By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah
22 Nov 2017
Seeing the World as an Image of Paradise
An artist sees the world and that is all. And life’s worries are dissolved in this encounter. An artist has no self as a great poet has said. He is only seeing. And that seeing is its own reward. An artist knows the secret that there is no secret or special knowledge vouchsafed to him but life itself has opened up to make prying into special or secret corridors uninteresting. Life is ever too interesting an affair to warrant slip into any distraction. Defamiliarising the world the artist enchants it. Since the privileging of rational or scientific modes of encountering the world artists had to explain their position and in fact to protest against enormous impoverishment of the world. A world without mystery is a dead world or inhuman mechanical world. It is a world where magic, myth, mystery, miracles, grace, freedom and superabundant joy of creativity are banned or suspect. And man doesn’t live by bread alone. An artist lives in a different world than that created by an ego for meeting his desires. An artist has needs but not desires. He has no desiring self- he wants nothing. No-thing is his bread.
We never truly see the world if we don’t see them disinterestedly, in their own terms, standing out unique sui generis creations declaring their glory and the glory of the Spirit of creativity that expresses Itself in them. Man lives by virtue of reverence and gratitude for the world, for the gift of life (this is what religions call faith and why they celebrate praising or thanksgiving to the Author of life or Ground of mystery). He needs awe, wonder, inscrutable Sacred Presence to keep living with ardour and joy. Artists create this ordinary world for us or better reveal this world as that extraordinary world, an image of Heaven that we cherish. Things talk to us or we penetrate their essence in artistic vision.
There is something that we can’t know in conceptual terms but that doesn’t make it a dustbin of superstitious ideas or abstract beyond. That we can’t know the First Principle/Pure Being or Beyond Being conceptually should be a matter of celebration for us as it means familiarization will not kill us. It is Mystery that saves and that feeds poets and visionaries rather than knowledge that reduces object to a thing and thus removes sacred from the scene. The Pure Absolute or Essence (Dhat) in its fundamental aspect – and thus Meaning/Truth/ Presence/ Identity/ Reality per se – is beyond the human quest and all attempts to reach It, track it, pinpoint It, catch It in the net of language or realm of the finite or time, to conceptualize It, to imagine It, to speak about It, to affirm anything of It are doomed. Before the Ipseity or Dhat one can only be bewildered according to Ibn ‘Arabî. The world is ultimately a Mystery, a Mystery of Mysteries and no rational or scientific approach could finally and completely demystify it.
The world being ultimately a mystery that resists being demystified by means of conceptual intellect is what transcendence or the notion of beyond really means as Stace has explained in his Time and Eternity (1952). There is no humanely discoverable ultimate truth. All representations of the Real are provisional. God is ever glorified by every creature and exalted over whatever man can say about Him as Ibn Arabi keeps us reminding of the Quranic statements such as “Glory be to God the exalted.” This implies that the Real or Truth can’t be appropriated in absolute terms. Man must be content to have only relative knowledge of things or God.
There are countless veils on the countenance of God which though continuously being lifted can’t be wholly lifted. Man can’t afford to behold the naked truth. The Real has infinite aspects and can be approached from infinite contexts and thus perspectives. Man must travel ceaselessly as Kitab-al-Isfar attempts to argue. Ibn 'Arabî says in Risâlat al-Anwâr: "You should know that man has been on the journey ever since God brought him out of non-being into being.” The goal is not reached. For it is “the unspeakable, the impossible, the inconceivable, the unattainable.” The goal is only glimpsed, sensed, and then lost. Meaning or Truth is never grasped in its fullness. It ever recedes. Truth escapes all our searching. We can have a vision of it, rather a glimpse of it through the phenomena which are Its symbols.
This follows from the doctrine of God as Infinite and All-Possibility. God is not an object that one could somehow ever encompass or possess or grasp. Man’s quest for the Absolute will have no full stop in all eternity. Life is perpetual becoming as God’s infinite riches are inexhaustible and the Beauty that never ceases unveiling its infinite faces never ceases to attract its seekers to move on and on. Artists, scientists, mystics and lovers shall never be out of business. God is continuously experienced, ever afresh in all new experiences. Rationalization, familiarization, demystification and descaralisation of the world that ultimately make it inhuman, alienating and absurd and disrespectful towards the environment can’t happen in the Akbarian perspective that sees the mysterious, sacred divine face in everything.
Western philosophy, as Heidegger pointed out, is oblivious to the ground of being. It is not open to the sacred mystery of Being. It is not the philosopher but the poet who can show the track of the holy, to the sacred mystery of Being. Nothing in the world of known can express the Divine Darkness. All quests end in wonder. In the last analysis man knows nothing to its depth by means of senses and reason. Other modes of knowledge such as intellectual intuition give us another kind of knowledge that instead of making things comprehensible dissolves the knowing subject in the object preserving the ultimate mystery of things in the process. If to comprehend means to have discursive conceptual knowledge we comprehend nothing ultimately. All our explanations and analyses stop at a certain point. Things are as they are. Being or Wajud is in the last analysis a miracle or a scandal to reason. Man’s prerogative is to contemplate and dissolve in the mystery of being. Though being is aware of itself this awareness has no analyzable or knowable structure.
We mostly live with eyes blindfolded, or as cataract patients, or have chosen lenses that make us colour blind. Artists teach us how to see the world and then we find it indeed an image of Paradise. It is hard to be an artist as that calls for continuous extinction of ego-centred vision – it requires seeing with the eyes of unconditional love or with the eyes of the beloved. And what else is there in this world worth treasuring except the eyes of the beloved?