by Peter Young

Paper presented at the symposium of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society held in Oxford, May 2006 under the title "Know Yourself".

Peter Young is Principal of the Beshara School of Esoteric Education, Chisholme House, in the Borders of Scotland.

Working together between God's two hands

"I am going to place a viceregent upon earth." Quran 2:28

The context of this paper is now. As everyone knows the world has entered a period of rapid climate change, the speed of which is unprecedented except following a major catastrophe such as a meteor strike. In recent decades we have been made aware of the interdependence of all living things, of the fragility of ecosystems and that our actions and lifestyles have global repercussions. Now we are being compelled to look at ourselves and our actions in the light of the intrinsic unity of this global system in which we, mankind, are such major players. Have we become a catastrophe with regard to the world as a totality? Is the global organism seeking to regain balance by developing a fever, in order to eliminate or reduce the enemy within? It seems timely now to remember the real place of man, where he is neither a disease with regard to the rest of the world, nor is he diseased.

This paper is about that man that is arranged in the best of modes, and then brought down to the lowest of the low, possessed of all the beauties of Existence, with a job to do. This paper is about man the viceregent, the degree of viceregency, and its high level here at this point of the lowest of the low. It is also about the collectivity of mankind, and the possibility of our conscious participation in this collectivity, and the great good that may accrue from such participation. It is our contention that only through such participation is the way forward for mankind to arrive at its destiny and completion.

The hour is already late, and together we have travelled a long way down the road of self-existence. Together we have pursued wealth and security and happiness in material things, having forgotten that these things don't last and don't satisfy. The only satisfaction we have managed to find in this way is the temporary glow of achieving an illusory goal. We are like hungry ghosts that must either eat another phantom feast or face the fear of our emptiness and the emptiness of our aspirations. Can we admit that the illusion cannot satisfy, and equally admit that the illusion that is ourselves cannot be satisfied?

In vast tracts of the earth we are thirsty and starving. The rains have failed and great rivers are reduced to trickles even before they reach the sea. We have bored deep below our feet into the rock and pumped out ancient waters to irrigate our fields. Now our fields are turning to salt. Some of us have been drinking the ancient waters. We didn't know that they contained arsenic and fluoride, and now we are dying. Meanwhile the sea level is rising and many more of us will drown, or be displaced and starve.

There can be little doubt that these problems are the results of treading the path of self-existence. Even so, we are confident that they are also pointers to a different possibility, a different way of knowing ourselves and that from this different vision real and effective action may follow. If there is problem then there must be a solution, and the solution must be from Reality Itself.

It is here that we require a metaphysical basis for our understanding, a basis that is founded in the Unity of Existence and which incorporates man's original purpose within its framework. If Existence is absolutely one, then the manyness that we seem to see is nothing other than the One Existence imaging Itself in diverse, but non-existent mirrors which are Its own potentialities for Self-expression. Our real purpose in existence is then ultimately identical to what we are, and that is, a place of reflection in which the One Reality views itself as if looking in a mirror.

By myself and as myself I can do nothing, because in such illusory separation I do not know myself and consequently I do not know Reality. I see myself as separately existing whereas the Real knows Itself as the One and Only Existence, the real being even of all who imagine themselves to be other. How could I do anything without knowing from myself what the order of being happens to be?

And if a group of us get together to decide on what to do, how will it be different? Is it not likely to be an even more confused situation? Will this not be a collection of selves ignorant of their reality yet imagining that they can decide on some intelligent and effective course of action? Ignorance here is likely to be compounded by as many times as there are people present.

But are we then maintaining that no good results can possibly come from a person or a group of people who do not know themselves? We are not, because the fact that the Real is present and is the reality of the person or of the gathering does not depend upon these people knowing themselves. Good results can come about, if God wants, despite the ignorance of the participants. I, or we, may be used despite our ignorance of ourselves for Reality's own purposes.

We are certain that all good is from the One and Only Reality other than which there is not and that all good equally returns to It. We are certain also that we, man, are in the image of the One and Only and have no other existence than through the One. What is other than the One is my illusion. No real benefit can possibly accrue to the illusion. No real benefit could come to me as a separate entity. Any real benefit that comes to me, whether it be knowledge or ability or wealth, is not for my 'me' but for man, for mankind, other than whom I have no real being.

It is from the face of oneness of mankind that this paper proceeds. Oneness is an infinite expanse and has room and scope in it for every one of us, all the billions of individuations alive now, and all our ancestors and descendents, with no crowding. In this level of oneness each one of us is man in exactly the same way as is each other. Each of us has the same structure. We are, just as Ibn 'Arabi describes in the chapter of Adam in the Fusus al-Hikam, a total place of manifestation with all the realities of the high and low, with all the Names of God, a being capable of knowing and loving and being loved, created for a purpose, endowed with a will, without which we would not be man or capable of loving or fulfilling our purpose, or of being the complete image to Reality. But at the level of the differences between people very few of us are the man, the viceregent, who alone is able truly to act.

This level of the oneness of mankind, though not obvious at the level of our manifest differences, yet is not a complete mystery either. As soon as one of us steps out of range and we can no longer see who it is, we recognise him or her only as a human being, in the image of man. But really to know the level of oneness of man is beyond an acknowledgement that each of us is in the image of man, a member of the same species. It is the knowledge that man is a singular reality manifesting itself as myself. The knowledge that I have of myself here is the knowledge that the one man has of himself.

Included in this knowledge is the knowledge of man's role in the order of being. "I am going to place a viceregent on earth." Viceregency implies the ability to act with all the names of God as necessary, to be for the world and all its inhabitants Reality's own arm. Action from this level is real action. And perhaps action that does not come from this level is not action at all. Therefore any effective change must come from viceregency. Man the viceregent is "moulded between the two hands of God", and consequently he combines all the Divine and active realities together with the realities of reception, which are the realities of the world and of the creatures. It is because of this fact, that the man is a complete and totalising place of manifestation, that he deserves to be called 'the viceregent'. He both unites these two sides and divides, keeping what is due to each side for that side, just as God of whom he is the complete image is both Creator and created. Let us though never attribute to the Creator what belongs to the created or vice versa. The one and unified man can act, by virtue of the Divine side, whereas from his creature side he is receptive and acted upon. So, here is neither ability nor inability, or, both ability and inability. Here action is God's own, not man's; but who is man other than Him? Here, when man acts it is God that acts, and man knowing that God alone is the only Actor is in complete inability.

To be realised in viceregency is to be elevated to the knowledge of the oneness of man. This is the degree of the one self which is the same as all the selves. He contains within himself the realities of everything. It is in this way that the viceregent has dispensation over others, through being the same as them, not from being other than them. And when others are acted upon in reality it is the viceregent that is the affected. This is why the viceregent has informed us that "I was hungry and you did not feed Me." And, "I asked of you and you did not give to Me." At his level there is only the One Self, and this is manifested in every self.

This is about more than just a metaphysical understanding, because what is implied here is that the secret reality of dialogue between people is at the level of the one self of man. Here the one self of man converses with the one self of man for the purposes of coming to know. Here we participants in dialogue sit between the two hands of God, between the Divine attributes, which is one hand, and the realities of receptivity, which is the other. We sit between knowing and not knowing, knowing what we know and not knowing what we do not know. We neither identify with what we know, nor with what we do not know. We identify only with the non-existent point which is in between, holding fast there to our own non-existence, thus allowing the Real to be both of the two sides, of action and necessarily so-ness and of reception and possibility. The Real it is that is both what is known and what is yet to be known. We wait until God lets us know what is to be known. For those who do not move from here, any action that seems emanate from them is not their own; or, better perhaps, their action is God's own action.

"After He had created him, God showed Adam all that He had put into him; and held it all in His two hands..." (Fusus; Adam) In one hand were all the realities of his descendants and in the other the realities of the world, all the receptivities from the high to the low. Now when Adam was shown his descendants he was shown the plurality implicit within the oneness of his own self. Therefore we who are no other than Adam, also know in potential the real place of our plurality within the oneness of man. We may actualise this latent knowledge by following the logical extension of the injunction "Know yourself!" That is, "Know yourselves!"

In other words, O you (plural) know that even though you are many people you have never ceased to be one self according to My Knowledge of Myself and according to My perfect servant's knowledge of himself and of Me. Now you too know this, O mankind, that you are both one and many. You are from One and returning to One. Return now to the knowledge of One before you return to the Being of One. Die before you die!

What is there that could prevent us from knowing ourselves as one reality? If we are identified with ourselves then we will see nothing other than 'us and them'. Self-interest is then for me the veiling factor, and my self-interested self needs to protect itself. There are two sergeants-at-arms in my castle that I generally keep fully employed, and their names are hope and fear! Fear that I am going to be exposed or annihilated, and the hope that I won't be! Both must be re-aligned to the service of the One Reality, and become instead awe in the face of Grandeur and certainty in Compassion. This happens through an essential educational process, whereby man becomes freed from the dominance of the 'I' thought by the knowledge of certainty in the One Self. However let us not underestimate the capacity for self-delusion that we seem to share. If we had truly accepted the fact of our own impending death we would already see things completely clearly. There would remain only the physical change of state yet to take place at some point in the future. A death before death of this kind is the dissolving of my illusory, conjectural self-existence, just as shadows disappear when the light goes on. Here is the gift of freedom to face the truth squarely without flinching. When liberated from the fear of death here is the freedom to act in response to the necessary. Paradoxically, freedom from the fear of death and the abandonment of hope in an imaginary future are more likely to confer a long life, as one is no longer burdened with the task of self-preservation! Perhaps even one is now in closer accord with Reality's original love to be manifested and known. One is now free to be for the Real, totally, now that one is no longer preoccupied with self-concern.

We take up our place between the ignorance of the self and the self-knowledge of the viceregent. Since our hearing of certain essential information regarding our reality and entering upon an esoteric education, we have not been able claim ignorance of our reality; but neither do we lay claim to knowledge of it. We claim only an aspiration to be of service and to be elevated to the knowledge of ourselves in the Presence of Oneness. We know without doubt that through this Presence all help and guidance comes. Let us note for the sake of clarification that this place of in-between is not the same as the in-between-ness of the viceregent, since here admittedly we are still coloured by our ignorance of ourselves, which fact we accept with humility. Consequently through alignment to Reality our place of in-between becomes true.

Generally the oneness of man is not in manifestation. This secret reality of mankind remains hidden, behind the scenes. Nonetheless it is the pole around which all human interaction revolves. What difference does it make if we are aware of this single pole at the centre of all our movement? Whether we are present with it through vision, or present with it only through certainty, it is to be aware and receptive to the guidance that comes from this single source. It is also to be aware of our essential identity with it and our dependence upon it. Through awareness our orientation is closer to the real order of being. We find ourselves like the man who had been under the impression that he was self-employed and was forever trying to decide what to do and how to be, who then discovers that he is an employee. He is then relieved of all responsibility other than carrying out what his employer wants him to do. And if he doesn't know what this is he must find out by asking.

The nature of this relationship is that of the part to the whole. It is the relationship of any particular number to the one, or of a musician to an orchestra. As individual people we are related like this to the one reality, and it is a relationship of order, not a relationship between beings. Alignment with the order is the necessary condition for what is to follow, and that is the bringing out of that which is to be known. And what is to be known in short is the hidden mystery of the oneness of being, and this can take many forms, depending on what the question is that is being addressed. And when a number of people are asking the same question, and it is addressed to the source of all help, even when apparently asked of each other, it is a better and bigger opportunity for that which is to be known to be made known. While we are still between ignorance of ourselves and knowledge, alone I represent only myself, but together with others we can image the reality of the collectivity of mankind, as it is in the presence of oneness, not yet having realised it, but ready to do so. "For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them". Matthew 18:20

There is a difference in degree between the individual who deliberates, comes to a conclusion and acts and a group of people who agree to consult amongst themselves. The difference is in the movement of inclusion, from one's own counsel alone to that of others. This impulse to confer on an issue is always of a higher order than the dictates of an individual, because there is in it a tacit acknowledgement of the limitations of a single individual. Within it is an implicit request for guidance, a kind of guidance concerning collective or global matters that can come about only when a number of people are gathered together. The reality of collectivity is the presence of oneness of man, and this presence is even the reality and aim of democracy. The true aim of democracy is not the rule of the people but the rule of Wisdom through the people. It is not the triumph of majority opinion but the submission of all opinion to what Wisdom necessitates. Here the collectivity proposes itself as a collective but single mirror in which Wisdom may appear, should It so wish.

If we want to be of service, together we can image the presence of collectivity, here in the world, just as it is in the Presence of Oneness. What is this world other than the presence in which the differences between things appear as themselves? And what are these differences other than the multitude of possibilities of expression within the infinity of Oneness? Together we can work between God's two hands towards imaging the oneness of man completely to the end that that oneness does actually manifest here as the single reality of our multiple realities. The manifestation of the Presence of Oneness in the midst of the differences is for those differences to be mercified, restoring ownership of all multiplicity and difference to the one and only reality of man. To see and be seen, equally, the one by the many and the many by the one, this is yet to be manifested at a global and collective level, and it is towards this realisation that we, mankind, must surely progress.

We began this paper with a mention of a global crisis, reflected in both climate change and the world's fresh water supply. It would be a mistake to regard these issues as simply 'green' issues, for they are at root spiritual issues. Spirituality cannot be confined only to a certain range of the human condition. It encompasses every aspect of our lives, because we, mankind are spiritual beings. We come into existence with a spiritual purpose and whether we are in conformity with this purpose or in denial of it, whether we like it or not our actions are spiritual actions. Whether we cover up the truth or actively seek it is a spiritual choice which has spiritual consequences. And if the problems facing us are spiritual in origin then there are spiritual solutions to them. A problem is after all merely the solution proposing itself to us, wanting to be known.

With regard to fresh water, we all know the tradition to be found in both St. Matthew's Gospel and the Divine sayings related by the Prophet: "I was thirsty and you gave me no drink." There can be no doubt that this is a situation that must be addressed, and that it cannot be addressed through technology alone. It is possibly the most serious situation facing mankind, closely followed by the inevitable food shortages that follow drought. How is it that on this aqueous planet we are surrounded by water but for millions of people there is no clean fresh water to drink? Water is tantamount to life itself, and a direct manifestation to us of the universal quality of Life. In our natural need for water we are one with every living thing, and who really is the self of the needy? However our attempts to find and utilise water through our own efforts have led simply to the depletion of natural resources. We have tried to provide for ourselves and to eliminate the requirement for the spiritual effort of dependency on the Real, and to save ourselves the practical effort of reducing waste. We have turned our back on our special purpose, and used the tools given to us for our own ends, closing the door on our interior worlds and on contemplating the spiritual mysteries as they flow in our everyday living. Together we must re-learn dependency and trust and know that provision comes naturally from the right hand of God. "God is sufficient for me" and for all my needs.

And what of climate change? We will inevitably change with it. It surely cannot be opposed, except by building conditions that will accelerate it, rather like installing a fridge in a desert. We can however accept it consciously as Nature's own attempt to restore balance, and agree to be balanced. As human organisms we are a part of Nature and are governed by Nature. We would be foolish to try to oppose it, and we would do better to remember what Ibn 'Arabi tells us, that the man who knows that Nature is the same as the Self of Compassion has indeed been given great goodness. What remains then is to work together with Nature, not to exploit it or oppose it but to respect it and appreciate its gifts, through being aware that it is none other than the Self of Compassion. If it is attempting to restore balance let us do so as well, by returning to spiritual balance ourselves. This way we will be at one with Nature, and not its enemy.

In conclusion: change begins within our own perspective of who and what we are, and why. This is not a merely theoretical knowledge, but the acceptance of an idea that is a complete image to Reality. This idea, because of its Origin and because of what it images, is real and becomes effective in us. It is the source of all change, because it is the Oneness of Man and our own perfectibility. It is for us to agree to be gathered together under the shade of the tree of the perfection of man, without any claim to perfection ourselves, but agreeing to be informed and guided by it. And in this aspiration, through this work, may we rise to the level of vision where all many-ness is collected, the place of balance and being in-between, perfectly positioned between the two hands of God, a place of complete non-existence unless it be Existence's own existence, imaged here in the world, and the secret reality of us all.

God knows best!