Najmoddin Kobra

The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism

~Henry Corbin

It seems that Najmoddin Kobra was the first of the Sufi masters to focus his attention on the phenomena of colors, the colored photisms that the mystic can perceive in the course of his spiritual states. He took great pains to describe these colored lights and to interpret them as signs revealing the mystic's state and degree of spiritual progress. Some of the greatest masters of the Iranian Sufism issuing from this Central Asian school, notably Najm Dayeh Razi, Najm Kobra's direct disciple, and Alaoddawleh Semnani who followed his tariqat , have in their turn illustrated this experimental method of spiritual control which implies at the same time an appreciation of the symbolism of colors and their mutations.

This is certainly not to say that their predecessors were unfamiliar with visionary experiences. Far from it. But the anonymous short work of a shaykh (which must have been written later than Semnani, since it refers to him by name) bears witness to an "orthodox" teacher's alarm at what seemed to him an innovation. Sohravardi himself, at the end of his most important work, wherein his aim is to restore the "oriental theosophy," gives a detailed description of the experiences of light, of photisms , that a mystic can have ; however, colors and their symbolism are not yet referred to. 

The descriptions do not refer to physical perceptions; Najm Kobra alludes several times to these colored lights as something seen "with the eyes closed". They have to do with something related to the perception of an aura . There is indeed affinity and correspondence between physical colors and auric (or aural, "auroral") colors , in the sense that physical colors themselves have a moral and spiritual quality and that what the aura expresses corresponds to it, "symbolizes with it." This correspondence, this symbolism, is precisely what makes it possible for a spiritual master to establish a method of control by which to discriminate between suprasensory perceptions and what we would call today" hallucinations. " Technically, one should speak of it as visionary apperception. The phenomenon corresponding to it is primary and primordial, irreducible, just as the perception of a physical sound or color is irreducible to anything else. As for the organ of this visionary apperception and the mode of being in which it can function, these questions relate precisely to the " physiology of the man of light," whose growth is marked by the opening of what Najm Kobra calls the "senses su prasensory. "To the extent that the latter are the activity of the subject himself, of the soul, we shall conclude this study by briefly outlining an interconnection with Goethe's theory of "physiological colors."

It has to be understood, of course, that in the schema of the world presupposed and verified here by mystical experience , the terms light and darkness, clarity and obscurity, are neither metaphors nor comparisons. The mystic really and actually sees light and darkness , by a kind of vision that depends on an organ other than the physical organ of sight. He experiences and perceives the state from which he aspires to free himself as shadow and darkness, as powers which attract him downward ; he perceives as light all the signs and premonitions heralding his liberation, the direction from which it comes, all the apparitions that attract him upward. There is nothing questionable about the orientation of the world experienced in the vertical dimension : at the summit the heavenly pole , at the nadir the well of darkness where the element of light is held captive (just as, in the Mazdean schema, the light is in the north , the shadow and darkness are in the south). That the entire schematization is in perfect consonance with the Manichean cosmogony and at the same time with the Sohravardian recital of the Exile , and with the Song of the Pearl  in the Acts of Thomas, is what the first paragraph of Najm Kobra's great book tells us: "Learn , 0 my friend, that the object  of the search (morad) is God, and that the subject who seeks (the subject who makes effort, morid)  is a light that comes from him (or a particle of his light) ."  In  other words the "seeker," the hero of the Quest, is none other than the captive light itself, the man of light.

This is the first leitmotiv of Najm Kobra's great work. This particle of light aspires to free itself, to rise again to its origin . What is depicted in those of the Persian miniatures where the Manichean influence can be detected is thus exactly the same as what Najm Kobra perceives through visionary apperception. A flame comes down fro m the Heavens to meet the flame leaping up from the Earth, and at their fiery meeting-point Najm discerns or foresees the presence of the "heavenly Witness," the "suprasensory Guide", who is revealed in this climax as the homologue of Perfect Nature, the Nous, the guide of light of Prometheus-Phos.

There is a correlation between the escape of the man of light, the colored photisms, and the manifestation of the heavenly guide . This correlation itself intimates the condition which must precede all such experience : men must separate themselves from the veil that blinds them. 

Now, this veil is not outside themselves; it is a part o f them, and is the darkness of their creatural nature. My friend, shut your eyelids and look at what you see. If you tell me : I see nothing-you are mistaken. You can see very well, but unfortunately the darkness of your nature is so close to you that it obstructs your inner sight, to the point that you do not discern what is to be seen . If you want to discern it and to see it in front of you even with your eyes closed, begin by diminishing or by putting away from you something of your nature . But the path leading to that end is spiritual warfare. And the meaning of spiritual warfare is putting everything to work so as to re pel the enemies or to kill them. The enemies in this case are nature , the lower soul, and the devil. (§ 2)

To reach the goal, one must first orient oneself:  discern the shadow and where the shadow is. This shadow is composed of the three antagonists that have just been named . Spiritual warfare trains one to recognize the enemies, to know them by name , to distinguish the forms in which they appear, and to effect their transmutation. Actually these various works are carried out synchronically rather than successively ; progress and results are correlative : separation from the shadow and the fall of the shadow, manifestation of the lights and of the Guide of light. This exactly will serve as a final warning not to abuse the idea and the word shadow :  the guide of light is no more the shadow than he is a "positive" aspect o'f the shadow . This figure requires us henceforth to recognize another  dimension of the person, not a negativity but a transcendence. Since Najm Kobra's book is a spiritual journal rather than a didactic treatise, a diarium spirituale not unlike that of Ruzbehan, the best we can do is to single out certain of its leading themes; their lines converge. The three adversaries can only be destroyed at the price of an effort that attacks the discordant trilogy of the soul. The motive power to fuel this effort is the light itself, that is, the particle of light, the " man of light," effecting the conversion of like to like. The dhikr, as a spiritual technique, plays an essential role. The spiritual energy given off by the dhikr  makes possible the emergence and ascent from the well; this theme recurs with an emphasis we have already pointed out. The stages of ascent are accompanied by the colored photisms that herald the
growth of the subtle organs or centers of the man of light, attracted to and by the supernatural green  light that shines at the mouth of the well. At the end of this ascent, the phenomena of light multiply, heralding the rejoining with the heavenly Witness, at the pole.  Najm Kobra's entire doctrine perfectly exemplifies the archetype of individual initiation peculiar to Sufism.