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Triana J. ElanThis gentle work is a salve for the weary soul, whether or not one is drawn to follow its path; the widom and beauty contained in its pages are to be savored.
— Napra Review
"Wise and profound! Robert Frager is uniquely qualified to bring the ancient wisdom of Sufism to the modern study of psychology. He unites both in a compelling fashion and succeeds admirably in presenting a Sufi psychology for today's world."--Ken Wilber, author of "The Spectrum of Consciousness," "The Atman Project," "A Brief History of Everything, and other books.
"An extremely accessible and effective book by a great American teacher. Frager's blend of stories, practices, and loving kindness captures the elusive nature of real Sufi teaching. A delight for the curious seeker and a companion to anyone seriously on any spiritual path."--James Fadiman, Ph.D., coeditor of "Essential Sufism" and author of "Unlimit Your Life."
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HEART, SELF, AND SOUL
"Know, O beloved, that man was not created in jest or at random, but marvelously made and for some great end."
If someone sits with me
And we talk about the Beloved,
If I cannot give his heart comfort,
If I cannot make him feel better
About himself and this world,
Quickly run to the mosque and pray —
For you have just committed
The only sin I know.
Basic Concepts in Sufi Psychology
In this book, we will focus on three central concepts in Sufi psychology-the heart, the self, and the soul. Each is a technical term and has a set of connotations different than its everyday English usage. Each term includes overtones of meaning from Koranic usage and from centuries of Sufi discussion and commentary. These concepts come from a rich, thousand-year-old tradition, and hundreds of books have been written about each.
Heart. This means the spiritual heart. For instance, we say that someone who is sincere and well motivated is someone "with heart." Spiritual seekers write about the importance of finding "a path with heart." We also talk about the opposite; someone who has no compassion is "heartless."
According to Sufi psychology, the heart contains our deeper intelligence and wisdom. It is the place of gnosis, or spiritual knowledge. The Sufi ideal is to develop a soft, feeling, compassionate heart, and to develop the heart's intelligence. This is a deeper and more grounded intelligence than the abstract intelligence of the head. It is said that when the eyes of the heart open, we can see beyond the superficial exterior of things, and when the ears of the heart open, we can hear the truth hidden behind the words.
The heart holds the divine spark or spirit within each of us. In effect, the heart is a divine temple. Sufis try and remember to treat all other people with kindness and respect, as the owners of this infinitely precious temple. As we will see, Sufism stresses conscious human relationships and service as fundamental spiritual disciplines.
Love is another basic Sufi spiritual discipline, and the home of love is the heart. The more we learn to love others, the more we become capable of loving God. One of the great lovers mentioned in the Torah was Zuleika, the wife of Potiphar. There are many stories of Zuleika and Joseph in the Sufi tradition. Zuleika fell in love with Joseph, who was her husband's slave. It is said that Joseph was one of the most handsome men who ever lived. When Zuleika's friends began to tease her about her outrageous love of Joseph, she invited them all to tea. While her friends were peeling the fruit she served them, Zuleika summoned Joseph. When the other women saw him, they were so distracted by his beauty that they all cut themselves. Zuleika said, "Now that you have seen my Joseph, can you blame me?"
Eventually, Potiphar divorced Zuleika because of her scandalous love for Joseph, and she had to live among the poorest workers and beggars. Years later, when Joseph had become the second most powerful man in Egypt, he saw Zuleika one day in the street. She was dressed in rags and looked old and worn from her difficult life. He said to her tenderly, "I could not love you when your were married and I was your husband's slave. But now I am free to marry you and will do so gladly because of your love for me." With shining eyes, Zuleika relied, "No, Joseph, my love for you was a veil. I have long since come to love the Beloved directly. I need nothing and no one in this world any longer." Her love for Joseph had opened her heart.
Self. In Sufi psychology the self, or nafs, is an aspect of the psyche that begins as our worst adversary but can develop into an invaluable tool. The lowest level is the tyrannical nafs. It is a collection of all those forces within us that lead us off the spiritual path. These forces cause tremendous pain and suffering and lead us to hurt those we love.
In a passage from the Koran, Zuleika admits that she sought to seduce Joseph, and then says:
Nor do I absolve my own self Of blame: the self Commands [us] to do evil, Except for those my Lord Has had mercy on. (12:53)
I have translated "the self that commands us to do evil" as the tyrannical nafs, because these negative tendencies can dominate our lives like an absolute tyrant. At their root are egotistic impulses that are often deeply unconscious. Many Western psychologists, philosophers, and other authorities on human nature who are still very much under the influence of the tyrannical nafs tend to treat this state as normal. According to Sufi psychology, however, the tyrannical nafs is at the root of the worst distortions of thinking and perception and the source of the greatest danger to ourselves and others. Sufism provides powerful and effective tools for understanding and transforming the tyrannical nafs. These tools include self-observation, self-discipline, and seeing oneself in others.
At the other extreme, the highest level of the nafs is known as the pure nafs. At this stage, the personality is like a pure and perfect crystal that reflects God's light with almost no loss or distortion. This final transformation of the nafs is an extremely rare achievement, found only in the greatest saints and prophets. The poet Hafiz illustrates this state:
I am happy even before I have a reason.
I am full of Light even before the sky
Can greet the sun or the Moon.
Soul. Sufi psychology includes a model of the human soul based on the principles of evolution. The soul has seven aspects or dimensions: the mineral, vegetable, animal, personal, human and secret souls, and the secret of secrets. Each of us possesses these seven levels of consciousness. The goal in Sufism is for all of them to work in balance and harmony.
Many psychological and spiritual systems stress only one or two levels of functioning. In Sufism, emotional well being and healthy, nourishing relationships are as essential as spiritual and physical health. The ideal is to live fully in the world without becoming attached to it or forgetful of our spiritual nature and spiritual aims.
Sufism provides a truly holistic approach to spiritual psychology in which the soul avoids the dangers of the linear and hierarchical models found in many spiritual systems, models that have been used to justify the oppression of women and minorities. In Sufism, there are absolutely no spiritual distinctions between men and women or between different races or nationalities.
This model integrates the physical, psychological, and spiritual. The physical aspect of our lives is sustained by the age-old wisdom of the mineral, vegetable, and animal souls. Our psychological functioning is rooted in the personal soul, which is located in the brain and is the seat of ego and intelligence. Our spiritual nature is a qualitative jump beyond the physical and psychological (which are both rooted in our physical bodies and material existence). The human soul, secret soul, and secret of secrets are located in the nonmaterial spiritual heart. The human soul is the seat of our compassion and creativity. The secret soul is the location of Remembrance of God, and the secret of secrets is the infinite, divine spark within us.
Some Comparisons Between Western and Sufi Psychology
1. Traditional psychology assumes that the universe is completely material and without meaning or purpose. According to Sufi psychology, the universe was created in accordance with God's will and is permeated with God's presence. The Koran states, "To God belong the East and the West; Wherever you turn, there is the Face of God." (2:115)
To me, this is a particularly powerful and moving phrase. God's face is everywhere, always in front of me, even though I usually remain unaware of it. Rumi beautifully illustrates how the world is filled with God's presence. "For sixty years I have been forgetful,/every minute, but not for a second/has this flowing toward me stopped or slowed."
The universe is meant to be the place of the search for God. In a famous hadith (saying of the Prophet), God says, "I was a hidden treasure. I longed to be known, and so I created Creation." At one level this means that the universe is a mirror of the divine. God is fully present in everyone and everything. But to find God, we have to look beneath the surface, to see the inside as well as the outside of things. At another level, it means that humanity was created in order to seek the hidden treasure which is God. The universe is a cosmic hide-and-seek game. Our purpose, the reason we were created, is to seek God, and the greatest human beings are those who have found Him. The Turkish Sufi poet, Yunus Emre, writes, "Men of God's truth are an ocean,/Lovers must plunge into that sea;/The sages, too, should take a dive/To bring out the best jewelry."
2. Traditional psychology assumes that the human being is nothing more than a physical body and a mind developed from the physical nervous system. An important element in Sufi psychology is the spiritual heart, which is the location of inner intuition, understanding, and wisdom. We are more than mind and body; we are the embodiment of divine spirit. Whenever we explore human psychology in depth, we encounter this infinite divine spark. It is important to know where we came from and where we are going. Our souls existed before we were born and continue to exist after we die. Our goal is to uncover this divine spark within ourselves and to learn to live by the inner guidance of our divine nature. Inner guidance from the spiritual heart is more available as we progress along the Sufi path. Eventually we can be guided by our own hearts rather than by external rules or principles. However, this is a relatively advanced stage of practice.
3. In Western psychology, descriptions of human nature focus primarily on human limitations and neurotic tendencies, or on innate human goodness and our essentially positive nature. The first approach is typical of clinical psychology and the second of humanistic psychology. According to Sufi psychology, all human beings are located between the angels and the animals. We share both natures and have the potential to rise higher than the angels or to sink lower than the animals. Therefore, we need to struggle in order to counter our negative habits and tendencies. This is known as the inner jihad, the inner struggle or inner holy war. We also need to develop our intellect and will power in order to actualize positive, spiritual tendencies. The inner struggle becomes more demanding and more subtle as we progress on the Sufi path.
4. According to traditional Western psychology, our highest state of consciousness is the rational, waking state. Sufi psychologists point out that, for most people, this is actually a state of "waking sleep." Most people are habitually heedless and relatively unaware of themselves or the world around them. Other states are possible, including those of remembrance, humility, awe and finally of unity with God. They can be accessed only through spiritual disciplines that lead to remembrance of God, transformation of the self, and the opening of the heart.
In addition to an extensive classification of spiritual states of consciousness, Sufi psychology distinguishes between these temporary states (known as hal) and stable states of development (known as makam). One may remain at a given level of development for months or years. These states of development include:
INITIAL AWAKENING—The recognition that the spiritual search is more important and meaningful than our previously valued worldly goals and ambitions.
PATIENCE AND GRATITUDE—The development of patience and perseverance is essential for spiritual development. So is a sense of gratitude. A dervish feels gratitude for receiving the teachings of the Sufi path and for having the capacity to follow them.
FEAR AND HOPE—Fear of losing our love of God and sense of connection with Him motivates the developing dervish. Also essential is a sense of optimism—a hope that in spite of our shortcomings we will make progress.
SELF-DENIAL AND POVERTY—This means denial of the negative ego's incessant demands for pleasure and power, and dedication to the service of others instead of self-promotion. A dervish is also known as a fakir, literally a poor person. The Prophet said, "I am proud of my poverty." Poverty means lack of attachment to possessions and a heart that is empty of all desire except the desire for God.
TRUST IN GOD—At this stage, we realize that everything we have comes from God. We rely on God instead of on this world.
LOVE, YEARNING, INTIMACY, AND SATISFACTION—We have one major desire, to love God, to yearn for and feel God's presence, to be satisfied only by God's love and to desire nothing else.
INTENT, SINCERITY, AND TRUTHFULNESS—A concern for intention rather than the outer form of action. The more advanced we become, the more our intentions become clear and pure. Sincere, truthful intent gives meaning to all actions.
CONTEMPLATION AND SELF-EXAMINATION—This capacity develops only over time. According to a famous Prophetic saying, an hour of contemplation is worth seventy years of conventional prayer.
RECOLLECTION OF DEATH—We realize that our time is limited and therefore priceless. The world has no attraction any longer, and as advanced dervishes, we are totally devoted to the pursuit of God. Abraham Maslow, the founder of transpersonal psychology, pointed out that recollection of death can bring about the "plateau experience," a state in which our experience is transformed.
5. Western psychologists hold that self-esteem and a strong sense of ego identity are important; that loss of identity is pathological. In Sufism, the sense of a separate identity is one of the veils between us and God that distorts reality and prevents us from knowing our true divine nature. Our goal is to transform our egos and to lose our sense of separate identity. When we finally realize our nothingness, we can perfect our unity with the infinite.
Sufi psychology distinguishes between the healthy, positive ego and the self-centered, negative ego. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung writes that the ego needs to be strong in order to handle the radical changes and intense demands of the spiritual path. This means self-respect, self-esteem, and a realistic sense of our own positive traits and capacities.
A positive ego serves us and helps us to achieve our goals. The negative ego displays an inflated sense of self-worth, a self-centered, egotistical approach to life. It continually tries to get us to serve it; it is like a donkey that we carry on our backs instead of being carried by the donkey.
6. Western psychologists assume that personality is a relatively unified structure. In Sufi psychology, the human being is seen as a diverse collection of traits and tendencies, many of which are related to different stages of evolutionary development. One of our tasks is to balance these various traits and to strengthen our spiritual development. Unity of personality is an advanced state.
For most people, inner unity is an illusion. We often make intentions and begin projects with great optimism and then never follow through. Let me give you a common example. On Friday evening, we set the alarm for six A.M. in order to finish up all kinds of tasks before breakfast. When the alarm rings next morning, we immediately turn it off, roll over in bed, and curse the idiot who decided to wake us at such an ungodly hour.
As William James, the father of American psychology and a pioneering spiritual psychologist, pointed out, most of us want to be known as generous philanthropists and sophisticated socialites, philosophers and athletes, sex idols and spiritual role models. We know that these various roles are basically mutually incompatible, but we want it all. True inner unity is a rare achievement.
Excerpted from Heart, Self, & Soul by Robert Frager. Copyright © 1999 Robert Frager. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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