An Analysis, Critique, and Study of Mulla Sadra’s Life


There are different dimensions to Mulla Sadra’s life which was an eventful one. Unlike other philosophers, he did not live a normal life. He was not merely a philosopher, thinker, and founder of a philosophical school of thought, possessing the knowledge of the common sciences of his time, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and Islamic sciences such as interpretation and hadith. He was also a successful teacher of philosophy and a distinguished writer of several useful philosophical books. From another point of view, he was a gnostic and pious ascetic and worshipper who had some supernatural abilities, so that, as he himself implicitly claimed, he could make his spirit fly out of his body whenever he wished and go with it to observe the supernatural.

Undoubtedly, the title of philosopher is not enough for Mulla Sadra, and even if we use titles such as gnostic and expert in theoretical gnosis, they will not be sufficient to introduce his sublime station.

Mulla Sadra was like a polygon, each side holding one of the common sciences of his period. He was a Peripatetic philosopher, an expert in Illuminationist philosophy, a conversant scholar of the science of Islamic theology, a master of theoretical gnosis, an outstanding commentator, a unique expert in hadith, a master of Persian and Arabic literature, and a mathematician. He also possessed the knowledge of old medicine, astronomy, natural sciences, and even those branches of science known as secret, which should, of course, not be mistaken with magic and wizardry.

All the above indicates that his domain of knowledge was incredibly vast; however, Mulla Sadra had two other scholarly characteristics rarely witnessed in other scientists. The first was related to the depth of his knowledge. He was never satisfied with what he knew, learned, taught, and wrote. Rather, he used to delve into philosophical problems as deeply as possible, and discover all there was to know. It was in the light of this characteristic that he managed to plant the seed of a great revolution in philosophy.

His second scholarly characteristic was related to the peak of his philosophical knowledge. He always tried to utilize research as wings to go beyond the common inferences and perceptions of philosophers, and examine difficult philosophical problems following a more general and pervasive approach. Thus we can consider him a creative philosopher who introduced a number of unprecedented theories in the area of philosophy. His innovations in this regard are world-famous.

Like Suhrawardi (the Iranian Illuminationist philosopher of the 6th century) and Plotinus, Mulla Sadra believed that someone who cannot separate his soul from his body and perform extraordinary or supernatural acts is not a true sage and philosopher. Both of his teachers, Shaykh Baha al-Din and Mir Damad, possessed great spiritual powers. Mulla Sadra studied under these two prominent scholars and remained in their company for some time; nevertheless, he believed that his retreat (from the age of 30 to 35) in a village (Kahak) near Qum and his solitude, worship, bereavement, and the despair of people together helped to open a new window before his eyes towards the truth and the hidden world.

He has written about this issue in the Introduction to al-Asfar. His seclusion, which was accompanied by a kind of spiritual failure, aided him in becoming a strong man with a strong soul, so that, like Plato, he could perceive the realities of philosophy not only through reasoning, but also through intuition. Such ascetic practices turned the sensitive and frail young man into an enduring, perseverant, and patient master who could withstand the attacks of envious and superficial scholars of his time like a mountain, and follow his holy mission to the end of his life.

His retreat in Kahak was a significant turning point in his life: it greatly accelerated his spiritual and academic growth, and consolidated his determination in choosing his path of life. The history of his youth and even adolescence reveals that, from the very beginning of his education, he was as interested in acquiring knowledge as he was in purification and training of his soul and, like other spiritual wayfarers, had chosen his way in advance; however, his retreat and spiritual ascetic practices in that small village of Kahak had made him more determined.

Mulla Sadra has no equal either in philosophy or in character and spirit among Western philosophers. Professor Henry Corbin believes that if we could put Jacob Boheme and Emanuel Swedenborg together, and add them to Thomas Aquinas, Mulla Sadra would be born.

However, the writer is of the view that this admiration is not enough to celebrate Mulla Sadra’s greatness. The history of his life and works indicates that he can only be equated with a figure like Pythagoras or, at least, Plato. A close study of his philosophy reveals that it has some roots in the thoughts of these two prominent philosophers, so that Henry Corbin and some others have called him a Neo-Pythagorean or Neo-Platonic philosopher.

Apart from his extraordinary perfections, we must admit that he was a typical example of a true human being, possessing a sublime character, admirable manners, a purified soul, and a profound knowledge of all sciences, particularly, of philosophy, and all this characteristics had been accumulated in this very man in the most perfect way possible. What is more, in addition to his reputable school of thought, he supervised a teaching center where, even years after him, a great number of prominent scholars were trained.

Mulla Sadra’s personal characteristics can be studied from different dimensions, as follows:

1. His psychology, manners, religiously trained spirit, and freedom from worldly interests

2. His vast knowledge of all sciences of his time, particularly, of philosophy and gnosis

3. His holding a sublime social station, in spite of the enmity of envious, proud, and superficial people

4. His role in reviving and publicizing the science of philosophy, promoting the declining status of philosophy in Iran, and introducing the philosophy of Islam

5. The magnitude of his works and their scientific, qualitative, and quantitative value

6. His academic courage, innovations, and defense of his ideas

7. His religious faith and inclinations

8. His creativity, the ability to infer other’s ideas, and a great power of reasoning, intuition, and illumination