Existence and Nonexistence

by Navid Zaidi

الف الله چنبے دی بوٹی ، میرے مرشد من وچ لائی هُو

نفی اثبات دا پانی ملیا ، هر رگے هر جائی هُو

( Sultan Bahu)

My Master has planted in my heart the jasmine of God’s name

Both, Existence and Non-Existence, have nourished this seedling down to its core

And manifested it throughout Creation

What does it mean for something to ‘exist,’ and how do we define the ultimate nature of existence? To make things more complicated, Sultan Bahu adds another dimension of ‘Non-existence (nafi)’ to ‘Existence (asbaat)’.

It is quite clear that the universe persists in time. Existence is attached to this atomic time and space. This is the type of time that we call long and short. It is hardly distinguishable from space. We can only conceive it as a straight line composed of spatial points like so many stages of a journey. This type of time arises from the revolution of heavens and is divisible into past, present and future. Its nature is such that as long as one day does not pass away the succeeding day does not come. So when we say that something exists we mean it exists in this serial time and space. But this type of time is not true time, and existence in such time is spurious.

There is another type of time that is True Time or Pure Duration, and existence in such time is called ‘Non-existence’ or ‘nafi’ in the words of Sultan Bahu. There is change and movement but it is indivisible and wholly non-serial in character. It is Pure Duration, absolutely freed from the quality of passage.

Pure Duration is not a string of separate instants. It is an organic whole in which the past is not left behind, but is moving along with and operating in the present. And the future is present in its nature as an open possibility, not predetermined. It does not go through sequence; it changes without succession. It is above eternity; it has neither beginning nor end.

An analysis of our conscious experience reveals that the human Self lives in a state of existence (attached to serial time and space (asbaat) and nonexistence (in Pure Duration/nafi) simultaneously. It has, so to speak, two sides that Allama Iqbal has described as Appreciative and Efficient.

On its Efficient side it enters into relation with the world of space. The Self here lives outside itself as it were and, while retaining its unity as a totality, discloses itself as a series of numerable states. The time in which the Efficient Self lives is therefore serial time. The existence of the Self in such spatialized time is spurious existence.

Allama Iqbal explains in his ‘Reconstruction’ that a deeper analysis of our conscious experience reveals to us the Appreciative side of the Self. With our absorption in the external order of things, necessitated by our present situation, it is extremely difficult to catch a glimpse of the Appreciative Self. In our constant pursuit after external things we weave a kind of veil around the Appreciative Self which thus becomes completely alien to us. It is only in the moments of profound meditation, when the Efficient Self is in abeyance, that we sink into our deeper self and reach the inner center of experience. The Appreciative Self lives in a state of nonexistence in which there is no numerical distinction and it is wholly qualitative. There is change and movement, but this change and movement are indivisible; their elements interpenetrate and are wholly non-serial in character. It appears that the time of the Appreciative Self in the state of nonexistence is a single ‘now.’ It is, then, Pure Duration unadulterated by space.

Perhaps an illustration will further explain the point, says Dr. Allama Iqbal. According to physical science the cause of your sensation of red is the frequency of wave motion which is 400 billions per second. If you could observe this tremendous frequency from the outside, and count it at a rate of 2,000 per second, which is supposed to be the limit of the perceptibility of light, it will take you 6,000 years to finish the count. Yet in the single momentary mental act of perception you hold together a frequency of wave motion which is practically incalculable. That is how the mental act transforms succession into duration.

The Appreciative Self, then, is more or less corrective of the Efficient Self, inasmuch as it synthesizes all the ‘heres’ and ‘nows’–the small change of space and time—into the coherent wholeness of personality.

In summary, existence in serial time is temporary and thus spurious whereas existence in Pure Duration, in the state of nonexistence, is real. Among all creation only the human Self has the potential to strive and achieve the state of ‘permanent” nonexistence. However, this does not come as a right. We are only candidates for it through personal effort and action. It is open to us to belong to the meaning of the Universe and achieve the state of nonexistence. It is the deed that prepares the Self for either dissolution or disciplines it for its march for a future career.

This entry was posted in Classic Poetry, Classic Teaching, Navid Zaidi, Original Essays and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Existence and Nonexistence

  1. Pingback: The Razor’s Edge | Sufi Ways

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