Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi and the Sufi Path of Annihilation: Multiplicity and Convolution


Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī was a Persian poet who lived during the 13th Century AD, whose philosophy of transcendence of the Self (a transcendence through annihilation, according to the practice of Itlaq Yolu: (i) zikr, (ii) fasting, (iii) mental suffering and (iv) discussion, (iv) being of least importance) holds some depth. Much has been said about his mysticism, but to my mind his poetic explorations of the meandering human spirit and its capacity to travel through and ultimately transcend the unlimited layers of limited perception (as Nevit O. Ergin puts it in "The Sufi Path of Annihilation") are bound to one direction: the submersion of faculty in multiplicity and convolution.

A deep consideration of these ideas is certain to deepen any philosophy; a shallow consideration of these ideas is certain to delude.

The Self is to be controlled, its inclinations conceived as a sort of animal impulse that must be brought to heel; then, it is to be annihilated, one path being the practice of Itlaq Yolu; and through its annihilation, the whole perceptive apparatus transcends its common dualistic thinking.

This is the direction, the "more" of Itlaq Yolu and the "more" which is intimated by Rumi's poetic exploration. 

Rumi's God is not the Most High Personality that it is conceived of in the Western tradition, the tradition running from Plato to Aquinas and St. Augustine. He takes on a philosophical aspect, and Rumi delights in incompossibles which, through iteration, seems a systematic attempt at fusing opposites and thus doing away with the dualistic habit of human rationality. Thus, "He is your existence, He is your Absence" is a somewhat laconic description of a fusion of the realm of personalistic possibilities and the opposition to those possibilities.

God becomes tied to Self in a recursion (with many of the terms missing, since poets tend not to incline toward rigour), when the "ignorant one" who "doesn't know Himself", is considered to be looking for none other than "You". God, the Beloved, is the Most High Object, an open challenge (that must then and now probably have been taken as political challenge) to monistic theology.

Mystery, the favourite of mystics and apophatic theologians, ties together the non-phenomenal threads. "It is impossible to talk about the breath that was mixed with the dust of Adam." A summary dismissal of mystery (which is in some sense a speculative foray into the noumena, that attempts to carve out finite portions of the infinite for 'analysis') is usually not possible, and is in any case usually political. However, it is inconsistent with closed systems of thought, and unversed thinkers (i.e., those socialised only to think in closed terms) risk madness if they attempt to understand it.

Inheritors of Derrida's différance, by contrast, are unlikely to find the ideas particularly dangerous. The silent trace of the other is the wispy stuff from which all non-existentiality is made. Yet, différance is asymptotic as regards the ultimate prescription of Itlaq Yolu, annihilation, for the trace itself cannot cannibalise itself without residue. The principle of the conservation of energy still applies in some sense to trace.

Mystics, lacking rigour, can simply make the leap of faith. Thus such assertions as "He is the Essence of the Universe, but not the Universe." and "He is neither in Absence nor Existence." pass muster as a means to describe where the conjunction point between Self and God-as-Essence lies; that conjunction lies at the point where Self is annihilated, where the embodiment within which the Self once inhered falls back into the primordial soup and becomes indistinguishable from the totality-that-is-God. "Union is your total annihilation."

The leap of faith is, at last, abdication of power and deep surrender to multiplicitous and convoluted base materiality. This is Rumi's great shortcoming, a shortcoming relative to the creatural aspirations to negentropy (and not a shortcoming at all, if assessed in terms of entropy). Union of God and the one-without-the-Self (Union and annihilation cannot really be separate processes, for 'one-without-the-Self' is oxymoronic) annihilates, according to Rumi; but this term 'annihilation' effaces the possibility of the infinitesimal dx. Relative to x, dx is negligible, and when both are combined, it becomes easy to efface dx (i.e., to take no notice of it). But the possibility of recognising it cannot be annihilated from consciousness except through death itself. This implies suicide.

Camus' absurdity, taken far enough, turns all truths into falsehoods on the binary table. In order not to abdicate our negentropic pretensions, a recursion of binaries (raising 2 to every greater powers) must mediate between truth and falsehood, so that the poles become imaginary, and our relationship to them asymptotic. Perception, as tied to Self, can be 'annihilated', but if what is to be understood by the process of 'annihilation' is a walkback, then this is just perception itself. If it is not a walkback, then it is a forward-looking recursion. Walkback (or reification) and forward-looking recursion (transcendence) are not linear processes, but rather integrative and differentiative processes. Annihilation and consequent non-dualism is trapped in the recursion as the dualistic other of Transcendence and the consequent dualism.

The idea of annihilation in the practice of Itlaq Yolu is therefore correctly said to be 'apophatic'. To speak about it is to trap it in dualism, which is what the practice is attempting to avoid. If, however, any trace of the meaningfulness of Itlaq Yolu is given by language, then such practitioners will doom themselves to a tautology with few terms. Only the most stringent practitioner, the one who abdicates language itself, can be taken to have sharpened their (but perhaps this pronoun no longer applies subjectively) practice to the utmost, and in that case all assessment of them would be moot.

Given that discussion is a, albeit less important, facet of Itlaq Yolu, language is unlikely to be abdicated. Therefore, an alternative is to assess it according to the marketplace of ideas, which assessment already harbours assumptions about the quality of its meaningfulness. This, however, is not a discussion to be had here.

Frederick Yann Yorck

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