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Ibn Arabi's Logos Doctrine

One of the most important, perhaps the most important and central, of Ibn Arabi's ideas was that of the Logos, a term having the double meaning as "eternal wisdom" and "word" [Affifi, Mystical Philosophy, p.91].  Originally, the term was coined by the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo.  Fluctuating between regarding the Logos as the first manifestation of the Godhead and a merely human or universal soul, Philo referred to it as the High Priest, the Intercessor or Paraclete, the Viceregent, the Glory of God, the Shadow of God, the Archetypal Idea, the principle of reveklation, the first-born Son of God, the first of the Angels, and so on [A. E. Affifi, The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Din-Ibnul Arabi, pp.91-2].  Here we  have a confusion of mythological-religious, theological, and cos-mological themes, many of which were taken up by Christianity.

Ibn Arabi shows the definite influence of Philo in his doctrine  of the Logos; many of his descriptive terms are identical [Affifi, Mystical Philosophy, pp.91- 2].  But he also brings in Koranic, theological, Sufi, Neoplatonic, and other ideas as well [Ibid, p.66].  He refers to the Logos (kalimah) as the Reality of Realities (Haqiqatu'l  Haqa'iq - in contrast to this the Sufi Hallaj used the similiar term "Reality of Reality" (Haqiqatu'l Haqiqah) to refer to God Himself [p.68 n.2]), the Reality of Mohammed, the Spirit of  Mohammed, the First Intellect, the Most Mighty Spirit, the Most Exalted Pen (i.e. the Pen which God uses to inscribe the destiny of all things), the Throne (of God), the Perfect Man, the Real  Adam, the Origin of the Universe, the Real who is the Instrument  of Creation, the Pole (Qutb, on which all Creation revolves), the Intermediary (between God and Creation), the Sphere of Life, the  Servant of the All-embracing One, and so on [Affifi, Mystical Philosophy, p.66 note].

Here, as with Philo, there is a confusion or hesitation between the emanationist idea of the first manifestation of the Godhead, and the dualistic monotheistic idea of the first created being who, whilst still extremely sublime, is nevertheless separated from God by an undridgable abyss.  In other words there is a confusion between the hypostases; in some appelations "the Logos" refers to the supernal Divine, in other appelations to a mere emanation, and not even a very high one (the Viceregent, the Servant, etc), of that Divine.  This is the real weakness of any  theistic metaphysics; the absoluteness and transcendence of the  personal God acts as a distorting straight-jacket that most are  unwilling or unable to break.

As A. E. Affifi explains [p.77], Ibn Arabi's Logos has three aspects (or can be considered from three points of view):

  1. the metaphysical aspect, as the Reality of Realities;
  2. the mystical aspect, as the Reality of Mohammed;
  3. the perfected human aspect, as the Perfect Man

Considering the first of these aspects, the Reality of  Realities (Haqiqatu'l Haqa'iq), Ibn Arabi says that this is the  the First Intellect, the imamnent Rational Principle in the  universe (a Stoic idea), the "Idea of Ideas" (or Archetype of Archetypes - the great Alexandrain Christian theologian Origen  likewise referred to the Logos as Idea Ideon [Affifi, Mystical Philosophy, p.68 n.2]).  It  comprehends all archetypes and existing things absolutely, is  neither a whole nor a part, neither does it increase or decrease.   It contains the archetypes or realities (haqa'iq) of things, but  is in itself homogonous.  It is the consciousness of God, the  content and substance of divine knowledge.  It is the first  manifestation or epiphany of God; God as the self-revealing Principle of the universe; God manifesting Himself as universal con-sciousness [A. E. Affifi, The Mystial Philosophy of Muhyid Din-Ibnul Arabi, p.68-70]

As for the second or mystical aspect, the Reality of Mohammed (al  Haqiqatu'l Mohammadiyyah), the Logos is not the actual physical or human Mohammed, but the Reality (haqiqa) behind Mohammed, the active principle of all divine and esoteric Revelation.  The Logos as the Reality of Mohammed has the characteristics of being the indwelling revealer of God, the transmitter of all divine knowledge, and the cosmological cause of all creation [pp.74-5].  He is the active principle of divine knowledge [Parrinder, Avatar and Incarnation, p.204]

This distinction between the human and the transcendent Mohammed was a popular one in Sufi and esoteric Ismaili thought, by which the Sufis were able to reconcile the historical exoteric religious vehicle of Islam with the esoteric inward experience of the Divine.  The same tendency occurred in the Mahayana Buddhist  doctrine of the Trikaya or Three Bodies of the Buddha, according  to which the historical Buddha was only the lowest member, the  Nirmanakaya or "emanation body" of the Buddha principle; above the Nirmanakaya was the Sambhogakaya or divine Celestial body; and above that in turn the Dharmakaya or Truth Body, which was of the nature of Absolute Reality.  In early Christianity too, especially Gnostic Christianity, this separation of the human from  the Divine principle of Revelation occurred.  Orthodox and fundamentalist Christian theologians called this understanding "docetism", and considered it a serious heresy.  It reached its greatest development among the Christian Gnostics of the second and third centuries, with their distinction between the human  Jesus and the true transcendent Christ, who only put on Jesus like a garment or a disguise.  More recently, a similiar idea has appeared among Christian theosophists such as Rudolph Steiner and Alice Bailey.

In Ibn Arabi's teaching, each prophet is called a logos but not the Logos, which latter  term refers to the spiritual principle or Reality of Mohammed.  Ibn Arabi calls everything a Logos - a "word" of God - inasmuch as it participates in the universal principle of reason and Life, but prophets and saints are distinguished because they manifest the activities and perfections of the universal Logos Mohammed to a perfect degree.  The difference between the Spirit or Reality  of Mohammed and the rest of the prophets and saints is like that between the whole and its parts; he unites in himself what exists in them separately [Affifi, Mystical Philosophy, p.72]

Finally, regarding the third or individual aspect, the possibility of becoming the Logos exists potentially for all Muslims.  The difference between one who is asleep and one who is spiritually awakened, and the different levels attained by the latter, depend on the degree of preparedness.  Each Sufi seeks to became the Logos [Affifi, Mystical Philosophy, p.11].  Here there is a certain paralle with Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, where the emphasisi on the Trikaya at times shifts from the theological or "mystical" to the individual yogic (the Trikaya as the yogically transformed and perfected individual self).

In the mystical hierarchy, the Qutb or Pole is the Spiritual Head of the hierarchy of Prophets and Saints, the intermediary stage between the Godhead and the phenomenal world, the eternal and the temporal [Affifi, Mystical Philosophy, p.74].  The Qutb is the "Pole" on which all Creation turns.  According to Sufism, the Pole is realised in the Perfect Man, the individual human expres-sion of the Logos.

As the Pole of Creation, the Qutb is comparable to the world-axis of Shamanism (which survives in Scandanavian mythology as the world-tree Ymir, and in Hindu and Buddhist cosmography as Mount Meru), the Tai Ch'i or "Great Pivot" or "Great Ridgpole" of Chinese (Neo-Taoist and Neo-Confucian) cosmology, the "Central Sun" of Blavatsky, that maintains the Cosmos.  Just as the Sun is the central pivot and source of life and energy for the solar system, so the Qutb is like a "Sun" in the centre of the planes of being.  But in saying this, one must be careful not to assume, as some theosophists and neo-theosophists actually do, that there is an actual physical central sun.  This is just a metaphor, like "pole" or "world mountain".

The Divine Logos thus manifests as coutless Avatars, Perfect Masters, Divine Presences, and so on; whether in human form as an actual physical Avatar, or in subtle non-incarnate form as a Presence that moves subtly in the spiritual Heart (Qalb) of each individual being.  This is a process that is always continuing, for there is always the Divine Presence in the world, although in some periods it may be more accessable than others - thus the Ismailis speak of Cycles of Epiphany and Cycles of Occultation [Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, pp.80-81], and the Kabbalists of God revealing his Face and turning his Face away [Luzzatto, General Principles of the Kabbalah, p.47] - but even in the periods of concealing of the Light, there would still be avatars and masters for those who are sincere.  At no time are souls stumbling in the world of darkness ever left without guidance or grace.

And it could even be said that every spiritual aspirant, through his or her sincere striving for and mystical devotion and surrender to the Divine, becomes a minor Qutb, helping to maintain the worlds through total surrender and selflessness; the sacrifice of the lower self on the altar of the higher self and the Divine above.

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 26 June 1998, last modified 6 September 2004