The Light of Creation Islamic and Hindu Theories of Manifestation

The Light of Creation 
Islamic Hindu Theories of Manifestation 
Double-page  Illuminations and texts  for "An Imaginary Book"  Chapter VIII

“The first thing God created 
was my light.”

“I am made of God’s light 
and all created beings 
are made of my light.”

Two Hadiths
The Prophet Muhammad

Click on images to enlarge
Note: this project is the eighth "Chapter"  from “An Imaginary Book” 
inspired by Islamic sacred art and knowledge.  To survey brief illustrated 
introductions to the complete collection of projects for the "An Imaginary Book"   
click here.

The seven photographs created for this project were inspired by the writings of three great saints: the Sufi saints Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240) and Najm Kobra  (ca. 1220) and the great Hindu saint Utpaladeva (ca. AD 900-950).  Also very influential were the writings of Tom Cheetham, the Islamic scholars Henry Corbin, Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Samer Akkach, and the Hindu scholar Swami Shantananda.  I am grateful for their insights and for bringing these Islamic and Hindu Traditions to a larger public through their recent and excellent publications.

As I was reading these remarkable texts, excerpts of which I have provided below, I spontaneously began seeing flashes of images in my head similar to the photographs you'll see here in this project.  Those subtle pictures from the Imaginal World became the seeds for this, the eighth chapter of my Imaginary Book  

I have explained elsewhere the commitment I have sustained since 1987 to the practice of meditation and study of the traditional yogic scriptures, and how my recent studies of Islamic sacred art and sacred knowledge, and in particular the Qur'anic, Prophetic, and esoteric texts of Sufism, have supported and shed new light on my understanding of the Hindu traditions.  Interestingly, and gratefully this project has provided me a way to bring certain aspects of the Islamic and Hindu traditions together and share with you some fascinating relationships between them.

As I was working on the photographs for this project, based initially on the writings of Ibn 'Arabi and Najm Kobra, I remembered having read something in a book by Swami Shantananda about an on-and-off "flashing" forth of apparent reality.  Indeed, upon returning to the book Splendor of Recognition I found some commentaries which the Swami had made on Utpaladeva's theory of manifestation.  As you will see in the series of texts I have provided below, the Hindu theory involving the concepts Chiti, Spanda and Abhasa-Vada is very similar to the Islamic traditions involving the concepts The Breath of Divine CompassionThe Recurrence of Creation, and Perpetual Ta'wil.  

*          *          *

The Breath of the Compassionate
The Recurrence of Creation 
Perpetual Ta'wil  
Ibn 'Arabi, the great Sufi mystic, writes compellingly about creation not only as an act in the past but also as a continuous process.  He termed this continuous process The Recurrence of Creation, and the concept relates to the Qur'anic phrase "Breath of the Compassionate."  Ibn 'Arabi says that with the inhalation and exhalation of the Divine Breath all cosmic forms contained in the Breath are constantly manifested and reabsorbed, ceaselessly renewing the creation at every moment.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in his book The Garden of Truth writes: “In the same way that each breath we take rejuvenates and makes possible the continuation of our life, the Divine Breath is renewed at every moment, making possible our and the cosmos’s continuous existence in what appears to us as duration.  This duration is, however, nothing but the repetition of the “now” within which creation is renewed.  In a deeper sense, every tree that we observe in the garden comes freshly from God’s creative act.”

Samer Akkach, in his book Cosmology and Architecture writes: “In philosophical terms, the Divine Breath is the original medium through which potential beings were externalized, bursting out from the inwardness of formless potentiality into the outwardness of formal actuality.  It is the “substance of the world” wherein are latent all the possibilities of formal manifestation. . .  The Divine Breath is at once the creative medium and the necessary substantial support for all creations.”

Tom Cheetham, explores this idea in his book The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism:  "The Creation itself as the realization of the Divine Compassion, the Breath of the Merciful, is itself the link between the human soul and the Divine.  And because of its living connection, it must be active, continually alive, subject to perpetual ta'wil.  This Creation is a recurrent Creation, not accomplished once and for all, such that we can at some time hope to know the ends of it.  This ceasing to be is fana, annihilation . . .”  

Cheetham continues: This manifestation and annihilation occurs eternally, perpetually, instantaneously, and in all the hierarchy of worlds from the terrestrial upwards.  The interpenetration of this world and the other means that "this is the other world, or rather, this already is the other world."  This is the "secret of Resurrection":  there is a "continuous ascension of being [writes Henry Corbin]  . . . and their ascending never ceases because the divine descent into the various forms never ceases . . .  it exists in every moment.  It is the deepest purpose of human existence to journey from the outward to the inward and so “return creation to its origin.””   [Note: Henry Corbin's words are from his book on Ibn 'Arabi,  Alone with the Alone, which was first published as Creative Imagination.  Visit this link The Divine Breath and Ibn 'Arabi's Cloud for further elaboration on this idea.]

*          *          *

The Mystic's Vision 
Henry Corbin,  Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi
Imaginative vision becomes vision of the heart . . . the heart being the organ, the "eye" by which God sees Himself: the contemplant is the contemplated (my vision of Him is His vision of me).  ~   [All that has proceeded] demonstrates the extraordinary role of the Image in the spirituality of Ibn 'Arabi.  In its ultimate degree, the Image will be a vision of the "Form of God" corresponding to the innermost being of the mystic, who experiences himself as the microcosm of the Divine Being; a limited Form, like every form, but a Form which as such . . . emanates an aura, a "field" which is always open to "recurrent creations."  This presupposes of course a basic visionary Imagination, a "presence of the heart" in the intermediate world . . . an intermediate world which is the encounter (the conjunction, the "conspiration") of the spiritual and the physical . . . 

“Flashing Forth” :  A Hindu Theory of Manifestation
Swami Shantananda, in his book Splendor of Recognition, includes a commentary on the Theory of Manifestation written by the great Hindu sage Utpaladeva (ca. AD 900-950).  Utpaladeva postulates that everything we experience and perceive in life is a projection, a flashing forth of Reality. . .  He says that there is nothing in this universe but God; only our understanding makes us see things otherwise.  This “flashing forth” happens through what Utpaladeva terms abhasas: that which flashes, illumines, appears, or manifests.   Abhasa also means “splendor.”

Swami Shantananda writes: “By choosing the term abhasa Utpaladeva seems to emphasize two significant aspects of the creative act: on the one hand, that objective manifestations are forms of mahaprakasa, the great light of Consciousness which illumines; and on the other hand, that they are ephemeral flashes, mere projections onto the screen of Chiti [the creative power of universal Consciousness] with no permanent existence.  In spite of the flickering and precarious nature of abhasas, without them, there would be no world to perceive.” 

Swami Shantananda continues: “The quality of ‘hiddenness’ is a highly significant aspect of abhasa-vada.  One reason life seems so perplexing is that many abhasas are veiled or unobserved. . . we’re sending and receiving abhasas all the time, often without even knowing it. . . we are forever creating realities, and these realities have their own existence and their own effect, regardless of our awareness of what we’re doing.  In other words, the multiple layers of manifestation happen simultaneously, whether or not we’re conscious of them.”

“An abhasa can be a solar system, a country, a hat, or it can be a molecule or a particle of energy.  Anything that streams out of the great light of Consciousness is an abhasa.  At the subtlest level, our bodies are nothing but shining particles of light, pure energy--and, according to Utpaladeva, each of these particles is an abhasa.”

Again, Swami Shantananda: “Abhasas flash forth . . . incessantly and at a fantastic speed. . . When I speak to someone for just a few moments, that person is created and destroyed millions of times right before my eyes.  The abhasas that compose his body, his voice, his feelings, his gestures are appearing and disappearing, vibrating beyond the reach of my senses.  Each pulsation of spanda [divine energy] creates, maintains, and destroys everything.  The reason I can identify the person who appears in one moment as the same person I was speaking with just a moment before is that these abhasas flash forth in a given pattern, re-creating the person’s form and once again animating it.  According to Utpaladeva, each moment of our perception is composed of a series of abhasas, pulsating with tiny consecutive modifications that give us the impression of movement. . .  [An example:] Although on the physical plane we are aware of the stability of the Great Pyramid, on the cosmic level this very structure has vanished and re-emerged billions upon trillions of times.  In this sense, even the oldest human construction is only a fleeting appearance, a thing without stability in the infinitude of Consciousness.”

#1  The Light of Creation    20x25"    Double-page illumination for "An Imaginary Book"

The Divine Breath is the original medium through which  
potential beings were externalized, bursting out 
from the inwardness of formless potentiality 
into the outwardness of formal actuality.

Samer Akkach

#2  The Light of Creation    20x25"    Double-page illumination for "An Imaginary Book"

Abhasas flash forth incessantly and at a fantastic speed . . .  They  
are ephemeral flashes, mere projections onto the screen of Chiti.  
Anything that streams out of the great light of Consciousness  
is an abhasa.   Abhasas flash forth in a given pattern 
re-creating the  form.   Each pulsation creates, 
  maintains, and destroys everything.

Swami Shantananda

                                               #3  The Light of Creation    20x25"    Double-page illumination for "An Imaginary Book"

It is the deepest purpose of human existence to  
journey from the outward to the inward 
and so return creation to its Origin. 

Henry Corbin

                                                 #4  The Light of Creation    20x25"    Double-page illumination for "An Imaginary Book"

In the same way that each breath we take rejuvenates 
  and makes possible the continuation of our life, the 
Divine Breath is renewed at every moment 
making possible our and the cosmos’s 
continuous existence.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr

                                       #5  The Light of Creation   "The Cloud"    20x25"    Double-page illumination for "An Imaginary Book"

This manifestation and annihilation occurs eternally, perpetually,
 instantaneously, and in all the hierarchy of the worlds.
There is a continuous ascension of being . . . 
and their ascending never ceases 
because the divine descent 
into the various forms 
never ceases . . .  
it exists 

Tom Cheetham 
Henry Corbin

                                                 #6  The Light of Creation    20x25"    Double-page illumination for "An Imaginary Book"

Before your face, there is another Face of light irradiating lights; 
while behind its diaphanous veil a sun becomes visible, 
seemingly animated by a movement to and fro.  
In reality this face is your own face and 
this sun is the sun of the Spirit.

Najm Kobra

                                                 #7  The Light of Creation    20x25"    Double-page illumination for "An Imaginary Book"

Najm Kobra: “Sun of the Spirit”
Henry Corbin, in his book The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, introduces the ideas of the great Sufi mystic Najm Kobra (ca. 1220) who states that the object of the mystic's journey, or search is the Divine Light.  He says the seeker, himself is a particle of that light which he is seeking. 

As Najm Kobra’s “traveler” approaches the end of his inward journey, he comes upon a column of space which consists of the invisible black light of God.  Henry Corbin interprets this column as: "the Pole of the Orient of the North from which all created things originate."  As the seeker approaches the Pole he becomes absorbed into its black light.  Self returns to Self.  Light returns to Light.

Najm Kobra writes: “On the mystic journey . . . when you have risen up through the Seven Wells of Existence, the Heaven of the sovereign condition and its power are revealed to you.  Its atmosphere is . . . a vital light through which flow waves eternally in movement toward one another. . .  Before your face, there is another Face of Light irradiating lights; while behind its diaphanous veil a sun becomes visible, seemingly animated by a movement to and fro.  In reality this face is your own face and this sun is the sun of the Spirit . . ." 

Seyyed Hossein Nasr explains the symbolism of the sun as the goal of the mystic journey:  It is to pierce with the light of the intellect all veils of duality and otherness to return to the Sun of the Self, which is the origin of all selves and the source of the intellect shining within those who have realized the state of perfect servanthood.  It is in light of return to the Self that many Sufis have spoken, often in ecstatic language, of having gone beyond name . . . to become no one . . .


I am like the sun
drowned within the light
I know not how to distinguish
myself from light 


*          *          *

I encourage you to see the next and concluding project in 
"An Imaginary Book"  The ninth "chapter" is entitled: 
The Green Light of Sufi Travel

This project page was first posted January 5, 2013

Related Projects and other links:

       The Divine Breath and Ibn 'Arabi's Cloud 


        A collection of quotes by Islamic Scholars on Islamic sacred art

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.