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The urge toward mysticism – the urge to experience a dimension beyond the material world, to know and return to a spiritual Essence or Truth – is inherent within every person, irrespective of his or her religion. Individuals are imbued with this tendency to differing degrees. Some are endowed with it in quantity; others, only in a small amount. Some people have a chance to develop and translate it into their daily lives, while others do not. Nonetheless, this tendency is present in every human being.

If Sufism is defined as mysticism or the way of the mystic, then its message addresses all people, not just the followers of one religion. Every faith has its own Sufism. In every nation and community there have been Sufis, although they have taken different names and adopted varying practices.

The human being comprises not only a body of flesh, but another aspect, commonly referred to as “I” or “the self (described in Sufi terms as nafs). Mystical experience activates the “I.” Like an electrical current, it runs through an individual, bringing forth untapped potentials. With the activation of self comes a certain degree of consciousness and insight. A person starts to sense that his or her “I” reflects another “I” – the “I” of a Supreme Being. He or she becomes conscious of God acting in and through creation.

Many people attain this level of awareness at some point in their lives. An encounter, event, or realization opens them to a reality greater than themselves. For most, this level of awakening is enough. But others desire something more: to contact God, to see the Divine, to experience Truth. Being a mere part is insufficient; they long to annihilate themselves in the Whole, the Eternal. They want their faith to spring forth spontaneously and continuously, like water rushing from a fountain. They yearn to realize in a personal way that God is as near as your jugular vein. How can this yearning be fulfilled? God is the Sublime Being; humans are gross in comparison. Their senses can hear, touch, see, taste, and smell material things, but the Supreme Being eludes detection by these means. How can a particle contact the sun? How can a part become the whole? Human beings from the beginning of time have tried to resolve this dilemma.

Sufi Teachings

According to Sufi teachings, the path to experiencing the Divine Presence starts within. It is said that one who realizes oneself realizes the Lord. God is present, but individuals cannot see the Almighty because curtains of ignorance veil their eyes and rust encases their hearts. The average person is ego-centered. Only after he or she has polished the heart and purified the self will the curtains lift, the rust fall away, and the eyes become able to see God.

Through years of effort, Sufi masters developed a scientific approach to achieving such refinement. They discovered that in addition to the mind, human beings have other centers of consciousness that serve as inner faculties for attaining knowledge. Foremost among these centers is the heart. With diligent practice, teachers of Sufism perfected techniques that activate the heart, cultivating profound intuition and realization.

The polished heart becomes a mirror that catches the light of truth and reflects it in one’s consciousness. With this light dawns the understanding that beyond material phenomena, there exists a Being of which everything in the universe is a reflection. One’s own being itself reflects the higher Being.

Discovering and fulfilling the Divine potential ultimately results in unflinching faith and certainty of truth. One then submits completely to the Almighty, as a drop of rain submits to the ocean. One wills only in accordance with the will of God; all acts are performed for God’s sake alone.

Through selfless obedience, the seeker comes to recognize the Presence of the Divine in each event and circumstance. Consciousness of God pervades his or her every moment. He or she becomes a sincere servant of the Almighty. In fact, Sufism is nothing but inward and outward sincerity.

Sufism does not focus only on the purification of the individual. While striving for selflessness, the salik (spiritual traveler) also devotes his or her insights to improving the social and cultural condition of the community, the nation, and humanity as a whole. This commitment to service makes Sufism a dynamic, transformative force on all levels, from personal to global.

Historically, people steeped in the rational intellectual tradition have dismissed Sufism as a speculative pursuit, fueled more by its practitioners’ imaginations than by real knowledge. Today, researchers in the fields of human consciousness, quantum physics, biology, chemistry, and psychology are drawing conclusions that parallel premises of Sufism. For example, many scientists now take into account the fundamental interrelatedness of all phenomena. Whether or not they speak in terms of God, their insights echo the mystics’ age-old awareness of Divine Unity. Building from points of common understanding, teachers and students of Sufism are engaging scientists in dialogue, working to bridge the gaps between them and thereby help more individuals recognize the benefits of a spiritual view of life.

Like many other disciplines, Sufism has come under the influence of people who lack proper training. Deteriorated forms have emerged. Explaining what Sufism istherefore requires attention to what it is not. Sufism is not primarily concerned with power or intellectuality. It does not rely on a mixture of cultural techniques and preoccupation with the ego, translated into a quest for greater personal effectiveness, healing abilities, psychic powers, and the like. It is not designed to provide a good living for teachers or heads of organizations, nor does it deliberately keep students in a state of mystification. Westerners – always eager to synthesize themselves – may embrace Sufism as a teaching designed to unite all religions and creeds. This, too, misrepresents its focus. Certainly the development of human beings’ spiritual potential can diminish intolerance, fanaticism, prejudice, and conflict. But these are the secondary results of the Sufi path, not goals.

While diluted derivatives abound, by the grace of the Almighty the essence of Sufism endures. It also remains relevant, offering principles that we can use as bases for our intentions and actions even in the post-modern age. The Sufi path promotes balance between outer life and inner practices – a balance that is becoming all the more important as the pace of life increases.

Other forms of education focus on the mind or the body, on developing skills, professional qualifications, or character. Sufism educates the heart. By developing the heart’s infinite capacity to plumb the universe of consciousness, aspirants gain insights that guide their lives and serve as vehicles for understanding self and God. Only the awakened heart can attain God-consciousness; the mind cannot. Those who pursue the Sufi path discover the secrets of awakening the heart. They realize and live the knowledge revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by who said,“The vessels of your Lord are the hearts of His righteous slaves, and the most beloved to Him are the softest and most tender ones.” (al-Tabarani)



Orientalists have expressed various opinions concerning the origins of Sufism. Some authors argue that it was influenced by Greek philosophy. To support this hypothesis Professor R.A. Nicholson of Cambridge cited similarities between the works of Sufis and Greek philosophers. Other authors have asserted that Sufism derives from Vedanta or Buddhism. In our view, all these theories are mistaken. While some of the movements’ principles are similar, similarities do not prove that one movement comes from another.

Professor Louis Massignon, a leading French scholar of Islamic mysticism, concluded after extensive study that Sufism originated in the Holy Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (saws). It was not transplanted from outside, but rather originated in Islam.

The Indian scholar Shah Waliullah (r.a.) (d. 1762) observed that the methods adopted by various orders conformed to the natural inclinations of people in the areas where these orders arose. Shaykhs may have drawn on certain aspects of other religions or systems, particularly when customs had become so deeply rooted as to unassailable. But we should avoid reading too much into superficial similarities. A Sufi aspirant sitting in meditation looks much like a yogi sitting in meditation, but the two differ significantly in their methods and purposes.

On another level, the question of which mysticism derives from what sources is academic. The mystic impulse exists within each human soul. Certain principles have found expression in every country, every language, every religion – not because societies borrow from one another, but because God created us with an inborn yearning to know the Divine. It is human nature to turn towards spiritual improvement and training.

If concepts and practices found in Sufism are found also in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other traditions, it does not mean they are un-Islamic, any more than they are un-Christian, un-Judaic, un-Hindu or un-Buddhist. They are legitimately claimed by all faiths, for they reflect the human condition. Those who miss this point – who insist on establishing external sources for Sufism or other spiritual traditions – miss both the uniqueness of each monument of human discovery, and the unity that underlies all creation.

The School

The Technique

To awaken the hidden powers of the self and make them operative in life, the technique of the School consists of a special form of meditation. This meditation results in an intuitive insight that enables us to begin to see all things in their true perspective, and to understand the truths about life and the universe in a proper light. It further opens up a new way of thinking that gives life a correct direction, develops one’s character, and provides a healthy ideal. It creates enough sincerity of purpose to correct the distorted notions and misguided actions of our life. In short, it serves to build up a noble personality and to discipline and optimize our lives.

Everyone who values an empirically-based approach to inquiry, has a genuine yearning for knowledge, and wishes to understand the reality of life is invited to try our techniques. An individual’s adherence to any philosophical creed or religion is not important in this process. It is suggested that any person who is interested in our work should come and stay with us for at least one week, observe, and test our techniques. Only after close observation and through practical experience will a person be in a position to assess the true value of our work. However, those persons who are, at the moment, unable to undertake the journey to Delhi and stay at our School, can acquaint themselves with our techniques through correspondence. We shall send them instructions for their guidance.

The School does not aim at propounding or rationally explaining philosophical problems or theoretical creeds. It simply seeks to promote a Path purely of experience and actual practice.

The Practices

The goal of Sufism is the development of certain noble qualities such as the purification of the self, purification of the heart, moral etiquette, the state of doing what is beautiful (ihsan), nearness to God, gnosis (ma’rifat), annihilation (fana) and subsistence (baqa). In short, the true purpose of Sufism is to transform the seeker into a highly humane and moral person by building the seeker’s character through spiritual training.

Today’s fast-paced, materially-oriented world challenges us to balance the demands of day-to-day life with the fulfillment of our inner yearnings. Many choices are available in the pursuit of knowledge. Among these choices, the Sufi teachings, transmitted through a chain of authorized teachers, offer a way to lead life in this world within the context of a comprehensive spiritual philosophy. The Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi line of masters in particular has considered the need for practical techniques that can be integrated with work, family, and social responsibilities. Their teachings may benefit seekers of different aptitudes and natures today, as they have uplifted seekers for generations. It is only by the blessings of respected shaykhs of centuries past that the Sufi teachings have endured.

The Practices

Subtle Centres of Consiousness (Lata’if)

It is generally thought that the human body contains only one subtle center of consciousness: the mind or brain. But the elder Sufis, through their spiritual experiences, discovered additional centers of perception or inner senses which they referred to as lata’if (singular: latifah). They further concluded based on their kashf (intuitive insight) that there are ten such lata’if.

The origins of the lata’if reflect the origins of the universe as a whole. According to Shaykh Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (r.a.), the Indian master from whom the Mujaddidi lineage descends, God created the universe in two stages. First came ‘alam’i amr (the world of God’s command), which emerged instantly when God said, “Be!” Then God created ‘alam’i khalq (the world of creation) through a process of evolution that lasted many years. After ‘alam’i khalq, God created the human being. God blessed this new creation with certain inner faculties or points of light; the lata’if. Five of the lata’if – nafs (self), bad (air), nar (fire), ma’ (water), and khak (earth) – were part of the world of creation. The other five – qalb (heart), ruh (spirit), sir (secret), khafi (hidden), and akhfa (most hidden) – were part of the world of God’s command.

The lata’if were luminous initially. When God connected them to the body, their light started to be filtered through the influences of the physical world, including human beings’ tendency to identity with materiality. The dimming of our natural inner radiance is reflected in the Qur’anic passage, Surely We created the human being of the best stature, then We reduced him to the lowest of the low, except those who believe and do good works, for they shall have a reward unfailing. (Qur’an 95:4-6). Through practices that involve concentrating on the lata’if the Sufi aspirant becomes able to use them as means to greater awareness of the Divine Presence. The more the seeker develops this ability, the less the light of knowledge is obscured.

Like the faculty of memory, the lata’if are faculties that we may sense and experience, yet have difficulty explaining. How would you define memory? You might say it resides in the brain – you might even describe its physiological working – but these descriptions fail to convey all its dimensions. Sometimes, a person loses his or her memory due to injury. He or she becomes even more aware of its importance, yet is no better able to explain it. Similarly, the lata’if cannot be adequately defined in words; but as a person brings them to light, he or she comes to understand them.

Different Sufi orders have associated the lata’if with various locations on the body. The Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi order places the five centers of the world of God’s command (the lata’if of ‘alam’i amr) in the chest. The heart or qalb is on the left side of the body, two inches below the nipple. The spirit, ruh, is in the corresponding position on the right side of the chest. The subtle center known as secret, or sirr, is on the same side as the heart, but above the breast. Hidden (khafi) is on the right above the breast. Most hidden (akhfa) is in the middle of his chest, between the heart and spirit.

Shaykhs of the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi order guide the salik (spiritual traveler) in enlightening the lata’if one by one. This is accomplished primarily through muraqabah (meditation). While sitting, the student makes an intention (niyah) to pay attention to a particular subtle center. He or she focuses first on the heart (qalb), then, in sequence, the other lata’if of the world of God’s command: spirit, secret, hidden, and most hidden (ruh, sirr, khafi, and akhfa). When these are fully enlightened, the student pays attention to the lata’if associated with the world of creation (‘alam’i khalq).

Of the subtle centers connected with the world of creation, only the self or nafs is regarded as corresponding to a particular point on the human body. Its location is in the middle of the forehead. It is the first of the lata’if of ‘lam’i khalq that the student refines, for it is considered the sum total of all the others. After concentrating on the self for some time, the student is guided next to focus on the four gross elements of which the body is constituted – air, fire, water, and earth (bad, nar, ma’, and khak). When these are infused with light, every pore of the body becomes illuminated and starts to remember God.

The Practices

Meditation (Muraqabah)

Experience over the centuries has shown that muraqabah leads to all stages of perfection. For this reason, although shaykhs of our order also perform dhikr (recitations evoking remembrance of God), durud (supplications for blessings upon the Prophet SAW), and recitations, muraqabah is the most important component of their inner work.

The origin of muraqabah lies in the saying of the Prophet Muhammad SAW, “Adore Allah as if you are seeing Him, and if you do not see Him, know that He is seeing you.” Literally, muraqabah means to wait and to guarantee or protect. When used as a Sufi technical term, the meaning of muraqabah is to detach oneself from worldly pursuits for a period of time with the intention of nurturing the spiritual guidance that the seeker has received from his shaykh. Another way of putting it is that in a human being’s inner being there are subtle centers of consciousness. If, after receiving guidance, one takes time from worldly pursuits to focus on these subtle centers, then that is meditation. Meditation leads to gnosis and paves the path to nearness with God. When the seeker detaches him or herself from other pursuits and sits and waits for blessings, sooner or later the seeker begins to feel some kind of activity in the heart, sometimes in the form of heat, sometimes as movement, and at other times as a tingling sensation. The seeker must not focus on the spiritual form or color of the heart, because the attention must be directed towards the Divine Essence, who is beyond all qualities. It is necessary to sit in meditation for at least thirty to forty-five minutes and no particular sitting posture is required. In the beginning, there is a rush of thoughts in the seeker’s mind; this is no cause for concern. Hazrat used to say that we are not trying to concentrate our thoughts, as is the practice in yoga and other spiritual techniques. We are trying to awaken the heart.

Once the heart is awakened, thoughts gradually subside. Eventually the seeker experiences a drifting and enters a different dimension. There is a difference between this drifting and sleep. Drifting is the shadow of annihilation. Hazrat Shaykh Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (r.a) said, “He comes and He takes you away.” In sleep, the soul is inclined towards the lower realm and takes refuge in the heart. In the state of drifting the soul is inclined towards the higher realm and takes refuge in the self. When the seeker is in the state of drifting, the seeker is not aware of individual being. In this state the seeker can also experience visions (kashf). As it is possible for the seeker to have thought projections, no importance should be attached to these experiences. Hazrat Shaykh Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (r.a.) said, “These experiences are simply there to please the seeker’s heart. The final destination lies ahead.”

Hazrat ‘Ala’uddin ‘Attar (r.a.) (d. 1400) said that meditation is better than the practice of the remembrance of negation and affirmation. Through meditation it becomes possible to attain the station of vice-regency of God in the dominion of the physical world and the world of spirit.

The Practices

Realizations on the Path

The investigations of those who travel the Sufis path are practical and personal, not theoretical, and the resulting realizations are difficult to convey in words.

Among students’ first realizations is the awareness of a transcendental dimension. Glimpsing aspects of the universe that are inaccessible to intellect, they receive a taste of something beyond material phenomena. A new vision of reality begins to influence their lives and thoughts.

As students awaken the heart and other lata’if (subtle centers of consciousness), their understanding of self deepens. The rational mind expands, and seekers acquire the illumination necessary for the possibility of seeing all aspects of existence in proper perspective.

Students who continue to do the practices diligently may gain personal experience of the following assertions:

  • The phenomenal world of matter and individual consciousness is only a partial reality.
  • The human being has a self other than the empirical self: the eternal self.
  • One can have direct experience of the Divine through a carefully nurtured interior which is superior to reason and intellect alone.
  • Through faithfully pursuing a discipline with an authorized guide, one can identify one’s limited self with the true self.

Beyond a certain point, realizations become inseparable from a person’s way of being. It becomes clear to students that human beings are not merely slaves to instinct, but have an urge to express higher values and a will capable of controlling their actions. As students begin to see the Divine Presence in everything, they become better able to grasp the meaning of human life – both of their personal lives, and of the collective destiny of humanity. Narrow, ego-centered points of view give way to a broader perspective, encouraging students to make every thought, word, and act a form of ‘ibddah (worship) and khidmah (service). They approach a state of consciously desiring good, even in situations involving no personal advantage or external pressure.

Knowing with certainty that everything is governed by the will of God, seekers learn to depend on God, to be patient and accepting. Through the practices they may also receive confirmation that there is life after death. As they recognize that this world is preparation for the next, they are further inspired to adopt a more pious, virtuous lifestyle.

Sufism is a journey from the inner to the outer. Through realizing the self, the seeker realizes God. Through realizing God, the seeker becomes selfless. Step by step, his or her former being becomes transformed, until by the grace of God he or she may attain fana’ and baqa’: the experience of unity, of being annihilated or consumed in the Divine, of abiding in and with the Almighty.

The experience of unity is not the final realization of the Sufi journey. Those who attain this stage return from it to assist their fellow beings. They are with God and in this world simultaneously, translating the nearness that they feel to the Creator into service to creation. They keep themselves attuned, ready to fulfill the duties and responsibilities that God presents in day-to-day life. The world is like a workshop run by God, and the Sufi at the highest stage of realization is a worker, striving to fill his or her role in the best way possible, relying always on the mercy and blessings of God.



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