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The Origin of Man in Pre-Eternity and His Origination in Time - Mulla Sadra and the Imami Shi'Ite

The Origin of Man in Pre-Eternity and His Origination in Time - Mulla Sadra and the Imami Shi'Ite

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Published by: Tahir Ali on Jun 11, 2011
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aThe Origin of Man in Pre-Eternityand His Origination in Time:Mulla Sadra and the
Shi’ite Tradition
Maria Dakake
Mulla Sadra’s philosophy of being is really one of seamless becoming. It poisits aseamless transformation between various states of being and between the various ordersof the soul - vegetative, animal, rational and beyond - through the medium of anindividual human being’s “substance” (
). The paramount challenge for such anontology is to explain the way in which a particular human reality can move from thetimeless realm of pre-eternity, through incarnation in time during its earthly life, back tothe timelessness of post-eternity without undergoing some ontological disjuncture between its existence in the world of permanence and its existence in the world of temporality and change. It is the problem of the “
” and the “
or the“origination” and the “return”. In this paper, our discussion will be concerned primarilywith Mulla Sadra’s understanding of the first stage of this process – namely, that of thenature of the pre-eternal reality of human beings and their transfer from the world of pre-eternity to that of earthly life, or the question of the
specifically. In particular, wewill examine Mulla Sadra’s beliefs regarding the
in connection with some
Shi’ite views of this same issue. Mulla Sadra, of course, was a devout
Shi’ite, andwe hope to demonstrate that on this issue, his thinking is clearly consistent with somemajor 
doctrinal interpretations. Now, from one point of view, Mulla Sadra was a philosopher and operated within thatdiscipline (
), while the
thought to which we will be referring would rather  be placed in the discipline of theology, or 
. However, both the philosophy of MullaSadra and the strain of Shi’ite
with which we will concern ourselves, transcend thelimitations of their own specific disciplines. Mulla Sadra would not classify his writingsas mere philosophy, but also as “wisdom” or “theosophy (
åikma, ‘irfan
tradition likewise contains a prominent gnostic or ‘
strain. It is in thistranscendent realm that the two formulations meet.We should begin with a brief statement of Mulla Sadra’s view of the origin of man in pre-eternity and the way in which individual men then come to exist in the world of temporality. According to Mulla Sadra, all individuals who exist in the earthly realmsimultaneously have an existence in the timeless realm of the spirit.That is, prior to - and throughout - their origination in time, all men exist as a kind of spiritual reality or as an “immaterial soul”. It is only when this spiritual reality comes to be embodied in base matter, and so receives a body and a “material” individuation, thatthe soul, properly speaking, comes into being. The soul is, in effect, the boundary or 
between the divine and the base, or the spiritual and the material in man.
is not fixed during the course of an individual’s lifetime; on the contrary, it isconstantly shifting through the process of substantial motion. Now, the “substance” of man is precisely the mixture of spirit and matter of which he is constituted; and it is thisvery substance - and not the accidents which subsist therein - which is altered andtransmuted as an individual passes from potentiality to actuality in the development of 
this physical, psychic and spiritual faculties. All movements from potentiality to actuality(and movement can only take place in this direction)
represent an intensification of the being (
) through the process of “trans-substantial motionof all contingent,ternporally existentiated creatures.
The being or 
of these contingent realitiesderives from the Being of the One, Necessary Being, which is God, Himself; and theBeing of God is extended into that of contingent realities through the principle of 
”, or “nature”, which acts like a principle of energy, analogous to the force whichcauses the rays of the sun to extend from the sun, while at the same time remainingnecessarily connected to it.
Thus even as an individual soul moves from potentiality toactuality, as parts of its body grow while others fall away, even as its very substance istransmuted, it remains a continuous essential reality subsisting through its own atemporalspiritual reality, and on the highest level, through the unity of Being, itself.
In this paper, we will compare Sadrian and
Shi‘ite thought on the issue of the pre-eternal origin and earthly incarnation of man with regard to two aspects in particular.First, we will examine their respective conceptions of the distinction between the variousaspects of man: his spiritual reality, his material reality (or his body) and the soul whichlies between them. We will be particularly concerned to elaborate upon the relationship between “spirit” and “soul” in the nature of human origins and the process of human becoming. Secondly, we will examine the implications this relationship has for the issueof divine compulsion and human free will as determinants of the spiritual destiny of individual men.The three aspects of man: spirit, soul and bodyIt is clear that Mulla Sadra is concerned to refute any suggestion of an ontologicaldisjuncture in an individual’s passage from one state of being to another. He is particularly concerned to refute any and all notions which involve the false doctrine of reincarnation or more specifically the “transmigration of souls” (
). This doctrinehas been ascribed, he notes, to many earlier thinkers, including Plato (although he arguesthat this attribution is false and arises from a misreading of Plato’s own intentions).
Mulla Sadra further notes that the doctrine of 
is also present in the Indiantraditions (which he subsumes under the general heading of “teachings of the Buddha”),as well as in the doctrines of some Islamic thinkers, namely the “Brethren of Purity(
 Ikhwan al-safa
)” and, unwittingly, in the dogma of certain “literalistthinkers inmainstream Islamic thought.
Reincarnation, or the transmigration of souls (
),as Mulla Sadra explains, posits the transfer of an individual human soul from onematerial body to another within the sensible world. He clearly distinguishes this from thetransformations implied in the
and the
, by noting that these refer totransfers between the sensible and supra-sensible worlds, not between different materialforms within the sensible world.
One of the mistaken assumptions which leads many to inadvertently confirm the falsedoctrine of reincarnation or 
, according to Mulla Sadra, is that of the pre-existence of the individuated human soul.
According to Mulla Sadra, there is a kind of individuated human existence in the realm of pre-eternity, but this is not a material in thisspiritual realm, they are not differentiated with respect to “matter”.
 It is precisely sucha differentiation with respect to matter that characterizes the nature of human existence inthe earthly realm, or in time, and which gives it its existence as “soul” or individuatedsoul. From this perspective, it is imperative to distinguish between Mulla Sadra’s
conception of “spirit (
)” and that of “soul (
)”. It is the spirit which has pre-eternalexistence, while the soul is engendered or originated precisely by the meeting of spiritand matter.The spirit (
)At the highest level, the Spirit (
), for Mulla Sadra, is none other than the First or Active Intellect, and is therefore the most direct emanation from God, emanating fromHim as do the rays of the sun from the sun. To the extent that the Spirit is with God, it isuncreated, and it constitutes, in fact, the creative principle itself. That is, the Spirit or Intellect (in its highest level) is not created by the divine command “Be! (
!)”, but isitself the divine command “Be!”
Thus, if the Spirit is created, it is at least not created“in time”, for it is itself the command through which all other beings arc originated intime. If the Spirit and the Intellect are one and the same, at their highest levels, they become differentiated at lower levels.As the Spirit becomes more and more remote from its source, and consequentlyweakened, it comes to represent correspondingly lower levels of intellect, and finally thevarious human and subhuman levels of the soul. The connection between the variouslevels of Spirit and Mulla Sadra’s particular view of the various levels of intellect andsoul is rather clearly illustrated in a commentary he offers in
 Kitab al-masha’ir 
. Thiscommentary is particularly relevant for our purposes in that it is, in fact, a commentaryon a certain passage found in the
Shi’ite theologian Ibn Babawayh’s standardwork of Shi’ite theology:
 Kitab al-i’tiqad.
It thus offers us our first and rather direct pointof comparison with
Shi’ite doctrine. Let us begin by summarizing Ibn Babawayh’sexposition of the various levels of “spirit”. According to Ibn Babawayh, there arealtogether five “spirits” - the Holy Spirit (
), the spirit of faith (
),the spirit of potency (
rêå al-quwwa
), the spirit of appetite (
), and the spiritof growth (
). Ibn Babawayh further tells us that it is only the messengers of God (
), the prophets (
) and the Imams who can be said to possess all five tothese spirits. The believers, for their part, possess four of the spirits, those of faith, potency, appetite and growth; while the unbelievers and animals possess only the threelowest spirits of potency, appetite and growth, lacking both the Holy Spirit and the spiritof faith.
 Kitab al-masha’ir 
, Mulla Sadra offers a lengthy gloss the Shi’itetheologian’s exposition by relating the levels of spirit to those of intellect and soul,clearly explaining the capabilities or faculties present at each level. On the highest level,the Spirit, or the Holy Spirit (
), is none other than the primordial andoriginal spirit which is with God, and which remains with Him. This, he says,corresponds to the philosophical concept of the “active intellect (
al-‘aql al-fa‘al 
). The“spirit of faith”, on the other hand corresponds, from the philosophical point of view, tothe “acquired intellect (
al-‘aql al- mustafad 
)”. That is, it represents the intellect which becomes actualized in man after having been potential. Thus it represents a level onlyattained in full by those realized souls who have passed completely from potentiality toactuality during the course of their earthly lives. The spirit of potency (
),according to Mulla Sadra, is none other than the level of the rational soul (
al-nafs al-naìiqa
) which likewise corresponds to the “material intellect (
al-‘aql al-hayêlani
)”, or the purely potential intellect before it becomes actualized in certain human beings. Theremaining two spirits, those of appetite and growth, do not represent levels of “intellect”at all, but rather correspond to the animal and vegetative souls respectively.

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