The term "Sufi psychology" is probably a deceptive one, because it implies that there is a relatively homogenous doctrine of the psyche the majority of the Sufis would subscribe to. It is not the case. However, one can point out the terms most frequently used and expound on the meanings of these notions.
Drawing from Qur'anic verses, virtually all Sufis distinguish between Nafs, Qalb, Sirr and Ruh. These concepts designate various psychospiritual "organs" or, sometimes, faculties of sensory and suprasensory perception.
Nafs is usually translated as soul or psyche. Its etymology is rooted in "breath" (similar to Biblical or Kabbalistic nefesh and is common to virtually all archaic psychologies where the act of breathing was connected with life, animating otherwise lifeless object. In this respect, ancient notions of "Atman" in Hinduism (cf. German noun "Atem", breath, respiration) or Greek "pneuma" (as well as Latin "spiritus")-all equate the basic visible process of breathing with energizing principle that confers existence to an individual human being. Some Sufis consider under the term "Nafs" the entirety of psychological processes, encompassing whole mental, emotional and volitional life; however, the majority of Quranic-based Sufis are of the opinion that Nafs is a "lower", egotistical and passionate human nature which, along with Tab (literally, physical nature), comprises vegetative and animal aspects of human life. Synonyms for Nafs are devil, passion, greed, avarice, ego-centredness etc. The central aim of the Sufi path is transformation of Nafs (technical term is "Tazkiya-I-Nafs" or "purgation of the soul") from its deplorable state of ego-centredness through various psychospiritual stages to the purity and submission to the will of God. Although the majority of the Sufi orders have adopted convenient 7 maqams (maqams are permanent stages on the voyage towards spiritual transformation), and some still operate with 3 stages, the picture is clear: the Sufi’s journey begins with Nafs-I-Ammare (self-accusing soul) and ends in Nafs-I-Mutma’inna (satisfied soul)-although some Sufis’s final stage is, in their technical vocabulary, Nafs-I-Safiya wa Kamila (soul restful and perfected in God’s presence). In essence, this is almost identical to Christian paradigm of "vita purgativa" and various stages the spiritual aspirant traverses in the journey towards God.
The next term, Qalb, stands for heart. In Sufi terminology, this spiritual heart (not to be confused with the pump in the breast ) is again variously described. For some, it is the seat of beatific vision. Others consider it the gate of Ishq or Divine love. Yet, for the majority, it is the battleground of two warring armies: those of Nafs and Ruh or spirit. Here, one again encounters terminological confusion: for the Sufis influenced by Neoplatonism, a "higher" part of Nafs is equated to the Aql or intellect (called Nafs-I-Natiqa) or "rational soul" and is the cental active agent in spiritual battle: Ruh or spirit, notwithstanding its name, is rather passive in this stage. In short, cleansing of the Qalb or heart is a necessary spiritual discipline for travellers on the Sufi path. The term for this process is Tazkiah-I-Qalb and the aim is the erasure of everything that stands in the way of purifying God’s love or Ishq.
The third faculty is Sirr, or "the secret", located for the majority in the middle of the chest. Emptying of the Sirr (Taqliyya-I-Sirr) is basically focusing on God’s names and attributes in perpetual remembrance or Dhikr, hence diverting one’s attention from the mundane aspects of human life and fixing it on the spiritual realm. The "emptying" signifies negation and obliteration of ego-centred human propensities.
Ruh or spirit is the fourth "entity" and the second contender in the battle for human life. Again, opinions on Ruh differ among Sufis. Some deem it coeternal with God; others consider it a created entity. Be as it may, Ruh is the plateau of consensus for the majority of Sufis, especially the early ones ( before 11th/12th century C.E. ). For those Sufis with Gnostic leanings (which can be found in Bektashi or Mevlevi orders), Ruh is a soul-spark, immortal entity and transegoic "true self", similar to the Christian concepts of "synteresis" or "Imago Dei", or Vedantist notion of "jiva", as well as Tibetan Buddhist "shes-pa", principle of consciousness and Taoist "shen" or spirit. But, the majority of the Sufis would consider this an unnecessarily extravagant speculation and would stick to the more orthodox notion of dormant spiritual faculty that needs to be worked upon by constant vigil and prayer in order to achieve the Tajliyya-I-Ruh, or Illumination of the spirit. Ironically, this spiritual faculty is frequently referred to in terms one encounters in connection with Nafs- "blind" life force or life current that needs to be purified by strict religious observances in order to achieve illumination.
So, in these four "organs" or faculties: Nafs, Qalb, Sirr and Ruh, and the purificative activities applied to them, the basic orthodox Sufi psychology is contained. The purification of elementary passionate nature (Tazkiya-I-Nafs), followed by cleansing of the spiritual heart so that it may acquire a mirror-like purity of reflection (Tazkiya-I-Qalb) and become the receptacle of God’s love (Ishq), fortified by emptying of egoic drives (Taqliyya-I-Sirr) and remembrance of God’s attributes (Dhikr), gloriously ending in illumination of the spirit (Tajjali-I-Ruh)- this is the essential Sufi spiritual journey. Other spiritual faculties, like Khafi (the arcane) and Akhfa (the most arcane) are employed in other Sufi orders like Naqshbandi, but this is beyond general basic consensus.
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