Titus Burckhardt on Sufism and Alchemy

Image from Burckhardt's Mystical Astrology According to Ibn 'Arabi


The following is excerpted from Titus Burckhardt's Introduction to Sufi Doctrine:

The term "alchemy" is very suitable as applied to the art of concentration considered in itself because, from the point of view of this art, the soul is like "a matter" which is to be transformed even as in alchemy lead is to be transmuted into gold. In other words the chaotic and opaque soul must become "formed" and crystalline. Here, form does not mean a fixation within certain limits but on the contrary a quasi-geometric coordination, and hence even a virtuality of deliverance from the limiting conditions of the arbitrary psychic tyranny, just as gold or crystal manifests on the level of solid substances the nature of light, the second both by its geometrical form—the propagation of light being rectilinear—and by its transparence.

According to the same symbolism—the nearest to alchemy properly so called—the soul, fixed in a state of sterile hardness, must be "liquefied" and then again "congealed" in order to be rid of its impurities. This "congelation" will in its turn be followed by a "fusion" and this again by the final "crystallization". In order to bring about these changes the natural forces of the soul are actualized and coordinated. They may be compared to the forces of nature—heat, cold, moistness, and dryness. There is in the soul an expansive force which normally shows itself as confident joy (basṭ) and as love and so as "heat", and there is a contractive force—a "coldness"—which shows itself as fear, its spiritual form being the extreme contraction (qabḍ) of the soul, in face of death and eternity, into the single point of the present.

As for moistness and dryness these correspond respectively to the "liquefying" passivity of the soul and the "fixing" activity of the spirit. These four forces can also be connected with two complementary principles which are analogous to the "Sulfur" and "Mercury" of the alchemist. In the Sufic method these two principles are to be identified respectively with the spiritual act—the active affirmation of a symbol—and the plasticity of the psyche. Thanks to the intervention of Grace the voluntary affirmation of the symbol becomes the permanent activity of the Spirit (ar-Rūḥ) while the plasticity or receptivity of the soul takes on a cosmic amplitude. [According to Muḥyī-d-Din ibn 'Arabī the universal meaning of Sulfur is the Divine Act (al-Amr) and that of Mercury, Nature as a whole (Tabī at al-kull).]

The fiery quality and the "fixative" quality are connected with the active pole which corresponds to Sulfur, while the contracting quality and the "moist" dissolving quality are connected with the passive pole, which is the Mercury of alchemy. Thus it is easy to see how the different "natural" qualities of the soul are combined in different states. Sterile hardening of the soul results from an alliance between the fixing quality (dryness) of the mind and the contracting quality in the psyche. Dissipation, on the other hand, comes from a link between the expansive force of desire and the dissolving power of the passive psyche. Moreover these two states of disequilibrium may be piled one upon the other, as is often the case. Equilibrium of the soul consists in a steady alternation of expansion and contraction, comparable to breathing, and in a marriage of the "fixative" activity of the spirit with the "liquid" receptivity of the soul.

In order that it may be possible for this synthesis to take place the powers of the soul must not let themselves be determined in any way by impulsions coming from outside; they must instead respond to the spiritual activity centered on the heart. [This corresponds to what in alchemy is called the "hermetic sealing" of the vessel.]

The art of concentration has been indicated here in alchemical terms because these bring out the correspondence between the powers of the soul and the natural forces—the physical forces one might say—of the human organism. The process of harnessing these powers brings this aspect of Taṣawwuf near to the methods of Raja Yoga. Clearly the technique in question can be described by means of different symbolisms. Sufi writers usually treat of this question implicitly by indicating the use of the symbols which are the object of concentration; indeed the "alchemical" work, in the sense in which it is envisaged here, cannot be separated from the nature of the symbols used as "means of Grace" and these symbols are the intermediary through which the "alchemical" aspect of spiritual work is linked with its intellectual aspect. The pre-eminent spiritual means of Taṣawwuf is the verbal symbol repeated either inwardly or aloud with or without a synchronizing of the breath; hence the various phases of the inner alchemy—the successive "liquefactions" and "crystallizations"— appear as permutations (taṣrīf) of the symbol in the soul in conformity with the different Divine Realities (ḥaqā'īq) it expresses.


The hierarchic "placing" of the faculties of the soul is one aspect of the reintegration of the soul into the Spirit. The state of a soul which has been spiritually regenerated has already been compared to a crystal which, though solid, is akin to light both in its transparence and in its rectilinear form. The various intellectual faculties are like the facets of this crystal, each one reflecting in its own way the unique and limitless Intellect.

The faculty which is specific to man is thought (al-fikr). Now the nature of thought, like the nature of man, is two-faced. By its power of synthesis it manifests the central position of man in the world and so also his direct analogy with the Spirit. But its formal structure, on the other hand, is only one existential "style" among many others; that is to say it is a specific mode of consciousness which could be called "animal" were it not distinguished, for better and for worse, by its connection with man’s unique—and intrinsically "supernatural"— function from those faculties of knowledge that are proper to animal species. In fact thought never plays an entirely "natural" part in the sense of being a passive equilibrium in harmony with the cosmic surroundings. To the degree that it turns away from the Intellect, which transcends the terrestrial plane, it can only have a destructive character, like that of a corrosive acid, which destroys the organic unity of beings and of things.

We have only to look at the modern world with its artificial character devoid of beauty and its inhumanly abstract and quantitative structure in order to know the character of thought when given over to its own resources. Man, the "thinking animal", must necessarily be either the divine crown of nature or its adversary, [In animals there does not exist, as in man, a refraction of the intellect which is at the same time subjective and active, a refraction which would stand between the intellectual essence immanent in the form of the species and the individual psychic organism. For this reason animals are more passive than man in relation to the cosmic surroundings. At the same time they more directly express their intellectual essence. The beauty of a sacred art—an art divinely inspired—heightens that of virgin nature, while the creations of a civilization that is profane and practically atheistical, such as modern civilization, are always hostile to natural harmony.] and this is so because in the mind "to be" becomes dissociated from "to know" and in the process of man’s degeneration this leads to all other ruptures and separations.

This double property of thought corresponds to the principle which Sufis symbolize by the barzakh, the "isthmus" between two oceans. The barzakh is both a barrier and a point of junction between two degrees of reality. As an intermediate agent it reverses the pencil of rays of the light it transmits in the same manner as does a lens. In the structure of thought this inversion appears as abstraction. Thought is only capable of synthesis by stripping itself of the immediate aspect of things; the more nearly it approaches the universal, the more it is reduced as it were to a point. Thought thus imitates on the level of form—and hence imperfectly—the essential "stripping bare" (tajrīd) of the Intellect.

The Intellect does not have as its immediate object the empirical existence of things but their permanent essences which are relatively "non-existing" since on the sensory plane they are not manifested. [When certain modern thinkers would see in the act of knowing a sort of annihilation—relative and subjective—of the object of knowledge considered as pure existence they merely reproduce the unreal and implicitly absurd character of thought which has turned aside from intellectual principles and ended by emptying itself of any qualitative content. The crude and undifferentiated "existence" which these philosophers oppose to the intellectual act of the subject is nothing but the shadow cast by this absence of intuition in their own thought: it is pure unintelligibility. What is real "in itself" is essence; if perception does not simultaneously grasp all aspects of a sensory object that is because both the level of manifestation and the knowledge are alike relative.]

Now this purely intellectual knowledge implies direct identification with its object and that is the decisive criterion which distinguishes intellectual "vision" from rational working of the mind. This "vision" does not, however, exclude sensory knowledge; rather it includes it since it is its essence, although a particular state of consciousness may exclude one in favor of the other.

Here it must be made quite plain that the term "intellect" (al-'aql) is in practice applied at more than one level: it may designate the universal principle of all intelligence, a principle which transcends the limiting conditions of the mind; but the direct reflection of Universal Intellect in thought may also be called "intellect" and in this case it corresponds to what the ancients called reason.

The mode of working of the mind which is complementary to reason is imagination (al-khayāl). In relation to the intellectual pole of the mind imagination may be considered as its plastic material; for this reason it corresponds by analogy to the materia prima on which the plastic continuity of the "cosmic dream" depends just as, subjectively, it depends on imagination.

If the imagination can be a cause of illusion by binding the intelligence to the level of sensory forms it none the less also has a spiritually positive aspect in so far as it fixes intellectual intuitions or inspirations in the form of symbols. For imagination to be able to assume this function it must have acquired in full measure its plastic capacity; the misdeeds of imagination come not so much from its development as from its being enslaved by passion and feeling. Imagination is one of the mirrors of Intellect; its perfection lies in its remaining virginal and of wide compass.

Some Sufi writers, including 'Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī, have said that the dark pole of the mind is al-wahm, a term which means conjecture and also opinion, suggestion, and suspicion and so mental illusion. This is the reverse of the speculative freedom of the mind. The power of illusion of the mind is, as it were, fascinated by an abyss; it is attracted by every unexhausted negative possibility. When this power dominates the imagination, imagination becomes the greatest obstacle to spirituality. In this context may be quoted the saying of the Prophet that "the worst thing your soul suggests to you is suspicion".

As for memory, this has a double aspect; as the faculty of retaining impressions it is passive and "earthly" and it is called al-ḥafẓ in this relationship; in so far as it is the act of recollection (adh-dhikr) it is directly connected with the intellect, for this act refers implicitly to the timeless presence of the essences, although they cannot appear as such in the mind. The recapitulation of perceptions in recollection may be inadequate and in a certain sense even must be so since the mind is subject to the attrition of time, but, if recollection were not implicitly adequate, it would be only pure illusion—something which does not exist. If recollection can evoke the past in the present it is because the present contains in virtuality the whole extension of time; all existential "flavors" are contained in the "flavorlessness" of the present moment. This is what is realized by spiritual recollection (dhikr): instead of going back "horizontally" into the past it addresses itself "vertically" to the essences which regulate both past and future.

The Spirit (ar-Rūḥ) is both Knowledge and Being. In man these two aspects are in a way polarized as the reason and the heart. The heart marks what we are in the light of eternity, while the reason marks what we "think". Seen from one angle the heart (al-qalb) also represents the presence of the Spirit in both aspects, for it is both the organ of intuition (al-kashf) and also the point of identification (wajd) with Being (al-Wujūd). According to a divine saying (ḥadīth qudsī) revealed through the mouth of the Prophet, God said: "The heavens and the earth cannot contain Me, but the heart of my believing servant does contain Me." The most intimate center of the heart is called the mystery (as-sirr), and this is the inapprehensible point in which the creature meets God. Ordinarily the spiritual reality of the heart is veiled by the egocentric consciousness; this assimilates the heart to its own center of gravity which will be either mind or feeling according to the tendencies of the particular being.

The heart is to the other faculties what the sun is to the planets: it is from the sun that these receive both their light and their impulsion. This analogy, which is even more clear in the heliocentric perspective than in the geocentric system of the ancients where the sun occupies the middle heaven between two triads of planets, was developed by 'Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī in his book Al-Insān al-Kāmil ("Universal Man"). According to this symbolical order, Saturn, the most distant of the planets that are visible to the naked eye, corresponds to intellect-reason (al-'aql). Just as the heaven of Saturn includes all the other planetary heavens, intellect-reason embraces all things; moreover the "abstract", cold, and "saturnian" character of reason is opposite to the solar and central nature of the heart, which marks intellect in its "total" and "existential" aspect. Mercury symbolizes thought (al-fikr), Venus imagination (al-khayāl), Mars the conjectural faculty (al-wahm), Jupiter spiritual aspiration (al-himmah), and the moon the vital spirit (ar-rūḥ). Anyone with some knowledge of astrological "aspects" can readily deduce from this outline both the beneficent and the harmful "conjunctions" of the different faculties represented by the planets.

Images from Burckhardt's Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul

From another point of view the heart is compared to the moon which reflects the light of the divine sun. In this case the phases of the moon correspond to the different states of receptivity of the heart direct "enunciation" of Being. Both these aspects are to be found in the Greek word Logos which means principle and also idea and speech; in the same way man is defined either as a "thinking animal" or as an "animal endowed with speech" (ḥayawān nāṭiq).

From the principial point of view the idea is dependent on the Word, inasmuch as it is an intellectual reflection of Reality, but in man the idea precedes speech. In the rite of invocation (dhikr) the principial relationship is symbolically re-established since the revealed speech— the sacred formula or the Divine Name which is invoked—affirms the ontological continuity of the Spirit whereas thought is—practically speaking—cut off from its transcendent source through being the seat of individual consciousness. In this way the faculty of speech, which is a faculty of action, becomes the vehicle for knowledge of Being.


The Treatise on Oneness


(There is a newer translation of this work entitled Know Yourself: An Explanation of the Oneness of Being reviewed here)

Art. XXIX. — Translation of an Arabic Manuscript in the Hunterian Collection, Glasgow University.
By T. H. Weir, B.D., Assistant to the Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages in the University of Glasgow.

[In the Hunterian MS. the following tractate is ascribed to Ibnu'l 'ArabI, d. 638 a.h. = 1240 a.d. In one of the Berlin MSS., however, it is called Risiālatu'l Balbānīyah, by Muḥammad al Balbānī (Ahlwardt, 3,250); in another Suyūṭī is given as the author (Ahlwardt, 1,830). In the British Museum MSS. (Arabic Catalogue, No. DCCCLXXXI, ix, and Supplementary Catalogue, No. 245, x) the author is given as Auḥad al Din 'Abdallah al Balyānī, d. 686 a.h. These MSS. have been used in the Translation. The Librarian of the Royal Library, Berlin, most kindly sent the two raentioued above (as well as a third imperfect one) to the care of the Glasgow University Librarian.]

The Kitābu'l Ajwibah—and it is also called the Kitābu'l Alif—by the learned Imâm, the Strong One of the Age, the most Great Shaikh Muḥyī al Dīn Abū 'Abdallah Muḥammadi ibn 'Alī, Ibn 'Arabī, al Ṭā'ī, al Ḥatimī, al Andalusī—may God sanctify his mighty Secret.

The Saying of the most Great Shaikh Muḥyī al Dīn 'Arabī — may God sanctify his mighty Secret — in Explanation of the saying of him (upon whom be peace): "Whoso knoweth himself knoweth his Lord."

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, and Him wc ask for aid: Praise be to God before whose oneness there was not a before, unless the Before were He, and after whose singleness there is not an after, except the After be He. He is, and there is with Him no after nor before, nor above nor below, nor far nor near, nor union nor division, nor how nor where nor when, nor times nor moment nor age, nor being nor place. And He is now as He was. He is the One without oneness, and the Single without singleness. He is not composed of name and named, for His name is He and His named is He. So there is no name other than He, nor named. And so He is the Name and the Named. He is the First without firstness, and the Last without lastness. He is the Outward without outwardness, and the Inward without inwardness. I mean that He is the very existence of the First and the very existence of the Last, and the very existence of the Outward and the very existence of the Inward. So that there is no first nor last, nor outward nor inward, except Him, without these becoming Him or His becoming them.

Understand, therefore, in order that thou mayest not fall into the error of the Ḥulūlīs [who believe in incarnations of God]:—He is not in a thing nor a thing in Him, whether entering in or proceeding forth. It is necessary that thou know Him after this fashion, not by knowledge ('ilm), nor by intellect, nor by understanding, nor by imagination, nor by sense, nor by the outward eye, nor by the inward eye, nor by perception. There does not see Him, save Himself; nor perceive Him, save Himself. By Himself He sees Himself, and by Himself He knows Himself. None sees Him other than He, and none perceives Him other than He. His Veil [that is, phenomenal existence] is [only a part of] His oneness; nothing veils other than He. His veil is [only] the concealment of His existence in His oneness, without any quality. None sees Him other than He — no sent prophet, nor saint made perfect, nor augel brought nigh [Koran, iv, 170] knows Him. His Prophet is He, and His sending is He, and His word is He. He sent Himself with Himself to Himself. There was no mediator nor any means other than He. There is no difference between the Sender and the thing sent, and the person sent and the person to whom he is sent. The very existence of the prophetic message is His existence. There is no other, and there is no existence to other, than He, nor to its ceasing to be (fanā'), nor to its name, nor to its named.

And for this the Prophet (upon whom be peace) said : "Whoso knoweth himself knoweth his Lord." And he said (upon him be peace): "I know my Lord by my Lord." The Prophet (upon whom be peace) points out by that, that thou art not thou: thou art He, without thou; not He entering into thee, nor thou entering into Him, nor He proceeding forth from thee, nor thou proceeding forth from Him. And it is not meant by that, that thou art aught that exists or thine attributes aught that exists, but it is meant by it that thou never wast nor wilt be, whether by thyself or through Him or in Him or along with Him. Thou art neither ceasing to be nor still existing. Thou art He, without one of these limitations. Then if thou know thine existence thus, then thou knowest God; and if not, then not.

And most of 'those who know God' (al 'urrâf) make a ceasing of existence and the ceasing of that ceasing a condition of attaining the knowledge of God, and that is an error and a clear oversight. For the knowledge of God does not presuppose the ceasing of existence nor the ceasing of that ceasing. For things have no existence, and what does not exist cannot cease to exist. For the ceasing to be implies the positing of existence, and that is polytheism. Then if thou know thyself without existence or ceasing to be, then thou knowest God; and if not, then not. And in making the knowledge of God conditional upon the ceasing of existence and the ceasing of that ceasing, there is involved an assertion of polytheism. For the Prophet (upon whom be peace) said, "Whoso knoweth himself," and did not say, "Whoso maketh himself to cease to be." For the affirmation of the other makes its extinction impossible, and [on the other hand] that of which the affirmation is not allowable its extinction is not allowable. Thine existence is nothing, and nothing cannot be added to something, whether it be perishing or unperishing, or existent or non-existent. The Prophet points to the fact that thou art non-existent now as thou wast non-existent before the Creation. For now is past eternity and now is future eternity, and now is past time. And God (whose name be exalted) is the existence of past eternity and the existence of future eternity and the existence of past time, yet without past eternity or future eternity or past time ever existing. For if it were not so He would not be by Himself without any partner, and it is indispensable that He should be by Himself without any partner. For His 'partner' would be he whose existence was in his own essence, not in the existence of God, and whoever should be in that position would not be dependent upon Him. Then, in that case, there would be a second Lord, which is absurd: God (whose name be exalted) can have no partner nor like nor equal. And whoever looks upon anything as being along with God or apart from God or in God, but subject to Him in respect of His divinity, makes this thing also a partner, [only] subject to God in respect of divinity. And whoever allows that anything exists side by side with God, whether self-subsisting or subsisting in Him or capable of ceasing to exist or of ceasing to cease to exist, he is far from what smells of a breath of the knowledge of the soul. Because, whoever allows that he is existent beside God, subsisting in Him, then in Him becoming extinct, and his extinction becoming extinct, then one extinction is linked to another, and that is polytheism upon polytheism. So he is a polytheist, not one who knows God and himself.

Then if one say: How lies the way to the knowledge of the soul and the knowledge of God (whose name be exalted) —

Then the Answer is: The way of the knowledge of these two is, that thou understand that God is, and that there is not with Him a thing. He is now as He was.

Then if one say: I see myself to be other than God and I do not see God to be myself,—

Then the Answer is: The Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace) meant by the soul thine existence and thy reality, not the 'soul' which is named 'commanding,' 'upbraiding,' and 'pacified'; [For 'soul' here we would say 'flesh'; see Mr. Gibb's "Ottoman Poetry," p. 198.] but in the 'soul' he pointed to all that is beside God (whose name be exalted), as the Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace) said: "O my God, show me things as they are clearly," meaning by 'things' whatever is beside God (whose name be exalted), that is, "Make me to know what is beside Thee in order that I may understand and know things, which they are — whether they are Thou or other than Thou, and whether they are of old, abiding, or recent and perishing." Then God showed him what was beside Himself, without the existence of what is beside Himself. So he saw things as they are: I mean, he saw things to be the essence of God (whose name be exalted) without how or where. And the name 'things' includes the soul and other than it of things. For the existence of the soul and the existence of other things are both equal in point of being 'things,' that is, are nothing; for, in reality, the thing is God and God is named a thing. Then when thou knowest the things thou knowest the soul, and when thou knowest the soul thou knowest the Lord. Because he whom thou thinkest to be beside God, he is not beside God; but thou dost not know Him, and thou seest Him and dost not understand that thou seest Him. And when this secret is revealed to thee thou understandest that thou art not what is beside God, and that thou art thine own end and thine own object in thy search after thy Lord, and that thou dost not require to cease to be, and that thou hast continued and wilt continue without when and without times, as we mentioned above. And thou seest all thine actions to be His actions, and all His attributes to be thine attributes. Thou seest thine outward to be His outward and thine inward to be His inward, and thy first to be His first and thy last to be His last, without doubting and without wavering. And thou seest thine attributes to be His attributes and thine essence to be His essence, without thy becoming Him or His becoming thee, either in the greatest or least degree. "Everything is perishing except His Face" [Koran, xxviii, 88.]; that is, there is no existent but He, nor existence to other than He, so that it should require to perish and His Face remain; that is, there is nothing except His Face: "then, whithersoever ye turn, there is the Face of God." [ii, 109.]

It is as if one did not know a thing and afterwards knows it. His existence does not cease, but his ignorance ceases, and his existence continues as it was, without his existence being exchanged for another existence, or the existence of the not-knowing person being compounded with the existence of the knowing, or intermixing, but [merely] a taking away of ignorance. Therefore, think not that thou requirest to cease to be. For if thou requiredst to cease to be, then thou wouldest in that case be His veil, and the veil other than God (whose name be exalted); which requires that another than He should have overcome Him in preventing His being seen; and this is an error and an oversight. And we have mentioned above that His veil is [only a part of] His oneness, and His singleness is not other than it. And, thus it is permitted to him who is united to Reality to say, "I am the Truth," and to say, "Praise be to Me." But none attains to union except he see his own attributes to be the attributes of God (whose name be exalted), and his own essence to be the essence of God (whose name be exalted), without his attributes or essence entering into God or proceeding forth from Him at all, or ceasing from God or remaining in Him. And he sees himself as never having been, not as having been and then having ceased to be. For there is no soul save His soul, and there is no existence save His existence.

And to this the Prophet (upon whom be peace) pointed when he said: "Revile not the world, for God—He is the world," pointing to the fact that the existence of the world is God's existence without partner or like or equal. And it is related from the Prophet (upon whom be peace) that he said that God (whose name be exalted) said [to Moses]: "O my servaut, I was sick and thou visitedst Me not, I begged of thee and thou gavest not to Me," with other like expressions; pointing to the fact that the existence of the beggar is His existence, and that the existence of the sick is His existence. And when it is allowed that the existence of the beggar and the existence of the sick are His existence, it is allowed that thy existence is His existence, and that the existence of all created things, both accidents and substances, is His existence. And when the secret of an atom of the atoms is clear, the secret of all created things, both external and internal, is clear, and thou dost not see in this world or the next aught beside God, but the existence of these two Abodes, and their name and their named, all of them, are He, without doubt and without wavering. And thou dost not see God as having ever created anything, but thou seest "every day He is in a business," [Koran, lv, 2] in the way of revealing His existence or concealing it, without any quality, because He is the First and the Last and the Outward and the Inward. He is outward in His oneness and inward in his singleness: He is the first in His essence and His immutability, and the last in His everlastingness. The very existence of the first is He, and the very existence of the last is He, and the very existence of the outward is He, and the very existence of the inward is He. He is His name and He is His named. And as His existence is 'necessary,' so the non-existence of all beside Him is necessary. For that which thou thinkest to be beside Him is not beside Him. For He will not have aught to be other than He. Nay, the other is He, and there is no otherness. The other is with His existence and in His existence, outwardly and inwardly.

The person to whom this description is applicable is endowed with many qualities without limit or end. But just as he who dies the death of the body loses all his qualities, both praiseworthy and blameworthy, so in the Sufi death all the qualities, both blameworthy and praise worthy, aro cut off, and God (whose name be exalted) comes into his place in all his states. Thus, instead of his essence comes the essence of God (whose name be exalted), and in place of his attributes come the attributes of God (whose name be exalted).

And so the Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace) said, "Die before ye die," that is, know yourselves before ye die. And he (upon whom be peace) said: "God (whose name bo exalted) has said: The worshipper does not cease to draw near to Me with good works until I love him. Then, when I love him, I am to him hearing and sight and tongue and hand unto the end," pointing to the fact that he who knows himself sees his whole existence to be His existence, and does not see any change take place in his own essence or attributes, seeing that he was not the existence of his essence, but was merely ignorant of the knowledge of himself. For when thou 'knowest thyself,' thine egoism is taken away, and thou knowest that thou art not other than God. For, if thou hadst had an independent existence, so that thou didst not require to cease to be or to 'know thyself,' then thou wouldest be a Lord beside Him ; and God forbid that He should have created a Lord beside Himself.

The profit of the knowledge of the soul is, that thou understandest and art sure that thy existence is neither existent nor non-existent, and that thou art not, wast not, and never wilt be.

From this the meaning of the saying, "There is no god but God," is clear, since there is no god other than He nor existence to other than Him, so that there is no other beside Him—and no god but He.

Then if one say: Thou makest void His sovereignty,— Then the Answer is: I do not make void His sovereignty. For He is still Ruler as well as ruled, and is still Creator as well as created. He is now as He was as to His creative power and as to His sovereignty, not requiring a creature nor a subject, because He is the Creator and the created, and the Ruler and the ruled. When He called into being the things that are He was [already] endowed with all attributes. And He is now as He was then. In His oneness there is no difference between what is recent and what is original. The recent is the result of His manifesting Himself, and the original is the result of His remaining within Himself. His outward is His inward, and His inward is His outward: His first is His last and His last is His first; and all is one, and the One is all. The definition of Him was, "Every day He is in a business," and there was nothing beside Him, and He is now as He was then, and there is in reality no existence to what is beside Him. As He was in past eternity and past time "every day engaged in a business," and there was no existent thing beside Him, so He is the same now as He was, "every day engaged in a business," and there is no business and there is no day, as there were in past eternity and past time no business and no day. And the existence of the created things and their non-existence are the same thing. And, if it were not so, there would of necessity be an origination of something fresh which was not [before] in His oneness, and that would be a defect, and His oneness is too sublime for that!

Therefore, when thou knowest thyself after this fashion, without adding a like or an equal or a partner to God (whose name be exalted), then thou knowest it as it really is. And it was thus he said (upon whom be peace), "Whoso knoweth himself knoweth his Lord." He did not say, "Whoso maketh himself to cease to be, knoweth his Lord," for he (upon him be peace) understood and saw that there is nothing beside Him. Thereupon he pointed out that the knowledge of the soul was the knowledge of God (whose name be exalted). That is, "Know that thy existence is not thy existence nor other than thy existence. For thou art not existent nor non-existent, nor other than existent nor other than non-existent. Thy existence and thy non existence are His existence, and yet without there being any existence or non-existence, because thy existence and thy non-existence are actually His existence." So if thou seest things (without seeing another thing along with God) to be Him, thou knowest thyself; and, verily, to know thyself after this fashion is to know God, without wavering and without doubt, and without compounding anything of what is of recent origin with what is original, in any way. Then if one ask: How lies the way to union, when thou affirmest that there is no other beside Him, and a thing cannot be united to itself?—

Then the Answer is: No doubt there is in reality no union nor division, nor far nor near. For union is not possible except between two, and if there be but one, there can be no union nor division. For union requires two either similar or dissimilar. Then if they are similar they are equals, and if they are dissimilar they are opposites, and He (whose name be exalted) spurns to have either an equal or an opposite; so that the union is something else than union, and the nearness something else than nearness, and the farness something else than farness. So there is union without union, and nearness without nearness, and farness without farness.

Then if anyone say: Explain to us this 'union without union'; and what is the meaning of this 'nearness without nearness' and this 'farness without farness' —

Then the Answer is: I mean that thou, in thy stages of drawing nigh and of being far off, wast not a thing beside God (whose name be exalted), but thou hadst not the 'knowledge of the soul,' and didst not understand that thou art He without thou. Then when thou art united to God (whose name be exalted)—that is, when thou knowest thyself (although the knowledge itself does not exist)— thou understandest that thou art He. And thou wast not aware before that thou wast He, or He other than He. Then, when the knowledge comes upon thee, thou understandest that thou knowest God by God, not by thyself.

To take an example: Suppose that thou dost not know that thy name is Maḥmūd, or thy named Maḥmūd. Then if the name and the named be in reality one, and thou thinkest that thy name is Muḥammad, and after some time comest to know that thou art Maḥmūd, then thy existence goes on, but the name Muḥammad is cut off from thee, by thy coming to know thyself, that thou art Maḥmūd, and wast Muḥammad only by ceasing to be thyself. And 'ceasing to be' presupposes an affirmation of existence, and whoever posits an existence beside Him makes a partner to Him (exalted and blessed be His name). So nothing positive is taken away from Maḥmūd, nor does Muḥammad cease to be in Maḥmūd, or enter into him or proceed forth from him, nor Maḥmūd into Muḥammad; but as soon as Maḥmūd knows himself, that he is Maḥmūd and not Muḥammad, he knows himself by himself, not by Muḥammad. For Muḥammad never existed at all, then how could anything that does exist be known through him?

So, then, the knower and that which he knows are both one, and he who unites and that with which he unites are one, and seer and seen arc one. For the knower is His attribute and the known is His essence; and he who unites is His attribute, and that with which he unites is His essence; and the attribute and that to which it is attributed are one. And this is the explanation of the saying "Whoso knoweth himself knoweth his Lord."

So whoever undcrstonds this example knows that there is no union nor division, and he knows that the knower is He and the known is He, and the seer is He and the seen is He, he who unites is He und that with which he unites is He. There docs not unite with Him other than He, and there is not separated from Him other than He. And whoever understands this is free from the polytheism of polytheism, and, if not, then he has not felt a breath of freedom from polytheism.

Most of 'those who know' (who think that they know themselves and know their Lord, and that they are free from the delusion of existence) say that the Path is not to be traversed except by ceasing to be, and the ceasing of that ceasing. And that is due to their not understanding the saying of the Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace). And because they must blot out polytheism, they point at one time to the negation, that is, the cessation, of existence, and at another to the cessation of that cessation, and at another to effacement, and at another to annihilation. And all these explanations are unadulterated polytheism. For whoever allows that there is anything beside Him, and that afterwards it ceases to be, or allows a cessation of its extinction, he affirms the existence of something that is beside Him, and whoever does this makes a partner to God. May God guide them and us to the middle of the Path!


Thou thoughtest, a-thinking, that thou wast thou,
And thou art not thou and never wast thou.
For if thou wert thou, then wert thou a Lord
And a Second of Two. Leave what thou art thinking.
There is no difference between the beings of Him and Thee:
He is not distinct from thee nor Thou from Him.
For if thou say, in ignorance, that thou art Another,
Thou art stubborn, and if thine ignorance cease, thou art docile.
Thy union is flight and thy flight is union,
And thy far is near. In this thou art blessed.
Leave intellect and understand through intuition,
Lest that pass thee by against which thou art guarding.
And make no partner to God of anything at all,
In order that it may be well with thee: in polytheism thou wast at ease.

Then if one say: Thou demonstratest that thy knowledge of thyself is the knowledge of God. And he who knows himself is other than God; then how can other than God know God, and how can it be united to Him?—

Then the Answer is: He who knows himself understands that his existence is not his own existence, but his existence is the existence of God, without his existence becoming the existence of God (whose name be exalted) and without his existence entering into God or proceeding forth from Him, or his existence being along with Him or in Him. But he sees his existence in the condition in which it was before it was at all. So there is no extinction nor effacement nor extinction of extinction. For the extinction of a thing presupposes its independent existence first, and its independent existence presupposes its subsisting by itself, not by the power of God (whose name be exalted)—which is clearly absurd.

Understand, therefore, that the knower's knowledge of himself is God's knowledge of Himself because his soul is nothing but He. And the Prophet (upon whom be peace) meant by the 'soul' the existence. And whoever attains to this state, his existence is no more, outwardly or inwardly, aught but the existence of Him (whose name be exalted). Nay, his existence is the existence of God (whose name be exalted), and his word the word of God (whose name be exalted), and his act the act of God, and his claim to the knowledge of God is a claim to the knowledge of himself. But thou hearest the claim as from him, and seest the act as from him, and thou seest his existence to be other than God, as thou seest thyself to be other than God, by reason of thine ignorance of the knowledge of thyself. Then if "the believer be the mirror of the Believed," [a saying attributed to the Prophet] he is He, in His own eye, that is, in His own sight, for his eye is the eye of God and his sight is the sight of God. And he is not He in thine eye, or thy knowledge, or thy understanding, or thy imagination, or thy thought, or thy vision. But he is He in His eye and His knowledge and His vision. So if one say "I am God," then hearken to him, for it is God (whoso name be exalted) saying "I am God," not he. But thou hast not attained to that to which he has attained; for if thou hadst attained to that to which he has attained, thou wouldest understand what he says, and say what he says, and see what he sees.

And, generally, the existence of things is His existence, without their existing at all. But do not fall into an ambiguity by imagining from these demonstrations that God is created. For one of 'those who know' has said, "The Ṣūfī is uncreated"; and that is after the perfect unveiling and the cessation of doubts and imaginings. But this saying (hiqmah) is only for him who has a nature wider than the two worlds, and as for him whose nature is like that of the two worlds [material and immaterial], it does not concern him, for it is nobler than the two worlds.

And, universally, thou mayest understand that seer and seen, and Creator and created, and knower and known, and perceiver and perceived are one. He sees his existence in His existence, and knows his existence by His existence, and perceives his existence by His existence, without any quality of the perception and seeing and knowing and without the form itself of the perception and seeing and knowing existing. It is as if his existence were without quality, and his seeing himself without quality, and his perceiving himself without quality, and his knowing himself without quality.

Then if one ask and say: In what light regardest thou all the hateful and lovable things? For if thou seest, for instance, refuse or carrion, thou sayest it is God (whose name be exalted),—

Then the Answer is: God forbid that He should be any such thing! But our discourse is with him who does not see the carrion to be carrion, nor the refuse as refuse. Nay, our discourse is with him who has sight and is not born blind. For he who does not know himself is blind and cannot see. And until the blindness depart he will not attain to these spiritual matters. But this discourse is with God, not with other than God and not with the blind. For he who attains to this station knows that he is not other than God. And our discourse is with him who has resolution and energy in seeking to know himself in order to know God, and who keeps fresh in his heart the image of his seeking and his longing for union with God; and not with him who has neither aim nor end.

Then if one ask and say: God (whose name be exalted) has said, "The eyes do not perceive Him, but He perceives the eyes." [Koran, vi, 103.] But thou sayest the contrary of that. Therefore, what thou sayest is not true,—

Then the Answer is: All that we are saying is the sense of the expression "The eyes do not perceive Him," that is, there is no one, and no one has sight, able to perceive Him. Then if we suppose that there is another than He in existence, we must allow that that other perceives Him. But God (whose name be exalted) has warned us in His saying "The eyes do not perceive Him" that there is no other beside Him; meaning, no other perceives Him, but He who perceives Him is God (whose name be exalted). So there is no other except Him. He it is who perceives His own essence, not another. So "the eyes do not perceive Him," simply because the eyes are nothing but His own existence. And if anyone say, "The eyes do not perceive Him, only because they are of recent origin, and what is recent does not perceive what is old and permanent," he does not yet know himself, since there is nothing and there are no eyes except Him. He, then, perceives His own existence, without the existence of the perception and without quality.


I know the Lord by the Lord, without doubt or wavering.
My essence is His essence in truth, without defect or flaw.
There is no becoming between these two, and my soul it is which manifests that secret.
And since I knew myself without blending or mixture,
I attained to union with my Beloved, without far or near.
I obtained gifts of the Lord of Affluence without upbraiding and without recrimination.
I did not lose to Him my soul, nor does it remain to the lord of dissolution.

Then if one ask and say: Thou positest God and deniest the existence of aught else. What, then, are these things which we see?—

Then the Answer is: These discourses are with him who does not see aught beside God. And he who sees aught beside God (whose name be exalted), we have no question and answer with him, for he does not see other than what he sees. And he who knows himself does not see other than God, and he who does not know himself has not seen God; and every vessel exudes that which is in it. And we have explained much above, and if we should explain more than that, he who does not see would not see, nor understand, nor perceive; and he who sees, sees and understands and perceives already; and "a sign is sufficient to him who attains." And as for him who has not attained, he would not attain by teaching (ta'līm), nor instruction, nor by reiteration, nor by learning, nor by intellect; but only by the attraction of a shaikh who has attained and an intelligent instructor, travelling on the Path, being guided by his light, and walking in his strength, and so attaining to the end, if it be the will of God (whose name be exalted).

May God (whose name be exalted) grant success to us and you in all that He desires and loves, of word and deed, and theory and practice, and light and guidance. Verily, He is over all things powerful and fit to Answer.