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Planes of Existence in Ibn Arabi's Cosmology

Ibn `Arabi saw the cosmos as being ruled by an invisible spiritual hierarchy, consisting of the Supreme Pole (Qutb) , the two imams; the four "pillars" (awtad) governing the four cardinal points, the seven "substitutes" (abdal) ruling over each of the climates or geographical regions, the twelve chiefs (nuqaba') ruling the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and the eight nobles (nujaba) corresponding to the eight heavenly spheres.

But in addition to this "horizontal" hierarchy, and in keeping with other emanation-cosmologists, Ibn Arabi also refers to a succession of worlds or planes of existence.  These are  called the Hadarat or five "Presences" (sing. Hadra), perhaps because of the Divine Presence in each one, or the five Descents (tanazzulut) or Worlds (`alam).   Although there are always five levels, there is some difference in detail between the different interpretations, and the levels are usually given different names as well; so in fact more than five are referred to  [see e.g. Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, pp.225, 360-61].  These are:

Hadrat al-Dhat - Presence of the Essence, the Absolute Reality; or Hadrat ahadiya, Presence of Absolute Unity.

Hadrat al-Af`al - Presence of the Divine Acts, operations, or "Energies", or Hadrat al-Rubuyiya - Presence of the Suzurainty; equivalent to 'alam al-Jabarut - the world of the all powerful (spirits), or 'alam al-arwah - the world of the pure spirits (arwah jabarutiya).  This the world closest to the absolute Mystery.

'alam al-Malakut or Arwah malakutiya - the world of im-material souls.  The above and the present plane together make up the Presence of rela-tive Mystery (Hadrat al-ghayb al-mudaf) or the Presence or Plane of Spirits (Hadrat al-arwah).

'alam al-mithal - the world of Idea-Images (intermediate between matter and spirit) or simulitudes; or 'alam al-khayal -  the world of active imagination; and Hadrat-al-mithal wa'l- Khayal - Presence of the Image and the active imagination.

'alam al-shadadal - the visible world, or 'alam al-Mulkl -  the human world; and Hadrat al-Hiss - Presence of the sensible and visible.

In this schema, the planes of Jabarut, Malakut, and Mithal are clearly derived from Suhrawardi, who introduced the terminology.

This scheme is not always consistent. Sometimes there are alternative divine hypostases, such as Hadrat al-Sifat w'al-Asma - Presence of the Divine Names, or Hadrat-al-Uluhiya - Presence of the Godhead; or Hadrat wahidiya, Presence of plural Unity. and the Hadrat al-ghayb al-Mutlaq, the Presence of Absolute Mystery, or the eternal prototypes (al-a'yan ath-thabitah), which are the epiphanies of the Divine Names. Also, as with Kabbalah, the same terms are sometimes used in different contexts to refer to different realities by other writers.

Henry Corbin tells us that on each of these planes the same Creator-Creature (haqq and khalq) relation is repeated, a bi-unity whose two terms stand to one another in a relation of ac-tion and passion, hidden and manifest.  Therefore, each of these Hadarat is also designated as a "marriage" whose fruit is the Presence that follows it in the descending hierarchy [Ibid, p.225].  But these planes are not separate spheres, but rather the manifestation of different aspects of God and of the self [A. E. Affifi, The Mystical Philosophy of Ibn Arabi, p.134]

The heart of the Perfect Man is the centre for the manifestation of all of these planes.  So the Adept, by concentrating on  the form of anything in one of these planes by means of the himmah, the spiritual will or aspiration towards God or creativity of the heart (qalb), aquires perfect control (and preservation) over that thing, which lasts as an image of the active Imagination for as long as the himmah is maintained.  This is what Ibn Arabi means by the creative activity of the mystic [Affifi, Mystical Philosophy pp.134-5, and Corbin, Creative Imagination, p.226].  Here we have a precise analogy with the visualisation of and meditation upon archetypal deities in Tibetan Buddhism, and with the hermetic magic of modern (nineteenth and twentieth century) Qabalah.

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 26 June 1998, last modified 6 September 2004