Wednesday, January 8, 2014

One and Two

“one’s not half two. It’s two are halves of one

There is so much wisdom compressed into this opening verse to a sonnet by the American poet e. e. cummings. In this simple line, he suggests that unity is not achieved by cutting off one side and keeping the other; it is not achieved by eliminating the darkness and keeping only the light, nor by cutting off the irrational and keeping only the rational, nor by devaluing the feminine and exalting the masculine, nor again by avoiding winding ways and following only straight lines (and is the sirāt al-mustaqīm really, literally devoid of any curves? is it really possible at all, on this earthly plane, to ever follow only a rigid, straight line?); unity is not achieved by renouncing this world altogether and valuing only the Hereafter, nor by despising the profane and confining oneself solely to the sacred, nor by rejecting idleness for progress, folly for wisdom, laughter for severity, doubt for belief, spontaneity for ritualism, blasphemy for faith. This unity which is formed by the rejection of the other is only a seeming unity, and will never become entirely free from its opposite. When there are two, the silencing of one behind the voice of the other does not mean that only one is speaking. This unity is merely a surface appearance; eventually, the suppressed voice always breaks through.

one’s not half two. Its two are halves of one.

True unity is not achieved by abstracting and elevating one side of a duality, and cutting off the other: rather, it is found through the conjunction of opposites, passing through contraries to that which exists beyond them both. Consider this quatrain of AwḥaduddīKirmānī (13th century):

      Every heart that falls prey 
         to Your love’s sorrow 
      leaves behind both 
         the idol-temple and the Ka‘ba. 
      In loves way, blasphemy 
         and faith both are alike; 
      this way passes by both 
         the idol-temple and the Ka‘ba.

That Higher Unity is not found by utterly renouncing the idol-temple and utterly dedicating oneself to the Kaba. For the idol-temple and the Kaba, when sought for themselves, both are an object of worship from which a gain is sought, apart from God, and that object is still an idol, before which one is still a mercenary who seeks gain from a source of power and bounty, in exchange for the performance of ritual acts of worship. But when God is sought, when the Beloved is sought for the Beloveds sake alone, then both the idol-temple and the Kaba are transcended. Even as one goes to them, ones worship passes through them to the Beloved that exists beyond both the idol-temple and the Kaba. Even the idol-worshipper, if his/her end is that Beloved, will reach God through the idol. 
   This does not mean that one has to reject both the forms of the idol-temple and the Kaba altogether. It does, however, entail detachment from man-made forms (detachment, not rejection), so that they are no longer sought in and of themselves, but merely as different pathways to the Higher Unity which exists beyond them both. In this sense, the idol-temple and the Kaba both are alike. Hence, another quatrain of Kirmānī: 

      By God, only in annihilation 
         do you truly exist; 
      by God, my sober friends, 
         how sweet is this drunkenness! 
      And if perchance one day 
         you worship an idol for God, 
      I swear that from the idol 
         you will attain to the One. 

A typical response to the notion of “reconciliation of opposites is that it is surely awkward and repulsive to imagine something like the conjunction of good and evil. But this Higher Unity beyond opposites does not signify that the duality is to be fused (or confused) into one, that light and dark, fire and water, mind and heart, day and night, man and woman, etc. should become uniform, behave in the same way and reach their end by the same means, in a truly depressing compromise where fire no longer burns and water is no longer fresh, where day and night are both a dim glow without any variation of light, where there is no summer and no winter, just an even climate that feels like nothing, where thoughts are muddled up with emotions, and feelings squared out by the principles of reason. 
   This is not what is meant by the conjunction of opposites, it’s two are halves of one. That is merely a confusion of opposites, occurring on the plane of duality; as for the Higher Unity, it exists on a higher plane than that of duality: the One is not the one that is opposed to two. It is One, and there is no other beside it. It is not that there is one true God while all other gods are false gods. That God is not the One opposed to the Many. It is the One beyond both one and two.
   The idol-house and the Kaba, as opposite creeds (symbols of plurality and unity respectively), will always remain opposites on this plane, and whoever lives according to the laws of the realm of duality will always go to either one or the other, never both (unless they are indeed confused). But the one whose heart has been seized with longing for that Higher Unity, for the God beyond forms, sees that both the idol-house and the Kaba reach to the same end, whenever it is God, and nothing else, that is sought through them, and beyond them. As Aynulquḍāt Hamadānī wrote in the 12th century:

      I will set this creed
          and religion on fire,
      and put Your love
         in their place. 
      How long must I hide
         Your love in my heart? 
      My goal is You,
         not a creed or religion. 

Evil and good constitute together the very symbol and archetype of duality. Evil and good can never be conjoined, only confused, on the plane of duality. But when ones heart rises beyond duality, moved by existential love for that Transcendent Being who is Pure Unity beyond all opposites, then beyond these two extremes a reconciling Unity is discovered. A Unity which appeases the war that reigns between extremes in whoever and whatever exists according to the rules of this plane of duality, and to whom and which a radical choice between opposites is demanded.
   Opposites both participate in a common reality, as day and night balance together the diurnal cycle, as male and female participate together in human nature. Without the possibility for evil, what would be the meaning of good? How could we even apprehend it? But is the good which is the opposite of evil truly the good we are meant to pursue? Is the light which is the opposite of darkness the True Light? Is the belief which is the opposite of doubt true certitude (yaqīn)? Is there not a Higher Good that transcends the duality of both good and evil, and reconciles them on a higher plane, where evil is understood as as a means of learning what goodness is, and goodness as a means of learning what evil is?
   The solution to this tension is neither to live in a never-ending quest for the liberation of good from the clutches of evil, for the elimination of all evil, crookedness, darkness, doubt, impurity, and so on; nor is it to embrace both equally in confused carelessness as to what is what. The solution is not to make this relative good, which is the opposite of evil, ones aim and goal. For this relative good is never free from mixture with evil, and the battle between them will never end so long as we conceive them as enemies. The solution is not to seek one opposite and deny the other. Rather, looking beyond them both, having become a lover of that Pure Good that has no opposite, it is to live for that Pure Peace beyond both war and peace that reconciles all enmities, for that Pure Oneness which exists beyond both one and two.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


"All that God creates is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude."

(1 Timothy 4:4)