The Greatest Master Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi
The Greatest Master Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi

The Metaphysical Triplicity (Trinity) of the Cosmos

The Metaphysical Triplicity ('Trinity') of the Cosmos:
According to Ibn ‘Arabî, as we've already mentioned in section III.6 the divine Names can be grouped into three categories: the Names of Essence (asmâ’ al-dhât), Names of Descriptions or Attributes (asmâ’ al-sifât), and Names of Actions (asmâ’ al-af‘âl) [I.423.20, I.67.28, see also: Inshâ’ al-Dawâ’ir: 22]. Therefore the Universal Intellect or Adamic 'Perfect Human Being', who is created 'according to the Image of the All-Merciful' [Kanz: 1146, 1148, 1149], came out with three faces because he is based on these three unique divine dimensions [I.446.19, II.434.16], although he is in essence one indivisible entity.
That is why Ibn ‘Arabî asserts that (everything in) the cosmos is built on a kind of metaphysical triplicity [III.126.21], and he later explains this further by saying:
…So the body is (composed of at least) eight points, just as the knowable (aspects) of the Real are the Essence and the seven Attributes: They are not Him, and They are not other than Him. (Likewise) the body is not other than the points, and the points are not other than the body. Now we only said that eight points are the minimum (required to compose) bodies because the name 'line' is for two points or more. And the origin of the plane is from two lines or more, so the plane is from (at least) four points. And the origin of the body is from two planes or more, so the body is from eight points.
Therefore the name (attribute) of 'length' is applicable to the body from the line (included in it); the name 'width' is applicable to it from the plane; and the name 'depth' is applicable to it from the combination of two planes. Thus the body is built on a triplicity (of dimensions: tathlîth), just as the formation of proofs (in syllogistic logic) is based on a threefold structure, and just as the Source of existence—that is, the Real—only becomes manifest through the bestowing of existence through three realities: His Entity, His willing intention (tawajjuh) and His Speaking (the Command 'Be'). Thus the world became manifest 'according to the Form' of the One Who gives it existence, both in sensation (i.e. the visible world) and in (its spiritual dimensions of) meaning.
For this reason—i.e., the threefold structures underlying all generative processes—Ibn ‘Arabî emphasizes that we need two elements (subject and object) in order to produce a result (act) [I.278.14], because 'from the one alone nothing may be produced' [III.126.1].
In fact the metaphysical triplicity of subject, object and resulting act is fundamental throughout Ibn ‘Arabî's cosmology. Thus he summarizes the process of creation by saying that the Universal Intellect (subject or symbolic 'father') is writing down in the Universal Soul (the object or 'mother') all that Allah wants to create till the Last Day (i.e., the result or 'son') [Ayyâm Al-Sha’n: 7-8] (see section IV.3 above). Indeed Ibn ‘Arabî even wrote a separate treatise dedicated to explaining certain threefold structures of expression and meaning in the Qur’an.[1] It is noteworthy in this regard that the metaphysical concept of triplicity is also fundamental in many other ancient religions and philosophies, including the Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian, Roman, Japanese and Indian.[2]
For this reason, Ibn ‘Arabî regards the number three as the first 'single' (or odd: fardî) number, because he consistently considers that one not a number (since the Arabic word for 'number', ‘adad, implies multiplicity), while two is the first number. But since the number two is even, nothing may be formed without a third, intermediate principle to link or interface between the one and the two:
So no contingent entity (mumkin) has come to exist through one (alone), but only through a plurality (or 'conjunction' of elements: jam‘), and the least of plurals is three.[3] So since the (divine) Name 'the Singular' (al-fard) is threefold in its effects, He gives to the contingent entity that He brings into existence those three things (i.e., Essence, Will, and the creative Command) that He must unavoidably consider, and (only then) He brings (the contingent thing) into existence.
…Therefore this (metaphysical principle of) triplicity runs inwardly through the totality of all things, because it exists in the (divine creative) Source.
Now the Universal Intellect is the intermediary reality (also called barzakh or 'connector') between Allah and the world, and therefore It has two interfaces: It faces Allah from the side of His unity, and It faces the world from the side of His threefold creative dimensions. When It faces Allah (in order to perceive knowledge), It turns away from us (the world), and this is our 'night'; and when It faces the world, this is our 'daytime' or manifest existence. The Perfect Human Being or First Intellect is—according to the famous hadith already discussed above—the 'Image' or 'Form' of the Real, and likewise the world is the subsequent image of this Perfect Human Being. Hence the manifest world, like the Perfect Human Being, is 'according to the Image' of the Real Himself—although without the Perfect Human Being it could not participate in this perfection (see section III.1 above). So if we consider the manifest images of the world, we can potentially discover the face of the Perfect Human Being reflected in it, and if we come to know the Perfect Human Being, then we also come to know Allah. So this is the fundamental ontological triplicity of 'Allah-Human Being-world' or 'Allah-Intellect-world' [I.125-6].
According to Ibn ‘Arabî, this fundamental triplicity of Allah-Human Being-world is manifested again within each human being as in our threefold nature as spirit-heart-body. The spirit is the single immaterial and mysterious divine reality that is the principle underlying life and creation, while the body is the place where this creation occurs in many different ways, so it is composed of many different material parts (multiplicity). And the heart is the link between the body and the spirit through which the spirit exerts its effects on the multiplicity of the body. On the other hand, the sensations collected by the body are eventually raised up to the spirit as spiritual (immaterial) meanings and realities.
Another favourite symbolic triplicity for Ibn ‘Arabî, deeply rooted in the symbolism of the Qur’an and certain key hadith, is the astronomical triplicity of the sun-moon-earth.[4] The earth gains its life from the sun, and when the sun does not face the earth from a specific direction, the moon takes part and reflects the light of the sun with a degree that is small or large according to its relative place in space. In fact, if one wants to look at the sun, one is instead obliged to look at the moon when it is full, because the sun can not be seen unveiled at all, since it will burn up everything that its direct light falls on. This symbolism is directly connected, for Ibn ‘Arabî, with the famous 'hadith of the veils', according to which Allah has seventy thousand veils of light and darkness, such that if He removed those veils His light would burn everyone who tried to see Him directly [Kanz: 29846, 39210].
Indeed the trinity of sun-moon-earth particularly well illustrates Ibn ‘Arabî's view of the creation and its relation to the Creator. Although the creation by Allah is done 'through' the Universal Intellect, Ibn ‘Arabî also emphasizes that Allah also has a direct, 'individual face' turned toward every single entity in the world. Similarly the sun does not only give its light indirectly through the moon, but also much more directly to the earth, so everything on earth is connected with the sun in the course of the day with different degrees and at different times.

[1] This book (OY# 515; listed in Ibn ‘Arabî's own lists of his writings) is called al-Muthallathât al-Wârida fî al-Qur’ân al-Karîm.
[2] See for example: Lyman Abbott, A Dictionary of Religious Knowledge, 1875: 944. See also: Hopkins, E. Washburn, Origin and Evolution of Religions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930), [chapter XX: The Christian Trinity, chapter XVII: The Triad, chapter XVIII: The Hindu Trinity, chapter XIX: The Buddhistic Trinity].
[3] In Arabic grammatical language, any group of two is called muthanna (dual), while the term 'plural' is reserved for groups of at least three members.
[4] Ibn ‘Arabî often makes such symbolic analogies (mudahât) between the internal (psychological) and external (cosmological) realities. Thus he calls the cosmos as the 'Great Human Being' (al-Insân al-Kabîr) and the human being the 'micro-cosmos (al-‘âlam al-Saghîr) [II.150.26, III.11.17]. He also says that this knowledge that the world is a Great Human Being and that the human being is its 'Summary' form was given by Idrîs (Mudâwi al-Kulûm) [I.153.21]. See also Ibn ‘Arabî's al-Tadbîrât al-Ilâhiyya, where he explains these symbolic analogies at length. In another highly symbolic early book, the ‘Anqâ’ Mughrib, he makes similar analogies between Human Being and the divine Names. For a full translation and critical study, see Elmore, G. (2000) Islamic Sainthood in the Fulness of Time: Ibn al-Ibn ‘Arabî's "Book of the Fabulous Gryphon", Leiden: Brill.

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