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Lamahat (c. 1750)

By:
Shāh Walī Allāh
Document type:
Book Chapter

    Lamahat (c. 1750)

    Commentary

    As reformer trained in Sufism, Shāh Walī Allāh (1703–1762) devoted much of his work to healing the divisions between the Sunni and Shīʿī traditions in his native India. At the heart of his efforts was the concept of “Unity of Being” (Wahdat al-Wujud, which he argued was inherent to all philosophies and religions. A simple way of defining this idea is to say that the only truth in the universe is God. The Lamahat (Flashes or Glimpses of Philosophy) is his most exhaustive treatise on the concept. In the opening pages excerpted here, Walī Allāh discusses the necessary existence of God, and how his status as “First of the first” implies that all reality springs from him. Because of this conciliatory tone, Walī Allāh is accepted among virtually all Islamic South Asian groups as an intellectual inspiration.

    All praise is due to God, the Lord of the worlds. Blessings and benedictions be on the Chief of the Prophets, on his family and his Companions.

    Lamha 1

    Every effect is originated (Hadith), as its cause precedes it. Every originated is transformable, because it is preceded by its originator, its transformer.

    Every compound of two things is preceded by its parts, and every thing the actuality and the individuality of which are actualised, is preceded by its actuality, the essence (Huwiyyat) of which is that species, and by its individuality, the essence of which is that individual.

    It is, therefore, necessary that the First and the Origin of all should not be an effect, nor an origination, nor an actualised one from any essence and any individual.

    Lamha 2

    It should not be imagined that the First of the first is one individual of the Being (Wujud), and that the Being has included it as the whole includes its individual parts. Nay, the First of the first has encompassed this universal and all-embracing conception of the Being, from above, from below and from all its sides. It is so because this conception of the Being precedes it when those realities which are the sources of many different consequences (Athar) are considered in general. In this way, however, the Being is distinguished from the Not-Being. But the reality of the Being is not distinguished from other realities. This consideration has, therefore, created a form in the brain named Being, while as a matter of fact all the realities return to the First and sink in it. Therefore, what would be the condition of that Being which arose from the consideration of other realities? (Such form of Being carries no meaning and is absolutely unreal.)

    Lamha 3

    It should not be imagined that the need of the First is felt only in the termination of the possible chain of being, even though the nature of every one possessing the possible nature actualised through the First stands in need of it. And this to the extent that, if an emanation emanates from the First, and the other emanation emanates from that emanation, then the other one will stand in need of only the first emanation, even though that first emanation stands in need of the First. Nay, it is not so. The possible nature, when it is actualised in its actuality or in its essence, stands in need of the First alone, without any intermediary between the two.

    When you attribute anything to the One, its attribution is like the attribution the number one has towards the cardinal numbers. But by that I mean that one precedes two and is present in every number, till it becomes what it is. To God this is the most sublime simile.

    Lamha 4

    There are two sayings about a thing which is different from one separated from it. Either we would say “It is It” or would say “It is not It”. In that case, it is a compound, multiple in itself, preceded by someone else.

    The First, therefore, must necessarily be a thing which may not conflict with other things. For that, we give examples from matter and external form, even though its (First’s) case is not like any thing.

    The existence of wax does not conflict with the existences of images made out of it. Human existence does not conflict with the existence of human individuals, and the existence of the faculty does not conflict with the existence of the actions emanating from it. Similarly, every higher existence does not conflict with the lower one, but it is the same thing itself and is also with itself, just as it is in the other thing and is also with it.

    The particularisations in no way particularise its reality, and the predications cannot be pronounced on it in particular. Knowledge cannot have connection with it, as it particularises it. It cannot be encompassed by time and place, nor can it be comprehended by the faculty of sense and imagination.

    Lamha 5

    The First possesses attributes which in fact describe its personal greatness, such as existence, particularisation, life and knowledge. The general rule about them is that when you look at a thing near you and you admire it, then if you seek it in the “first”, you will find it (the first) essentially independent of it (the thing), without its acquiring any additional attribute.

    The actions of the First are definite and its relations are firm. The general rule about them is that if these actions and relations are to refer to the Invention, then the first emanation suffices all of them; because, considering it as near to the First, its emanation is just the emanation of the whole universe itself. If they refer to the Creation, then the emanation of the Great Body invariably includes all. As the proverb goes “Every kind of game is in the belly of the wild ass”.

    But if they refer to the Administration and the Emanation, then that would be on condition that they (actions and relations) have either been created by God, or that He has made a manifestation towards them. Then this case would be like the case of a sailor in the boat who has to move if the boat moves, or like the writer, who has necessarily to move his fingers if he writes.

    The First has a peculiar style which defends it against every form and relation. The rule about them is that these forms and relations are things which take place in the brain of the perceptive when his attention, even though in general drawn towards the greatness of the First, is also drawn towards one of the forms represented before him.

    Lamha 6

    The word one is used in many meanings. Zaid, for example, as an individual is one, though in parts is multiple. The man in relation to his species is one, though in relation to individuals is multiple. Similarly, the animal in relation to the genus (Jins) is one, though from the point of view of species (Anwaʾa) it is multiple. The correct meaning of the one, particularly from the point of view of principle, is that it should come into existence once from the word “Be”, or should come into existence by one requirement and one power, or be a shadow of one individual only. Say any of these you like.

    Lamha 7

    The truth is that only one thing should emanate from the First; otherwise how can saying “These are two things” be more proper than saying “These two are one”. Thus it is necessary that their emanation may have a recourse to two powers, namely, the active and the passive, which both throw light on the active, and this is how the whole multiplies.

    It is not proper that this emanation should be exclusively attributed to some things rather than others. But it is however necessary that its reality (Aniyyat) should not conflict with other realities. Its relation to things is like the relation of the black line to the pictures of writing. We have already given such examples. Thus no other existence can be of that kind except the Self-unfolding One. It is this existence to which allusion is made in our saying “Zaid is in the external world”. And it is this same existence hinted at through the word Realities in our saying “Zaid is in the Realities”. And it is the same existence pointed out through the word actualisation when we say “Zaid is actualised after he was not”. Why should it not be like that, when everything existing in the external and in the Realities is preceded by some thing in the external and in the Realities, and every actualised thing is preceded by its actuality.

    In Sufism and the Islamic Tradition: The Lamahat and Sata'at of Shah Waliullah of Delhi, translated by G. N. Talbani, 1–5. London: Octagon Press, 1980.

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