Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Human Being and The Cosmos

The human being and the cosmos are similar in that each was created in the form of God. However, the cosmos manifests the divine names in differentiated mode (tafsil). As a result, each and every divine name displays its properties and effects in the cosmos singly or in various combinations with other names or groups of names. Hence, in its spatial and temporal totality, the cosmos represents an infinitely vast panorama of existential possibilities. In contrast, human beings display the properties and effects of all the names in a relatively undifferentiated mode (ijmal). The properties of all the divine names are drawn together and concentrated within each of them. God created the cosmos in respect of the multiplicity of His names, but He created human beings in respect of the unity of His names, the fact that each and every name refers to a single Reality. Ibn ‘Arabi often expresses these ideas by employing the terms “small world” and “great world” – that is, microcosm and macrocosm. More commonly, he uses the expression “small human being” or “microanthropos” for human being and “great human being” or “macroanthropos” for the universe.

Since human beings are a part of the cosmos, the cosmos is not a complete divine form without them. Nevertheless, microcosm and macrocosm stand at opposite poles. The macrocosm, in its indefinite dispersion, is unconscious and passive. But the microcosm, through its intense concentration of all the divine attibutes, is conscious and active. Human beings know the cosmos and can shape it to their own ends, but the cosmos does not know human beings and cannot shape them except to the extent that it is a passive instrument in the hand of God.

The fact that the microcosm dominates over the macrocosm leads the Shaykh (Ibn ‘Arabi) to write at the beginning of the ‘Fusus al-hikam’ that the human being is the spirit of the cosmos, while the cosmos without the human being is like a proportioned and well-balanced body, ready and waiting for God to blow His spirit into it, but lifeless as long as the human being has not appeared. Similarly, he writes as follows in the ‘Futuhat’:

The whole cosmos is the differentiation of Adam, while Adam is the all-comprehensive book. In relation to the cosmos he is like the spirit in relation to the body. Hence the human being is the spirit of the cosmos, and the cosmos is the body. Through bringing together all of this the cosmos is the “great human being,” so long as the human being is within it. But if you look at the cosmos alone, without the human being, you will find it like a proportioned body without a spirit. The perfection of the cosmos through the human being is like the perfection of the body through the spirit. The human being is “blown into” the body of the cosmos, so he is the goal of the cosmos.(II 67.28)

In the same way, the Shaykh explains that the human being is the non-manifest reality of the cosmos, while the cosmos is the manifest form of the human being: “Distinguish yourself from the cosmos and distinguish the cosmos from yourself. Distinguish the manifest from the nonmanifest and the nonmanifest from the manifest. For within the cosmos, you are the spirit of the cosmos, and the cosmos is your manifest form. The form has no meaning without a spirit. Hence the cosmos has no meaning without you.”(III.363.2)

Because of the organic relationship between human beings and the cosmos, Ibn al-‘Arabi calls perfect human beings the “Pillar” of the cosmos. Without them, the cosmos would collapse and die, which is precisely what will happen at the end of time when the last perfect human being departs from this world. Cosmologically speaking, the corruption and decay of the natural and social environments in modern times is one of the outward signs of the diminishing number of perfect human beings on the face of the earth.

(William C. Chittick. Imaginal worlds: Ibn al-‘Arabi and the problem of religious diversity. State University of New York, Albany. 1994. P. 33-34)

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