Ibn Arabi deals with the problem of «perpetual création» primarily in terms of the Heart (qalb) of the mystic. It is highly significant in this respect that Chapter XII of the Fusus al-Hikam («Bezels of Wisdom») which is devoted precisely to a discussion of «perpetual creation», is entitled Hikmah Qalbîyah, i.e. «esoteric knowledge relating to the Heart».
It is to be noticed first of all that the word qalb is in this particular context used as a technical term. It does not refer to the heart as a bodily organ. It means instead a spiritual organ, an inner locus of mystical awareness — a purely spiritual dimension of the mind in which supra-sensible and trans-rational aspects of reality are disclosed to the mystic. In order to distinguish the «heart» as he understands it in this context from the heart as the bodily organ, Ibn Arabi uses the expression: qalb al-‘arif meaning literally «the heart of the gnostic», which we might, principally for the sake of convenience, translate as the (spiritual) Heart. The seemingly quite commonplace phrase, qalb al-‘arif, is in reality a very special expression peculiar to Ibn Arabi, because by ‘arif, «gnostic», is meant here the wall at the highest stage, i.e. insan kamil, the Perfect Man.
With such an understanding, Ibn Arabi begins by pointing out the infinite spaciousness or comprehensiveness of the spiritual Heart. In support of his view, a famous hadîth qudsî (a prophétie tradition in which God Himself talks in the first person) is adduced. It reads: Mâ wasi’a-nî ard-î wa-lâ samâ-î. Wa-wasi’a-nî qalb ‘abd-î al-mu’min al-taqî al-naqî, «Neither My earth nor My sky is wide enough to contain Me. But the ‘heart’ of my servant, believing, pious and pure, is wide enough to contain Me». According to the interprétation of Ibn Arabi, «My believing, pious and pure servant» means Lârif. That is to say, the Heart as the spiritual organ is, in the case of a mystic of the highest rank, endowed with an infinite comprehensiveness to such a degree that it can contain or comprehend even the Absolute.
In order to further corroborate his own view, Ibn Arabi quotes utterances of some of the outstanding mystics who preceded him. A saying of Abû Yazîd al-Bastâmî, for instance:
Even if the divine Throne and all that is contained therein were to be found, infinitely multiplied, in one single corner of the mystic’s heart (qalb al-ârif), he would not be aware of it.
Translated rather freely, this utterance means: If we were to put the whole universe (with all the things that exist therein), infinitely multiplied, into the «heart» of the mystic, that infinitely vast universe would occupy only a small corner of the «heart», so small indeed that the mystic himself would not even become conscious of it.
For a right understanding of such a statement, we must recall that the qalb which Ibn Arabi is speaking of is the Heart of the Perfect Man. It is, in other words, the cosmic Mind, or cosmic and universal Awareness of the Perfect Man as understood by Ibn Arabi.
In the view of Ibn Arabi, the cosmic Awareness of the Perfect Man is jami , «all-comprehensive»; that is, it comprehends in itself all the attributes of existence (jami sifât al-wujûd), i.e. all things and events that were, are, and will be actualized in the world of being. And this all-comprehensiveness of the Heart is nothing other than the all-comprehensiveness of the Absolute, because ail the «attributes of existence» that are said to be contained in the Heart are so many self-manifestations of the Absolute. It is in this sense that the «heart of the mystic» can be said to contain even the Absolute.
We must observe at this point that the word qalb in its ‘irfânic understanding is always etymologically associated with the word taqallub (from the same root ccnsonants Q-L-B). Taqallub means constant change or transformation, something constantly turning into something else, something incessantly assuming new forms. Thus, in the light of this understanding, the qalb of the mystic is characterized by constant transformation. And this taqallub of the mystic’s qalb exactly corresponds to the constant and incessant ontological transformation of the Absolute known as Divine tajallî «self-manifestation».
In the view of Ibn Arabi, the Absolute, because of its excessive metaphysical plenitude , cannot but express in external forms the inner fullness of existence. Hence what is called fayd , i.e., Divine Emanation or metaphysical effusion.
The Absolute is here envisioned as containing within itself an infinite number of inner articulations or, we might say, ontological inclinations. In the traditional terminology of theology these ontological articulations in the Absolute are called Divine Names and Attributes. Each of the Divine Attributes requires for itself externalization. Thus the Absolute, in accordance with the ontological requirement of ail its Names and Attributes — the Divine Names are ordinarily understood to be ninety-nine but in reality they are, in Ibn Arabi’s view, infinite in number — goes on manifesting itself in an infinite number of concrete forms.
On the other hand, as we saw earlier, the cosmic Heart (qalb) of the mystic is spacious enough to contain even the Absolute. In the light of what we have just seen, this statement would necessarily imply that the Heart goes on reflecting moment by moment all the forms in which the Absolute manifests itself. And this must precisely be what is meant by the taqallub al-qalb «constant transformation of the Heart» of the mystic.
It is to be observed that there is no limit or end to the self-manifesting activity (tajallî) of the Absolute, and that the Heart correspondingly has no limit in its inner transformation (taqallub) i.e. in its ever-increasing knowledge of the Absolute.
But this is not yet the ultimate view of the metaphysical structure of Reality, for there is still here a distinction made between the tajallî and taqallub, i.e. between the self-manifestation of the Absolute and the inner transformation of the Heart. The distinction implies that the mystic’s Heart goes on reflecting, like a spotlessly polished mirror, the endless «self-manifestations» of the Absolute. Such, according to Ibn Arabi, cannot be considered the ultimate picture of Reality.
In order to reach the ultimate view, we must go a step further and transcend the stage at which the Heart is imagined as reflecting the infinitely varied forms of the Absolute. For in reality, the Heart in such a state is no longer human awareness to be distinguished from the Divine self-manifestation. Quite the contrary, the Heart itself in its constant inner transformation is nothing other than the various forms of Divine self-manifestation. Conversely, the incessant transformation (taqallub) of the Absolute is itself the constant transformation (taqallub) of the Heart. As Ibn Arabi says:
The mystic’s Heart takes cognizance of the constant transformation (taqallub) of the Absolute by the Heart’s own transformation into various forms.
Ibn Arabi observes in this connection that the self (nafs) of the mystic in a State like this is no longer his own «human» self, his self now being perfectly identical with the huwiyah (He-ness, or He-aspect) of the Absolute. The «He-ness» of the Absolute is the Absolute in so far as it allows of being designated as «he», if not in its original absoluteness. The Divine He-ness is thus the deepest metaphysical stratum of the Absolute to which we can point with précision in so far as it manifests itself in the most individual, concrete forms.
In the spiritual state of awareness which Ibn Arabi is talking about here, there is no longer any substantial discrepancy between the Heart of the Mystic and the He-ness of the Absolute. The mystic’s knowing himself is his knowing the Absolute. And the inner transformation of the mystic’s Heart is nothing other than the ontological transformation of the Absolute. This, according to Ibn Arabi, is the right understanding of the famous dictum: man ‘araja nafsa-hu 6arafa rabba-hu «He who knows his own self knows (thereby) his Lord».
The one absolute Reality goes on assuming infinitely various and variegated forms in the dimension of phenomenal appearance. And that itself is the incessant transformation (taqallub) of the Heart of the mystic just as much as it is the transformation (taqallub) of the Absolute. One should not commit the mistake of imagining that the mystic’s Heart in the process of inner taqallub goes on reflecting the incessant ontological taqallub of the Absolute. For «reflection» présupposés the independent subsistence of two different things standing face to face: (1) the mirror and (2) the things that are reflected therein. But the taqallub here in question is not something of that nature There is no room for something reflecting something else. For the taqallub here is one and the same taqallub on both sides.
Ibn Arabi thus reaches his own conception of «perpetual creation». Quoting the Qur’ânic verse (Bal hum fî labsin min khalqin jadîd) which we cited at the outset, he remarks that those who are «spiritually blind» and deprived of mystical capacity would never be able to understand the deep meaning of the expression khalq jadîd, «new creation». In his interprétation, which he believes is the only right one, this particular phrase refers to the fact that, seen through the eye of a true mystic, the world is «transformed with each breath» (tabaddul al-’âlam ma‘a al-anfâs) i.e. moment by moment. At every single moment the whole world emerges in a new form. And to say so is, as we have just seen, exactly the same as saying that the cosmic Heart of the Perfect Man goes on assuming a new form at every moment.
For Ibn Arabi, all this is reducible to a simple Statement: Divine tajallî (self-manifestation) never ceases to be active, and moreover it never repeats itself.
In terms of «creation», the same idea can very well be expressed by saying that the world (i.e., the Heart of the Perfect Man) is created afresh moment by moment. The world which we see and in which we live at this very moment is not a continuation of the world we witnessed a moment ago. Likewise the world which is coming after a moment will again be an entirely different world from the present one.
The existence of the world as a temporal continuum is in reality a series of existences each of which emerges and disappears moment by moment. Thus, between two consécutive existences there is always a break, an ontological chasm of non-existence, no matter how short and imperceptible to the ordinary eye the break may be. And what is true of the world as a whole is of course true of each one of all existent things. This is tantamount to saying that there is no solid substance in the world. What is usually believed to be a solid substance, a stone, for example, which our common-sense view regards as continuing to exist over a more or less long span of time, is in truth a series of exactly similar stones that are created anew one after another. There is no différence in this respect between a stone and the flame of a burning lamp. Those who think that a stone is one single solid substance are, from the point of view of an Ibn Arabi, still in the mental stage of children — «small children» (sibyân) in relation to grown-up people, i.e. mystics. Already before Ibn Arabi, Hamadani had made the following remark:
Small children, observing a lamp burning continuously, would naturally think that what they see is one single flame. But the grownups know very well that it is a series of different fiâmes appearing and disappearing moment by moment. And from the viewpoint of the mystics this must necessarily be the case with every thing in the world except God.
For Ibn Arabi, the world is alive with a new life at every moment. In this sense, we are — or at least we are supposed to be — tasting at every moment the absolute freshness of the original création of the world.