Bismillaah ir Rahmaan ir Rahiim
In the name of Allah, The Merciful, The Compassionate
Excerpts from the book
Man of Light in Iranian Sufism by Henry Corbin
... a lamp burning with the oil of an olive
tree which is neither of the East nor of
the West, bursting into flame even
though fire touch it not . . . And it is light
The following excerpts from Man of Light in Iranian Sufism highlight the nature of the soul and its progression from darkness, also it's likened to being at the bottom of a deep well and its liberation from that leads to its own higher nature, which is Light. Furthermore, some inner markers of this journey like visions, lights and inner figures are briefly mentioned. It is my hope that these samples of Corbin’s work will tempt you to read more of his work in order to benefit you in your spiritual journey.
Corbin begins in the first chapter, “Orientation”, by telling us that the soul is continuously facing a direction, and that physical direction correlates to his spiritual direction, the direction that the soul must travel if it is to return to its Origin.
“Orientation is a primary phenomenon of our presence in the world. A human presence has the property of spatializing a world around it, and this phenomenon implies a certain relationship of man with the world, his world, this relationship being determined by the very mode of his presence in the world. The four cardinal points, east and west, north and south, are not things encountered by this presence, but directions which express its sense, man's acclimatization to his world, his familiarity with it. To have this sense is to orient oneself in the world.” (p.1)
“Now one of the leitmotive of Iranian Sufi literature is the "Quest for the Orient," but this is a Quest for an Orient which, as we are forewarned is not - and cannot be - situated on our geographical maps.” (p.2)
“This suprasensory, mystical Orient, the place of the Origin and of the Return, object of the eternal Quest, is at the heavenly pole; it is the Pole, at the extreme north, so far off that it is the threshold of the dimension "beyond." That is why it is only revealed to a definite mode of presence in the world, and can be revealed only through this mode of presence. There are other modes to which it will never be revealed. It is precisely this mode of presence that characterizes the mode of being of the Sufi, but also, through his person, the mode of being of the entire spiritual family to which Sufism - and especially Iranian Sufism - belongs. The Orient sought by the mystic, the Orient that cannot be located on our maps, is in the direction of the north, beyond the north. Only an ascensional progress can lead toward this cosmic north chosen as a point of orientation.” (p.2)
Beyond the cosmic north - which is beyond the personality and the sensory world it is connected to - what is revealed to those with a definite mode of presence, is their soul’s guide, which is the Man of Light. Hence the Qur’an (24:35) “… and it is Light upon Light.” Part of Corbin’s genius is to be able to see similarities across spiritual traditions. In the extract below by referring to both the Greek and Gnostic Christian traditions he highlights the structural similarities of the higher dimensions of the soul. The purified soul and its guide become the bi-unity that Corbin focuses on below and he uses the Greco-Egyption alchemist Zosimos to emphasise the distinction between that bi-unity and the more familiar bi-unity, the personality and its guide the “counterfeiter”.
"As for more precise information about the Guide of Light, we gather it both from Zosimos and from the Gnostics to whom Zosimos himself referred. It is, in fact, the man of light who speaks through the mouth of Mary Magdalene when, in the course of the initiatic conversations between the Resurrected Christ and his disciples, she assumes the predominant role conferred on her in the book of the Pistis Sophia, the New Testament of the religion of the man of light: "The power which issued from the Savior and which is now the man of light within us. . . . My Lord! Not only does the man of light in me have ears but my soul has heard and understood all the words that thou hast spoken. . . . The man of light in me has guided me; he has rejoiced and bubbled up in me as if wishing to emerge from me and pass into thee.” … Zosimos places on the one hand Prometheus-Phos opposite his guide of light who is the "son of God," and on the other the earthly Adam opposite his guide, the Antimimos, the "counterfeiter," ... (p.15)
Corbin clarifies that this soul journey ‘north’ toward the Man of Light is from the lower soul to the higher levels of the soul, which he outlines below. He further discusses the process of transformation from one level to another, that is, toward the light.
“Three characteristics situate and constitute the trilogy of the drama of the soul. There is the extravagant lower soul: nafsammara (Qur’an 12:53), literally, the imperative soul, "the one which commands" evil, the passionate, sensual lower ego. There is the "blaming" soul: nafs lawwama (Qur’an 75:2), "the one which censures," criticizes; this is self-consciousness, and is likened to the intellect ('aql) of the philosophers. “Finally there is the "pacified soul": nafs motma'yanna; the soul which in the true sense is the heart (qalb), to which the Qur’an addresses the words: (Qur’an 89:27) "O pacified soul, return to your Lord, accepting and accepted".
The extravagant lower soul, the ego of the common run of men, remains such as it is so long as the effects of spiritual warfare have not made themselves felt. When the effect of continuous prayer, the dhikr, penetrates it, it is as though a lamp were lighted in a darkened dwelling. Then the soul attains the degree of "blaming soul"; it perceives that the dwelling is cluttered with filth and wild beasts; it exerts itself to drive them out so that the dwelling may be ready to welcome the light of the dhikr as its sovereign; this welcome will be the prelude to the opening of the pacified soul.
And there are signs which make it possible to recognize respectively by visionary apperception each moment in this trilogy, each phase of metamorphosis. Thanks to these signs the Spiritual (traveller -Ed.) retains perfect awareness of himself.” (p.67)
He then deftly pulls together views from great Sufi masters about the real nature of consciousness, which by this stage has opened well beyond the usual dichotomy of Consciousness/Unconsciousness. This significant expansion also comes with concomitant responsibilities:
“Man in Ibn 'Arabi's anthropogony is likewise intermediate: situated between being and non-being, between Light and Darkness, at the same time responsible and respondent to both sides; he is responsible for the Darkness to the extent that he intercepts the Light, but he is responsible for the Light to the extent that he prevents the Darkness from invading and governing it.” (p.96)
Along the soul’s journey toward becoming Light, transformations in visionary and sensory experience occur which aids one in his journey. These transformations open up both inner faculties and access to spiritual worlds not previously known about.
“What you visualize, according to the shaykh's teaching, are the stages of your inner ascent, that is, the very facts of your inner experience. Now, what is the content of this experience? It is the growth of the man of light, the transmutation of his senses into organs of light, into "suprasensory senses". Here the physiology of the man of light, involving a whole doctrine of symbolic forms, recapitulates the itinerarium ad visionem smaragdinam from another aspect. In other words, the colors characterizing the colored photisms of visionary apperception signify, to put it briefly, the transmutation of the sensory by a transmutation of the senses into "suprasensory senses".” (p.80)
“And what is essential here can no doubt be expressed as follows: an inversion which brings about a suprasensory perception of the sensory, that is, perception of the sensory in the mundus imaginalis which Sohravardi calls the heavenly Earth of Hurqalya (the Terra lucida, in the cosmic north), familiar to all visonary mystics such as, for example, Ibn 'Arabi, for whom it is the place of transfigurations, the place where the imaginative power (Imaginatrix) operates to produce scenes in which there is no tinge of demonic, twilight "fantasy".” (p.80-81)
Following on from one of the Sufi masters, Corbin continues the theme of the soul’s ‘ascent’ from the deep dark ‘well’ of its own lower nature.
“And so the event experienced (the ascent from the well) and the visualizations (the colored photisms) are synchronic and mutually verify each other, because they take place at the same time as the opening of the man of light, that is, of the organs of light (the suprasensory senses) of his subtle physiology. Other photisms described by Najm Kobra now tell us of his growth, which will continue until the visualization of the "Invisible Guide," the "heavenly Witness," is reached. This growth is proclaimed by the vision of orbs of light forming the antithesis to the circle of darkness perceived by the mystic in the beginning, when his lower ego (nafsammara) was still projecting a shadow.” (p.82)
Corbin then emphasises the personal and individual nature of this journey, and the lights and various levels of existence that become perceivable once the ‘threshold has been crossed’ into the higher dimensions of the soul.
Corbin, H. and Pearson, N., 1971. The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism. 1st ed. New York: Omega Publications Inc.