Seas, barriers and meetings

He has let flow forth the two large bodies of water, they meet together. (But) between them is a barrier, which they do not transgress (and so they do not merge). Then, which of the favors of your Lord will you deny? There come forth from them pearl and coral. (Surah Ar Rahman, 55:19-22)

The Professor was discussing the Names with the Builder and the Marriage Councilor.

The Builder said: “I am interested in the modalities by which the (verb/actioned) Names (which exist in the Reality of action/creation) can/cannot be captured within our daily space of identity — there is barrier of existence/identity that prevents us to fully encounter this. The revival of Islamic sciences must surely utilize modern technology to question the ontology of this barrier of identity.”

The Councillor said:”But surely the Names are encounterable somehow, though not captured. I mean, perhaps we should be meditating more on the meeting of the seas and less on the barrier — though the barrier of adab is undeniable. In my tariqa, we meditate on a particular Name and related verse — selected for us by our teacher to lead us into an encounter with that facet of Al Haq. We keep this Name and verse in our minds during the week and, over the course of daily practice, its meaning will manifest itself to us, somehow — maybe through something that happens at work, or in family or between friends. But in this way we cultivate a means of self-awareness of how the Names transform and run through our existence.”

The Professor queried: “In other words, relating this to the seas of Surah Ar Rahman, your dhikr’s possibility is the adornment of pearl and coral taken from the Real waters of the Names into our current sea, divided as it is from that other body? Alhumdulilah.”

She smiled back: “I’ll need to think about that, I never considered it in relation to that verse until now. I guess it is about how He can touch us directly from his ultimate reality — even though we are divided from Him by our physical body, by the barrier of our normal life of flesh and bone and work and suffering. We get so attached to the barrier of our physical life that we fail to see the higher aspects of our soul.”

Then the Tailor appeared and spoke directly to the three in a clear English.

You three are all so close to the meeting. It could be a very beautiful occasion for you. Walk with me for a moment, and listen. Walk with me for a moment, and see.

But sister, know that the barrier is not so much the physical body in the “ordinary”, socially constructed sense of the word (because that can be discarded before even touching the water) — as much as identity. I mean identity in the mathematical sense: “1+1” is identified with “2” — for example — but from another perspective, they are two syntactically different signs, absolutely unique and separate.

We deny the imaginary, social, impermanent “physical”. We affirm the existence of only two seas: 1) a symbolic, Imaginal space of reading (where we are now, speaking/reading/perceiving the signs within each other, as, after all, we are just characters in a blog) and 2) a Real, corporeal bodily space of the Attributes, of the Names. Hence, as we have said, no blood spilt by Prophecy in lesser jihad — and greater jihad as all about blood.

The seas are between the latter true corporeality (a real body of pure water) and the former sea of our symbolic becoming through reading/perceiving signs (life in Time is signification).

The meeting is intimately tied to the Houri: she is nothing more nor less than a truly physical encounter with the Celestial Tablet. The “meeting” of the waters is absolutely poetic, absolutely sublime and absolutely corporeal. Sublime and poetic, because the barrier of identity remains in place during the whole affair.

The meeting is a moment when our reading/perception hooks into a Truth so palpable we can touch it or be touched by it. We can encounter the meeting through a corporeal, really physical (and in a particular sense intimate) conduit of knowing that part of our soul as it exists within sea of the Real: the highest levels of the soul, the sirr of being, is undifferentiated corporeality, not an abstract symbolic. The barrier remains, so the conduit of knowledge is not a transgression. It is a sublime meeting.

Relating this to the verse, the pearls and coral that we extract from both seas are not so much separate or abstract verbs of one sea or effects felt by us in another — but are, by virtue of the adornment they provide, a part of us — a higher aspect of our soul, of our true selfhood. They are indeed circumscribed, individual, sexual conduits of knowledge of our selfhood from the sea of the Real to the sea of the Symbolic. The pearls extracted from the sea are adornment for our wives and what our right hands possess (adornment being another name for Prophecy): from a Real feminine perspective. And another way of saying this, from a Real masculine perspective, is that coral is the wives and what our right hands possess. Coral is, after all, an amazing fractal material, porous yet substantial … An impossible possibility and we know what that means (can’t live with them, can’t live without them)!

The higher levels are conduits into something truly physical, corporeal, intimate, the ultimate sirr. The original body, so to speak.

What is the nature of the Real intimacy?

The perfect man is face to face with the Celestial Tablet — the Real Tablet that has given birth — generates — the symbolic tablets we read every moment of our life. Resonance with that face-to-face position leads to Real intimacy, to coral for men and pearls for the ladies.

The maiden Houris of paradise in the rest of the surah, likened to coral:

In them will be (Maidens), chaste, restraining their glances, whom no man or Jinn before them has touched. Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny? Like unto Rubies and coral. (Surah Ar Rahman, 55:56-58)

And pearls:

Round about them will serve, (devoted) to them. Boys as Pearls well-guarded. (52:24)

If the tantric sublime is not your bag, then try Shakespeare, who captured some of the strangeness of this meeting of Death/corporeal transformation/Great Jihad — in equally sublime verse:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Burthen Ding-dong
Hark! now I hear them,–Ding-dong, bell.


3 thoughts on “Seas, barriers and meetings

  1. But surely the Names are encounterable somehow…

    But surely all encountering is the encounter with a ‘Divine Name’?

    Thus, when we encounter a living being, we encounter the Name al Hayy, The Living. The life – the ‘livingness’ – of every living thing is nothing other than His Life. How could it be? What other kind of life might could there possibly be?

    We cannot encounter the totality of the Name al Hayy, because that would mean being able to encompass the totality of its possible manifestations, which are infinite. Yet we encounter the essence of the Name al Hayy – which is ‘His’ Essence, huwiyya – because every name is a word (I hesitate at ‘sign’, because semiotics builds on de Saussure’s assertion of the ‘arbitrary’ or ‘unmotivated’ relation of signifier and signified, which is shirk). The word has a form, which is its manifestation, and a meaning, which is its essence. For the Divine Names, the form is creation and the meaning is the Divine Ipseity.

    And that, surely, is what the dignity of the human being – the insan-i kamil – consists in. With our form – with our senses – we encounter a paricular manifestation of a Name. But with our essence, which is co-extensive with the DIvine Essence, we encompass the Reality of the Name (which contains, principially if not in actualisation all of the possibilities ‘to be’ of that Name).

    These are the two ‘oceans’ – the infinite ocean of becoming, of which we perceive only that part which presents itself to our senses – and the infinte ocean of possibility, which is circumscribed by the Heart. “If the Throne and all that is there had been increased one million times and put into the corner of the heart of the gnostic, he would not even feel their existence,” as Bayazid Bistami related.

    What is the barzakh, the ithsmus that divides the ocean of becoming from the ocean of possibility? Us We are the majm’a al bahrayni – the meeting place of the two seas.

    1. Peace James,

      Nice to hear from you! I think I your understanding is precisely what the Tailor is saying here — but mapped to a somewhat different vocabulary. I also think that your understanding of an encounter is exactly what the Sufi sister is going on about — but she is emphasizing the awareness of this constant encounter in her practice … The Professor is enthusiastic but the Builder, on the other hand, appears not so sure about the authenticity of her practice.

      Stories aside: what I call the symbolic space of signification is precisely what you refer to as the space of becoming (because for me, signification is becoming) — and is indeed understood in terms of forms (objects/ayat and models/predicates, lives and angelic guidance). What you call the ocean of possibilities — I would call the ocean of the (truly) corporeal. But your characterisation is perfect for me, inasmuch as I understand it. So thanks very much!

      I wonder what you think of the corporeal here though. By inverting the physical/essential dialectic that is sort of a hangover from Descartes I guess — I am suggesting a way of relating to the sublime (and Houris) through meetings of oceans. You seem to be saying that “we” are on either side of the oceans in some form, right? Essence and form, on either side. Then this “us” that forms — as you say — the meeting place — would be the sublime, poetic nature of “us”.

      Another question for you: our essence is co-extensive with the Divine Essence, as you say. Where does Divinity figure in relation to the oceans, given that we both appear to have constituted them in terms of Names?

  2. Where does Divinity figure in relation to the oceans…

    Recall Moses and his servant, seeking the place where the two oceans meet (18:60 et seq). Neither actually notice that they have reached the place, and indeed pass it by. And it is only when the servant notices that the cooked fish has become revivified – and swum away – that Moses realised that must have been the place.

    This passage seems to suggest that we can’t actually know this place, and it is only subsequently that we recognise it through secondary indications. What this says to me is that here there can only be His knowledge of Himself – any vestige of individuality is annihilated. So we cannot say ‘I am at the isthmus.

    It is when Moses and his servant have retraced their steps that they meet al Khidr, ‘one of Our servants’, and of course the story that unfolds from that point is the well known account of the two travelling together. Moses here represents conformity to revealed law, while al Khidr represents the ilm ladunni – the ‘infused science’ that is so very different from universalizing and inflexible religious principle. So this is a place of bewilderment, where none of what we think we know holds any validity, and the only approach is that which Moses cannot, ultimately, bring himself to observe: “Behold, thou wilt never be able to have patience with me – for how couldst thou be patient about something that thou canst not comprehend within the compass of (thy] experience?”.

    The religious law pertains only to the ocean of becoming, but it cannot comprehend the ocean of possibility, the ‘unseen’, and at the point at which the two oceans meet it is turned upside-down by the superior wisdom of al Khidr.

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