[NOTE: The ten Matters of this Fourth Topic are unconnected, in the same way that the four Topics of this Twenty-Sixth Letter are unconnected. So no connection should be sought. They were written exactly as they occurred to me. This is part of a letter to an important student of mine, consisting of the answers to five or six of his questions.]
S e c o n d l y : In your letter you mention that explanations and interpretations of “Lord and Sustainer of All the Worlds,”(1:2) state that there are eighteen thousand worlds,1 and you ask the wisdom in this number.
My brother, at the moment I do not know the wisdom in it, but I can say this much: the phrases of the Wise Qur’an are not restricted to a single meaning; for since the Qur’an addresses all the levels of mankind, its phrases are like universals or wholes that comprise meanings for each level. The meanings that are expounded are like parts of the general law. Every Qur’anic commentator, every adept, mentions one part of the whole. Basing it on either his illumination, or his proofs, or his way, he prefers one meaning. Thus, in this verse too, one group disclosed a meaning which corresponded to that number.
For example, the verses,
He has let free the two bodies of flowing water, meeting together; * Between them is a barrier which they do not transgress,(55:19-20)
which the people of sainthood hold to be significant and recite constantly in their invocations, are parts with meanings ranging from the sea of dominicality and sea of worship in the spheres of necessity and contingency respectively, to the seas of the World of the Unseen and the Manifest World, and to the oceans of the north, south, east, and west, and to the Adriatic and the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Suez
Tabari, Jami’ al-Bayan, i, 63.