The One and the Many

From The Twenty-Nine Pages

According to Ibn ‘Arabi there is only one Reality in existence. This Reality we view from two different angles, now calling it Haqq (the Real) when we regard it as the Essence of all phenomena, and now Khalq (the Immanence), when we regard it as the manifested phenomena of that Essence. Haqq and Khalq, Reality and Appearance, the One and the Many, are only names for two subjective aspects of One Reality: it is a real unity but an empirical diversity. This Reality is God. “If you regard Him through Him”, Ibn ‘Arabi says, “then He regards Himself through Himself, which is the state of unity; but if you regard Him through yourself then the unity vanishes”

The One is everywhere as an Essence, and nowhere as the Universal Essence which is above and beyond all ‘where’ and ‘how’. “Unity has no other meaning than two (or more) things being actually identical, but conceptually distinguishable the one from 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 (‘Ayn).”

The whole of Ibn ‘Arabi’s metaphysics rests on this distinction and there is not a single point in his system where it is not introduced in one form or other.

Owing to our finite minds and our inability to grasp the Whole as a Whole, we regard it as a plurality of beings, ascribing to each one characteristics which distinguish it from the rest. Only a person possessed of the vision of a mystic, Ibn ‘Arabi would say, can transcend, in a supra-mental state of intuition, all the multiplicity of forms and ‘see’ the reality that underlies them. What seem to multiply the One are the ahkam (predications) which we predicate of external objects – the fact that we bring them under categories of colour, size, shape, and temporal and spatial relations, etc. In itself the One is simple and indivisible.

To express it in theological language, as Ibn ‘Arabi sometimes does, the 0ne is al-Haqq (the Real or God), the Many are al-Khalq (created beings, phenomenal world); the One is the Lord, the Many are the servants; the One is a unity (jam’), the many are a diversity (farq) and so on.

Now we are in a position to understand the apparent paradoxes in which Ibn ‘Arabi often revels, such as “the creator is the created”; “I am He and He is I”; “I am He and not He”; Haqq is Khalq and Khalq is Haqq“; “Haqq is not Khalq and Khalq is not Haqq“; and so on and so on. Explained on this relative notion of the two aspects of Reality, these paradoxes are no paradoxes at all. There is a complete reciprocity between the One and the Many as understood by Ibn ‘Arabi, and complete mutual dependence. Like two logical correlatives, neither has any meaning without the other.