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Volume V - Spiritual Liberty


Chapter I


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 to inactivity.

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.


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 part.

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 sun.

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.


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 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                  Desires

  • Earth                                        motion
  • Water                                      urination
  • Fire                                          thirst
  • Air                                           appetite
  • Ether                                        passion

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 one.

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 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 expression.

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 element.

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 produces peace.

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 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 entity.

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.


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 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 changing vision.

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 life.


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 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.

checked 18-Oct-2005