The Nafs

By Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi

Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim

We start right at the beginning, trying to make a definition of nafs in its totality. So the first thing to understand is that inner science in the Sufic science of the self, and we must grasp Ibn ‘Arabi’s statement that nobody knows the nafs except the sufis. No one understands the nafs except the sufis – no one is able to understand and there is no way they can understand – except the sufis.

Now, it is terribly important in our technical vocabulary that we have no fixed terms. For example, one shaykh says, “There are a hundred stages to Allah,” and designates what the hundred stages are, and another shaykh says, “There are a thousand stages to Allah,” and has written down what the thousand stages are. Shaykh al-Ansari has written what the thousand stages are. Another shaykh has said there are ten thousand stages to Allah and every one of them divides into a hundred recognisable stages, depending on his insights and recognitions. All this is not poetry because they specify what they’re talking about. Having said that, you must realise that each of these is true. They are by perception different ways of seeing, but they are all true, and you can take any of these ways and you will go through it step by step and recognises everything in it. Our terms are interchangeable.

The other thing is that we are quite happy to allow one term to plane into another term in talking about the self. We can be talking about the self and you can go out of the room and come back and we have not changed the subject and it has become qalb, the heart. So we are talking about the heart and you go out of the room and come back and we are talking about the ruh and we have not changed the subject of conversation. We changed the viewpoint. We’re talking about it in another way. You go out of the room another time and we’re talking about ‘aql, intellect. We have not changed the subject of conversation each time. We are looking at the same reality from a different aspect or from a different function.

Now we say nafs, then again someone might say embattled nafs, rebellious nafs, tranquil nafs – the three nafs of Imam al-Ghazali’s system. The nafs that is wild, the nafs that is rebellious, and then is quiescent. It is fighting, and then it accepts. It is in process. The first nafs is the wild horse on the hill; the second nafs is the one with a bit in the mouth and you jump on it and it throws you off. The third nafs is saddle, bridle and rider. These are the three stages of the nafs.

In another way, we take nafs, leaving out the top one, the highest one. We take two and say that is nafs. Then we go from nafs to qalb, from nafs to heart. We then make two separate things. We jump from one to the other depending on what we are dealing with. If we are dealing with nafs in the active, nafs in the passive, nafs in the historic, nafs in the developing, nafs in the situation whatever.

Another thing we say is the nafs and the ruh. The ruh is the spirit, pure light. The ruh and the nafs are fighting over qalb, the heart. The heart is the Beloved and they are two suitors, two lovers trying to have possession of the heart. The light of the Ruh wants the heart and the darkness of the nafs wants the heart. The heart is, in that sense, an arena that these two are trying to take over. You see, all of these depends on what you want to indicate. These are descriptive terms.

We now go on and say when we talk of nafs in its lower senses, in its embattled sense, in the wild sense. We say that nafs does not exist at all. It is not there. We are talking about a non-existent. An identifiable non-existent. It does not exist. It seems to exist, but I mean it not in a mad way and not in an esoteric way, not in a kind of Hindu way. I mean it in the sense that the physicist tells me that the wall is not there: it’s space, ripples in space from the binding of the nucleus of the atom. That the atom is the Albert Hall and there is one chair in it – this is the solid matter. And that is a ripple, an impulse, a charge of energy. So the whole thing is energy charge in vast space, emptiness. So when looked at from the viewpoint of the Khayal – now this is where you must hang on and fasten your safety belts. We are coming to some bitter turbulence.

The Khayal is turbulent. The Khayal is a faculty in us that solidifies objects. What the physicist tells us is not there in some other funny realm. It is there. That there is a solid wall. That there are solid objects is entirely due to a divinely designed apparent flaw that does not let us see that is the secret of existence. We will come to the Khayal later.

The objects are not solid, the faculty of the khayal solidifies them. This is a most important thing in understanding the nafs. So the nafs is a non-existent that we talk about while, let us say because there is a wall and there is a stage and this awful play goes on and we’re all in this play… I want a million dollars; I want four wives; I want to be President and I want to conquer that country over there, and I want to kill that one and get my own back on that one. This is the play. This is the Shakespeare. It is Aeschylus, Thomas Mann, George Lucas, horrible. Because this is apparently urgently real to people.

All people dealing with the nafs as of this minute in the dominant culture will only consider the nafs within the framework of the existing theatre. They are not prepared to look, and this is where we immediately jump back to the principle under which the IWF is created. They are not prepared to look at the biological principle underlying the self. They are not prepared to look at the physicist’s description of the same arena. The people dealing with the self as experts will not look at its biological character. Those who have been challenged to look at its biological character in a crude mechanistic way are not prepared to in a deep genetic way. They are not prepared to look at it in terms of physics. They are simply not prepared to square the two pictures.

The physicist is not prepared to look at the physical matter as he has grasped its constituent parts to be in terms of his own nafs within the sense of the arena. Do you follow? When I said that to Frithjof Capra, who is the level below the Nobel Prize, “But, Frithjof, my argument with you is that Heisenberg said there is a relationship between the observer and the observed. The observer is in the experiment. So I am not satisfied with your mathematical statement of matter because it does not include in it that when Zulaikha’s apple pie arrived on the table, a glazed look came over the eyes of this rational, brilliant scientist – a film passed over his face of sheer intoxicating enchantment. His two hands plunged forward, picked up the apple pie and wiped it off the face of the earth and everybody had a little piece and he had about four. And he didn’t even know. He said, “Emm -ahh-emm” and his eyes were glazed and shining, and he ate all the apple pie. “Emm, yum yum, good apple pie.” All the intellectual conversation finished – everything – atoms, nuclear black holes, everything.

I said, “Now I want that in your picture of the nature of man, Otherwise you have non’t got a complete picture.” It is the apple pie scoffer who smashing the atoms in the Cerne Laboratory at 60 million dollars a go. It is this one who doing this with the atoms. A nursery, and out of due season. In the nursery it is beautiful. In you it is horrific. I am frightened of you, Really frightened of you. I am frightened of the way you ate that pie. Do you understand?

So obviously apart from the inside, you have to allow the scientist – in the same way you have to allow each individual science to plane in to the meeting point which is man, on this side, and plane out to the divine Creator of the forms at that source. So if you are speaking from separation, you still have to connect with the scientists to the science to the sciences. If you’re speaking from gatheredness, you have to connect the manifestation to the manifester … the one who manifests. Do you understand it?

We jump back now to the nafs. First we’ll take the three terms -the wild nafs, the nafs in conflict , and the nafs serene. That is easy to understand because it has a certain ethical case. So we will get it out of the way first. That is simply that these three terms are from the subject’s own point of view. According to us, it is the human experience of the one who desires knowledge.

We are not talking about the savages unless they take this in question, which is why the sick person in that society is more interesting than the healthy person because he has put himself in question. The one who comes to a psychologist is a higher being than the one who is sitting governing a place, saying everything is fine. He is the madman. The real mad people don’t get locked up in an asylum. They get locked up in history. They get locked up in history because history is fantasy in process. Rumi said this. Rumi said the whole existence in culture is based on forgetfulness. Wherever you find remembrance, all that is gone. You simplify your architecture. You simply your social project, and inwardness dominates outwardness. Health dominates sickness, inwardly. Sickness dominates health outwardly but the science of healing dominates ignorance to deal with it.

So then there are three terms – one of them and then another. We will now look at these three terms. Let us say that there is the person in motion and the person asleep. The person who is static and the person is dynamic. So we will drop all these categories because we’ve already put our lolly on the person who says they are on the moon: who comes along to the Muslim psychologist rather than the heads of the corporation in terms of potential. We put our money on him because he is moving and this one is stuck.

The man who gave this doctrine got to this doctrine because he was the head of the corporation and he flipped. Imam al-Ghazali was the greatest ‘alim. He was like the dean of the faculty of theology at Yale University. And he got more and more in crisis. He said, “What does this mean? It all means nothing. What is this thing? I’m not anything. I don’t believe any of it. I’m not the dean of this. I don’t want to have dinner with the sultan and I don’t believe in any of it. What am I talking about? Why am I teaching these people when I know nothing?” And he got up to speak one day and he could not speak. He had 2000 students in front of him every day and he got up and said, “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim,” and ran out the door, He went home, packed his bags, handed out the money to his servants, called his family, gave out the money for the running of his family affairs and went to the desert to find the Sufis.” To find the doctor of the heart.

And from him comes this theory, this description of the three nafs. What we find out about existence gives him regret at leaving it. What we find out about existence gives us desire to pass to the next stage of it. So this first thing is really simple: we will find it so simple that there is no difficulty with it.

This describes the person who has a path as opposed to the person who has no path in terms of knowledge. Although everyone has a path, we are talking about those who know it. And that first stage of knowing has to be not knowing, So there are some people, although they’re destined for knowing, they have to be given naturally a not-knowing.

So you have the kafir beginning – you have outward wildness. And the one who is in outward wildness has no constraint. “I can do what I like.” It is, to the Sufis, the maqam of the child. Not only does it do what it likes but it does not know that it is doing it. The child pees and shits. It does not know. It is time. It is not, “I am doing this thing” that we have to clean up. It is time. There is this stuff and then it goes. It does not know it’s doing it. It only finds out by this fuss that goes on every time it does it.

So it is that maqam in the adult about existence. Total ignorance is to do wrong and not know you are doing it. Not so anything, Why shouldn’t I do it? I’m totally gratified. Total gratification: Do what I want. Real wildness is a wonder thing. The wild horse is wonderful, Wild nafs is not wonderful because it is out of due season.

The kafir society encourages the wild adult and punishes the wild child. Punishes the child who defecates and pees instead of learning to stop it before even the biological structure of the body and the sphincter muscle is working to stop. So it is inhibited and punished when it should be wild and free. The training of the body should come with the biological growth of the body. Leave them uncovered, let them drop everything and hose it down afterwards. That is the traditional Muslim way. So then the deep underpinning of the self are based on that and not on guilt about this. This is the traditional Islam, Now, of course, we have modern Egyptians, Muslims who are very proud of the fact that they know how to use the lavatory. They are proud of it.

So this wild nafs is out of due season. This adult doing what it wants, this person who says “I”. You know the little boy or girl who shows its belly. Everybody laughs – it is beautiful. When you see adults doing it in Golden Gate Park, when you see them expressing an abandon – it wearies people. Why? Because it’s out of due season, It’s not that maqam. That maqam is there and they did not have it there and they are doing it and it is too late. It is too late. It’s gone. When you had no teeth you drank liquids. When the teeth came .. are you going to eat pop always? Are you going to be this person or are you going to find out what the next is? The four year old, the three year old or the two year old sees a stair, climbs it once it knows there’s a stair -hump, hump, hump. How thrilling!

And they are not at that maqam. They see the staircase of knowledge and meanings and it’s awful because there’s no beauty. Their beauty is elsewhere. There is a beauty but it is not there. If we’re talking about knowledges, then we see people who are out of harmony with existence. The wild nafs first of all does not know it is wild. Then there is a wild nafs which does it knowing that is not it. Too wild. There is a wild nafs which does it knowing that it is not it. To them the party is no longer fun. The yields of the society are no longer gratifying. The goals are no longer satisfying. And this immediately expresses itself, of course, in that the pleasures are not pleasurable. And put alongside that the bitternesses are intolerable. Until you turn into a battle with them.

We move into this second realm which is the embattled nafs. They start to wrestle with themselves. They are discontented with themselves. This is the gift of Allah. This is the most wonderful thing. This is the ploughing of the field. It is a knife that cuts, but that knife turns over new soil. This trouble is wonderful. It is the most wonderful thing that can happen.

Out of this comes flight, turning over. Rejection, contrariness, doing the opposite in any sphere of action. Punk. It’s punk rock. It is a high mental plane in relation to the directors of Coca Cola. It is a high mental activity in relation to the Prime Minister of England the President of France: a high, high mental plane. Punk rock is Shakespeare, Aeschylus, genius in relation to them because they have tried to get at the meaning by the secret of the law of existence which is that everything is hidden in its opposite. Only there is no one to explain to them they have done it. So in the kafir society, so beauty-ugliness is to cut their face down like that. One half is one thing, one is the other. They have a razor blade down there, a safety pin in there and everyone says it’s horrible. It is ugly. It is beautiful. It’s outwardly ugly because they want a meaning that is beautiful. A spiritual search. Every age, that is why we go back to the park.

Every age expresses that in a different way because this search among people has to happen and no society can censure it unless they actually alter their hypothalamus which they are prepared to do to the already so-called sane person. You would not use the term sane. We say there is a complete person, structurally. You put them in any situation, then they could be the free one. Once, of course, you put in the chemicals, then they are in the shopping mall forever.

These are the people whose nafs is in trouble. This trouble is a gift of Allah. Now I am not yet talking about repair. I am talking about the sign of life, the sign that there is actually something happening. I’m not talking about what is the way this is healed. We will come to that later. If this person is not destroyed by the act of going to the opposite. Because it is dangerous. It can shatter the personality. It can destroy it beyond help by the action or by the station of shame, of disgrace to which they arrive. If they, in their search, by their intention for self over beauty of the ugliness, break through, then that person will begin precisely to try to discover the meaning of existence. The meaning of existence is discovered inside the self and this is achieved by your conquering you. The enemy is you! In the rebellion you think that the enemy is society, the classÉ

However, the language of the culture has described it, the king, the president, women, men, everybody. The creation, existence itself, The way is recognition that existence is perfect, flawless. The flaw is in the eye You cannot see. You are seeing trouble. From where is the trouble? Is it out there? No, because this is a mirror. What a horrible mirror! It has got a nose and it has got ears. It is you. Can’t smash the mirror. It is you. There is nothing wrong. Everything that is wrong is here. It is fascinating, is it not? It is enthralling that human beings could participate in this, not 100%, but 99.99999%. I mean everybody is participating in this lie. Society is built on it. History is built on it.

I am looking at this object and what’s wrong with it? The biologists say that the bird could not survive. There i’s something wrong with it, so it died. What is this? It’s complete, absolute lunacy. These law of forms have to be swept aside by natural selection in the calm march to higher forms. It ended with me. It is extraordinary. He is a bag of worms. He is a virus of typhoid and he got all this waster and stuff inside him, blood and phlegm.

What is this? It is in the eye that cannot see. It is like the television. I must give you this physical picture because we all forget just how mad the world has become. The children were on the television and they had this popular sportsman interviewing the children, this idiot. He had this little boy who collected beetles. He had a collection of these black things with these pincers and they were all crawling about and this awful lout was trying to emphasise with this child. He said, “Oh, but aren’t you frightened of the beetles. I mean, don’t you find them ugly?” He was using this sort of child talk, “Don’t you find them all very creepy, crawlyÉ ugh, don’t like beetles.” And the boy looked at him like he was demented. He said, “But they’re beautiful. Beetles are beautiful.” And he said, “They may be to you, but they give me the creeps.” And you saw him like the beetle. Isn’t it wonderful? Allah ta’ala says in Qur’an, “You will not find any flaw in creation.”

So back to where we were. The nafs sees creation by its station. You see creation by your station. Sitting with the Salihun and the awliya’ is the science of the Sufis because you want to see with their eye. You want to see with a clear eye. If I walk with him, he will show me this plant and that plant in the dhahir because he knows them, If I want to know meanings, I sit with the people of meanings and they show the meaning, And then I see with an inner eye. My eye is trained and then I will do what they do and practise what they practise and so it is my eye.

But you understand I have taken it from them. All meaning is hidden. I take it from you. If I Am in your company, I can take from you and I do not then, in the end, need words to be spoken. The murid wills peak the wisdom of the shaykh from things he has not been told by the shaykh. He will take it from it. In one glance volumes are transmitted, and this is not metaphor. This has been categorically demonstrated. You speak of the sciences of the shaykh because he has transmitted everything to you in one glance, in one instant. These knowledges do not take time to transmit. You put a camera in front and click, that is enough. You have got the picture. We are camera. We go click and we are finished, done. IBM is child’s play. Computers are cake mixers to this knowledge, child’s play in relation to it.

So now we come to repair our friend, the troubled nafs. We assuming that the creature wants out of this dilemma and wants to arrive, and now sees that the goal of the nafs is not total abandon, not total outward freedom, but complete inner freedom, serenity, tranquillity. And so not serenity in serenity, serenity in serenity and serenity in turbulence. Stillness in movement and movement in stillness. Outwardly still, inwardly moving. Outwardly moving and inwardly still. This is the goal of perfection; the ikhlas of liberation.

Now we come to what is the repair job. Now this is so enthralling I have to do a commercial for it. It is so intriguing. You see how stupid people can be and what a nuisance the Christian mess of theology has brought and the bother it has been to true teaching. They use words like sin and repentance. The words are so dishonoured by false transaction. Do you understand? Let us take the words sin and repentance. These terms have been poisoned by the Christian mess. Why? Because it is not based on tawhid, it’s based only on the arena. It is supposed to be a religion, but its only reality is the theatre arena of the middle self, of actions, the psychodrama. So then they say, imposing from this higher sphere that you can’t get into… “We have this information that it’s wrong for you to do that.” So you go, “Ooh, you see, I’ve done this terrible thing. I don’t know what to do.” They go, “Repent, repent.” So you go and calm it down, put a layer of cement over it, put a wreath on it, lots of flowers, have a fiesta, light some candles, then you go on and there you go again, la même chose.

So naturally we, all people of ‘aql, have kicked this out, but they have all ended up in the park showing their bellies. That sin and rebellion and they’re back to these idiots. Now here is the ironic (depending on how you look it) extraordinary, ravishing fact: that, in these two terms, in fact, should be understood in their reality not as ethics at all, but as basic biology of the function of the human self in the arena of it species is how the self develops and transforms.

We jump back to my discourse on the oneness of the action of Allah and how action adheres to self. Do you follow? We said in that discourse that action adheres to the self. It sticks to the self.

So let us now jump to bring in another term – the heart. Let us call the heart that inner arena in which all these impressions and experiences are impacted, are recorded, are held. They go in there and they come out from there. So the heart makes wrong action, so the nafs makes wrong action, and it is recorded, it is imprinted, it is rusted onto the heart. Now the ethical way, both of these Christian shaytans and the humanists – the christian shaytans are the same as the humanists because it’s a false transaction. It is a lie, nothing has happened You have just repressed it, as the analysts will say. In both of these instances you have held on to the previous acts, they are still in there. They say repress – it is there, it is written, it is stuck on you. The rust is there. Do you see what I am taking you to?

Therefore they say then you do it. You are still this one, you are still that one – only you are now on tour. You were in the capital and now you’re in the provinces. But it is the same play, the same dialogue, with a different touring cast. You are the great actor and they are all your extras. Strindberg drama. It happens here. They all go away and thus person ages and finds a new lot and does it all again. The basis of modern psychiatry is in that situation. Even my looking at the script, my looking at the parts does not remove it. I’m still carrying it. So it’s not a knowledge to know if the psychodrama reveals the oedipal pattern you’re still carrying, imprinting, and the event of the previous traumatic experience inside you.

Now, Sufiyya says turn to Allah. Allah is the Ever-Returning. We are not dealing with Allah, Allah is dealing with us. We are not dealing with the process called creation, the process is dealing with us. Whose? By Allah’s process.

So there comes into the heart of this seeker, recognising the wrong action that he is given an indication of how to be free of it, which is tawba. Tawba means to turns back, turn around, turn away. So you turn away, you turn away from the wrong action to the source of all action. If I do not see where the action comes from, I am weighed down because it all comes from me and I cannot deal with it. If I know that the action comes from Allah then the decree of Allah has been. “You are in wrong action.” If you are the fly, you are the filth.

At this point in comes only this one dimension in which everything matters, which is awareness. Which says, “If that is a fly, I do not want to be a fly. I would rather be a bee. I would like to carry pollen on my legs and make honey. I do not want to carry filth and make infection and sickness. It is not interesting.” Some people do and find it rather nice. “I like dirt, filth and bzzz.” But some people say, “I do not like it. I really rather like these flowers over there. I’d like to have these legs with pollen on them and make honey in the honeycomb.” If you are a bee you will be a bee. You will not be a fly. You are just a bee that gone over the filth and buzzed past it. It is already decided. You do not suddenly turn from a fly into a bee. You were a bee in the wrong place. And you say, “Bzzz, I don’t want that.”

The Sufis say that the bees scent the honey, scent the nectar and they arrive at it. They get there. The bees get to the flowers. You will only be who you are designed to be. The horse is not going to be a fish. Excuse me giving you this surprising information.

But it is the same with the self. It is under the decree. But it is constantly volatile, discovering who you are. If you say, “I am a reptile,” you see, and you slither along in the mud. He must look like a reptile and he is certainly behaving like one. He does not look like it but he is certainly behaving like it. Maybe he is. I guess he is. Look, he has got fangs, and, in fact, you were and we had not noticed. If the man says, “I am reptile and I am disgusting,” and a voice of creation which is him says, “No, you are a lover of Allah,” he says, “That sounds nice.”

It is what I told you about earlier, “There’s a wali on the mountain.” But you will not be unless you go. Whatever you want. You have possibilities and you will actualise them. Qur’an, the whole Book of Qur’an: “It is for those who spend of what We have given them.” Your potentialities, your capacities. If you use them this book is for you. Then you cannot stop. Wisdom on wisdom on wisdom. And power on power from Allah.

How is it that the modern child knows how to clean its teeth every day in order that it can go on putting food into its belly in a satisfactory manner? It is not taught every day to make tawba in preparation for being an adult when it is of use because it is no use to him as a child. But he knows how to clean his teeth as a child so he always does it. If you didn’t learn as a child, you have to be very strong to teach yourself to clean your teeth.

Why can you not clean your heart? If you make tawba the heart is clean. You do not change, you discover you. You do not change yourself. You cannot change yourself. You discover who you’ve always been from the beginning. If you take someone in the night and kidnap them and fling them into a dark place and it is all cold and they are huddling on the floor, they think, “I’m in a cellar. How terrible. I’ve been flung into a cellar. I’ve been kidnapped.” If that passes, “I must know my position. I must know why,” and they put on the light and they are in a palace. Do you understand?

Rumi says this knowledge is like a peasant and his wife living in rags, covered with lice, and all the creepy crawly things that we were talking about; living in degradation, eating bits of crusts and roots of radishes and drinking brackish water in a hovel with the spiders coming and earth falling on their heads while they sleep. And a man, a traveller, comes and says, “You do not need to live like this. Over these mountains is Baghdad. There are mosques with tiles and mosaics and every house has water running through it. There is work for everybody. There are beautiful clothes. There are silks. There is a whole life there, beautiful food, fresh vegetables and meat for everybody. Come with me. I am going.” and they say, “No, I do not believe. I’m staying here.”

We call this the kafir. The mumin says, “I believe you. I trust you. Why should you lie to me? You have nothing. You cannot. There’s nothing to take from us. There is no gain in it for you. It must be true. I trust you. I am mumin. I trust you.” The Messenger comes and gives you this news … I trust you.

The unseen reality is more terrible and more wonderful than the visible reality. The world is the hovel. The experiential zone of phenomenal existence is that hovel. The cosmos is that hovel. The Baghdad of that picture is ‘alam al-mithal, ‘alam al-Malakut, ‘alam al-Jabarut. The world of the Unseen and the world of the Lights from the Essence of Allah.

So any doctrine of the self has to take in everything in the hovel to everything in the Jabarut. Do you understand? Because we have only looked at the lower self. We are now at the bottom bit of this troubled self. And already we’re into unseen dimensions, Already we are into another element of the self. We have not got to the third thing at all. We are still dealing with the sick, troubled self.

Only I insist that the sick one is not the one who would go to the doctor. It is the one who is ruling in the world, highly placed in the world and honoured by the world. All your professors. All your leaders of industry. All your military. All your paraphernalia of society. All these turned upside down. In the realm of knowledge everything is turned upside down.

So we are still in the embattled nafs and I say the first step to this transformation is by your wanting it, but you later discover that it is not you wanting it. It is Allah wanting it. Because you are not the willer. Allah is the willer. But we have not got to attributes yet. We are trapped in action, I am in wrong action. I do not know about attributes yet. I do not seen know that I am doing it by the decree of Allah and even by the power of Allah. The hand that strikes is Allah striking. And the one who gets struck, it is Allah who had them struck by my wrong action, In truth, in reality, in Haqiqa. By Shari’a, I have to answer for everything I do.

Do you follow? So we’re still in the zone of action. Tawba, therefore, I say, is the first step to the transformation of the self. There is no other first step. There is no other means to transformation of the self except, first, to act of tawba. This is the basis therapy that you must teach people to transform them and you will find a very interesting thing. There will be one person who goes away and one person who draws near. The medicine of Tawba is for the mumin, not for the kafir. And you will not get them to take that medicine. They will not take it. You do not feed a fish with the food of a land creature. Its food is its wrong action.

We had a public meeting, You must allow another one of these crude vulgar examples. We had a public meeting in London two years ago in Hampstead and a man came to me and he had all these theological questions all about why in the world of suffering. How can there be an absolute if there is so much suffering in the world? What you do at school in the debating society. All these theological questions – Why this? Why that? I said, “I have one question, why are you here? Why did you come here?” He said, “Ah, because I want to know God.” “Please now, answer me, may I ask you one more question?” “Yes.” I said, “I do not believe that. What do you really want?” He said, “What I really want is to own a lot of real estate. I want to own Centre Point. I want to be a rich man. I want to let it out to people and make massive amounts of money. I want to have big ears and I want very beautiful women. And to buy them jewels and hang them on their necks and go to all the discotheques in London and have a good time.” This is wonderful,” I said. “Now,” I said, “I am so glad you came. Go out tomorrow. Get it.” And I said, “Get it. Get every single one of these things. And when you are sitting at the top of Centre Point in the penthouse with your car down below and your beautiful woman with her Cartier diamonds and you are sipping your champagne and they say, ‘How did you do it?’ say, ‘All this is from the Sufis.’ And you will have what you want and we will have want we want. Leave us alone and go. You are in the wrong place.” Now I guarantee you that he will get it.

So one patient you will send to his goal once you’ve given him the news – you have to give him the news. The good news is that if you take the way of Allah you will have a garden in the unseen. If you go against the way of Allah, you will be on fire in the unseen. I gave you that example because there are two people who will come to you with the same complaint. One person you can help and one person you cannot help, and if you try to give them that medicine you will kill them. One person will come and if you gave it to them you would make them mad, majnun. And if you gave it to the other person you would make them wali. So you have to know who to give this medicine to and who not to give it to. It is not the same for everybody. There must be some medicine that should do it but it would destroy the person. The same with the nafs. One person you can give it to. The same condition, but a different decree on them, a different seal on them, and you have travelled enough to know when to speak and when to say, “Go and get your dunya, Don’t worry us.” This is the question.

So we were examining the stage of tawba. This is the first stage. And I say it is the necessary first stage of transformation of the self. Let me give you the definition of tawba according to the elite and according to the elect of the elite. According to the elite, tawba is to say, “I have made wrong action,” and to not let yourself get away with it. Do you understand? But keep remembering it. “Now I have done it. I have got to watch.” So you hold down the self.

This is not our way, The Junaydi way is not to make tawba with remembering, but to make tawba with forgetfulness. In other words, you say sincerely to Allah, “I am tired of it. I am finished with it. Help me. Return, come back, give me mercy. I am tired of it, I am finished with it.” Having done that you get up. “Allahu Allahu, Hayy, Hayy,” and you have a good time, clear in the conviction that it will be removed from you and that you will not return to it. Because you know the operation works.

These are the two ways. The first way we do not accept – it is too difficult. Only great men can do it. We are rubbish, extras, mere walk-ons. So we do this other way. So naive, childish, and it works. It works and it takes the person to the source, the Forgiver, the Lover. And you are the beloved. Who is forgiven but the beloved, not the lover? The beloved is forgiven.

So the second element after tawba. Then, of course, life becomes interesting. Tawba is difficult, and after hardship comes ease, and there is the true fact of the matter: that for the Sufi is the transformation of the self is easy. And it’s sweet.

But the thing that everyone else has this terrible struggle. These awful Christians trying to do good works from a solid based nafs. This is disgusting, obscene. “I am doing good” – you spit it out, vomit it out. You see, like some of our brothers in Islam who say “I am greeting you because you are my brother.” You say, “Oh, don’t be. Be my enemy. You’re so good at it!” Do you understand? It is not that. It is from here. It;’s telling people it’s sunna to do this – we are brothers, we are all the same. Like when I was in the mosque in London and one of the Imams came to me and said, “I’d like you to come and meet someone to show you that in Islam we are all brothers. We are all the same, there’s no difference between the common person (looking at me) and the great rulers of society.” He said, “We are all one. All the same. And I’d to present to you the mufti of Sudan,” and the man punched him with his elbow and said “the grand mufti.” But it is so beautiful, it is so charming how strong they are. It is so wonderful. That is putting right action without tawba underneath it.

The next stage is to replace bad qualities with good qualities. That’s not difficult, is it? To replace bad qualities with good qualities. It’s not difficult if it’s preceded by tawba. The tawba is difficult. But if you’ve made tawba, it is fine. You were mean, now be generous. You ate too much, now eat little, You envied people, why should you? You are on a path to Allah. Who could be better than you? You’re going to your goal. How can you envy anybody anything? You are the highest. Move from it whatever it is.

You become angry now. You know what, you must replace anger with sweetness. “Anger is fire,” the Prophet said, and it is put out by water. If you are angry, do wudu’. He said, “Have you not seen the anger when veins stand out on the neck and temples? This is fire. Do wudu’ and you put out the fire.” And the meaning of the act of wudu’ is purification. And you do wudu’ and it is a tawba and the anger is gone.

What a wonderful thing. You see, anger is not to be removed from you. It must not leave. It must be under your control. If you did not have these volatile energies you would be dead. If you do not have the sexual drive, if you do not have the drive of anger, if you do not have all these energies, there would be no creation. But they must be in their place. You are arriving not at some kind of emptied shell – we are arriving at a balanced being. We are bringing everything to the middle. We bring appetite to the middle; belly appetite, sex appetite, possession appetite, reputation appetite. We bring everything to middle.

Now we look at the middle zone of the nafs. We will jump to three new terms, which is what is going on in this thing: Nafs, Hawa, Shaytan. Let us now look at what these three terms are in the arena of action. This is very interesting and will help a lot in your understanding of the process of behaviour. What is the experiencing self? It’s very simple. It’s you experiencing what’s there. So someone comes in. Wrong action. Nafs. Something appears, appetite, you take it. Hawa. What is front of you. It’s yours. You acquire what is there. You are acquisitive. You take what is yours. The belly, sex, head, reputation, study, being a scholar. You take, you acquire. You are possessed by appetites.

Now shaytan, shaytan with a tail and a samsonite briefcase. Shaytan has form. Shaytan has the form of many things. It changes form. Shaytan is a subtle energy of jinn in the unseen and he has a job to do. He is like the man who does the swamp cooler. When it breaks down, he turns up. When the nafs leaves a crack, he can come. He answers the call. We say, “Please come, the swamp cooler has broken down,” and the swamp cooler man comes and fixes it. Shaytan: whenever your nafs gets something wrong, there’s a crack in it, he’s got a complete service. He gets the message on his CB and he’s out the door. “Right, here I am.” Now shaytan is the volative activator at your already existent wrong action. Shaytan is when the creation comes back to inviting you. Suddenly your wrong action from you that was passive becomes active where the creation calls you to it. This is the meeting with shaytan. This is what is called shaytan. This is the identity of Iblis. That is why one day he is tall and thin, the next day he is small and fat, depending on what the situation is. In other words, if passively your intention is bad, then from intention to action, he is the action dimension of the wrong intention.

But you are judged. His job is that. Like the other man’s job is to clean the … He is under strict orders from Allah. You have wrong intention now, then give them up. You see. He says, “I will.” In Qur’an shaytan says, “I will not cease to try men until the last day.” That energy is persistent in man. When he has wrong intention, shaytan then comes in on his jet plane. “Come on, do this. There’s the trouble, make that one.” He pauses for breath. You jump in with the interrogation. Shaytan. The attack. The Shaytan. From the passive to the active. Nafs to shaytan through our old friend Hawa. Nafs, shaytan, hawa. Got that? So to cheer people up because they think, “How awful, what a mess. Allah, what a mess.”

We now look at it another way to cheer us – give us himma, yearning to get past it. We now take three more pictures: the dog, the pig and the sage. These are the three elements of nafs from another picture of what’s in there. Here are three creatures. Inside is a dog. This is nafs. What is nafs? Nafs and hawa.

How now, we are now going to look at it in another way. As a dog. One of the characteristics of the dog is this picture. In this picture it is the dog returns to its brother. You do it and you still do it. You go back to it. The dog plays a double game with the master, wagging tail, but it is not all friendly. Friendly, friendly, and then you go and cringe, tail shuddering, it’s awful. The dog chases round the side when it is terrified. There is all that cringing and slobbering. You are this you. You are this to you.

And what is the other characteristic of the dog? It is that the dog is treacherous to its own master. The dog will defend you as much as you defend yourself against the world. But at a certain point, you turn around and you savage yourself. Like the person we were talking about the other day. That has to happen. They will turn on themselves and savage themselves. They will do everything against their own interest – to the edge of suicide. And, of course, some people are torn to shreds.

The pig is appetite. What is this aspect of appetite? The aspect of appetite is if you allow it, if you feed it, it won’t stop feeding. The pig will not stop the feed. What is interesting is that the pig is abhorred in Islam and the dog is technically abhorred except as a hunter when you use its high qualities and ignore its low qualities. The dog in Islam is not allowed in the house because we will get all that and pick it up from it. It would rule us. But its higher qualities are something else. It hunts and guards.

The pig is haram because the character of the pig is appetite itself and if you feed it, it won’t stop feeding until it kills itself. It stuffs. Appetite feeds, “Grows by what it feeds on,” Shakespeare said. Appetite grows by what it feeds on. It keeps on and on and on. So it is a pig. And it gets fatter and fatter and fatter until it even will cannibalise. It will eat its own. Appetite will eventually eat its own, Devour everything, en famille. The child will devour the parent. The parents will devour the children and so on and so on. Devour by appetite.

These are two aspects of the nafs. Now, the Sufis say: if you kill these two the sage will die. We have not come to the sage yet. If you kill them the sage will die. They are these medieval chairs. When you sit on a chair and there are beasts under the chair that hold it up. In Spain they have wooden chairs that have an animal underneath and it’s sitting on it. This is their proper place, You do not kill them. If you kill them, you’re finished. The zahid may kill them and lose the day. The one who is an ascetic may destroy everything. We are not ascetic in this way. We say you subdue the pig, but you need the nourishment. You need the appetite. You need eating, but you subdue it. If you give the pig enough, it is all right.

The other aspect of the pig, its negative qualities is that it wallows in its own dirt. Its filth becomes its scent. It turns in on itself and wallows. Subdue the appetite, and it will carry you. Control the dog and it will guard you. You will get from it what its task it. It will guard you It will hunt for you. It will retrieve for you. It’s used for that in its place. If these two are subdued, they are, as it were, the chariot on which rides the sage. The sage is the raw insaniyya in its highest level. Then the true high aspect of the nafs emerges. These two are necessary in their place and onto this comes the sage, the man of wisdom, the creature of knowledge. He rides on a conquered appetite and a subdued anger and all the dog in us. Another picture of man.

So now we say that this, we come back to the first thing of the middle nafs. The embattled nafs is then busily involved in replacing wrong action with right action. This is, as it were, this middle part of the journey, once you get past its first stage from tawba, has two stages to go on to the third one. The first stage is to remove wrong action. The next stage is to acquire qualities.

The first of these qualities has to be – otherwise the journey cannot be made – sabr. Sabr means patience. But it means something more in Arabic. It’s a wonderful language. Sabr means something much more than this. Let us say it is an aspect of patience. Sabr is also strength in Arabic, fortitude, being able to deal with, staying power. That when you get knocked down, you do not go to pieces. Sabr means that you have staying power, that when the first hit comes, the first negative signal, the first trouble, you do not go to pieces. You just keep going. You have power. Sabr is the first thing to acquire.

Sabr, the Sufis say, is patience. It is a medicine. All of its taste is bitter and all of its results are sweet. It is wonderful. This is the position of the elite. Sabr, patience, is a medicine which is bitter, the results of which are sweet. This is why, seen from the view of the elite, the elect of the elite, patience has to be that in bitterness and sweetness are the same to them. So when al-Junayd was asked, “What is patience?” he said something tremendous. He said, “Patience is being patient with patience.” So its bitterness is sweet, and its sweetness is sweet. This is beautiful.

Do you see? They are the same to the man who has achieved, they are both the same. And this is the man of perfection who, remember, is a man of action. The one who has arrived is the one of action. Because action follows knowledge. Knowledge is the journey. Action is the proof. So this is the stage where this sabr becomes this – what a wonderful thing! It is the most interesting thing.

And the thing is we know everything about the nafs. So the first news of the Sufi is that there is nothing to be afraid about in the nafs. You see in the current way of looking at the nafs it actually quite frightening, because they bring these myths, like the Oedipal myth and these great Greek myths to dramatise this little arena which they are all so worried about. It is frightening. People see themselves pitted against these vast destructive figures. It is awful. They cringe before it.

Now the Sufi view is not this. The self. First of all, it’s very reassuring. There isn’t any aspect of the self that we do not know. You cannot bring a mystery self to the Sufi. You bring one you cannot do anything with, but never one that you do not know what it is. It is totally plotted, it is all as clear as daylight. It is very simple. It is all within the parameters that I have described. Even before I came among the Sufis I used to say to people, “Well, you can only do what a human being can do.” Because one of things of the nafs is to say, “You do not realise the un-nameable, unspeakable things that I have in my heart.” They make themselves into dreadful kings. They make themselves into these mythological figures. They say, “You do not realise. It may be all very well for you if you do not know the terrible things that there are, these serpents that all squishing around in me. A’udhu billah min ash-shaytan ar-rajim. Really you can only do what a human being can do, What is there else that you can do? The worst you can do is to destroy everything and everything, yourself included. It is quite human. There is nothing unexpected in it. So again the attitude if the Sufis to the nafs is not that it is a sickness, not as this dreadful thing. But that we are, it is a simply necessary ingredient of the recipe of what may turn out to be a very good dish, a very good cake, a very good morsel of nourishment for everybody. Of course, if you botched it, you can burn the cakes. But it’s basically the ingredients from which something tremendous can be made.


~ by The Murabit Blog on 12/02/2009.

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