The heavenly witness
Shaykh Awhaduddin Kermani says: ‘Aan shaahed-e-ma’nawi ke jaan-am tan-e-ust’, which means ‘my soul is the body of the heavenly witness’. He adds that the illuminated appearance of the heavenly witness is a co-respondent to his soul. The figure of the heavenly witness can become visible when your lower self gets purified by means of the training along the Sufi path.
Spiritual development implies the transformation of the headstrong soul into the pacified soul. According to shaykh Nuruddin Esfarayini in his Kaashef al-Asraar this heavenly witness can already appear to you when you have not yet attained the level of purification of the pacified soul. The darkness available in your soul can have its effect on the heavenly witness, who may appear like a dark figure. Shaykh Esfarayini gives this description of the heavenly witness when the purification of the soul has been completed: ‘Suddenly this mysterious figure appears from behind the veil, without any dark spot [...]’
The personification of our own deeds in a luminous or a dark figure appears - according to Fritz Meier - in Mazdaism, Mandaeism, Manichaeism, Plato, Poseidonius, Plutarch, Vergil and in gnostic Christianity. As for Islam, Meier mentions the commentary of at-Tabari regarding Qur'an 10:9. At-Tabari presents a hadith explaining that a believer sees a beautiful figure when coming out of the grave, while someone who has covered up the truth then sees an ugly figure. Rudolf Steiner’s ‘Guardian at the Threshold’ is rather terrifying.
The Sufis give several names to the heavenly witness:
The witness of the unseen
The heavenly twin
The supervisor of the unseen
The shaykh of the unseen
The teacher of the unseen
The scales of the unseen
The sun of the unseen
The sun of certainty
The sun of high knowledge
The sun of the heart
The sun of the spirit
A Sufi has a twin in the higher world. When the twin moves, the Sufi moves and when this heavenly twin appears, the Sufi gets into an expansive state and when the twin disappears, then a state of contraction manifests itself. When the heavenly witness is luminous, then the scales testify about your acts and thoughts in a positive way. The scales of the unseen show the opposite when your heavenly witness is dark or disappears behind a veil.
It is also said that your heavenly witness is the personification of your acts and thoughts. When the heavenly witness is visible as a dark person then this is the manifestation of a low degree of purification of your soul. In case it appears as a luminous person then this shows that you are inwardly pure. Your good and evil aspects of your personality become visible to you in your heavenly witness when you undergo an inward development. Your noble acts and thoughts add to the luminosity of your heavenly twin, while your ignoble activities and thoughts create ugly stains in the visible body of this twin. You yourself can create an angelic and luminous heavenly twin, but it can also become an ugly, misshapen demonic appearance.
During the process of inward development of the Sufi the heavenly twin can already become visible. After his or her dead the unification with the heavenly partner takes place. This unification with your alter ego can thus be with a beautiful being of light or with a dark, misshapen ogre.
According to shaykh Najmuddin Kubra our quest consists of freeing the captive light in ourselves, because we are a light coming from God. He informs us of a veil (the darkness of our creatural nature) that makes it impossible for us to see:
‘O my friend! Why not close your eyes in order to contemplate about what you see. When you say that you see nothing at the moment, then you are wrong. You truly see, but because of the fact that the darkness of your body is too close to your vision, you don’t discern what is seen. In case you want to see - even with your eyes closed - then begin by diminishing the effect of your bodily nature. The way to do so asks something of you in the field of spiritual training.’
Most Sufi toruq present you with a general training. This implies purification practices, meditation, recollection of God, retreat, controlling your external senses, banishing distracting thoughts, etc. by means of which you become a traveller along the Sufi path with its spiritual states and stations.
A more special kind of training gets prescribed by your murshed and consists of that which is necessary for your personality and background. This becomes clear in the following story about shaykh Majduddin of Baghdad, who was one of the foremost disciples of shaykh Najmuddin Kubra and who became a great wali. The following anecdote describes the beginning of his training:
He had a rather delicate nature and was a near one of the king.
If you would say that he was effeminate, then that would be calumny:
He was an accomplished man, but he had a rather delicate appearance.
His shaykh Najmuddin Kubra put him in charge of cleaning the toilets for a period of six months. The mother was informed about it. She was a medic just like her son Majduddin. His mother sent someone to shaykh Najmuddin Kubra to tell him that Majduddin was a fragile man and that it was rather surprising that he had to do this kind of work. If the shaykh allowed, she could send him ten Turkish slaves to do the work of cleaning the toilets, so that her son could do something else.
The shaykh responded thus to her: 'That this proposal comes from someone like you is even more surprising as you have studied medical science. Do you think that if your son was suffering from cholera and if I would give the remedy against cholera to a Turkish slave, that your son would get better again'?
Perseverance and one-pointedness in your search are important. That is why shaykh Awhaduddin Kermani says:
Haashaa ke konad del be degar jaa manzel
Dur az del-e-man ke gardad az ‘eshq khajel
Gar dida-ye-man be shaahed dar negarad
U shaahed-e-dida-st o to shahed-e-del
God forbids that my heart will search at another place for a house
Shame is far from my heart; I would never turn away from love.
My sight may wander after some worldly beloved,
But she is the witness of my eye, you are the heavenly witness of my heart.
The concluding line brings together two kinds of witness (shaahed). By means of the eye of the heart the heavenly witness can be seen. A beautiful human being, which can be seen with the senses, testifies to the beauty of the divine. Physical beauty becomes thus a spiritual attribute.
The following saying is attributed to the Prophet: “I have seen my God in the most beautiful of forms”. Shaykh Lahiji writes that God has no like, but He has an image. The divine, without form or modality, is present to the eye of the heart in a particular form, modality and individuation. Without the heavenly witness the divine could remain abstract.
Particles of light become visible to the Sufi when the state of love becomes stronger and stronger. Shaykh Najmuddin Kubra in his masterpiece Fawaa’eh al-Jamaal wa Fawaateh al-Jalaal describes the vision of the heavenly witness thus:
“When the area of circle of the circle of the face has become purified,
it effuses lights as a source pours forth its water,
so that the traveller has an impression that these lights
are gushing forth to irradiate his face.
This effusion takes place in the area between the two eyes and the eyebrows”.
“Finally it spreads to cover the whole face. At that moment, before you,
before Your face, there is another face also of light, irradiating lights,
while behind its diaphanous veil a sun becomes visible,
seemingly animated by a movement to and fro.
In reality this face is your own face and this sun is the sun of the spirit
that goes to and fro in your body”.
“Next, the whole of your person gets immersed in purity and you are gazing at a person of light who is also irradiating lights. The traveller perceives this irradiation of lights proceeding from the whole of his person. Often the veil falls and the total reality of the person is revealed and then, with the whole of your body, you perceive the whole”.
“The opening of the inward sight begins in the eyes, then in the face, then in the chest and then in the entire body. This person of light before you is called in Sufi terms the supervisor of the unseen. It is also called the shaykh of the unseen or also the scales of the unseen”.
Aristotle has been the advisor of Alexander the Great and has instructed him how to invoke his ‘perfect nature’. Perfect nature is he root of wisdom and its key. Hermes explained this about perfect nature: ‘It is a heavenly entity, the angel of the philosopher, conjoined with his star, which rules him and opens the doors of wisdom for him, teaches him what is difficult, reveals to him what is right, in sleeping as in waking’.
What is in Hermetism the ‘heavenly I’, the ‘alter ego’, the ‘eternal partner and companion’, appears in the Ghaayat al-Hakim of the Andalusian author Majriti as the ‘perfect nature’ (taamm at-tebaa’): ‘The first thing you have to do in relation to your soul, is to meditate attentively on the spiritual entity, which rules you [...]. Perfect nature [then] rises in the soul. Its rays strike and penetrate the faculties of the subtle organs of wisdom. They attract these faculties, cause them to rise in the soul, just as the rays of the sun attract the energies of the terrestrial world and cause them to rise in the atmosphere’.
Opposed to the ‘perfect human being’ of whom there is only one at a certain time, there are many perfect natures, because there is a perfect nature for every human being. Hellmut Ritter suspected that the concept of perfect nature is connected to what is called the genius in Stoic and Neo-platonic philosophy.
In the Mer’aat al-Ma’aani we meet someone who leaves his home and makes a journey and travels in strange countries. He meets a shaykh who sits on the throne of a king. He greets the shaykh and the shaykh greets him. The shaykh is like a mirror to every of his acts. When he talks, the shaykh talks. When he looks attentively to the shaykh, he sees that the shaykh was he himself. The shaykh was his mirror image.
Shaykh Awhaduddin Kermani writes this quatrain about the mirror image:
Dar aayena dust nazar mikardam
Khud raa ze khudi be khud khabr mikardam
Goftam ke magar kasist dar didaa-ye-man
Khud budam o khud be khud nazar mikardam
I looked in the mirror of my beloved.
I gave myself witness to my self about the self.
I wondered if there was someone reflected in my eye.
This someone was I: I saw myself in me.
After meeting the shaykh who was his mirror image, the traveller returns home and ultimately meets the lord who has sent him on his journey. This lord takes a single thread out of web of a spider and splits it into two threads. Then he joins both threads once again into one single thread and says: 1x1=1. The traveller understands that he is also identical with this lord, who likewise is his mirror image. This lord, to whom he returns, is his perfect nature.
Addressing the heavenly witness, shaykh Najmuddin Kubra says: ‘You are myself!’ He who knows his self knows his Lord. Henri Corbin has this understanding that this relationship is not one corresponding to 1=1, but of 1x1, which is ‘the identity of an essence raised to its total power by being multiplied by itself’. This is the state where ‘at the climax, the lover has become the very substance of love, he is then both the lover and the beloved’.
Why say more about the subtle phenomenon of the heavenly witness?
Shaykh Mahmud Shabestari states not for nothing:
Dar in mashhad ke anwaar-e-tajjalli ast
Sokhan daaram wali na goftan awli ast
About the lights of theophanies present in this place of witnessing,
I would have much to say, but silence is wiser.
The most important sources are given from the start:
Fritz Meier: Die Fawâ’ih al-Gamâl wa-Fawâtih al-Galâl des Nagm ad-Dîn al-Kubrâ;Wiesbaden; 1957.
Najm al-Din Kubra: Les Éclosions de la Beauté et les Parfums de la Majesté; Nîmes; 2001.
-: La Pratique du Soufisme; Nîmes; 2002.
Henri Corbin: The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism; New Lebanon; 1978.
Nuruddin Isfarayini: Le Revelateur des Mysteres; Lagrasse; 1986.
Shaykh Mahmud Shabestari: Gulshan-e-râz; Tehran; 1386.
Shams al-Dîn Muhammad Lâhîjî: Mafâtîh al-I’jâz fi Sharh-e-Gulshan-e-Râz; Tehran; 1381.
Rudolf Steiner: De weg tot inzicht in hogere werelden; Zeist; 2015.