Sufi Spiritual Ethics

in the Sufi Teachings of Ibn' Arabi

The Divine Nature of the Human Being

In order to understand spiritual ethics one needs to understand the nature and purpose of this world, and specifically, we need to understand our own purpose. This is not a lesson on what is moral behavior and what is not. I have intentionally neglected recommendations and admonitions concerning specific behavior, because the practical application of spiritual ethics cannot be delineated in some inscribed code of propriety. For many people who have found the correct moral dispensation in a certain sacred Book or in the laws of their peers, the above statement of moral ambiguity will appear blasphemous. I do believe the specifics of moral behavior depend upon the unique need of the moment, and thus one has to be ambiguous, or else one rigidifies the creative human potential. Still, one can delineate a general approach and orientation, from which specifics can be derived. I call this approach spiritual ethics and it demands a mystical relationship with God and the world. It does not follow any cultural or religious code, though it can if that is useful.

How then are ethics known? The discovery and interpretation is found through self-reflection and contemplation into the meaning of the world. It is a mystical approach, rather than literal. The Sufis, known as the mystics of Islam, are representative of this approach, and I also think Judaic and Christian mystics could easily follow along the same way. I will use some basic ideas and relationships from the Sufi philosopher, Ibn al-`Arabi, as a foundation for this exploration of spiritual ethics. Ibn al-`Arabi is known as one of the greatest thinkers and teachers in the Sufi Tradition. He wrote hundreds of books on all sorts of subjects, and all of these were divinely revealed to him. Though his writings are extremely complex and convoluted, they brilliantly systematized Sufi theosophy, and "for most of the Sufis after the thirteenth century, his writings constitute the apex of mystical theories" (Schimmel 263). First, I will show how God is immanent in the world and expressed through the human being. This immanence is relative, not absolute, and I will discuss how God's Will manifests in this relative world and the question of free choice or indeterminacy. Next, I will show how and where God is found, and then discuss the disclosure of God through the human being, culminating in what is called the `Complete Man' as a theomorphic entity in God's Image.

Ibn al-`Arabi describes Reality as a trinity consisting of the Essence, the Attributes and the Acts (Chittick 8). The Essence is God Incomprehensible, Unlimited and without a pluralism of Qualities. It is like the light before any diversification into color and before any reflection. It cannot be known, but is everywhere existent and is the Core Reality of all things. The Attributes, known as the Names of God in Islam, are the various Qualities of the Divine Essence from the perspective of the creation. From the perspective of Essence alone there are no Qualities, because there is nothing else but One Essence. The Qualities, or Names, are how we perceive the Essence of Reality, or the Essence of ourselves. The Acts are how God's Essence reveals Itself through the mediation of the Qualities. The Acts are everything and everyone. It is all action and all form of the creation.

There are many Divine Qualities. Some say there are a specific number of these Qualities and others say they cannot be counted. I think it is best left up to the imagination, but to name a few in no particular order: there are the Lover, Merciful, Peaceful, Majestic, Creator, Provider, Forgiver, Knower, Exalter, Abaser, Judging, Grateful, United, Unique, Self-Sufficient, Interdependent, Light, Powerful, Beautiful, Guiding, Dominating, Receptive, Persevering, Patient. To recognize these Divine Qualities is to recognize God. They are found through our relationship with the world and with our deeper conscience. God reveals Himself to us in these Ways, and we come to know these Qualities by recognizing God's affect upon our inner being (our `heart' or conscience/mind) and God's affect through His worldly Signs and manifestations around us.

The Divine Qualities only exist in relationship with creation. They are meaningless terms without creation. This is an ontological reality of all qualities and properties. No qualities exist in a vacuum by themselves; they involve relationship, and for there to be relationship there needs to be a creation making contact with or involving an Essence. The Qualities are the Names of the Essence in creation. Thus, they are how we know God to be.

"We know the Names through the diversity of their effects within us" (Chittick 45). The Names or Qualities are also those of our own. We can understand God as the Compassionate or the Forgiving, because of the feeling of being loved or forgiven by Him. But we can also feel compassionate and forgiving within ourselves as expressed towards others. So, we can relate to the Divine Qualities as being expressed towards us, and/or we can find those same Divine Qualities within ourselves to be expressed in our relationships with others. This is the beauty of God's symmetry in the microcosmic reflection. In other words, the human soul is a potential microcosm of God's Being.

The Names of God are how God assumes a relationship in the world, such as Creator, Guide, Forgiver, Compassionate, Exalter, and Slayer. It is through these relationships that God is found and makes Himself known in the world. The Essence of God in Himself is without reference to anything. It is un-named and unknown; though existing everywhere. It is transcendent, meaning it is free and independent of the world or relationships. But the Names and Qualities are how this One Essence reveals Itself in relationship and manifests in the world. The Names can be likened to the different roles a man might have in life. One man might be a father, a husband, a brother, a carpenter, a singer, a student, depending on the time and the person(s) relating to. Yet, that person is one man, not many different people. In this sense, God relates Himself to us in many different ways, but it always one Being who lives through these various modalities.

In this basic Cosmology nothing is really separate from God or the Essence. All is derived from the same One Truth, though this Truth manifests Itself in various Qualities. This is the basis for Ibn al-`Arabi's doctrine of Unity, known as the "Unity of Existence" or the "Oneness of Being" (Chittick 3), and it is the basis of Sufi theosophy. All Acts are derived from the Divine Qualities, which are derived from the One Essence. It is fundamentally an Ontological hierarchy, and Ibn al-`Arabi makes note that there are various "degrees of ranking" things according to their closeness to the Source. Everything is a derivative of the Essence and the Qualities, but not all is equally true, good, or beautiful. In the Unity of Being we can all recognize our essential Divinity and the various Divine Qualities manifesting through ourselves and our actions; but still, we can all come ever closer to God's purity of Essence and manifest His Qualities more intensely. So, the differences in people's love, consciousness and powers is a matter of degree, instead of the judgement that one either has it or doesn't. The world is not distinctly black and white, or good and evil. It is all of the Light, but there is also shadow and distorted reflections of the Light.

But why is God less or more manifested in creation? And, if God is All-Powerful and Omnipresent, then why would there be shadows or anything less than pure God? The answer to these questions reveal the structure of creation, the purpose of creation, and the answer to a logical dilemma about God's Will, choice and morality. The question of free will and predestination was a concern for the Sufis, and it has also been a concern for western theologians and philosophers. If God is a Unity and if there is nothing outside of God, then logically we assume that all action is of His Creative Will. Does this mean that whatever we do is under compulsion or necessity? Do we have a free choice in our actions? If God is All-Powerful and Omnipresent, then can we do anything that goes against God's Will? So is there a problem of good and evil, or is all by Divine Decree? If there is predestination, then can we be held morally responsible for our actions?

These are some of the many interrelated questions, which have been asked for hundreds of years. Approximately one hundred years ago William James wrote in his famous essay `The Dilemma of Determinism', "a common opinion prevails that the juice has ages ago been pressed out of the free-will controversy, and that no new champion can do more than warm up stale arguments which everyone has heard." But he goes on to say, "This is a radical mistake. I know of no subject less worn out."

Some western religious philosophers have argued that obligation to do something does not necessarily negate the concept of determinism. Robert Richman writes, "The problem of free will may be viewed as one involving the logical relationship between determinism and obligability" (Richman 23). Those who hold that determinism is true and therefore obligability false, are called `determinists'. Those who hold that obligability is true and therefore determinism is false, are called `libertarians'.

Richman's argument is very complex, but his main point is that we wrongly assume that the two ideas are logically incompatible. Instead we should think of each as describing different phenomena and they can actually be causative to each other. The sense of obligation can indeed determine the action and the obligation may be determined by something in our [determined] nature.

Dorothy Emmet takes a different approach. She contrasts the notion of the `Will of God' with our `moral duty'. If God is All-Powerful, then it appears ridiculous to say that we `do' the Will of God, since this Will is already being done and cannot do otherwise. In other words, the `Will of God' is something that we can only accept, not accomplish. In contrast, our moral duty demands choice and action. So we are confronted with two apparently conflicting demands: one is to accept what is given as the Will of God; and the other is to decide what we ourselves will do. Emmet resolves this conflict by defining the `Will of God' as what is objectively right and our `moral duty' as what we subjectively feel is right. Thus we each have our own subjective sense of moral duty, but still there is an ultimate objective Righteousness, which is the Will of God. And part of our moral duty is to come ever closer to doing the [objective] Will of God. She says, "I ought not just to be complacent about my own opinions, but to take any means I can to improve them, so as to close the gap between what I think is right and what is really right" (Emmet 83).

This also goes along with the Sufi notion to "trust in God, but tether your camel first." One must make an effort at doing good, along with trust in Providence. The great Sufi poet and Master, Mevlana Rumi says, "Sow the seed, and for the harvest rely on the Almighty." He also suggests that "righteous exertion is not a struggle with destiny. On the contrary, it is laid on us a duty by destiny itself" (Khosla 78). Rumi maintains that God has a free Will, so we do too. God's power of choice brings ours into existence, or we could say that free choice is an Attribute of God and therefore it exists throughout the universe and within man.

Most of the Sufis, such as Rumi, believe in the co-existence of free will and predestination, and they resolve the paradox within their own attitude toward themselves and life. Whatever happens is accepted as the [predestined] Will of God, including whatever one does (even at the office Christmas party); but in every moment one is obligated to follow the Will of God as best as it can be known. In other words, one knows that everything of the past has been the Will of God and that everything of the future shall be the Will of God, but still one must choose morality in this moment.

Let us say for example that someone has done me wrong. Some part of me wants to avenge this, but another part feels that I could forgive and forget. Now, I know that whatever I end up choosing to do will be the Will of God, or predestined, but I still need to make the choice. You might say then, "why worry, because whatever is chosen is to be, so just pick either one." This is the type of question posed by many, and the result would appear to lead to the abolition of any sense of good and evil.

But let us say that my choice is very important, in that one way leads me to paradise, while the other way leads me to hell, but at this point I do not know which is which. So, I must choose one way (revenge or forgiveness) and hope that I make the right choice; but all the while knowing that God already knows my choice and has predestined me to it. But I still will want to look closely at this moral choice in front of me. This example does not fully answer the theological dilemma, but it does represent the dilemma and show how someone might treat it.

Ibn al-`Arabi suggests a resolution, which logically helps but probably does not fully solve the dilemma either. He defines a difference between `God's Will' and `God's Wish', or alterna tively, he calls the first the Creative Command, and the second the Obligating Command (Austin 31). The Will of God, or the Creative Command, is revealed by everything manifesting in the universe. So every action and every form is of this Creative Will, and nothing is opposed to this or in contradiction to this. In this sense, there is no contrasting good and evil, because all of actuality is God's Will. This satisfies the Sufi belief that there is no real separation between God and this world, since there is only God.

Then, the other aspect of God is God's Wish, or Obligating Command, which represents the purposeful goal of God's creation. It is concerned with man's reintegration or obedience to the Divine Order. All is derived from God's Creative Command, but at the same time there is an implicit concern that we live in harmony with a sub-existential (inherent) structure of Divine Order, and that we complete the destiny or goal of creation itself. This seems to relate well with Teilhard de Chardin's concept of man moving toward the Omega point of his destined purpose or completion. It satisfies the Sufi notion that "man's first task is to be God's servant," and the potential destiny of man is to "return to God" or to "know God and His Ways" (Chittick 24). So the Creative Command represents the existential reality, while the Obligating Command represents the inner, spiritual morality of man and woman. Both Divine Aspects need to be recognized. We can only faithfully accept the Creative Command, but we have to consciously orient ourselves to and obey the Obligatory Command.

If all life were merely predestined and we were all automatons in the great machine of cosmic necessity, then there would be no need for us to be conscious or self-reflective or acquire knowledge. Yet, God's purpose is to be known, so we were created to be conscious. God's purpose is also love. Mevlana Rumi says that love is the cause of all creation, and he also says that the cause is its own effect (Khosla 90). In other words, the prime cosmic motivator is love, and the goal of this is love. And since God is love and loving, then the goal of love is to be known and manifested -- and the manifestation of love is found in the lover. God's Love manifesting, which must be the goal of love, is found in the one who loves. But if one were forced to love, or if love were merely an unconscious instinct, and we could not-not love, then this would not be love, but would be a manipulated affection. If your lover was forced to love you, or you programmed her mind to love you, then this would not feel like real love.

Therefore, God had to create man and woman (in His Image) with choice, so that the love expressed would be real love, not merely the coerced affection of an automaton. In this way, those who do really love God (and to love God we would also love His Creation) are cherished by God and fulfill His Purpose, which is the Obligating Command. God's Wish is that we love (and to love we need to know Who we are loving), which is also called the `return to God' or `The Way' (which can be understood teleologically or morally). It is this way of love that forms the foundation of all Sufi morality.

I shall offer a further explanation to the dilemma of God's Will. God has two polar attributes, which can be called His Dispersion and His Concentration (or His Return). In His Dispersion God fragments His Wholeness into parts, which do not lose the wholeness of Essence, because Essence can never be lost.

In contrast, but manifesting at the same time, God returns to His Wholeness, which is found in man's spiritual morality and is the Sufi `Way'. God's Dispersion can explain the diversity of wills and morality; while God's Concentration can explain our will to be a better, more whole person, and to know the complete truth. Both of these Attributes are hierarchical derivatives of God's Love, which is the highest [causative] Attribute.

The creation is about dispersion and concentration. In this dispersion, God's Autonomy becomes dispersed as well. Not to say that God's Will is lost or that God has given up His Autonomy over creation, but It is dispersed and diversified amongst the creation. Ibn al-`Arabi says that creation is the manifestation of God's Being. God does not have any other purpose or Will other than manifesting Himself. And this is "in order to know Himself in various modalities", to "reveal to Him His own mystery" (Austin 50). This creation is none other than God manifesting Himself in order to know Himself through various mirrors and perspectives.

If there were only one mirror, or one form, or one perspective, then God would just see Himself in one perfect way, but this is not what He Wished, because if He did there would be no need for the creation of diversity.

Instead, God dispersed Himself in creation so that creation would disclose Himself in various ways and from various perspectives. The world is the mirror through which He sees Himself reflected. The basis for this ontological understanding is in the Hadith, "I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known so I created the world that I might be known." God's Purpose, or Will, is to be known, and therefore the human purpose or man's religious ethic must be firmly guided by this ultimate divine ethic. We need to realize our place in the scheme of things, to realize that we are the eyes through which He sees, the mouth through which He speaks and the hands through which He works. This becomes a practical ethics grounded in ontology. It is through our becoming into human fullness that God realizes His Purpose.

What seems paradoxical about God's Purpose in creation is that He dispersed Himself, His Will and His Qualities in order to allow for a multiplication of perspectives, forms and actions; yet, God also Will's our return to Him, that we come back to unity and integration. Let me explain. The dispersion is needed for the diversification, because if God retained His Ultimate Autonomy and Singularity of Knowing in this world there would be no possibility of knowing or doing anything other than God's Singular Command. Hence, the world would be completely predetermined and more importantly, God would have no surprises in the unveiling of His own Mystery. If God were to already know Himself in all the various modalities of expression, that is in the various relationships caused by the multiplicity of this creation, then there would be no need to "create the world that I [He] might be known."

The world is necessary to God's own knowledge of Himself in plurality, and in order for this to unfold without the coercion of His Autonomous Singularity, He had to disperse His Autonomy, His Will and His Determinism into the many wills of His creation. His Will still remains in the essence of all wills, since He is the ontological source of all life, but the intensity of His Will varies from person to person. What we are asked to do, according to the great prophets, and known within our own hearts, is to return to God's Will, which is to return to the essence of our own will and re-unify the dispersed wills within us. This is one of the meanings in the Sufi saying, "Return to Unity." In fact, the Sufi Way is sometimes called, "The Path of Return." The movement toward God is often seen as the purpose of the prophets, who guide humanity to God's Mercy versus His Wrath. Islam as an outward religion obliges people to remember God and follow His Will, but the Sufis, though respecting the outward religious laws, are concerned with a voluntary remembrance and return.

The return to God can be understood as recognizing God in His Immanence, or finding God within oneself and within the world. The goal of the Sufi is to find God, which is to know God. And finding God "is never just epistemological...It is fundamentally ontological" (Chittick 4). For the Sufi, the Truth of God can only be known when one is that Truth. One can only find God, or know God, when one is truly that. The knowledge of God and the knowledge of His Desire cannot be known from afar or in separation, but must be known from within that Being Itself or Its reflection. The true nature of God can only really be known from the inside, and this is possible because God is already the center of our being and He manifests through our becoming. We are the eyes through which he sees and the mouth through which He speaks. God finds Himself through our being, because God expresses Himself through our being.

Thus, the epistemology of Truth is fundamentally dependent upon the ontology of God through man. We know because we are. The finding of Truth is in the realization of who we are, as in the Hadith, "He who knows himself knows his Lord." The finding of God for Ibn al-`Arabi is the realization of the `Oneness of Being' or the `Unity of Existence' (wahad al-wujud), which is, "simply stated, there is only one Being, and all existence is nothing but the manifestation or outward radiance of that one Being" (Chittick 79), as in "Withersoever you turn, there is the Face of God" (Koran 2:115).

For Ibn al-`Arabi, the finding of God is a continual deepening of one's perception into the meaning of the world. God is not out there somewhere, but here hidden within the world. God is at the very deep structure of the world, so one must look deeper into the meaning of things. In this way, the truer nature of the world is unveiled more and more, and one finds newer and more profound interpretations of phenomena. But this is not just looking at phenomena as something outside oneself, but seeing reflections of the Self. The creation is seen as "God's unveiling Himself to the creatures".

So for Ibn al-`Arabi, hermeneutics is a Self-disclosure. "The mystical ascent is from external phenomena (or linguistic expression) to interior depth structure," because "whatever exists in this world conceals in its ontological depths an inner reality everything is a particular theophany" (Izutsu 6:554).

Finding truth and meaning in the world is to discover something its ontological source, which is God. Or to put it the other way around, to find God we must deepen our interpretation of the world, which is to unveil the [more hidden] meaning. For Ibn al-`Arabi, everything we know is a form of interpretation. That is, everything known is by way of the one's unique point of perception and the degree of our unveiling of the Truth. There is only One Truth, because there is only One God, but what we experience is not the ultimate Truth, whether spiritual or existential. The Names of God are the fundamental interpretations of Spiritual Reality, which in Essence cannot be fully comprehended nor described (named) in any one manner. If one is to name this Ultimate Reality at all, one must then admit many names, so to not falsely limit Reality by any one quality. Likewise, everything known is some form of interpretation, or naming. This is how we see the world and the subtle truths within the world.

Ibn al-`Arabi and the Sufis developed a kind of mystical hermeneutics in their interpretations of the Koran and its exegetical tradition. They looked into the depth of its [ambiguous] language to find the metaphorical and symbolic meanings. The Koran reveals explicit and implicit meanings, and "the explicit/implicit question belongs with the discernment necessary in understanding and exegesis ... the two might be broadly characterized as the factual and the figurative" (Cragg 41). So, whether one is interpreting The Book or the world, there may always be metaphorical meanings hidden from the literal mind. This is why the Sufis do not perceive the world literally, but symbolically. Thus, the world is a veil. It is an allusion. We can not help but conceptualize or interpret the world in some way, whether literally or more symbolically. But this interpreting should be seen as negative, because it is how we know things. It is what knowledge is about. For the Sufis this world is veiled, but the veil is meaningful. The veil reveals something about the Reality. It is not useless or completely devoid of Truth, but it is the way that Truth is revealed, just as God reveals Himself through the world, however veiled it is. Our experience in the world is by interpretation, and this is the way God knows Himself. Sufis say that they are leaving the world of illusion to find the real world, but this is an endless goal, because all experience will be in the world of illusion, or in the world of interpretation. We seek to know the Truth, but we can never go beyond some form of interpretation or imagination of that. Thus, the Sufis say that the Ultimate Truth can never be known, which makes life an unfolding mystery.

Still, interpretation is necessary for the disclosure of reality and the disclosure of ourselves. For Ibn al-`Arabi, hermeneutics is a never ending process of self-disclosure, and interpretation of anything is an interpretation of Being Itself. The finding of God requires the lifting of the veils that prevent us from perceiving the Truth. For the Sufi these veils are the veils of ignorance, and only when the veils are lifted can we know the Truth of the ontological center of this world and ourselves. The veils are infinite, so one can never fully experience the completeness of God's Truth, but we can always go further beyond the veils.

We come to an experience of bewilderment (hayra), which Ibn al-`Arabi describes as knowing and not-knowing all at once. At every instant the veils are covering the infinitude of God; yet in every instant we can wake up beyond the veils. Life is a continual discovery, and at every moment we can be waking up in the Truth, while having ever more to wake up to. It is like opening the stage curtains to reveal the play, which is about opening the stage curtain. There are always curtains to open, in the sense that we do not know what we do not know, and yet we are experiencing something of the play itself, which is something of the Knowledge of God being revealed. This is the state of bewilderment, of knowing and not-knowing. The understanding of this inevitable situation, of knowing and not-knowing, of unveiling but being none the less veiled, is a great unveiling itself, and it distinguishes a man of wisdom.

To fully appreciate the analogy of the veils one must see it in terms of knowing oneself. We are veiled from knowing ourselves because of our ignorance and because of our self-concepts that we hold on to. The concepts, which we think is the knowledge of ourselves, is that which veils us from knowing our primal, essential nature. So, we must die to our concepts and allow our ego self images to dissolve, in order to discover what is underneath it. This is described in Sufi teachings as a death of self, or a dissolving of illusion (fana); and what remains (baqa) is the essential truth of our spiritual nature. So, the veil is lifted when we let it go, when we die and re-awaken. Still, there are veils remaining, since the Essence, which is our true nature, cannot be fully revealed. And any revelation or interpretation is itself another veil.

Ibn al-`Arabi says that all interpretation is formed in the inner world of imagination. This reveals the unique role of human beings in the Cosmos, because the imagination plays a fundamental role in the nature of being human. We are self-reflective creatures, and the world in which we do this is the world of imagination. In Ibn al-`Arabi's terms this is related to the soul of man. The soul is the body of imagination. And through imagination we find new creative possibilities within ourselves. The discovery of our potentials involve both an interpretation of who we are (in essence) and a creative image of ourselves or possible behavior. We are not born complete human beings. In order to grow, or actualize more of our potential, we are continually interpreting that potential and imagining its possible manifestation.

So we come to know existence through the imagination and we come to know ourselves through the same medium. And again, epistemology relates to ontology, because God created the world from His Imagination of Himself, or we could say that this world reflects God's Imagination, or how He interprets His Essence in various ways. Likewise, we as humans come into being as we are through the imagination (if not ours, then someone else's) and interpretation of our own potential. Creativity comes out of the imagination, and we could say that God reveals His Imagination in this creation, just as we are creating our "own realities" through our imagination.

"The soul, which develops gradually as a human being grows and matures, becomes aware of the world with which it is put in touch in a never-ending process of self-discovery and self-finding. The soul -- that is to say our own self-awareness -- represents an unlimited possibility for development... the process whereby it moves from darkness to light is also a growth from death to life, ignorance to knowledge, weakness to power..." (Chittick 17). The growth of the soul is an actualization of the divine attributes in man, inherent in his essence. All attributes are in man, in potential. It is important to remember that "these divine attributes are not superhuman qualities or super-added to the human condition. On the contrary, they define the human condition in an ontological sense. Only by actualizing such qualities does one participate in the fullness of existence and show forth the qualities of Being" (Chittick 21).

In essence all people have all of the divine attributes in potential, but in actuality each soul is different in terms of which attributes have actualized and to what degree they have become luminous. Thus, there are a vast hierarchy of souls from the most intense light to the darker unawares. Ibn al-`Arabi sees knowledge as varying in degrees or intensities, "some surpassing others." This is the "ranking in degrees of excellence", called Tafadul (Chittick 8). Knowledge is a possibility provided to us by God, but not all people have the same degree of knowledge. This idea comes from the Koranic verses, "God has caused some of you to surpass others in provision" (Koran 16:71) and "We raise in degrees whomsoever We will, and above each one who possesses knowledge is someone who knows more" (Koran 12:76), and it asks, "Are they equal - those who know and those who know not?" (Koran 39:9). Thus, there is a hierarchical gradation in the intensity of God's Light and Knowledge, which does not mean that God is less in those lesser places, but existence is less knowing of God.

In Sufism the Attributes of God are the potential attributes of man. "Man is a theomorphic entity in God's Image" (Chittick 24). Man is the microcosm reflecting the Macrocosm of God. Through man God incarnates His Attributes. Thus, we find God's reflection in the world and especially in man. I use the term man non-generically (though I realize this apology is not enough for linguistic feminists) and also in its highest sense, that is to designate man in potential, but not necessarily in actuality. The Sufis do not believe that every man is God or a comprehensive reflection of God. Although one can find at least some of God's Attributes reflecting through any man; no man can reflect every Attribute at once, and it is recognized that God's Light is purer and greater in some places more than others. Ibn al-`Arabi acknowledges a "ranking in degrees" among men and among actions. Some are closer to God's Perfection than others. Or in terms of potential, some actualize more of the inherent potential than others. This concurs with Maslow's study of self-actualizing individuals.

The Sufi Way could be seen as process of self-actualization, and proceeds from death and rebirth, called fana and baqa. The death (fana) is the passing away of the conventional self, or the disintegration of one's previous [limited] world-view and self-concepts. The rebirth (baqa) is the real [natural or divine] being coming into fruition, the realization and actualization of the true [more whole] self. And, "though these two processes, unlearning and reliving, make up the essence of self- transformation, a slow deliberation is required, particularly a great deal of effort and conscientious striving aided by blessing, grace, and guidance" (Arasteh 51).

The whole purpose of being is to actualize itself and become known. And this purpose can be understood from the absolute ontological perspective or from the humanistic perspective. Ibn al-`Arabi loves to quote the Hadith, "I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known so I created the world that I might be known." God's purpose is that He (`He' means God without attributes and beyond male/female divisions) be known, and He can only become known by actualizing Himself in the world. The human being can say the same thing. We become known, to ourselves and others, by actualizing our [hidden] potential in the world. What we can create or manifest of our human potential is who we are in actuality. We come to know ourselves, that is what attributes we have, by manifesting ourselves. To even know of our potential is to at least imagine that we can manifest this. When I say I have the potential to love somebody, it implies that I can in fact actualize this potential, because if I could not, then the statement would mean nothing. Somehow we are able to see who we can be, then actualize it. To know myself means that I know who I am in potential as well as what I am currently manifesting.

Ibn al-`Arabi wrote a whole book on the Hadith, "He who knows himself, knows his Lord." To know ones potential, that is to know ones human attributes, is to know the Divine Attributes. They are the same in essence. The potential or actualized attribute of love in its purest sense is God's Love. The forgiveness I have towards another is God's Forgiveness. My patience is God's Patience. My knowledge is God's Knowledge. If I help another being it is God's Help manifesting through me. I could go on with hundreds of examples, because the Qualities of God are many, and many by name.

Our very nature is God's Nature. We are not really separate from the Divine Source or the Divine Attributes, because It/They are the nature of who we are. So, the man who actualizes his [divine or essential human] potential becomes the moral man. Morality is found within the potential and expressed through the actualization of this potential. God's Attributes incarnate through our expression. It is our actualization of God's Attributes "that determine the extent to which we participate in the fullness of the Light of [God] Being" (Chittick 22).

The highest possibility of this fullness for man and woman is called, the `Complete Man', or the `Perfect Man' (Insani-kamil). He or she is the archetype of Self-actualization and the goal of the Sufi path. "He has realized in himself and his experience the Oneness of Being that underlies all the apparent multiplicity of existence" (Austin 37). Throughout the Cosmos, Being displays the infinite possibilities within Itself, but "It only manifests Itself in Its fullness through perfect man, since he alone actualizes every divine character trait, or every quality of Being ...Just as Allah is the `all-comprehensive name', so perfect man is the `all-comprehensive engendered thing' in which the divine names receive their full manifestation" (Chittick 30).

The Complete Man brings the Divine Qualities together in a more perfect balance and integration. "The goal of Sufism is the integration of man in all the depth and breadth of his existence, in all the amplitude which is included in the nature of universal man [complete man] ... Man, being the vicegerent of God on earth and the theatre wherein the Divine Names and Qualities are reflected, can reach felicity only by remaining faithful to this nature or by being truly himself" (Nasr 43). He has a unique moral character in the world; whereas average man or woman has not yet discovered all of their potentials (Qualities), nor have they integrated them together. What we see in the world are varying degrees of imbalanced and balanced Qualities, which define the moral character of human beings. This world is the unfolding revelation of God in His various Qualities, and man is unfolding his (His) various Qualities. These are all Qualities of God, with no exception, but the manifestation of this can be relatively negative when a balance has yet to be achieved.

We cannot become ethical or virtuous through wishy-washy do-goodism. It is important to be loving and caring about others, but this love is not enough. Love needs two other compliments to complete the triad of righteous action, which are knowledge and power. Without knowledge love does not know what to do. One needs to have the knowledge of what is good or what is needed in the circumstance in order to rightly apply the love in ones heart. Love also needs power, because power is what manifests things. Someone who is loving and even knowing of what to do will not be able to accomplish that action without the power to do so. Power is necessary, just as energy is necessary to run a machine. Then also love is necessary to compliment power and knowledge, because a person with just knowledge and power could do a lot of harm without the loving motive to guide that action. So each of these basic three qualities are needed and must work together to manifest the Good.

There are many Qualities of God, which are potential qualities of the human being, but if one of these is over-manifested to the exclusion of others, then there are problems. For example, one of His Qualities is the Abaser, and if someone were to continuously bring forth this quality without any other, he would eventually cause harm to others. But this is not necessarily a bad quality and in fact, it is useful at times to bring people down off their false peddlestool. Another Quality of God is the Destroyer, and the consequences of this imbalance is obvious. God is not just the Destroyer, otherwise there would be no room for life, but destruction of the false or of what is no longer needed is a positive quality, and it actually makes room for life. Another example is the Divine Quality of patience. Actualizing patience is needed in this world, and those who have no patience drive themselves and others crazy. I think the consequences of not having patience is obvious to all mature people. Yet, if one were to only exercise patience without other qualities, such as determination (one of the great Qualities of God), one would let the world be destroyed before manifesting some active concern.

There are other kinds of equilibrium necessary to the moral man, and these can be seen as a balance or equality of two polar opposites. Judgement and forgiveness are classic examples of this. If one expresses the quality of judgement without any sense of forgiveness, then one will be punishing wrong doing all the time. Life is imperfect. Human beings are not perfect and we make mistakes. Some of us are a bit sick and do harm to others. We all hurt each other in ways that we don't often recognize. So we need to forgive each other. And we need to forgive ourselves. Because if we are constantly making judgement in the world, we are constantly throwing light on sin and requiring penitence of those imperfect souls. Judgement without forgiveness ends up in tyranny. But on the other hand, forgiveness without judgement leads to chaos and the free ranging of crime against the bounty of God. Too much forgiveness allows the Truth and the Good to be stepped upon and disembodied from its rightful home. Of course forgiveness is an essential feature of Christianity and Sufism in particular, but the man who only forgives without enacting judgement is only letting spread the chaos of evil. Judgement requires discipline and order. It means to be within the Order of the Good. But forgiveness is equally important, because it involves a recognition of the essential goodness within the soul and a trust that this will emerge with a little bit of love.

We can now come to understand the relationship between God's Will and man's will. All is of God's Will, because He determined that man would express His Qualities, so these Qualities are at the essence of man. In one sense, we can say that all is God's Will, because it all is derived from God's Will and every action has its root in one of the Divine Qualities. The problems and injustices we see in life do not negate the essential Compassion of God. They merely reveal the incompleteness of expression. Since God's Qualities are dispersed throughout the creation, they do not necessarily concentrate and fully integrate in all actions. Still, they are immanent in creation and inherent in the potential of human beings. They are potentials to be actualized, but are not fully actualized as yet. In order to know His Qualities in and of themselves, God could not determine that they manifest all at once in a perfect integration, which would mean that each of the Qualities would lose their distinct being. Therefore, the Qualities manifest distinctly or in various combinations, but never all together in one action.

The point is that all negative behavior, or all that is interpreted as evil (or sin) is merely imbalance, or certain qualities dominating the person. Every human quality and behavior has at its essential core a divine cause, such as love, goodness, justice, creativity, etc. The action itself may be viewed as negative in relation to its affect on others, but this doesn't mean that its underlying motivation is bad or profane; it merely reveals certain divine qualities manifesting without others to balance it for the greater good. It is not God's Will that this happen, meaning that God does not determine this because He desires it. Instead, we need to realize that the occurrence of imbalance is inherent and inevitable in the unfoldment of God's Purpose, which is to know Himself by revealing Himself in various ways -- and this cannot logically happen all at once (or in one way). The unfoldment requires dispersement, variety and time. God is in the act of discovering Himself in His various Qualities and through His various forms, and how these come together determine the affects.

One may ask if this is confusing a distinction between man and God. It is certainly alluding to the necessary relationship between the Macrocosm and the microcosm, and it is implying that God is in fact immanent in man and the world. God exists in man in potential, but not in full actuality. The Complete Man is one who realizes his unity with God, that God is manifesting through him, but he also recognizes that he is not, and cannot be, the same as God. The Complete Man has the knowledge of his potential and recognizes it as divine, and from here he works to actualize that potential when the need arises. Obviously, he cannot be all things at once, nor can he know all things at once. So, the Complete Man is not God, The Omniscient, but is a perfect servant and lover of God, which he realizes can only be known through his own being and that of others. The goal is not to become God, but is to realize that all of oneself is God and to allow His Potentiality to be manifest. Thus, the microcosm is able to reflect the Names and Qualities of the Macrocosm.

The relationship between man and God is as a drop of ocean is to the ocean itself. The drop IS ocean, but is not THE ocean. Likewise, what we see is a reflection of light, but not THE light; yet it IS light. There is discourse between man and God, but it is not between two independently separate entities, because there is only God; yet, God exists in this world through the microcosm of man, woman and nature. It is God Who makes discourse with Himself in and through these various modalities. The true discourse between man and God is in man's unveiling of God (or actually God's unveiling of Himself). The purpose of life is in this unveiling, or in the knowledge of His Hidden Treasure, which lies in man and in the world. A real discourse between man and God leaves the man transformed. It's not like you talk to God (or pray) and the relationship remains the same, because any real discourse with God creates transformation and a new awakening.

The Complete Man is complete in his relationship with God. In other words, he has come into a right relationship. This doesn't mean that all complete human beings act or look the same way. This `completeness' is on a deeper level than action. Once a right relationship is established with God and the world, then one's ethics reveal this new `complete intimacy', and one's actions come out of this unitive awareness. The Complete Man is both a slave of God, meaning that he is dependent upon God as a creature is to his Creator, and he is the necessary agent of God, meaning that he is the mind and the body needed to manifest God's Creativity. This is the receptive and the active aspect of the Complete Man. He is receptive and submissive to God's Obligating Command and accepts God's Creative Will on earth. He is also actively enacting God's Wish, through his own creativity, which is none other than God's. Both of these aspects become one in the heart of the Complete Man. He is both being the receiver of Divine Guidance and being the vehicle for Divine Creativity. In other words, he has taken on the cloak of God, The Creator, The Compassionate, The Guide, The Healer, etc.

Through him the Divine Qualities express themselves. Through him the Divine Qualities are revealed. Thus, he is the perfect agent of God's becoming, or the agent of God's Wish. The Complete Man is "that individual human being who realizes in himself the truth of the saying that man is created in God's image, who combines in his microcosmic self both the macrocosmic object and divine consciousness, being that heart which, microcosmically, contains all things essentially, and in which the Truth eternally rediscovers Its wholeness. He is also, at once, the original and ultimate man whose archetype and potential for realization is innate in every human being" (Austin 35).

This is the great archetypal possibility for all human beings and, according to Ibn al-`Arabi, the primary reason for existence, because the Complete Man knows his unity with God (has returned), and at the same time perceives God in His diversity of Qualities and Acts in the world and also can manifest any of God's Qualities at any one moment. He is therefore the perfect instrument for God to know Himself. The Complete Man is the heart of God in this world and reveals His Qualities to perfection. This does not mean that he is the totality of God, because he is not omnipresent or omniscient. He is not everywhere and does not know everything at once. He is not all things, nor does he know all things, but he has access to all divine potential and to all knowledge. He recognizes the divinity in all people and can express the divinity in whatever way (attribute) is needed in the moment. He is the true theomorphic entity in God's Image.

Ethics culminates in the Complete Man, the theomorphic reflection of God. It would have been impossible to speak about human ethics without first knowing the Divine Purpose of creation and man's unique place in it. To understand what we are meant to do, or to know what is right and wrong, we must find God's Will (the Great Will/Wish of creation) and perceive ourselves from this greater perspective. Therefore, I have discussed the theology, ontology, epistemology, and hermeneutics of Sufi theosophy to explain (or at least hint at) a Sufi ethics. And this is not meant to be an amusing encounter with how long-dead mystics might have viewed their own ethics; but I hope this introductory sketch of God's Immanence in theomorphic man proves valuable to present religious-philosophical thought. Because we do have a divine purpose, which is to express our inherent, potential qualities of divine origin. This is not to please some distant God or to insure our place in some other-worldly heaven; but is necessary for the manifestation of the One Creator-Being God.

Our own becoming, as human beings, is the becoming of the Divine Being, and through this manifestation of our own potential we serve God and creation. By becoming more of who we are, we serve others to a greater degree. The lovingness, the goodness, the truthfulness and the beauty of our actions are necessarily dependent upon the actualization of our fullest potential. We are not all morally equally, just as we do not all manifest our deeper human potential to the same degree and with the same integration and balance. Yet; the essence of man and woman is divine, and it holds the seeds of a fully moral being. We do not have to overlay upon the human soul some ethical system or coerce the human being into something he is not, though the availability and suggestion of an ethical system may be very useful in bringing forth the inherent goodness of the growing soul.

We do not have to intellectually or emotionally separate human from divine, or make absolute distinctions between good and evil. The universe may have its inevitable polarities and hierarchies, but it still can be known as essentially one. And, if any absolute distinctions exist in our minds between God and man, or good and evil; then something is indeed wrong (or not fully right). God in Essence is fully here and everywhere, and all is derived from this Essence. But It is transcendent at the same time, because It is not fully actualized in all of Its Attributes in any one place, or even throughout the whole cosmos. Yet, the Attributes subsist in potential and can be actualized in degrees through the human being and partly through other forms of nature.

The degree and combination of this actualization of Attributes determine the quality and kinds of actions manifesting in life. Once we realize this ontological fact, we can realize the divine nature manifesting through ourselves and through the world. Thus, we can realize the essential unity between ourselves, God and creation. And we can also realize our purpose, which is to find this essential creative Wish within ourselves actualize all that "loves to be known."

This actualization of our essential qualities is the unfoldment of the `moral man', and will be what is ethically needed for those we encounter, because to reveal God is the highest of ethics. And the highest of God's Attributes is love. Spiritually loving others involves a receptivity and an activity.

The spiritual lover recognizes the essential divinity and unique beauty of the other; and thus makes them feel loved. He or she also actively gives something to the other, revealing a divine quality from within, such as being compassionate, forgiving, guiding, truthful, etc. So love requires an unveiling of the other and a revealing of oneself, and in both aspects it is God (Love) revealing Himself in creation. At the deepest essence of ourselves is the divine motivation to love. It is love which loves to be known. Or to say it another way, it is God Who loves to know Himself, so the sole purpose or motivation of creation is love, and this seeks to manifest through us and for those around us. But it is not necessarily easy and it is not automatically distilled through us. Love is in our nature, but we are not compelled to love. We must find this within ourselves and make effort in revealing it, which is the Way of the Sufi and the essential [spiritual and potential] goal of all people.

In order to find this essential nature and its various qualities, we need to pierce through the veils of our conditioned concepts. We need to see [interpret] deeper into the reality of who we are and what the world is about. We need to unveil the truth of ourselves and the world. And this will disclose God's Being in His various Attributes. In this way we find and reveal the Divinity and Its purpose. The one who completes this divine task is known as the Complete Man. He unveils God's Attributes in the world and within himself. He knows God in the creation and reveals God through himself. Thus, we can understand the saying, "I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known, so I created the world that I might be known."


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