Avicenna and the Visionary Recital

Avicenna and the Visionary Recital: (Mythos Series)

Translated from the French by WILLARD R. TRASK
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 440
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
    Book Description:

    In this work a distinguished scholar of Islamic religion examines the mysticism and psychological thought of the great eleventh-century Persian philosopher and physician Avicenna (Ibn Sina), author of over a hundred works on theology, logic, medicine, and mathematics. Henry Corbin's discovery in an Istanbul library of the manuscript of a Persian translation of and commentary on Avicenna's Hayy ibn Yaqzan, written in Arabic, led him to an analysis of three of Avicenna's mystical "recitals." These form an initiatory cycle leading the adept along the path of spiritual progress. In Part I Corbin summarizes the great themes that show the philosophical situation of Avicennan man in the cosmos and presents translations of these three great Avicennan recitals. Part II is a complete translation, with notes, of the Persian commentary.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5906-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    H. C.

      (pp. 3-45)

      It is perhaps ambitious to propound such a theme at the beginning of a necessarily limited study. Nevertheless, we should not have wished to undertake the present investigation had we not entertained the hope that it would contribute to a better posing of the problems that become apparent upon a first attempt to develop the theme thus formulated. This theme can be understood in two senses. There is man’s philosophical situation, as the Avicennan system defines it. And there is the situation of Avicenna’s work itself in the pleroma of philosophical systems, his work as it appears to the philosopher...

      (pp. 46-122)

      The idea of the journey into the Orient—that is, of the soul’s return to its “home” under the conduct of its Guide, its celestial Self—implies an “angelic pedagogy” that makes the being of the particular soul and the notion of soul in general concurrent with an angelology. This concurrence is particularly clear in theRecital of Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, in which the Avicennan angelology propounds its triple hierarchy: there are the Archangels or pure Intelligences, theKerubim(Cherubs). There are the Angels who emanate from them and who are the moving Souls of the celestial spheres. There are...

      (pp. 123-164)

      As we suggested above (§ 4, p. 44), a methodical “recitation” of the three recitals of the Avicennan cycle would give first place to theRecital of Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān. This recital is an initiation into the Orient: the meaning of the Orient is announced to the adept by a messenger from that Orient itself, who shows him its direction, describes the difficult stages of the journey thither, sets forth the conditions for undertaking it, and finally concludes with the invitation: “If thou wilt, follow me.” The mental dramaturgy of the recital is, then, still an anticipation and a preparation;...

    • IV The RECITAL of the BIRD
      (pp. 165-203)

      “You see, my son, through how many bodily things in succession we have to make our way, and through how many troops of daemons and courses of stars, that we may press on to the one and only God”—so Hermes expresses himself, addressing his disciple Tat¹ to invite him to an upward journey whose goal corresponds with that which Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān proposes to his adept. In referring to the Hermetic corpus we are by no means seeking to define the “historical” origins of the motif of the celestialascent, either in general or in the spiritual world of...

      (pp. 204-241)

      One point must be made clear first of all. References to theRecital of Sālamān and Absālare to be found here and there. They frequently seem to disregard, or simply to be ignorant of, the fact that two quite different versions of a recital bearing the same title exist. The situation is as follows.

      (1) There is aRecital of Salāmān and Absālthat the manuscripts expressly state to be translated from the Greek by the celebrated translator Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq (d. a.h. 260/a.d. 873). It is clearly a text stemming from Hellenistic Hermetistic circles. As yet, however, no...

      (pp. 242-270)

      To terminate these pages with a “conclusion” would be to falsify both their intention and their hope. The simple word “epilogue” allows us, instead of closing a meditation, to prolong its perspectives. It is to opening some other Avicennan or Avicennizing perspectives that we shall devote these last pages; we undertake no more, all that precedes having been but the occasion to give a first form to researches whose complexity is sufficiently apparent.

      We had not set ourselves the task of deciding just how far the intimate experience of themanAvicenna had gone or had not gone, or of...

    • POSTSCRIPT. Recent Studies on Avicenna’s “Oriental Philosophy”
      (pp. 271-278)

      Not only the writing but also the printing of this Part I required long months.*Meanwhile, the Avicennan bibliography has inevitably increased. In particular, there are two recent studies that were not available to us in time, but the utilization of which would have proved a major enrichment to the present book. Their exceptional importance for the theme upon which we have placed so high a value here, that of the “Oriental philosophy” in Avicenna, as well as our concurrence with the thought of their authors, impels us to give a brief analysis of them: from their conclusions the concept...


    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 281-282)

      GLORY AND PRAISE to the sovereign God¹ of the universe, creator of the world and maintainer of earth and heaven—He who causes the revolution and progression of the stars whose course is fixed by eternal Decree and Destiny. May His blessing be upon the best and most eminent of the prophets, Muḥammad the Elect, on the Members of his House and his friends, the Elect, the Pure.

      From the master of the world, from the just sovereign, Sayyed Muẓaffar Manṣūr ‘Aẓaduddīn ‘Alauddawla,² Glory of the Nation and Diadem of the Religion, Abū Ja‘far, Sword of the Commander of the...

    • 1. Prologue
      (pp. 282-282)

      The master says: “Your persistence,⁴ my brothers, in demanding that I set forth theRecital of Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓānfor you has finally triumphed over my stubborn determination not to do so; it has untied the bond of my firm resolve to defer and delay.⁵ Thus I have found myself ready to come to your aid. May we look to God for help and support!”...

    • 2. The Encounter with the Angel
      (pp. 283-288)

      The master says: “Once when I had taken up residence in my city, I chanced to go out with my companions to one of the pleasure places that lie about the same city.¹ Now, as we were coming and going, making a circle, suddenly in the distance appeared a Sage. He was beautiful; his person shone with a divine glory.² Certainly he had tasted of years; long duration had passed over him. Yet there was seen in him only the freshness proper to young men; no weakness bowed his bearing; no fault injured the grace of his stature. In short,...

    • 3. The Salutation
      (pp. 289-291)

      The master says: “When I had seen this Sage, I felt a desire to converse with him. From my inmost depths arose a need to become intimate with him and to have familiar access to him. So, with my companions, I went in his direction. When we had approached, he took the initiative; he wished us peace and honored us with his salutation.¹ Then, smiling, he addressed us in words that were sweet to our hearts.”

      1. Know that by the very condition attached to its being, the Active Intelligence is not such that it displays avarice in respect to some...

    • 4. Beginning of the Initiation: The Name and Person of the Angel
      (pp. 292-294)

      The master says: “Many words were exchanged between us, until at last the conversation led us to such a point that I questioned him about everything to do with his person, and sought to learn from him what his mode of life and profession were, and even his name and lineage and country. Then he said to me: ‘My name isVivens; my lineage,filius Vigilantis;¹ as to my country, it is the Celestial Jerusalem [lit., the “Most Holy Dwelling,”al-Bait al-Muqaddas].² My profession is to be forever journeying, to travel about the universe so that I may know all...

    • 5. Physiognomy
      (pp. 295-296)

      The master says: “Our conversation continued without interruption. I questioned him concerning the difficult sciences. I learned from him how to solve their obscurities, until finally, from transition to transition, we came to the science of physiognomy. I observed in him such penetration and sagacity in that science that I was filled with admiration; for it was he who took the initiative when we came to physiognomy and the various facts that have to do with it. He said to me: ‘The science of physiognomy is among the sciences the profit from which is paid cash down and whose benefit...

    • 6. The Two Ways for the Soul
      (pp. 297-298)

      The master says: “ ‘In thee, physiognomy reveals at once the most excellent of creatural types and a mixture of clay and of inanimate natures¹ that receive every impression.² It shows thee to be such that, to whichever side thou art drawn, to that side thou goest. When thou art held upon the right road and art called to it, thou becomest upright and pure. But if a deceiver seduce thee into the road of error, thou dost submit to be led astray. These companions who are about thee and never leave thee are evil companions.³ It is to be...

    • 7. The Soul’s Three Evil Companions
      (pp. 299-304)

      1. the master says: “ ‘That companion who walks ever before thee, exhorting thee, is a liar, a frivolous babbler, who beautifies what is false, forges fictions; he brings thee information without thy bidding and without thy having questioned him; he mingles false and true therein, he sullies truth with error, even though, in spite of all, he is thy secret eye and thy illuminator. It is through his channel that news reaches thee of what is foreign to thy neighborhood, absent from the place where thou art.¹ It is laid upon thee to separate the good money from among all...

    • 8. How to Treat the Three Companions
      (pp. 305-307)

      The master says: “ ‘As for stratagems and effectual means to which thou canst have recourse in respect to these companions, there is one that consists in subduing the slack and gluttonous companion by the help of the one who is violent and malicious, and in forcing the former to retreat. Conversely, another way will be gradually to moderate the passion of the intolerable angry one by the seduction of the gentle and caressing companion, until he is completely pacified. As for the third companion, the fine talker skilled in fictions, beware of trusting him, of relying on his words,...

    • 9. The Conditions of the Journey
      (pp. 308-318)

      The master says: “Then I asked the Sage to guide me on the road of the journey, to show me how to set out on a journey such as he himself was making. I addressed him in the fashion of a man who burned to do so, who had the greatest desire for it. He answered me: ‘Thou, and all those whose condition is like thine—you cannot set out on the journey that I am making. It is forbidden you; the road is closed to you all, unless thy fortunate destiny should aid thee, for thy part, to separate...

    • 10. The Orient and Occident of the Universe
      (pp. 319-320)

      The master says: “Finally, the conversation led me to question him concerning each of the climes to which he had traveled, all those that were included in his knowledge and of which he was fully informed. He said to me: ‘The circumscriptions¹ of the earth are threefold: one is intermediate between the Orient and the Occident. It is the best known; much information concerning it has reached thee. But there are two other strange circumscriptions: one beyond the Occident, the other beyond the Orient. For each of them, there is a barrier preventing access from this world to that other...

    • 11. The Spring of Life
      (pp. 321-323)

      The master says: “ ‘What aids in gaining this strength is to immerse oneself in the spring of water that flows near the permanent Spring of Life.¹ When the pilgrim has been guided on the road to that spring, and then purifies himself in it and drinks of that sweet-tasting water, a new strength arises in his limbs, making him able to cross vast deserts. The deserts seem to roll up before him. He does not sink in the waters of the ocean; he climbs Mount Qāf² without difficulty, and its guards cannot fling him down into the abysses of...

    • 12. The Darkness About the Pole
      (pp. 324-326)

      The master says: “We asked him to explain that spring to us more fully, He said: ‘Thou hast heard of the Darkness that forever reigns about the pole. Each year the rising sun shines upon it at a fixed time. He who confronts that Darkness and does not hesitate to plunge into it for fear of difficulties will come to a vast space, boundless and filled with light. The first thing he sees is a living spring whose waters spread like a river over thebarzakh.¹ Whoever bathes in that spring becomes so light that he can walk on water,...

    • 13. The Occident of the World
      (pp. 327-330)

      The master says: “Then I begged him: ‘Teach me what the circumscription of the Occident is, for the Occident is nearer to our cities.’ He said to me: ‘At the uttermost edge of the Occident there is a vast sea, which in the Book of God is called theHot(and Muddy)Sea.¹ It is in those parts that the sun sets.² The streams that fall into that sea come from an uninhabited country whose vastness none can circumscribe. No inhabitant peoples it, save for strangers who arrive there unexpectedly, coming from other regions.³ Perpetual Darkness reigns in that country....

    • 14. The Clime of Terrestrial Matter
      (pp. 331-332)

      The master says: “ ‘All kinds of animals and plants appear in that country; but when they settle there, feed on its grass, and drink its water, suddenly they are covered by outsides strange to their Form. A human being will be seen there, for example, covered by the hide of a quadruped, while thick vegetation grows on him. And so it is with other species. And that clime is a place of devastation, a desert of salt, filled with troubles, wars, quarrels, tumults; there joy and beauty are but borrowed from a distant place.’ ”

      Know that for man...

    • 15. The Clime of Celestial Matter
      (pp. 333-335)

      The master says: “ ‘Between that clime and yours there are others.¹ However, beyond this clime of yours, beginning at the region in which the Pillars of the Heavens² are set, there is a clime that is like yours in several ways. In the first place, it is a desert plain; it too is peopled only by strangers come from distant places. Another similarity is that that clime borrows its light from a foreign source, though it is nearer to the Window of Light than the climes we have described hitherto. In addition, that clime serves as foundation for the...

    • 16. The Celestial Spheres
      (pp. 336-342)

      1. the master says: “ ‘In relation to you,¹ the nearest inhabited country of that clime is a region where people are very small in stature and swift in their movements. Their cities are nine in number.

      2. “ ‘After that region comes a kingdom whose inhabitants are even smaller in stature than the former, while their gait is slower.

      They passionately love the arts of the writer, the sciences of the stars, theurgy, magic; they have a taste for subtle occupations and deep works. Their cities number ten.

      3. “ ‘After that region comes a kingdom whose inhabitants are extremely beautiful and...

    • 17. Toward the Orient: The Clime of Elementary Forms and the Forms of Species
      (pp. 343-345)

      The master says: “ ‘Now, when thou proceedest toward the Orient, there first appears to thee a clime in which there is no inhabitant: neither human beings¹ nor plants nor minerals. It is a vast desert, a flooding sea, imprisoned winds, a raging fire. Having crossed it, thou wilt come to a clime where thou wilt find immovable mountains, streams of living water, blowing winds, clouds that drop heavy rain. There thou wilt find native gold, silver, precious or base minerals of all kinds, but thou wilt find nothing that grows. Crossing it leads thee to a clime filled with...

    • 18. The Kingdom of the Soul
      (pp. 346-352)

      The master says: “ ‘Then, cutting straight across toward the Orient, thou wilt come upon thesun risingbetween the two troops [lit., the two “horns”] of the Demon.¹ For the Demon has two troops: one that flies, another that plods. The troop that walks contains two tribes: a tribe that has the ferocity of beasts of prey, while the other has the bestiality of quadrupeds. Between the two there is perpetual war, and both dwell in theleftside of the Orient. As for the demons who fly, their quarters are in therightside of the Orient. They...

    • 19. The Demons of the Soul
      (pp. 353-354)

      The master says: “ ‘Sometimes a group from one of these two troops of demons sets out for your clime; there they surprise human beings, they insinuate themselves into their inmost hearts with their breath. As for the plodding tribe that resembles beasts of prey, it lies in wait for the moment when someone will do a man the slightest wrong. Then it stirs him up, shows him the worst actions in a fair light, such as killing, mutilating, ruining, inflicting suffering. It nourishes hatred in the secrecy of his heart; it urges him to oppress and destroy. As for...

    • 20. The Genii of the Soul
      (pp. 355-356)

      The master says: “ ‘Severing themselves from these two demoniac troops, there are, however, some groups who haunt the frontiers of a certain clime lying next after that inhabited by theterrestrial angels.¹ Letting themselves be guided by these angels, they find the straight road; thus they depart from the aberrancy of the demons² and choose the road of thespiritual Angels.³ When thesedaimōns⁴ mingle with men it is neither to corrupt nor to misguide them; on the contrary, they beneficently help them to become pure. These are the “fairies” or “genii” [peri], those who in Arabic are called...

    • 21. The Terrestrial Angels
      (pp. 357-361)

      The master says: “ ‘He who succeeds in leaving this clime enters the climes of the Angels, among which the one that marches with the earth is a clime in which the terrestrial angels dwell. These angels form two groups. One occupies the right side: they are the angels who know and order. Opposite them, a group occupies the left side: they are the angels who obey and act. Sometimes these two groups of angels descend to the climes of men and genii, sometimes they mount to heaven. It is said that among their number are the two angels to...

    • 22. Angels-Souls of the Spheres and Angels-Cherubs
      (pp. 362-371)

      1. the master says: “ ‘He who is taught a certain road leading out of this clime and who is helped to accomplish this exodus, such a one will find an egress to what is beyond the celestial spheres. Then, in a fugitive glimpse, he descries the posterity of the Primordial Creation,¹ over whom rules as king the One, the Obeyed.²

      “ ‘There, the first delimitation is inhabited by intimates of that sublime King; they ever assiduously pursue the work that brings them near to their King. They are a most pure people,³ who respond to no solicitation of gluttony, lust,...

    • 23. The Beauty of the King Who Is Like unto None Other
      (pp. 372-373)

      The master says: “ ‘Among them all the King is the most withdrawn into that solitude. Whoever connects Him with an origin errs. Whoever claims to pay Him praise that is proportionate to Him is an idle babbler. For the King escapes the power of the clever to bestow qualifications, just as here too all comparisons fail of their end. Let none, then, be so bold as to compare Him to anything whatsoever.¹ He has no members that divide Him: He is all a face by His beauty, all a hand by His generosity.² And His beauty obliterates the vestiges...

    • 24. Those Who Emigrate Toward the Kingdom
      (pp. 374-378)

      The master says: “ ‘Sometimes certain solitaries among men¹ emigrate toward Him. So much sweetness does He give them to experience that they bow under the weight of His graces. He makes them conscious of the wretchedness of the advantages of your terrestrial clime. And when they return from His palace, they return laden with mystical gifts.’ ”

      1. Know that human beings differ in their intelligence of Knowledge and their perception of philosophical things. There is the case of him who makes use of the two kinds of intellect that we have mentioned, so that the Forms of all things...

    • 25. “If Thou Wilt, Follow Me”
      (pp. 379-382)

      The master says: “Then the Sage Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān said to me: ‘Were it not that in conversing with thee I approach that King by the very fact that I incite thy awakening, I should have to perform duties toward Him that would take me from thee. Now, if thou wilt, follow me, come with me toward Him. Peace.’ ”

      We have shown that thisActiveIntelligence is the Donor of Knowledge and that it is our Guide. It is thereby, then, that what it was created for is realized, and this, finally, is that there should be a progressive...

    (pp. 383-394)
  7. INDEX
    (pp. 395-423)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 424-425)