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Nafs, Spirit & Heart
by Hazrat Mir Ghotbeddin Mohammad

from Vol. 8, No. 1
posted March 1, 2002

Sufism and Consciousness:
part one

by Amineh Amelia Pryor

from Vol. 8, No. 3

Human Longing for Spirituality
by Dr. Shahid Athar

from Vol. 9, No. 3
posted November 2, 2001

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Sufism and Consciousness: part two

By Amineh Amelia Pryor

The Heart of Consciousness

The heart is like a shining mirror. Troublesome deeds are like smoke and will cover the mirror. Then you will be unable to see your true self. You will be veiled from the vision of Universal Reality…

In Sufism, the heart is considered to be the center of the intellect and the conscious center of Being. Troublesome deeds, for the purpose of this paper, can be anything that holds us in a state of limited consciousness. Many individuals may strive for the knowledge of unity, the vision of Universal Reality, yet few achieve this knowledge in a lifetime. Those who do achieve this level are called Sufis. For the rest, we live in a limited stage or state of understanding or knowledge, within the realm of multiplicity.

One phrase that is used in Sufism to describe the realm of multiplicity is that the heart is veiled in ignorance, which indicates a state of less than full consciousness. This state is also defined as living in darkness or searching for light. The light can be considered a metaphor for ultimate or cosmic consciousness. In Sufism it is understood that wisdom, light, and a complete system of existence exists, yet they are often hidden from view. As the great Sufi, Amir al-Moumenin Ali said, “You think you are a small body, yet within you is wrapped the greater world.” Through this saying Sufis are given the key to understanding existence. It is not to focus on the small body or to look somewhere outside, but rather, the greater world (awareness of existence) is wrapped within, more specifically, within the heart.

On the subject of the heart, Henry Corbin writes, “In Ibn Arabi as in Sufism in general, the heart (qualb), 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).”

Once the Sufi practitioner knows where to look, we must then come to understand the process of uncovering and seeing the light and moving away from ignorance and darkness. Whatever is seen in the darkness is a limited view with hidden angles. From this limited view we remain in the realm of multiplicity, which is the term used for anything less than knowledge and experience of unity.

Hadrat Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani writes: “Some of the properties of this darkness are arrogance, pride, envy, miserliness, vengeance, lying, gossiping, backbiting and so many other hateful traits… To rid one of these evils one has to cleanse and shine the mirror of the heart. This cleansing is done by acquiring knowledge, by acting upon this knowledge, by effort and valour, fighting against one’s ego within and without oneself, by ridding oneself of one’s multiplicity of being, by achieving unity. This struggle will continue until the heart becomes alive with the light of unity - and with that light of unity, the eye of the clean heart will see the reality of Allah’s attributes around and in it.”

The Consciousness of Unity

In Sufism, as has been stated, the goal for life is to become conscious in every moment. As in some other disciplines or on other spiritual paths, attachment to the goal may be a distraction from full awareness. However, in Sufism, it is clear from the beginning what the goal is. In this way, we have a standard by which to live and a way to determine, by the knowledge of a teacher, if we are moving toward the intended goal. This goal of consciousness includes awareness in every movement and every breath. The awareness is transcendent and beyond any limitation or separation. The limitations are also referred to as illusions, in Sufism. Seeing a part of something is an illusion in contrast to seeing the whole. Attraction to, or the distraction of the physical realm and its possessions is one of the limitations of human nature. However, because of the rule of balance, the Sufi does not practice extended seclusion or mortification. These practices may be considered distractions or limitations at the other extreme rather than attraction to the world.

Dr. Mohammad Shafii writes: “The Sufis feel that it is an illusion to see human beings as different and separate from nature and the universe. Distortion of values and preoccupation with having and possessing rather than with living and being is also an illusion. Hoarding, possessing, dividing, fragmenting, and destroying are related to these illusionary perceptions. As long as we are blinded by illusions, we can only experience a part, but not the whole, of reality.”

The journey of Sufism is a return to the origin. A return to the level of knowledge that existed before physical form was manifested and still exists beyond the physical realms. The practice on this path includes focusing all the scattered energy within one point, within the heart. Through this concentration and awareness we may remember the source of creation within the center of Being.

Hadrat Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani describes this journey and its goal: “Man, in accordance with general laws, by following certain steps can return to his origin. To take these steps, he follows the evident ordinances of our religion as a guide; following them, he advances. Rising from level to level he may reach the stage of the spiritual path, passing into the realm of wisdom. That is a very high state. The Prophet (phuh) praises this state, saying, ‘There is a state in which all and everything is gathered - and it is the divine wisdom.’ “These are the general rules which apply to the material being of man. Then there is the spiritual being of man, or the spiritual man, who is called the pure man. His goal is closeness to Allah. The only way to this end is the knowledge of truth (haqiqa). In the first-created realm of the absolute being of oneness, this knowledge is called Unity.

The Self

What the Sufi practitioner longs to discover is the connection to and reality of Being. To do this we strive to find the self and transcend to forgotten levels of consciousness and knowing. As has been said, the self is found within the concentrated point of being within the heart. We may travel there, or begin to know this point by closing our eyes, focusing on the breath, and gradually bringing our awareness into the heart. Each of us who practices this exercise will have a unique experience. In this way we realize that the self is unique and individual.

Dr. Arthur J. Deikman writes about this concept of self that is beyond the senses or mental intellect: “When we consider the radically different nature of the observing self, it is apparent that some mode of knowing other than the senses or intellect is involved in that phenomenon. The senses and intellect provide content: sounds, vision, touch, ideas, memories, fantasies. But the observing self is outside content and thus outside intellect and sensation. It follows that a different type of knowing is involved, one we must designate as intuitive, or direct, knowing - knowing by being that which is known. We are awareness, and that is why we cannot observe it; we cannot detach ourselves from it because it is the core experience of self.”

Seyedeh Nahid Angha, Ph.D. teaches that each of us is given one thing in equal share, and that one thing is our existence. Each person has his or her own private experience of existence. Each has the opportunity to understand the knowledge of this existence, or to pass through life without truly living, with limited consciousness. Going back to the original levels of consciousness that were delineated by Bucke at the beginning of this paper (Sufism and Consciousness, Part I, Sufism: An Inquiry, Volume VIII, No. 3), I do not think any of us are unconscious. Some, however, choose to remain in a limited state or do not have the ability to move on to the next level. . .

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1 Hadrat Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, The Secret of Secrets, Interpreted by Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti, (Cambridge, England: The Islamic Texts Society, 1992), p.120.
2 Richard Bucke, as cited in Mohammad Shafii, Freedom from the Self: Sufism, Meditation and Psychotherapy, New York: Human Sciences Press, 1985), p. 163-164.
3 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines (New York: State University of New York Press, 1993), p. 233-234.
4 Seyedeh Nahid Angha, Deliverance: Words of the Prophet Mohammad (San Rafael, California: International Association of Sufism, 1995), p. 40.
5 Sufi Women: The Journey Towards the Beloved (collected essays). (San Rafael, California: International Association of Sufism, 1998), p. 11.
6 Mohammad Shafii, Freedom from the Self: Sufism, Meditation and Psychotherapy, New York: Human Sciences Press, 1985), p. 49.
7Referring to Allah as “Him” is due to the limitations of the English language.
8 Hadrat Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, The Secret of Secrets, Interpreted by Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti, (Cambridge, England: The Islamic Texts Society, 1992), p. 45.
9 loc. cit.
10 op. cit., p. 47.
11 Imam Mohammad-i-Ghazzali, in Freedom from the Self: Sufism, Meditation and