This article was published by M.E.Sharp in: 

Russian Studies in Philosophy. Winter 1992-93/vol.31, N 3, Armonk, New York, 1993, p.7-39. 

Originally published in Russian

Russian version Up

The Path to Truth
Ibn `Arabi and Nikolai Berdiaev (Two Types of Mystical Philosophizing)
Andrey Smirnov

The fact that the names of two philosophers who lived and worked in such different periods, under conditions of quite dissimilar cultures and civilizations, share the title of this article is in itself enough to require clarification. Nikolai Berdiaev, who belonged to a current of Russian philosophy that called itself mystical, hardly needs to be presented to the reader. Muhyiuddin Ibn `Arabi (1165-1240), the greatest mystic of the Arab Middle Ages, is known as the founder of a philosophical conception that was later referred to as the "unity of being" and enjoyed broad popularity among Islamic thinkers, philosophers, and poets of the late Middle Ages. Moreover, motifs of this conception are not difficult to find in the works of contemporary literati enthralled by the ideas of Islamic mysticism, i.e., of Sufism. Hence these two outstanding figures can be compared on the common ground that they belonged to the current of philosophical thought of mankind that is called mysticism or mystical philosophy. Despite all the differences that doubtlessly exist among Russian, Arabic, and, let us say, European mysticism, there are also certain fundamental common features of this way of looking at the world that enable us to bring all these currents together under a single generic concept.

First, there is the fact that any mystical philosophy is something that comes after, but never before, the always integral experience that may be called the subjective experience of Truth, the experience of a total joining of the whole of a person's being with the Truth, in which the ontological, epistemological, ethical, or esthetic aspects are always facets of some whole, more or less artificially discriminable after the fact — facets of some unity within which they are all inter-twined and fused and within which one can only speak of them all together, of all of them at once. Mystical philosophy is the attempt at discourse a posteriori about an integral experience, where the experience, in accordance with the laws of discourse, is inevitably dissected and must inevitably be broken down into its several components. At the same time — and the reader must always bear this in mind — the recollection, the sensing of this integral experience, remains "outside the fame," outside the framework of philosophical discourse. It is this integral experience that the mystical philosopher is always oriented toward, that in one way or another imperceptibly guides the course of his reasoning, and it is this experience that alone is capable — to use Roland Barthes's expression — of transforming "discourse" into "text," into that molten magma of words, ceasing then to be simple signs on paper, in whose percolations Truth perhaps may even take up residence. A work by a mystical philosopher demands the reader's sympathy, commiseration, and at least the attempt always to keep in sight what was left beyond the bounds of verbally fixed reasoning. In this gap between the totality of lived experience and the discursive, i.e., consecutive, step-by-step means of its expression, lies the tragedy of every mystical philosopher and at the same time that "perpetuum mobile" that does not allow his pen to stop.

The search for the path to Truth, the search for a possibility of describing this path, is the quintessence of mystical philosophy. Of course, we can also identify in the works of mystical philosophers the elaboration of questions that make up the set of problems of traditional philosophizing — for example, ontological, epistemological, or ethical problems. This, we may presume, is quite natural to the extent that the work at hand is one we consider it possible to classify as philosophical. But very rarely do we find these problems set out in systematic and consistent form; for the mystical philosopher, they are important not in themselves but only in connection with his main task, i.e., that of determining and describing the path to Truth. This exclusive accent on the search for the path to Truth is, we would say, an important distinguishing feature of mystical philosophy, its vital nerve.

Hence we should like to make the object of our study the search for this path in the creative works of Ibn `Arabi and Berdiaev, two thinkers who may be regarded as among the most important representatives of mystical philosophy in the Islamic East and in Russia.

Three questions must be answered in order to find the path to Truth: Wherein lies the essence of the initial, ordinary state of an ordinary human being who has fallen from Truth, who has departed from it? Why has it come about that Truth is hidden from man; in other words, what is the reason for this state of man? How can man's divorce from Truth be overcome? We have deliberately presented these questions in this order since we feel that it best illuminates the logic of movement of the thought of these two philosophers: in asking them these questions, we shall find out, first, what they think about what we are; then, second, it will be easier for us to understand why we are as we are; and, third, we shall then want to find out what they think about how we can be different, how we can achieve perfection.

Ibn `Arabi does not give an unambiguous answer to the question of what the world is, what man is, and what the universe is. His writings contain three answers that at first glance, at first acquaintance with them, appear to be fundamentally different. If we take that view, we can rank them, arranging them in the order of their approximation to Truth: the first answer will be the answer of a person from whom Truth has been hidden by a dense veil; the second will be the answer of someone who has only lifted this covering slightly; and the third will be the answer of a person who has fully tasted the Truth, who has partaken of it. In this sense, these three different views of the universe may be represented as three successive stages of cognition, between which there arc definite transitions; by examining how man moves from one stage to the other, we shall also discern how, according to Ibn `Arabi, one may traverse the path to Truth.

The first point of view, then, is this: The world and God, the world and Truth (1) are absolutely separate; the world is not Truth, and Truth is not in the world. Truth, or the True God, always was, is, and always will be, according to this view; as such, Truth is absolutely independent of the world of things, the world of genesis and death, the world of temporal being. "If you separate God from the world, he is thereby raised by this definition majestically above this attribute.'' (2) Nothing of what takes place in the world can touch the Supreme Truth or shake its absolute serenity and immutability. Such is the judgment of pure reason: "When the intellect surrenders wholly to itself, drawing knowledge (only) from its judgments, it will know God as purified but not as replicated,"(3) i.e., as being absolutely free of all traits and attributes of the created world and resembling it in no respect.

But if the world and Truth are separated by some impassable boundary of absolute dissimilarity, whereas being in all its plenitude is found in Truth, in God, can one speak at all of the real being of the world? In other words, can Truth be conceived as existing along with the world but not in the world?

According to the rigorous judgment of reason, this is impossible. "If absolute perfection and absolute self-sufficiency are affirmed for Him, then He will not be able to be the sustaining cause of anything, for if He be such a cause. He would depend on the effect sustained by Him, whereas his essence is free of being dependent on anything."(4)

Thus God, Truth, and absolute being cannot sustain the existence of a world whose being is possible only on the condition that it "rests" on God, only if God "sustains" this being. But it is just this support for the being of the world that God cannot provide; the view that says Truth is not in the world obliges us to recognize that generally speaking the world itself does not exist. And indeed, "if you look at Him as at the Essence-in-itself, you will see that He has no need of worlds"(5): from the standpoint of Absolute Truth, which resides outside the world, the existence of the world is absurd.

If this is so, then we have no other option than to acknowledge that "the world is illusory, it has no true being."(6) This means that the world is no more than a dream; it is a "world of the imagination." an untrue world. Whatever man accomplishes in his life, he will never go beyond the bounds of this universal illusoriness, and all of his strivings are vain because whatever he achieves in life is as ephemeral as in a dream; life is sleep, and a dream is sleep in a sleep, a sleep built into another, universal sleep, and there is no essential difference between them.(7) Does this mean that man will never achieve Truth? As if answering this question, Ibn `Arabi quotes the words of Mohammed: "People are asleep, but on dying they will awake."(8) Death breaks through the shroud of illusoriness, "uncloses the eyes"; man acquires a keenness of vision and sees God, he sees Truth.(9) Thus, is leaving the world the only path to Truth? This world be an excessively pessimistic conclusion; but let us not forget that it is the conclusion only of those who separate Truth and the world: as soon as they are separated, to attain something in the one is possible only by abandoning the other.

The very fact of recognizing this truth (which is certainly not given to everyone to do), however hard and indisputable it may sound, is not at all so bad: after all, this awareness, according to Ibn `Arabi, is the "prime principle of divine revelation in a pastoral people."(10) If so, then we can hope that other states, other relations between Truth and the world than their separate but parallel existence will be revealed to us.

But before we leave this point of view, we shall look at one other question — namely, the unity of Truth or the unity of the divine essence. Truth is one, as we have said, and Ibn `Arabi has no doubts about that; however, in what sense is it one? Ibn `Arabi shows that the only possibility of understanding the unity of Truth in the particular case where the world and Truth are separate is to understand it as an absolute unity excluding any differentiation, a unity in the sense of Parmenides's rigorous understanding of the term, or unity as the singleness and oneness of an indivisible, internally undifferentiated unity.(11) This understanding of the unity of Truth is a necessary correlate of the position taken at the outset, according to which Truth is not in the world: any dissection of the unity of Truth, any attempt to ascribe to it some attribute, signifies establishing some identity between Truth and the world, the presence of Truth in the world, and consequently, such an affirmation is internally contradictory.

Thus, "as you see it, the world is something self-sufficient, something above and outside God, but in fact that is not the case."(12) Then how is it? What is the other "revelation," to use Ibn `Arabi words, what other vision is there of the relation between Truth and the world?

Speaking generally, it is the vision of Truth and the world as mutually related and interdependent, a vision of Truth as our Truth. It is important to stress that this position, like the preceding one, is primary and cannot be logically inferred from anything: this is how we want to see Truth, and this is exactly how we see it. For a person who takes the position described earlier, Truth is other-worldly and is not his Truth: in its absolute unity, it has no relation at all to his illusory world. Ibn `Arabi states that the illusoriness of the world and the estranged condition of Truth will not be overcome until we modify this initial position.

The first step toward a new vision is to assert that Truth as Truth without the world does not exist. The world is pervaded by and steeped in Truth, says Ibn `Arabi, just as food pervades the body and becomes the body, as water fully saturates a fabric immersed in it. "And if (divine) Essence-in-itself were free of these interrelations, it would not be God. These interrelations are produced by our embodied essences, so that through our divinity we have made Him God."(13)

Thus Truth is impossible without the world, or, as Ibn `Arabi says. the world is an "indication of God."(14) But if God is God only because we are divine, if Truth is Truth because the world is true, then can we not say that God is the world and that Truth is the world?

And in fact: "Then in the second state [after the state that has just been described — A.S.], it is revealed to you that God Himself is an indication of Himself and of His divinity and that the world is nothing other than His manifestation in the forms of their [i.e., the objects' — A.S.] established [i.e., fixed in their unmanifested state — A.S.] embodied essences, whose being is impossible without Him, and that He acquires different qualities and forms in accordance with the true essences of these embodied essences and their states."(15)

Thus we can now clarify the general proposition of the interrelatedness of Truth and the world. Truth is as the world is: it is as eternal and changeable as the world is changeable and as rich and varied as the world is. In the strict sense, this Truth is the world: Truth in the world and Truth as the world.

The term used by Ibn `Arabi to specify this understanding of the relation between Truth and the world is 'manifestation.' God is manifested as the world, and man, viewing this manifestation, cannot say what is before him: whether it is Truth itself or the world; he cannot distinguish between them: "If it is God that is manifest, then Creation is hidden, concealed in Him, and it presents itself through all the names of God, through His eyes and His ears, through all of His interrelations and all that is comprehended in him. But if it is Creation that is manifest, then God is hidden and secret in it, God is the ears of Creation, its eyes, and its arms and feet and all of its powers in general."(16)

If this is so, if Truth is the world and the world is plural yet Truth is one, then we must arrive at an understanding of the unity of Truth different from that in the first case. We said then that the unity of Truth precludes the possibility of ascribing to it any attribute; furthermore, this impossibility derived from the fact of positing Truth and the world as external to one another; but now, if Truth is indeed the world, the situation is different. "The attributes of an essence-in-itself, even if they are manifold, are no indication of the manifoldness of what is described by these attributes in Him Himself, being the ensemble of His essence-in-itself, even if they are intelligibly separable from one another."(17) The unity of Truth is here understood as being differentiated-within-itself, but this differentiation in no way annuls the strict unity of Truth, for outside this unity there is nothing, and any attribute that differentiates the unity of truth is still rooted in this unity, does not go beyond the bounds of this unity, and is not distinct from it. Such is the dialectic of the differentiated unity of Truth at the second stage of cognition. In addition, "at the stage of manifestation," where Truth is seen as the world, "the appearances coming into being contend with one another for supremacy, so that in a single embodied essence there is a superiority associated with the standpoint of these multitudinous appearances."(18) In other words, the internal differentiation of Truth signifies that one thing is higher and another lower, one better and another worse, one good and another bad.(19)

Thus, if we see Truth in the world, Truth as the world, then we see it as unitary, differentiated within itself, ranked, and hierarchized; we can even say. that one thing in it is good and another evil. However, something here must put us on our guard and force us to ponder: Indeed, can one speak of evil in Truth? Does not the concept of Truth exclude a priori the concept of evil? We attempted to regard Truth as the world, Truth through the world, and we said that Truth is the world, but can we say that the world is Truth? Strictly speaking, no, because in each instance we began our reasoning with Truth and not with the world; when we view Truth as the world, we perceive the differentiation of unity, but not unity itself; we see Truth in ourselves and in the world, but not ourselves in Truth; we can say that Truth is the world, but we are unable to assert that the world is Truth. The third point of view, the third vision of Truth and the world, does enable us to do this, according to Ibn `Arabi; it allows us to assert the absolute identity of Truth and the world and transforms the statement "Truth is the world" into its converse.

Thus, Ibn `Arabi says, we saw the Truth as the world when we were able to say that the "world order is wholly God or wholly Creation, for it is Creation in one respect, yet it is God in another respect, but its essence is one."(20) However, one cannot stop here, for "there is another, higher mystery in this question: possible existents [i.e., the things in the world — A.S.] strictly speaking are nonbeing, while being is nothing other than the being of God in the forms of those states in which those possible existents subsist in themselves and in their embodied essences."(21) The new vision of Truth and the world is distinguished by the fact that we see only Truth and no longer question whether what is before us is Truth or the world. This question is now resolved unambiguously: There is only Truth and nothing but it, and what we call the world is immersed in Truth, resides in Truth: "He who knows that God is the embodied essence of the way of being knows the world order as it is: in Him, Great and Most High, do ye move and do ye follow."(22)

But what is that "way of being" which everything that exists in Truth pursues and which is revealed in this third stage of cognition? Whereas earlier we said that each thing is both itself and Truth at the same time, we can now take a step further and decipher what "to be Truth" signifies. We can do so because we now see this thing not as "some manifestation of God" but as "some form within God."(23) In other words, we see Truth not as the all-one [vseediniy] source and all-one basis of plural being but as plural pan-unity [vseedinstvo], we see not Truth in the world but the world in Truth. From this point of view, then, to be oneself and to be Truth are one and the same thing, i.e. "to be oneself" signifies "to be every other," to be everything simultaneously, and it is just this vision that a person who saw Truth in the world but not the world in Truth is deprived of. But now Truth is represented as a single continuum iridescent with all the hues of being, in which each exists in each and each is all. Here is how Ibn `Arabi explains this difference: "If it [i.e., a thing — A.S.] is His manifestation, then a rivalry for supremacy will inevitably occur between one such manifestation and another, but if a thing is a form in Him, then this form is the embodiment of absolute perfection, for it is the embodied essence of the One in Whom the thing has appeared, and hence, what is possessed by that which is called God is also possessed by that form."(24) In other words, we can say that there is absolute identity between any part of Truth and all of Truth as a whole, or that there is no difference between the part and the whole.

And so we arrive at a new understanding of the unity of Truth, an understanding positing all-inclusiveness, the identity of all things, or pan-unity. Whereas at the second stage of vision we spoke of the differentiated unity of Truth, we may now speak of an indifferently differentiated unity, or a kind of differentiation in which what is differentiated is not fixated and not discrete and which thus precludes the possibility of speaking of real differences. When we say that truth is differentiated, we are saying that its unity is not empty but, on the contrary, is filled with an absolute content; when we say that this differentiation excludes differences, we are indicating that there are no discrete, fixated essences in Truth and that its unity is a genuine universal unity in which each is every other and the part is equal to the whole.

Thus we have shown three different conceptions of the relationship between Truth and the world: Truth and the world as separate from one another. Truth in the world, and the world in Truth. The following question will then naturally arise: How are these three visions possible, why do people see Truth in three ways and not in a single way?

At first glance, the very posing of such a question seems unjustified, since it seems to contradict the conception of Truth as pan-unity just stated. If there are no differences in Truth despite its differentiation and such a conception is the highest and the most complete, then how can one speak of three different visions of Truth? Might not these three visions then be identical?

Ibn `Arabi attempts to build his answer to this question around the categories of "eternity" and "time." Truth as such resides in eternity, while man and the world in general are temporal fixations of eternity. Time, according to Ibn `Arabi, is discrete: "atoms of time" exist, which, although they are separate from one another, nonetheless follow so densely upon one another that no time gaps are left between them. Time seems to flow smoothly — that, at least, is how it appears to man, who exists in time; however, during each atom of time everything that is, the entire world, disappears, submerging itself in eternity, in Truth; yet straightaway, in the same atom of time, they emerge anew, but now slightly different, in a somewhat different state. This change in the state of existing world is so slight that it passes unnoticed, and it seems to a person that it has remained as it was; yet, as they accumulate, these successions of different states form the temporal changes we observe. Thus we obtain a temporal analog of the identity of all the states of Truth residing in eternity: anything that is, the world and man, the macrocosm and the microcosm, change in each atom of time even as they remain themselves, even as they remain the same.

Thus time, according to Ibn `Arabi, is like points on a line: the line (eternity) consists of points (atoms of time), yet one cannot say where the boundary between the points lies, where one atom of time ends and another begins. Moreover, each point is equal to a line in which each atom of time gathers unto itself all of eternity, and nonetheless a point is not identical to a line since there arc other points that, like the first, absorb the entire line. There are no differences hi the line (in eternity, in Truth), but there are different points on it (atoms of time, states of Truth) that as such are equal to one another and to Truth but not identical to it.

Ibn `Arabi calls being in the form of atoms of time "evident" (zahir) or "manifest" (mutajallin) being, while the being of eternity is "latent" (batin), "inexplicit" (ghayr mutajalli) being. A state of inexplicit, eternal being is fixed in manifest, temporal being; hence the answer to the question why different people see Truth differently is: because such are the states of Truth itself. Truth is an infinite abundance of any number of states, i.e., there are among these states also those in which Truth is not fully explicit and partially latent. There are people who in their being in the form of an atom of time manifest such states.(25) Hence people are not the same in how they cognize Truth. But all these states are true states since they are states of Truth that pass one into the other and are equal to one another; hence if a person understands this equality, he can express Truth in any statement whatsoever.(26)

Yet the question remains: Why do two hypostases of Truth, the eternal and the temporal, exist? According to Ibn `Arabi, time is inseparable from eternity, time is the breathing of eternity (and the states of the world, in atoms of time, are the breathing of Truth), and the flow of time is as eternal as eternity itself; it always was and always will be. The states of Truth are inexhaustible, and the world's changeable being, in which these states are fixed, is just as unending. Does this not mean that Truth as indifferently differentiated unity can exist only in two hypostases, the temporal and the eternal, being differentiated in the one and undifferentiated in the other? If so, then the purpose of mystical cognition, according to Ibn `Arabi, will be to partake of the second, eternal, hypostasis of Truth (since all people partake of the first, temporal, hypostasis) and thereby to merge totally with the Truth.(27)

How is this partaking possible? This brings us to the third and last question, the question of the path to Truth.

First let us make two points. First, although Ibn `Arabi uses the terms 'knowledge' and 'cognition' with regard to Truth, their content is not totally epistemological. To know Truth means to be Truth, to be Truth in one of its states, and man can come to know Truth to the extent that he is Truth. For Ibn `Arabi, the cognition of Truth is as epistemological as it is ontological; if one desires to "know" more, one must also "be" more.

Second, the three stages of cognition of Truth — which we spoke of conditionally at the beginning as being successive — are strictly speaking not successive for Ibn `Arabi. The path to Truth is not a successive passage through the three stages of cognition. The three possible visions of Truth are different states of Truth itself, and, as has already been pointed out, in this sense they are equal to one another. We arrange them in a sequence only for convenience of exposition, and this sequence forms, as it were, a logical series with logically possible transitions from one stage to another.

The method of "interpretation" or "extraction of the primary meaning" is one such transition from the first stage to the second, from the vision of Truth as being outside the world to the vision of Truth in the world. But how should one interpret the "world of appearance," how should one recognize Truth in the world?

Ibn `Arabi thinks that every human being is endowed with this gift: "It is impossible to be ignorant of this, for every human being knows it from his soul, insofar as he is a form of God."(28) Just because man is the centerpoint of Truth, the point that gathers Truth unto itself as one, he is capable of descrying Truth in himself. However, he is capable of this only when he wants it and strives for it, strives for it with his whole being, body and soul, so that this wholesale universal effort gives the sought result: Truth becomes manifest in the world. How is this possible?

If we attempt to answer this question, we shall encounter a fundamental difficulty that follows from a conception of the process of partaking of Truth as simultaneously epistemological and ontological. Being a hypostasis of Truth, man knows to the extent that he is; to know Truth more profoundly, he must alter his ontological status and must become more than what he is at the given moment. However, to become other, he must know what exactly he must become and, moreover, not contemplatively, not from that other, because such a transmitted knowledge is powerless to change man; he must know from himself, he must know through his own essence, that is, he must in essence already be that other: thus we have a closed circle. Ibn `Arabi is unable to say whether the perfecting of man is a fruit of his own free effort or whether this process is predetermined, since from his standpoint these two expressions are equal: man is a hypostasis of Truth and what he calls his own will is actually inseparable from Truth, and the emergence of this will is predetermined by the succession of the states of Truth. Strictly speaking, man changes because the states of Truth, fixed in time, change and each becomes exactly what is given to him to become — given, however, by himself and no other, because, after all, Truth is man. Statements that appear contradictory to reason are not contradictory for a human being who has perceived the world as Truth, who has, so to speak, risen to the second stage of cognition. The equivalence of the contradictory follows naturally from monism, the nondifferentiation of Truth and the world.

We encounter the same difficulty when we attempt to clarify the question of the possibility of transition to the third stage of cognition of Truth — to the level of totally partaking of its eternal and temporal hypostases.

To partake fully of Truth means to become a part of it, equal to all the others, to descry not only Truth in oneself but oneself in Truth. For this, what is necessary is to overcome one's own limitedness, to step outside one's own limits, to become not just one particular (although full) manifestation of Truth but to become Truth itself, i.e., to acquire the capacity to be any one of its manifestations. To become Truth, it is necessary to renounce one's own "self," to dissolve oneself, to "expire" in Truth, it is necessary, as Ibn `Arabi says, to see Truth in Truth through the eye of Truth. In this state man partakes of the eternal hypostasis of Truth in which he "bears witness" to the whole inner richness of the pan-unity of Truth in a undifferentiated, inmanifest (i.e., "nonexisting," having no temporal being) state — in that state in which it will inevitably appear and become manifest in the temporal hypostasis of Truth. But this, as Ibn `Arabi says, "can only happen with units in certain moments of time, and it is not an inevitable inference,"(29) i.e., it is not a guaranteed result of the corresponding practice. And this is natural: in moments of supreme partaking of Truth, man begins to see that what is in time, the state of the temporal hypostasis of Truth in each atom of time, is determined by the eternal hypostasis of Truth(30); temporal being, which differentiates Truth, changes as its undifferentiated pan-unity requires. Hence "knowledge of the extent of man's preparedness at each moment of time is among the most unclear";(31) indeed, man can know whether he is ready to partake of Truth only when he has already partaken of it, since this, his ontological readiness is determined by the eternal hypostasis of Truth. Accordingly, man never can know beforehand whether his effort of will to partake of Truth will be crowned with success or not, but after he has succeeded in that effort, he is no longer able to separate himself from Truth, and hence the question of whether he himself has achieved this fusion or whether it has been "bestowed" upon him has no meaning for him. Thus, according to Ibn `Arabi, we can say that man himself traverses the path to Truth, provided, however, that we bear in mind that this is only a provisional and imperfect form of expression, since the path itself does not differ from its end(32) — man's striving (or the absence of it) for Truth is already given in Truth itself.

Through partaking of the eternal hypostasis of Truth, man acquires an unlimited capacity to influence its temporal hypostasis as well (since the latter wholly depends on the former) or, as Ibn `Arabi says, "to dispose of" the world of temporal being. This capacity is realized through a special type of energy (himma) that such a person has — an energy capable of "creating" things in each moment of time, i.e., extracting differentiated states of Truth from its undifferentiated, eternal hypostasis.(33) Strictly speaking, this energy, this ability, is the ability of Truth itself to differentiate its own undifferentiated pan-unity, and hence it is quite natural that a person who has achieved a fusion with Truth should possess this capacity. But if this energy is the energy of Truth itself, it is supremely powerless in the human understanding of the term, i.e., it is powerless to change anything; indeed, what is already contained in eternity, and nothing else, is what appears in time.(34) The monism of the absolute pan-unity of Truth again compels us to conclude that mutually contradictory statements (in this case, that a person who has fully partaken of Truth is at once omnipotent and powerless) are in fact not contradictory but only one-sided and incapable of expressing Truth in all its fullness.

We can now draw a few conclusions. Ibn `Arabi understands Truth as the always present, absolutely full (from the standpoint of content) unity of all that is or can be. There is nothing extrinsic to Truth, and Truth itself resides unchanged in an eternal hypostasis even as it alters its states in atoms of time. Time and eternity are two faces of Truth, and their unity is the mode of its existence. Time does not rule over eternity, and eternity does not rule over time: man's highest aim can only be to partake of already-present Truth.

We have seen what Ibn `Arabi believes' is the path to Truth and how that path may be traversed. Let us now try to discover how Berdiaev answers our three questions: What is the world and what is Truth? Why are they as they are? And in what does the path to Truth consist? What is Truth and what is it not?

Truth is not what is, what is imposed as a given state, as something necessary. Truth is not a duplication, a replication of being in the knower... Truth is meaning and cannot negate meaning... . Truth makes us free. To negate freedom means to negate truth... . Cognition of truth is a creative act of imparting meaning to being, the bright emancipation of being from the dark power of necessity. Truth itself is contrary to the world as it is, as it is given; otherwise it could not be a value; otherwise Logos would not reside in it.(35)

Truth is objective, it lives; truth is what is, it is essence... . Hence truth is the way and the life. Hence to know truth means to be tree. Cognition of truth is rebirth, creative evolution, devotion to universal life.(36)

Thus Truth is not a state of the world given to man, a state in which necessity and the law of nature reign. Truth is cognized, and at the same time it itself is real, it itself is life. Finally, Truth is that in which Logos lives. Let us try to decipher these propositions.

Berdiaev calls the state of the world in which man lives "defective."(37) It is a state of the world in which man sees himself as separated from all reality, in which subject is not object, in which the object is concealed from the subject, in which necessity, expressed by laws knowable to science, reigns. This state is defective because man, being enclosed within his own subjectivity, is incapable of extricating himself from the confines of his own "self," is incapable of entering into being itself, into life, is incapable of savoring life. This is manifested in all spheres: in love man obtains only a momentary, ephemeral appearance of union, which then gives way to a deeper, more tragic alienation of two "selves"; conjugal life engenders the "bad infinity" of generating ever-newer generations of beings that are equally alienated from the world and from one another.(38) In culture, in art, it is not new being that is created "but only the signs of a new being, its symbols"; "the subject does not issue forth into the object, the subject disappears in objectification"(39); a product of culture remains alienated from the "self," and the "self" remains alienated from being. Finally, even the religious life of Christianity, both Western and Eastern, is imperfect.(40)

However, if the world is such, why should we not acknowledge this state as being natural, inescapable, why does Berdiaev speak about the tragedy of the "disunity among all the beings of the world"?(41) Precisely because this ought not to be (although it is so), because Berdiaev's initial point of view concerning the relation between subject and object, knowledge and being, is different; his initial position cannot recognize the naturalness of the existing state of the world.

According to Berdiaev, the distinction between subject and object should not be a distinction between subject and being. "Being is not necessarily object, ... it is subject in like measure. Subject and object are both equally being. The distinction of subject and object takes place within being itself," and hence the "relation of the cognizing subject to the object known is a relation within being, a relation to being."(42) But what is this relation?

This relation might be called a growth in being. "Cognition of a tree is the development, the perfection of the tree, the efficacious realization of value in the plant world."(43) In this sense one can say that the basis of being is "Logos, great reason," which is the "creative factor establishing values."(44) This "great reason," or, as Berdiaev says, "conciliar (sobornoe) consciousness," is what expresses that internal relation of being by dint of which being yields growth and develops rather than dying. For just this reason and in just this sense one can say that knowledge and being are identical: all knowledge is being, but not all being is knowledge,(45) i.e., not all being is true cognition capable of providing growth in being.

We might digress here and ask why Berdiaev thinks that things ought not to be as they are, why he is not satisfied with the "natural" state of the world. The answer to this question might perhaps be provided through an awareness of the intention that characterized the current in Russian philosophy represented by Berdiaev and that consisted in searching for the meaning, of being in the sense of making being intelligible, of justifying the existence of every being — searching for that Meaning of the world that illuminates every action of being and presents it in another, higher light. The certitude that such a meaning exists is primordial; it is inseparable from dissatisfaction with that "bad infinity" of existence which is inescapable in a world imperatively prescribed to us and which signifies that tomorrow will be essentially the same as yesterday and that everything is subject to an iron necessity excluding the new (insofar as it is absolutely new, with no roots in the past) and excluding the freedom and miraculousness of being, which Berdiaev considers to be its much more natural state than the state given to us in the world.(46)

Thus being, according to Berdiaev, is a process, the development and flow of which is impossible without this internal relation, without the conciliarism [sobornost'] of all beings that may exist in universal consciousness (grand reason, Logos). Since it is the task of philosophy to "discover universal truth through reason" and truth is revered only to universal consciousness,(47) then philosophy should begin with the confirmation of this universal, conciliar consciousness in which cognition and the self-cognition of all beings takes place, i.e., where there is growth in their being. Like any mystic, Berdiaev, too, recognizes the identity between the epistemological and the ontological (he calls this the "mystical identity in the spirit of pan-ontologism"),(48) but he begins by positing this identity as dynamic and not static. This difference is quite evident when we compare it with the above-described position of Ibn `Arabi: whereas Ibn `Arabi thought that to know truly means to be what already is, for Berdiaev tree cognition is a realization of that which is not yet and could not be without this knowledge.

However, the world as self-realizing, evolving being, being in the process of becoming, is given only to universal, conciliar consciousness. The individual consciousness of an ordinary person does not perceive it as such, and for just this reason individual consciousness is "defective." The proposition of an identity between the ontological and the epistemological should lead us to the conclusion that the defectiveness of the individual consciousness is also connected with the defectiveness of the world in which man, the bearer of this defective consciousness, lives. For Berdiaev these two statements must be equivalent, but a dynamic conception of an internal relation that evolves implies that this defectiveness is temporary, that it is not primordial.(49)

If the defective world in which man lives is a world of iron necessity, the primary, primordial state of being, its conciliarism is a state of absolute and utter freedom. Freedom is impossible without conciliarism, and conciliarism is impossible without freedom, while a fall from conciliarism, from the collective unity of all beings, signifies the "rupture" among them that thrusts the world into the kingdom of iron necessity. Conciliarism signifies the closeness of all beings, their unity, a sympathy between them, or their love for one another, and, as Berdiaev says, "Everything close, related, and united with me I perceive as freedom."(50) He stresses repeatedly that for him the category of freedom is primary, which, however, does not mean that it is absolutely devoid of content (like Hegel's "being"); on the contrary, Berdiaev essentially conceives freedom as a characteristic of pan-unity: only that is free which is near to all, which is unified with all, and restriction of this conciliar unity entails a restriction of freedom as well. To borrow Berdiaev's expression, this is "freedom for" the other and not "freedom from" the other — the freedom of unity and not the freedom of autonomy.

But necessity, triumphant in the "defective" world, is just this "freedom from," the freedom of autonomy: "I perceive everything that is estranged from me, that is distant and alien, as suffocating, material necessity":(51) what is free from me thereby becomes necessary for me, for it does not concur with me, it does not submit to me: and conversely, for everything from which I am free I am represented as suffocating necessity. Freedom exists only in unity and concord, but necessity exists in a state of disseverance and dissociation.

And so we get two "kingdoms," two worlds: the kingdom of conciliarism and freedom, and the kingdom of dissociation and necessity. The first is the kingdom of the creative inner development of being, its realization and growth, and the second is the kingdom of "bad infinity," copying and duplicating the forms of being in accordance with the laws of iron necessity, precluding the addition of the new, making it impossible to break through the rigid shell of the "ego," and negating the union of each being with all the rest of the world. A question arises: What is the relationship between these two "kingdoms," these two worlds, and what is their relation to Truth? Can we call the world of iron necessity untrue and the kingdom of free being Truth, and can we view the path to Truth as merely a return to the kingdom of freedom? If that were the case, then Berdiaev's conception of the path to Truth would not differ fundamentally from the conception evolved by Islamic mysticism, the conception we examined in the example of Ibn `Arabi. But this is apparently not the case, and it is no accident that Berdiaev calls Truth that in which Logos lives but is not Logos itself. The development of being in Logos is true, but it is not yet Truth itself. Berdiaev’s understanding, of Truth is dynamic and not static, and this conception is closely linked to the tenet of his philosophy that he calls "pluralistic monism."

A static conception of truth as the pan-unity of all that is, as the absolute fullness of all, admitting of no increase or growth, forces us to acknowledge, as we saw in the example of Ibn `Arabi, the nonsubstantiality of the differentiation of this unity when it is differentiated through internal correlations and conjunctions of a nonsubstantial character. Accordingly, Ibn `Arabi regards as illusory that vision of the world that sees it as excommunicated from Truth and that accepts the substantiality of its component beings. The dynamic conception of being as pan-unity in the process of becoming that Berdiaev proposes permits the adoption of another position on the question of the substantiality of discrete beings. The world of discrete substantial beings in which man lives is not illusory for Berdiaev; its being is real, not imaginary;(52) the "defectiveness" of this world, of its being, lies not in its substantiality but in the fact that free conciliarism is lacking for these substances, in their state of mutual disseverance from which is born iron necessity, in the absence of the capacity for increase and growth.(53) The capacity for growth and realization, which Ibn `Arabi considered to be barred from Truth (which follows from a static conception of Truth), is, according to Berdiaev, the true characteristic of universal, conciliar being. The possibility of conceiving the pan-unity of discrete substantial beings (which is precluded for Ibn `Arabi) in our view gives Berdiaev a dynamic conception of this pan-unity as something in the process of becoming, of being realized, as a process whose outcome will be Truth; since this is a process of becoming, the substantiality of any monads that may exist will then be fluid and hence does not contradict the unity wherein they are joined together in the freedom of the realization of being.

But why is it that a conciliar, universal being, in which cognition transpires as a process of becoming, suffers such an unexpected "breakdown" in its free development, why does it turn into a kingdom of disassociated, mutually dissevered beings? This question means something different for Berdiaev than for Ibn `Arabi: whereas for Ibn `Arabi the world of discrete beings is a "world of the imagination" and their discreteness is "imaginary" and illusory, while a total partaking in Truth, hidden behind this discreteness, is true, for Berdiaev this state of the world is real and consequently it must be justified, it must have a reason in itself.

Berdiaev's position creates difficulties that Ibn `Arabi attempted to exclude or avoid (since for him they would be insoluble), but it also offers a way to surmount them. Freedom of realization, the freedom of choice, contains in itself the possibility of realizing any choice, which means even a choice that signifies a "freedom from" and not a "freedom for": without the realization of such a choice, freedom would remain incomplete, not fully realized, and in this respect such a choice is necessary, and the "defective" state of the world has a justification.

Since the beings constituting the pan-unity of universal being are substantial, the freedom lying at the basis of this being is consequently the freedom of will of discrete beings. Each such being is free to determine its will and to determine it, as Berdiaev says, either formally or substantively.(54) Formal determination of one's will is a determination as "freedom from," a determination without object, without content, an affirmation of "empty" freedom. Substantive determination of will is the affirmation of an object of desire, the filling of freedom with positive content.(55) A formally determined will is an "evil will" that drives a being into the "sin" of falling from pan-unity, a will that begets the "defectiveness" of the world. Hence Berdiaev says that "necessity is a product of freedom; it is born of the abuse of freedom. The direction of the will of free beings creates a natural necessity, it engenders a state of interrelatedness. Material dependence is the product of our free will."(56) Necessity is essentially also freedom, but a "fallen freedom, the freedom of enmity and decay, the freedom of chaos and anarchy."(57)

But have all the beings constituting the pan-unity of universal being at the same time transformed their will into an evil will, have they committed the original sin, thereby creating the morbid world of necessity? No, says Berdiaev, this is a consequence of the fall of man, who thereby drew the entire world after him as well: "The fall of the supreme hierarchical center of nature entailed the fall of all of nature, of all its lower stages."(58) Man's evil will has brought the suffering of alienation and the suffering of subordination to material necessity not only to man but to the entire world: now "every creature moans and bewails and waits for its liberation."(59) This brings us to one of the main tenets of Berdiaev's philosophy: his conception of man as the center of being, as a microcosm.

For Berdiaev, the conception of man as a microcosm is to a large extent a postulate of his philosophy, first assumed and later developed.(60) At the same time, this postulate finds support in the inner experience, the inner apperception of being that Berdiaev, like any other mystical philosopher, regards as the prime source of philosophizing.(61) Moreover, the intrinsic intuitive understanding of man as a microcosm, as not simply a part of the universe but a mini-universe, fully reflecting the larger universe, the macrocosm, and containing within it the solution to all its mysteries, is regarded by Berdiaev as the basis of cognition, whose negation is also the negation of the possibility of knowledge.(62)

It is in this inner experience that man can find the foundation for the ontological propositions with which we began the analysis of Berdiaev's philosophy. Since man is a microcosm, he is a "point of intersection of two worlds" — universal being and the material world of necessity.(63) In other words, from the standpoint of Berdiaev's pan-ontological identity, man is the vehicle of two consciousnesses, as it were: a rationalist consciousness, adequate to the world of material necessity, and a universal consciousness, corresponding to universal being. We say "as it were" because rationalized consciousness is strictly speaking the vital act of a human being: "the act of cognition is given to us as an act of life," and hence "rationalism is a state of the human spirit and not an epistemological doctrine,"(64) whereas a consciousness of universal being is given to man only as a presentiment, as an intuitive glimpse into "primary, nonrationalized consciousness."(65) Tins presentiment is not the fabric of human life, it does not fill man's being, man is subordinate to material necessity. But in this presentiment, in this intuition of universal being, he finds support for his belief in the possibility of rising again after the fall and of outliving his evil will; this intuition illuminates the way for him, his way to Truth. Man's task is to transform this presentiment into an actual feeling, to translate intuition into consciousness, thereby altering his own being and, consequently, the being of the world; after all, man is a microcosm and his fate is inseparable from the fate of the macrocosm. But how is this possible?

"Absolute Man is Truth."(66) The path to Truth, according to Berdiaev, is the path of implementing Truth, the path of realizing Absolute Man, i.e., a microcosm that becomes a true center of universal, conciliar being. "Man's infinite spirit aspires to absolute, supernatural anthropocentrism; he is conscious of himself as the absolute center ... of all being, of all the planes of being, of all worlds."(67) Only after this aspiration of his spirit has been realized will man be able to call himself Absolute Man, true man. But "to become man, God had to exist, and the God-man had to appear."(68)

Only now can we say what Truth is according to Berdiaev. Truth is not simply God, not simply conciliar free universal being; it is being that has stood the trial of unfreedom and is able to rise up to a new freedom; it is conciliar being in which man. having passed through the adolescent, servile test of "freedom from" and having dragged the whole world behind him, was able to find the content of his "freedom for," extricated the world from the grip of "bad infinity," illuminated and transformed being, and brought about what has not yet been, i.e., brought about Divine-human [Bogochelovecheskaia] Truth. In Ibn `Arabi’s static conception, we could begin with Truth and end with Truth: there was no growth and no addition, there was nothing new. But here we experience the dynamic process of bringing about the freedom of universal being, first as ill-understood, then as filling itself with the content of Truth and leading to Truth as what is new and in the process of being realized. If for Ibn `Arabi Truth has two hypostases — the temporal face of Truth always accompanies its eternal face, having neither beginning nor end — and all the transmutations taking place in it do not depend on man nor are they subject to his influence, for Berdiaev temporal being is born in the act of falling away from the pan-unity of being, and time had a beginning and will have an end; Truth is not yet, but it shall be — it shall be when man fulfills his unconditional mission in the world, when, becoming one with God, he becomes the God-man. "Man's free will" is for Ibn `Arabi only another expression for designating the process of the temporal realization of the pretemporal state of Truth; for Berdiaev, man is unconditionally free, and his freedom is not absorbed by his being.(69) For Ibn `Arabi, to become Truth means to dissolve one's "ego," whose fetters limit man, while for Berdiaev, to become Truth means to fulfill to the utmost what is human in one, and for him what is human is not swallowed up by Truth.(70) This unending pulsation of temporal being in which Ibn `Arabi descried the face of truth is meaningless from Berdiaev's standpoint: only the shedding of temporal being and its transformation into true being illuminates history with meaning. For Berdiaev, Truth is greater than God, and the way to Truth is not a return to God (to universal being, from which man had fallen) but rather the creation of the God-man.

A dynamic conception of Truth in a free process of becoming implies that Truth is not given a priori, that it does not exist pretemporally. God is pretemporal, but he is not yet God-man, though knowing that Truth will be, he does not know precisely what it will be, because the becoming of Truth is a free process: "The Creator wished by an act of his omnipotent and all-commanding will to limit his prescience of what man's creative freedom would reveal, for this foresight would already entail coercion over and restriction of man's freedom in creativity. The creator does not want to know what roan would create; He expects revelations in creativity from man and hence does not know what the anthropological revelation will be."(71) In the same way, man does not know what Truth will be; but he, living in an unfree world, also does not yet know the secret of his own freedom, does not know that Truth cannot be realized without him: "God wisely concealed from man his wish that man be called upon to be a free and daring creator."(72) This knowledge is given in man's first free act — in his striving for freedom, when he rises up to escape from the unfreedom of the world: "The truth about the free daring in creativity can be revealed only by man himself, only by a free act of human daring."(73) However, so far mankind has not been free, and, moreover, the overwhelming majority of mankind has not thought of freedom (in Berdiaev's sense of the word); only single individuals representing the mystical tradition were bold enough to reveal the free spirit in themselves, but even they were not always successful at this, as we have seen.(74)

If man is a microcosm, then the path to freedom, the path to the implementation of Truth, of Absolute Man, of God-manhood lies through man himself, through the depth of his being, where the mysteries of the macrocosm and their resolutions are hidden. Man, living in the world of necessity, will not find freedom outside himself; for the world, freedom is still merely something that must be won. But even within himself, man will not find freedom at once, at first glance; after all, we will recall that the state of necessity in the world is matched by a state of necessity (or "arbitrariness," "empty freedom," or "evil will") of the human spirit; the latter is even the cause of the former. We feel that here, in the search for the path leading unfree man to freedom, lies one of the most difficult (for Berdiaev) points in his philosophy. The difficulty flows from the fact that freedom is primary and unfreedom secondary, and from what is secondary and rational there is no rational (i.e., proper) path to what is primary and super-rational. The path of rational being is the path of "bad infinity" — infinity because it will never lead anywhere, and bad because, within itself it does not contain the possibility of breaking through this infinity and arriving at a meaningful end. The possibility of breaking the bad infinity of rationalized being is latent in the superrational; but how can that possibility be discovered by someone whose spirit is rational, who not only has not actualized superrational, free being in himself but perhaps does not even know of it?

We once again encounter a logical circle like that we saw in Ibn `Arabi: knowledge of the Truth must precede the possibility of knowing it; the effect must precede its cause. Ibn `Arabi did not break this circle but showed that it simply does not exist or, more correctly, that in this form it is the result of an incomplete, one-sided understanding of cause, the consequence of which is that any opposing discursive statements only apparently contradict but in fact complement one another, thereby compensating their mutual one-sidedness.(75) Ibn `Arabi was able to do this by virtue of his static understanding of Truth and the corollary that temporal being is co-eternal with eternal being: a true, eternal cause in such a case would be fully capable of preceding its temporal effect or of being identical with it. Berdiaev, on the other hand, had to break this circle, since he could not accept that it was imaginary: unfree being was as real for him as free being, and, consequently, this logical circle also exists in reality. However, the role of cause and effect in it are played by freedom and unfreedom, not by Truth and non-Truth, as in Ibn `Arabi, and in this distinction resides the possibility of breaking the circle.

Thus unfreedom, which was an effect of freedom, must now become its cause. But to become free, man must already know of freedom and want freedom, i.e., both his being (inasmuch as to know means to be) and his will must already be free, the cause must precede itself as effect. Such precedence is logically impossible, but perhaps logic deceives us. After all, is it not begotten by an unfree world? Let us see what Berdiaev says about the possibility of an unfree man, living in an unfree world, using his own powers to attain freedom.

To acquire freedom, one must renounce the unfree world, and, alone with oneself, one must find freedom in oneself. After making this freedom into freedom "for," one must fill it with real content. Consequently, what is necessary is what Berdiaev calls "sacrifice" or "redemption," or later, "intimate intuition," and finally, "love." Only after this is "creativity" possible, i.e., a person's free participation in the free creation of being, "creativity" as a "divine-human process," as the realization of truth. But is it possible for unfree man to fulfill these preconditions?

Apparently the renunciation of the unfreedom of the world is fully possible, since it would only be the logical culmination, the full realization of the "freedom from" that plunged being into the kingdom of necessity. If man has turned out to be free from closeness to every being, he can also accomplish this rejection by renunciation of the world. It is therefore no accident that in Berdiaev's view the ideal of holiness as propagated in Christianity from its very inception is the ideal of gaining freedom from the world. But it is impossible not to notice that the ideal of this freedom is purely negative; it only brings to completion a process begun with man's fall into unfreedom. According to Berdiaev, a "sacrifice" is absolutely necessary — it is necessary for the "eradication of sin," but as such it remains meaningless if it will be only a sacrifice: renunciation of evil does not vanquish evil; man is merely rejecting an "empty freedom" but is not yet acquiring substantive freedom; to vanquish evil, not only a negative but also a positive principle is necessary.(76)

As he does not find this positive principle in the unfree world, man must endeavor to find it in himself. However, it is clear that finding a positive principle of freedom in oneself is possible only if man sees himself as a microcosm whose being is inseparable from the being of the macrocosm and not as a subject for whom the being of an object is something alien to him. But an ordinary man in an unfree world is precisely such a subject incapable of finding the way to being. Having renounced the world, he must also renounce this subjectivity, relying on what remains with a man after this "sacrifice" — his own intuition of being. "Immersion of the human microcosm in its own depth by means of intimate intuition," says Berdiaev, is essentially "immersion in the mystery of the macrocosm." But for it really to be such, for it not to be reduced to pure subjectivism, this intimate immersion must take place "through the freedom of Absolute Man."(77) Intuition as such does not give freedom; after all, man can only recognize freedom in himself when he is already a microcosm, i.e., when he is already free. The logical circle of freedom-unfreedom thus remains for the time being unbroken.

The same can be said about "love." The love that according to Berdiaev "is the content of freedom," that "incinerates every necessity and gives freedom" — this unifying love "is carried into the world by Absolute Man,"(78) i.e., by free man. He who is unfree, who is governed by necessity, is in the power not of a free but of a "generic" love that does not overcome the alienation of two "egos" and serves that same "bad infinity" of the perpetuation of the species.

Thus the logically impossible priority of freedom to itself is maintained if we attempt to break the logical circle from the side of unfreedom. Such a result should hardly be unexpected if we remember that freedom is primary and necessity is secondary, that freedom is the freedom of the will, and the will of an unfree man is unfree, and hence he himself, through his own efforts alone, is incapable of accomplishing a free act of the will, the act of choosing freedom: "Freedom was understood by the created world not as a norm of being but as arbitrariness, as something indifferent and abstract; freedom was felt by the creature as freedom 'from,' not freedom 'for,' and it fell into a web of lies, it dissolved in necessity. After the fall from grace man can no longer save himself freely, with his own natural human powers, and return to the primary source of being."(79) However, having chosen unfreedom, man would be forced forever to remain chained by his unfree will to the world of necessary temporal being, if ... if freedom did not exist in eternity, in eternal conciliar being. There, in eternity, Berdiaev says, all the acts of the world's tragedy, man's loss of freedom and his gaining it anew, are given in an integral unity,(80) and hence "freedom must be restored to mankind and the world by an act of divine grace, by the intervention of God himself in the fate of world history."(81) Only by accepting that the pretemporally given descent of freedom into the world of necessity is the result of the free development of eternal (divine) being is

Berdiaev able to preserve the dynamism of his conception, after having broken the logical circle of "freedom-unfreedom."

The conciliarism of free being and the completeness of the fall into unfreedom also presupposes the conciliarism of man's acquiring freedom in an unfree world: "It was not an individual man that fell but universal man, Proto-Adam, and only universal man, not individual man, can rise again."(82) Not a specific individual but only mankind as a whole can, after accomplishing a "collective, conciliar sacrificial deed"(83) and after receiving the grace of freedom, inaugurate an era of the free creative development of being, an era in which God-manhood is realized, in which man will play the role of an active, dynamic center of being; the realization of Truth is accessible only to free mankind it its entirety.(84)

The freedom that mankind acquires in this ineffable act of "divine grace," which bursts forth from eternity into temporal being, is the foundation and the content of what Berdiaev calls "creativity." Mankind, having gained freedom, surmounts the morbid dissociation of all beings in the world, their decay, which engenders defective necessity; the new mankind, having acquired divine freedom, now becomes a center gathering together all substances that may exist. Thus the monism of plural being is restored, and free mankind, God-manhood, bestows freedom upon the whole world, becoming its conciliar center. Once more gathered around the new center, being again becomes free: here begins the epoch of its "creative" development, the epoch of the realization of Truth, the epoch over which the laws of necessity no longer hold sway because they have been superseded, even as unfreedom is surmounted-, this is an epoch in which being again grows, again develops, but now it does so through the effort of the free will of free mankind. The epoch of "genius," the epoch of miracles begins. We should not be concerned that we are not yet able to peer into this future epoch: we should not be deterred by the sentence with which Berdiaev concludes his treatise: "What creativity is is inscrutable."(85) Indeed, creativity is inscrutable in our language, in the language of the unfree world, because "creativity is inseparable from freedom," because "only the free create."(86) Freedom for unfree, discursive thought, however, is only "freedom from," is "no-thing," because true freedom is free being, and "there are no paths of discursive thought" to it.(87) But man is great if only because he has the intuition of being,(88) because he has a presentiment of his great mission, because he is capable of becoming conscious of his unfreedom and renouncing it. "The initiation of awareness of the creative life of which man has a presentiment must be bold, and the clearing of the path to it must be merciless."(89)

We have tried to give a general picture of the thought of two outstanding philosophers without dwelling on particular problems. Their comparison is interesting, in our view, because they represent two fundamentally different types of mystical philosophizing. The central question that Ibn `Arabi and Berdiaev face is the question of how the simultaneous transcendence and immanence of God in man and the world is possible. Without the absolute fullness of being, without Truth, the world is impossible and man is impossible, but in their empirical givenness they are separated from the Truth, they are untrue. There is no Truth in empirical givenness, and yet, even this givenness cannot be without being rooted in Truth — that is the essence of the problem that faced these philosophers. However, the solutions they propose are substantially different.

Ibn `Arabi resolves the problem by affirming the identity of transcendence and immanence. For him immanence is absolute, and the assertion of the transcendence of Truth over the world cannot be regarded as true: either it is the result of imperfect language (if it belongs to a man who possesses a full knowledge of Truth and employs such assertions while knowing and understanding their onesidedness), or (if this assertion belongs to someone who really considers Truth to be transcendent) it is the result of a realization of one of the states of the incomplete manifestation of Truth itself. The unity of Truth is understood in this case as comprising an absolutely unchanging fullness of being, while its internal differentiation is understood as nonsubstantial, as not signifying a real difference. Indifferent differentiation is realized in two hypostases of Truth — the eternal and the temporal, both immanent in one another.

For Berdiaev, transcendence and immanence are not simultaneous in the direct sense of the word. Originally identical, they are transformed into two genuinely different relations in order then again to fuse; the final immanence is separated from the original immanence by a time interval during which it becomes its opposite — transcendence. Transcendence is real, it is realized in a segment of temporal being that has a beginning and an end: immanence is also real as a state of eternal being. Unity is understood by Berdiaev as a conciliarism of real substances gathered around its center and immanent in it. An integral conciliar being is universal, i.e., it contains within itself the entire fullness of being, but this fullness is potential (and not actual, as in Ibn `Arabi), i.e., it is becoming, and hence it is not only not exclusive but also presupposes its own requisite development. The absolutely new arises in this development — that which never existed before and is not attached to the old by the law of genesis but is the result of a realization of the freedom of universal being. Final immanence differs from original immanence: it differs in that the center in which it is realized, the center of a new conciliarism of being, is mankind. This is a new mankind that has become the active center of the development of being and that realizes Truth.

Berdiaev's conception enables us to find a convincing foundation for the reality of transcendence within immanence itself (which is impossible for Ibn `Arabi). For Berdiaev, the immanence of universal being lies in the freedom of the conciliarism of all substances, and an incorrect, arbitrary implementation of this freedom (the possibility of which, however, resides in the freedom to choose, in the freedom of their wills) engenders their mutual transcendence. The real difficulty for Berdiaev is that the epoch of transcendence, the epoch of temporal being, must break the eternal freedom of conciliarism, of immanence, into two parts, so to speak, between which, separating them, lies a finite epoch of unfreedom. This must be, since the disintegration of conciliar being was total, and it wholly passed into a state of unfreedom. Yet at the same time it cannot be, since, first, it is impossible to conceive of eternity as divided into two parts and, second, because then temporal unfree being would have no end, since in itself it does not have the power to rise up to freedom. The necessity of preserving the continuity of eternal conciliar being and at the same time the necessity of breaking it in the process of realizing its own freedom is a real contradiction m Berdiaev's philosophy.

We think it is possible to speak here of two types of mystical philosophy, since the difference between the philosophers we have examined (who are quite representative of their two currents) is fundamental and ineradicable; it determines the entire course and direction of their philosophical constructions. In our view, the difference lies in the initial understanding and perception of Truth, which in the one case can be called static and in the other, dynamic.

For Ibn `Arabi, Truth always is, and, moreover, only Truth is; all that man sees and experiences is a state of Truth, and hence the most that he can achieve is to realize these states in himself most fully, to become fully Truth. But this achievement of his changes little, or rather, from Berdiaev's standpoint, it changes nothing at all, it is meaningless: essentially nothing has changed; such Truth, all-embracing and all-absorbing, is simply incapable of changing. A Truth that mankind is incapable actively of possessing, to which he always remains subordinate, and in which he can only dissolve himself is probably not worth existing at all — such a perception of the world is fundamentally unacceptable for Berdiaev. He sees Truth as the world illuminated, transformed, and freed by man, as a universal [vseedinoe] being in which mankind has become the free and actively creating center. For Berdiaev there is no Truth without man and the world, and there will be no Truth as long as mankind is unfree. Truth is the source and the realizable Meaning of the world, that for the sake of which mankind is meant to live, and that which without him will never be realized. This Meaning is for the time being transcendent — it is beyond the bound where unfreedom ends and the freedom of man begins. And, although one cannot know how this freedom will be given to man, one is fully able to say what must be done for it: Berdiaev's philosophy answers this question. It is within man's powers to understand the structure of creation, to sense the sources of being, and, once desiring freedom, to renounce unfreedom forever. True, meaningful, justified mankind, God-manhood, is Berdiaev's ideal, and the ideal of Russian mysticism.


1. "Truth" or "True" (al-haqq) in Islam is one of the names of God. In Sufism this word usually designates God as the absolute fullness of being, not only transcendent but also immanent in man and the world.

2. Ibn `Arabi. Fusus al-hikam (“Bezels of Wisdom”. Beirut. 1980), p. 172 (in Arabic).

3. Ibid., p. 181.

4. Ibn `Arabi, Al-Futuhat al-makkiyya (“Revelations of Mecca”. Cairo, 1859), vol. I, p. 42 (in Arabic).

5. Ibn `Arabi, Fusus al-hikam, p. 184.

6. Ibid., p. 103.

7. See ibid., pp. 99-101.

8. Ibid.

9. See ibid., pp. 108, 186.

10. Ibid., p.99.

11. See Ibn `Arabi, Al-Futuhat al-makkiyya. Vol. I, pp. 41-42.

12. Ibn `Arabi. Fusus al-hikam, p. 103.

13. Ibid., p.81.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibn `Arabi, Al-Futuhat al-makkiyya. Vol. I, p. 42.

18. Ibid., p. 76; see also p. 153.

19. Once the good and the bad exist, the possibility and necessity of ethical arguments arises, but we will not touch upon them here.

20. Ibn `Arabi. Fusus al-hikam, p. 121.

21. Ibid., p. 96.

22. Ibid., p. 109.

23. Ibid., p. 79.

24. Ibid. (my emphasis — A.S.).

25. Ibn `Arabi expresses this thought in using the term 'preparedness' (isti'dad): whatever is man's preparedness, i.e., one of those hidden, inexplicit, eternal states that he makes manifest in his atomistic-temporal being, such also is his cognition of Truth.

26. Hence from the standpoint of the mystical philosopher rational knowledge, too, is true knowledge. The difference between the rationalist and the mystic is that the former does not acknowledge the qualification, which the second considers to be mandatory. In the final analysis, the mystical philosopher criticizes the rationalist precisely for this, that the rationalist regards his method of cognition as the only right one.

27. Partaking of the eternal hypostasis of Truth also signifies at the same time man's absolutely full realizalion in himself of its temporal states (man encompasses within himself the whole universe, and here this is not a metaphor), since these temporal states are inseparable from the eternal state.

28. Ibn `Arabi, Fusus al-hikam, p. 77.

29. Ibid., p. 99.

30. Ibid., pp. 99, 177, et al.

31. Ibid., p. 59.

32. See ibid, p.73.

33. Ibid., pp. 88-90.

34. Ibid, p. 128.

35. N.A. Berdiaev. Smysl tvorchestva ("Meaning of Creativity". Moscow. 1989), pp. 281-282.

36. N.A. Berdiaev. Filosofiia svobody ("Philosophy of Freedom". Moscow. 1989), p. 95.

37. Ibid., p.62.

38. See Berdiaev, Smysl tvorchestva. pp. 399-436; N.A. Berdiaev, Eros i lichnost' ("Eros and Personality". Moscow. 1989).

39. Berdiaev. Smysl tvorchestva, pp. 449, 347.

40. See ibid., pp. 471-73, 528, 530; Berdiaev, Filosofiia svobody, pp.178, et al.

41. Berdiaev, Filosofiia svobody, p. 65.

42. Ibid., p. 69-70. If cognition is an internal relation of being and it is not a simple "copying," then the internal growth of being is thereby admitted.

43. Ibid., p.80 (my emphasis — A.S.)

44. Ibid., p.81.

45. Ibid., p.104.

46. "History cannot have a meaning if it never will terminate, if it will not have an end; the meaning of history is its movement toward an end, toward completion, toward an ‘outcome’"; "A miracle is more rational than necessity; a miracle is in accord with the meaning of the world. In a miracle, reason and meaning return, the higher purpose of being is realized, but dying away, in accordance with the laws of nature, is irrational and meaningless; it negates the purpose of being" (Filosofiia svobody, p. 171, 62).

47. Ibid., p.27.

48. Ibid., p.81.

49. And, consequently, on the fundamental possibility of its being surmounted and superseded, which we shall discuss later.

50. Berdiaev, Filosofiia svobody, p. 65.

51. Ibid.

52. "Our 'empirical' world is the real world, bill it is sickly and spoiled; it is perceived such as it is in its given defective state" (Filosofiia svobody, p. 116).

53. Accordingly, Berdiaev recognizes natural science, which describes the world in the state of this necessity, as also being unconditionally useful and true, but the attempt to stop at this and to compel philosophy also to be "scientific," i.e., to accept the inevitability of this necessity and the impossibility of realizing freedom, of "the miraculousness" of being, is for him unacceptable: "In scientific knowledge, true secrets of nature, of nature in its given, albeit also defective, sickly state, are revealed," but the "abasement of Truth to those scientific concepts that were the result of adaptation to necessity is a fall of spirit, its renunciation of creative activity" (Filosofiia svobody, p. 62; Smysl tvorchestva, pp. 282).

54. Since the beings constituting pan-unity are substantial, freedom of will is precisely the freedom of will of each being, the freedom of its sovereign will. Berdiaev's position enables him, in contrast to Ibn `Arabi, to provide a substantive definition of will. Hence, for Berdiaev ethical problems, while rooted in the ontological and flowing from the latter, nonetheless have an autonomous content, in contrast to the philosophy of Ibn `Arabi, for whom the ethical is always identical to the ontological and has no independent significance.

55. Cf. Berdiaev, Smysl tvorchestva, pp. 376-77.

56. Berdiaev, Filosofiia svobody, p. 65.

57. Berdiaev, Smysl tvorchestva, pp. 374. From this postulate of necessity as empty, contentless freedom follows an interesting conception of causality, which in Berdiaev's differs fundamentally from Ibn `Arabi’s conception of causality (and, of course, from the conception of causality in modern European philosophy). However, we are unable to go further into this question here.

58. Ibid., p. 306.

59. Ibid.

60. In contrast to many other propositions of his philosophy, among which, as we have tried to show, a necessary logical connection exists.

61. "The very consciousness of man as the center of the world, who harbors within himself the unriddling of the world and raises himself above all things of the world, is a precondition of any philosophy, without which one cannot venture to philosophize" (Smysl tvorchestva, p. 294).

62. "Man is a mini-universe, a microcosm — that is the main truth of human cognition and the main truth presupposed by the very possibility of cognition" (Smysl tvorchestva. p.295).

63. Berdiaev. Filosofiia svobody, p. 115.

64. Ibid., pp. 102,103.
65. Ibid., p.72.

66. Berdiaev, Smysl tvorchestva, p. 281.

67. Ibid., p.310.

68. Berdiaev. Filosofiia svobody, p. 192.

69. In this sense, the description Berdiaev himself gives of Western European mysticism is fully applicable to Ibn Arabi: "Pantheistic mysticism does not know the unique creative energy of man; it is not anthropological; for it, the individuality of man is a sin and a fall from grace, and every achievement of man is an action of the Divinity itself, in estrangement from ail things human" (Smysl tvorchestva, pp. 502).

70. "Man is aware of himself religiously not as God's slave but as a free participant in the divine process. We are under the sign of the definitive discovery of the human ‘I’" (Smysl tvorchestva, p. 530).

71. Berdiaev, Smysl tvorchestva, p.331.

72. Ibid. Hence knowledge of God-manhood is absent in the Holy Scriptures: ''For the profoundest of reasons, hidden in the secret of time and epochs, Christianity did not fully reveal what it ought to have dared to call christology, i.e., the secret of the divine nature of man, the dogma of man, similar to the dogma of Christ" (ibid., p. 314).

73. Ibid., p.331.

74. Hence Berdiaev thinks that European culture as such was doomed to crisis and failure from the very outset: after all, it reconciled itself to the fundamental unfreedom of man by consenting to create signs and symbols of beauty and freedom in place of true beauty and freedom. Berdiaev sees the strength of the Russian Orthodox sense of the world, hidden for the time being, in the resistance to this path, in the search for the path of an integral, conciliar transformation of life and being (see Smysl tvorchestva, pp.509, 52l, 523, et al).

75. From which follows the inexpressibility of Truth by means of discourse, given the accepted means of logical noncontradiction, another understanding of cause-and-effect relations, the recognition of the one-sidedness of classical logic, etc.

76. "In mankind, not only must. sin be negatively exposed by the law and redeemed, but its creative... God-like nature must also be positively disclosed" (Smysl tvorchestva, p. 478).

77. Berdiaev. Smysl tvorchestva, p.289.

78. Ibid., p.374-75.

79. Berdiaev. Filosofiia svobody, p.l43.

80. Ibid., p.132.

81. Ibid., p. 143.

82. Berdiaev, Smysl tvorchestva, p. 307.

83. Ibid., p.482.

84. This thesis not abrogated by Berdiaev's arguments about "solitude," which is not necessarily opposed to conciliarism, when "one may be more conciliar, more universal than the whole collective," since such a conciliar personality is alone only because it is simply ahead of its time, because "its universal content is not yet recognized by others" (Smysl tvorchestva. p. 380-81).

85. Berdiaev. Smysl tvorchestva, p. 533.

86. Ibid., p. 368.

87. Berdiaev, Filosofiia svobody, p. 78.

88. Ibid.

89. Berdiaev, Smysl tvorchestva, p. 533.