Friday, 22 June 2012

Whoso knoweth himself…

A paper of uncertain origin; probably by Awhad al-din Balyani, although often attributed to Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi; translated from the Arabic by Cecilia Twinch. This work is known by many titles, most often as The Treatise on Being or The Treatise on Unity. A different translation, entitled "Whoso knoweth himself…" is published by Beshara Publications.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

Praise be to God, Lord of the universes!

On the meaning of the saying of the Prophet, may God bless him and give him peace, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord.”

Praise belongs to God, before whose Oneness there is no before, unless the before is He and after whose Singularity there is no after, unless the after is He!

He was, and there was not with Him any before, nor after, nor above, nor below, nor closeness, nor distance, nor how, nor where, nor when, nor time, nor moment, nor period, nor duration, nor manifested existence, nor place. “And He is now as He was”. He is the One without oneness, the Singular without singularity. He is not composed of name and named: for His Name is He and His named is He and there is no name or named other than Him. He is the First without firstness and the Last without lastness. He is the Apparent without appearance and the Hidden without hiddenness. I mean that He is the very being of the letters of the Name ‘the First’ and the Name ‘the Last’, of the Name ‘the Hidden’ and the Name ‘the Apparent’. There is no First nor Last, Apparent nor Hidden except Him, without the letters (which form these names) becoming Him or His becoming these letters.

Understand this so as not to fall into the error of those who believe in incarnation: because He is not in anything and no thing is in Him whether entering in or coming out. It is in this way that you should know Him and not through (theoretical) knowledge, reason, understanding or conjecture, nor with the eye nor the external senses, nor even with interior sight or perception. No one sees Him, except Himself; no one reaches Him, except Himself; and no one knows Him except Himself. He knows Himself through Himself and He sees Himself by means of Himself. No one but He sees Him. His very Oneness is His veil since nothing veils Him other than He; His own Being veils Him. His Oneness is concealed by His Oneness without any condition.

No one other than He sees Him. No sent prophet, nor perfect saint nor angel brought close knows Him. His prophet is He; His Messenger is He; His message is He and His word is He. He sent Himself, through Himself, from Himself to Himself; there is no intermediary or means other than He. There is no difference between the Sender, that which is sent and the one to whom it is sent. The very existence of the letters of the prophetic message is His existence. There is no other who could cease to be, or have a name or be named.

Because of this, the Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace) said, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord”. He also said, “I knew my Lord through my Lord”. What the Prophet meant by this, is that you are not you but you are He and there is no you; and it is not that He enters into you or comes out of you, or that you enter into Him or come out of Him. He did not mean that you have being and you are qualified by this or that attribute. What he meant was that you never were and that you never will be, whether through yourself, or through Him, or in Him or with Him. You have neither ceased to be nor are you existent. You are Him and He is you, without any of these imperfections. If you know your existence in this way, then you know God; and if not, then not!

Most of those who claim to be knowers (of God) make the knowledge of God dependent on the cessation of being and on the cessation of that cessation. That is an error and a clear oversight; the knowledge of God does not require either the cessation of being nor the cessation of that cessation, because things have no being and whatever has no being cannot cease to be, since cessation implies the prior existence of the thing that ceases to be. If you know yourself as not having being and (consequently) not ceasing to be, then you know God; and if not, then not!

By making the knowledge of God dependent on the cessation of being and the cessation of this cessation, there is an affirmation of polytheism. The Prophet said, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord”. He did not say, “He who ceases to be, knows his Lord”. The assertion of something other than God is incompatible with its cessation; or else this assertion is impossible, and it follows that its cessation is also impossible.

Your being is nothing and whatever is nothing cannot be placed in relationship to anything else, whether it is capable of cessation or not and whether it is existent or non-existent. The Prophet alluded to the fact that you are non-existent now as you were non-existent before creation, because now is Eternity-without-beginning and now is Eternity-without-end and now is Timelessness. God is the very being of Eternity-without-beginning, Eternity-without-end and Timelessness even though (in reality) there is no Eternity-without-beginning, Eternity-without-end nor Timelessness. If it were otherwise, He would not be alone, without anything being associated with Him, and it is necessary for Him to be alone without any associate. His associate would have being through its own essence, and not through the being of God. Then that associate would not need God and would therefore be a second Lord, which is impossible: God has no associate, nor equal, nor like.

Whoever sees anything whatsoever with God, coming out of Him, or within Him, but nevertheless dependent on Him by virtue of His Lordship, has also made that thing an associate even though this associate depends on Him by virtue of His Lordship: whoever accepts that there could be anything whatsoever with God – whether subsisting by itself or through Him, whether it is in a state of cessation of being or cessation of cessation – is far from breathing the scent of self-knowledge. Because whoever accepts that there could be another being than His, yet subsisting through Him and in Him, then ceasing to be in successive stages of cessation, and cessation of cessation – which is polytheism upon polytheism and not knowledge of the self at all – is a polytheist and he does not know God, nor himself.

If someone asks, “What is the way to knowledge of the self and knowledge of God?” the answer is that it consists in knowing and verifying that “God was, and nothing was with Him; and He is now as He was”.

If someone then says, “I see myself as other than God and I do not see God as myself”, the answer is as follows:

The Prophet meant, by the word ‘self’, your being and your essential reality and not the self which is called the ‘blaming self’ nor the ‘commanding self’ nor the self which is called the ‘confident or peaceful self’; by the self, he was alluding to everything that is other than God, like when he said, “O God, show me things as they are!” He meant by things whatever is other than God; so that this prayer means, “Make me know what is other than You so that I may know what things are – whether they are You or other than You, whether they are eternal and subsistent, or newly happening and temporal”. Then God showed him what is other than Him as Himself, without the existence of what is other than Him. So he saw things as they are, that is, he saw them as the essence of God – may He be exalted! – without how or where. The word ‘things’ may equally well be applied to the self or to other things, the existence of the self being similarly in the category of things. When one knows the things, one knows oneself and when one knows oneself, one knows the Lord: because what you think is other than God is not other than God but you do not know it. You see Him and you do not know that you see Him.

When this secret is revealed to you, you will know that you are not other than God but that you yourself are the object of your quest. You do not need to cease to be – you have not ceased and never will cease to be, without time and without moments, as we have already mentioned. You will see His attributes as your attributes, your exterior as His exterior, your interior as His interior, your first as His first and your last as His Last, without any doubt or uncertainty. You will see your attributes to be His attributes and your essence to be His essence, without your having to become Him and without His having to become you in the least degree.

“Everything passes away except His Face” both in the exterior and the interior, which means: there is no existent but Him; nothing other than Him has being and therefore has to pass away so that His Face remains. There is nothing except His Face.

It is like when someone who previously did not know something, knows it: the (unknowing) being does not vanish to be replaced by another; nor is there a mixing or interpenetration of the being of the ignorant person and the one who knows: ignorance has simply disappeared.

Do not think therefore that it is necessary to cease to be: because if cessation of being were necessary, that would mean that you veil Him. He would therefore be veiled by another than Himself, which would necessarily imply that another than Him can have power over Him and prevent Him from being seen. That is an error and oversight: as we have already said, His veil is His Oneness and His Singularity is not other than it. That is why the person who has reached the essential Truth is permitted to say: “I am the Truth” or “Glory to me!” No one has truly reached Him unless he sees his attributes to be the attributes of God and his essence to be the essence of God; without his essence or his attributes ever entering into God or coming out of Him and without his passing away from God or remaining in Him. He sees that his self has never been his own and not that it was, then ceased to be. Because there is no self except for the Self, and there is no being except His Being. This is what the Prophet was alluding to when he said, “Do not revile the Era, because God is the Era”, and God, may He be blessed and exalted, is unblemished by any associate, or equal or like.

It is also reported that the Prophet said, “God – may He be exalted! – said: ‘O son of Adam! I was sick and you did not visit Me. I was hungry and you did not feed Me. I asked of you and you did not give to Me…’.” This alludes to the fact that the being of the one who asks is His Being. When that is admissible, it is also admissible that your being is His Being and the being of all created things – whether substances or accidents – are His Being.

When the secret of an atom is discovered, the secret of all created things is discovered, whether they are apparent or hidden, and you stop seeing the two worlds as other than God – although the two worlds, their names and what they name do not exist, or rather, their names and what they designate, and their very existence are Him, without any doubt. You do not see God as having ever created anything but as being “every day in a different configuration”, which sometimes reveals Him and sometimes conceals Him, without any condition: since “He is the First and the Last, the Apparent and the Hidden and He has Knowledge of everything”. He manifests Himself by His Oneness and hides Himself by His Singularity. He is the First in His Essence and His Self-subsistence and the Last in His Everlastingness. He is the very being of the Name ‘the First’ and the Name ‘the Last’, of the Name ‘'the Apparent’ and the Name ‘'the Hidden’. He is His own Name and (what is) named. Just as His existence is necessary, the non-existence of what is other than Him is necessary. In fact, what you think is other than Him is not other than Him. Other than Him is Him; His transcendence does not permit that other than Him is really other than Him: other than Him is Him without there being any otherness, whether this is with Him, or in Him, in the interior or the exterior.

Whoever is qualified in this way has innumerable attributes without limit or end. Just as the person whose physical form passes away is deprived of all their attributes, whether they are praiseworthy or blameworthy, so the person who dies a symbolic death has all his attributes, whether praiseworthy or blameworthy, taken away from him and God comes into his place in all his states. The Essence of God comes into the place of his essence and the attributes of God come into the place of his attributes. Because of this, the Prophet said, “Die before you die”, that is, “Know yourself before you die”. He also said, “God said, ‘My servant does not stop approaching Me with free acts until I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing, his sight, his hand…’ ”, which refers to the fact that whoever knows himself sees his whole being as the very Being of God, without any change in his essence or attributes. There is no need for any change since he was not the existence of his essence but was simply ignorant of the knowledge of himself.

When you know yourself, your I-ness disappears and you know that you are no other than God. If you had an autonomous being, you would have no need of cessation of being, nor of self-knowledge; you would therefore be a lord besides Him. However, it is inadmissible that another lord should exist besides God – may He be blessed and exalted!

The benefit of the knowledge of the self is to know for certain that you are neither existent nor non-existent, that you are not, never have been and never will be. In this way the meaning of “There is no divinity but God” will become clear: there is not any god other than Him, being belongs to no one but Him, there is no other besides Him, there is no god but He!

If someone objects, “You make His Lordship superfluous”, the reply is:

I do not make His Lordship superfluous, because He has not ceased to be both Lord and the lorded over, just as He has never ceased to be both Creator and what is created; “and He is now as He was”. His Creativity and His Lordship do not need what is created or subject to Him. When He brought the creatures into existence, He was already endowed with all His attributes. “And He is now as He was”. There is no difference in His Oneness between the external aspect and the eternal: the external aspect requires His manifestation and the eternal requires His Hiddenness. His exterior is identical to His interior and His interior to His exterior; His beginning is the same as His end and His end is the same as His beginning and all is One and the One is all. He was described as ‘every day in a different configuration’, when there was no ‘thing’ other than Him. “And He is now as He was”, and there is no being to what is other than Him in reality. Just as in Eternity-without-beginning and Timelessness, He was “every day in a different configuration” when no thing existed, so He is now as He was, although there is no thing, nor day, just as there was, from all eternity, neither thing nor day. The existence of the creatures and their non-existence are the same. If it were not so, it would require the origination of  something which was not (already) in His Oneness, and that would imply imperfection – and His Oneness is far more exalted than that!

When you know yourself in this way, without attributing any opposite, like, equal or associate to God, then you really know yourself. That is why the Prophet said: “He who knows himself, knows his Lord” and not “he who ceases to be, knows his Lord”;  because he knew and saw that there is nothing beside Him. Then he pointed out that the knowledge of the self is the knowledge of God. In other words, “Know yourself”, or “know your being, because you are not you but you do not know it”. That is, “know that your being is not your being nor other than your being. You are not existent and you are not non-existent; nor are you other than existent or other than non-existent. Your being and your not-being are His being, without any being or absence of being because your being and your not-being are the same as His Being and His Being is the same as your being and not-being.”

So if you see things without seeing anything else with God or in God, but see things as Him, then you know yourself and such a knowledge of the self is knowledge of God, without doubt or uncertainty, without mixing anything temporary with the eternal, whether in Him, or through Him.

If someone now asks you: “What is the way to union? You assert that there is no other than Him; but one thing cannot be united to itself!” then this is the reply:

Actually, in reality there is no union, nor separation, nor distance, nor closeness; because union is only possible between two things and if there is only one there can be no union nor separation. Union requires two things which are either similar, in which case they are equal, or dissimilar, in which case they are opposites, and He, may He be exalted, is far above having any opposite or equal: therefore union lies in something other than union, closeness in something other than closeness and distance is something other than distance. There is union without union, closeness without closeness and distance without distance!

If someone says to us: “We understand union without union. But what does closeness without closeness and distance without distance mean?” – the reply is:

I mean that in those times of closeness and distance, you were not other than God – but not being at that time a knower of yourself, you were unaware that you are Him, without there being a you. When you reach God, that is, when you know yourself in a way that is beyond all condition, you know that you are Him, and you did not know before whether you were Him or other than Him. When knowledge comes upon you, you know that it is through God that you know God and not through yourself.

Suppose, for example, that you do not know that your name is Mahmud, or that what your name designates (your named) is Mahmud – for the name and the named are in fact one and the same thing – and that you think that your name is Muhammad. If you then learn that you are really Mahmud, you do not cease to be what you were; the name Muhammad is simply taken away from you because of your knowledge of yourself – that you are Mahmud and you were only Muhammad by ceasing to be yourself; because ceasing to be presupposes the affirmation of the existence of what is other than Him and whoever affirms the existence of what is other than Him has attributed an associate to Him. Nothing has been taken away from Mahmud; Muhammad did not pass away into Mahmud; nor did Mahmud enter into Muhammad nor come out of him; and Mahmud did not become incarnated in Muhammad. When Mahmud knew himself, that he was Mahmud and not Muhammad, he knew himself through himself and not through Muhammad; because Muhammad never was, so how could anything be known through him?

Therefore the knower and the known are one; so are the one who arrives and what he arrives at, and the seer and the seen. ‘The knower’ is His attribute and ‘the known’ is His essence; ‘the one who arrives’ is His attribute, and ‘what he arrives at’ is His essence. In fact, the attribute and that to which it is attributed are one. That is the explanation of the saying, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord”.

Whoever understands this example knows that there is no union, nor separation; the knower is He and the known is He; the one who sees is He and what is seen is He; the one who arrives is He and what he arrives at is He. No other than He reaches union, no other than He separates from Him. Whoever understands that is free of the polytheism of polytheism; whoever has not understood it has not breathed the scent of this freedom from polytheism.

Most ‘knowers’, who think that they know themselves and their Lord and think they are free of the bonds of existence, declare that the way can only be traversed by ceasing to be, then by the cessation of cessation. That is because they do not understand the saying of the Prophet and, believing themselves to be free of polytheism, they allude sometimes to the ‘negation of existence’', that is, to the obliteration of existence, sometimes to cessation or the cessation of cessation; and sometimes to effacement or annihilation. All these expressions are unadulterated polytheism because whoever accepts that there could be something beside Him which is subsequently capable of cessation, then of cessation of cessation, affirms that there is something other than Him: and whoever affirms that is a polytheist. May God guide them and us to the right Path!


You thought that you were you,

But you are not you and never were!

For if you were you, you would be a Lord

And the second of two! Stop what you were thinking

Between His Being and your being, there is no difference.

He is not distinct from you, nor you from Him.

If, out of ignorance, you declare that you are other than Him, your obstinacy is obvious

But if your ignorance ceases, then you become yielding.

Because your union is separation, your separation union

And your distance is closeness: through that you will become suitable.

Abandon the intellect and understand by the light of unveiling.

So that what is from Him by way of attribute is not superior to you.

Do not associate anything with God

So that you are not debased, because polytheism debases.

If someone says, “You show that your knowledge of yourself is the Knowledge of God. But he who knows himself is other than God. So how can that which is other than God know God? How can it reach (union with) Him?” the answer is:

Whoever knows himself knows that his being is not his being, nor other than his being, but that he is the very Being of God, without his being becoming the Being of God, or entering into God or coming out of Him, and without his being existing with Him or in Him. He sees his being as it was before coming into being, without the need for cessation, effacement or cessation of cessation; because the cessation of something implies that previously it was, and that implies in turn that it exists by itself and not by the power of God: which is evidently a pure impossibility. It is clear that the knowledge that the knower has of himself is the knowledge that God has of Himself, because his self is no other than He.

By the word ‘self’, the Prophet meant ‘being’. For whoever reaches this spiritual station, his being is no longer his being, neither inwardly nor outwardly, but it is the very Being of God: his speech is His Speech, his actions are God’s actions. His claim to the knowledge of God is his claim to the knowledge God has of Himself through Himself. But you hear this claim as though it came from him, you see his actions as though coming from him, you see him to be other than God, just as you see yourself as other than God, because of your ignorance of your real being.

If “the faithful one is the mirror of the Faithful One”, then he is He in His eye, that is through His sight for if his eye is God's eye and his sight is God's sight, without any condition, he is not He through your eye or your knowledge, your understanding, your imagination, your thought or your vision: but he is He in His eye, His knowledge and His vision.

If [this knower] says, “I am God!” listen to him, because it is God who is saying “I am God!” not him, but you have not reached the point that he has reached, since if you had arrived at it, you would understand what he says and you would say what he says and you would see what he sees.

In short, the existence of things is His existence, without their existing. But do not fall into confusion and do not let these allusions lead you to imagine that God is created! One of those who know has said: “The Sufi is uncreated” and it is like that after the complete unveiling and dissipation of doubts and conjecturing. But this spiritual nourishment is only for the one whose nature is more vast than the two worlds; and as for the one who is like the two worlds, it does not agree with him, for it is even more immense than them!

Know, in short, that the seer and the seen, the one who finds and what is found, the knower and the known, the One who existentiates and what is existentiated, the perceiver and the perceived are one. He sees, knows and perceives His Being by means of His Being, beyond any manner of sight, knowledge and perception and without the existence of (the letters of) the form of sight, knowledge and perception. Just as His Being is beyond all condition, so the vision, knowledge and perception which He has of Himself are without condition.

If someone asks, “In what way do you see all the distasteful and agreeable things? When we see, for example, dung or carrion, do we say it is God?” Then the reply is:

God forbid that God, may He be exalted and sanctified, should be any such thing! Our converse is with him who does not see dung as dung, nor carrion as carrion. We are only speaking to him who is endowed with inward vision and not with the one who is born blind. Whoever does not know himself is blind and does not see. Until his blindness and lack of vision disappears, he will not grasp these meanings. Our converse is with God: not with other than God, and not with the blind. Whoever reaches this spiritual station knows that he is no other than God. We are speaking with the one who has resolution and energy in seeking to know himself in order to know God, and who keeps fresh in his heart the image of his seeking and longing for union with God; and not with him who has neither aim nor end.

If someone objects, “God has declared ‘'Eyes do not perceive Him but He perceives the eyes. And He is the Subtle One, the Well-informed!” but you maintain the contrary, so what you are saying is not true”, the response is:

Everything that we are saying is the very meaning of His Word: “Eyes do not perceive Him, but He perceives the eyes”, that is, there is no one else in existence, so no one has sight which can perceive Him. If it were conceivable for there to be someone other than Him, then it would follow that this other could perceive Him. But God has informed us in His saying, “Eyes do not perceive Him” that there is no other besides Him, which means that no other than He perceives Him, rather He who perceives Him is Himself. There is no other than He. He is the one who perceives His essence, not another. Eyes do not perceive Him because they are nothing but His Being.  Whoever maintains that eyes do not perceive Him because they are transient and what is transient cannot grasp what is eternal and everlasting, still does not know himself. For there is nothing, and there are no eyes which are not Him. He perceives His own being without the existence of perception, without condition and without other.


I knew the Lord through the Lord

without doubt or hesitation.

My essence is really His essence

without fault or imperfection.

There is, between us, no becoming

And my self is the place where the Hidden appears.

Since I have known Him, my self is

without mixture or blemish.

I reached union with my Beloved,

without distance or closeness.

I obtained from the Munificent One a gift,

without giving and without depriving.

My self did not vanish in Him

Nor does vanishing remain in Him.

If someone asks, “You affirm God and you deny the existence of everything else; so what are these things that you see?” the answer is this:

These words are for him who sees nothing apart from God. We have no questions and answers with him who sees something beside God, for he only sees what he sees. He who knows himself does not see other than God, but he who does not know himself, does not see God. Each receptacle only exudes what it contains. We have already explained a great deal and if we explained more, whoever does not see will still not see, nor understand, nor comprehend; but whoever sees, sees, understands and comprehends already. A hint is enough for the one who has arrived (at union). As for him who has not arrived, he will not arrive by theoretical teaching, nor by instruction, nor by repetition, nor by reason, nor by learning, but only by placing himself in the service of an eminent master and a wise teacher, following the spiritual path, in order to be guided by his light and to progress by means of his spiritual will, so reaching thereby what he is seeking, if God wills.

May God grant us success in what He loves and in what satisfies Him in words and deeds, knowledge and practice, light and guidance. He is powerful over everything and is capable of responding to every demand. There is no power nor strength save in God, the Sublime, the Magnificent!

May peace and blessings be upon the Prophet, his family and friends!

Short biography of the author: Ibn ‘Arabi

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