Articles and Translations

The Encompassing Heart

Unified Vision for a Unified World

Kautsar Azhari Noer

Kautsar Azhari Noer is Professor at the Department of Comparative Religion, Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta.




Articles by Kautsar Azhari Noer

The Encompassing Heart – Unified Vision for a Unified World

Ibn ‘Arabi, the great formulator of Sufism, dramatically illustrates the unlimited vastness of the heart of the gnostic in saying that the heart of the gnostic encompasses God, whereas His mercy does not.[2] The mercy of God is vastly broad as illustrated in the Qur’an, “My mercy encompasses all things” (Q. 7: 156), but it is not capable of encompassing God. The heart of the gnostic is broader than the mercy of God. God is the All-Embracing (al-wāsi’), the All-Encompassing (al-muhīt), and the All-Comprehensive or the Collector (al-jāmi’), but the heart of the gnostic is capable of embracing Him because of its unlimited vastness. God through a hadīth qudsī says, “My heavens and My earth embrace Me not, but the heart of My faithful servant does embrace Me.”

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a noted Iranian scholar, impressively describes the centrality of the heart to the human state in saying that the heart is the center of the human microcosm, at the same time the center of the physical body, the vital energies, the emotions, and the soul, as well as the meeting place between the human and the celestial realms where the spirit resides. How remarkable is this reality of the heart, that mysterious center which from the point of view of our earthly existence seems so small, and yet as the Prophet Muhammad says it is the Throne (al-‘arsh) of God the All-Merciful (al-rahmān), the Throne that encompasses the whole universe.[3] Ibn ‘Arabi says,

The heart is His Throne and not delimited by any specific attribute, but it possesses all the divine attributes and names. Just as the All-Merciful possesses all the Most Beautiful Names [Q. 17: 110], the Throne possesses all the Most Supreme Attributes.[4]

When God created the earth of your body, He created within it the Ka’ba that is your heart. He made the heart house the noblest house in the faithful man.[5]

God took the heart of His servant as a house, because He made it the locus of knowledge of Him – the gnostic (irfānī) knowledge, not the theoretical (nazarī) knowledge. He defended the house and protected it jealously, lest it be a locus for others.[6]

The heart of the gnostic fluctuates at every moment in accordance with the form of God’s self-disclosure to it. The heart of the gnostic colors at every moment in the color of the form of God’s self-disclosure to it. The fluctuation of the heart (taqallub al-qalb), in the metaphysical sense, is identical with God’s self-disclosure (tajallī al-haqq). In principle, the heart in such state is no longer human awareness to be distinguished from God’s self-disclosure. The heart itself in its constant inner fluctuation is not other than the various forms of God’s self-disclosure. Conversely, the incessant transformation of God (tajallī al-haqq) is the constant fluctuation of the heart (tajallī al-qalb). In this level, the self of the gnostic is identical with “He-ness” (huwiyyah) of the Real (al-haqq).

From his own self he knows himself, and his own self is not other than the He-ness of the Real. Similarly, everything in the world of being, now and later, is not other than the He-ness of the Real; certainly, it is He-ness itself.[7]

This idea fits a hadīth of the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, frequently presented by Ibn ‘Arabi as “Whoever knows himself knows his Lord.”

The heart of the gnostic accepts any form of belief. Ibn ‘Arabi expresses his spiritual experience as a gnostic which has the heart that is encompassing and receptive of every form. This Sufi sings such experience as follows:

O marvel! A garden amidst fires!

My heart has become receptive of every form: it is a pasture for gazelles, a monastery for Christian monks,

A temple for idols, the Ka’bah of the pilgrim,
the tables of the Torah, and the book of the Qur’an.

I follow the religion of love. Wherever its camel mounts turn,

that is my religion and my faith.[8]

The gnostic, despite being receptive of all forms of belief, remains untied to any belief. “If a gnostic (‘ārif) is really a gnostic, he cannot stay tied to one form of belief.”[9]

Whatever his place is in the Divine Knowledge, which is essential knowledge, he remains in that place; knowing the kernel of all belief he sees the interior and not the exterior. He recognises the thing, whose kernel he knows, whatever apparel it puts on, and in this matter his circle is large. Without looking at whatever clothing they appear under in the exterior, he reaches into the origin of those beliefs and witnesses them from every possible place.[10]

In the eye of Ibn ‘Arabi, someone who criticizes or scolds other beliefs in God is an ignorant person because God in his own belief, like in the beliefs he criticizes, is not God as He is in Himself because God as He is in Himself cannot be known. Such a person only acknowledges God in the form of his own belief or the belief of his own group, and denies God in the forms of other various beliefs, whereas God who manifests Himself in all the different forms of beliefs is one and the same. Ibn ‘Arabi’s criticism, if it must be consistent, is addressed to every person blaming and scolding other beliefs in God which differ from his own belief, either in the circle of people of the same religion or in the circle of people of different religions. The exclusivist ‘ulamā’ (plural of ‘ālim, “religious scholar”) are the target of Ibn ‘Arabi’s criticism because they blame and scold other beliefs in God which differ from their own beliefs. These ‘ulamā’ “deify” their own beliefs, schools of thought, or theological schools (madhāhib, plural of madhhab, “school”). They limit the Unlimited God within their limited beliefs.

Ibn ‘Arabi reminds us that we should not tie ourselves to a specific “knotting” (‘aqd) [i.e. belief, doctrine, dogma, or tenet] and deny any other “knottings”. The Shaykh al-Akbar (the Greatest Master) says,

So, beware lest you restrict yourself to a specific “knotting” (‘aqd) [i.e. belief, doctrine, dogma, or tenet concerning the Real] and so deny any other “knotting”, for you would forfeit much good, indeed you would forfeit the true knowledge of what is [the Real]. Therefore, be then, within yourself, a Prime Matter (hayūlā) for the forms of all beliefs, for God is too vast and too great to be confined within one “knotting” to the exclusion of another, for He has said, “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God”, (Q. 2: 115) without mentioning any particular direction.[11]

The true knowledge of God, according to the Sufi of Andalusia, is the knowledge not tied to any form of belief or religion. This is the knowledge belonging to the “gnostics” (al-‘ārifūn). Therefore, the gnostics never reject God in any belief, sect, school of thought or religion. This means that to the gnostics, God in all beliefs, sects, religions or schools of thought, is one and the same. Ibn ‘Arabi says, “he who frees Him from any delimitation will never deny Him and will affirm Him in every form in which He self-transmutes.”[12]

The heart is a mirror that reflects everything around it. The form seen through a mirror conforms to the form of the mirror. Ibn ‘Arabi says, “Know that mirrors have different shapes and modify the objects seen by the observer in accordance with their shapes, whether the mirrors are tall, wide, curved, bent, round, small, large, numerous, and so on – whatever is possibly given by the shape of the mirror.”[13] The clearness of image in a mirror depends on the quality of the clearness of the mirror. The clearer a mirror, the clearer and more perfect the image it reflects. On the contrary, the dimmer or darker a mirror, the more unclear the image it reflects. When the heart is veiled by the screens of rust, lust and strong worldly temptation, the screens hamper a human being from seeing the unseen world.

But when man uses the mirror of his heart and polishes it with invocation and the recitation of the Quran, he thereby obtains some light. God has a light radiating to all existent things, which is called “the light of existence” (nūr al-wujūd).[14]

Purity of the heart is a path to reach love of God. Purity of the heart of the seeker is realized first by purifying the heart from any disgraceful characteristic that God dislikes, so he becomes able to liberate his heart from anything that God detests, with his characteristic that God loves. Therefore “the reality of love will not come until after the heart has been made safe from the turbidities of the soul.”[15] Love of God will fulfil the heart when the heart has been purified from hatred, resentment, spite, avarice, egoism, and other disgraceful characteristics. Love resides in the clean and purified heart. The heart of the gnostic is a clean, clear and purified heart filled by love. A gnostic is a lover. If a gnostic is truly a gnostic, he is necessarily a lover. If he is not a lover, he is not a gnostic. Gnosis (ma’rifah) and love (mahabbah) are fused in the gnostic.

According to Kabir Helminski, the eventual purification of the heart can be understood through four main activities or stages:

1. Liberating oneself from psychological distortions and complexes that prevent forming a healthy, integrated individuality.

2. Freeing oneself from the slavery to the attractions of the world, all of which are secondary reflections of qualities within the heart itself.

3. Transcending the subtlest veil, or illusion, which is the self and selfishness.

4. Centering oneself and all one’s attention in the reality of divine Love, which has the power to unify our fragmented being and reconnect us with the unified field of all levels of existence.[16]

The first three stages – minimizing our psychological distortions, overcoming the slavery of our attractions of the world, and seeing beyond the veil of selfishness – prepare us to make our contact with the reality of divine Love. Without the power of Love we can only follow our egos and desires of the world. Without the power of Love in the heart we suffer fragmentation, dispersion in multiplicity.[17] Without the power of Love we have lost the power of unified vision within which a unified world is seen.

Real love transcends racial, ethnic, national, cultural, political and religious boundaries. Real love sees only one world, “the unified world” – if you like you can equally well call it “the undivided world” – inhabited by one community of all human beings, one family of all human beings, even when expanded, one family of all creatures.

In the view of Ibn ‘Arabi, movement (harakah) in all its manifestations comes from love. Movement is a symbol of life and existence, while stillness (sukūn) is a symbol of death and non-existence. Every movement and every manifestation of existence is generated by love flowing in all things and manifesting itself in all forms. Love is the cause of creation, which is nothing other than the self-disclosure of God in the forms of the entities of the possibilities. In other words, love is the cause of creation of the world. Love is the essential principle on which the existence rests. Love permeates every particle of the world and boosts all things for self-manifestation in the forms it generates. Ibn ‘Arabi says,

The movement is always the movement of love, but the observer who sees it is veiled from this by its other less important causes. This is because the origin is the movement of the world from non-existence, where it was still, into existence. This is why it is said that the affair is the movement out of stillness. The movement that is the existence of the world is a movement of love. The Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, called our attention in saying, “I was a treasure but was not known, so I loved to be known. [I created the creatures and made Myself known to them, so they came to know Me].” If it were not for this love, the world would never have been manifest in itself. Thus its movement from non-existence into existence is the movement of the Creator’s love for it. The world also loves to witness itself in existence as it did in its latency, so that, in every respect, its movement from the latency of non-existence into existence is a movement of love from the side of the Real and from its side.[18]

Love is not only the cause of creation of the world, but is also the cause of its orderliness and harmony. The movement of the world is the incessantly ordered and harmonious movement. The world is a regular and harmonious system. That is why the world is called “cosmos”, a word that has become an English word, derived from the Greek noun kosmos, which means “order” or “good arrangement”. The alert minds of the ancient Greeks were quick to see in this world an appropriate expression for the order, harmony, beauty, and regularity they observed in the world around them. Because of this reason, kosmos soon came to mean “the world”, that is, the bodily universe.[19] The world as an orderly and harmonious system is a oneness within which all of its parts are interrelated, interdependent, and inseparable. All phenomena in the world are manifestations of the basic oneness or the ultimate reality called al-Haqq in Sufism, Brahman in Hinduism, Dharmakaya in Buddhism, and Tao in Taoism. The fact that the world is a oneness reminds us of the word “universe”, an English word derived from the Latin universus, “universal”, which is a combination of the words unus, “one”, and vertere, “to turn”. So universus means “turned or combined into one”.[20] The world is the oneness and totality of existence in all its forms. In a metaphysical sense, the world is the oneness of all things which cannot be separated and divided.

Empedocles (fifth century bce), a Greek philosopher, statesman and poet, born in Agrigentum (now Agrigento), Sicily, asserts that all things are composed of four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Two powers activate and regulate all changes within the world. The two active and opposing powers are “love” (philotes) and “hatred” (neikos). Love combines these elements, while hatred separates them into infinitely varied forms. The theory of Empedocles, although it has metaphysical differences, has similarity to the theory of the mystics of the great religions, that love has a unifying function in that love is the power that unifies the separated elements of the world; or if you like you can say that love is the power that unifies the divided world.

All the great religions have preached love for thousands of years. Love has no limitations. Love includes all creatures, human beings, animals, plants, minerals, earth, air, fire and water. Love becomes selfless service for all creatures. More astonishing still, unlimited love excludes no one, and the challenge is to love even enemies. In the heroic epic Mahabharata, we read, “Even an enemy must be afforded appropriate hospitality when he enters the house; a tree does not withhold its shade even from those who come to cut it down.” In the other epic, Ramayana, we read, “The nobleman must protect with his life an enemy who is in distress or who out of fear has surrendered himself to the protection of the enemy.” In the Buddhist story of King Long-Sufferer, who was cut to pieces by the neighboring King Brahmadatta, before his execution he admonished his son Long-Life, “Enmity is not pacified by enmity; enmity is pacified by peaceableness.” The Jewish Hasidim demand: “In humility, the pious believer shall not return evil for evil, but forgive those who hate and persecute him, and also love sinners. He shall say to himself, that in the eyes of God the sinner counts as much as he himself. How can one hate him whom God loves?” Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5: 44–45). Ibn ‘Imad, a Sufi Master, says, “The perfect man shall render good to his enemies, for they do not know what they do. Thus he will be clothed with the qualities of God, for God always does good to his enemies even though they do not know him.”

Here we may allude to one of the more widely quoted verses of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Tarjumān al-Ashwāq (The Interpreter of Desires). The line, as quoted above, reads, “I follow the religion of love. Wherever its camel mounts turn, that is my religion and my faith.” Ibn ‘Arabi in his Dhakhā’ir al-A’lāq (The Treasures of Precious Things), a commentary on the Tarjumān al-Ashwāq, explains that this line refers to God’s words, “If you love God, follow me, and God will love you” (Q. 3: 31). The Shaykh al-Akbar calls the message [i.e. to love God and follow Muhammad] “the religion of love”, and he follows this religion and receives the burdens given by his Beloved with pleasure and love. To him, there is no more sublime and higher religion than the religion which is based on love and longing for God whom he worships and believes in. This is a peculiar prerogative to Muhammadans, that is, Muslims, because Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, has the station of perfect love and God has made him “the beloved” (habīb), namely “the beloved lover” (muhibb habīb).[21] Following the Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, is the duty implicit within following the religion of love. In other words, following Muhammad is the path of following the religion of love. There is no path of following the religion of love other than following Muhammad. Without following Muhammad, the religion of love will not be realized.

In the sociological or institutional sense, following Muhammad is to be a Muslim. If someone wants to be a Muslim, he must say the dual Shahādah (Witnessing), “I bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” He must also perform the other pillars of Islam. Essentially, someone does not need to be a Muslim in a sociological or institutional sense to follow Muhammad. He can be a “muslim” (in lower case) in the real sense, in the fundamental sense, in the essential sense, without being a formal Muslim or without being a Muslim in the sociological or institutional sense. The “muslim” in this sense is “anyone submitting himself to God”. Such a person does not follow Islam as an institutional religion, but follows “islam” as a religion of “submission”, that is, a personal religion. Indeed, the basic meaning of islām is “submission or obedience to God”. There is a difference between Islam as institutional religion and “islam” as personal religion, between Islam as system and “islam” as attitude, between Islam as manifestation and “islam” as essence, between Islam as form and “islam” as substance, between Islam as identity and “islam” as quality.

If what is meant by “islam” is “islam” as personal religion, attitude, essence or substance, in the sense of “submission and obedience to God”, then “islam” in this sense can also be found in other religions and in all forms of spirituality. In Hinduism, for example, there is a teaching which emphasizes the attitude of submission to God. Pandit Usharbudh Arya, a Hindu figure belonging to the school of Vedanta Yoga, expresses his absolutely total submission to God (islām) in saying the following words:

If I do not clasp my hand in worship to Thee, my God, then it is better that I do not have that hand. If I see with my eye an object in which I do not see You directly or indirectly, my God, then it is better that I do not have that eye. If I hear with my ear a word which, directly or indirectly, is not Your name, my God, it is better that I am not possessed of that ear. If I utter with my mouth a single word in which is not contained an entire hymn of praise to You, my God, then let that tongue cease to be. In every flicker of my mind, it is You whose flash becomes my thought, and if there is a flash in my mind that I do not know to be Your flicker, then take my mind away from me, my God, but come and dwell directly within me.[22]

Arya’s words, as quoted here, have reminded me of the attitude of submission and obedience to God (islām) as the consequence of tawhīd (asserting the oneness of God). Such attitude of submission is expressed in the Qur’an as follows: “My salāh and my ritual sacrifice, my living and my dying are for God, the Lord of the worlds. No associate has He. And this I am commanded, and I am the first of those who submit themselves to Him” (6: 162–63).

The attitude of submission uttered by Arya must be honestly acknowledged as the attitude of absolutely total submission with his whole mind and body in union with God. I admire the submission (islām) of this Hindu and envy him because it competes with in fact, if I may say, it exceeds – the submission (islām) I have been practising thus far. However, my belief in Islam will not decrease at all, much less will I be prompted to convert to Hinduism. On the contrary, the words, or more appropriately, the words in invocation uttered by Arya have inspired me to develop the attitude of more perfect submission to God (islām) in order not to be defeated by the attitude of submission of [the] one whose religion is not called “Islam”.

Of course, “obedience and submission to God”, “islam” (islām), is accompanied by love of God, if “islam” is real “islam”. Without love of God and also of all His creatures, the obedience and submission to Him are false, pretending or forced obedience and submission.

Kabir Helminski explains that “the heart includes a spectrum of subconscious faculties for knowing reality immediately and qualitatively. In other words, the heart is intuitive.”[23]

The heart can be understood as the totality of qualitative, subconscious faculties, which function in a unified way. Once activated, these faculties support and illuminate each other, much as eye-hand coordination is superior to either touch or sight alone. Although these functions seem to separate, they serve a unifying purpose, which is to know the unity beyond multiplicity. They are the subtle nervous system’s means of realizing unity.[24]

Concerning the encompassing heart, it is necessary to remember two points. The first is that the heart of the gnostic possesses a unifying function. The heart’s ability to encompass, embrace or include can be understood as its ability to unify, unite or integrate because of its unlimited vastness. The second is that love is the power of unifying or combining. The locus of love is the heart. When the heart is filled by and with love, it possesses the power of unifying since love is itself the power of unifying. The encompassing heart that is filled by and with love unifies vision, or makes it unified.

The color of a vision or perspective is determined by a way of thinking or consciousness. In general, the way of thinking throughout history can be classified into two kinds: rational thinking and intuitive thinking. Rational thinking, frequently also called discursive thinking, relies on the use of intellect. Rational thinking emphasizes manyness, diversity, difference, and separation. This is the way of thinking of “either/or”. This way of thinking in the history of Islam is used by exoteric religious scholars of Law, mutakallimūn (theologians) and Peripatetic philosophers. Outside the Islamic tradition, rational thinking dominates many different systems of philosophy which exist in the West. Intuitive thinking, also frequently called imaginative thinking, emphasizes the use of heart. Intuitive thinking tends to emphasize oneness, identity of things, integration, and synthesis. This is the way of thinking of “both/and.” This way of thinking uses the principle of coincidentia oppositorum or the principle of yin-yang relationship. This way of thinking is used in the history of Islam by Sufis, Sufi philosophers or Illuminationist philosophers (hukamā’ ishrāqiyyūn). Intuitive thinking is used in all mystical traditions, the majority of which were born and developed in India and China, and then in Japan.

With regard to the relationship between God and the world, for example, theologians and philosophers emphasize the difference and separation between God and the world, the transcendence of God from the world. On the other hand, mystics or Sufis emphasize oneness and identity of God and the world, and the synthesis of immanence and transcendence of God, without eliminating difference between God and the world.

The real gnostics emphasize more essence than manifestation, more substance than form, more reality than symbol, more quality than identity, more value than label, more “content” than “skin”. It is impossible to change essence into manifestation, because essence remains essence and manifestation remains manifestation. It is impossible to change substance into form, because substance remains substance and form remains form. The same nature also happens to reality and symbol, quality and identity, value and label, “content” and “skin”. The real gnostics do not pose questions about race, ethnicity, color of skin, nation, culture, political group, ideology, and religion of someone. What they consider is whether someone has love, compassion, kindness, generosity, respect, tolerance, willingness to help, service, humility, justice, and all other praiseworthy characteristics. Only ignorant people emphasize more manifestation than essence, more form than substance, more symbol than reality, more identity than quality, more label than value, more “skin” than “content”. The more ignorant people are those who “deify”, worship, and adore manifestation, form, symbol, identity, label, “skin”, while ignoring and neglecting essence, substance, reality, quality, value, “content”. Probably, many people of the world today unconsciously have become more ignorant. This situation is an evil.

History has witnessed that identity in many places in the world has become the main cause of conflict and dominant factor of violence. Why has this occurred? The answer is that many groups want their identity as “the sole identity” for all human beings. Christopher Catherwood, a historian, lecturer and writer based in Cambridge, England, is right when he says

Identity is at the heart of who we are. Yet who we are, and why we are who we are, is often disputed. Identity – nationalist, religious, cultural and political – is at the heart of much conflict in the world today.[25]

The evidence is the conflicts that have caused so much bloodshed in various parts of this earth, such as in Palestine and Israel, the former Yugoslavian Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan and Iraq. The world has been divided and torn apart by identity. And what is sadder is that the religious identity in the conflicts becomes the dominant factor. When a religion becomes a source of hatred, the religion becomes an evil. This absolutely contradicts the sublime message of the major religions, whose founders strove to disseminate love, compassion, peace, brotherhood and justice in the world.

At this point we should discuss the meaning of “vision”, the term stated in the subtitle of this paper, “Unified Vision for a Unified World”. “Vision” is an old French word derived etymologically from the Latin visio, derived from visus, past participle of videre, “to see”. It is presumed that videre is derived from the Indo-European word weidê/wide, variation of wedi-/wde-, “to view”, “to see”, from which the word “wise” is derived. In many English dictionaries, “vision” has several meanings. The appropriate or closest etymological meaning of the word “vision” is “the ability to see”, “the ability of seeing”, “the act of seeing”, “the power of seeing with the eye”. Other meanings of this word include “the power of perceiving by the imagination or by clear thinking”, “the ability to perceive something not actually visible, as through mental acuteness or keen foresight”, “force or power of imagination” or “the ability to think about or plan the future with great imagination and intelligence”. This word also means “the mystical or religious experience of seeing some supernatural event, person, etc.”, “the experience of having the perception in a dream, trance, etc. or of having the supernatural revelation”, “a dream or similar experience, especially of a religious kind”. The word can also mean “something seen in the imagination, in a dream, in one’s thoughts, etc.”, “something supposedly seen by other than normal sight”, “something perceived in a dream, trance, etc. or supernaturally revealed”. It can also mean “an idea or a picture in the imagination”, “a vivid mental image produced by the imagination”, or “the picture on a television or cinema/movie theater”. Finally, “vision” can also mean “something or someone, especially a woman, of extraordinary beauty.”

All the meanings of “vision” can be classified roughly into two groups: (1) “vision” as a subject of consciousness, as indicated in the meanings of “ability of seeing”, “power of seeing”, “mystical experience”, etc., and (2) “vision” as an object of consciousness, as indicated in the meanings of “something seen in the imagination, in a dream, in one’s thoughts, etc.”, “something supposedly seen by other than normal sight”, “something perceived in a dream, trance, etc. or supernaturally revealed”, or “an idea or a picture in the imagination”, etc. The relationship between these two meanings can be referred to as the relationship between “vision as a subject” and “vision as an object”. The color of the object of vision is the color of vision. Vision is also meant as the picture it produces because this picture is also the “picture” of vision itself. In other words, the color of the object of vision is its own color, that is, the color of vision. “The color of water is the color of its container”, Junayd of Baghdad says. The color of a thing seen depends on the color of glasses through which the thing is seen.

The Arabic word for “vision” is ru’yah, one of the terms Ibn ‘Arabi employs to refer to the perception of God’s self-disclosure. According to William C. Chittick, a distinguished scholar in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, just as with the other terms employed to refer to the perception of God’s self-disclosure, “vision” seems to have both a general meaning, according to which it is more or less synonymous with “unveiling” (kashf), “tasting” (dhawq), and “witnessing” (shuhūd), and a specific meaning, according to which it signifies a special kind of unveiling in certain contexts.[26] Vision may be higher than witnessing, and witnessing may be higher or lower than unveiling, but these are modes of the perception of God as He is in His Self-disclosure, not God as He is in Himself or His Essence.

“Vision” in the context of this discussion is spiritual vision, that is, the capability of the heart to see the reality of every thing. The heart in this context is the heart of the gnostic as described above. The relationship between “vision” and “world” is like the relationship between the cup and the water it contains, or the relationship between spectacles and the object seen through them. The color of the world is the color of the vision. The color, form, image, or picture of the world is in accordance with the color, form, image, or picture of the vision. If the vision is red, then the world seen through it is also red. If the vision is blue, the world seen through it is also blue. If the vision is cracked, the world seen through it is also cracked. If the vision is unified, then the world seen through it is also unified. The unified vision is the gnostics’ or mystics’ vision. Their vision becomes unified by the unlimited vastness of their heart encompassing not only all things but also the All-Embracing, the All-Encompassing, and by love within their heart.

The unified world, or if you like you can equally well call it “the undivided world”, is the world seen with the glasses of the unified vision – or if you like you can equally well call it “the undivided vision”. It is the world which, at the metaphysical level, is the totality of all things other than the Real (al-haqq), that at one level is not other than the Real because the world is Its self-manifestation. The world as an orderly and harmonious system, as mentioned above, is a oneness within which all of its parts are interrelated, interdependent and inseparable. All phenomena in the world are manifestations of the basic oneness or the ultimate reality, called al-Haqq in Sufism, Brahman in Hinduism, Dharmakaya in Buddhism, and Tao in Taoism.

The world unified in the glasses of vision can also be understood as the world at the sociological and ecological level, namely the harmonious world which is peaceful, orderly, full of tolerance, mercy, brotherhood and justice. This ideal relationship occurs not only between human beings, but also between human beings and other creatures, including animals, plants and minerals. The main motivator of the creation of such a world is the real love emerging from the purified heart, that is, the encompassing heart. Such a heart is capable of receiving all forms of belief without being tied to any of them. Such a heart, as mentioned above, emphasizes more essence than manifestation, more substance than form, more reality than symbol, more quality than identity, more value than label, more “content” than “skin”.

Unified vision produces a unified world. Without unified vision, there is no unified world. Unified vision is for a unified world. Unified vision is absolutely needed to create a unified world. All human beings have the potential in themselves to realize this goal. The question is whether each human being has a strong desire to achieve this goal. The answer depends on everyone.

Wa’Llāh a’lam bi’l-sawāb

This paper was originally presented at the Twenty-fourth Annual Symposium of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, entitled “Unified Vision – Unified World?”, held at Worcester College, Oxford, 28–29 April 2007. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Alison and Peter Yiangou for their special facilities, suggestions and corrections to this paper.


[2] Ibn ‘Arabi, Fusūs al-Hikam, edited by Abū al-‘Alā ‘Afīfī, 2 parts (Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, 1980), 1: 119.

[3] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “The Heart of the Faithful is the Throne of the All-Merciful”, in James S. Cutsinger, ed., Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East (Bloomington, Indiana: 2002), p. 32.

[4] Ibn ‘Arabi, al-Futūhāt al-Makkiyyah, 8 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1414/1994), 5: 248–49.

[5] Futūhāt, 5: 477–78.

[6] Futūhāt, 7: 12.

[7] Fusūs, 1: 122.

[8] Ibn ‘Arabi, The Tarjumān al-Ashwāq: A Collection of Mystical Odes, translated by Reynold A. Nicholson with a preface by Martin Lings (London: Theosophical Publishing House Ltd., 1978), pp. 19 and 67 (with author’s modifications).

[9] Ibn ‘Arabi, Kernel of the Kernel: Ismail Hakki Bursevi’s Translation (Chisholme House, Roberton, nr. Hawick, Scotland: Beshara Publications, 1997), p. 1.

[10] Kernel, p. 1.

[11] Fusūs, 1: 113.

[12] Fusūs, 1: 121.

[13] Futūhāt, 5: 478–79.

[14] Futūhāt, 3: 435.

[15] Ibn ‘Arabi, Tuhfat al-Safrah, edited by Muhammad Íalih al-Mahi (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-Lubnani, n.d.), p. 37.

[16] Kabir Helminski, The Knowing Heart: A Sufi Path of Transformation (Boston and London: Shambala, 1999), p. 75.

[17] Helminski, The Knowing Heart, p. 75.

[18] Fusūs, 1: 203.

[19] Paul J. Glenn, Cosmology: A Class Manual in the Philosophy of Bodily Being (St. Louis, Missouri and London: B. Herder Book Co., 1957), p. 1.

[20] Peter A. Angeles, Dictionary of Philosophy (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, A Division of Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), p. 305.

[21] Ibn ‘Arabi, Dhakhā’ir al-A’lāq, edited and commentary by Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Kurdi (Cairo: Matba’at al-Sa’adah, 1968), pp. 50–51; Tarjumān, p. 69.

[22] Pandit Usharbudh Arya, God (Honesdale, Pennsylvania: The Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, 1979), p. 3.

[23] Helminski, The Knowing Heart, p. 77.

[24] Helminski, The Knowing Heart, p. 81.

[25] Christopher Catherwood, Why the Nations Rage?: Killing in the Name of God (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), p. 2.

[26] William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-‘Arabī’s Metaphysics of Imagination (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), p. 228.