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Suhrawardhi and the Concept of the Intermediate World

The concept of the Intermediate World is as central to emanationist and occult cosmology and psychology as the concept of the Higher or Divine Self.  And just as threatening to the exoteric philosophers and religionists.  The Persian Sufi philosopher Mulla `Abd al-Razzaq Lahiji (d.1662) went so far as to see it as the distinguishing metaphysical thesis between the esoteric and exoteric points of view.  As he put it:

 "...(T)he Oriental theosophists [i.e. those who follow the  Ishraqi school of Suhrawardi] and the Sufis agree in defending...a large number of theorems which the Peripatetics [Aristotleans] and the scholastic theologians, on the grounds that they do not meet the requirements of rational theory and logical argument, reject.  These theorems notably include the one affirming the existence of the...autonomous world of archetypal Images and Forms (alam-i mithal)....(B)etween the intelligible world, which is the world of entirely immaterial pure Intelligences, and the sensory world, which is the world of purely material realities, there exists another universe.  The beings of this universe possess shape and extent, even though they do not have "material matter".  This universe  is...designated as the world of barzakh (interval, interworld)."
[Transl. by Henry Corbin, Amazon com Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth - from Mazdean Iran to Shi`ite Iran, p.172 (1977, Princeton University Press)]

The idea of a purely Spiritual World and a purely Material World is easy enough for people to understand, whether they accept it or  not.  But what is incomprehensible to those lacking higher insight - that is, to the rationalistic philosophers and the dogmatic religionists - is the idea of a transitional World or  Worlds between the two.  The recognition of the existence of such a transi-tional reality is necessary for a complete understanding of human consciousness.

From another perspective, every plane of existence is a barzakh, or interworld between the plane above it and the plane below.  According to Suhrawardi, each of the transcendent Lights (or victorial lights) that emanate from the original Absolute or Light of Lights is an isthmus (barzakh), a "purgatory", separating the two luminosities above and below it [Nasr, Three Muslem Sages, pp.71-2].  As Sayyed Hossein Nasr explains, each light

"acts as a veil which simultaneously hides and reveals the light of the higher order - hiding it in that it is not transmitted in its full intensity and revealing it in that it allows a certain degree of effusion or irridation to pass through to permit the next lower member of the hierachy to come into being." [Ibid, p.72]

Likewise in Lurianic Kabbalah, not only is there an original Tzimtzum or self-veiling of the Divine, but each Sefirot and World is likewise identified with a tzimtzum.  Moses Luzzatto explains that

"the ten Sefirot [Divine attributes] act as "veils" - ten stages, vessels, or degrees  which the Creator issued to serve as channels through which his bounty might be transmitted..., restraining that bounty to the extent that the worlds might not dissappear because of too great abundance of Light, yet providing a sufficent amount  to ensure their continued existence."
[Moses Luzzatto, General Principles of the Kabbalah, p.3].

The Five Kabbalistic Worlds of Adam Kadmon, Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah are likewise each considered a veil or tzimtzum and inasmuch as each World has a full complement of ten Sefirot, that gives fifty "veils" altogether.




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