|Back||SOUK - 2nov09 - nafs|
2nd November 2009|
"Let the heavens be reflected in the earth Lord, that the earth may turn
(Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan - Gayan - Alankaras)
We continue with our series of talks by Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat khan on
the manifestation of the soul, the soul coming form the heavens. In fact
this series is split into three parts, the manifestation of the soul, the
development as a human soul in the world and then there is the return of the
soul to its origins. We are still on the soul's manifestation. It takes a
long time to go through all these teachings. We are actually coming to the
end of the first part of the manifestation, which is the soul's journey
through the angelic state, the angelic heavens. Next week and the weeks
after Aziz will take us through the journey through the jinn state, the
state of the mind, as the soul acquires a mind. Then we finally begin with
the soul acquiring a physical body and then its journey through the world.
This particular talk was again part of the famous series in 1923 in
"The angelic spheres, the highest heavens, are the spheres of light which is
called Nur; and that current of power which runs through the Divine Sun
causes rays to spread, each ray being an angel or a soul."
We have talked about Nur, the traditional word for light, the uncreated
light, but we said that this light becomes creation when the Divine
consciousness contracts, breathes in. Then it begins to expand, to breathe
out and gives out rays of light. Those rays become the rays of existence,
from the angelic heavens to the mental state to the physical state.
"It is this divine current which really speaking is nufs, which means breath
or the ego."
Nufs (or nafs) is a term that the Sufis use rather loosely. We read in some
texts that they say nafs means breaths. In other texts we read they say nafs
means appetites. In other texts they say nafs means ego. What do they mean?
it is al of those things. But looking at them in different ways. First of
all nafs is the breath, because it is the life-force in us. We say what is
the life-force? We watch a person die and you watch them breathing, and then
there is a moment when they stop breathing. That is the moment when we
realise suddenly that person has gone, that soul has gone. The soul
experiences different kinds of breaths. That was the breath that took the
soul home. The soul is a breath-current, that is one meaning of nafs. The
second meaning is that nafs could mean ego, which is that because of your
consciousness the way you breathe determines what you think you are. Imagine
if you become hungry. One in five people in this world a re actually
physically starving. Quite naturally their sense of self will be 'I want
food. I am hungry.' That is the state they have very little choice to
experience, because the body demands it. Then one thinks of the
intellectuals who think all day and all night. You ask them 'Who are you?'
and they say 'I think that ...' whatever they are thinking, that is who
they are. That is the mind, the breath becomes a different kind of breath to
the one that is hungry. The consciousness is different, so the ego sense of
self is different. They cannot say "I think therefore I am." That determines
that kind of ego. The first ego is a physical ego, 'I am hungry.' The second
one might be 'I have an idea about myself.' Then the nafs or the breath can
change again, and then one finds what we call the peaceful nafs. So we have
gone from the hungry nafs to the thinking nafs to the peaceful nafs. The
peaceful nafs will say 'Not only am I at peace with the world, but I feel
peaceful. I am peaceful.' The whole consciousness is very different. That
kind of person's experience of themselves would be universal, cosmic, at
peace with everything. There are very little boundaries between me and
everyone else. So you see the breath is the changes. It changes the
consciousness and the life current so-to-speak expands as the breath becomes
more and more subtle. A simple way of putting it is when you breathe very
hard and fast, as when you are running, then you are very conscious of your
body. When you get anxious about something in your mind, you feel anxious.
When you are meditating your breath is very fine, very subtle, and your are
not so self-conscious. So there are different kinds of stages of breath or
different nafs arrived at. We have talked about nafs as breath, nafs as ego.
Then we can talk about nafs as appetite or intoxication. We understand what
physical appetites are, sexual appetites, but we can also think of
aggression. People get intoxicated not just by food or sex, but by
aggression. So that person, their whole breath reeks of aggression. You can
smell it. You feel it when you are around the person, you will sense it, it
pushes your way, oppresses you. That person is intoxicated by that fire, the
fiery breath, the aggressive breath. When we become aggressive we start to
breath fast and we can feel that fire, you can feel the whole body
stiffening, you become intoxicated. So this is another way to talk about
nafs. There are so many different emotions. We get intoxicated by fear. Fear
is very different to anger. If it is pure fear it makes you just want to
run, makes you want to hide and to protect yourself. It is a different kind
of feeling. They say 'I can smell fear.' Animals smell fear, they also smell
aggression. it is all to do with the meaning of nafs. Then one can say one
can be intoxicated with joy, with happiness, jealousy, envy. All kinds of
emotion we get intoxicated by. Eventually the ultimate state that we say the
mystic can attain is contentment. Imagine the emotion of contentment. The
Yogi masters talk about 'I have no desires.' That is contentment, it is the
same thing. One can reach that kind of nafs. In other words we are always
experiencing nafs as long as we are alive, as long as we have some kind of
body; a physical body, a mental body, a light body. We always experience
some kind of nafs, whether they are spiritual nafs, physical nafs, we are in
some kind of state of the nafs, state of the breath, state of consciousness.
Instead of saying the ego is one kind of ego that has one kind of
self-centredness and God is quite different, that is not right. Hazrat
Inayat Khan says that is not right, we all are God-consciousness, we all
experience the life-force of God that is in our breath, but we forget that
it is God, we think it is us. It is not two different things, it is just
that we have forgotten. That is why in Sufism we talk about the need to
remember the Divine breath, to remember the Divine consciousness. That is
why we have practices such as zikr, where the whole rhythm of the body, the
rhythm of the breath begins to put us in sync with the Divine breath. So
there is a lot to the word nafs.
"Breath is the ego and ego is the breath. When the breath has left the body,
the ego has gone. The nature of this current which spreads as a ray and
which is a life-current, is to collect and to create. It collects the atoms
of the sphere through which it is running and it creates out of itself all
that it can create. Therefore in the angelic heavens which is the sphere of
radiance, the soul collects the atoms of radiance."
He is talking about the soul encompasses light. This explains why a baby
when it is born, it opens the eyes and looks around, and its breath, it
soul, its life-force begins to encompass its surroundings, becomes part of
its sense of self. That is why it is very important to have familiarity, not
to keep changing the baby's room or parents or food. It needs some kind of
consistency. It recognises, it begins to get to know, its breath encompasses
the objects around it, the people around it, the circumstances,
surroundings. Then it knows something about where it belongs, 'This is me.'
As the soul begins to expand, we make friends, we move out of the family,
the soul and the breath encompasses something greater, like the school you
go to, the neighbourhood you are in, the language that you are learning, the
culture that you are in, the food that you are eating: all that becomes part
of the soul. The soul incorporates that. That is the earthly experience.
This angelic being, this being of light that has come into the world is now
using the body and the mind to incorporate and get a more solidified sense
of self. But it is a very rich experience. It is not just the beautiful
lights of the heaven, it is the smells of the earth, the fragrances, all the
beautiful forms. The sense of touch is quite unique to this plane. taste,
all the beautiful tastes. So each sphere, including the earth sphere, the
soul incorporates everything around it an it collects the atoms of the
sphere through which it is running. So in this sphere we collect the body,
it becomes more material. The more we eat the more we grow. We develop a
sense of the bodily self. We need to do that in order to become a fully
fledged human being. If we remained two foot high we would be extremely
disadvantaged in this world. Physically we would not be able to participate
much, be accepted much by society. So we acquire the physical body which
grows and grows to a certain point. And similarly the mind, it starts very
small and then it begins to grow. Not just the brain, the thinking, the
consciousness starts to grow and grow because it draws on the atoms of the
mental sphere. When we come into the world we tend to forget our
light-nature and so our radiance becomes diminished. We have to wait until
the longing of the soul causes us to seek that radiance once again. We
return to the heavenly spheres. We re-experience that, either through a
spiritual experience on retreat or something we begin to re-awaken that
light. As you do, very quickly your consciousness embraces the light that is
in those sphere. In other words you see that in a person's eyes, you see
that in their light when you meet them - this person has been on retreat,
this person is filled with light. The soul has remembered al that radiance
and it has become part of the soul's consciousness again.
"Therefore in the angelic heavens which is the sphere of radiance, the soul
collects the atoms of radiance. A Sufi poet of Persia has given a most
beautiful expression of this idea in a verse. 'A glow came garbed in a
People ask 'What does an angel look like?' One's first experience of an
angel is like a flame, like a light that looks like a flame that comes to
"No better picture of an angel can one make than this. Before the angels
were drawn by the artists in the form of human beings, they were symbolized
as burning lamps; from this comes the custom of lighting candles in
religious services, thereby showing to some extent what the angels were like
before they became human souls. In the ancient Scriptures it is mentioned
that human beings produced angels by their virtues. But this is only a
symbolical expression; it is not that human beings produced angels by their
virtues but that their virtues lifted their souls to the angels and
connected them with the angels. One may ask: 'If the souls who have settled
in the angel world are angels then what makes them come on the earth? How
can they they experience the life on the earth?' The answer is that it is
not the angels who have settled in the angelic heavens who come to earth.
For these rays have finished their creative power in manifesting as angels."
What he means is you need a certain kind of power to incarnate. Some souls
remain in the angelic heavens, they do not incarnate beyond. Some souls
reach the sphere of the mind and they stop, that is us. Even there are
differences. There are some people who have not fully incarnated yet, they
have not fully come into their bodies. Those souls tend to lack power, they
need to ground themselves to get that earthly power. Otherwise they cannot
be effective in the world.
"If these angels had a greater power, they certainly would have gone further
even to the physical plane and would preferably have manifested as human
beings; for the desire of every soul is to reach the ultimate culmination in
manifestation and that culmination is the stage of human plane.
"It is the work of the souls who return from the earth to communicate with
the earth very often and it is such angels who are known to man. Angels who
have never manifested as man on earth, if the ever do experience life on the
earth, they only experience it by the medium of minds and bodies which by
their evolution come closer to the angel heavens. They take these as their
instruments and at times reflect themselves in them and at times have them
be reflected in themselves."
Angels do not naturally contact us here in this world, but there are some
who have been human beings, who have returned to the angelic spheres and who
still have a connection, or feel a connection, or maybe a purpose of
contacting the earth, then they contact those souls on the earth who are
capable of being contacted.
There were a number of questions that followed on from this talk.
"Question: If the nafs exists as far back as the angelic heavens, how can
human beings hope to become free from?"
"Answer: Human beings do not need to be free from the nafs. But they need to
distinguish between the true nafs (which is the breath of God that is in us)
and the false nafs (which is the illusion that this is my breath, this is my
body, this is my mind.)"
"Question: Is the soul centred where the physical body is?"
There is a lot of research going on in neuro science to find the God's part
in the brain, as though something incredibly cosmic can be contained in one
little spot, in a few cells in the brain.
"Answer: It is in the body in one way. It functions in the body, although
the soul is incomparably larger than the body. Just a little point of the
soul functions in the body, but its size is much larger."
Perhaps he is referring to the idea that there is a point where the soul
connects physically to the body, maybe.
"The impression one has, is that the soul is centred in the body, when as a
matter of fact it extends throughout the universe."
There is no limit to the soul. The soul is light, and as you no light
carries on indefinitely. Just think of that your light right now will reach
the stars in billions of years to come. So it is a way of thinking you exist
in the future. And your light that you exuded in the past is being
remembered, experienced now elsewhere in the universe. What is future, what
is past - we exist in the future, in the resent and in the past.
"Question: Do the angels of the sphere also experience birth and death,
youth and old age?"
"Answer: Not in the sense that we are accustomed to understand. But at the
same time there is only one being - God - Who is beyond birth and death. All
else, all manifestation, from the point of duality to the myriads of beings,
all are subject to the law of birth and death. Only the difference in birth
and death between the plane of human being and the planes of angels is very
great; but youth and age are in everything we see. For the plants and fruits
there is a time when they are raw and a time when they are ripe; and so it
is with the angels. But there is no comparison between the life of angels
and the life of human beings. Human life on earth is too limited to be
compared with the life of angels. Even the time between the birth and death
of a thought, an idea, is incomparably small when compared to the life of
"Question: Can every atom of manifestation be said to have a soul?"
(All quotes from Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan "The Soul Whence and
Whither", Chapter 6 - 17th August 1923 5:30pm).
An interesting question. We talk about human beings have souls, animals have
souls, plants have souls. Then what about physical manifestation. Can the
earth have a soul. The answer is yes. Even every atom has its own soul.
Every aspect of creation has that Divine breath, that Divine consciousness.
And his answer is not only that, but he says that this is why even the earth
can evolve. Even the physical will evolve. One wonders about that, because
we are constantly discovering new elements - are they being created? We do
not really know. Maybe they were there all the time, we discover them; maybe
they are created. Even the physical patterns, the physical world itself has
a consciousness, has a feeling to it. You walk into a plastic building and
it feels dead. You walk into a wooden hut, it feels more alive. It has a
certain vibration of feeling to it. The other one is cold or brittle, hard.
So even in the physical creation - we think of crystals. That is something
physical, but we know that crystals can help us in healing. But if you took
a piece of granite, it would not have the same healing properties, it is not
as conscious. Even the physical world has soul. As Rumi said "I slept in the
rock, I dreamed in the plant, I awoke as the animal, and I came to realise
myself as a human being." Everything evolves. It is a chain of evolution of
consciousness. Not just a physical evolution, but consciousness of
everything including the physical evolves.
The breath of the soul does animate your body, but more than that. The
breath of life that is in you has helped your physical body to evolve. Where
did your body come from? It came from the earth. When we give up this body,
when it is time to move on, what do we give back to the earth? Think of the
consciousness of the body, of how it may help the earth to evolve. Think of
the spaces and places you occupy - you give it an atmosphere. Those places
absorb your consciousness. Then reflect on your thoughts. One can have
mundane thoughts, there is not much life in them, one can have angry
thoughts which can be destructive, one can have beautiful thoughts, which
can be creative. So the aim of the Sufi is to become creative. That is why
we say "Let the heavens be reflected in the earth." The mind is the medium,
the bridge that helps us to be creative, to create that beauty that we sense
in the angelic spheres, to create it here, in the mind and in the body.
Those thoughts become less and less self-centred and more and more creative.
Then there is the consciousness of the soul, that moment when we realise
ourselves as a being of light is an ecstatic moment, to experience yourself
as light. Suddenly you remember your origins, realising that your light
supersedes your mind and your body. It is not temporary, it is eternal.
We end with a wazifa practice, a spiritual practice of invoking those Divine
qualities, the Divine names. We can say "Ya-Nur", the Divine light,
"Ya-Alim", which is the Divine insight, and then we can say "Ya-Wajid",
which is the existentiation of the Divine on the earth.