Hay Ibn Yaqzan

In Ibn Tufayl’s philosophical tale Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, the main character Hayy realizes that in order to become his ideal self, he must complete a series of duties. These duties are imitations of assimilation. The journey of the three phases begins with the “inarticulate animal,” which then progresses to the “celestial body,” and then ends with some resemblance of God (146). Hayy needs to understand these forms of mimesis, deduce meaning from them, and connect them to the Necessarily Existent.

The first duty, or form of mimesis, is to simply keep his body alive. Hayy must sustain his physical body so that his spiritual mind can continue on its journey to complete the duties. Hayy believes that the body is a distraction and it is an arduous task of trying to maintain it. “[His body] would hinder the experience and distract him from it, since it meant handling sensory things…” (143). He will keep up this act of imitation so that he can preserve his vital spirit. While conducting himself throughout the first form, Hayy will learn self-discipline, endurance, and resourcefulness. He should only take enough food to keep him from starving and only reside in such a shelter just strong enough to keep out various sorts of physical harm. “If heedlessly he allowed himself these necessities when and where he found them, he might well go too far and take more than he needed.” (144). Living minimally and sustainably separates Hayy from other humans and animals and assists him on his path to being enlightened.

The second duty is described as contemplation paired with continuity (143). I took this to be interpreted as meditation because the act requires constant, mindful contemplation and Hayy performs the act later in the book (148). Meditation can be described as training the mind to realize itself and its content without identifying as such. It promotes internal energy, strength, patience, forgiveness, and compassion (Oxford University Press). Hayy finds this task daunting because the mind is constantly “self conscious and self regarding” (143). His goal with this task is to replace his sentient body with a sentient mind. To do so, one must become like the celestial bodies in three ways: never allow a plant or animal to become encumbered, always keep your physical vessel clean and kept, and fix your mind on the Necessarily Existent Being by shutting out all of your senses (146-147). This, to Hayy’s belief, will bond his mind with the Necessarily Existent to be more perceptive.

The third and final duty is attainment of the pure existence. This stage focuses on the Necessarily Existent alone. In this ultimate mimesis, the self will disappear and there will only be God. Hayy must set out to be incredibly mindful; he must only focus on the Necessarily Existent at all times. There is no physical embodiment of this. There can only be spiritual transcendence. Hayy must not “sacrilegiously associate anything physical with Him.” (148). If Hayy achieves all three levels of mimesis glory, exaltation, and honor will result.

In order to accomplish these duties, Hayy must have reasoning or a way to deduce and comprehend what these forms of mimesis mean to him. He needs to use training and self-discipline to achieve his ideal state. This means that he cannot succumb to the tribulations of human nature such as greed, hunger, and illness. Hayy deduces these duties as states of being that he must achieve in order to realize his true potential as a being of God. He knows that he cannot achieve one without first achieving the duty that precedes it (143). Hayy believes that he himself is not fully mindful of God, but is aware only to a certain degree, as he states, “…His own consciousness informed him that it was aware of Him.” (141). Hayy’s goal is to make himself continuously aware of the Necessarily Existent. Encompassed in his forming ideals is the belief that there is a specific way to go about achieving the selfless state of the Necessarily Existent. Hayy believed that, “the vital spirit with the stablest equilibrium would be fit for the highest form of life to be found in the world of generation and decay.” (141). He believes that if he does not complete these duties to the fullest of his abilities, he will be nothing. Upon observing the quotidian lives of plants and animals Hayy reasoned that they were not aware of any higher being. “None of them was aware of this Being, desired Him, or had any notion of Him. All of them would turn into nothing, or next to nothing.” (138). Valuing their “perceptions” as “stunted” because of their unawareness of God (139), Hayy decides that he does not want to be like them and instead wants to reach a greater level of attainment.

The relationship of the duties to the Necessarily Existent is not a complex one, nor is it simplistic in its own form. These forms of imitation relate Hayy’s journey through aspects of faith and acceptance to becoming the ideal self. The ideal self is the Necessarily Existent; Hayy believes that these duties relate fully to God and everything that He represents. Through these three forms of mimesis anyone who believes in Him can achieve enlightenment. I believe that if one were to perform these duties their experience would be one closely related to becoming actualized with the self and beyond the self. This is what Hayy is trying to achieve here: an experience so selfless that it is indeed beyond the self, physically and spiritually. To achieve a state of complete awareness of a higher being a great deal of concentration is required. These tasks, I believe, all embody characteristics that the Necessarily Existent has. Unless He has always existed, perhaps this is the way He arrived at his state of being.

The overarching theme of these duties is selflessness. For Hayy, this is the penultimate stage of life; this is what he was meant to do. I believe that in the appropriate mindset and atmosphere, enlightenment and oneness can be achieved. Hayy’s environment on the isolated island appeals to the logic of his tasks, as there are no distractions and interferences from the outside world. His environment ultimately assists him with these duties. Eventually Hayy will become an enlightened individual.


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