Saturday, 4 December 2010

Active force and recipient

I continue with my reading of the dissertation about Shaykh Ahmad's philosophy, Idris Hamid: "The Metaphysics and Cosmology of Process According to Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i", which I downloaded from Dissertation Express. I've read a small passage that I thought I could reproduce here, and which would make sense without the hundreds of pages of explanation that have gone before. Hamid gives an illustration, in my view, of what Baha'u'llah is referring to in the famous creation passage from Tablet of Wisdom:

"The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different... Such as communicate the generating influence and such as receive its impact are indeed created through the irresistible Word of God which is the Cause of the entire creation, while all else besides His Word are but the creatures and the effects thereof." (Tablets p140)

I explained in a previous entry "Notes on the three worlds of existence" that the first 'world' or realm of existence that emanates from the the Essence of God is, variously called, the world of the Kingdom, the Primal Will, the world of Command, the Word of God. Shaykh Ahmad also refers to it as "the First Creation" (Hamid p241) and "Absolute Existence". As I explained in my previous entry, "Being a throbbing artery", Shaykh Ahmad argues that every thing in creation is a composite of existence and essence. The only 'thing' that is not subject to this division is the Essence of God. Its existence is the same as its essence; it is the only truly simple 'thing'. Every thing else is a composite of its existence and its essence (ie, form). This distinction between existence and essence is the same distinction that Baha'u'llah is making between the "active force" and its "recipient". This is clear because, Shaykh Ahmad explains, existence is active and its recipient, essence, is 'passive' - although it is not truly passive, because it is active in its passivity. (Shaykh Ahmad likens it to the 7th form of the Arabic verb, the medio-passive, which is active in form and passive in meaning.)

Shaykh Ahmad explains that this distinction between existence and essence is very subtle at the level of the First Creation and becomes increasingly pronounced at the level of physical reality (p251). At the level of the First Creation, Shaykh Ahmad refers to the aspect of existence as "Willing in Possibility" (p253). At this level, 'existence' is, basically, a realm of possibilities. Shaykh Ahmad refers to the aspect of essence, at the level of the First Creation, as "Willing in Being". Looking at God's Willing from this point of view, it is in a state of actively receiving possibilities and is therefore like a realm infinite possible impressions. The impressions that are actually realised constitute things - what Shaykh Ahmad calls "delimited existence".

Idris Hamid gives a helpful illustration of the interaction between "Willing in Possibility" and "Willing in Being". I think it shows how the two are the same and yet different, and active and receptive, as Baha'u'llah describes them. It's impossible to get one's head around what Baha'u'llah is saying, without a concrete example (for we all rely on sensible images for understanding, as Abdu'l-Baha explains in SAQ ch16). Here is the example - from page 254 of the dissertation.

"Consider a quantity of water. Water has its own configuration, through its molecular structure etc. Now consider that water flowing through a riverbed. The riverbed may be considered as the form of the water. The water inheres in it and, from the geological perspective, defines and determines it over time. The riverbed receives the water and continually becomes though its very receiving of the water. Yet though the riverbed gives form to the water, it does not affect the water's configuration. Yet the configuration of the water determines all of the water's chemical and geological possibilities. It makes it possible for, and determines the manner in which, the water creates the riverbed. The water considered by itself is like Willing-in-Possibility. The water considered with regards to the riverbed is like Willing-in-Being."

I think the illustration is a bit confusing in that Hamid seems to shift from saying that the actual riverbed is the form of the water (which it cannot literally be) to saying that "the water considered with regards to the riverbed" is the form of the water (which it must be). But, that aside, what comes through from the example is the idea that one thing - ie, water - has two aspects and can be viewed from each - in itself (existence), and in relation to its form (the shape of the riverbed). Both aspects are the same yet different; one is active (water in itself) and one receptive (water in the shape of the riverbed).

I thought the image of the water flowing through the riverbed was a nice image of the infinite flow of possibilities and impressions of the Word through the reality of things.

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