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Sufi Cosmology

Arvan Harvat

We will present two doctrines, both based on Qur'anic revelation enriched and clarified ( or corrupted- depending on one's taste ) by Neoplatonic emanationist cosmology.

A. According to the first doctrine (ref), God has three dimensions/modes of Being before creation, followed by three worlds/planes of created cosmos.

1. The unfathomable God's Essence; Abyss of the Unmanifest Absolute. The Sufi technical tems are: Ghayb ul-Ghaib ( Mystery of Mysteries ), Amma ( Darkess ), Dhat/Zat ( Essence ). The corresponding spiritual stage is called Ahadiyyat- Oneness. This is equal to Plotinus's  One - To Hen , or to the Shaivite Tantric Paramashiva or Mahabindu.

2. The Manifest Absolute/God. The Sufi terms are Ar-Ruh al-Qudsi ( the Supreme Spirit ), Aql-i-Awwal ( First Intellect ) or Aql-i-Kulli ( Universal Intellect ). The corresponding spiritual stage is named Wahdah. The Neoplatonic equivalent of the Plotinus's doctrine would be Nous ( Divine Mind ), while certain schools of Tantricism speak of Shiva, or Shiva/Shakti union. N.B. There are tariqas and scholars who deny divine status of the First Intellect and relegate it to the realm of creation.

3. The God's creative energy as manifested through divine names and attributes ( ayan at'-thabita ).  The "energy"/creative aspect is clear from identification with Qur'anic notion of Nafas-i-Rahmani ( The Breath of Mercy ).  Also, it is termed Nafs-i-Kulliya ( Universal Soul ). The spiritual stage is Wahdaniyyat. The exact correspondence is with Plotinus's Psyche ( World Soul ). Shaivite texts refer to Shakti as activated Shiva's creative energy.

N.B. Having in mind all similarities with Neoplatonism, one must not overlook the difference: in Plotinus's system, emanations are hypostases of the One, flowing, as it were, "outward" and signifying the degradation of the Absolute.  On the other hand, the above noted processes represent a desirable unfoldment of the Absolute in Sufi mythic cosmology.

B. The second doctrine (ref) operates with two concepts.

1. The Unmanifest Absolute ( Alam-i-Hahut/the "world" of "He-ness", Hu-He being the Arabic term pertaining to God's Essence prior to manifestation. The "world" is just a symbolic reference. This, unmanifest dimension is frequently referred to only as Hahut). Of course, all other Arabic names given under the point 1. of the first doctrine are valid. The spiritual stage is Ahadiyyat.

2. The manifest Absolute ( Alam-i-Lahut/the "world" of God-ness, the root "Lah" one and the same as in Al-Lah (God). Also, generally spoken of as Lahut). The spiritual stage pertaining to Lahut is sometimes referred to as Wahdah, sometimes as Wahadiyyat. There is no consensus communis re this matter.

Both above elucidated doctrines share the same terminology re the stages of manifestation ( tanazzulat ) of the created cosmos. Following the emanationist scheme, we have top to bottom ( of course, not literally; these are dimensions of manifestation conveniently stratified ):

4. Alam-i-Jabarut/the world of power; also Alam-i-Arwah ( the world of spirits; ruh meaning spirit, arwah being the plural form ). Roughly corresponding to the world of Platonic archetypes, Shaivite Shivaloka ( the world of Shiva ), or causal world of Western occultism.

5. Alam-i-Malakut/the world of angels. This somewhat incongruous term is frequently replaced by Alam-i-Mithal/the world of similitudes.  This Henry Corbin's famous mundus imaginalis/world of imagination, Tantric Antarloka ( the intermediary world ), or subtle/astro-mental world of Western occultists.

6. Alam-i-Nasut/the world of humanity, better designated as Alam-i-Ajsam/the world of bodies. Tantric tradition speaks of Bhuloka/the world of earth. In Western occultism, the name is gross or physical world.

To summarise on tabular form:
Kosmos /Alam Sufi terminology
Kosmos (general)
Neoplatonic equivalent - Plotinus
Tantric equivalent
 Western occultism - Theosophy and contemporary Hermeticism
The Unmanifest Absolute
The One
The Manifest Absolute
The Nous
Causal World
 Shivaloka (world of Shiva)
Causal Plane
Subtle World
Tantric Antarloka (intermediary world)
Mental Plane Astral Plane
Physical World
Bhuloka (world of earth)
gross or physical

printed referenceReferences:

Mir Valiuddin: Quranic Sufism
Titus Burckhardt: Amazon com Introduction to Sufi Doctrine

The Lataif

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page by Arvan Harvat
page uploaded 6 February 2000, last modified 6 September 2004