Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Elixir of the Gnostics | Mulla Sadra

Know that it is possible for those who consider the states of the human body and the attributes of its constitution, its color, and the movements of its extremities to deduce from these, through the craft of bodily medicine, the body's immediate health and felicity or sickness and wretchedness. In the same way, it is possible for those who consider the states of the human soul and her soulish attributes, habitudes and character traits to deduce from these, through the craft of spiritual medicine, her deferred health and felicity or sickness and wretchedness.

Know then, that with respect to people's outward states and sensory forms, God created them in the most beautiful form and the most beauteous state, just as God says: We indeed created man in the most beautiful stature (95:4). Hence they have the receptivity to arrive at the most complete perfection because of the beauty of their preparedness. This is because the body is a receptive substance created for the soul's preparedness, for the perfection that benefit her, and for her climb to the world of the afterworld at God.

It is like a beast that someone rides so as to arrive at a longed-for home or an original homeland. Otherwise the mere fact of riding on it or taking care of it is a weariness and a service, a point to which He alludes with His words: Surely man is in loss, save those who have faith and do worthy deeds ... (103:2-3).

It is not the outward form upon which true felicity depends, because it disappears and changes. So the true felicitous is he whose soulish conduct - like his bodily form - has the most beautiful and perfect guise and the most beauteous and eminent dress.

The root of every true felicity is knowledge and certainty, and the matter of every wretchedness is doubt and ignorance. One sort of the latter, which is that opposed to knowledge and paired with denial and obstinacy, is a vice ... Soul's naked of imprints are like pages of paper empty of writing. When they are imprinted with intellective sciences and practical wisdom, they become worthy to be the storehouse for the King's secrets. But if they themselves are imprinted with inane embellishments and with idle, base and false or lying words, then they are worthy only to be burned in the fire.

So the roots of the true reward and punishment grow from knowledge and ignorance. This is because the fruits of deeds and the results of acts will come to be either in this cosmos or in the afterabode.

So, my beloved, it is necessary for you to know ... that the cosmos is like a tree whose fruit is man; he is like a tree whose fruit is the rational soul and the acquired intellect, and the intellect is like a tree whose fruit is the encounter with God. This is the goal of all goals and the end point of all yearnings and longings.

- from The Elixir of the Gnostics (original in arabic by the title Iksir al-'Arifin) by Sadr al-Din Muhammad Shirazi, more commonly called Mulla Sadra (1572-1640), translated by William C. Chittick. Mulla Sadra was one of the grand scholars of the late period of islamic philosophy and has become one of the best known muslim philosophers.

The underlying theme of Elixis is a teaching that stands at the heart of Mulla Sadra's writings: the importance of self-knowledge in each person's journey of "Origin and Return." Each soul originates with God, and one's journey is completed only when the soul has returned to Him. Self-knowledge is the means by which the soul, having been created in the divine image, must realize its full and final potential; and philosophy, in Sadra's view, is the most direct path to that end.

. art credit: Leonardo Da Vinci and Khalil Gibran
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