by Bulent Rauf

This article first appeared in the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Volume III, 1984.

Further reading:

Union and Ibn 'Arabi

Dictionaries give the meaning of a combination, an association, something of a collectivity, to union, like a Union of States, like the Workers' Union etc. and also that it has the meaning of unification of different but similar elements, a unifying principle, in short, which unites into one body that which is several or separate.

None of these meanings apply to what Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi understands from Union, nor does it apply to what any of the esoteric ways mean by union. Though the word "union" may mean "unification".

In Ibn 'Arabi's case, or for that matter in all Sufi esoteric lore, Union is understood to equate in meaning to the word Tawhid. Tawhid actually does mean "unification", or "making into one". But what Tawhid is meant to mean is not "unification" of several things, nor is it meant to mean "making into one" of many things. However, in the idea of "making into one" there is a possibility of delving into the "mystery" of the word Tawhid which means "unifying" into One. This "mystery", if it is a mystery, lies in the prerequisite knowledge of Tawhid or "making into One". That knowledge is that there is absolutely no other Being in existence than the One and Only, Self-Subsistent Being which is not "All" that there is, but that what seems to be "all" is no other than Itself, somewhat like the apparently different facets of the jewel are no other than the jewel itself or like the different colours refracted by the prism are no other than The Light which turns into various colours when passed through the prism.

Tawhid then comes to mean the recognition of plurality as no other than the fact that what seemingly appears as many or varied is in reality One and Only in Essence.

The meaning of the word Tawhid or Union as used by many like Ibn 'Arabi (and many that followed him) does not, however, end with its admitted esoteric vocabulary meaning. For Ibn 'Arabi and many that think like him, Tawhid or Union is not a matter of knowing what it means but the act of progression towards the fulfilment of that action and knowledge, to feel an irresistible desire to reach, consciously, that state of being where one is in Union or in Tawhid - i.e. in the state of having formed a concept whereby there exists no other than the One and Only, the Unique Existent, Absolute, not like a monarch, but absolute in the sense that since it is all-inclusive it is not comparable or relatable to anything outside itself and therefore Complete and thereby Perfect. Yet the knowledge of all this is not per se enough to allow one to be in the State of Union or Tawhid. An example borrowed from Ibn 'Arabi clarifies what is meant by knowing about it and being it. He says one might know what heroism is but that does not make one into a hero until one actually performs an act of Heroism. Then only is one a Hero. So Tawhid or Union is a deliberate act of progression to being One. Not only is it an act which is deliberate, like any other deliberate action, but that action deliberately and consciously undertaken must, by its nature, be all exclusive, irresistible in its attraction, a passion induced by the supreme and all pervading Love of the State of Union or Tawhid. Ismail Hakki Bursevi, who was one of the great teachers of the Jelveti order, now closed, and who translated and commented upon the Fusûs al-Hikam of Ibn 'Arabi in what may be called the definitive commentary on the Fusûs up to now, has an inscription on his modest tomb in Bursa which proclaims that only he who has the Love of Tawhid branded upon his heart brings light to the tomb of Ismail Hakki Bursevi.

As we can gather, Union or Tawhid is both an act of progression and a State of Being to which the action of progression leads but does not stop in its action when once it is in Being.

That Tawhid is both a state of Being and an act of progression without end is due to at least four aspects of the Being Itself:

First because the Being is Complete, Non-relative, therefore beyond relativity defined by time, space, distance. It is infinite. As Einstein says, everything is relative one to another ad infinitum, looking at it from one end of the telescope so to speak. Then that which is not defined by the requisite of the relative is infinite; and the Infinite is limitless, without boundaries in time. Consequently the ever progressive Union is ever, non-stop Continuous Being.

The second aspect derives from this very same non-conditional. That Being is, at all instants, in a different configuration, and different "business" or State of Being, (kulli anin fi she'nin = at every instant in a different state or "business", or at a "thing that is its private thing", which are of the shu'un-i dhatiye or "to do with 'things' of its own Ipseity"). Hence the Progression mentioned and the State of the Union is constantly varied at every instant to suit and conform to the State of the Configuration in which the Being happens to reveal Itself.

The third aspect of the non-stop progression and the State of Being is that it is irremediably and exclusively a matter of Love. Now, according to Ibn 'Arabi, Love is a sentiment with an aim to come into Tawhid or Union with Beauty. Hence it is the vehicle which transports the sentiment for Beauty to Beauty.

When Ibn 'Arabi speaks of sentiment he makes it very clearly understood that he is not talking of an emotion. Emotions are murky at best and Ibn 'Arabi's sentiment is crystal clear and definite, even to the degree of exclusivity. This sentiment is an active feeling which is only translatable with expressive Love which is equally its vehicle. Hence Love is the Love of Beauty to which it transports the Lover. The sentiment and its vehicle coinciding in action, in purpose, in reaching to, and, in the State of Being that which it reaches out towards, Beauty.

One has to be extremely careful in understanding this Beauty, not as something qualified by Beauty, even though we have no other means of expressing it except by a qualifying adjective. Yet we must come to know that Beauty not as qualified by the adjective of Beauty but as sheer Beauty, as Beauty Itself, far beyond anything by which it can be qualified - a Total Beauty, therefore a perfection which can never be qualified except by Its own Being such as It is. A qualifying statement comes as a Hadith in the words of the Prophet Mohammed: in-Allahu Jamilun wa yuhibb-ul Jamal - "In that God is extremely Beautiful and Loves Beauty".

The fourth aspect of the continuous act of progression and the State of Being is that it is Alive, Hayy. Ibn 'Arabi makes us definitely understand that Life is movement. Water which is not in the motion of flowing, therefore not in movement, is stagnant. Stagnant water is "dead" water. Life being the quality of the Being, the State of Its Being is active and in movement. Consequently all action towards Union or Tawhid with that Being and the State of Being of that Being are in constant movement. This consideration takes us back to the third aspect mentioned above. If the Being is in constant movement then Beauty is equally in a state of constant movement. As the movement of Beauty is Love, then the Beauty is in constant Love and it is because of this Sentiment that the Love of Union or Tawhid is a constant progression towards Beauty, as at the same time being in the state of that Being is Beauty.

We have seen the constant movement of Beauty and that the movement of Beauty is Love. Yet Beauty is also in constant expression, as Beauty without expression is inconceivable when there is no one to appreciate that expression or to witness its presence. So the expression of Beauty is Love as well as it being vehicled by Love.

Ibn 'Arabi states that even in the other world as well as this, man is constantly in progress whether he is conscious of it or not. What we have seen here is that the progressive movement with Love towards Beauty is constant whether one knows about it or not or whether one is in this world or not. In the case of the two worlds the explanation is easy. Ibn 'Arabi sees "death" as such, leave alone as a finality, as not existing. He himself goes and comes to and fro to the other world, converses with the inhabitants of both worlds and advises them, and assumes that such a state is not a unique possibility accessible to him alone. Quite in concordance with the saying of the Prophet "Die before you die", Ibn 'Arabi expects all that follow his teachings to acquiesce and to accede as urgently and as possibly soon as each is capable of understanding what it means. He has no patience in this and will brook no reluctance. He says in his Treatise on Being (Risalat-ul Wujudiyya) that he has no converse with those who see illusion as reality since they are limited in their vision to the objects or "things" seen and are veiled from Reality. They are not, therefore, ardently in Love and are not consequently intent on Union or Tawhid.

As regards man's progression towards Union or Tawhid, since Beauty is always in expression and Love is Its movement, then the expression which is always in movement cannot but reach man for whom that movement and that expression is meant. Whether man acknowledges this or not, he is subjected to that Love and Beauty.

And the effusion of Beauty is such that it covers the wary and the unwary recipient, the former consciously responding to it, the latter denying it through unawareness. But when he is in the other world, released from the veil of his relative identity, he will see the Reality of the situation necessarily and will comply and conform with the unavoidable Truth (Haqq) - eventually reaching a state which will be his state of unconscious but definite progress. This progress might be of many varieties and kinds but it is always a progress either through and to Divine Names or even further to the Essential Being and the Perfection of Being. That will depend on many factors to do with his ability to receive the Divine Effusion and his appreciation of the Beauty. When Ibn 'Arabi says everyone progresses, he does not equally say everyone progresses in the same latitude nor in the same manner. This is possible because though the Divine Names are the source of relativity they are all the same absolute in their Essence emanating from the same Ipseity.

It is true that the way one goes, towards Union - Tawhid - or not, and which way, is a matter of Taste (dhawq). The Progress through Taste (dhawq) does not impair in any way the Expression of Beauty nor the Love.

In his Fusûs al-Hikam, 'Arabi quotes a converse where David is told: "Oh David, it is I who desire them even more intensely" than they yearn for Him. So as we have seen Divine Love remains constant, only response to it is relative depending on many factors, one of which is ability to receive, then the inclination to respond and to return. Then acceptance or denial of Love depends on the individual's desire to wake up to that Reality of Beauty or not. This is a complicated matter and that is why it is referred to as a mystery.

To "wake up" or not is, as we have seen, a matter of Taste (dhawq). It is related that Bayazid (also referred to as Abu Yazid) of Bastam in Iran, one of the greatest Saints of this line of thought, was met by some people going to the mosque for the pre-dawn prayer. Bayazid of Bastam was coming from a direction other than his house. Upon being questioned as to where he had been so early, Bayazid answered that it had been an especially lovely moonlit night and everyone was asleep, so he had decided, since God had been so bountiful in showing His Beauty, that at least he himself should devote his night to the witnessing of such loveliness, as no other servant of God seemed to wish to do, and had passed the night in wakeful adoration of Beauty, so that His Beauty did not pass unnoticed.

To be conscious or awake to Beauty is a matter of predilection in the servant. The servant of a master or Lord (Rabb) is necessarily advanced in the perfection of his function in the ratio of his self-identification with the Lord he serves.

Though service itself does in no way belong to the Lord, service of the Lord entails full identification with the Lord served, so as to serve in the best manner possible. This self-imposed humility to serve the Beloved has its side of dignity, which is the dignity of the knowledge that one is willingly serving the supreme Beauty. Elsewhere we have said (in the film called "Turning") that Love is a bondage willingly accepted by the free, and it is this willingness, this choice to serve that Beauty in Love, that is what imparts dignity to the office. Again Ibn 'Arabi says in the Tuesday recital of his Wird (a collection of daily recitals he wrote for his pupils) "and dress me in the cloak of Dearness and Receiving... and crown me with the crown of Generosity and Dignity".

So through service with dignity and seeing oneself from the point of view of God, not from the point of view of the self itself until one is Him and not oneself (Saturday recital of the Wird) and demanding to be clothed with the Cloak of Beauty and being crowned with the crown of Awe and Majesty (Friday Evening recital), the servant finds identification with the Lord he serves. This is how "Tawhid is the Mystery of Servanthood" (Wird: Sunday recital).

As Ibn 'Arabi says in his "Kernel of the Kernel", when the servant has gathered in himself the five states of awareness, then he becomes a Sufi, a gnostic ('Arif). After this state, Ibn 'Arabi says, "five other things happen, the explanation of which is not suitable here and to reveal this even is forbidden". Elsewhere there is a passage in the Kernel of the Kernel where is described what happens to the servant after he has reached Fanâ (the state of non-existence as oneself as mentioned in the Wird above: "... until there be You and not I") where after a while the servant is "painted with the Divine colour" and "God grants him an existence from His own existence". "Then God gives this man of knowledge a Divine Sight, Ear, Tongue...". A person's "real understanding and knowledge starts after this".

Nothing has happened. Simply, that he who was Essentially Him, came to realise, but not only intellectually, that he was no other than Him.

As we have seen the prerequisite of this unceasing progression towards and finally Being is a predilection of those who have the good-Taste for it. As the French saying goes "Le bon-goût s'apprend" (Good-Taste is learnt) and as the Prophet Mohammed said: "... give me Taste in vision", the crux of the matter of Union or Tawhid seems to lie in a taste for it. Dhawq (taste) has a connotation of "enjoyment" in it. There is "joy" in the enjoyment of it because it leads to appreciating fully, and then identifying with, Beauty.

The drunken Sufi poet of Iran wrote:

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
And Wilderness in Paradise now.

The Bread is the body of Knowledge. The Verse is the Praise of Beauty. The Wine is its intoxication and Thou art Thou. Beneath a bough is in this world, already here, it is Paradise - if one has the predilection and the necessary intention to progress towards and Be no other than that which is unqualified Sheer Beauty - the Jamâl.

The Turkish poet wrote "Kande baksan ol güzel Allahi gör" - wherever you look see that Beautiful God!

No other can see God. But those who have vision to see "no other" see God in all His effects everywhere. When one's vision has progressed to a vision of "no-other", then one sees Him everywhere. From thence, as Ibn 'Arabi says in his poem:

O marvel!...
... I follow the religion of Love:
whatever way Love's mounts take,
That is my religion and my faith.

This is seeing Him everywhere, whatever way Love transports, it is necessarily to Beauty and that is his religion and his faith.