Mystic physiology

~Henry Corbin

In Ibn ‘Arabi as in Sufism in general, the heart (qalb), is the organ which produces true knowledge, comprehensive intuition, the gnosis (ma’rifa) of God and the divine mysteries, in short, the organ of everything connoted by the term "esoteric science" (‘ilm al-Batin). It is the organ of a perception which is both experience and intimate taste (dhawq), and although love is also related to the heart, the specific center of love is in Sufism generally held to be the ruh, pneuma, spirit. 

Of course, and of this we are reminded at every turn, this "heart" is not the conical organ of flesh, situated on the left side of the chest, although there is a certain connection, the modality of which, however, is essentially unknown. It is a notion to which the utmost importance has been attached by the mystics of all times and countries, of Oriental Christianity (the Prayer of the Heart, the charisma of cardiognosis) as well as India . Here we have to do with a "subtile physiology" elaborated "on the basis of ascetic, ecstatic, and contemplative experience" and expressing itself in symbolic language. This, as Mircea Eliade has pertinently remarked, does not mean "that such experiences were not real; they were perfectly real, but not in the sense in which a physical phenomenon is real”.

In short, this "mystic physiology " operates with a "subtile body" composed of psycho-spiritual organs (the centers, or Chakras, "lotus blossoms") which must be distinguished from the bodily organs. For Sufism the heart is one of the centers of mystic physiology. Here we might also speak of its "theandric" function, since its supreme vision is of the Form of God (surat al-Haqq) -this because the gnostic's heart is the "eye," the organ by which God knows Himself, reveals Himself to Himself in the forms of His epiphanies (not as He inwardly knows Himself for in its quest of the Divine Essence even the highest science can go no further than the Nafas al-Rahmin). 

It is also true to say that the gnostic, as Perfect Man, is the seat of God's divine consciousness and that God is the seat and essence of the gnostic's consciousness (if it were necessary to draw a diagram, the situation would be far better represented by the two focuses of an ellipse than by the center of a circle). To sum up, the power of the heart is a secret force or energy (quwwat khafiya), which perceives divine realities by a pure hierophanic knowledge (idrak wadih jali) without mixture of any kind, because the heart contains even the Divine Rahma. In its unveiled state, the heart of the gnostic is like a mirror in which the microcosmic form of the Divine Being is reflected.

From: 'Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi'