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Suhrawardi's Cosmology

Suhrawardi taught a complex and profound emanationist cosmology, according to which all creation is a successive outflow from the original supreme Light of Lights (nur al-anwar).  The cosmos and all planes of existence are therefore ultimately nothing more than varying degrees of Light - or more properly Xvarnah, a Zoroastrian term meaning "Light of Glory" - and darkness.

From this original Light of Lights there issues the Vic-torial Light (al-nur al-qahir), also called the Greatest Light (al-nur al-a`zam) or Most Proximate Light (al-nur al-aqrab).  Suhrawardi identifies this original Light with the Zoroastrian Bahman (late Zoroastrian (Mazdean) Vohumen) or "Good (or Divine) Mind".

From this first Light there in turn emanates a whole "longitudinal" (tuli) order of Lights, so called because each higher Light generates the one following it.  Each Light thus stands in a position or aspect of domination (qahr) to the one below it, and love (mahabbah) to the one above it (from which it arose), and serves as an isthmus (barzakh) or purgatory between the Lights above and below it.  This original order of Lights, each of which is also, like the first Light, a "victorial light", is also called the world of mothers (ummahat) since all things in the Cosmos are generated from it.

From the "masculine" pole of this supreme hierarchy, which is its aspect as domination and contemplation, there issues a further hierarchies of angels.  These are transcendent spiritual Intelligences independent of any material body.  They are described as "latitudinal" (`ardi) because they do not generate each other as do the longitudinal order, but rather subsist side by side as the "masters of the species" (arbab al-anwa) or "masters of the theurgies (arbab al-tilasm).  Theu are identified with the Platonic Ideas, and are the celestial archetypes of all the types of entities in the universe.

While from the "feminine" pole of the Spiritual Lights, which is their aspect as love and receptivity to illumination and irridation, there come into being the visible, astrological heavens, and finally the Earth.  The heavens can thus be considered the "materialisation" or "crystallisation" of the original archangelic Light; the "non-being" or "privation" or separation from the original Light of Lights, which is the only absolute Reality.

Thus, as in Kashmir Shaivite metaphysics, Suhrawardi's cosmology sees both matter (maya or prakriti) and transcendent spirits (purushas) arising from the "feminine" and "masculine" aspects of an original chain of polarised yet still unitary divine principles (here, the tattwas Sadashiva, Ishwara, and Sadvidya).

But whereas in Kashmir Shaivism the successive stages of being unfold from transcendent matter (maya or prakriti), Suhrawardi has the transcendent spirits as the source of the next lower order of reality.  So from the "latitudinal" order of angelic Intel-ligences there issues a further hierarchy; an intermediary angelic order which acts as its vice-regent and reigns over the species diercetly.  These are called the "regent lights" (al-anwar al-muhabbirah) or "lordly lights" (al-anwar al-isfahbadiyah).  They include the Souls of the Heavenly Spheres and the human souls (the higher spiritual being - the Higher Self), angels and pure spiritual beings, who overshadow the natural and the human world.  Thus we have the world of Malakut, the angelic world or world of Creative-Imaginative perception.

Between this Angelic World and the material world of the senses there is a further world, the world of images and archetypal forms (`alam al-mithal).  This is an interworld (barzakh), the world of subtle forms revealed through the Imagination, having attributes of both physical and spiritual, and intermediate between the two. [Sayyed Hossein Nasr, Amazon com Three Muslim Sages, pp.71-3; Corbin, Amazon com Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, p.55, 59; and Suhrawardi, translated by Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, pp.126ff]




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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 25 June 1998, last modified 5 September 2004