Toshihiko Izutsu once compared Taoism with Sufism, two types of mystical philosophy that had no relationship at all. One came from China in the 4th century BC, and the other came from 13th-century Andalusia – two metaphysical systems of thought separated by 17-century distances.
Izutsu, professor of Islamic studies at Keio University, Tokyo , this realizes that comparative studies like that are almost an impossible job. But he did so because he was interested in the advice of Henry Corbin – his colleague when working together in Iran – so that comparative religion was put at the meta-historical level within the framework of inter-civilizational dialogue. Izutsu began his research project in the early 1970s, and the results were first published in 1981, twelve years before his death in 1993. The Mizan publisher only translated his book in Indonesian in 2015, in two separate volumes. This book is truly amazing.
Izutsu studied Ibn ‘Arabi to represent Sufism on the one hand, and on the other hand traced the mystical thinking of two founders of Taoism, namely Lao-tse and Chuang-tsu. According to Izutsu, Sufism and Taoism have similarities because they represent the patterns of existentialist religious philosophy thinking. That explains why he did not choose Confucianism (Konghucu) which is more essentialist. According to the results of his study, Confucianism became the background of the emergence of Taoism, but in subsequent developments Taoism developed a new pattern of thought that was different from Confucianism.
What is most important in Taoism philosophy, according to Izutsu, is the elaboration that at its metaphysical depth all reality is “t ‘ien nie,’ comes from the unity of existence. This is similar to Ibn Arabi’s sufic contemplation of “wahdat al-wujud,” kertunggalan-wujud. What ultimately unites it can indeed appear senselessly as a tens of thousands of things (“wan-wu,” according to Lao-tse), or many-manifestations-of-being (“mumkinât,” according to Arabi). But everything is essentially “tajjali” (disclosure) of the Haqq, or “shêng” (disclosure) of the Tao. This is the discussion of Existence at the ontological level.
According to Izutsu, here Taoism and Sufism find their points, because both have the same approach in understanding Reality. If Reality is approached only by reasoning, then all that is willing will appear as separate existence at a phenomenal and concrete level. This is the Aristotelian understanding model.
The methodology of Taoism and Sufism metaphysics understands Reality not only by reasoning, but by “experiencing” it to possess its essence, and it can only be done through a supra-intuitive approach. Through such a metaphysical approach, Reality is layered in various dimensions of existence. However, there is the highest Reality that covers all other dimensions of reality that are lower. In such an ontological structure Reality becomes single and one exists.
It is interesting that in the Izutsu study, he found five layers of reality both according to the perspective of Taoism and Sufism. In the last chapters of his second book, he explained the comparison enthusiastically.
Ibn Arabi Sufism and Taoism Lao-tse and Chuang-tsu were indeed well-known complex systems of metaphysical thought. But through this book Izutsu reviews it interestingly, especially when he stresses it on the focus that the two mystical-thought systems have the same purpose for human inner transformation, namely in order to achieve “ming” (enlightenment) and “kasyf” (disclosure of truth).
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