Friday, 6 May 2011

Postcolonialism and Perennialism


Colonialism is ingrained in modern Western metaphysical project. The Western worldview which may be characterized as rationalist, masculine or androcentric, subject centred or egoistic, logical, dualist, outward looking or extrovert, aggressive scientific capitalist secularist humanistic and individualistic creates an environment, a worldview that is congenial to colonialist enterprise. It is logical corollary of certain of its philosophical assumptions. Perennialist traditionalist perspective provides a trenchant critique of colonialism and its background ideological framework of Western modernity.  The traditional grounds for legitimating colonialist enterprise are forcefully critiqued.  Everything for which the colonialist West stands for is rejected in favour of the marginalized voice of the traditional cultures and civilizations.  Perennialists provide alternative cognitive and epistemic universe of their own to replace modernist colonialist epistemic and cognitive universe.
          Colonialism is primarily a Western phenomenon – all the traditional religious or premodern non secular worldviews excluding this aberration, this monstrosity on a priori grounds.  Colonialist enterprise is linked with the libidinal or desiring economy that sustains a “colonialist” self or ego.  It is nothing but desireism plain and simple.  Modern Western man, the colonialist man is a desiring machine, to use Deluzian jargon.  Practically his metaphysics translates into odyssey of desire.  He identifies himself with the Ego – Ego whose concrete manifestations are circumscribed in this world of space and time. Modern man is in a state of total disequilibrium, or dukhha, to use Buddhist term, and colonialism has succeeded in perpetuating and universalizing or diffusing it. In this paper the following points will be argued for:
1.       Colonialism is ingrained in modern Western metaphysical project.  It is a logical corollary of certain of its metaphysical assumptions.
2.       Traditional modern and postmodern critiques of colonialism aren’t traditional enough for the task as they are unable to transcend background colonialist ideological framework or paradigm.  They share fundamental assumptions of modernist secularist (or colonialist) weltanschauung and thus can’t provide alternative to dominant colonialist metanarrative.
3.       Perennialist traditionalist perspective provides a trenchant critique of colonialism and its background ideological framework of Western modernity.  The traditional grounds for legitimating colonialist enterprise are forcefully critiqued.  Everything for which colonialist West stands for is rejected in favour of the marginalized voice of the traditional cultures and civilizations.  Perennialists provide alternative cognitive and epistemic universe of their own to replace modernist colonialist epistemic and cognitive universe.
4.       Islamic and Buddhist traditions are best geared to challenge the hegemony of colonialist worldview.
Deconstructionist insights are also juxtaposed with perennialist framework in our critique of modernist humanist Western philosophical tradition and its classical antecedents.  This paper is a contrubut6ion in Islamic and Buddhist studies vis-à-vis postcolonial theory.  It is also a postcolonial reading of our traditional religious heritage and thus a contribution in the philosophy of religion as well.
            Modern  Western thought or the project of Enlightenment and Modernity  is what has sustained  colonialist metanarrative. Perennialist authors subject this background ideology to a searching criticism and provide alternative way of looking at things. They contrast it with tradition and traditional perspective. The traditionalist perennialist perspective began to be enunciated in the West at the beginning of the twentieth century by the French metaphysician Rene Guenon, although its precepts are considered to be timeless and to be found in all authentic traditions. It is also known as Perennialism, the Perennial Philosophy, or Sophia Perennis. The term Philosophia Perennis goes back to the Renaissance, while the Hindu expression Sanatana Dharma - Eternal Doctrine - has precisely the same signification.The other founding figures of the Traditionalist School were the German metaphysician and mystic Frithjof Schuon and the Ceylonese scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy. To these were added over time such imposing figures as Titus Burckhardt, Huston Smith, Martin Lings, Marco Pallis, Whitall N. Perry, Michel Vâlsân, William Stoddart, Charles le Gai Eaton, Tage Lindbom and Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr.Other major figures of the twentieth century have been profoundly influenced by the school, including T.S. Eliot, the Romanian historian of religions and Mircea Eliade, British author Aldous Huxley. Thus it has respectable though restricted following among the academic and intellectual elite in the modern West and   it is the present paper’s contention that there is an urgent need to reckon with its claims and explore its resources for providing a solution to certain nagging problems that modern and postmodern  Western man faces  and for providing the marginalized Orient much needed strategy of resistance  by way of solid critique of imperialistic colonialist ideology that Western man has been exploiting for East’s colonization.
By philosophia perennis is meant a knowledge which has always been and will always be and which is of universal character both in the sense of existing among peoples of different climes and epochs and of dealing with universal principles.This knowledge which is available to the intellect is, moreover, contained in the heart of all religions or traditions. It alone opens the channels of grace and shows the way towards transcendence without which man descends to infra human status. “The philosophia perennis possesses branches and ramifications pertaining to cosmology, anthropology, art and other disciplines, but at its heart lies pure metaphysics, if this later term is understood as the science of Ultimate Reality, as a scientia sacra not to be confused with the subject bearing the name metaphysics in postmedieval Western philosophy.”1 The perennialist school believes that “there is  a Primordial Tradition which constituted original or archetypal man’s primal spiritual and intellectual heritage received through direct revelation when Heaven and Earth were stull ‘united.’ This Primordial Tradition is reflected in all later traditions, but the later traditions are not simply its historical and horizontal continuation.”2 Traditionalists accord a high value to the intellectual activities of the pre-modern world and where they venture into such realms as social criticism it is clearly from a Traditionalist perspective which turns the Progressivist/Evolutionist assumptions of modernist theorists and of post-modernists alike on their heads.
 According to perennialists the Western world, unlike other cultures, has lost its connection to the Primordial Tradition. This took place first in the Classical era, was rectified by Christianity, which re-introduced a modified form of the Primordial Tradition, but the severance began again at the time of the Renaissance. The Renaissance has been dubbed as the second fall of man. Like Eliot, they criticize Renaissance as devil inspired movement. According to perennialists knowledge of the tradition provides us the metaperspective or critical lever and vantage point of universal orthodoxy that receives its legitimation from God Himself by virtue of which one could evaluate all grand narratives, philosophies and ideologies that are heterodox and claim our allegiance  and shows us the way to proceed beyond postmodern skepticism and relativism and grounds us in the Truth that is Absolute Itself. This concept of tradition is key concept of this perennialist school  that has arisen as a response to modernism and humanism, which they dub as ideology of colonialism. What is tradition?  It is knowledge of First Principles or Universal Principles, the metaphysical core or kernel of all traditional religious and wisdom traditions which are the prerogative of so-called primitive men (and that ancient age is the Age of Gold, in contrast to which modern age being the most degenerate age signalling the end of the world-Kali Yuga-Iron Age)   and “barbaric” Africans and Asians – in short the third world, the premodern world or non European or colonized world. Tradition means “truths or principles of a divine origin revealed  or unveiled to mankind and, in fact, a whole cosmic centre through various figures envisaged as messengers, prophets, avatars, the Logos or other transmitting agencies, along with all the ramifications and applications of these principles in different realms including law and social structure, art, symbolism, the sciences, and embracing of course Supreme Knowledge along with the means of its attainmennt. In its more universal sense tradition can be considered to include the principles which bind man to Heaven. Lord Northbourne defines it as the chain that joins civilization to Revelation.”3 Rene Guenon thus  spells out the essence of tradition “…those institutions are traditional which find their ultimate juistification in their more or less direct, but always intentional and conscious, dependence upon a doctrine which, as regards its fundamental nature, is in every case of an intellectual order; but this intellectuality may be found either in a pure state, in cases where one is dealing with an entirely metaphysical docrtreine, or else it may be found mingled with other heteropgenous elements, as in the case of religious or other sopecial modes which a traditional doctrine is capable of assuming.”4  It isn’t to be confused with theosophy, spiritism, occultism, revivalism, fundamentalism, sentimental religion, moralism and the like.  It demands intelligence and intuition both of which are absent in modern world.  Scientist neither possesses objective intelligence not intellective intuition.  Modern philosophy and literary theory and also the so-called higher criticism along with proliferation of so many “isms” such as scientism, rationalism, relativism, materialism, positivism, empiricism, secularism, psychologism, individualism, biologism, evolutionism, existentialism, are seen as some of the prime follies of modernist thought.  Postmodernism fears no better. Modernism which forms the ideological background of colonialism is characterized as antitraditional and thus such derogatory epithets as progressive, humanist, rationalist, materialist, experimental, individualist, free thinking and intensely sentimental ideology.  Marxism, the religion of the 20th C.E. shares many, though not all of these commitments although it was precisely to defeat some of the forms of colonialism that it was originally launched.  Modern Western man is cut off from the vertical dimension or the sense of transcendence and lacks knowledge of metaphysical principles.  The quantitative dimension of reality which science treats isn’t deepening of knowledge but ‘dispersion in detail.’  Natural sciences are concerned primarily with practical applications and in many cases this  is combined with a will to power and thus  many modernists confuse science with technology.  Westerners in general don’t cultivate science for knowledge, even of an inferior order but for application, manipulation, appropriation, objectivation and desecration of environment.  Science thus technologized has fuelled colonialist engine.
Tradition is opposed to modernism because it considers the premise upon whch modernism is based to be wrong and false in principle. Nasr, one of the major figures in perennialist school states in this connection: “What tradition criticizes in the modern world is the total world view, the premises, the foundations which, from its point of view, are false so that any good which appears in the world is accidental rather than essential.…It wishes to slay the modern world in order to create a normal one .…From this pioint of view the history of Western man during the past five centuries is an anamoly in the long history of human race in both East and West.” It is the idea of progress and evolution that are vehementally rejected by traditionalists. Renaissance humanism bound man to earthly level and in doing so imprisoned his aspirations for perfection by limiting them to the world.  The traditional idea of perfection and progress of the soul from its upward vertical dimension towards God is reduced to a purely this worldly and temporal one. It directed men towards conquring the other – the nature, the neigbour or the other nations rather than the inner territory of the self.
Colonialist enterprise is ultimately linked with certain Western philosophical and theological assumptions.  All the defining characteristics of Post-Renaissance and Enlightenment Western modernity - rationalist, masculine or androcentric, subject centred or egoistic, logical, dualist, outward looking or extrovert, aggressive, scientific, capitalist, desacralizing or secularist, humanistic, individualistic – create an environment, a worldview that is congenial to colonialist enterprise. Modern sensibility is colonialist sensibility.  It isn’t accidental that colonialism as a monstrosity, a full fledged movement arose only in modern West.  Colonialism which continues even today in so many guises is linked with the background assumptions of colonizer’s superiority on this or that ground. The West has constructed the colonized world as the other and legitimated its rule on the assumptions of its superiorly in religious, philosophical, scientific and other spheres. (Perennialists reverse this hierarchy).  It has constructed the orient in an image, which would justify its rape of it.  Said has tried to deconstruct these othering and marginalizing strategies of the West.  Other postcolonialists have also worked in this direction.  But their perspective remains largely Western and they are unable to extricate themselves from what may be referred to as colonialist metaphysical and theological worldview.  All the defining characteristics of Post-Renaissance and Enlightenment Western modernity that back the colonialist enterprise are rejected by perennialists.  Perennialists reject the whole edifice of western Enlightenment Modernity and its value system that colonialist Eurocentrism had used to legitimize itself.  They expose and ruthlessly deconstruct Western colonialist weltanschauung, its elaborate structure or system of binaries that privilege one term over the other to sustain an asymmetrical hierarchy, its ethic and its background humanist (anti)metaphysics.
            The modern West has privileged the first term in following binaries:
Reason                                    Unreason
Man                             God
Self                              Other
Anthropocentrism       Theocentrism
being                           Being
This world                   Other world
Becoming                    Being
Kingdom of earth       Kingdom of Heaven
Thinking                      Meditation
Masculine                    Feminine
Science (Positivism) Metaphysics
Scientist                      Mystic
Modernity                   Tradition
Body                           Soul
Matter                         Spirit
Time                            Space
White                          Non-white
Speech                         Silence
Head                           Heart
Activism                      Quietism
Modern                       Primitive

            This privileging of one term over the other and consequent marginalization of the other as “Other” in all these binaries is what has sustained the grand narrative of colonialism . Perennialists reverse all these hierarchies and argue for God-centric or Reality-centric, suprarational, space centric, archaic or “primitivist” or traditional, contemplative, quietist, metaphysico-mystical, otherworldly worldview in which ideas of progress, evolution, change, becoming, utopianism, domination, aggression etc have no place. The nineteenth century’s pseudo-religion of nationalism, the positivistic belief in science, racism and evolutionism served to legitimize unbridled imperialism. Perennialists, against these promethean enterprises, hold out the suprahuman authority of primordial revelation, divine gnosis adapted providentially to different circumstances in the form of religions, and a devolutionistic view of history that sees modernity as a debased and demonic revolt against reality. Contrary to the modern idea of progress the world is in a state of intellectual and spiritual decline, inevitable from the very start of an historical cycle. We are at present in what the Classical West called the Iron Age, and the Hindus Kali Yuga.
            Perennialist critique converges with postmodern critique of colonialist narrative.  It also exposes historically and culturally constituted nature of bourgeois or Eurocentric or  colonialist norms. The rationale of scientific discourses Foucault identified with the transformation of human beings into knowable – that is, controllable “subjects.”  It is the self- other binary representing the exclusionary relationship between subjects who occupy opposite positions on centre/margin model of political and other power relations which is the basis of colonialist ideology.  The binary relationship between self and other suggests that the “I” of the self can’t exist without the “non-I” or the other.  The proponents of post colonial theory rightly view the relationship of self to other as one of domination and exclusion that maintains unequal power relations in support of racist imperialistic colonialist enterprise.  Theorists such as Gayatri Spivak have suggested the deployment of a strategic “otherness” or identity politics levelling unequal power relations and disabling this binary opposition.  Perennialists would principally agree with all this but point out that self-other dichotomy is too deeply entrenched in Western thought and one needs radical deconstructive strategy to problematize this binary and postcolonialist theorists can’t provide it being insufficiently radical for the purpose and being rooted in the modernist humanist Western (as against the traditional nondualist Eastern) framework.  It is Buddhism and in fact all mysticism (which is the kernel of religion) that cuts at the root of the problem.  The self – other dichotomy can’t be challenged without rejecting the whole tradition of Western philosophy or its metaphysics of presence and the cogito principle of Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, which establishes human self and its material reality independent of human thought.  The absolutization of subject-object duality is the very foundation of modern western philosophy and colonialist project would claim legitimacy from this basic metaphysical position. All fundamental antagonisms and dualisms of the West stems from the great cleavage between form and matter.  This split is predicated upon that peculiarly Western relation between the subject and the non-subject, in which the two stand in opposition to each other.  This is true both chronologically and ontologically.  For in establishing this opposition, the mind detached itself from the world and initiated the theme of Western thought and civilization which is objectivation of the given, its controls by the human subject, I – it relationship with it and all this necessitating and culminating in outwardly directed war against Nature and against the Other as other appears as hell to it.  The history of colonialism is so to speak mirrored in the history of Western thought and civilization which is more interested in via active than in via contemplativa, in domination or mastery over the object, the other.  By virtue of the incessant urge or the will to posit objects, the subject itself creates its own antagonists.  It is the same will which also constitutes the means of mastering them.  The modern science with its profound interest in the outer world (rather than the inner one) and its very methodology of objectivation is the logical development or illustration of this mind structure and attitude of the West.  Even Absolute is conceived as an object in the West.  All this is alien to Eastern mystical spirit – the entire construction with its schism between the logos and the empirical world and the ensuing pairs of irreconcilable opposites.  The Eastern mind isn’t interested in shaping the non-subject as the other and encounters this other in almost Levinasian ethical sense. The Eastern  framework of juxtaposition and identity and its  both/and logic of polarities or logic of “contradictions”  is to be contrasted to Western either/or logic and  its vain attempt at unity in variety as the genuine – otherness of the other is subsumed in some abstract higher category.
            All this is palpably reflected in the history of the East.  As long as it has conformed to its own ideal principles it has struck to the ideal of non-violence.  It has been  like a dove, meek passive and ever receiving rather than active aggressive masculinist in its political history.  India offers the best example.  It has also been colonized rather than the colonizer in its history.  It has been the soft prey for all imperialists.  Gandhi incarnated this ethics of non-violence.  It is only the modern secular India that behaves nationalistically, capitalistically and thus imperialistically.  Jainism is inconceivable in the Western framework. Its renunciatory ethic and its advocacy of ideal of non-violence have hardly any counterpart in the Western history.  St. Francis is an exception and exceptions only prove the rule. The rape of environment, both natural and human is peculiarly Western contribution and thus we could say that colonialism isn’t something anachronistic or something of an aberration in the western history but rather the necessary effect or logical corollary of its cultural and philosophical assumptions.  Bush and Bush’s America are quite understandable phenomena from the perspective of oppositional, capitalist, materialist, egotist or subject centred modern Western mindset.  All traditional civilizations being essentially mystical in approach as perennialist authors show have nurtured I – thou relationship with the Other – with the neighbour and with Nature. Nasr has cogently argued this point in his various writings especially in Man and Nature. The mystic is essentially a lover, he has no ego or his “ego” boundaries extend to infinity (Self is Brahman or God). There is no other for him in the sense that marginalizes  the latter.  The following lines of Rumi’s Diwani Shams-i- Tabriz (and in the history of America Walt Whitman would have agreed with it especially, although he has been appropriated in the imperialist cause) are representative of sulhi-kul attitude of mysticism.  (This is extreme statement of postcolonial poetry also):

My track I trackless, my path is pathless…/I have expelled duality from myself./  I have seen two worlds as one
      At another place he says
Let me seek One say One, know One and desire One…/ I am drunk with the soul of love and the two worlds have passed from my hands.
            This Unitarian consciousness is the antithesis of dualist Western theological (exoteric) and philosophical tradition that alone could produce colonialism.  Mysticism rejects the very framework, the very ab initio of dualist separative thought.  It proposes to destroy the very mind that could think colonialistically.  The doctrines of fana, Nirvana and Unity lead to the negation of the very conquering manipulative aggressive Other directed time centric becoming oriented desiring self or ego.  It destroys the “I” that owns, that appropriates, that separates, that fights and that enslaves.  There could be no individualism and thus capitalism and the divisive ideology of nationalism in religio-mystical perspective.  The transcendental identity subtends and subsumes all separative identities.  As there is no autonomous authoritarian self-legitimating and separate will (separate or antagonistic to Cosmic Will, the Tao, The Will of God) so there is no question of will to power as the be all and end all of life.  Eternity and immortality is to be won by denying human will, by renouncing the self or surrendering it, by giving up the illusion of permanent egohood, by transcending the realm of time and the realm of thought or mind or conceptual intellect, by surrendering all knowledge claims and seeing bliss in ignorance.  The will to know is linked to the will to power as Foucault has demonstrated.  So the mystic disowns all knowledge claims.  He celebrates the mystery and unknowability of life.  He believes in the Unseen, Al-Gayyib, to use Quranic phrase.  Religion refuses to demystify and thus to desacralize existence.  It rejects the very dichotomy of knowing subject and knowable object.  There can be no seeker of Truth as there is no separate desiring subject.  According to it words distort, logic kills, reason limits and imprisons and thus knowledge of the Reality is impossible in rationalist logical scientific perspective.  It is precisely the naïve belief in the opposite that has been used to legitimate the claims of post-Enlightenment West and its right to teach or enlighten the “barbarian” the “primitive,” the “superstitious” East – the colonized.  For the mystic all arguments on ultimate questions are seen as sharing of ignorance, one can never pinpoint transcendental signified.  Nothing is known.  Reality, as long as one chooses to remain at a purely rational plane, is Kant’s noumneon-unknowable.  There is no humanly discoverable ultimate truth.  All representations of the Real are provisional.  Reality or God is deep deep darkness, impenetrable, the inscrutable Other.  Mysticism seeks to make audible that primordial silence that was othered by the word, by speech.  Buddha’s silence and celebration of suchness cuts at the root of grand narrative of  modern science and rational philosophy. Our knowledge and our judgements  consist of exclusions and marginalizations as Foucault says and is always guilty of meaning closure as Lyotard emphasizes.  All ideologies pretend to be based on knowledge and Will to know is murderous, cruel as Foucault tries to show. Revelation comes the moment knowledge ceases. The known must cease for the unknown to be”1 as one post-modern mystic says. “A person who claims knowledge may be a theologian, a philosopher, a scientist but never a religious person.  A religious man accepts the ultimate mystery, the ultimate unknowlblensss, the ultimate ecstasy of ignorance, the ultimate bliss of ignorance”7 and paradoxically omniscience is got in this ignorance.  Promethean spirit is essentially irreverent towards the sacred mystery of life and universe.  Modern science and the consequent disenchantment of the world is the fruit of Western colonialist mindset.  Mysticism was relegated to the realm of Unreason and then alone the hegemony of Reason and empirical spirit established.  The East or the colonized represent the sacred space and modernity consists in profanation of the same.  The realms of the intuitive, the feminine, the mystical, the “mad” have been the sacred possession of the traditional man. But these realms were marginalized as the other of Knowledge and Reason by the scientific rationalist Occident.  The resulting disasters are known to everyone. The British couldn’t colonize India if they were convinced of its greatness in spiritual and intellectual spheres.  Macaulay’s claim that all the books of India couldn’t match even one shelf of his own library is this colonialist pride at its worst.  The perennialist school’s contribution to postcolonial thought lies precisely in demonstrating that secular humanist West’s claims are all hollow.  If the postcolonialist enterprise is decentring of the imperialist privileging of western epistemology and culture and the promotion of other formerly denigrated forms of knowledge and cultures, it is perennialist approach that best books the bill as it also provides an alternative epistemology, a fully developed cognitive discourse against the Western or modern cognitive (colonialist)discourse. Some powerful objections have emerged against the deployment of deconstructionist and postmodernist thought and methodology in postcolonial  theory. Some critics have pointed to Fredrik Jameson’s identification of postmodernism as the cultural logic of late capitalism to advance their case.  Lenin had argued nearly a century ago that imperialism itself represents the latest form of capitalism.  This places both imperialist culture and postmodernism within the same history and fundamentally at odds with any practical resistance to the consequences of colonialism. Opponents of poststructuralist inflected theory have pointed to another tradition of anticolonial theory which considerably predated the work of Said, Bhaba and Spivak – the trinity of postcolonial theorists – and reaches back to certain African American writers (such as W.E.B Du Bios or the South African Sol Plaatje) anticolonial independence fighters and thinkers such as Mahatma Gandhi and authors such as Chinua Achebe.  Burden of this chapter is to situate perennialist critique of Western epistemology and culture in this tradition of anticolonial theory and provides metaphysical ground to anticolonialism.  It is my contention that perennialist metaphysical approach provides systematic refutation of all the important assumptions and grand claims of Occidental thought and civilization – its rationalism, humanism, nationalism, scientism, tenchnocracy, progressivism and the like.  Perennialists have dismantled the base of Western epistemology and culture and shown how the marginalized terms of such binaries as primitive/progressive, traditional science/modern science, tradition/modernity, nature/culture, traditional crafts/modern technology, unreason/reason etc. need to be evaluated differently and even privileged.  They aren’t arguing for just neutralizing or crossing these binaries as some postmodernist would like to but clear reversal of these privileging terms. Colonization should be understood as the human condition itself and not a mere socio-politico economic historical process.  It is Freudian Nietzschean intertext of Drive for aggression and the Will to Power and is the originary violence
1    Nasr, S. H., The Need for a Sacred Science, SU N Y,1993 p.54.
2   Ibid., p.54.
3  Quoted by Shahzad Qaisar in Of Intellect and Reason, Institute of Islamic Culture, Lahore,1990, p.46.
4   Guenon, Rene, Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines trans. Marco Pallis, Rpt. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. 2000 p.89-90.
5  Nasr,S.H.,Knowledge and the Sacred Suhail Academy, Lahore,1988,pp. 84-85.
6 Osho, Psychology of the Esoteric: New Evolution of Man, Orient Paper                          Backs, New Delhi,p147.
7 Ibid., p151.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Sufism and Postmodernity

Modernity and post modernity have been negatively conditioned against traditional claims of religion. They have reacted against a wrong conception of religion, against reduction of religion to an ideology. It is religion taken as a metanarrative, a system, an ideology explaining things, as theology’s talking of the otherworld or eternity at the cost of this world and time here-now, elaborate creedal formula coached in terms of propositions privileging the religious as distinct from or opposite to the secular, bypassing or opposing the realm of Manifestation or Nature so as to cultivate God consciousness, as parallel system of cognitive truths to which science must conform, as exclusionist marginalizing discourse, as some theory about the world towards which (post)modernity has reservations. It is (exoteric) theology’s logical, rational character and its pre-occupation with theological/ metaphysical abstractions that have nothing to do with our immediate concern, with here-now or this moment or our existential concerns, that postmodernism subverts. Sufism’s escapes these criticisms because it foregrounds living, existential, concrete facets of life and addresses serious problems quite effectively as the paper shows. What looks abstract, esoteric and mystifying otherwise is made to look quite natural and simple.
Sufism squarely faces nihilism that is implied in the postmodernist rejection of idolatry, in the denial of all relative truths, in the denial of self or ego that exists in its own right. Sufism denies that there is any meaning in the world, any bliss in things finite, any beauty in the phenomenal or the perishable. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity in Sufi perspective. Everything perishes. All relative meanings, relative truths are denied as only Absolute is absolute. The Sufi transcends all the worlds, all time dependent thought constructions.
The Sufi “vision” transcends all seeing, all imagining, all constructions of thought and thus all perspectives on Reality. The Sufi doesn’t talk about Reality or God but talks Reality or God. He transcends the realm of “about” which theology is unable to do. That is why the Sufi doesn’t need to interpret and wrangle about the question of interpretation. He isn’t caught up in the textual world at all. He lives truth, is truth. He doesn’t need mediation of language. He is pure awareness, prereflective prelinguistic awareness. He has become a mirror as mind and separating principle of thought has disappeared. The Seer and seen has disappeared and only seeing is there. Language doesn’t enter here. No metaphysics of presence is there. No centralism. The Sufi is centered in God and thus in Nothingness or Void. God being not the name of a thing, a person, an entity and substance, a being, among other beings. God is Reality, Isness in wahdatul wajudi (which is not synonymous with pantheism as it emphasizes transcendence of God unequivocally) perspective. He is Pure Consciousness. He eludes all apprehension. One can well say He is not because Nothing is naught, blank, void to the conceptual intellect. Nothing is like Him. He signifies, in a way, impossibility of all signification. Nothing can describe Him. We shall elaborate this theme of unknowability of Absolute and vanity of all reasoning to show how Sufism escapes (and corrects in turn) postmodern agnosticism) critique.
To the most fundamental question regarding the why of existence Sufism has an answer that converges with the position of postmodernism. The last word is for the Mystery, impenetrable mystery at the heart of existence. The Sufis’ characteristic humility and tolerance could well be traced to this fundamental assertion about the unknowability of the Real in discursive terms. The Sufis often quote the Prophet’s tradition (which even if not authentic expresses something which plainly follows from the Quranic emphasis on divine transcendence) “God is a hidden treasure.” Absolute in itself has really never manifested and can't manifest. It remains unknowable. The Absolute in its absoluteness is Nameless and It has no signs by which It can be approached. It is beyond all perception, conception and imagination. No qualification or relation (even such a category as existence) can be attributed to It for It even transcends transcendence. No linguistic category can describe It. It lives in permanent abysmal darkness and is ‘‘the most unknown of all the unknowns.” It is Gayyibul-gayyib. None can have, in principle, access to It. The Pure Absolute or Essence (Dhat) in its fundamental aspect is beyond the insatiable human quest and all attempts to reach It, track it, pinpoint it, catch It in the net of language or realm of the finite or time, to conceptualize It, to imagine It, to speak about It, to affirm anything of It are doomed. Before the Ipseity or Dhat one can only be bewildered as Khaja Gulam Farid says “Where to seek! Where to find You Friend. All the fiery creatures, human beings, forces of Nature and the entire world is amazingly drowned in the sea of bewilderment. The Sufis, devotees, men of wisdom and learning have ultimately lost. Arshi and Bistami while embracing each other cry in vain…saints, prophets, mystics, poles and even messengers and deities incarnate proclaim weepingly that He is beyond the reach of vision. Scientisits, erudites, gnostics and professionals in all humaility have admittedly resigned. Ask Farid naive and simple: where do you find”(Qtd. in Qaisar, 1998:132). Essence (Dhat) in its fundamental aspect – and thus Meaning/Truth/ Presence/ Identity/ Reality per se – is beyond the human quest. God is “an unattainable ideal, a hopeless quest” as Whitehead wrote in his Science and the Modern World. Before the Ipseity or Dhat one can only be bewildered according to Ibn ‘Arabî. The world is ultimately a Mystery, a Mystery of Mysteries and no rational or scientific approach could finally and completely demystify it. The world will never cease to be an object of wonder and fascination and Beauty never cease to be worshipped or sought or God glorified. Man must travel ceaselessly as love will never be satiated and man’s quest for the Absolute will have no full stop in all eternity. Artists, scientists, mystics, philosophers and lovers shall never be out of business. Rationalization, familiarization, demystification and descaralization of the world that ultimately makes it inhuman, alienating and absurd and disrespectful towards the environment can’t happen in the Akbarian perspective that sees one essence and divine face in everything. Ibn 'Arabî says in Risâlat al-Anwâr "You should know that man has been on the journey ever since God brought him out of non-being into being.” The goal is not reached. For it is “the unspeakable, the impossible, the inconceivable” as Stace would say (Stace, 1952: 2). The goal is only glimpsed, sensed, and then lost. Meaning or Truth is never grasped in its fullness. It ever recedes. Truth escapes all our searching. We can have a vision of it, rather a faint glimpse of it through the phenomena which are His symbols. Knowing God is realizing that He in his essence can’t be known.“Gnosis is the realization of thy ignorance when His knowledge comes” as Junaid has said (Qtd. in Perry, 1979).
The postmodernist only sees the fact of our ignorance and nothing dispels his darkness because he chooses to be blind by denying that we can go outside language and history or discourse and thus intuition is denied especially by Derrida. Since all contradictory truths are unified in the Truth as al-Jili says one needn’t despair and be a skeptic. Postmodernist rightly sees the fact that logic or reason (Aristotelian) is wooden legged and bedeviled by contradictions. But the Sufi though acknowledges this would unify all contradictions in Truth and celebrate life’s contradictions, its mystery, its transcendence of logic and reason. The gnostic sees by means of God Himself as Sarraj says and since God by definition is Truth so the Sufi sees Truth (or our inability from human perspective to see the Truth) and sees it whole, undiluted, directly. The Quran denies man knowledge of Truth as long as he remains a self, a separate subject. Exclusivist totalizing attitude is rejected by the Quran in these words: “Over every possessor of knowledge is one more knowing.” So we must all acknowledge our ignorance and let other speak as postmodernists would have it. Whoso sees God transcends both speech and silence, as Niffari has said (Perry, 1979). Since “All are one, both the visible and the invisible” as Shabistari says (Perry, 1979). The charges of dualism, binary thinking, marginalization and exclusivism can't be labelled on Sufism. Oneness and undifferntiatedness of Being and emphasis on the subject’s inability to know the highest Principle or Absolute appropriates all possible problematization by deconstructionists. The Sufi is one who has put duality away and sees two worlds as one. One he seeks, knows, sees and calls as Rumi tells us. Even the binary of truth and falsehood, good and evil are transcended in Sufi vision. “Since I have known God, neither truth nor falsehood has entered my heart” as Abu Hafs Haddad said (Perry, 1979). This is because the Sufi is in a state where neither good nor evil entereth as Abu Yazid says (Perry, 1979).
The problem for postmodern man is how to reject nihilism. Mistrust in the ability of rational thought or rational metaphysics in the context of God, insistence on the ultimate unknowability or ungraspability of the Real/writing, a positive appraisal of "confusion" as a genuine means of "breaking through" to the Other/Real beyond our metaphysical constrictions, infinite impossibility of the text and disbelief in the autonomous substantiality of the self are some of the common points between Ibn ‘Arabî and Derrida, the key postmodern figure as Ian Almond has noted in his study titled Sufism and Deconstruction. It appears that postmodernism questions idols of thought and rational philosophies only to leave us in an agnosticism where nothing is certain, nothing holy, nothing true, nothing worthy, nothing dependable. Ibn ‘Arabî, on the contrary, traveling farther and farther on the road of negation, is able ultimately to access the Real and bring the joyful news of infinite riches that are hidden in It. He finds nothing but God’s face in all directions, in all places. He celebrates everything that there is. For him all experiences are to be treasured because they lead us greater and greater knowledge of God. For him life is a revelation of the Real which is made of the substance of joy and therefore is a carnival of lights. God is, in one mystic’s sweet phrase, “the Great Sweetness.” Richard Rolle saw mystic communion as the soul’s participation in a supernal harmony – that sweet minstrelsy of God in which “thought into song is turned.” If everything is a veritable theophany and thus epiphany for Ibn Arabi what else than bliss or Ananda would describe his essentially aesthetic appropriation of Reality?
In his inclusive perspective the binaries of action and contemplation, grace and self effort, invocation and resignation or acceptance of divine will, religious and secular or sacred and profane, knowledge and faith, men and women, soul and body, matter and consciousness, good and evil, truth and error, guidance and misguidance, philosophy and metaphysics, theology and philosophy, symbol and history, myth and fact and the like appear as complementary polarities rather than as opposites as would follow from his nondualism which means transcendence of binaries or unification of polarities. In fact his logic is not the Aristotelian logic of either/or but the Eastern logic of polarities. The problems of dualist philosophies and theologies are dissolved in the grand Unity of Being, the vision of the One which is coincidentia oppositorum. The Akbarian perspective becomes inclusive because it is based on intellectual intuition which synthesizes rather than analyzes, and thus becomes universal as it foregrounds supraformal, supraindividual, metaphysical and esoteric instead of the limiting exoteric theological which is anthropomorphic, individual, formal and sentiment affected. It is love/knowledge/reality/mercycentric which are all integrating or universalizing entities. It sees Reality as Beauty that everyone willingly worships (God catches most people through the net of beauty as Plato says). He advocates a sort of perspectivism which implies epistemological pluralism that vetoes totalizing narratives and allows every possible angle on infinite faced reality. He embodies the perspective of “judge not” that Jesus advocated. He appropriates the conceptions of negative divine which is the hallmark of Buddhism and positive divine which is the hallmark of Islam and Judaism. Everyone can be heard as every path is a straight path in its own way. His integral spirituality appropriates all the traditional paths to God, all the basic forms of yoga – bhaktic , jnanic and karmic.
The Akbarian perspective becomes inclusive because it is based on intellectual intuition which synthesizes rather than analyzes, and thus becomes universal as it foregrounds supraformal, supraindividual, metaphysical and esoteric instead of the limiting exoteric theological which is anthropomorphic, individual, formal and sentiment affected. It is love/knowledge/reality/mercycentric which are all integrating or universalizing entities. It sees Reality as Beauty that everyone willingly worships (God catches most people through the net of beauty as Plato says). He advocates a sort of perspectivism which implies epistemological pluralism that vetoes totalizing narratives and allows every possible angle on infinite faced reality. He embodies the perspective of “judge not” that Jesus advocated. He appropriates the conceptions of negative divine which is the hallmark of Buddhism and positive divine which is the hallmark of Islam and Judaism. Everyone can be heard as every path is a straight path in its own way. His integral spirituality appropriates all the traditional paths to God, all the basic forms of yoga – bhaktic , jnanic and karmic.
He speaks for all men – nay for all creatures – as they stand as he is an “unlimited mercifier.” He vindicates man qua man without feeling any need to qualify him with this or that attributes or predicate as he sees God vindicated and His plan being worked out this very moment by everyone. Addas aptly states the Akbarian view:

Because all men worship God whether they know it or not, because it is the Sigh of the Merciful who has brought them into existence, because each of them bears within him the imprint of one of the infinitely multiple Faces of the One, it is to eternal bliss that they have been and are being guided from the beginning of eternity. (Addas 1993: 293)

Ibn ‘Arabî gives the most universal definition of Muhammadan where this becomes
not a designation of a particular historical community but the very name of universality and perfection. It is the name of a station, theoretically available to everyone, attainable to the select few who travel on and on, perfectly realizing all stations until he arrives at the station of no station in which one has nothing of one’s own and therefore mirrors the Real most perfectly and is not defined by any particular divine name or attribute but brings together all standpoints or stations (Twinch: 2004).
His universalism is also seen in his view of man as an end rather than a means to an end and that explains his statement in the Fusūs which cuts at the root of all ideologies that justify killing in ideological battles (Jihad is primarily in self defence and against oppressors of all kinds without regard to time or place or creed of the oppressor). He says: “The preservation of the human species should have a much greater importance than religious bigotry, with its consequent destruction of human souls, even when it is for the sake of God and the maintenance of the law.” This is because killing man is to cut off manifestation of God in him and his future descendents. This doesn’t take away the right to defend oneself against those who unjustly wish to cut this manifestation.
Approaching from the gnostic rather than the voluntaristic perspective the Akbarian “mysticism of infinity” shows how in our denial of truth we nonetheless affirm it – a curved path too is a straight path (more precisely we don’t need to travel at all on any path, to think of taking the straight path is to wrongly imagine a distance between the Real and its “children” which we are) – we are always equally close/distant from the center called God/Reality. All things are on the straight path upon even if it deviates for, as Ibn 'Arabī says in the Futūhāt: “… curvature is straight in reality, like the curvature of a bow since the straightness which is desired from it is curvature … and all movement and rest in existence is divine because it is in the hand of the Real” (Futūhāt II, 563). Akbarian views converge with such conceptions as Jaina theory of Syadvada and postmodern distrust of metanarratives and system-making and deconstruction of pseudo-absolutes and centrisms as he formulates his notion of hairah and personal lord and ultimate mysteriousness and unknowabilty/inaccesibility at a rational-empirical plane of the Essence of which everything is the manifestation or symbol. This is a vision of spiritual democracy too profound to be assimilated for even the most catholic and tolerant of theologies. He ingenious reinterpretation of key terms of exclusion such as kafir, fajir, zalim shows his catholicity. Even Satan is ultimately no outsider. How can there be any exclusion or marginalization in a perspective of complete nondualism Adopting basically metaphysical instead of religious perspective allows him to transcend dogmatic exclusivism that has traditionally been associated with religious perspective and in fact all exclusivism based on anything less than Absolute and there is nothing which is Absolute. With him the question is of man and his happiness or felicity and traditional religion, if properly read, is a means to that end rather than an end in itself in the name of which men could be divided or killed. His concerns are basically existential and thus universal to which everyone could relate. He submits to Truth only (that is his definition of a Muslim) and Truth is his only God, much in the manner of Gandhi who emphasized the Vedantic equation of Sat with Brahman. He finds Truth/ Reality of the substance of Joy and one with man and that is the good news he brings to the despairing nihilistic world. He has ultimately no dogmas to preach except openness to the reality without any imposition from conjectural self or mind. He brings the glad tidings that the world is indeed our home or we are the world and we are loved and Love is the be all and end all of all existence, all endeavors. The Real is, it can’t and needn’t be found or searched – rather it finds us. Wherever one turns there is the face of God as the Quran puts it and Ibn ‘Arabî reiterates time and again. Realizing this one becomes a flute and God the flute player. A love affair with the Real commences and one enjoys orgasm with the whole universe. This overwhelming desire for love can’t stop at any human substitute as the Tarjuman narrates.
Ibn ‘Arabî ’s perfect man is open to all forms, to infinite disclosures of God which change every instant. He lives moment to moment as he is abdul waqt, the servant of the Instant. For him, as for Zen, ultimately, there is no distinction between the immediate and the ultimate and there is no goal as such, each step is the goal, each moment is the goal. A blade of grass is inwardly the Absolute. There is no particular or exclusive way to salvation because all ways are already blessed. There is no need of salvation because all alienation or bondage is really illusory. All are saved; all are embraced by God because none has ever left God or the Garden of Eden except in his imagination. And it is that cursed mind and imagination which is the bane of man. Man needs to be saved because he suffers from the delusion that he needs to be saved. God is loving enough (Wadud) and strong enough to overcome all resistance on the part of man and willy nilly arranges his return to Himself.

Addas, Claud, 1993, Quest for the Red Sulphur: The Life of Ibn ‘Arabî , trans. Peter Kingsley, Islamic texts Society, Cambridge.
Qaisar, Shahzad, Metaphysics and Tradition, Gora Publications, Club Road, Lahore, 1998.
Ibn ‘Arabî , , al-Futûhât al-makkiyya, 14 volumes, O. Yahia (ed.), al-Hay’at al-Misriyyat al-‘Âmma li'l-Kitâb, Cairo, 1972–91.
Perry, Withall N., A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom, Bedfont,1979
Stace, W.T., Time and Eternity,1952.
Twinch, Cicila, “The Circle of Inclusion,” 2004 (from the website of MIAS).