vision, self and its epistemic effects in Hikmat Al- Ishraqi -philosophy of illumination-

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A. Vision, as the beginning of the mystical Traditions
The beginning of the mystical traditions is often traced back to the vision of their founders, and the mystical dimension of Suhrawardi’s thought is no exception. Suhrawardi in The Philosophy of Illumination tells us that in “a strange day”, the truth and the secrets of the Divine were revealed to him. Having had a vision, he then sets forth to write down the principles of the his transcendental theosophy for those Philosophers who are well versed in esoteric sciences as well as discursive Philosophy.

In his introduction to The Philosophy of Illumination, Suhrawardi tells us that the content and truth of this book were not attained through discursive reasoning. Having attained truth “in another way”, he goes on to say that he then sought the justification of his findings in a more discursive context. Suhrawardi further tells us that the certainty that is attained through this direct means of cognition is such that it stands independent of the process of logical reasoning that also leads to the same conclusion.

B. The made of knowledge and classification of knowers
Since for Suhrawardi it is this special mode of knowledge that differentiates between those who truly know and those who do not, he goes on to categorize the seekers of wisdom accordingly.
1. Those who are immersed in theosophia and do not concern themselves with discursive and rationalistic philosophy.
2. Rationalistic philosophers who do not concern themselves with theosophy.
3. Learned men who have benefited both from theosophy and discursive philosophy.
4. Theosophers who are nevertheless mediocre or weak in discursive philosophy.
5. Rationalistic philosophers who are mediocre or weak in theosophy
6. Students of theosophy and discursive philosophy.
7. Students of theosophy alone.
8. Students of discursive philosophy alone.

What is the nature of the knowledge of a theosopher which enables him to know the truth and to attain the certainty that is not part of discursive knowledge? Clarification of this crucial point in Suhrawardi’s philosophy. requires a lengthy discussion concerning Suhrawardi’s epistemology.

C. Self ‘s vision with the guide of Aristotle
It should be first mentioned that there is a difference between this special mode of knowledge and what is commonly known as “mystical vision” or mystical experience. Suhrawardi’ tells us that he himself was puzzled as to how one comes to know a thing. He ponders upon this question and finally in a state of utter frustration he has a vision of Aristotle who tells him what the solution is:

Aristotle: If you truth to your own self (dhat) and inquire, you will certainly find your answer.
Suhrawardi: How is that?

Aristotle: Is it not the case that you understand yourself? Is this understanding of the self, or is it the understanding of the self, through something other than the self? If it is the case that the understanding of the self is through something other than the self, for yourself there is another self who understand you and it is no longer you who understands yourself. Now that this is the case, necessarily one questions this new self that is the truth element for the understanding of the self. Does this self understand itself, or does it need something else? If this be the case, then it goes on ad infintum, which is impossible. The other assumption is that you come to know of yourself through the effect or an idea that you attain the truth of yourself and that the truth of your self can never be understood without any mediation.

Suhrawardi: I agree that I can never know myself directly and it is only through the picture or the idea of a self that I can know myself.

Aristotle: If what you say were the case, then if this idea or picture does not correspond with yourself, it does not represent yourself, and because this idea is not a indication of yourself then you have not understood your self.

Suhrawardi: Suppose this idea corresponds to myself. If this idea comes to my mind through my “self”, then it is precisely representative of myself no other thing. Do you still believe that one’ s self cannot be understood through such a thing?

Aristotle: This idea certainly corresponds to yourself but does it correspond to the universal self or to your particular self that has specific characteristics and attributes?

Suhrawardi: I assume the latter by saying that the pictorial idea corresponds with my “self” that has certain characteristics and therefore represents myself.

Aristotle: Every picture that forms in the mind is of universal character, and as much you limit these concepts to having attributes, etc. yet, since they are of multiple nature, they are still universal. If in case due to an obstacle in the outside world, the validity of a universal concept is violated because of the particular characteristics of individual, it nevertheless remains universal at a conceptual level. The inevitable fact is that you understand your unique self, a self that is truth free from any sharing or commonness. The result is that this particular understanding that you have of your unique and uncommon
self understanding of the self is never through the “idea” (or picture).

D. “ knowledge of self” as the source of practical and philosophical knowledge
Suhrawardi in his state of dream-vision asks Aristotle if the Perpatetic philosophers are the truth of wisdom. Aristotle tells him that such figures as Bayazid and Hallaj, the masters of the Sufitradition, are the true philosophers and not Perpatetic, presumably because they came to know their ‘self” first.

Aristotle’s advice Suhrawardi is that to know anything one must first “know himself.” This knowing, which for Suhrawardi takes place both on a practical and philosophical level, is a central theme of ishraqi philosophy. On practical level, the “I” is the source of all sublime desires by the temptations of the corporeal dimension of man. On philosophical level, Suhrawardi considers the “I” to be the foundation of illuminationist epistemology.

It is precisely the illuminationist epistemology that can lead to the visionary experience of fifteen types of lights by those who are on the spiritual path Suhrawardi tells us those who disengage themselves from the world of matter are able to arrive at the “ eighth heaven” (aqlim- al-thamin), which he identifies with the archetypeal world (alam mithal). Suhrawardi mentions such figures as Hermes, Plato and the prophet Muhammad to be among those who had a vision of these light, each of which Suhrawardi identifies with a particular attribute. According to Suhrawardi, these fifteen lights, some of which of which have peculiar descriptions are “the purpose of the path of knowledge.” These visionary lights which emanate from the world of intellect are the essence of power and knowledge and he who experiences these lights also attains the power to rule over the material world. The necessary condition for this experience is, however, separation (tajirid) from one’s corporeal body.

F: Types of visionary lights
These lights are:
1. A lights which shines upon the novice and is pleasant but not permanent
2. A lights that shines upon others and is more like a
3. A lights that is soothing and enters the hearts of the gnostics. It is as if warm water is poured on you, a pleasant sensation is then experienced.
4. A lights that descends upon the hearts of the men of vision and lasts a long time. This is dominant light which induces a form of intoxication.
5. A lights of extreme grace and pleasure which is induced through the power of love.
6. A lights that burns and is induced through knowledge that is attained through intellection.
7. A lights which al first is luminous and is more intense than the light of the sun.
8. A is luminous and pleasant light appearing as if it comes from the hair and lasts a long time.
9. An emanating light which is painful but pleasurable.
10. A lights coming from some figures and lies in the brain.
11. A lights that emanates from the self (nafs) and shines upon the entire spiritual components.
12. A lights whose attainment is marked by intensity.
13. A lights that gives birth to the “self” and appears to be suspended. The incorporeality of the self can be observes through this light.
14. A lights which induces a special heaviness such that it exerts a pressure beyond one’s ability.
15. A lights that is the cause of the movements of the body and the material self.

E. “separation ‘ as the condition of Ishraqi vision
Suhrawardi tells us that he has “seen” and experienced these lights and that they are the reason sages are able to perform miracles.

As he states: He who worships God with sincerity and dies from the material darkness and frees himself from the corporeal body and abandons the consciousness of the material issues will witness that which others are incapable of seeing.

Vision for Suhrawardi is a mode of being whose epistemological significance is to provide the knower with a mode of cognition that is attained through the pursuit of the spiritual life. The many components of the spiritual life, however, are discussed in a more secretive and esoteric manner in the various works but the ultimate purpose of them remains the same: the experience of illumination through seeing the separation of the self from the body and the material world.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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