The final states of the Sufi path [ annihilation(fana), knowledge and perfection, love] in philosophy of illumination

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A. “Simurgh” as the symbol of unity and perfect man
The spiritual journey and its essential components, initiation, spiritual master, asceticism, etc, are not only means through which one becomes the Simurgh , the symbol of unity. And ordinary man who like hudhud (hoepoe) would throw away his comfortable life an pluck his own feathers, and aim at the Qaf mountain, he too becomes a Simurgh whose chanting reawakens those who are sleeping, thereby giving them spiritual birth. The salik whose endeavors have born fruit and who has endured much suffering on his quest for illumination now has become the possessor of the esoteric truth whose spiritual flight in the sacred cosmos transcends the world of from and therefore looks upon it with domination.

This Simurgh flies without moving and without wings…He is colorless and in the east lies his nest and the west is not devoid of him…his food is fire… and the lovers of the secrets of the heart tell him inner secrets.

Simurgh represents the perfect man (al-insan al-kamil) whose intellect has been elevated to the world above and has become receptive to illumination. In The Chant of Simurgh Suhrawardi devotes the latter part of the treatise to thorough discussion of the end of the spiritual path, when one is no longer on the path but is “the truth, the way and the light.” Sufis are rarely as explicit as Suhrawardi in revealing the esoteric truth.

B. “Annihilation” in the Sufi path
Suhrawardi divides the final state of the Sufi path into three modes, first on annihilation (fana) , second on knowledge and perfection , and third on love. Fana for Suhrawardi is a state of being in which one transcends even spiritual ecstasy and is marked by total loss of consciousness, to which Suhrawardi refers as “the greater fana”(fana’-i akbar). Once is annihilated and also annihilates the consciousness of his annihilation, the highest possible station in the Sufi path “annihilation of annihilation” (fana dar fana), is attained. As long as man is happy with [his] knowledge, he is imperfect…. he attains perfection when knowledge is lost in its object.

C. The states of “annihilation” in unity
Unity and annihilation, Suhrawardi argues, have many connotations ranging from the common understanding of annihilation to what the spiritual elites understand by that concept. Suhrawardi tells us that there are five interpretation of fana beginning with “there is no deity except God”, which Suhrawardi considers to be the common understanding of unity. The second group, and a more profound understanding, is “there is no he except He. ” This group sees God as the Beloved and experiences the immanent aspect of the transcendental. The third group are those for whom God is not a “He “ but a “You”, a more personal reference which also indicates presence and vision. The fourth group of Sufis are those who say “there is no “i” except “I” and those are few who are superior to others for they have transcended duality , be it “He” or “You” as pronouns indicating the nature of their relationship with God. This group knows that the only reality is that of God and that their “I-ness” is due to the only true “I” which is God. Finally, there is a fifth type of unity which only a few Sufi have attained. This manifests itself in the very being of those whose souls testify that “all things perish except His face.” In this non-dual state of being, one sees God not as a “He” or a “You” or even an “I” but sees nothing for there is no one thing to see. This for Suhrawardi represents the highest possible station for a Sufi.

D. The state of “knowledge” in the Sufi path
The second mode of the final stage of the path is that of knowledge. In a section entitled “He who is more knowledge is more perfect,” Suhrawardi discusses the second characteristic of one who has achieved unity. This knowledge, Suhrawardi tells us, is attained through presence. He who attains it gains access to the secrets of the havens and then earth. Suhrawardi is extremely cautious regarding the secretive nature of his knowledge and considers revealing it to be forbidden. Since it is through live that one comes to unite God and God is omniscient, then he who unites with God in senses also becomes omniscient. We will elaborate on this in more depth in the forthcoming chapter.

E. The state of “Love” in the Sufi path
The third aspect of the final mode of being is love. Suhrawardi’s exposition of love is most interesting in that loving something requires a lover and a beloved and this implies duality. Love in its ultimate sense is an absorption, a perfection, a state of not desiring for where there is desire, there is imperfection. He who knows he has his beloved desires nothing more. This state of transcending desires and living with the beloved is the perfection of the consciousness “for when the consciousness attains that [knowledge of God], the highest of its perfection of from the illumination of the light of truth.” “He who seeks the fountain of life will wonder much in darkness if he belongs to those who are meant to find the fountain,” but Suhrawardi tells us that the Sufi has to set foot on the spiritual path like Seth. Refering to the concept in the Bustan al- qulaub, he states: He who comes to know of himself, inasmuch as his ability allows, attains knowledge, of God, and the more he endures ascetic practices the more he becomes perfect and his knowledge increases.

Z. Rebirth and vision of incorporeal world
In one his lengthiest treatises, Yazdan shinakht, Suhrawardi elaborates on eschatology with regard to two types of death, namely physical and “spiritual death”. His treatment of physical death is brief but his exposition of spiritual death and rebirth, which is the natural consequence of practical wisdom, is in –depth.

Practical wisdom, Suhrawardi argues brigs detachment of the “self” from the bodily desires so that the presence or absence of the body does not make any difference. This state of being which is to be achieved in his world is similar to the natural death in that the body is left behind except that in spiritual death one can have a vision of the incorporeal world.

The self (naf) , which is not simple and is complete and pure, when departed from the body unites with the world of intellect and spiritual substances which it resembles in perfection.

Suhrawardi maintains that language is incapable of expressing what is observed, for the vision of these spiritual substances is ineffable and analogy is not helpful either since there is nothing to analogize it to. The power of the purified self at its peak is such that it can learn a great deal in a short time. A person of this stature does not learn through sense perception and other intermediaries but learns directly from the sources of knowledge.

F. Men of vision, as prophets and spiritual guardians
The power of initiation of a salik, now a learned master who learns without a teacher or text, does not think or conceptualize, but it is as if truth is revealed to him. Such people are rare, Suhrawardi says, but he who attains this stature becomes vice-gerent of God (khalifat allah) .Referring to pure and practical wisdom, Suhrawardi says that although some are stronger in pure and some in practical wisdom, if they achieve perfection they become one in their being perfect. Having alluded to the distinction between pure and practical wisdom on numerous occasions, he goes on to elaborate on the necessity of having a prophet (nabi) Suhrawardi considers men of vision to be prophets of a sort: There is need for a person who is an avatar (nabi) and a spiritual guardian (wali) …the need for such a person is more than the [need for] having eye lashes or eyebrows….

Suhrawardi’s description of the vali similar to Plato ‘s philosopher and the guardians which in Shi’ite Islam are refered to as the “spiritual jurist guardian” (wahi- yi faqih). He is the culmination for which man was created and through Gabriel he comes to know of divine secrets by virtue of his unmediated and direct knowledge. Suhrawardi then warns than although ‘from the time of Greeks until now, no one from the great and righteous sages has revealed these secrets, but he briefly alluded to them in the Yazdan shinakht so it may encourage the restless soul. The safeguarding of the esoteric doctrines is so central that Suhrawardi sees the solution in transmitting them in the form of oral tradition. Suhrawardi tells us that Aristotle said, “Divine wisdom should never be revealed or written except that it be transmitted orally from person to person.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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