OUR PHYSICAL CONSTITUTION
Our physical body is constituted of the five chief elements,
which compose even the whole universe. The skin, flesh,
and bones show earth properties. The blood, perspiration,
and saliva represent the water element. The heat in the
body and the digestive fire in the system denote the fire
element. The breath and its inner work within the body,
which enable us to stretch and contract, and the power of
movement, which does not allow us to keep still for one
moment, represent the air element. The ether element in
us is that which controls our activities and gradually consumes
all other elements. It is for this reason, that a child
is more active, while and aged person is still and inclined
The above is a rough explanation of the different parts
of the body representing the different elements. They correspond
in the following way: the bones with the earth element;
the flesh with water; the blood with fire; the skin with
air; the hair with ether.
Bone is as void of sensation as the earth. The shrinking
and swelling of the muscles, the festering of the flesh,
and the effect of water on it both inwardly and outwardly,
prove that the flesh corresponds to the water element. The
circulation of the blood depends absolutely upon the degree
of heat; it flows as the fire element makes it. The air
influences the skin. In hot weather the skin becomes darker,
and in cold fairer; in rough weather it becomes rough, and
in fine weather smooth. All different shades of the skin
are mainly due to the climactic conditions of our place
of birth and dwelling. The hair corresponds with the ether
and is the least sensitive. If the hair is cut or burned
there is no sensation.
The outlet of each different kind of refuse is caused
by a certain element. The motion is caused by earth; urination
by the water element; perspiration by fire; saliva by air;
semen by ether.
THE MYSTICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BODY
Man's body may be divided into two parts: the head and
the body. The head represents Shuhud, the spiritual part,
and the body represents Wujud, the material part. In the
former, from the crown of the head to the chin is the expressive
part; in the latter, the upper half of the body is the expressive
Two parts of the body, the brain and the heart, are considered
to be the most important factors, for the scientist thinks
that the brain thinks and the orthodox believes that the
heart feels. In the view of the Sufi, both are wrong in
a way and right in a way. In fact, it is not that the brain
thinks, but the brain is the means by which the mind distinguishes
thought in its concrete form. Just as the piano does not
compose, but the composer tries his composition on the piano
and makes it clear to himself. It is not the camera, which
takes the photograph, but the light and the plate. The camera
is the medium for both, and so it is with the brain. By
disorder in the brain, the scientist says, man becomes unsound
in mind. But the Sufi holds that nothing is wrong with the
mind. It is the instrument through which the mind functions
that is out of order.
The same misconception exists among those who believe
that the heart feels. The heart, being the center of the
body, partakes of the effect of the feeling from within
– which is the real heart, not the piece of flesh – and
it feels suffocated and oppressed. Depression is felt as
a heavy load upon the breast. And when the heavy vibrations
are cleared, then especially a person has a feeling of joy
and his heart is lighter than usual. This explains the
Shaqq-i sadr, the opening of Muhammad's breast by
the angels, when fear, gloom, bitterness, and conceit were
all cleared away before the manifestation of divine revelation.
It is as the darkness clearing away at the rising of the
As the brain is the instrument of the mind, which is
invisible, and the heart of flesh is the vehicle of the
heart within, which is above substance, so it is the illumination
of the soul, our invisible being, whose light is reflected
within this physical body. When active it beams through
the eyes, through the radiance of the countenance, charging
the whole environment with a magnetic atmosphere. This light
being originated from sound, both light and sound echo in
the dome of the temple of this physical body, though neither
in reality belongs to it. To the Sufi, the seeker of the
self within, they are vouchsafed when he has control over
the gateways of this holy temple, the physical body. Then,
instead of reflecting outward through the expression, the
light and sound both manifest within.
THE NATURE OF THE SENSES AND THEIR ORGANS
There are five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste,
and touch. The senses of sight and hearing are the principal
ones, and of these two the principal is the sense of sight.
The sense of touch is perceived through the medium of the
skin, which represents the earth element, and is sensitive
to cold and heat. The sense of taste is perceived through
the medium of the tongue, which represents the water element;
all salt, sour and sweet, pungent and bitter tastes are
distinguished by it. The sense of smell is perceived through
the medium of the nose, the channel of the breath, which
alone can distinguish the odors and fragrances. The sense
of hearing represents the air, and is perceived through
the medium of the ears. The sense of sight represents ether,
and is perceived through the medium of the eyes, which in
this material body are the substance of the soul.
Each sense has its dual aspect, Jalal and Jamal, the
strong and the gentle aspects of life, which are represented
by the right and left side, their action being expressive
and responsive. Therefore, although the sense of sight is
one, the eyes are two; the sense of hearing is one, but
the ears are two. The sense of smell is one, and the nostrils
two. So it is with every sense. It is this dual aspect in
nature, which has caused the distinction of sex, for in
spirit the human is human, but as it approaches the surface
it becomes either male or female. The myth of Adam and Eve
expresses this to those who know: Eve coming out of Adam's
rib means that two came out of the one Spirit.
In reality, there is but one sense, and it is the direction
of its experience, which is perceived through a particular
channel. This being so, each experience is different from
the other. Therefore, we may call this sense the five senses,
although in reality it is one.
Whichever element predominates in a person's nature,
the sense relative to that element in him is the most active.
And as breath changes so many times throughout the day and
night, its element acts in accordance with the senses. This
is the cause of every demand of the senses. He who indulges
in any one of the senses makes that sense dull, just as
attar, kept all the time near oneself, dulls in time the
sense of smell, although it enslaves one to the smell of
attar. The same is the case with all the senses. The Sufi,
therefore, experiences life through the senses for the sake
of experience and not for indulgence, the former being mastery
and the latter, slavery.
THE SOURCE OF BODILY DESIRES
The source of our bodily desires is one: the breath.
When the breath leaves the body all desires leave it also.
And as the breath changes its elements, and the elements
– earth, water, fire, air, and ether – predominate in the
breath by turns, this being caused by the different grades
of activity in the breath, so the desires change. Therefore,
in a certain climate one feels hungry, and in certain weather
one feels thirsty, because the influence of weather on the
breath kindles in the breath more of a certain element.
The constitution of a person has a great deal to do with
his bodily desires. Naturally, a healthy person is often
hungry and thirsty. The unhealthy person, under the garb
of piety, may say, 'How material he is!'
All bodily desires show in the physiognomy of a person.
There is no desire without the influence of a particular
element behind it. Besides, everybody has a certain element
predominant in his physical being, and other elements in
a greater or lesser degree. Upon this each person's habits
and desires depend.
The following elements and desires correspond:
Elements in the Breath
There is always a possibility of confusing desire with
avidity, which is not a bodily desire, but the desire of
the mind that has experienced its joy through the bodily
desire. Even in the absence of the bodily desire, the mind
demands and forces the body to desire. In this aspect every
bodily desire is out of place and undesirable, and enslaves
The soul, during the satisfaction of every bodily desire,
descends to earth from above. That is what the myth of Adam
and Eve explains, when they were driven out of the heavens
and sent down to earth. This tells the seer that heaven
is the plane where the soul dwells freely in its own essence
and is self sufficient, and that the earth is the plane
where the soul experiences the passing joys through the
satisfaction of bodily desires depending upon external objects.
The soul becomes captive in this physical body, which
is subject to death and decay, and forgets the freedom and
peace of its original abode. That is why at times Sufis
experience the satisfaction of desires, and at times abstain
by the power of will, to allow the soul to experience its
original joy, being in its own essence, independent of mind
and body. By doing so the soul knows its first and last
dwelling-place, and it uses the body, its earthly abode,
to experience life on earth. It is as undesirable, according
to the Sufi's point of view, to kill the bodily desires
by absolute or partial renunciation, as to over-indulge
them and enslave one's life to them. The Sufi means to possess
the desires, not to be possessed by them.
THE SOURCE OF EMOTIONS
The source of our emotions is our breath, whose impurity
brings confusion and whose purity produces radiance. As
the breath changes from one to the other element it produces
in us an inclination towards a certain emotion. But according
to the power of our will we control or give in to its unruly
Every emotion has its color and its savor. One emotion
develops into the other, since the proportion of activity
of the mind, in its increase and decrease, produces emotions.
No emotion is undesirable so long as it is under the power
of the will, but when uncontrolled even the least effect
of it is a sin. Fear has the influence of the earth element.
Affection has the effect of the water element. Anger has
the effect of the fire element. Humor has the effect of
the air element and sadness has the effect of the ether
The nature of the elements is like colors. Light in the
color makes it pale and darkness in the color makes it deep.
So it is with the emotions: the light of intelligence makes
them faded, and the lack of intelligence makes them deeply
felt. With light, the influence of the earth element produces
caution. The influence of water with light produces benevolence.
The fire element with light produces ardor. The influence
of the air with light produces joy and ether with light
If you give in to an emotion, even only once and awhile,
remember that the other emotions, to which you may never
wish to give in, will also overpower you. Because it is
one energy which assumes, by the influence of the different
elements, the garb of different emotions. In fact, it is
one emotion. By controlling ourselves we control all things
in the world.
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE MIND
The mind is composed of five faculties. Even as our hand
has five fingers, the physical world has five chief elements,
which constitute it. As ether is an element separate from
earth, water, fire, and air, and yet contains all these
elements, so is the faculty which we call heart, a faculty
separate from the remaining four; and yet it contains the
four faculties within itself.
The special work of the heart is to feel and to produce
emotions out of itself. The second faculty is mind. Its
work is to think and to produce thoughts. The third faculty
is memory. Its work is to collect and to supply impressions.
The fourth is reason. Its work is to discriminate and to
decide things. The fifth faculty is the ego, which makes
one think of one's own person, and all else as a separate
The word, 'heart,' in metaphysics denotes the main center
of the mental plane. The piece of flesh which we term heart
is the sensitive part in us, which feels the effect of all
joy and pain before any other organ. From this center, the
breath carries on the work of spreading all energy throughout
the physical body. That is why the Sufi works through this
center in the physical body when he wishes to impress his
absolute self with a certain thought. But high development
lies in purifying the five faculties before mentioned by
the mystical process and in mastering them.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE MIND UPON THE BODY, AND
OF THE BODY UPON THE MIND
It is difficult at the first thought to say whether it
is the impression of the external part of ourselves which
forms the mind, or if it is the impression of the inner
part which forms the body. In reality, both do their work:
body makes mind and mind makes body. The mind makes a stronger
impression upon the body, and the body makes a clearer impression
upon the mind. The thought of illness brings illness to
the body. The thought of youth and beauty develops these
qualities. At the same time, cleanliness of the body helps
to bring purity to the mind. Strength of the body gives
courage to the mind.
Every change in the muscles and features takes place
under the influence of the mind. In other words, the mind
'paints' the picture of the body, its vehicle in life. Wrath,
hatred, jealousy, prejudice, bitterness, and all evil thoughts
work upon one's physical self even before manifesting themselves.
In the muscles of the features, in his face, every person
shows his follies, which can never be veiled from the eyes
of the seer. So it is with love, kindness, appreciation,
sympathy, and all good thoughts and feelings. All show in
one's face and form, and give evidence of one's goodness
against a thousand accusations.
Sin and virtue would have no effect upon a person if
the mind did not take in impressions. Nor would good or
evil thoughts work on the external body if impressions were
erased from the mind immediately. The sages in the East
have, therefore, mastered concentration, that by its help
they might be able to wipe off all that is undesirable,
since it is human to err. But one arrives at this power
by collecting all the good one can in the mind, so that
evil may be naturally repulsed. By constantly doing so,
one acquires mastery.
THE SOUL IN ITSELF ALONE
The soul in itself alone is not other than consciousness,
which is all pervading. But when the same consciousness
is caught in a limitation through being surrounded by elements,
in that state of captivity, it is called soul.
The Chinese use the simile of a bee when describing the
soul. It is symbolical, and really denotes the eye, the
pupil of which is like a bee. In other words, the nature
of the soul may be studied in the nature of the eye. All
things exposed to the eye are reflected in it for the moment.
When the eye is turned away, the reflection is in it no
more. It had received it for the moment only.,
Such is the nature of the soul. Youth, age, beauty, ugliness,
sin, or virtue, all these are before the soul when they
are exposed to it during the physical or mental existence.
The soul, interested in the reflection, may be for the time,
attracted and bound by the object reflected. But as soon
as the soul turns away it is free from it. Amir Minai, the
Hindustani poet, says, 'However fast I am bound by earthly
ties, it will not take a moment to break them. I shall break
them by changing sides.'
Every experience on the physical or astral plane is just
a dream before the soul. It is ignorance when it takes this
experience to be real. It does so because it cannot see
itself; as the eye sees all things, but not itself. Therefore,
the soul identifies itself with all things that it sees,
and changes its own identity with the change of its constantly
The soul has no birth, no death, no beginning, and no
end. Sin cannot touch it, nor can virtue exalt it. Wisdom
cannot open it up, nor can ignorance darken it. It has been
always and always it will be. This is the very being of
man, and all else is its cover, like a globe on the light.
The soul's unfoldment comes from its own power, which ends
in its breaking through the ties of the lower planes. It
is free by nature, and looks for freedom during its captivity.
All the holy beings of the world have become so by freeing
the soul, its freedom being the only object there is in
THE SOUL WITH MIND
The soul with mind is as water with salt. Mind comes
from soul as salt from water. There comes a time when mind
is absorbed into soul, as salt is dissolved in water. Mind
is the outcome of soul, as salt is the outcome of water.
Soul can exist without mind, but mind cannot exist without
soul. But the soul is purer without mind, and is covered
by the mind.
The mind covering the soul is as a globe: a sinful mind
makes the soul sinful, a virtuous mind makes the soul virtuous,
not in nature but in effect, as a red globe on the light
makes the light red, and a green globe makes it look green,
though, in reality, the light is neither green nor red.
It is devoid of color, color being only its garb.
The soul becomes happy when there is happiness in the
heart. It becomes miserable when there is misery in thought.
The soul rises high with the height of imagination. The
soul probes the depths with the depth of thought. The soul
is restless with the restlessness of the mind, and it attains
peace when the mind is peaceful. None of the above conditions
of mind changes the soul in its real nature, but for the
time being it seems to be so. The soul is a bird of paradise,
a free dweller in the heavens. Its first prison is the mind,
then the body. In these it becomes not only limited, but
also captive. The whole endeavor of a Sufi in life is to
liberate the soul from its captivity, which he does by conquering
both mind and body.
THE SOUL WITH MIND AND BODY
The body is the vehicle of the mind, formed by the mind.
As the mind, which is the vehicle for the soul, is formed
by the soul. The body, in other words, may be called a vehicle
of the vehicle. The soul is the life and personality in
both. The mind seems alive, not by its own life, but by
the life of the soul. So it is with the body, which appears
alive by the contact of the mind and the soul. When both
are separated from it, it becomes a corpse.
The question of whether the mind works upon the body
or the body works upon the mind may be answered thus: it
is natural that the mind should work upon the body, but
usually the body works upon the mind. This happens when
a person is drunk or when he is delirious with fever. In
the same way the relation of the soul and the mind may be
understood. It is natural that the soul must work on the
mind, but usually the mind works upon the soul.
The mind cannot do more than create an illusion of joy
or sorrow or knowledge or ignorance before the soul. What
the body can do to the mind is only to cause a slight confusion
for the moment, to accomplish its own desire without the
control of the mind. Therefore, all sin, evil, and wrong
is what is forced from the body on the mind and from the
mind on the soul. All that is virtuous and good, and right
is that which comes from the soul to the mind and from the
mind into the body. This is the real meaning of the words
in Christ's prayer, 'Thy will be done, on earth as it is
in heaven.' It means in other words, 'What Thou thinkest
in the soul, the mind should obey, and what Thou thinkest
in the mind, the body should obey.' This is so that the
body may not become the commander of the mind, and the mind
may not become the leader of the soul.
The soul is our real being, through which we realize
and are conscious of our life. When the body, owing to loss
of strength and magnetism, has lost its grip upon the mind,
the seeming death comes; that which everybody calls death.
Then the soul's experience of life remains only with one
vehicle, that is the mind, which contains within itself
a world of its own, photographed from one's experience on
earth on the physical plane. This is heaven if it is full
of joy, and it is hell if it is filled with sorrow. Feebleness
of mind, when it loses its grip on the soul, is purgatory.
When the mind has lost its grip, that is the end of the
world for that soul. But the soul is alive. It is the spirit
of the eternal Being, and it has no death. It is everlasting.