The Essence of Reality was written over the course of just three days in 514/1120, by a scholar who was just twenty-four. The text, like its author ʿAyn al-Quḍāt, is remarkable for many reasons, not least of which that it is in all likelihood the earliest philosophical exposition of mysticism in the Islamic intellectual tradition. This important work would go on to exert significant influence on both classical Islamic philosophy and philosophical mysticism and is now available in a new edition and translation by Mohammed Rustom. In this excerpt, the author describes his journey toward mystical knowledge.
Chapter 82: The Annihilation of My Metaphorical Identity
When I got to writing this chapter, the splendor of majestic beginninglessness shone forth: knowledge and intellect became naught, and there remained only the writer, but without himself. Rather, the real identity enveloped me and drowned my metaphorical identity. When the beginningless beauty returned my intellect, knowledge, and self, my tongue began to ring with the words of the poet:
What happened, I will not mention.
Think well, and ask no more!
Chapter 83: My Yearning to Return Home
My eyes were filled with tears and death was knocking at my door; troubled by the fervor of my love and in the depths of despair, I exclaimed, “How long will this empty madness last? What good can there be in remembering the Beloved when the lover is trapped in the prison of separation?” As the desire in my wretched self grew stronger, I was given a way back to my original home. Now the pen remains, but the writer is gone.
Chapter 84: In the Divine Presence
When the command came to enter into the presence of the King, the bird of my soul flew back to its original nest and primordial home, leaving the cage of this world behind. Then something happened between myself and the King that cannot be put into words. When He allowed me to leave, I asked for permission to relate this tale to those poor souls still confined by time and space, and He allowed me to do so. Returning to my lodging in this worldly prison, I returned to the task at hand and wrote these chapters that tell my tale.
Chapter 85: A Final Word about My Journey
If the thought occurs to you, “What is it that happened when you were called from behind the veil of the unseen?,” I would say, “Have etiquette! Why should a blind man ask about the reality of colors?” I swear by Him who holds the earthly and spiritual realms in His hands, and whose power rules the invincible realm, if even a speck of what took place between us were to appear in this world of yours, the Throne and the Footstool would come to naught, let alone the heavens and the earth!
Chapter 86: Fleeing from This World
Be extremely wary of the desire to try to perceive these supra-sensory realities by means of human expressions, poring over them with your vain intelligence and defective acumen. Take this advice for free, although I do not see you accepting it. And your reasons are plain for me to see. Indeed, in pursuing rational theology I have beheld some marvels, so I do not wish to discourage you or any other thinker from them. But if you want to reach the reality of this path, leave this impure world and its defilements to those in pursuit of it, those with lowly aspirations who are preoccupied with it. As for the afterlife, do not think it is a game! The lover is content to stop short of union with his Beloved, shamed and disgraced. By my life! «Among you are those who desire this world, and among you are those who desire the afterlife». But you are still very far from those people who have cast this world aside, and whom the Qurʾan praises when it says, «they desire His face». If you also cast this world aside, God’s beginningless munificence and everlasting generosity will join you to a heart that has no attachment to anything in the heavens and the earth; for nothing will quench your thirsty heart but the state of lowliness, which is the water of life.
To read more, buy The Essence of Reality here.