Atemporal Origination (Huduth-i Dahri) and Trans-Substantial Motion

 in two Different Philosophical Systems

Maqsoud Mohammadi


It has always been a puzzle to those familiar with Mulla Sadra’s philosophical works as to why he has never said a word about the theory of huduth-i dahri or atemporal origination belonging to his teacher, Mir Damad. And when we take his specific method of deliberation, according to which he never ignored the finest details in his philosophical studies, we are still more puzzled as to why he hasn’t made the slightest reference to this important and basic issue which is one of the most fundamental principles of Mir Damad’s philosophy.

Whatever the reason, the following issues might appear to require more profound enquiries by researchers:

1. Explaining and clarifying the receptacle of the atemporal (dahr) and atemporal origination (huduth-i  dahri).

2. Determining the place of this theory in Mir Damad’s philosophical system.

3. Exploring the compatibility or incompatibility of this theory with Mulla Sadra’s philosophical system.

4. Comparing the theory of atemporal origination with the theory of temporal origination which is based on trans-substantial motion.

A similar question can also be asked about Mir Damad: How is it possible for such a great genius and the third teacher of philosophy not to have paid attention to the issue of trans-substantial motion. This becomes even more puzzling when we see that these two philosophical theories, i.e., atemporal origination and trans-substantial motion, finally meet each other at the same point. In other words, both theories have some implications for justifying and clarifying the metaphysical structure of the world and the manner of the relation of the originated to the eternal. In this paper, the writer has made a preliminary attempt to examine the above-mentioned problems.[1]

The Historical Background of the Theory of Atemporal  Origination

1. One of the most complicated and crucial issues in metaphysics is finding a solution to the problem of the “origination” or “eternity” of the world. Although this is one of the most fundamental issues in ontology, it has come into contact with theological problems. This issue has an unpleasant story behind it in the history of Islamic philosophy. It is also one of the reasons for which Islamic theologians have denigrated philosophers and accused them of blasphemy. That is why almost all Muslim philosophers, in addition to probing into this issue in their general philosophical works, have tried to deal with it as a separate topic in their other works.

2. The problem can be posed in this way: After acknowledging that at the top of the hierarchy of existence there is a Pre-eternal and Eternal Origin that has created this world on the basis of His own knowledge and will, the question to be asked is: When did it happen? Considering the fact that all creatures of the world, including time, have been created by the First Principle (the Most High), “Can one imagine the existence of any temporal distance between the pre-eternal existence of the First Principle (the Almighty God) and the appearance of the first creature of the world of possibilities or not?” In other words, “Is the world of possibilities also pre-eternal and eternal like the First Principle or is it contingent upon nonexistence (masbuq bi'l 'adam) and originated?”

3. Considering the existing philosophical-theological assumptions, it is very difficult to provide an answer to this question. Here we are in fact dealing with a theological paradox. On the one hand, the First Pre-Eternal Principle, as compared to the world of being, is the absolute cause, and the effect never contradicts the cause; that is, the existence of effect is not separable from the existence of the absolute cause. Thus the world, like the First Principle, should also be eternal. On the other hand, the Most High is the efficient cause who has created the world through His own knowledge and will from absolute non-existence; therefore, the world is contingent upon non-existence and is originated.

4. Islamic theologians agree with the second choice and, instead of God’s essence, consider His will as the absolute cause. They assert that there was a time when there was no one and nothing existed except God’s essence. Then, at the right time, He decided to create the world and He did so at that time. Therefore, the world is contingent upon temporal non-existence and is temporally originated. This implies that there was a time when there was no world and it came into being according to God’s will. When they are told that this statement (once there was no world) is contradictory, for time itself is a part of the world of being and it is like saying that “there was a time when there was no time,” they say, “by time we mean an estimative time which is separated form the immortality of God’s essence.” However, it is quite clear that the separation of time, if it is continuous and changing, from the immortality of a permanent essence cannot be justified, and if we consider it as lacking continuity, it would not be time anymore.[2]

5. Philosophers have, nevertheless, suggested the essential origination (huduth-i dahri) of the world to solve the problem. Essential origination means the precedence of the existence of objects to essential non-existence, which is also called 'adam-i mujami'. Essential non-existence is similar to essential possibility and the world’s needlessness to existence and non-existence at the level of essence. It is emphasized that all entities in the world (other than God) possess quiddity (mahiyyah) and possible existence. No possible existent possesses existence essentially and existence is granted to it by a cause other than its own essence. Thus the existence of possible existents that has resulted from a cause other than its essence is contingent upon a kind of non-existence (masbuq bi'l 'adam) that accompanies them at the level of essence. Obviously, an essential issue (non-existence) is prior to existence that results from something other than essence, and is identical with essential origination.[3]

6. Nevertheless, it seems that none of these two theories (the theologian’s theory of temporal origination and philosopher’s theory of essential origination) are convincing enough to justify the structure of the world of creation in philosophical terms. The reason is that in the theory of “temporal origination”, not only the temporal origination of “time”, which is a part of the world, is excluded, but also there is no logical opposition between the subsequent existence of other than God and their preceding non-existence, since their times are not the same, while the sameness of time is a prerequisite to the opposition involved in contradictions. According to the theory of essential origination, in addition to considering the world (which is an effect) at the same level with the First Principle (which is the cause), the opposition is not logical, since essential non-existence in the essence and quiddity is not opposed to an existence that results from a cause in the real world; rather, they join each other. In other words, existence and non-existence are not united in condition in the essentially originated; hence, there would be no opposition.[4]

7. In order to solve this problem, the two well-known Islamic philosophers of the Safavid era (18th and 19th century), Muhammad Baqir Damad known as Mir Damad (deceased 1631), and Sadr al-Din Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim Shirazi (deceased 1640), known as Mulla Sadra among ordinary people and Sadr al-Muta'allihin among scholars, presented different theories on the basis of their own philosophical systems. Mir Damad, who believed in the principiality of quiddity, proposed the theory of atemporal origination (huduth-i dahri) to solve the problem, while Sadr al-Muta'allihin, who believed in the principiality of existence, tried to solve the problem on the basis of his theory of trans-substantial motion.

The Theory of “Atemporal Origination (Huduth-i dahri)” and the Concepts of the Receptacles of the Atemporal (Dahr) and the Everlasting (Sarmad)

8. What is atemporal origination? To tell the truth, Mir Damad’s theory of “atemporal origination” has remained a mystery because of its non-empirical nature and also because of Mir Damad’s abstruse style of writing and description. Therefore, it has always been difficult for researchers to understand the truth of his ideas. Hajj Mulla Muhammad Sabziwari (deceased 1880), who is one of the great Islamic philosophers, states:

… Muhaqqiq Damad … believes in atemporal origination and has extensively discussed it in the best way possible. Yet, the fact that he has dealt with details too much and used an abstruse style in explanation (as it has always been characteristic of his language) has confused the researchers so that none of the scholars succeeding him grasped the true sense of his words and some of them even tried to reject his ideas.

 He further adds, “But I found it a worthwhile and scholarly problem, and therefore, tried to comment on it ….[5]

9. By the way, if we look at the metaphysical structure of the world of being vertically and hierarchically, we can identify the following three existential stages with their different characteristics:

a. The First Principle or The Absolute Pure Existence (God the Most High).

b. Physical and natural beings.

c. Archetypal realities and immaterial beings such as vertical intellects and Platonic Ideas that act as intermediaries in the emanation of the material world from the Immaterial and Unique One.

The existential receptacles of these triple stages differ with regard to their distinctive existential characteristics. The first stage belongs to God, the Most High. This stage is everlasting for He is the Absolute Existence and the very Reality of Existence and Necessity. Consequently, He exists in the realm of sarmad or everlasting meaning timeless. The second stage belongs to beings of the physical and material world. These beings consist of both potentiality and actuality and, therefore, have an imperfect existence and lack all perfections in actuality. They are spread in the course of time. Hence, they exist in the receptacle of time and are temporal in nature. The things in the third stage, although not subject to change and, as a result, not being temporal and not existing in the receptacle of time, are not absolute beings either. Rather, they possess contingent quiddities and have been emanated from the Everlasting Being. Thus they are neither in the receptacle and realm of time, nor in the receptacle of the everlasting, but are located in the realm of the atemporal, which is beyond time, and are timeless.[6]

10. These triple stages or modes of being may be viewed from another angle, i.e. in terms of their relationship with each other. The relation of the Essence of the Sublime Necessary to immaterial intellects is interpreted as the relation of the permanent to the permanent and is called everlasting (sarmad) or no-time. The relation of immaterial intellects to physical and material beings is described as the relation of the permanent to the changing and is called atemporal (dahr). And finally the relation of physical beings to each other, that is, the relation of the changing to the changing, is called time. The everlasting is the cause and spirit of atemporal and dominates it. Similarly, atemporal is the cause and spirit of time and dominates it. In fact, the everlasting and atemporal are with time, but they are not in time.[7]

11. Therefore, the receptacle of atemporal or meta-time is the locus or the realm of the generation of contingent beings that are beyond time. Hence, not only the immaterial beings and intellects, but also time itself and the reality of matter which do not exist in time, are present in the realm of atemporal (dahr) and meta-time, and their existence in time is contingent upon non-existence (masbuq bi'l 'adam). However, such an atemporal non-existence, unlike temporal existence, lacks any continuation and becoming; yet, it is an actual issue, since it is in logical opposition or contradiction with existence. Of course, man’s sense perception, estimative perception, and empirical knowledge in general, are such that he cannot understand anything lacking temporal continuity. Thus, in normal conditions, he cannot imagine a non-existence lacking temporal continuity. He can only perceive it through intuition and deep mental reflection. Apparently, the atemporal (dahr) is in fact the same as simple time, a non-continuous receptacle, or concise time.[8]

12. In atemporal origination, the precedence and succession of the existence of the Origin (God the Most High) and the world of being are actual, objective and separate. That is, the existence of the Origin is everlasting, while the existence of other than God is realized and established located in the realm of atemporal and is contingent upon the everlasting non-existence (masbuq bi'l 'adam). This preceding non-existence, like the existence of other than Truth, is a real thing, because it is located in the innermost being of realities and objects, thus they cannot come together in the same place. In essential origination, the precedence and succession of the origin and the created being (timeless beings) is a mentally-posited matter before the intellect and both coexist in objective existence. Thus essential non-existence can come together with the existence of an object. Moreover, in essential origination, the Origin of the world is considered to be at the same level with the created beings. On the contrary, according to temporal origination, created beings exist in the realm of atemporal and have no access to the realm of everlasting, which is exclusively for the Origin of the world. Furthermore, atemporal origination does not suffer from the problems and defects of temporal origination.[9]

The Demonstration of Atemporal Origination

13. To demonstrate his theory of atemporal origination, Mir Damad basically follows two methods. First, he tries to prove it by resorting to its historical background in philosophy. In doing so, he refers to some quotations from a number of philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to a number of well-known philosophers such as Farabi, Ibn Sina, Bahmanyar, Suhrawardi, Shahrazuri, Nasir al-Din Tusi, … . Two of Ibn Sina’s remarks which are more explicit in this regard are presented below:

13-1. In his Ta'liqat, Ibn Sina states:[10]

The human intellect perceives three modes of being: First, being in time which has a beginning and an end, and is constantly in change and in a state of becoming. Second, being with time which is called atemporal origination. The atemporal dominates time and means the relation of the permanent to the changing. However, the perception of the atemporal is not possible for the faculty of estimation, since it can only perceive things which belong to one of the three-fold times; namely, past, present and future. Third, the being of the permanent with the permanent which is called “everlasting” and dominates atemporal origination.[11]

13-2. In the second chapter of the sixth article of his Ilahiyyat al-Shifa, after describing the meaning of “creation” and “essential origination” and emphasizing that some effects are temporally originated and some others are not, Ibn Sina argues as follows:

An originated effect which does not require time appears in two forms: its existence is either after absolute non-existence or is not and exists after the opposed particular non-existence in the matter. If its existence is after absolute non-existence, that is, essential non-existence that comes together with the existence of effect in the same place, its emanation from the cause is called “creation”. This is the best way of granting existence, for non-existence has been forbidden forever and existence has dominated it. However, if non-existence had a way into it prior to existence, its creation and generation would be impossible except through “matter”, and the dominance of creation would be weak, temporary and new.[12]

14. Nevertheless, it seems that the phrase to which Mir Damad refers does not support his claim. Concerning the first case, it has not been explicitly said that the “everlasting” (sarmad), and “atemporality” (dahri) are “receptacles” (wi'a). Regarding the second case, although Ibn Sina classifies non-temporal contingent beings into two possible types, he only considers the first possibility (the essentially originated), whose existence is subsequent to absolute non-existence, as being possible. As for the second possibility, that is, the originated whose existence is subsequent to no absolute non-existence, he says that it is not allowed in creation. In this regard, he explicitly maintains: “If the non-existence preceding the existence of the object enjoys inhabitation and realization (absolute non-existence precedes the existence of the thing), its creation from anything other than matter will be impossible.”

In any case, despite his detailed account of them, the phrases that Mir Damad quotes from earlier philosophers in support of his atemporal origination represent nothing more than the application of the term “everlasting” (sarmad) to the relation of the permanent to the permanent, and the term “atemporal” (dahr) to the relation of the permanent to the changing in contrast to the term “time” (zaman) that is used in the relation of the changing to the changing. Yet, one cannot help admiring Mir Damad’s intellectual genius and amazing power of thought in developing the theory of “atemporal origination” through utilizing the conflict between these two terms on the one hand, and “time” and what relates to time, on the other hand.

15. The second way for demonstrating atemporal origination is reasoning on the basis of the concomitance of “essential origination” and “atemporal origination.”

According to Mir Damad, the essential origination of possible beings and the essential eternity of the Necessary Being require the temporal origination of the world and the eternity of God, since the essence of the Almighty Necessary is identical with His existence. Therefore, the precedence at the stage of the essence (intelligence) of the Exalted to the whole world is the same as his objective and separate precedence over all the creatures of the world. This means that none of the creatures, whether material or immaterial, can exist in the “everlasting” (sarmad), because they have quiddities and are possible beings. Therefore, they are emanated from the First Principle in the receptacle of the atemporal or meta-time. Thus the world’s succeeding the intellectual stage of the essence of the Exalted Truth is identical with its separate succession with respect to the existence of the Exalted Truth in the innermost being of reality and objects.[13]

Temporal Origination on the Basis of Trans-substantial Motion

16. Mulla Sadra has solved the problem of the origination of the world by resorting to the theory of “trans-substantial motion”, which is based on the principiality of existence. According to the theory of trans-substantial motion, the world and all its substances (material, formal, psychic, and corporeal substances) and their accidents are constantly in a state of change. They are originated and renewed at each moment; however, this change is not perceptible due to the connection and continuity of the changing forms. Nowhere in the world could we find even a single eternal person, and everyone is a different person at every moment. None of the existing people, heavenly bodies, or corporeal creature existed in the same form before. Yet, their single identity is maintained by their intellectual forms which are a part of God’s knowledge. There is no single eternal person in any part of the world. Rather, at every moment he is another person. Moreover, none of these persons, or heavenly bodies and corporeal creatures has existed in the present time or before. Yet, at the same time their single identity is maintained through their intellectual forms in the knowledge of God. If all parts of the world are temporally originated, the entire world will also be temporally originated.[14]

17. Of course, it should be taken into consideration that the temporal origination of the world, which Mulla Sadra demonstrates on the basis of his trans-substantial motion, is basically different from the temporal origination asserted by Islamic theologians. They believe that the generation of the world has a temporal beginning; in other words, there was a time when there was no world, which, as mentioned before, is contradictory and absurd. Yet,  Mulla Sadra argues  that while lacking a temporal beginning, the world is temporally originated, because it exists in the bed of time and is constantly originated and renewed. Even from this point of view, the world’s succeeding the Origin of Existence (God), who is permanent and pre-eternal, is also objective and real, since the mode of the existence of the world is imperfect. Moreover, it is a mixture of potentiality and actuality and is continually in a state of becoming, while the essence of the Exalted is absolute and perfect actuality; it is beyond any perfection and is the sole Pure Existence that is infinite in its integrity.

18. It is crystal clear that by “world”, which is temporally originated and renewed as a result of trans-substantial motion, Mulla Sadra means the physical and material world. Nevertheless, the immaterial entities and intellects that belong to the Lordly realm are considered as the necessary aspects and attributes of the First Principle (God), and are eternal as well. Each sensible nature (heavenly or elemental) has an intellectual double in the Divine world. These intellects are the same separate and immaterial forms of the things that exist in the knowledge of God. Such Divine immaterial forms are the same as what Plato and his followers call “Divine Ideas”. In Mulla Sadra’s opinion, these intellectual forms and luminous ideas are attached to their subjects forever, since their possibility is not separate from their actuality, and their imperfections are not in opposition to their perfection. Therefore, their essence is absorbed in the essence of the First Principle forever, and selfhood and otherness are also denied to them. These forms are considered as a part of the rays of lights and acts of Divine Essence. In general, philosophers call these lights “active intellects”; the Peripatetics call them “scientific forms”; theologians call them “Divine attributes”, Mu'tazilites call them “states”, and Sufis sometimes call them “names” and sometimes “permanent archetypes”. These rays never part with their source, and if they do, they are not rays anymore. In this way, they act like the rays of the sun; however, the difference is that the intellectual sun is alive, rational and active, and its acts are exactly the same as the acts of the First Principle, while the sensible sun is not like this. In sum, it must be said that intellectual forms or separate substances are not considered as a part of the universe (other than God); rather, they are among the necessary aspects and attributes of God.[15]

The Place of “Atemporal Origination (Huduth-i dahri)” in Transcendent Philosophy and Mir Damad’s School of Thought

19. It has always been a question for those researchers who are familiar with Mulla Sadra’s philosophical works as to why he never said a word about “atemporal origination”, a theory belonging to his teacher, Mir Damad, and constituting one of the basic principles of his philosophy. He has not even made the slightest reference, either positively or negatively, to this theory in any of his works. We might not have a convincing response to this question. However, we might be in a position to suggest that the theory of “atemporal origination” could not possibly have any place in Mulla Sadra’s philosophical system, which is based on the principality of being, since, as a real issue, “atemporal origination” is merely compatible with a philosophical system based on the principality of quiddity.

According to this theory, quiddities have two levels. The first is called the “before the intellect” level, at which the quiddities have existed pre-eternally in the Divine knowledge in the form of immutable archetypes, without having any independent existence of their own. The second is called the “before existence” level or the level   of existing quiddities  at which they are created or originated by the First Principle through the process of simple making. According to Mir Damad,

Quiddities lack an independent and definite existence in the receptacle of the “everlasting” (sarmad), but obtain it in the receptacle of the “atemporal” (dahr). Thus their existence clearly precedes non-existence, and this the very meaning of “atemporal origination” that requires an inseparable existence in the innermost reality.

20. Mulla Sadra, who believes in the principiality of existence and considers quiddity a mentally-posited issue cannot separate the existence of the First Principle (God) from the existence of immaterial intellects. For the possibility of immaterial beings is accompanied by actuality. And this possibility has existed pre-eternally, the immaterial beings should also have coexisted with the essence of the Almighty as His necessary attributes and not as independent beings. In Mulla Sadra’s view, these rational beings belong to the Lorldly realm and are among the aspects of Divine essence. How could it be otherwise when all of them are beams of His light and radiations of His manifestation? Therefore, since immaterial intellects do not belong to this world, their eternity does not imply the eternity of the world.




1. Fortunately, some researchers have recently studied the issue of atemporal origination; however, owing to its complexity, it requires more investigation. The names of these researchers and their works are cited below:

-Jalal Ashtiyani, A Selection of Iranian Philosophical Works, Tehran, 1971.

-Tushi Hico Izoutso, Mir Damad’s Philosophy, in the Introduction to al-Qabasat, Tehran University, 1988.

-Faze al-Rahman, Near East Studies Journal, vol. 39, edition 2, 1980, in English. The Persian translation of this article has been published in the introduction to Al-Qabasat, Tehran University, 1988.

 -Sayyid Mohammed Khamenei, Khiradnameh-ye Sadra Quarterly, No. 7, Spring 1991.

2. Shah al-manzumah Sabziwari, with the efforts of Mahdi Mohaqiq & Toshi Hiko Izoutso, general metaphysical issues section, pp. 114, 425.

3. Ibn Sina, Ilahiyyat, al-Shifa, 4th article, ch. 1.

4. Mir Damad, al-Qabasat, p. 17.

5. Sharh al-manzumah, pp. 112, 418.

6. al-Qabasat, pp. 7 & 85-89; also in the introduction of the same books, pp. 110-111.

7. Ibid., pp. 7-17.

8. Ibid., pp. 6-7 & 86-87.

9. Ibid., pp. 75-77.

10. pp. 141-142.

11. Ibid., p. 7.

12. Ibid., pp. 3-4.

13. Ibid., pp. 72-76.

14. Sadr al-Muta'allihin, Risalah fi al-huduth, ch.4, correction by Dr. Hassan Moussavian, Tehran, 1999.

15. Ibid., ch. 12th.


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