Sufic theory: Modes of Being

Knowing according to one's particular
Modes of Being
Our mode of being determines our mode of 
perception, and so what we can experience.
                                                                                                          Henry Corbin

     from the Infinite Beauty project

Text excerpts from:
Tom Cheetham : Green Man, Earth Angel
Note: Cheetham's words are in italics ; Bolds are mine: SF

All of us, however dimly, perceive events in the imaginal world, and the task of transformation requires the development of the senses that open us into that world.

[The Sufi gnostic's journey toward God is a process of transformation in the body and the soul.]  The fundamental doctrine is that "like can only be known by like."  What is known corresponds to the mode of being of the knower.  You can only know what you are.  There are different modes of being for both the soul and the worlds it inhabits.  These worlds are arranged in a hierarchical series ascending toward the divine.  But to speak of the soul and the world as if they were two things can be misleading because it emphasizes a sharp distinction between them.  But this is just what must be discarded.  We never have knowledge of an "objective" reality.  The soul can only know what it is.  Henry Corbin writes:

"Ultimately what we call physis and the physical is but the reflection of the world of the Soul; there is no pure physics, but always the physics of some definite psychic activity."

It only seems to us that the soul and the world are distinct.  That is because we are not sufficiently conscious.  Najm Razi [Syfi mystic saint ca. 1200] tells us: 

"Know that the soul, the devil, the angel are not realities outside you: you are they.  Likewise Heaven, Earth and the Throne are not outside you, nor paradise not hell, nor death nor life.  They exist in you; when you have accomplished the mystical journey and have become pure you will become conscious of that."

The gnostic journey is a process of becoming conscious.  It accomplishes the interiorization of the world.  This does not mean swallowing it, taking it into the ego.  That is what modern culture is trying to do.  It is instead  a "coming out toward oneself," an exodus out of the narrow and constricting world of literal, public materiality and a resurrection of the psychocosmic unity that is the soul and its world.

This epistemology is founded on a doctrine of participation.  We can only know by virtue of our participation in the being of the thing known.  [In the words of Sufi saint Najm Kubra, the teacher of Najm Razi]:

"You can only see or witness an object by means of some part of that same object. . . it is only the mine whence it came which a precious stone sees, desires, and yearns for.   So when you have vision of a sky, an earth, a sun, stars or a moon, you should know that the particle in you which has its origin in that same mine has become pure.  The more pure you become, the purer and more radiant will be the sky that appears to you, until in the last stages of the journey you travel within the Divine Purity.  But Divine Purity is limitless, so never think that there is not something more exalted still ahead."

[The gnostic traveler sees according to the mode of being attained by the traveler.]  They are interior, but not subjective.  They occur in the mundus imaginalis and are perfectly real, just as the Burning Bush [Moses encountered] is real, but are not thereby visible to all: they are too real to be visible to everyone.  What we call objective reality isn't precisely false, it is merely the lowest form of reality.  


The meditative , interiorizing recitation of the Word [dhikr, remembering God through repetition of divine words] can bring forth tremendous energies for drawing creation toward the divine.  But this is too abstract.  The energies released by dhikr don't merely raise the soul: they transform it by enabling it to attain a new mode of being.  And this includes the transformation of the organs of perception that give form and body to the soul and its world, and the growth of a subtle body in harmony with the attributes that characterize the state of the soul and the world it now inhabits.  


The closer the gnostic traveler comes to divinity, the more real and more individual the soul becomes.  Infinite because God is the All-Encompassing.  More definite because God is the Unifier, and it is His Oneness that ground the uniqueness of every being. . .  The assent through the modes of being is the ascent of the self toward the Angel that defines its individuality.  The status of personhood is not given: it must be won. . . . Our task is to travel toward the Light that emanates from our celestial counterpart, our Angel, through whom the Light of the Divine is transmitted to us.


Islam is not a religion of salvation as is Christianity.  It is a religion of guidance.   . . .  Our fundamental trouble is ignorance, and we need constant reminders of who we are and where we should be heading.  . . . For Peoples of the Book [the Qur'an] there is of course the sacred text.  For everyone there is the Primordial Revelation of Nature, though we forget, and lose sight of the signs placed there.  


The Soul's mode of being is its mode of understanding and its mode of perception.  The soul's self-knowledge is its knowledge of its world.  But since the the Word of God takes the form of the signs in the world and in the soul as well as the Revealed  Text, the soul "reads" itself and the world in accordance with its stage in the process of coming to consciousness.  This means that the depths of meaning that can be discerned in the exegesis of the Qur'an must correspond to the spiritual hermeneutics [interpretation of the symbols] that the soul is able to perform upon itself and on the world of Nature. . .  


Note: the following text is excerpted from my project The Green Light of Sufi Travel.

The Colors of the Seven Mystical Veils 
The Seven Modes of Being
The Seven Prophets 

In order to complete his mystical, interior journey, the “man of light” must progress through seven stations, or modes of being, or psychological regions, the seven "mystical veils" each of which is characterized by a colored light that provides the traveler with an awareness of the status of his progress.  Corbin recognizes several saints who have provided varying sequences of the seven stages and with varying corresponding colors, some of which conclude the sequence with the Luminous Black Light.  The great Sufi saint, Semnani (1280-1386) says that the final mystical station is marked by "brilliant Green Light."  The sequence of the seven stations I have provided below is given by Semnani.

It's interesting to note, here, that Green is the traditional color of Islam; and among the many ways green is associated with Islam, in the Qur'an the word for "greenness" is used several times describing the state of the inhabitants of Paradise.   

1  Darkness, the stage of the subtle body or "embryonic mold" at the level of its birth, still 
    very close to the physical organism; a blackness sometimes turning to smoke-grey / the 
    Adam of your being
2  Blue light = soul, ego of natural human / the Noah of your being
3  Red light = heart, embryonic form of the celestial Self the Abraham of your being 
4  White light = the mystery or secret of superconsciousness the Moses of your being
5  Yellow light = nobel spirit the David of your being
6  Luminous Black = arcanum.  The “black light”; the “Luminous Night” the Jesus of your 
    being from which may come help or inspiration from the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete
7  Green light = the Divine Center, the Mohammad of your being; the eternal seal of your 
    person, the mystery of mysteries, the True Ego or the True Self.  

Tom Cheetham comments on the final stage:  "In accordance with Islamic iconography, the color of the final stage is emerald green.  For Corbin this stage marks the meeting with the heaven Guide, the perfectly individualated and individual Angel of Humanity and Angel of Knowledge that is the biblical Angel of the Face.  This is the Figure of whom Mohammad could say:  'I have seen my Lord in the most beautiful of forms.'  The Qur'anic source for this Person is Sura XVIII . . . Khidr."

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