An Introduction to Ibn ‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Unity
Extracts from The Mystical Philosophy of Muhid Din Ibnul Arabi by A.E. Affifi.
Affifi’s work had four main sections. The first was devoted to what Ibn ‘Arabi said about Being and Reality, the second collated what he wrote about insani kamil (the Logos, the perfect human being). The third dealt with knowledge and varieties of mystical knowledge, and the fourth considered aspects of the path of return. The result was a rather formal overview, but one rich in quotations from Ibn ‘Arabi’s writings, and reflecting the breadth of his exposition.
The extracts presented here as a continuous text were first put together many years ago by Bulent Rauf, consultant to the Beshara Trust until his death in 1987. His intention was to provide a complete introductory guide to the language and thought of Ibn ‘Arabi, particularly those aspects of his doctrine which refer to the unity of being and the perfectability of man.
Long known simply as the ‘Twenty-nine Pages’ from the format of its original printing, this text has been a foundation for study at the Beshara School of Intensive Esoteric Education, where it has been read prior to Ibn ‘Arabi’s own more demanding works such as the Fusus al-Hikam. The rich content, incisiveness and extraordinary scope of the passages from Ibn ‘Arabi make it an invaluable reference for all students of mysticism and the spiritual life, whatever their background.
80 pp | Soft cover | £7.50 | ISBN 0 904975 20 7
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A short review by Peter Coates
The Twenty-Nine Pages: An introduction to Ibn ‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Unity (Beshara Publications, 1998, Roxburgh, Scotland. pp 80)
Extracts from The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Din Ibnul Arabi by A.E. Affifi. Extracts compiled as continuous text by Bulent Rauf.
This small book is an absolute gem, subtitled as it is as An Introduction to Ibn ‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Unity. But this description is only part of the story. What we are really faced with is a compelling overall summary account of the magnificence of Ibn ‘Arabi’s mystical vision of reality. This book is no dry theoretical piece of metaphysicalising but rather it is an invitation to each reader to benefit from acquaintance with one of the most complete and universal mystical visions of reality that we have at our disposal.
In fact, this book is a classic. It has helped many students of Ibn ‘Arabi to ‘ lift the cloud of their own limitations’ and see their lives and the world in a fresh light. Bulent’s carefully chosen expository extracts possess the hallmark of any genuine mystical literature: potentially transformative effects. As a much younger man I liked this book because it was condensed and packed a vital punch: it was like a wake-up call. In fact, if I may be personal, there are at least two accessible small books which, for me, really stand out in this respect, namely: The Twenty-Nine Pages and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. Wittgenstein’s book is of similar length and analogous impact but within the much narrower context of modern analytical philosophy. The work of Ibn ‘Arabi which is documented in The Twenty-Nine Pages is of altogether a different and universal order. It exudes unforgettable images, abounds in expressions of great beauty and is equally incisively moving in its treatment of universal human topics. Whereas, for example, the Tractatus, contains such memorable lines as ‘it is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists’ and ‘Feeling the world as a limited whole- it is this that is the mystical’, alternatively, The Twenty-Nine Pages leaves no stone unturned in providing a complete summary of Ibn ‘Arabi’s vision of the mystical. This summary is usefully presented in eighteen named sections on such enticing topics as Love and Beauty, Knowledge, Beliefs, Sainthood, the Heart, the Soul , the Perfect Man, Revelation and so on. I think Wittgenstein would have been outstandingly surprised at just how much of the Inexpressible Ibn ‘Arabi is capable of expressing.
In Ibn ‘Arabi we are informed ‘The universe is both finite and infinite, immanential and spiritual, temporal and eternal and above all, existent and non-existent’ and we are also told ‘Unity has no other meaning than two (or more) things being actually identical, but conceptually distinguishable the one form the other; so in one sense the one is the other, in another it is not… Multiplicity is due to different points of view, not to an actual division in the One Essence’.
The dignity of Man, says Ibn ‘Arabi, cannot be overrated ‘he who takes care of Man takes care of God… God has so exalted Man that He placed under his control all that is in the heavens and the earth, from its highest to its lowest’. And at the end of The Twenty-Nine Pages we find the conclusion ‘The basis and cause of all love is Beauty… In abstract beauty as well as in beauty of form, therefore, God ought to be loved and worshipped, and this is how the Perfect Gnostic knows Him, loves Him and worships Him… through Love, the Whole is bound together and through it the object of creation is realised. Thus the whole system is perfectly complete’.
What is interestingly curious is that Affifi’s (1938) study (from which the extracts incorporated in The Twenty-Nine Pages were taken) was intended as an attack on Ibn ‘Arabi’s mystical philosophy. In fact, what resulted was an extremely carefully constructed exposition of Ibn ‘Arabi’s position without which we wouldn’t have The Twenty-Nine Pages. Even more telling is the fact that if you read Affifi’s original full version (criticisms and all) you will find that when, during his expository analysis, he momentarily forgets his critical intention he becomes noticeably enchanted by what he is translating.
The title The Twenty-Nine Pages derives from the number of pages of its original printing.
The reviewer, Peter Coates, is author of Ibn ‘Arabi and Modern Thought, Anqa Publishing 2002.