Monday, 15 July 2019

Henry Corbin, philosopher and Ishrâqi mystic

According to Wikipedia, Henry Corbin (14 April 1903 – 7 October 1978) was a philosopher, theologian, Iranologist and professor of Islamic Studies at the École pratique des hautes études in Paris, France.

According to his widow, Stella Corbin, as reported by Peter Kingsley in his book Catafalque: Carl Jung and the End of Humanity (p364), however, Henry Corbin's “real identity and purpose” was “not as a scholar with some minor mystical leanings but as a mystic, inwardly directed to play the role of academic.” She described to Kingsley how in Iran, “the great spiritual teachers or sheikhs often offered to initiate him as a Sufi on condition that he converted to Islam; and how he always politely refused. ‘Thank you for your invitation but there is no need, because I already have my own inner sheikh inside me.’”(pp364–365)

Corbin (who knew and understood Jung and his work so well) spoke of an “inner church”, echoing Jung fifty years previously when Jung explained how “if we belong to the secret church, then we belong, and we need not worry about it, but can go our own way. If we do not belong, no amount of teaching or organization can bring us there.” (p366).

Corbin writes of his years of retreat in Iran with his wife, “I learned the inestimable virtues of silence, of what initiates call ‘the principle of the arcane’ (ketmân in Persian). One of the virtues of this silence is that I found myself placed, I alone together with him alone, in the company of my invisible sheikh, Shihâb al-Dîn Yahyâ Suhrawardi,” (p367) and he goes on to say that “when these years of retreat finally came to an end I had become an Ishrâqi.” (p368) Ishrâq means the point of dawn in the East – not, to Corbin, the geographical East, but the mystical Orient;(p368) and the Ishrâqi is a “tradition of those who appear with the dawn; who belong to the moment of dawning; who tirelessly and timelessly work at fetching the gifts of the sacred into the light of day.” (p368) The Ishrâqi are the “eternal leaven” (p369). According to Kingsley, Corbin was an Uwaisî (p372), one of those Sufis who happen to be without a physical teacher, and who are guided and sustained by those like the mysterious invisible guide, Khidr (p372).

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