Drawing from Qur’anic verses, virtually all Sufis distinguish Lataif-as-Sitta (“the six subtleties”): Nafs, Qalb, Sirr, Ruh, Khafi, and Akhfa. These lataif (singular: latifa) designate various psychospiritual “organs” or, sometimes, faculties of sensory and suprasensory perception. They are thought to be parts of the self in a similar manner to the way glands and organs are part of the body.
In general, sufic development involves the awakening in a certain order these spiritual centers of perception that lie dormant in every person. Each center is associated with a particular color and general area of the body, as well as ofttimes with a particular prophet, and varies from Order to Order. The help of a guide is considered necessary to help activate these centers. The activation of all these “centers” is part of the inner methodology of the Sufi way or “Work”. After undergoing this process, the dervish is said to reach a certain type of “completion” or becomes a Complete Man.
These six “organs” or faculties, and the purificative activities applied to them, contain the basic orthodox Sufi philosophy. The purification of elementary passionate nature (Tazkiyat-an-Nafs), followed by cleansing of the spiritual heart so that it may acquire a mirror-like purity of reflection (Tazkiyat-al-Qalb) and become the receptacle of God’s love (Ishq), illumination of the spirit (Tajjali-ar-Ruh), fortified by emptying of egoic drives (Taqliyyat-as-Sirr) and remembrance of God’s attributes (Dhikr), and completion of journey with purification of the last two faculties, Khafi and Akhfa. Through these “organs” or faculties the transformative results from their activation, the basic Sufi psychology is outlined and bears some resemblance to the schemata known as the kabbalah or to some the Indian chakra system.
* 1 Latifat-an-Nafsi
* 2 Latifat-al-Qalbi
* 3 Latifat-ar-Ruhi
* 4 Latifat-as-Sirri
* 5 Latifat-al-Khafi
* 6 Latifat-al-Akhfa
This is technically not a bonafide latifa but is recognized as a location, namely slightly below the navel. This “center” is associated with the color yellow.
The word nafs is usually translated as self 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-centeredness 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 psycho-spiritual 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-e-Ammara (commanding soul), Nafs-e-lawwama (self-accusing soul), and ends in Nafs-e-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 first real center is located in the left of Chest and is associated with the color red. In Latifa-e-Qalbi man witnesses his deeds. By awakening it man also gets the knowledge of the realm of Jins.
The word Qalb, stands for heart. In Sufi terminology, this spiritual heart (not to be confused with the blood pumping organ) 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 central 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.
Qalb and Nafs form the “Rooh-e-haivani” (Animal Soul). This part of the soul has the record of every activity of life. It is also termed as Joviya (Confluence).
The second faculty is ruh, located in the right side of the chest and its color is white. After its activation the human gets acquainted with Alam-e-Aaraf (the place where man resides after death). This center is associated with the idea of “spirit.”
Ruh or spirit is 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 that 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.
The third faculty is Sirr, located in the solar plexus and is associated with the color green. It records the orders of Allah for the individual in similitude to that which is originally present in Loh-e-mehfooz (Preserved Scripturum). After its activation, human being gets acquainted with Aalam-e-Misal (The Allegorical realm – Reflection of knowledge of the preserved Scripturum.) This center is associated with consciousness.
Sirr, literally means “the secret”. 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.
Sirr and Rooh form “Rooh-e-Insani (Human soul) or Ayan. This part of the soul is inscribed with commands characterizing the life. It is also termed as Ayan. When a human being gets acquainted with it, he can witness the record and scheme of “all that exists”, written on loh-e-mahfooz.
It is located in the middle of the forehead (between the eyes or third eye position) and is associated with blue. It’s the equivalent of Kitab-e-Marqoom (the written book).
The term Khafi means mysterious, arcane or Latent Subtlety. It represents intuition.
The term Akhfa or ikhfa means most arcane, deeply mysterious, or obscure, subtlety. Its location is deep inside the brain or on center-top of the head. The color of this center is black. It’s the Nuqta-e-wahida (point of unity) in every human where the Tajalliat (beatific visions) of Allah are directly revealed. It contains information about the hidden knowledge of the universe. By entering into this point, the human being enters the system of the universe and laws governing the universe and he understands the meaning of ” for you we(allah) have revealed whatever is in the earth and the heavens “. This center is associated with deep perception.
The last center or subtlety is “accessible only to those who have developed the others, and belongs to the real sage.” (see “The Sufis” by Idries Shah).
Akhfa and khafa form “Rooh-e-azam” (the great soul), also called sabita. It is a bright ring of light in which all the information pertaining to the unseen and seen cosmos is inscribed. The Attributes of God that have been transferred to the existents and have become parts of the mechanism of the universe are collectively known as the Incumbent Knowledge (Ilm-e-wajib). Knowledge of the Incumbent means knowledge that has been transferred to the existents, that is, it refers to those Attributes of God with which existents enjoy affinity and correlation. The Knowledge of the Incumbent is also known as the Knowledge of the Pen (Ilm-e-Qalum).
First Descent is that state when God exhibited the program present in His Mind as He Willed. The creative formulae of the cosmos are the secrets of the First Descent. Why did God opt to create the universe and what is the Will of God, which He intends to accomplish? Reflection of all these things is found in the Great Soul; The Firmly Affixed Inscription. One side of Great Soul is the Obscure Subtlety (akhfa) and the other side is the Latent Subtlety (khafi) Great Soul is the storehouse of eleven thousand beatific visions of God. The person who attains communion with these two subtleties can observe these visions. These two subtleties of akhfa and khafi are found in every human being irrespective of who he is, what he is, or his station in life.
“Great Soul”, “Human Soul”, and “Animal Soul” are actually levels of functioning of the same soul and are not three different souls. These three components are like three rings of light infused in one another and are collectively called the soul, the indivisible entity, the Lord’s edict, or simply the man. Man gets acquainted with them one by one by Muraqaba ( Sufi Meditation), Dhikr (Remembrance of God) and purification of one’s psyche/life from negative thinking patterns (fear, depression), negative emotions (hate, contempt, anger, lust) and negative practices (hurting others psychologically or physically). Loving God and loving/helping every human being irrespective of his race, religion, or nationality, and without consideration for any possible reward, is the key to ascension according to Sufis.