THE most striking feature of the Persians as a nation is their passion for metaphysical speculation. This passion, so far from being confined to the learned classes, permeates all ranks, and manifests itself in the shopkeeper and the muleteer, as well as in the scholar and the man of letters. Not to give some account of this aspect of Persian life would, then, be a grave omission, calculated to prevent the reader from obtaining a just impression of the national character.
Than dogmatic theology is unfavourable to speculation is obvious, and as few theological systems are more dogmatic and uncompromising than that of Islam, it might be expected that Persia, being one of the strongholds of the Muhammadan faith, would afford at best a sterile soil for the growth of other systems. Such, however, is far from being the case. Persia is, and always has been, a very hot-bed of systems, from the time of Manes and Mazdak in the old Sasanian days, down to the present age, which has brought into being the Babis and the Sheykhis
When, in the seventh century, the warlike followers of the
Yet, after all, the change was but skin-deep, and soon a host of heterodox sects born on Persian soil--Shi'ites, Sufis, Isma'ilis, philosophers--arose to vindicate the claim of Aryan thought to be free, and to transform the religion forced on the nation by Arab steel into something which, though still wearing a semblance of Islam, had a significance widely different from that which one may fairly suppose was intended by the Arabian prophet.
There is, indeed, another view possible--that of M. Gobineau,
whose deep insight into Persian character entitles his opinion to
careful consideration--viz., that from the very beginning there
were latent in the Muhammadan religion the germs of the most
thorough-going pantheism, and that Muhammad himself did but
revive and formulate somewhat differently the ancient beliefs of
Mesopotamia.* Whether this be true or not (and the point is one
* See Gobineau's Religions et Philosophies dans l'Asie Centrale,
especially chapter iii, " La Foi des Arabes."
In such wise does the Sufi of Persia read the Kur'an and expound its doctrine. Those who are familiar with the different developments of Mysticism will not need to be reminded that there is hardly any soil, be it ever so barren, where it will not strike root; hardly any creed, however stern, however formal, round which it will not twine itself. It is, indeed, the eternal cry of the human soul for rest; the insatiable longing of a being wherein infinite ideals are fettered and cramped by a miserable actuality; and so long as man is less than an angel and more than a beast, this cry will not for a moment fail to make itself heard. Wonderfully uniform, too, is its tenor: in all ages, in all countries, in all creeds, whether it come from the Brahmin sage, the Greek philosopher, the Persian poet, or the Christian quietist, it is in essence an enunciation more or less clear, more or less eloquent, of the aspiration of the soul to cease altogether from self, and to be at one with God. As such it must awaken in all who are sensible of this need an echo of sympathy; and therefore I feel that no apology is required for adding a few words more on the ideas which underlie all that is finest and most beautiful in Persian poetry and Persian thought.
To the metaphysical conception of God as Pure Being, and
the ethical conception of God as the Eternally Holy, the Sufi
superadds another conception, which may be regarded as the
keynote of all Mysticism. To him, above all else, God is the
Eternally Beautiful--"Janan-i-Hakiki," the "True Beloved."
Before time was, He existed in His Infinite Purity, unrevealed
and unmanifest. Why was this state changed? Why was the
But Beauty cannot brook
Concealment and the veil, nor patient rest
Unseen and unadmired: 'twill burst all bonds
And from Its prison-casement to the world
Reveal Itself. See where the tulip grows
In upland meadows, how in balmy spring
It decks itself; and how amidst its thorns
The wild rose rends its garment, and reveals
Its loveliness. Thou, too, when some rare thought,
Or beauteous image, or deep mystery
Flashes across thy soul, canst not endure
To let it pass, but hold'st it, that perchance
In speech or writing thou mayest send it forth
To charm the world.
Wherever Beauty dwells
Such is its nature, and its heritage
From Everlasting Beauty, which emerged
From realms of purity to shine upon
The worlds, and all the souls which dwell therein
One gleam fell from It on the Universe,
And on the angels, and this single ray
Dazzled the angels, till their senses whirled
Like the revolving sky. In divers forms
Each mirror showed It forth, and everywhere
Its praise was chanted in new harmonies.
. . . . . .
Each speck of matter did He constitute
A mirror, causing each one to reflect
The beauty of His visage. From the rose
Flashed forth His beauty, and the nightingale
Beholding it, loved madly. From that Light
The candle drew the lustre which beguiles
The moth to immolation. On the sun
His Beauty shone, and straightway from the wave
The lotus reared its head. Each shining lock
Of Leyla's hair attracted Majnun's heart
Because some ray divine reflected shone
In her fair face. 'Twas He to Shirin's lips
Who lent that sweetness which had power to steal
The heart from Parviz, and from Ferhad life.
His Beauty everywhere doth show itself,
And through the forms of earthly beauties shines
Obscured as through a veil. He did reveal
His face through Joseph's coat, and so destroyed
Zuleykha's peace. Where'er thou seest a veil,
Beneath that veil He hides. Whatever heart
Doth yield to love, He charms it. In His love
The heart hath life. Longing for Him, the soul
Hath victory. That heart which seems to love
The fair ones of this world, loves Him alone.
Beware! say not, 'He is All-Beautiful,
And we His lovers.' Thou art but the glass,
And He the Face* confronting it, which casts
Its image on the mirror. He alone
Is manifest, and thou in truth art hid.
But is this the sum of the Sufi's philosophy? Is he to rest
content with earthly love, because he knows that the lover's
homage is in truth rendered, not to the shrine at which he offers
his devotion, but to the Divine Glory--the Shekinah--which
inhabits and irradiates it? Not so. Let us listen once more to
the utterance of Jami--
The renunciation of self is the great lesson to be learned, and its first steps may be learned from a merely human love. But what is called love is often selfish; rarely absolutely unselfish. The test of unselfish love is this, that we should be ready and willing to sacrifice our own desires, happiness, even life itself, to render the beloved happy, even though we know that our sacrifice will never be understood or appreciated, and that we shall therefore not be rewarded for it by an increase of love or gratitude.
Such is the true love which leads us up to God. We love our
fellow-creatures because there is in them something of the
Divine, some dim reflection of the True Beloved, reminding our
souls of their origin, home, and destination. From the love of
the reflection we pass to the love of the Light which casts it;
and, loving the Light, we at length become one with It, losing
the false self and gaining the True, therein attaining at length
to happiness and rest, and becoming one with all that we have
loved--the Essence of that which constitutes the beauty alike of
a noble action, a beautiful thought, or a lovely face.
Such in outline is the Sufi philosophy. Beautiful as it is, and
worthy as it is of deeper study, I have said as much about it
as my space allows, and must pass on to speak of other matters.
Mysticism is in its nature somewhat vague and difficult to
formulate, varying in character between an emotional philosophy
and a devotional religion. On one side of it stands metaphysic,
and on the other theology. Of Muhammadan theology I do not
Mulla Sadru'd-Din Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Yahya, commonly known as Mulla Sadra, flourished in the latter half of the seventeenth century. He was the son of a rich merchant of Shiraz, who had grown old without being blessed with a son. Being very desirous of leaving an heir to inherit his wealth, he made a vow that if God would grant him this wish he would give the sum of one tuman (about 6 s.) a day to the poor for the rest of his life. Soon afterwards Mulla Sadra was born, and the father faithfully accomplished his vow till his death. When this occurred, Mulla Sadra, who had already manifested an unusual aptitude for learning and a special taste for philosophy, decided, after consulting with his mother, to bestow the greater portion of the wealth which he had inherited on the poor, and to go to Isfahan to prosecute his studies.
It was the time when the Safavi kings ruled over Persia, with
their capital at Isfahan, and the colleges of that city were famed
throughout the East. Mulla Sadra enquired on his arrival there
who were the most celebrated teachers of philosophy, and was
informed that they were three in number, Mir Abu'l-Kasim
Fandaraski, Mir Muhammad Bakir, better known as Mir Damad,
and Sheykh Beha'u'd-Din 'Amili. He first presented himself
before Mir Damad, and asked for advice as to his studies. The
latter replied, "If you want inward meaning only, go to Mir
At length it happened that Mir Damad desired to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca. He therefore bade each of his pupils compose during his absence a treatise on some branch of philosophy, which should be submitted to him on his return, in order that he might judge of the progress they had made. Acting on this injunction, Mulla Sadra wrote his first great work, the Shawahid-i-Rububiyye ("Evidences of Divinity"), which he presented to his teacher on his return from the pilgrimage.
Some time afterwards, when Mulla Sadra was walking beside Mir Damad, the latter said to him, "Sadra jan! Kitab-i-mera az meyan burdi!" ("O my dear Sadra, thou hast taken my work out of the midst"--meaning that he had superseded it by the work which he had just composed). This generous recognition of his merit by his teacher was the beginning of a wide celebrity which has gone on increasing till this day. Yet this celebrity brought him into some danger from the fanatical mullas, who did not fail to detect in his works the savour of heterodoxy. It was during his residence at Kum especially that his life was jeopardised by the indignation of these zealots, but on many occasions he was subjected to annoyances and persecutions. He lived at a time when the clerical power was paramount, and philosophy in disrepute. Had he lived later, he might have been the recipient of favours from the great, and have enjoyed tranquillity, and perhaps even opulence: as it was, his was the glory of once more bringing back philosophy to the land whence it had been almost banished.
Mulla Sadra gained numerous disciples (some of whom, such
as Mulla Muhsin-i-Feyz, attained to great fame), and left behind
him a multitude of books, mostly in Arabic, of which the
(1) His axiom "Basitu'l-hakikat kullu'l-ashya wa leysa bi-shey' minha"--"The element of Real Being is all things, yet is none of them."
(2) His doctrine that the cognition of any object only becomes possible by the identification of the knower with the known.
(3) His assertion that the Imagination is independent of the physical organism, and belongs in its nature to the world of the soul: hence that not only in young children, but even in animals it persists as a spiritual entity after death. In this point he differed from his predecessors, who held that it was only with the development of the Rational Soul that immortality became possible.
I must now pass on to Haji Mulla Hadi of Sabzawar, the
greatest Persian philosopher of the nineteenth century. He was
the son of Haji Mahdi, and was born in the year A.H. 1212 (A.D.
1797-8). He began his studies when only seven years old, under
the tuition of Haji Mulla Huseyn of Sabzawar, and at the early
age of twelve composed a small treatise. Anxious to pursue his
studies in theology and jurisprudence, he visited Mashhad in
company with his teacher, and remained there for five years
living in the most frugal manner (not from necessity, for he was
far from poor, but from choice), and continuing his studies with
unremitting ardour. When in his seventeenth year he heard of
the fame of Mulla 'Ali Nuri, who was then teaching in Isfahan
he was very anxious to proceed thither at once, but was for
several years prevented from so doing by the opposition of his
The simplicity and indeed austerity of his life was far from
being his chief or only merit. Being possessed of private means
greatly in excess of what his simple requirements demanded, he
used to take pains to discover which of the students stood most
in need of pecuniary help, and would then secretly place sums of
money varying from one to five or even ten tumans (six shillings
to three pounds) in their rooms during their absence, without
leaving any clue which could lead to the identification of the
donor. In this manner he is said to have expended no less than
100,000 tumans (about 30,000 pounds), while he was in Isfahan, leaving
himself only so much as he deemed necessary for his own maintenance.
Having completed his studies at Isfahan, he made a pilgrimage
to Mecca, whence he returned by way of Kirman. There he
remained for a while and married a wife, whom he took back to
his native town of Sabzawar. Soon after his return he paid
another visit to Mashhad, and remained there ten months, giving
lectures on philosophy, but soon returned thence to settle in
Sabzawar, whither his increasing renown began to draw students
from all parts of Persia. During the day he used to give two
lectures, each of two hours' duration, on Metaphysics, taking as
his text either some of the writings of Mulla Sadra, or his own
notes. The rest of his time was spent for the most part in study
So died, after a noble and useful life, the Sage of Sabzawar. His major works amount to about seventeen in number, including an elementary treatise on philosophy, written in Persian, in an easy style, at the request of the Shah, and entitled Asraru'l- Hikam ("Secrets of Philosophy"). He was a poet as well as a metaphysician, and has left behind him a Divan in Persian, as well as two long and highly esteemed versified treatises in Arabic, one on logic, the other on metaphysic. He had three sons, of whom the eldest (who was also by far the most capable) survived him only two years; the other two are still  living at Sabzawar and one at least of them still teaches in the college on which his father's talents shed so great a lustre.
The pupils of the Sage of Sabzawar entertained for him an
unbounded love and veneration. They even believe him to have
been endowed with the power of working miracles (keramat),
though he himself never allowed this statement to be made
before him. My teacher, Mirza Asadu'llah, informed me, however,
that the following was a well-known fact. Haji Mulla
Hadi's son-in-law had a daughter who had been paralysed for
years. One night, a year after the Haji's death, she saw him in
a dream, and he said to her, "Arise, my daughter, and walk."
The excessive joy which she experienced at seeing him and
hearing these words caused her to wake up. She immediately
roused her sister, who was sleeping beside her, and told her
what she had dreamed. The latter said, "You had better get up
and try if you can walk; perhaps there is more in the dream than
a mere fancy." After a little persuasion the girl got up, and found
Another event, less marvellous, however, than the above, was related to me as follows. When a detachment of the army was passing through Sabzawar, a soldier, who had been given a requisition for corn for the horses drawn on a certain mulla, brought the document to Haji Mulla Hadi and asked him in whose name it was drawn, as he himself was unable to read. The Haji looked at it, and, knowing that the mulla who was therein commanded to supply the corn was in impoverished circumstances, and could ill support the loss, replied, "I must supply you with what you require; go to the storehouse and take it. Accordingly the soldier carried off as much corn as he needed, and gave it to the horses. In the morning, however on entering the stable, the soldiers found that the corn was untouched. Enquiries were made whence it came, and on its being discovered that it was the property of the Haji, it was returned to him. This story soon gained currency and credence amongst officers and men alike, and added not a little to the Haji's reputation, notwithstanding that he himself continued to make light of it, and even to deny it.
It may not be amiss to give some details as to the course of
study which those who desired to attend the Haji's lectures were
expected to have already pursued, and the subjects in which the
had to produce evidence of proficiency before they were received
as his pupils. These preliminary studies were as follows--
Those students who were able to show that they had acquired a satisfactory knowledge of these subjects were allowed to enroll themselves as the pupils of Haji Mulla Hadi, and to commence their study of Metaphysic proper (Hikmat-i-Ilahi), as set forth in his works and in those of Mulla Sadra.
I trust that I have succeeded in making it sufficiently clear
that the study of Persian philosophy is not a thing to be lightly
undertaken, and that proficiency in it can only be the result of
diligent application, combined with good natural capacity. It
is not a thing to play with in a dilettante manner, but is properly
regarded by its votaries as the highest intellectual training, and
the crown and summit of all knowledge. It was not long ere
I discovered this fact; and as it was clearly impossible for me to
go through a tenth part of the proper curriculum, while at the
same time I was deeply desirous of becoming, in some measure
at least, acquainted with the most recent developments of Persian
thought, I was fain to request my teacher, Mirza Asadu'llah, to
take compassion on my infirmities, and to instruct me as far as
possible, and in as simple a manner as possible, concerning the
essential practical conclusions of the doctrines of which he was
the exponent. This he kindly exerted himself to do; and though
any attempt at a systematic enunciation of Haji Mulla Hadi's
philosophy, even were I capable of undertaking it, would be out
of place here, I think that it may not be uninteresting if I notice
briefly some of its more remarkable features--not as derived
from his writings, but as orally expounded to me, with
explanations and illustrations, by his pupil and disciple.
As in the Sufi doctrine, Being is conceived of as one: Al-vujudu
hakikatun vahidatun basitatun va lahu maratibu mutafadila":--"Being
is a single simple Reality, and it has degrees differing in excellence."
Poetically, this idea is expressed in the following quatrain:--
Kardim tasaffuh varakan ba'da varak:
Hakka ki na-khwandim u na-didim dar-u
Juz Dhat-i-Hakk, u sifat-i-dhatiyye-i-Hakk."
The whole Universe, then, is to be regarded as the unfolding manifestation, or projection of God. It is the mirror wherein He sees Himself; the arena wherein His various Attributes display their nature. It is subsequent to Him not in sequence of time (for time is merely the medium which encloses the phenomenal world, and which is, indeed, dependent on this for its very existence), but in sequence of causation; just as the light given off by a luminous body is subsequent to the luminosity of that body in causation (inasmuch as the latter is the source and origin of the former, and that whereon it depends and whereby it subsists), but not subsequent to it in time (because it is impossible to conceive of any time in the existence of an essentially luminous body antecedent to the emission of light therefrom). This amounts to saying that the Universe is co-eternal with God, but not co-equal, because it is merely an Emanation dependent on Him, while He has no need of it.
Just as the light proceeding from a luminous body becomes
weaker and more diffuse as it recedes from its source, so the
Emanations of Being become less real, or, in other words, more
gross and material, as they become farther removed from their
focus and origin. This gradual descent or recession from the
Primal Being, which is called the Kaws-i-Nuzul ("Arc of Descent"),
has in reality infinite grades, but a certain definite number
(seven) is usually recognised.
Man finds himself in the lowest of these grades--the Material World; but of that world he is the highest development, for he contains in himself the potentiality of re-ascent, by steps corresponding to those in the "Arc of Descent," to God, his Origin and his Home. To discover how this return may be effected, how the various stages of the Kaws-i-Su'ud ("Arc of Ascent") may be traversed, is the object of philosophy.
"The soul of man is corporeal in origin, but spiritual in
continuance" ("An-nafsu fi'l-huduthi jismaniyya, wa fi'l-baka'i tekunu
ruhaniyya"). Born of matter, it is yet capable of a spiritual
development which will lead it back to God, and enable it, during
the span of a mortal life, to accomplish the ascent from matter
to spirit, from the periphery to the centre. In the "Arc of
Ascent" also are numerous grades; but here again, as in the "Arc
of Descent," seven are usually recognised. It may be well at
this point to set down in a tabular form these grades as they
exist both in the Macrocosm, or Arc of Descent, and in the
Microcosm, or Arc of Ascent, which is man:--
I. ARC OF ASCENT.
SEVEN PRINCIPLES IN MAN
1. The most subtle principle (Akhfa).
2. The subtle principle (Khafa).
3. The secret (Sirr).
4. The heart (Kalb).
5. The spirit (Ruh).
6. The soul (Nafs).
7. The nature (Tab').
II. ARC OF DESCENT.
SER IES OF EMANATIONS.
1. Exploration of the World of Divinity
(Seyr dar 'alam-i-Lahut).
2. The World of Divinity ('Alam-i-Lahut)*.
3. The World of the Intelligences ('Alam-i-Jabarut).
4. The World of the Angels ('Alam-i-Malakut).
5. The World of Ideas ('Alam-i-Ma'na).
6. The World of Form ('Alam-i-Surat).
7. The Material World ('Alam-i-Tabi'at).
 I do not think that these first two should stand thus, for at most they only mark two different phases in the experience of the soul--an attaining unto the World of Divinity, and a journeying therein. My impression is that they should be replaced thus:--1. The World of Divinity (i.e. the Divine Essence, 'Alam-i-Lahut); 2. The World of the Attributes ('Alam-i-Rahut). This corresponds to the views given in the commentaries on the Fusus of Sheykh Muhyi'd-Din ibnu'l-Arabi and other similar works, where the "Five Planes" (Hazrat-i-khams), which coincide with the first five grades given here (i.e. those which belong to the Spiritual World), are discussed. I have not, however, considered myself justified in making any alteration in Mirza Asadu'llah's scheme.
It has been said that some men never rise beyond the second
grade--the World of Soul or Form. These are such as occupy
themselves entirely during their lives with sensual pursuits--
Yet even in this low state of development, where no effort has been made to reach the plane of the reason, a man may lead an innocent and virtuous life. What will then be the condition after death of that portion of him which survives the body? It cannot re-enter the material world, for that would amount to Metempsychosis, which, so far as I have been able to ascertain, is uncompromisingly denied by all Persian philosophers. Neither can it ascend higher in the spiritual scale, for the period during which progress was possible is past. Moreover, it derives no pleasure from spiritual or intellectual experiences, and would not be happy in one of the higher worlds, even could it attain thereto. It desires material surroundings, and yet cannot return to the material world. It therefore does what seems to it the next best thing: it creates for itself subjective pseudo-material surroundings, and in this dream-dwelling it makes its eternal home. If it has acted rightly in the world according to its lights, it is happy; if wrongly, then miserable. The happiness or misery of its hereafter depends on its merit, but in either case it is purely subjective and absolutely stationary. There is for it neither advance nor return: it can neither ascend higher, nor re-enter the material world either by Transmigration or Resurrection, both of which the philosophers deny.
What has been said above applies, with slight modifications,
to all the other grades, at any rate the lower ones. If a man has
during his life in the world attained to the grade of the spirit
(the third grade in order of ascent) and acquired rational or
From what has been said it will be clear that a bodily resurrection and a material hereafter are both categorically denied by the philosophers. Nevertheless, states of subjective happiness or misery, practically constituting a heaven or hell, exist. These as has been explained, are of different grades in both cases. Thus there is a " Paradise of Actions " (Jannatu'l-Af'al), where the soul is surrounded by an ideal world of beautiful forms; a "Paradise of Attributes" (Jannatu's-Sifat); and a "Paradise of the Essence" (Jannatu'dh-Dhat), which is the highest of all, for there the soul enjoys the contemplation of the Divine Perfections, which hold it in an eternal rapture, and cause it to forget and cease to desire all those objects which constitute the pleasure of the denizens of the lower paradises. It is, indeed, unconscious of aught but God and is annihilated or absorbed in Him.
The lower subjective worlds, where the less fully developed
soul suffers or rejoices, are often spoken of collectively as the
'Alam-i-Mithal ("World of Similitudes"), or the 'Alam-i-Barzakh
("World of the Barrier," or "Border-world"). The first term
is applied to it because each of its denizens takes a form
corresponding to his attributes. In this sense 'Omar Khayyam has
Although a soul cannot rise higher than that world to which it has assimilated itself during life, it may be delayed by lower affinities in the "World of the Barrier" on its way thither. All bad habits, even when insufficient to present a permanent obstacle to spiritual progress, tend to cause such delay, and to retard the upward ascent of the soul. From this it will be seen that the denizens of the "World of the Barrier" are of three classes, two of these being permanent, and abiding for ever in the state of subjective happiness or misery which they have merited, and the third consisting of souls temporarily delayed there to undergo a species of probation before passing to the worlds above.
On one occasion I put the following question to Mirza Asadu'llah:
--"Two persons, A and B, have been friends during their
lifetime. The former has so lived as to merit happiness hereafter;
the latter, misery. Both die and enter the 'World of the Barrier,'
there receiving forms appropriate to their attributes; the one,
To this question my teacher replied as follows:--"A's world is altogether apart from B's, and the two are entirely out of contact. In A's world are present all things that he desires to have in such form as he pleases, for his world is the creation of his Imaginative Faculty freed from the restraints of matter and the outward senses, and endowed with full power to see what it conceives. Therefore if A desires the presence of B as he knew him formerly, B will be present with him in that form under which he was so known, and not in the repulsive form which he has now assumed. There is no more difficulty in this than in a person dreaming in ordinary sleep that he sees one of his friends in a state of happiness when at that very time his friend is in great pain or trouble."
Such, in outline, are the more remarkable features of this
philosophy as expounded to me by Mirza Asadu'llah. That it
differs considerably from the ideas formed by most European
scholars of the philosophy current in Persia, as represented in
the books, I am well aware. I can only suppose that Gobineau
is right as to the extent to which the system of "ketman" (concealment
of opinions) prevails in Persia--a view which my own experience
strongly tends to confirm. He says, for example, in speaking of
Mulla Sadra (Religions et Philosopbies dans ''Asie Centrale, p. 88),
in whose footsteps Haji Mulla Hadi for the most part followed:--
"Le soin qu'il prenait de deguiser ses discours, il etait
necessaire qu'il le prit surtout de deguiser ses livres; c'est ce
qu'il a fait, et a les lire on se ferait l'idee la plus imparfaite de
son enseignement. Je dis a les lire sans un maitre qui possede la
tradition. Autrement on y penetre sans peine. "Such a system of
concealment may seem strange to those accustomed to the liberty
of thought enjoyed in Europe, but it is rendered necessary in the
For the rest, many of the ideas here enunciated bear an extraordinary similarity to those set forth by Mr Sinnett in his work entitled Esoteric Buddhism. Great exception has been taken to this work, and especially it has been asserted that the ideas unfolded in it are totally foreign to Buddhism of any sort. Of this I am not in a position to judge: very possibly it is true, though even then the ideas in question may still be of Indian origin. But whatever the explanation be, no one, I feel sure, can compare the chapters in Mr Sinnett's book, entitled respectively, "The Constitution of Man," "Devachan," and "Kama Loca," with what I have written of Haji Mulla Hadi's views on the Nature of Man and his Hereafter, without being much struck by the resemblance.
Certain other points merit a brief notice. The physical sciences as known to Persian philosophy are those of the ancients. Their chemistry regards earth, air, fire, and water as the four elements: their astronomy is simply the Ptolemaic system. Furthermore they regard the Universe as finite, and adduce many proofs, some rather ingenious, others weak enough, against the contrary hypothesis. Of these I will give one only as a specimen.
"Let us suppose," they say, "that the Universe is infinite.
Then from the centre of the earth draw two straight lines, diverging
from one another at an angle of 60o, to the circumference,
and produce them thence to infinity. Join their terminal points
by another straight line, thus forming the base of the triangle.
Now, since the two sides of the triangle are equal (for both were
drawn from one point to infinity), therefore the angles at the
base are equal; and since the angle at the apex is 60o, therefore
each of the remaining angles is 60o, and the triangle is equilateral.
Therefore, since the sides are infinite in length, the base is also
This theorem scarcely needs comment. It, along with the endless discussions of a similar nature on the "Indivisible Atom " (Jawhar-i-fard) and the like, is an inheritance from the scholastic theology ('Ilm-i-Kelam), the physics of which have been retained by all Persian metaphysicians up to the present day.
A few words may be said about the psychology of the system
in question. Five psychic faculties (corresponding to the five
senses) are supposed to exist. These, with their cerebral seats, are
1. The compound perception (Hiss-i-mushtarake), which
has the double function of receiving and apprehending
impressions from without. It is compared to a two-
faced mirror, because on the one hand it "reflects"
FOREBRAIN the outward world as presented to it by the senses
and on the other, during sleep, it gives form to the
ideas arising in the Mutasarrifa, which will be
2. The Imagination (Khiyal), which is the storehouse of
3. The Controlling or Co-ordinating Faculty (Mutasarrifa),
which combines and elaborates the emotions
or ideas stored in the Vahime, and the images stored in
MID-BRAIN the Imagination. It is therefore sometimes called the
"keeper of the two treasuries."
4. The Emotional Faculty (Vahime), which is the seat
of love, hate, fear, and the like.
HIND-BRAIN 5. The Memory (Hafiza), which is the storehouse of ideas.
All these faculties are partial percipients (Mudrikat-i-juz'iyye),
and are the servants of the Reason ('Akl-i-kulli-i-insani, or Nafs-i-
natika), which is the General Percipient (Mudrik-i-kulli). Of these
faculties the Imagination would appear to be regarded as the
highest, since, as we have seen, in those cases in which the
Reason or Rational Soul (Nafs-i-natika) is not developed, it
Finally, a few words may be added concerning the view taken
of the occult sciences. I was naturally desirous to learn to what
extent they were recognised as true, and accordingly questioned
Mirza Asadu'llah on the matter. His reply (which fairly represents
the opinion of most thoughtful Persians of the old school)
was briefly to this effect:--As regards Geomancy ('Ilm-i-rami)
and Astrology ('Ilm-i-nujum) he had no doubt of their truth, of
which he had had positive proof. At the same time, of the
number of those who professed to understand them the majority
were impostors and charlatans. Their acquisition was very
laborious, and required many years' patient study, and those
who had acquired them and knew their value were, as a rule, very
slow to exhibit or make a parade of their knowledge. As regards
the interpretation of dreams, he said that these were of three
kinds, of which only the last admits of interpretation. These
three classes are as follows:--
I.--DREAMS DUE TO DISORDERED HEALTH.-- 1. Blood. Red things, such as fire, etc., are seen. Due to the predominance of-- 2. Bile. Yellow things, such as the sun, gold, etc., are seen.II.--DREAMS ARISING FROM IMPRESSIONS PRODUCED DURING WAKING HOURS.
3. Phlegm. White things, such as water, snow, etc., are seen. 4. Melancholy. Black things, such as ink, etc., are seen.
III.--DREAMS NOT ARISING PROM THE EXTERNAL OR INTERNAL CAUSES ABOVE
are reflections obtained during sleep from the World of Similitudes
('Alam-i-Mithal). In some rare cases
I discussed the occult sciences with several of my friends, to discover as far as possible the prevailing opinion about them. One of them made use of the following- argument to prove their existence:--"God," he said, "has no bukhl (stinginess, avarice): it is impossible for Him to withhold from anyone a thing for which he strives with sufficient earnestness. Just as, if a man devotes all his energies to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge, he attains to it, so, if he chooses to make occult sciences and magical powers the object of his aspirations, they will assuredly not be withheld from him."
Another of my intimate friends gave me the following account
of an attempt at conjuration (ihzar-i-jinn) at which he had himself
assisted:--"My uncle, Mirza--," he said, "whose house you
may perhaps see when you visit Shiraz, was a great believer in
the occult sciences, in the pursuit of which, indeed, he dissipated
a considerable fortune, being always surrounded by a host of
magicians, geomancers, astrologers, and the like. On one
occasion something of value had disappeared, and it was believed
to have been stolen. It was therefore determined to make an
attempt to discover the thief by resorting to a conjuration, which
was undertaken by a certain Seyyid of Shiraz, skilled in these
matters. Now you must know that the operator cannot himself
see the forms of the jinnis whom he evokes: he needs for this
purpose the assistance of a young child. I, being then quite a
child, was selected as his assistant. The magician began by
drawing a talismanic figure in ink on the palm of my hand, over
which he subsequently rubbed a mixture of ink and oil, so that
it was no longer visible. He then commenced his incantations;
and before long I, gazing steadily, as I had been instructed to
do, into the palm of my hand, saw, reflected in it as it were,
In this connection it may not be out of place to give the
experiences of another experimenter in the occult sciences, who,
although at the time sufficiently alarmed by the results he
obtained, subsequently became convinced that they were merely
due to an excited imagination. My informant in this case was
a philosopher of Isfahan, entitled Aminu'sh-Shari'at, who came to
Teheran in the company of his friend and patron, the Bananu'l-Mulk,
In Teheran I saw another philosopher of some reputation, Mirza Abu'l-Hasan-i-Jilve. The last of these names is the takhallus or nome de guerre under which he writes poetry--for he is a poet as well as a metaphysician. Unfortunately I did not have the advantage of any prolonged conversation with him, and even such as I had chiefly consisted in answering his questions on the different phases of European thought. He was greatly interested in what I told him about the Theosophists and Vegetarians, and was anxious to know whether the Plymouth Brethren were believers in the transmigration of souls!
Although, as will have already appeared, I acquired a
considerable amount of information about certain phases of Persian
thought during my sojourn in Teheran, there was one which,
notwithstanding my most strenuous efforts and diligent enquiries,
had hitherto eluded all my attempts to approach it. This
one was Babiism, of the history of which I have already had
occasion to speak more than once, and to which I shall have to
But whether my friends could not give me the knowledge
I sought for, or whether they did not choose to do so, I was
unable during my stay in Teheran to become acquainted with
any members of the sect in question. Some, indeed, of those
with whom I was acquainted at that time were, as I subsequently
discovered, actually Babis; yet these, although at times they asked
me about the course of my studies, commended my devotion
to philosophy, and even tantalised me with vague promises of
introductions to mysterious friends, who were, as they would
imply, endowed with true wisdom (ma'rifat), would say nothing
definite, and appeared afraid to speak more openly. After
arousing my curiosity to the highest pitch, and making me fancy
that I was on the threshold of some discovery, they would
suddenly leave me with an expression of regret that opportunities
for prolonged and confidential conversation were so rare
I tried to obtain information from an American missionary
with similar lack of success. He admitted that he had
On another occasion, in my eagerness to acquire knowledge on this matter, I committed a great indiscretion, and, I fear, caused considerable pain to my teacher, Mirza Asadu'llah. I had been informed that he had some time previously been arrested as a Babi, and though he was released almost immediately on the representations of the English Embassy, it was hinted to me that possibly this powerful protection, rather than any clear proof of his orthodoxy, was the cause of his liberation. I therefore determined to sound him on the matter, and, unable to control my impatience and await a favourable opportunity, I approached the subject as cautiously as I could the very next time that I saw him. Alluding to a previous discussion on the finality attributed by Muhammadans, to the revelation of their prophet, I said that I had recently heard that there existed in Persia a number of people who denied this, and alleged that a subsequent revelation had been accorded to mankind even within the lifetime of many still living. Mirza Asadu'llah listened to what I said with a gradually increasing expression of dismay, which warned me that I was treading on dangerous ground, and made me begin to regret that I had been so precipitate. When I had finished, he continued silent for a few minutes, and then spoke as follows:--
I have no knowledge of these people, although you have
perhaps been informed of the circumstances which give me good
cause to remember their name. As you have probably heard
some account of these, I may as well tell you the true version.
Two or three years ago I was arrested in the village of Kulahak
(which, as you know, serves the English residents for a summer
retreat) by an officer in command of a party of soldiers sent to
see another person suspected of being a Babi. They had been
unable to find him, and were returning disappointed from their
quest when they espied me. 'Seize him!' said the officer; 'that
he is devoted to philosophy every one knows, and a philosopher
is not far removed from a Babi.' Accordingly I was arrested,
and the books I was carrying, as well as a sum of money which
And that was all--or nearly all--that I knew about them for
the first four months I spent in Persia. How I came across them
at last will be set forth in another chapter.