Excerpted from Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom by Ibn 'Arabi. Published by Fons Vitae (1997), interpreted by Shayk Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti.
When the Lord created His deputy, He also built a city for him where he could reside with his retinue and governing officials. He named the city Human Being. When the Lord finished the building of the city, He assigned a special place at its center for His deputy. All the speculations about it―whether the deputy really resides there or just uses it as headquarters, whether it is a throne room or a courtroom or a ministry, or merely a place where his voice is heard―are beside the point. The Lord called that place the heart.
The Lord built this city on a foundation of four walls made of earth, water, air, and fire. Some say that the place of the Lord's deputy is not the heart but the mind. I insist that it is the heart, although no one has evidence or proof. But for establishing stability and for heedfulness and remembrance, the heart is surely the center. Our Master related that his Lord said: "I do not fit into the heavens and the worlds which I created, but I fit into the heart of My faithful servant." Our Master, may God's peace and blessings be upon him, also said, "The Lord looks neither at you nor at your deeds, but at your heart." The Lord always remembers and is heedful, and looks upon His deputy at all times.
The Lord made the soul responsible for the body.
"It is not their eyes which are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts." (Hajj, 46)
Men wander upon the face of this world, and within the space of their lives they see what is being born and dying, what is being built and destroyed. They have eyes to see and ears to hear, and should take lessons. If they are not heedful it is because their hearts are blind. It is not the vegetal heart that is responsible here, nor what is vulgarly called mankind―a four-legged animal standing on its hind legs. God has not given His secret to the animal, but to His deputy the soul. Yet the vegetal heart is the palace of that deputy, the king.
Our Master, may God's peace and blessings be upon him, said: "There is a small piece of meat in the body of man: If it is clean and righteous, the whole being is clean. If that piece of meat is rotten, the whole being is rotten. That piece of meat is the heart." It is the palace of the deputy of God where the secrets are kept, and it must be proper and in order. It is a safe where the secret documents and rules and orders of the deputy are kept.
If the leader is right, the followers are right. If the leader has gone astray, his companions and followers will go astray.
When the Lord made the human soul master of the human city, He taught him the character, the behavior, the thoughts of the inhabitants of that city. Since he understood his people, his people recognized him and became his dependents and helpers. If God's deputy, whom He sent to govern, is disloyal and corrupt and betrays His trust, his people will be corrupt and disloyal to him as well. On the other hand, if he fears and respects the One who entrusted him with power, his companions will trust and respect him also.
So look at yourselves. If you are God-fearing, just, and righteous, so is your soul. You are the way you are because of it. First the ruler and the guide must be right; then the signs of righteousness appear in his dependents.
One sees so many things in oneself, without knowing why they are, whether they were there in the beginning or happened afterwards or will be the same tomorrow―for one does not know the procedures of the secret divine government within, or how to protect that little piece of meat, the heart, whose disorder can destroy us all. The Lord created a tower on the higher levels of the city of man. He built it with refined materials and set it to overlook the whole city, and called it Mind. He opened four large windows on the top of it, for the enjoyment of the four corners of the city, and called them Eyes, Ears, Mouth, and Nose.
In the center of the tower He built a vault to protect the treasure of inspiration, and in it He stacked the treasure, all arranged in perfect order. The directors of the senses could consult this Hall of Information, and add new data to it in turn. The dreams dreamt come from this vault. Here too is the wealth gathered by the collector of taxes within the city of man, the monies stacked separately as lawful and unlawful. The Lord built another vault within the tower of the mind which He called the Vault of Intellect. The goods in that vault are brought from the Vault of Inspiration. Here they are weighed and compared; what is right is kept in the second vault, and what is wrong is returned to the first.
In a corner of the mind He built yet another vault, where memories are kept. The keeper of memories is a high official called Intelligence.
There is another precinct in the city of man where the daughter of the deputy of God, Personality, lives. This place is known as Selfhood. Here there are contradictions, here both God's ordinances and what He ahs forbidden are kept. On special honored nights the commands of the All-Powerful are distributed here. The place is protected by God Himself, for it is under the Footstool where His holy Feet are set―just as the soul, the deputy of God, is under and protected by His Throne. Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali says: "The human being is that child whose father is the soul and whose mother is the self." He holds that the Lord of the soul keeps it on a high level under His Throne and our mother, the self, on a lower level under his Feet. As He is the Lord of the parents, so is He the Lord of our material existence, their child. The Sufis know that all states and actions of the self, whether right or wrong, are predestined by the Lord. The only part of man which is not bound by predestination is the soul, which they follow into the future. With precaution and insistence, they hope to rouse the deputy of God.
Even if the soul realizes the danger of the temptations of the commanding self, the human being is left in a difficult position. He is undecided between two powerful entities: the soul calls him unto hi, then the evil commanding self calls him unto him. But all this test is by the permission of God, for He says:
"All things are from God." (Nisa', 78)
He also says:
"Of the bounties of thy Lord, We bestow freely on these as well as on those." (Bani Isra'il, 20)
And He says to the soul:
"And the portion and order given to it and for its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right." (Shams, 7-8)
Selfhood is a place of order and enlightenment, but it is also inclined toward the Evil Commanding Self. If it is tempted, then it loses its purity. All things are from God―it is He who made the Commanding Self desirous of evil, and it is He who made human selfhood bent from time to time to evil as well as to good. When the self is rational and heedful, it is pure and in order. Then it is called the Self-Assured Self. That is its lawful state. Although God had created His deputy with the most perfect attributes, He saw that, on his own, he was nonetheless weak, powerless, and in need. God wanted His deputy to realize that he would only find strength in the help and support of his Lord. He created a strong opposition for him to provoke this realization. That is the secret of the two opposing possibilities for human selfhood.
The soul and the self are man and wife. When the man calls upon his wife and she does not respond, people say, "What is the matter that your wife does not come to you?"
The man asks his trusted companion, Intelligence, the reason for this unresponsiveness. Intellect tells the master, the soul, "O my gracious master, you are calling upon a being who has a station as high as your own. She is a master in her own right, with power, and under the orders of the All-Powerful. She is called Desire for the Worldly, the Commanding Self. It is not so easy to command her!" Then the soul sends his wife a letter by his adviser's hand, explaining his feelings about her. But the self takes the messenger of the soul prisoner. Intelligence submits to the self, under duress.
When Intelligence, now under the influence of the self, is permitted to return to his master the soul, he reports that not only has he lost his wife, but most of his administration and armies have gone over to her as well. Only a very few have remained loyal to him. The mind tells the soul that his enemy has already infiltrated the courtyard of his palace, and is ready to destroy his reign and capture his kingdom and sit upon his throne. He claims that it is his sacred duty to warn him before they are both destroyed. Now, with the warning of the mind, the soul realizes that he is reduced to total helplessness. He is powerless, unable to act. All he can do is throw himself upon the mercy of the Lord of all and everything. Turning to Him, he begs for help. He knows now that he cannot save himself. Only at his defeat does he know the value of his Lord, the All-Powerful. That indeed was the purpose of all that had happened. If a man lived all his life in complete comfort and safety and had all that he wished for, nothing he had would retain any value for him. It is only pain and trouble that make one realize the value of peace and safety.
When God's deputy, the soul, turns to his Lord for help, the Lord becomes a mediator between the soul and the self. And so the self abstains from taking total control of the realm of the human being.
The Lord addresses her "O Self-Assured Self, return to Me, pleased with Me; I am pleased with you. Enter My Paradise among My servants whom I love." Responding to this call both the self and the soul bow their heads in submission, satisfied by the divine approval. Now that all differences have disappeared, they come together again at last. The Self-Assured Self, whom the Lord addressed, is this joined existence of the soul and the self, harmonious and at peace, pleased by their Lord and their Lord pleased by them.
The Lord named it the Self-Assured Self because at this point the self has realized its true potential. When she was tempted by evil, it was against her nature, for the Lord Himself said, "all things are from God," and He also said "all His blessings are bestowed freely upon all, on these as well as on those." When He invites the soul and the self to Himself "well pleased themselves and well pleasing unto Him," it is implied that the two are pleased with each other and in harmony. When He invites them to His Paradise, He is inviting them to come to the safety of a secure place away from places unpleasing to the Lord. When they are asked to come into this Paradise together with His servants whom He loves, He includes them among those who have submitted to Him and have connected their heats to Him in obedience.
The lust of pleasures of this world is the paradise of the unfaithful. It is the true Fire whose exterior resembles the Garden―but beneath the surface is torture. Our Master (peace and blessings of God be upon him) warned his Companions, saying, "Paradise is beyond gates that appear displeasing and undesirable while the gates of Hell are, attractive and delicious. They will only reveal what is behind them at the end of the world, when Antichrist comes." He also described Hell thus: "There are two valleys there. In one there is a river of fire and in the other a river of water. Whoever in repentance, accepting his punishment, seeks the valley of fire, will find himself in the cool valley of water. Whoever, unrepentant, seeks the valley of water to save himself from punishment, will fall upon the fire."
The self responds to the one who uses his intelligence. To a certain extent they agree. A grave question: Why is the soul that God has created as His deputy subverted by the Evil-Commanding Self? There are two answers. One has already been explained. God wished to test the soul to make clear to it its total need of its Creator, provoking failure by making it respond to the temptations of the Evil-Commanding Self while deaf to the voice of Intellect. The second opinion is that the soul calls and invites the self to it. When the self responds, it responds in a language the soul does not understand. It is the excitement and ambition of learning something unknown that gets the soul in trouble, just as it was Eve's curiosity about the forbidden fruit that made her believe the devil. Thus, mischief, sedition and war continue within the realm of the human being, caused by the misunderstanding and disagreement between the soul and the Evil-Commanding Self. At times one conquers the other; at times the situation is reversed, Sometimes one reigns in deserts and the other in fertile gardens. This battle will continue until the Day of Judgment.
The faithful who believe in God but who at times fail and are disobedient lose the deserts of their realm in the battle with the Evil-Commanding Self. While it reigns in those deserts, the king of the mind captures its capital. Hypocrites lose their capital city to the Evil-Commanding Self and hold on to the deserts of their being. Nonbelievers are slaves of the Evil-Commanding Self, having lost all the kingdom of the human being.
On the Day of Judgment two groups will form. One will be bound for Paradise, the other bound for hellfire, where they will stay forever. When all are gathered together so that everyone can see, Death will be slain. Then all will live in their assigned places for eternity. Believers who have failed to obey God at all times, after being punished by the fear of Fire will be sent to join those who are bound for Paradise. Hypocrites will be sent to join the unfaithful bound to suffer in Hell.
Division is incidental. Unity is principal. If a hand does something against the principle of the whole being, the whole being responds to prevent it from its error. The sick branch either dries and falls, saving the tree, or the sap of the tree cures it. Such is the state of the faithful who are at times guilty of errors. However, if the whole body is sick, a healthy hand cannot cure it. If the whole tree is dead, the few last green leaves will not save it. Such is the case of the hypocrites.
In the kingdom of man, under the rule of the soul, the deputy of God, there are four kinds of citizens. There are pure faithful ones who obey the prescriptions of their Lord and have been able to protect themselves from all evil. Then there are those who are basically faithful, but at times are apt to revolt. There are hypocrites who try to appear faithful while they are not, and there are the unfaithful who take themselves to be God. That is how it is in the kingdom of man, amid the continuous mischief, sedition, and war between the soul, the mind, and the Evil-Commanding Self. This we shall try to relate, investigate and consider.
God the Truth tells the truth, and guides one to the straight path.
The Gnostic Academy of Chicago
Free articles, lecture transcriptions, scriptures, commentary and courses on gnosticism.