Spiritual Health - Spiritual Essays - Science

Interrogative Imperative Institute

The Sufi mystical path (tasawwuf) involves a process of purification under the guidance of an authentic (properly authorized) spiritual guide or master that focuses on different spiritual potentials within human beings,

and if that process is successfully completed, may lead, if God wishes, to the realization of one's essential identity as well as to the active expression of one's unique spiritual capacity to know, love, and serve Divine purpose.


The general impression of many people not involved with the Sufi path is that mysticism is far removed from the sort of rigorous methodology which characterizes modern science. In point of fact, this impression is completely wrong.

Descriptions of modern science tend to vary somewhat from person to person. This descriptive variance is true even within the sciences.

Nonetheless, there are certain basic themes which usually are entailed in all of these descriptions, irrespective of whatever other differences there may be in such descriptions. These core currents in the scientific process are probably seven in number:

(1) science is rooted in empirical observation;
(2) an emphasis on instrumentality, both for purposes of the detection and measurement of various phenomena;
(3) the central role of recursive methodology;
(4) the need for objectivity;
(5) the issue of consensus among a community of knowers;
(6) the requirement of replication;
(7) the desirability of prediction.

All of the foregoing elements are present in the Sufi mystical path. The discussion which follows is merely an overview of what is meant by the foregoing methodological principles in the context of the Sufi science of mysticism.

The empirical roots of the Sufi path come in many forms. Not only do the normal, external sensory channels provide empirical data, there are internal channels of empirical data as well.

Dreams, hal (mystical states), maqam (spiritual stations), Kashf (mystical unveilings), and ilham (flashes of Divine intuition) also provide infinite sources of empirical data. Furthermore, these internal sources of empirical data come in different manifested forms of intensity and certainty.

As is true in the case of modern sciences, there is a considerable difference between the empirical character of the reports of a trained observer and the reports of an untrained individual. For example, not everyone who looks at an X-ray or who examines a photograph of the traces of a sub-atomic event can correctly interpret this empirical data. Similarly, not everyone who undergoes a mystical dream, state, station or unveiling is able to understand, correctly, the empirical data to which such experiences give expression.

The Sufi path provides an intense program of training its adherents to be competent, exacting, empirical observers. The intensity and rigor of this program rivals, if not exceeds, anything which modern science offers in the way of training its observers.

Modern science employs a variety of instruments in its pursuit of understanding. On the one hand, there are what might be termed "natural" instruments such as logic, reason, and mathematics. On the other hand, there are different kinds of external apparatus or instruments used in the detection and measurement of various phenomena.

The Sufi mystical path employs, as well, a variety of instruments. In addition to the instrumental capabilities of the mind (e.g., logic, reasoning) which mysticism shares in common with modern science, there also are other instruments available to the mystic quest for understanding.

According to Sufi masters, the heart (the spiritual entity, not the physical object) is the locus of gnosis. This provides a direct, conceptually unmediated engagement of different dimensions of Divine reality.

Another instrument spoken of by Sufi masters is the sirr or mystery. The sirr is said to be the locus of spiritual witnessing with respect to whatever God may disclose to the individual.

A fourth modality of instrumentation comes through the ruh or spirit. Sufi masters describe the spirit as being the locus of love for Divinity. The love of the spirit enables the individual to experience, know and understand life, identity and one's relationship with Divinity in a manner which is different from, but supplemental to, the other spiritual instruments of mind, heart and sirr.

A further instrument of the Sufi path is referred to as the kafi or hidden. The kafi is described as being the locus of manifestation for the spiritual illumination, wisdom, knowledge and understanding which comes through encounters with the Divine lights and colors of a certain realm of God's Dominion.

Beyond the Kafi, there is further potential for spiritual instrumentation capable of engaging still further dimensions of Reality. These concern certain modalities of Divine mysteries and secrets which are breathed into the essential capacity of human beings from the Spirit of God.

The instruments of modern science must all be calibrated to be of value. This also is the case on the Sufi path. Mystical instruments, like their physical counterparts, only produce reliable results after a process of calibration in which a variety of instrument adjustments are necessary to eliminate various sources of distortion and inconsistent readings.

Modern science employs a recursive methodology which entails a series of repetitive steps that, hopefully, permits one, to come closer and closer to the true character of some aspect of reality being encountered through experience. In effect, one feeds the results from one cycle of repetitive, methodological steps back into the next cycle of such steps in order to generate improved accuracy, understanding, and so on, over time.

On the Sufi path, recursive methodology plays a key role. One starts out by, if God wishes, cleansing, balancing and transforming the ego or false self through repetitive cycles of prayer, fasting, charity and so on. This constitutes the first set of repetitive steps.

One takes the results from the first application of recursive methodology concerning the ego and proceeds, God willing, to purify the heart through zikr or remembrance of God. This is a second cycle of repetitive steps which builds on the accomplishments of the first cycle.

The next set of repetitive steps involves the sirr or mystery. If God wishes, through a process referred to, by Sufi masters, as emptying the sirr of other than God, the understanding of the individual is further supplemented and complemented.

A further cycle of the process of recursive methodology is encountered when, God willing, the spirit undergoes the perfection of its spiritual potential. Once again, the application of recursive methodology through the process of perfecting the spirit brings the individual, by the grace of God, to a deeper, fuller, richer understanding of different dimensions of the reality of Being.

To be objective, one needs to eliminate as many sources of bias, prejudice, distortion and error as is possible. The search for truth must be freed from all forces which would compromise the integrity of that search.

Sufi masters outline two major expressions of objectivity on the mystical path. The first concerns the condition known as "fana".

Fana occurs when the false self dissolves before the Presence of Divinity. Since the false self is a major source of error and distortion, the condition of fana enhances the degree of objectivity in one's engagement of Reality.

The second source of objectivity on the Sufi path comes through the spiritual condition of "baqa". This condition occurs when the true self and essential capacity of the individual become established.

In a sense, baqa is a spiritual version of an unobtrusive measure. In baqa one sees by the vision of God and one hears by the hearing of God, and so on. Consequently, there is nothing which one does which intrudes into the engagement of experience and distorts the nature of that experience.

There is a limiting factor in the foregoing which is a function of the spiritual capacity of the individual. One cannot experience or know more than one has the capacity to experience and know.

Spiritual capacity, however does not distort or introduce error. Whatever is experienced is true and real as far as it goes. On the other hand, the spiritual experience, knowledge and understanding made possible, by the grace of God, through the full realization of one's spiritual capacity do not exhaust what can be experienced, known or understood with respect to Divine realities.

The community of knowers in modern science plays an important role in considerations of methodology and evaluation. The community of knowers establishes the parameters of agreement and permitted disagreement within which the process of science is to be conducted.

There is a similar community of knowers in the Sufi mystical tradition. Unlike modern science, however, the essence of what is agreed upon by the mystical community of knowers has not changed since the inception of such a community.

The Sufi mystical community of knowers consists of all the Sufi masters of the path, both present and past. All of these masters are in agreement concerning the structural character of human beings and what is necessary to work toward the full realization of the essential, spiritual nature and capacity of the human being.

Sufi masters do not always share the same understanding in all matters. Like their counterparts in the community of knowers in modern science, not all Sufi masters are equal in spiritual capacity.

Nevertheless, irrespective of whatever differences in spiritual capacity exist among Sufi masters, none of this affects the agreement about the general character of what constitutes spiritual progress on the path. One goes from: seeking, to finding, to gnosis of, to loving, to fana, and, finally, to unity in Divinity.

Different people may experience these stages in self-similar rather than self-same ways. However, the essence of Oneness remains in the midst of these differences.

The issue of replication is at the heart of modern science. If the results of a research project cannot be repeated by other investigators, the original research cannot be confirmed and, therefore, lacks scientific credibility and reliability.

The procedures for setting up and carrying out a given line of inquiry must be clearly stated. This is necessary so that any qualified and competent researcher can follow those procedures and produce a result which reflects, within certain allowable limits of difference, the outcome of the original research.

The process of replication is also central to the Sufi mystical path. Indeed, the nature of the mystical path is itself the process of replication which clearly has been described by all competent and qualified spiritual researchers who have preceded one on that path.

If one follows the procedures and methods indicated, then, God willing, one will arrive at the same sort of outcome and conclusions as did the original researchers. These results are expressions of universal laws concerning the inherent nature of the relationship between human beings and Divinity.

Finally, although not all sciences exhibit the capacity to predict, on the basis of known principles, how certain phenomena will unfold over time, mystical science does have this capability. However, for a variety of reasons, Sufi masters often will not indulge others or themselves with public exhibitions of their God given gifts to predict how events will unfold.

There are many well documented accounts of the ability of Sufi masters and Sufi saints to tell what will happen before a given event manifests itself in the physical world. There are also well known accounts of the ability, by the grace of God, of various practitioners of the Sufi path to be able to describe, and, subsequently, have corroborated, what is going on, simultaneously, at considerable distance from them.

Above and beyond such favors of God, there is a precision to the predictive understanding which Sufi masters have concerning the effect on the individual of different spiritual practices, or lack thereof. This understanding comes from the light of God and allows the Sufi master to be able to guide initiates along the mystical path, with precision, as a result of that understanding.

According to Sufi masters, there are different levels of reality. The lowest realm concerns the world of corporeal bodies. This is known as Nasut.

Next, comes the realm of the souls of all created things. This is the level of Malakut.

Beyond this is the realm of Jabrut. This level concerns the Attributes of Divinity.

After the realm of Jabrut, is the level of Lahut. This concerns the fixed forms of non-existence which, if God wishes, are given reflected existence through the Divine command of creation: "Kun! (Be)".

Beyond the realm of Lahut, is Hahut. This is the Divine Essence which makes all the other levels possible.

For the most part, modern science only explores the lowest realm of existence - namely, Nasut, which is the realm of corporeal bodies. Modern physical science, unlike mystical science, has no capacity to explore any of the other realms of Being.

Unfortunately, all too many physical scientists rationalize the foregoing limitation by dismissing the other realms as being irrelevant to the process of science. Mystical scientists (i.e., Sufi masters) indicate that, in very fundamental ways, such realms are not irrelevant to the process of science.

In fact, according to practitioners of the Sufi path, the very first act one must perform in order to seek the truth is to cleanse and purify the self. As such, science, of whatever kind, is, in essence, a moral and spiritual activity.

Scientific methodology has value and appeal precisely because, among other things, it gives expression to a way of trying to preserve the integrity of the scientific process and protect the results of that process from being compromised and rendered unreliable. Mystical science pursues the value and appeal of such methodology to its furthest limits of possibility.

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