“You think of yourself as a small thing whereas in you there is hidden the biggest of the universes…”
– Ibn Arabi
Ibn Arabi was a 12th-13th century mystic, poet and philosopher in the Islamic tradition. He lived between Spain and North Africa and produced a prodigious and varied output during his lifetime. He has often been compared to Zhuangzi and Dogen as there are many similarities in his world view and cosmology that chime with Eastern thought. Though he is now popularly referred to as a Sufi, he did not consider himself as such during his lifetime. As a youth, he experienced a vision of Jesus Christ that led to a profound understanding on his part of the limits of rational thought. In this passage he talks about the endless Ipseity – selfhood – of God, which is an endless manifestation of configurations, and which are condensed in the perfect human ideal.
It is essential to know that as there is no end to the Ipseity of God or to His qualification, consequently the Universes have end or number, because the Universes are the places of manifestation for the Names and Qualities. As that which manifests is endless, so the places of manifestation must be endless. Consequently, the Qur’anic sentence: “He is at every moment in a different configuration,” means equally that there is no end to the revelation of God.
The Power (qudra) of God is constantly and permanently in a state of Perfection. Because of this Perfection He does not reveal Himself twice to the same person in the same manner. He is constantly in new revelations, … so the same revelation may not ever happen to two different people.
In a hadith it is said: “God has eighteen thousand universes and this your world is just one universe from among them.” The saying that God has eighteen thousand universes in part, and in total eighteen universes, is drawn from the hadith mentioned above even though there is no extremity to the revelation of God and no end to the places of the revelation of God.
Hazreti ‘Ali has said it this way:
“You thought yourself a part, small;
Whereas in you there is a universe, the greatest.”
That is to say, you think of yourself as a small thing whereas in you there is hidden the biggest of the universes….
You may imagine the greatness of the Perfect Man in this manner: if eighteen thousand universes were put in a mortar and pestled to a paste, its composition would be the Perfect Man. This Man will see the eighteen thousand universes through eighteen thousand eyes. He sees each universe with the eye of senses, matters of intellect with the eye of intellect, the meanings with the eye of the heart….
The meaning of the Qur’anic verse becomes clear to the gnostic: “Whichever way you turn, there is the face of God.” That is to say, which ever way you turn your face, there you will find a road which leads to God. It is true that according to the rule that: “He is at every moment in a different configuration,” there are states and degrees; but He shows in every wink a caprice, and in every caprice a scent, and in every scent a beauty, and in every beauty a love, and in every love a wink, and in every wink a caprice, and in every caprice a scent, and in every scent a kind of recommencement.
Ibn Arabi (1165-1240)