Monday, 11 April 2011

Ethics of Ibn Arabi


Ibn ‘Arabî is a great ethical philosopher. I quote some of his maxims which speak volumes about subtlety and profundity of his ethical thought which aligns him with the great tradition of ethics represented in both Semitic and nonSemitic traditions. The following are from The Mantle of Initiation and the last two are from his Book of Spiritual Advice.
 
Do not condemn any of those addicted to carnal appetites for their lusts; Do not urge leadership upon anyone; Do not hold down your children to serve your own interests; Take no joy in a reputation flattering to yourself spreading among the general public, even if you deserve it.
Have no desire that people should listen to your speech.
Be not anxious to give answer to anything displeasing said about you.
Be content with [God’s] Decree not necessarily with each thing decreed, but, rather, with its Decree itself. And receive with joy whatever may come from Him.
Do favors for both friend and foe, treating all alike with humility, gentleness and long-suffering.
Pardon the one who has harmed you, that is, do not even defend yourself [from harm].
Looking down upon the ‘ordinary people’ (al-‘awâmm) in relation to the (spiritual) ‘elite’, in the sense of comparing this particular individual with that individual—such as (comparing the famous mystic) Hasan al-Basrî with Hasan ibn Hâni’ (the scandalous poet Abû Nuwâs)—can’t be relied upon.
      In general, you should hold a good opinion of everyone, and your heart should be at peace with them
 
However it must be noted that he is the spokesperson of the sage, the perfect man, the man of the moment (ibnul waqt) who is characterized by innocence of becoming and transcendence of good and evil and perfect spontaneity of which Zen and Taoism so emphatically speak and is not guilty of the modern heresy of moralism. Postmodern probematization of ethics and modern scientific discoveries implicating relativism of morals can’t problematize Akbarian position as he too, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, speaks from the high mountains of the Spirit which transcends all actions, good or evil. There is no such thing as virtue and sin (and thus moral evil) at the deepest level. Moral evil appears so from the perspective of law only which is not necessarily the same thing at the plane of haqiqah. God is beyond good and evil and so is the sage. Transcendence of good/evil dualism is a thesis shared by traditional mystical figures. Nietzsche’s superman, as Coomaraswamy points out, exemplifies this mystical thesis rather than any heterodox conception. In fact modern relativism poses hardly a problem in Ibn ‘Arabî ’s perspective and it is subsumed in the higher absolutist view of Sufism without denying its (relative) truth at a certain plane. In fact metaphysical-esoteric perspective of Ibn ‘Arabî  distinguishes itself from all kinds of moralisms and inadequate absolutisms (based on absolutizing something less than the Absolute) and ideologies to which modernity has succumbed and postmodernism has questioned. Human evaluations and categories of good and evil are purely arbitrary and based on self interest. They are projections based on anthropocentricism. The revealed law designates as evil something which is nevertheless approved by the more primordial Divine Will. Here Ibn ‘Arabî’s position converges with Spinoza’s view and easily appropriates various arguments for ethical relativism. Everything, every creature, is under the tuition and influence of divine decree. Everything happens in accordance with archetypal constitution or possibilities. God’s Goodness can’t be affected by what is taken to be evil in the creation which is acquired by the things/individuals as per their preparedness. Like Eckhart he provides one of the most convincing formulations of theodicy which resists standard modern critiques as he approaches the issue metaphysically and it is primarily at a theological plane that the problem arises.
 

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