Rationalism and Mysticism:A Few Considerations Regarding The Superiority of  The Divine Visdom


 Janis Eshots



The current state of Western thought shows us a regrettable lack of harmony between man’s soul and intellect. Thriving of numerous esoterical and quasi-esoterical schools and sciences pretending to reveal the ultimate secrets of human nature coincides with decline of the traditional metaphysics which is often regarded even by scholars themselves as a sort of an old-fashioned science fiction, now completely out of date and retaining its value almost only for lovers of antiquites. On the other hand, some scholars emphasize the necessity to preserve“ the rational  core” of ancient teachings (usually meaning logic and natural sciences), thus, in fact, destroying the integrity of the very teachings which they try to defend.


We think that a careful and unbiased examination of some of the key postulates of Suhrawardi’s and Mulla Sadra’s teachings might show to Western thought some ways how to restore its lost integrity and wholeness.


The top merit Suhrawardi lies in uniting the path of reasoning and the path of witnessing (mushahada) or rather in discovering an intermediary (barzakh) between formal knowledge and knowledge by presence. But, as he repeats more than once, although the direct vision of things allows the seer to dispense with definition (ta’rif), it must be reexamined by reason.


Another merit of Suhrawardi lies in introducing the concept of mundus imaginalis - an intermediary between the physical and the spiritual world, the world which is generated by soul itself. Unfortunately, the very idea of this intermediary world was vehemently denied by Averroes, whose ideas, in turn, greatly influenced medieval European thought. As a result, in European philosophy the link between the physical and the spiritual world was destroyed.


However, the complete balance between rationalism and mysticism in Islamic thought was not achieved until Mulla Sadra. He managed to show their interdependence in the best possible way in his doctrine of the “primacy of being” (asalat al wujud). Indeed, the concept of being is the cornerstone of his philosophy, quiddity being regarded as a purely mental concept, lacking even the trace of reality. Paradoxically, Mulla Sadra states that it (being J.E.) does not have any definition, because intellect can not grasp it, therefore, it can only be perceived by vision, i.e. “witnessed”. Hence, the dependence of the rational upon the mystical is evident.


On the other hand, the things which exist only in our mind, also possess some sort of being, i.e. the ideal being (wujud dhihni) which more or less corresponds to the mode of existence the real things have in God’s knowledge; hence a mystical parallel is drawn between the Creator and the creature.


However, one should not disregard the importance of reasoning and rational knowledge; in fact, the light of mystical knowledge (irfan) comes from the horizon of demonstration.


In brief, the real value and actuality of the Divine Wisdom possessed by Muslim philosophers, such as Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra, has been maintained mostly owing to its mystical dimension, which they managed to preserve, preserving thus also the link between the realm of pure spiritual entities and the domain of corporeal things. Its two fold superiority therefore can be deciphered, firstly, as the superiority over pure philosophy (falsafa) and Sufism within the framework of Islamic tradition; secondly as the superiority over the classical Western philosophy which has failed to preserve the link between spiritual and corporeal and, therefore, is now usually regarded as a collection of mental speculations devoid of any reality. We dare to hope that the tradition of “the Divine Wisdom”, still alive in Iran, might serve to us as a some sort of “aqua vitae” (elixir of life), helping to reconnect what was once erroneously disconnected.





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