Editor's Note: This author will be speaking at the Ibn 'Arabi & Rumi conference, Nov. 4 -5 in New York City.
Listen, O my beloved!
I am the essence that is sought in creation,
The centre of the circle and its circumference,
Its complexity and simplicity.
I am the order revealed between heaven and earth...
Each person who has stood in an open space, or sailed on the sea, or stood on a high mountain has experienced the circularity of the horizons, seen the direction of the sun rising in the east, reaching its zenith and then setting in the west, or felt the overarching night-sky studded with stars, and found themselves at the centre looking from a face they cannot see. This experience applies equally to everybody who stands in such a space and it is a wonderful example of how each person is right at the centre of what is happening.
Similarly each of us has a direct connection to what is real, like the path of the sun that reaches us from across the waters. If the attention is then turned inwards towards the invisible centre of one's being, the heart, and what is happening there is observed, it is possible to establish a connection with the source of one's being, which is equally the ever-present dimensionless point of return.
The whole of humanity is being invited to a universal perspective. If, from among the infinite possibilities, we have selected a limited belief structure and decided to serve that, then we are in a prison of our own making and have excluded ourselves from the boundless generosity of existence:
"The people of God say 'There are as many ways to God as the breaths of the creatures' and every breath emanates from the heart according to the belief the heart has of God."
However a person believes God to be, that is how God will appear to them. By limiting God in a particular way, we limit ourselves.
"Take care not to be tied by any particular belief while denying all others, for much good would escape you -- in fact, knowledge of how things are would evade you. So be in yourself the 'substance' of all forms of belief, for God is too vast and great to be confined to one belief rather than another. God has said, 'Wherever you turn, there is the face of God', without mentioning any particular orientation."
Ibn 'Arabi's emphasis on the inclusion of all beliefs is of particular relevance to us today. Since it is God who appears in every form, without being limited to any particular form, God can be seen in all ways of worship and all forms of belief. However, the ability to accept all beliefs without being tied to any one in particular requires giving up all of one's preconceived notions about reality. When Ibn 'Arabi exhorts us to be the 'substance' of all beliefs, this is not so that we just take on another belief which is more inclusive. It is a matter of vision, of seeing that God is the essence of everything, including ourselves, and takes on the forms of all beliefs and can be recognized there.
The person whose heart is pure does not oblige Reality to conform to their own image of it, but rather their heart is able to receive and conform to Reality as it truly appears at that moment. Ibn 'Arabi writes:
"'The one who has a heart' knows the variation of the Real in images, by virtue of the heart's variability in modes. For they know the Real Self from their self and their heart is no other than the Itselfness of the Real. There is nothing existent in the world which is other than the Identity of the Real -- indeed it is the Identity itself."
This is the greatest perplexity in the mystery of God, seeing that God possesses all forms yet is confined to none.
"The whole matter is a circle. It has no limit which can be seen and therefore stopped at."
Everyone is already, by their very existence, complete and encompassed by divine compassion, yet at the same time called to a perfection which defies limitation. This call to perfection is a call to wholeness and peace where all qualities are integrated in total equilibrium. All human beings are born with an unlimited potential for perfection where the entire spiritual and cosmic realities may be clearly reflected in them, so that they become the place of manifestation for the totality of divine attributes. This possibility of further perfection for the sake of beauty heightens the value and meaning of human life. In closely adhering to God, there is guidance in the right way. God responds to request and what more beautiful request is there than that he may bring about for us the aptitude for perfection.
Once we know that we have no existence of our own, that only the Real exists, the intended revelation of beauty can take place. Ibn 'Arabi writes:
"'God is beautiful and loves beauty.' Certainly, God dresses the interior of the servant with beauty insofar as He only reveals Himself to him out of love when He manifests in them the special beauty which is bound to them and which can only appear in this particular place. Every place of manifestation has a beauty which is special to it which belongs to nothing else. God does not look at the world until after He has made it beautiful and arranged it harmoniously so that it receives what He brings to it in His revelation according to the beauty of its aptitude. He dresses that revelation with beauty upon beauty, so it is always in a new beauty in every revelation -- just as it is always in a new creation in itself. The revelation undergoes perpetual transformation in the interior and exterior for the person from whom God has removed the covering of his blindness from his inner vision."
For most people intense glimpses of beauty are rare, but we have numerous examples of the ability of the human spirit to transcend the most abominable suffering and hardship, to keep faith with the witnessed reality of this vision. It is a vision based on an inner certainty of the essential oneness and generosity of being.
The vision provided by Ibn 'Arabi gives an overview which is not tied to any particular belief, or property or attribute. Essentially the self is unbounded. If we impose our own limitations and constraints on it, we are prevented from fully receiving each new revelation. We need to empty ourselves of our own limitation so we are ready to respond in accordance with the needs of the moment, freed from the burden of fixed beliefs. For as Ibn 'Arabi says: "The Essence is unknown and not bound by any fixed qualification."
The importance of Ibn 'Arabi in our time is what is timeless in his writings. For the current moment, "now," is the gateway to what lies beyond temporal and spatial considerations. It includes that which is timeless and universal as well as all the particular ramifications of this time and place. In our present age, spiritual knowledge is becoming more accessible as there is a greater urgency to recognize the true value and potential of human beings. However many human beings are born, humanity is never divided but remains a single reality, expressing itself in numberless different ways, each as an individuation of the single reality. No one is excluded from the possibility of coming to know themselves and therefore to know God the Real.
Ibn 'Arabi's writings illuminate the various aspects of reconciling the inner reality and the outer reality, creator and creation, the invisible and visible worlds. He constantly refers back to the source of the revealed words of the Quran rather than relying on subsequent interpretations of the Islamic. In this way he brings out the true meaning of religion, emphasizing the universality of the way which shows the uniqueness of the single reality of being and its infinite possibilities expressed in endlessly changing forms and images. The all-inclusive, absolute reality appears in all things yet remains unconfined by the limitations of anything.
Throughout his work, Ibn 'Arabi emphasizes the need to be aware of those aspects of reality which transcend particular circumstances, as well as paying attention to how that reality manifests in the world -- for he maintains that the movement of the world from non-existence to existence is the movement of love. The world is itself nothing other than the one and only reality manifesting itself in infinitely varied forms and states, which are already present within it in potential. From this point of view, the signs manifested in the world should not be dismissed or ignored, especially for those who are embarked on a spiritual journey whose aim is union, integration and completeness.
Ibn 'Arabi's teachings open a door to an inclusive spiritual perspective. This necessarily includes all perspectives, not by focusing on the detail of each, but by concentrating on the point from which all perspectives arise and consequently encompasses them all. This is the still point at the centre of the circle, the point about which the universes turn.