Friday, July 14, 2017

Ego (Nafs) In Sufism

What is  Nafs?

Ego is not an anatomical structure. It’s not something that you will see on an X-ray. Ego is an informational structure. That’s what the term ego means: it is a Latinized translation of “das Ich,” which is German for “the I.”

 “The I” is “the information” that you have about you. It is a mind made created story. The story is useful but a time comes when the story becomes toxic. “The I” (ego) balances on identification with impermanent information.

So who are we, if we are not who we present ourselves to be? 

Who is housed in our body and why do we have such little knowledge and connection with who we really are?

According to Sufi masters, the conflict between who one really is and who he thinks he is and consequently how he lives his life according to that belief, is  our prison.

There is a Sufi story that the master of the house went away on a trip which took much longer than he originally intended. As time went by, the servant who had the whole house to himself got into the habit of enjoying being his own master and after a while believed that he truly was the master of the house. On his return, the real master faced not a servant any more, but a master who treated him as a servant.

Such is the relationship of the ego-self with the real self. From another perspective, when a person totally identifies with his lower ego-self (nafs) the majority of his thoughts, desires and actions are consequently governed by the ego-self, without a genuine opposing force of the spiritual voice.

When I became a seeker, I started asking people what they wanted in life and their answers always revolved around egoic desires: money; validation from opposite sex; validation from parents; from society------it was all ego noise. They had never gone inside of themselves to ask themselves what they really wanted to do.

Avicenna has listed these false mirrors of ego to dissolve before a seeker can identify his real self;

The Mirror of Reflection
The Mirror of Others’ Minds, 
The Mirror of Possessions 
The Mirror of Body 
The Mirror of Time, Memory
The Mirror of Beloved
The Mirror of Consciousness

We are all captives of these mirrors: we draw our egoic identity from being superior/prettier/richer than other people. Once you study yourself in these mirrors you will see that 9 of these mirrors offer you nothing but distortions - you are not how you look, you are not others’ thoughts about you, you are not your body, you are not even your own thoughts about you, and so on and so
Liberation is a liberation from all boundaries.

There is a deceptively simple tenth century book called the "Creed of Imam al-Tahawi. One of the first lessons is that God is not bound by anything, and is not bound by being not bound by anything. Sufi poets say that true humanity is not bound by anything, that your true essence is locked in a series of cages.

The cage of gender and cast.

The cage is your personal history and the notion of time and memory.
The cage of society, with its institutionalized restrictions (often on appropriate and forbidden relationships).

It’s only the 10th mirror (the Mirror of Consciousness) - the mirror of meditation - the inner mirror - that allows you to catch a true glimpse of your essential self.

Nazism or racism is stuck on the mirror of identity; glorify the one lie you and demonize the one different from you. A racist’s entire identity is defined by the chance of his birth; he is nothing beyond being white or yellow.

To begin with, the mirror gives us only an image, and this is a triviality; A MIRAGE.
You've no idea how hard I've looked for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.
What's the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the Ocean.
Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.
It's no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.
So- I've brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.  RUMI

The spiritual masters tell us that if we knew the truth and had a glimpse of the divine reality, we would not bother with all the hide and seek of the ego-personality and the unhappy consequences it brings.

As one moves higher up the ladder of the transformation of the nafs, the inner spiritual voice grows stronger and helps one to distinguish between right and wrong, true and false and it gets guided in taking steps in the right direction with more ease.

The lowest level of the self, the ego or lower personality, is made up of impulses, or drives, to satisfy desires. The self is a product of the self-centered consciousness - the ego, the "I." The self must be transformed - this is the ideal. The self is like a wild horse; it is powerful and virtually uncontrollable. As the self-becomes trained or transformed, it becomes capable of serving the individual. 

Sheikh Muzaffer has written,

The self is not bad in itself. Never blame your self. Part of the work of Sufism is to change the state of your self. The lowest state is that of being completely dominated by your wants and desires. The next state is to struggle with yourself, to seek to act according to reason and higher ideals and to criticize yourself when you fail. A much higher state is to be satisfied with whatever God provides for you, whether it means comfort or discomfort, fulfillment of physical needs or not.

 The Seven Stages of Self ( Nafs) in Sufism

The Basic Self
The first level has also been described as the domineering self or the self that incites to evil. The commanding self seeks to dominate and to control each individual. At this level there is unbridled selfishness and no sense of morality or compassion.

Descriptions of this level are similar to descriptions of the id in psychoanalytic theory; it is closely linked to lust and aggression. These have been called the swine and the dogs of the self - the sensual traits are like swine, the ferocious ones like fierce dogs or wolves. Wrath, greed, sensual appetites, passion, and envy are examples of traits at this level of the self. This is the realm of physical and egoistic desires.

At this level, people are like addicts who are in denial. Their lives are dominated by uncontrollable addictions to negative traits and habits, yet they refuse to believe they have a problem. They have no hope of change at this level because they do not acknowledge any need to change.

The Contemplative  Self

People who have not developed beyond the first level are unaware and unconscious. As the light of faith grows, insight dawns, perhaps for the first time. The negative effects of a habitually self-centered approach to the world become apparent to the regretful self. You begin to examine yourself and your addiction.

At this level, wants and desires still dominate, but now the person repents from time to time and tries to follow higher impulses. As Sheikh Muzaffer points out,
There is a battle between the self, the lower self, and the soul. This battle will continue through life. The question is, Who will educate whom? Who will become the master of whom? If the soul becomes the master, then you will be a believer, one who embraces Truth. If the lower self-becomes master of the soul, you will be one who denies Truth.

At this second level, people do not yet have the ability to change their way of life in a significant way. However, as they see their faults more clearly, their regret and desire for change grow. At this level, people are like addicts who are beginning to understand the pain they have caused themselves and others. The addiction is still far too strong to change. That requires far stronger medicine.

The Seeking Self

At the next level, the seeker begins to take genuine pleasure in prayer, meditation, and other spiritual activities. Only now does the individual taste the joys of spiritual experience. Now the seeker is truly motivated by ideals such as compassion, service, and moral values. This is the beginning of the real practice of Sufism. Before this stage, the best anyone can accomplish is superficial outer understanding and mechanical outer worship.

Though one is not free from desires and ego, this new level of motivation and spiritual experience significantly reduces the power of these forces for the first time. What is essential here is to live in terms of higher values.There is a battle between the self, the lower self, and the soul. This battle will continue through life. The question is, Who will educate whom? Who will become the master of whom? If the soul becomes the master, then you will be a believer, one who embraces Truth.

 If the lower self-becomes master of the soul, you will be one who denies Truth.

At this second level, people do not yet have the ability to change their way of life in a significant way. However, as they see their faults more clearly, their regret and desire for change grow. At this level, people are like addicts who are beginning to understand the pain they have caused themselves and others. The addiction is still far too strong to change. That requires far stronger medicine.

The Contented Self

The seeker is now at peace.

The struggles of the earlier stages are basically over. The old desires and attachments are no longer binding. The ego-self begins to let go, allowing the individual to come more closely in contact with the Divine.

If one accepts difficulties with the same overall sense of security with which one accepts benefits, it may be said that one has attained the level of the contented self. Developmentally, this level marks a period of transition. The self can now begin to "disintegrate" and let go of all previous concern with self-boundaries and then begin to "reintegrate" as an aspect of the universal self.

The Surrendered Self

At this stage the individual is not only content with his or her lot, but pleased with even the difficulties and trials of life, realizing that these difficulties come from God. The state of the pleased self is very different from the way we usually experience the world, focused on seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. A Sufi story illustrates this:

Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna once shared a cucumber with Ayaz, his most loyal and beloved companion. Ayaz happily ate his half of the cucumber, but when the sultan bit into his half, it was so bitter he immediately spit it out."How could you manage to eat something so bitter? the sultan exclaimed, "it tasted like chalk or like bitter poison!"My beloved sultan," answered Ayaz, "I have enjoyed so many favors and bounties from your hand that whatever you give me tastes sweet."

When a person's love and gratitude to God reach this level, he or she has reached the stage of the pleased self.
The Self Pleasing to God

Those who have reached the next stage realize that all power to act comes from God, that they can do nothing by themselves. They no longer fear anything or ask for anything.

The Sufi sage Ibn 'Arabi described this level as the inner marriage or self and soul. The self pleasing to God has achieved genuine inner unity and wholeness. At earlier stages, people struggle with the world because they experience multiplicity. A broken mirror creates a thousand different reflections of a single image. If the mirror could be made whole again, it would then reflect the single, unified image. By healing the multiplicity within, the Sufi experiences the world as whole and unified.

The Pure Self

Those few who attain the final level have transcended the self entirely. There is no ego or separate self-left, only union with God. At this stage, the individual has truly realized the truth, "There is no god but God." The Sufi now knows that there is nothing but God, that only the Divine exists, and that any sense of individuality or separateness is an illusion.

Rumi illuminates this state for us:
If you could get rid
Of yourself just once,
The secret of secrets
Would open to you.
The face of the unknown,
Hidden beyond the universe
Would appear on the
Mirror of your perception

Is God telling us only stories or is He showing us the way to remove the distorted identity and to become who we are created to be and reach the goal that was intended for us? 

Allah says:
And so We propound these parables unto man: but none can grasp their innermost meaning save those who are aware.” - Qur'an 29:43

Nothing can kill the nafs like the shadow of the master

hold tight to his skirt for he is a good killer of your self
Your lower self is after material affairs
         how long will you trade in unworthy affairs, give them up
Someone who says ‘I am thinking to deny my lower self’
         is still captive to the lower self

And he who says, ‘God is merciful and kind’
         is also being manipulated by that wretched self

We are being warned that the most important work of the seeker is the difficult task of subduing the authority of the nafs, as it is our most dangerous enemy. One metaphor used to describe how one must deal with the self is:

Imprisoning it - killing it - burning it - and scattering its ashes.

Sufism imprisons the self. Abstaining from materialism kills it. Love of God burns it. 

Gnosis scatters the ashes of the self, eliminating all of its traces.

Until one hair strand of your being you, remains
          the business of vanity and self-praise, remains
You said, ‘I broke the idol of my mind, therefore I am free’
          this idol ‘that you are free from your mind’, still remains
                                                                              Moulana Rumi

The ego uses everything for its own benefit, including truth, justice, fairness and even God. It even worships God to get something in return. Therefore the self-needs to be dismantled.

A true believer and an infidel both say ‘God’
          but there is a difference between the two
The beggar (infidel) says ‘God’ for the sake of bread
          the true believer says ‘God’ in his very soul” 
                                                                              Moulana Rumi

The Qalaba( heart) is sandwiched between the nafs( EGO) and the Rooh(SOUL) The entire objective of annihilation is to destroy the nafs to that Heart can recognise the soul.Sudi's say soul has the spark of divine as in Quran, its mentioned" all souls come from God".

The nature of fanaa consists of the elimination of evil deeds and lowly attributes of the flesh. In other words, fanaa is abstention from sin and the expulsion from the heart of all love other than the Divine Love; expulsion of greed, lust, desire, vanity, show, etc. In the state of fanaa the reality of the true and only relationship asserts itself in the mind.

One realizes and feeds that the only real relationship is with Allah Ta'ala fanaa means to destroy your self. if you destroy your self in the love of Allah then that fanaa will convert into entire life means abdi zindgi. and for that one you have to destroy your will and yourself on the will of Allah.

In the death of the ego love is born, God is born, light is born. In the death of the ego you are transformed; all misery disappears as if it had never existed. Your life right now is a nightmare. When the ego dies nightmares disappear and a great sweetness arises in your being, and a subtle joy, for no reason at all. Beyond this is the stage of intimacy (uns) at which the immanence of the Lord is perceived:

If we can break through the illusion of identifying with our ego as the only reality; we would find our true soul purpose.  

Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) says:
“He who knows his self knows his Lord.”

Prophet Jesus (pbuh) says:

“One who knows all, but is lacking in oneself, is utterly lacking.” 


  1. This post reminds me of something that happened to me when I was a teen. I was looking at my face in the mirror, suddenly this thought came, 'who are you? You are not you (this face)' I was totally freaked out.

    Even though I only able to understand the content partly, but your sharing has helped me to better understand myself, thus really helped with my anxiety problems. Many many thanks to God.

    1. I am so touched that I could be of help to your awakening!

  2. We all are fighting with our Nafs especially fighting with desire of greed that is mostly with food
    desire for vanity and show that is mostly concerned with public image prestige fame and name or looking good and beautiful to impress and attract opposite gender and then comes desire of lust which is hidden inside all of us and it comes up like a demon popping lustful thoughts in our minds and we have to fight against it. Every body wants bangalow cars and property and all material comforts of life like tv internet air condition ice-creams and nobody want to fight and refrain ourselves from that tandoori chicken which increases our greed and that new fashionable apparel which fixes your eyes.And then comes our chit chatting with friends, beauty parlor visits and shopping and hang out partying taking selfies having good laughs. Are we making any effort to fight with our nafs i think nobody is making any effort to fight with our nafs.
    Im really touched and i really want to make sincere efforts to fight with this enemy that is nafs.