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Hadith of Awakening by Mulla Sadra

Hadith of Awakening by Mulla Sadra

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Published by: Tahir Ali on Jul 27, 2010
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Psychology, Eschatology, and Imagination
in Mulla Sadra’s Commentary on ‘The
of Awakening’
Mohammed Rustom
"People are asleep; when they die, they awaken" (
al-nas niyam fa-idhA matu intabahu
).This tradition, which will be referred to as the hadith of awakening, suggests an affinity between this worldly life (hayat al-dunya) and the state of sleeping. Since death in theeyes of Muslims is indeed a type of awakening from the sleep of heedlessness whichcharacterizes human existence, the hadith of awakening could not but capture theimagination of Islam's foremost thinkers since it succinctly summarizes the essence of Islamic eschatological teachings. (1) Allusions to this tradition in Islamic mysticalliterature abound. (2) Yet very few authors have commented upon its significance at greatlength. A noteworthy exception is Mulla Sadra Shirazi (d. 1050/1641), who wrote animportant commentary upon it. (3) Sadra's commentary on this hadith is a uniquecontribution to Islamic thought because it brings together some of the most important psychological and eschatological ideas in Islamic philosophy and theoretical Sufism fromthe 4th/10th to the 11th/17th centuries. (4) In the pages which follow I will thereforediscuss the most important features of Mulla Sadra's commentary on the hadith of awakening, highlighting how one of Islam's most important philosophers was able toexpound his teachings on psychology, eschatology, and imagination within the context of a hadith commentary.
Forms in this World and the Next World
Mulla Sadra begins his commentary on the hadith of awakening by stating that the natureof forms in the Afterlife, while resembling the imaginal forms experienced in our dreamstate or in mirrors in this life, are not essentially the same: "The existence of things(umur) in the Afterlife, although resembling the existence of forms which people see insleep or in a mirror in one respect, are not so [in actuality]." (5) This is due to the fact thatin the Afterlife, the things people see and experience are imaginal representations of thefruits of their actions in this world. But those forms which appear to us in sleep are notreal in the way the images we experience in our waking state are, nor are they real in theway the forms presented to us in the Afterlife will be. Because of these considerationsSadra goes on to say that "the existent form (al-surah al-mawjudah) [which appears] insleep and in the mirror is an impotent thing whose appearance is pure fancy (al-hikayahal-mahdah)." (6) Dreams imaginally represent to the dreamer the contents of hisconscience. The same idea holds true for objects reflected in mirrors. The reflection of anobject in a mirror is not the object itself. At the same time, it does capture something of the true nature of the object placed before the mirror. If it were otherwise, people would
not, for example, brush their hair in front of mirrors, nor would they rely upon them for any representations of reality. The forms people receive in their dreams and in mirrors aretherefore both real and unreal. In the Afterlife, those things which are theimaginalizations of our actions in this world, or, rather, the things which are representedto us as the 'physical' manifestations of our deeds here on earth, also reflect something of the reality with which we were engaged in the previous world. On the other hand, theseforms are not simply representations, as are the objects reflected in mirrors or thoseimages produced in dreams. They are more real than either of these, since these forms belong to a different order of reality:As for forms (suwar) which exist in the Afterlife, they arethings potent with existence and intense in effects. Their relation to worldly forms is like the relation of sensory formsto existent forms in sleep, among which are the remnantsfrom the impressions of sense-intuition and the storehouses of imagination. (7)Thus Mulla Sadra begins his commentary by discussing the correlation between thethings in the Afterlife and those things which are experienced in a dream state or reflected in mirrors. He then shows how the Afterlife actually deals with real formswhereas the contents of dreams or objects reflected in mirrors do not. Why he frames thediscussion in this way is not readily apparent. It is only when he introduces the hadith of awakening that the significance of his opening lines emerges:It is just as it has been related in the hadith about his saying(God bless him and his family), "People are asleep; when theydie, they awaken." So it is known from this that existence in[this] world is sleep and life therein is a dream. (8)It therefore becomes clear that what Mulla Sadra was trying to do by juxtaposing theexistence of things in the Afterlife with the existence of such things as the objects of our dreams in this life was to provide an analogy of the relative unreality of this world. Whenwe awaken from our dreams in this world, we look back upon them and marvel at how'real' they seemed while they were taking place. Our dreams seem so real because theycapture something of the reality with which we are familiar in our waking state. But theforms in our dreams are nothing but the imaginalized projections of the furniture whichmakes up 'reality' in our waking state. Likewise, when we die, our present waking statewill seem like nothing but a dream in relation to our new form of existence. Just as weawaken to 'reality' in this life from our dream state, so too do we awaken to the reality of the Afterlife from the dream of this life when we die. Yet the things in the Afterlife willconvey to us something of the reality with which we were familiar in the previous life,and this is the point that Sadra would like to drive home.2
The Soul's Imaginal Potency and its Awakening
As was seen above, Mulla Sadra has in mind the imaginal nature of the contents of our dreams when he calls them 'pure fancy.' Yet he is also aware of the fact that theseimaginal representations in our dreams are connected to the individual soul. Such images belong to the contiguous imagination (al-khayal al-muttasil), as opposed to thediscontiguous imagination (al-khayal al-munfasil). The former term denotes the fact thatthere is a subjective element to the imaginal forms presented to us. In other words, theimaginal objects which appear to us are intimately connected to our personality, humanexperience, and nature. The latter term, on the other hand, denotes the fact that there is anobjective element to the imaginal forms presented to us. But those images which come tous from the world of imagination objectively are nonetheless conditioned by the 'field' of our contiguous imagination. It is therefore the contiguous imagination which can produceforms in this world and the next world. When the soul dies, it simply awakens to thereality of imagination itself. It is here that Ibn 'Arabi (d. 638/1240) has immediaterelevance. In his works he makes it very clear that the dream state of this world is nothing but a dream within a dream. (10) When people pass from this life to the next, they moveon to another dream state. This time, however, the dream in which they partake is seenfor what it really is. They will never cease being in a dream state, since existence itself isnothing but God's dream. For Ibn 'Arabi, this dream is what allows for existence toemerge, for if there were no dreaming, there would be no creation.Souls which depart the world and are still very much drawn to the body will not be ableto clearly make their way about the terrain of the Afterlife. Their potency will beweakened by their attachments to those material forms--now non-existent--to which theywere attached during their earthly existence. On the other hand, those souls which areable to free themselves from the shackles of materiality during their stay on earth will,once freed from the body, be able to actualize their full potentialities, and will therefore be able to perceive the forms in the next world with utmost clarity. But the clarity of thesoul's vision is always colored by one's contiguous imagination, as has been demonstratedabove. Yet insofar as the soul remains pinned down by matter, the forms it imaginalizeswill be blurred. They will be distorted images of the true nature of things:So long as the soul remains attached to this dense, darkishbody--comprised as it is of contraries--it will not be possiblefor it to bring about the forms and shapes which it desires andwills, but will [bring about] impotent and bodily existence[which proceeds] from the station of remnants and traces, fromwhich the sought after effects do not result. (11)What Mulla Sadra is saying here appears to be contrary to the influential doctrine of thesoul developed by Ibn Sina (d. 428/1037). For Ibn Sina, the soul is not a composite thing(murakkab) but is simple (basit). (12) Because it is simple, it cannot be composed of both3

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