
The imaginal world and the archetypes
Mulla Sadra accepted the reality of the archetypes (al-a’yan al-thabitah or almuthul al-nuriyyah) in conformity with the view of Suhrawardi and against the claims of Muslim Peripatetics such as Ibn Sina. And he brought many philosophical arguments to refute those who have denied them.
There is in fact no doubt concerning the major role performed in Mulla Sadra’s thought by the archetypes or “Platonic Idea”, pure intelligible belonging to the domain of immutability which many have confused with forms in the imagine world which although beyond matter nevertheless still participate in becoming and transsubstantial motion. The latter play a crucial role in the “transcendent theosophy” without in any way replacing the immutable archetypes or luminous “ideas” in the Platonic sense.
Considering the absence of the imagine world in Western philosophy for many centuries, it is necessary to delve more deeply into the meaning of ‘alam al-khayal, the mundus imaginaries, which Corbin and I have translated as the magine rather than imaginary world, considering the pejorative connotation of the latter term in modern European languages. The traditional hierarchy of being in the mainstream of Western thought goes from the realm of material existence, to the psyche, to the intelligible and angelic world with its own vast hierarchy and finally to God who is Pure Being and for some Western metaphysicians, the Beyond Being. This scheme was more or less followed by early Islamic philosophers with adjustments related to the fact that they were living and philosophizing in an Islamic universe.
Suhrawardi was the first to speak of the imagine world at least in the microcosm. He was soon followed by Ibn ‘Arabi who elaborated upon this theme and expanded the understanding of the imagine universe to make it a central pillar of his understanding of the Islamic universe upon which numerous Sufis and philosophers were to write important treatises.
It was, however, Mulla Sadra who gave the first systematic and philosophical explanation of this world. He added to the view of Suhrawardi that this world was added to man’s microcosmic reality (khayal al-muttasil), the thesis that the imagine world has also macros comic and objective reality independent and disconnected from man (khayal al-munfasil). He emphasized that this world has even more reality than the physical world. As for its characteristics, it is a world possessing forms called alsuwar al-khayaliyyah (imaginal forms) which, however, are not wed to matter, at least not the matter of the physical world.
That is why they are also called al-muthul al-mu’allqah (suspended forms). Nevertheless they are forms having colours, shapes, odours and everything else that is associated with the forms of this world. This is a world of concrete realities which, however, are not physical, the world immediately above the physical, identified with the mythical cities of Jabulqa and Jublsa, a world which the seers can experience in this life and into which human beings enter at the moment of death. It is a world in which we have subtle or imagine bodies (al-jism al-khayali) as we have a physical body in this world.
Eschatology and resurrection
No Islamic philosopher has dealt in such great detail as Mulla Sadra with eschatology andresurrection (al-ma’ad) concerning both the individual and the cosmos. The fourth book of Asfra, much of it based on Ibn ‘Arabi is the fastest and most detailed study in Islamic philosophy of the soul (nafs) from its birth to its final meeting with God and includes elements concerned with the phenomenology of death. If we were to seek something like the Tibetan Book of the Dead in Islamic sources, probably this fourth book of the Asfar would be the best candidate. Moreover, Mulla Sadra devoted much space in his other major writings such as al-Mabda’ wa’l-ma’ad and al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah to the subject and wrote separate treatises devoted only to this subject such as the Risalat al-hashr (“Treatise on Resurrection”).
Basing himself completely on traditional Islamic description of the posthumous states and eschatological events, Mulla Sadra seeks to interpret such terms as the Bridge of Sirat, the Balance and lower paradise states as well as the infernal states in terms of the imagine world. All these events related to death, judgment and the like as mentioned in the Qur’an and Hadith take place in this world which itself is an intermediate realm (al-barzakh) stretching from the al-barazikh al-a’la or higher intermediate realms to al-barazikh al-asfal or lower ones. The higher comprise paradise states although still not the supreme heavens and the lower the infernal ones. This realm is in fact also a kind of purgatory through which souls pass on their way to their final beatitude or damnation.
Mulla Sadra speaks of a doctrine which at first seems somewhat strange and can be understood only in the light of the doctrine of trans-substantial motion. He claims that the soul (nafs) is created with the body but becomes immortal and spiritual through the Spirit, or, using his own terminology, the nafs or soul is jismaniyyat al-huduth wa ruhaniyyat al-baqa. Its vertical ascent through transition motion in fact does not cease in this world but continues after death as the soul journeys through various intermediate realms in conformity with the types of actions it has performed and its mode of being in this world.
In the great debate about whether resurrection is spiritual (ruhani) or bodily (jismani), Mulla Sadra categorically favours badily resurrection but he points that, upon death, individuals are bestowed with subtle bodies (al-jism al-latif) which correspond in many ways to the astral body or Paracelsus.
After death they are therefore not simply disembodied souls but possess bodies which are “woven” of the actions that they have performed in this world. They also enter a world which conforms to their inner nature. In a sense an evil soul chooses hell because of the nature of its being at the moment of death. Moreover, the reality of the body in this world is to form the body and not its matter. In the final resurrection all of the levels of one’s being are integrated including the form of the physical body, which is the reality of the body, so that one can definitely accept bodily resurrection as asserted by the Qur’an and Hadith and at the same time provide intellectual demonstration for it on the basis of the general principles of Sadrian metaphysics.
God’s knowledge of theworld Another difficult question discussed by numerous philosophers and theologians is that of God’s knowledge of the world. Al-
Ghazzali in fact considered the Peripatetic view that God only knows universals and not particulars as one of the views of earlier thinkers concerning this issue, while in al-
Shawahid al-rububiyyah he claims that God knows everything in a special way which was unveiled to him by God and because of its complexity and the difficulty of understanding it by the great majority of men he finds it wiser not to reveal it fully. In other writings, including one of his letters to his teacher, Mir Damad, he insists that he gained full knowledge of this mystery through inspiration (ilham), unveiling (kashf) and the “eye of certainty” (‘ayn alyaqin).
What Mulla Sadra does reveal of God’s knowledge of the world is based on the thesis that whenever wujud is not mixed with non-existence and not veiled by it, it manifests to itself never absent from itself.
Therefore the essence of this wujud knows itself and its essence is both knowledge of itself and known by itself, since the light of wujud is one, the veil covering the reality of things being nothing but non-existence.
Therefore the essence of this wujud knows itself and its essence is both knowledge of itself and known by itself, since the light of wujud is one, the veil covering the reality of things being nothing but non-existence. An since the Necessary Being possesses and Essence which is beyond all composition and contingency, it is at the highest level of perceiving and being perceived, of knowing and being known. This means that since ultimately there is but one wujud which the wujud of all things, therefore His Essence knows all beings that exist and there is not an atom that he does not know as asserted by the Qur’an. The very presence of the Divine Essence to Itself is none other than undifferentiated knowledge which is at the same time also differentiated knowledge.
And God’s differentiated knowledge is none other than their wujud. God’s knowledge of existents is the very cause of their existentiation.
Mulla Sadra asserts that God’s knowledge of things has its own hierarchy. There is first of all the level of solicitude (al-‘inayah) which is His knowledge of things on the level of His own Essence. The second level is that of undifferentiated decree (al-qada’ alijmali) which is interpreted as the Pen (al-Qalam). As for forms which subsist by the Qalam, their subsistence is subsistence by emergence (al-qiyam al-suduri) for the Qalam has full dominion of all forms below it. The third level is the Tablet (al-lawh), also called differentiated decree (al-qada’ altafsili), which contains the archetypes and Platonic Ideas of things, and their relation to the forms of this world is what of principles to their reflections. The fourth level is destiny through knowledge (al-qadar al-‘ilm) comprising the imagine world and that of suspended forms of the physical world. Mulla Sadra considers this last level to be below the level of direct Divine Knowledge since it marks the mixture of forms with matter. But it is indirectly the subject of Divine Knowledge since the principles of these forms belong to the worlds above which God knows in an absolute and direct sense. Moreover, every level mentioned by Mulla Sadra possesses wujud which gives it reality and, according to the arguments given above, since there is only one wujud as asserted by the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud, God knows all existents by virtue of knowing His own Essence which is none other than absolute wujud.
Some other principles of Sadrian teachings
There are numerous other principles expounded by Mulla Sadra and founding elements of the “transcendent theosophy”.
In fact whereas Muslims inherited some two hundred topics from Greek philosophy, Mulla Sadra discusses over six hundred, many of which are drawn from further encounters between philosophy and the Islamic revelation and further encounters between philosophy and theosophical meditations upon the sayings of the Shi’ite Imams along the Qur’an and Hadith. Here, because of the constraint of space, we shall mention only two of the best known of these principles, not already discussed above. One is the famous thesis that “the Truth in its simplicity contains all things” (basit al-haqiqah kull al-ashya’) which is the direct consequence of the unity and principality of wujud. By this principle Mulla Sadra means that the truth (al-haqiqah) in its state of pure simplicity and before becoming “combined” with quiddity (almahiyyah), that is, Pure Being, contains all things since the reality of things is their existence and Pure Being is the source of all wujud and therefore in a sense contains the reality of all things. Mulla Sadra appeals to this principle in many of his writings in solving some of the most complicated philosophical issues.
Another well-known principle is that “the soul in its unity is its entire faculty” (al-nafs fi wahdatihi kull al-quwa). This is also a consequence of his ontology as well as trans-substantial motion. It means that the various faculties of the soul are not like accidents added to the substance of the soul. Rather, the soul is each of its faculties when it identifies itself with this or that function related to a particular faculty. That is why the perfecting of any faculty affects itself in its unity and the perfection of the soul through trans-substantial motion also affects its faculties. It also emphasizes the unity of the soul above and beyond what one finds in the faculty psychology of the Peripatetic.
Also many of the older topics of philosophy are changed completely by seeing them in the light of Sadrian metaphysics. An outstanding example is the question of cause and effect or causality (al-‘illahwa’l277 ma‘lul or al-‘alliyyah). Mulla Sadra accepts the Aristotelian doctrine of the four causes and commentaries upon it by Ibn Sina and other earlier Islamic philosophers, but transforms them completely by considering the relation between cause and effect in light of the doctrine of the principality of wujud. He thereby combines horizontal and vertical causes and his discussion if these subjects in all his works contain some of his most exalted gnostic (‘irfani) expositions. In studying them one is presented with a knowledge which satisfies both the mind and the heart and can lead those who can understand and have sympathy for gnosis and sapience practically into a state of ecstasy. There are many other principles transformed by Sadrian metaphysics which we cannot discuss here because of the limitation of space. What has been presented here is only by way of example.
Mulla Sadra’s Qur’anic commentaries
None of the philosophers throughout the history of Islamic philosophy has paid much attention to the Qur’an as source of philosophical and theosophical knowledge and none has written as many commentaries upon the Qur’an as has Mulla Sadra, whose commentaries are the continuation of his “transcendent theosophy” an organic outgrowth of the inner meaning of the Qur’an as understood by Mulla Sadra who asserts again and again the harmony between revelation (al-wahy) and intellect/reason (al-‘aql). He in fact asserts that the intellect, of which reason is the reflection upon mental plane, is humanity’s inner prophet which manifests it only in those who are, in the language of Qur’an “firmly rooted in knowledge” (alrasikhun fi’l-‘ilm).
Mulla Sadra wrote commentaries upon a number of chapters and verses of the Qur’an: al-Fatihah (“The Opening”), al-Baqarah (“The Cow”), ayat al-kursi (“The Throne Verse”), ayat al-nur (“Light Verse”), Sajdah (“Prostration”), Ya Sin (“YS”), al-Waqi’ah (“The Event”), al-Hadid (“Iron”), al-Jum’ah (“The Congregation”), al-A’la (“The Most High”), al-Tariq (“The Morining Star”) and al-Zalzal (“The Earthquake”). Moreover, he wrote a number of works dealing with the science of Qur’anic commentary. These include Asrar al-ayat (“Mysteries of Qur’anic Verses”), which deals especially extensively with eschatological matters to which the Qur’an refers; Mutashabih al-qur’an (“On the Metaphorical Verses of the Qur’an”), dealing with those verses of the Qur’an whose outward meaning is not clear in contrast to the muhkamat or “firm” verses whose outward meaning is clear, and Mufatih al-ghayb (“Keys to the Invisible World”), which is one of his most important works and in which he discusses his method of Qur’anic commentary.
Mulla Sadra distinguishes between commentators who see only the outward meaning of Sacred Text and who are like those who see only the shell of a nut and disregard the fruit within, and those who pay attention only to what they consider the inner meaning while disregarding the outer form. He opposes both methods and states that, if these were to be the only choices, he would prefer the exoteric commentaries because they at least preserve the outward container of the revelation. But the best method is to deal with the inner meaning without going against the external sense of the words of the Qur’an as understood by the Islamic community. And he adds that only those whom the Qur’an calls “firm in knowledge” (al-rasikhun fi’l-‘ilm), who have received their knowledge through divine inspiration without any spectre of doubt in their minds and hearts, have the right to carry out spiritual hermeneutics (ta’wil) of God’s Word.
Mulla Sadra considers the Qur’an to be the same as being itself. Being, like the Qur’an, possesses letter (huruf) which are the “keys to the invisible world’ and from their combinations verses (ayat) are formed and from them the chapters (suwar) of the Sacred Book. Then from the combinations of the chapters, there results “the book of existence” (kitab al-wujud) which manifests itself in two ways as al-furqan, or discernment, and al-qur’an, or recitation (both of these terms being names of the Qur’an). The furqani aspec of the book is the macrocosm with all its differentiations, and the qur’ani aspect is the spiritual and archetypal reality of man or what is generally called universal man (al-insan alkamil).
Therefore, the keys (mafatih) to the invisible world, as far as the revealed Qur’an is concerned, are also the keys to the understanding of the invisible dimension of the world of external existence and man’s inner being and vice versa. The Qur’anic commentaries of Mulla Sadra occupy an exalted place in the annals of the Qur’anic commentaries as well as in the philosophical hermeneutics of a sacred text, and it are a pity that so little attention has been paid to them in scholarships in Western languages.
The influence of Mulla Sadra
The vast synthesis created by Mulla Sadra was to have a profound influence upon later Persian thought as well as in India and Iraq. It is not true that his thought dominated the whole philosophical scene in Persia, because it has had its detractors to this day, but it has certainly been the most important influence on the intellectual scene in Persia during the past three and a half centuries. Temporarily eclipsed after his death because of adverse political conditions, the “transcendent theosophy”
was revived during the Qajar period in both Isfahan, the older centre of Islamic philosophy, and Tehran which was now becoming the foremost center for the study of hikmah. That School such as Hajji Mulla Hadi Sabziwari in Khurasan and Mulla Ali Mudarris in Tehran. They continued very much in the line Mulla Sadra although they began to write more in Persian rather than Arabic in accordance with the general tendency of the period which was witness to the revival of philosophical Persian. And this tradition has continued unbroken to this day to such an extent that the extensive group of students studying the Islamic subjects in the traditional madrasahs, especially those of Qom, and who are interested in the “intellectual sciences” (al-‘ulum al-‘aaliyyah), are mostly followers of Mulla Sadra.
In India the influence of Mulla Sadra began to manifest itself from the middle of the eleventh/seventeenth century almost from the time of his death. His writings, especially the Sharh al-hidayah (“Commentary upon the ‘Guide’ of Athir al-Din Abhati”) became widespread, and the latter book even came to be known as Sadra; people received distinction by saying that they had studied Sadra. This tradition affected many later figures and has survived to this day. It is interesting to recall that Mawlana Mawdudi, the founder of the Jama’at-I islami of Pakistan and India, that is the founder of one of the most important politico-religious movements in the Islamic world in the fourteenth/twentieth century, translated parts of the Asfar into Urdu in his youth. As for Iraq, Mulla Sadra has been thought continuously during the past three centuries especially in centres of Shi’ite learning such as Najaf. One of Iraq’s foremost Islamic thinkers of the fourteenth/twentieth century, Muhammed Baqir al-Sadr, displays in a typical fashion the influence of Mulla Sadra upon contemporary Iraqi indigenous scholars with a philosophical bent.
In conclusion, it is interesting to note that the revival of Islamic philosophy in Iran during the Pahlavi period, especially from the 1950s onward even in semi-modernized circles, was primarily around the figure of Mulla Sadra, many of whose works have been edited and printed during the past forty years while numerous analyses of the “transcendent theosophy” have been made in Persian as well as Arabic. At the same time Mulla Sadra has now been introduced to the West and other parts of the non-
Islamic world by such scholars as Henry Corbin, Toshihiko Izutsu, S.H. Nasr and Mehdi Mahaghegh, , with the result that there is now a great deal of interest in his works in the West as well as in parts of the Islamic world such as the Arab countries, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia which did not show much interest in later Islamic philosophers in general and Mulla Sadra in particular until recently. Moreover, numerous theses are being written throughout the world on him and his school. In any case Mulla Sadra is not only one of the greatest intellectual figures of Islamic history, but his thought is very much a part of the contemporary Islamic world and continues to exercise great influence upon many aspects of current Islamic thought, especially the philosophical, theological and theosophical.