Of the Essence

Universal Man, by ‘Abd al-Karim Jili

From Chapter 1

Know that by ‘essence’ (adh-dhat) one means, in a general manner, that to which the Names (al-asma) and the Qualities (as-sifat) are attached by their principle (fi ‘ayniha), and not by their (contingent) existence (fi wujudihah). Every Name and every quality attaches itself to a subjacent reality which, itself, is its essence.

As for existence (al-wujud), it has two degrees; it is the pure Being, in so far as Essence of Creator (al-bari), or the existence attained by nothingness, in so far as the relative essence of creatures.

By ‘Essence of God’ (dhat Allah) – exalted may He be! one means God Himself, that is to say That by which He is; God subsists in fact by Himself, and it is to this Divine Aseity (al-Huwiyah) that the Names of (Perfection) and the (Universal) Qualities essentially belong. One conceives, then, the Essence through every form (of idea) which flows logically from one of the meanings which It implies; I mean that every Quality which results from one of His attributes really belongs to Him; it is to the Essence – to its Being – that every Name implying an idea of perfection (kamal) is connected; now, the sum of the perfections includes infinity and therefore the impossibility to embrace It by intelligence, from which there results, on the one hand, that It is unknowable, and on the other that even that may be known, since it is impossible to be ignorant of it.

Have I learnt all, globally and distinctly,
Of Thine Essence, O Thou, in whom all Qualities are united?
Or is Thy Face too sublime for Thy Nature to be grasped?
I understand then that His Essence cannot be understood.
Far be it from Thee that anyone may fathom Thee, and far be it from Thee
That anyone ignore Thee, – Oh perplexity!

Know that the Essence of God The Supreme is the mystery (ghayb) of the Unity(al-ahadiyah) which every symbol expresses in a certain respect, without it being able to express It under many other respects. One conceives It then not by some rational idea, any more than one understands It by some conventional allusion (isharah); for one understands a thing only by virtue of a relation, which assigns to it a position, or by a negation, hence by its contrary; but, there is not, in all existence, a single relation which ‘situates’ the Essence, nor a single assignation which applies to It, consequently nothing that can deny It and nothing which is contrary to It. It is, for language, as if It did not exist, and in this respect It refuses human understanding. He who speaks becomes dumb before the Divine Essence, and he who is agitated becomes immobile; he who sees is dazzled. It is too noble to be conceived by the intelligences… It is too elevated for thoughts to grasp It. Its primordial foundation (kunh) is attained by no sentence of the science, nor by any silence that stills it; no limit, however fine and incommensurable it may be, embraces It.


The Holy Bird flew in the unlimited expanse of this empty atmosphere, exalting God by his totality in the air of the Supreme sphere; then he was ravished to the outside of existences and transpierced the Names and the Qualities by realisation (tahqiq) and direct vision (‘iyan); then he glided around the zenith of non-existence (al-adam) after having traversed the expanses of becoming and of that which is before time (al-huduth wa-l-qidam); then he found Him necessarily, He Whose existence is not subject to doubt and Whose absence is by no means hidden. And when he wanted to return to the created world, he asked that a sign of recognition should be given him; and it was written on the wing of the dove: “Verily, oh Thou, talisman, who art neither quiddity nor name, nor shadow, nor contour, nor a spirit, nor body, nor quality, nor designation, nor sign, – to Thee belongs existence and non-existence (al-wujud wa-l-adam), and to Thee the becoming and that which is before time; – Thou art non-existent as Essence, existent in Thy Person (an-nafs), known by Thy grace, absent according to the species: Thou art as if Thou created only metaphors and as if Thou wert only as a manner of speech; Thou art the evidence of Thyself by the spontaneity of Thy language; I have just found Thee Living, Knowing, Willing, Mighty, Speaking, Listening and Seeing; I have embraced Beauty (al-jamal) and I have been transpierced by the Majesty (al-jalal); I have fathomed through Thyself the modes of the Infinite (al-kamal); as for that of which Thou hast drawn in affirming the existence of another than Thyself, it is not there, but Thy resplendent Beauty is perfect; and to whom are these words addressed, is it to Thee, is it to Me? O Thou who art absent there, we have found Thee here!”

Then there was written on the wing of the green bird, with the pen of ink of red sulphur (al-kibrit al-ahmar): In Truth, the Grandeur (al-azamah) is fire, the Science (al-ilm) is water and the Strength (al-quwwah) is air and the Wisdom (al-hikmah) is earth, elements through which is realised our Unique Essence (al jawhar al fard). There are two dimensions of this essence, of which the first is the non-beginning (al-azal) and the second the without-end (al-abad), and the two designations, of which the first is God (al-Haqq) and the second the creature (al-khalq), and two attributions, of which the first is eternity (al-qidam) and the second the becoming (al-huduth), and two names, of which the first is the Lord (ar-rabb) and the second the servant (al-’abd). It has two faces: the first is apparent (zahir), this is the world (dunya) and the second is interior (batin), this is the beyond (al-ukhra); and it has two principles (hukm): the first is the necessity (al-wujub) and the second the possibility (al-imkan); and it has two relationships: according to the first, it is absent for itself and existent for that which is other than itself, and according to the second, it is absent for that which is other than itself and existent for itself. There are two understandings of it (m’arifah), the first concerns primarily its necessary affirmation, then its negation; the second concerns firstly its negation, then its necessary affirmation. Its conception implies a point of error; for there are, in the symbols deviations and in the allusions misappropriations of their sense: Prudence to Thee, oh bird, in safekeeping this writing that another may not read it!”

And the bird did not cease to soar in the spheres, living in death, imperishable in annihilation; at last, spreading his wings he looked around, turned this way and that, but he saw nothing come out of its own self, nor go towards a nature which was foreign to its own; that the bird plunged into the ocean, that he came out again, that he drank of it, that he became drunk or that he desired still more, none but he spoke and nothing of him was missing. ‘Absolute perfection’ has become the expression which is applied really to him, for he does not grasp the limits of one of his Qualities; the Names of the Essence and the Divine Qualities belong to him by virtue of a real assimilation; there are no reins which govern it by the law of adequacy and of contradiction, he enjoys fully the possibilities inherent to his Qualities, and yet there is nothing which belongs to him entirely in its individual form; he possesses all the liberty to evolve in his place and his world and he is at the same time limited by his stations. He sees the perfection of his full moon really in his soul and he is mentally incapable because of the eclipse of his sun; he is ignorant of the thing while knowing it and he changes place while remaining in one place; the world the most intimately contained in his knowledge is that which he can prove the least; the most remote people on his road are the closest to him; his letter (harf) is not read and its meaning is not understood, is not seen…