The Sufi Journey: Key Concepts


This post is an introduction to a series I am beginning where I explore Yoga through the lens of the classical Sufi journey. One travels the journey by moving through states and stations, ascending the heavens of the world and self until one reaches the divine presence and experiences full integration and union.

Before beginning on the various levels, states and stations of the soul’s heavenly ascent in upcoming posts, I thought I would tell you a story that will help elucidate many of the concepts you need to know. This story is a Sufi allegory for the spiritual ascent of the soul to the divine presence, extracted from The Pond of Life, a Sufi Yoga manual that inspired my own journey. Keywords are in bold.

The Story of the Soul and her Union with her Self

I was in the old quarter of my country, the home of my parents and grandparents. The ruler summoned me and said, “You are not fit to inhabit my land until you travel to the populated country, which is on the borderlands of my property. Do not forget your oath to me. When you arrive, you will find me there. Ask my vizier for its description.”

I travelled to that land and, when I arrived at the gate, I found the vizier. I greeted him. He responded in greeting to me. Then I said, “My lord commanded me to travel to the populated country.” He responded, “Truly, in your travels you will encounter great hardship and obstacles, and in your return to us you will encounter hardships more severe than that. I fear that you may forget your oath and remain for eternity aching in separation, forever distant from the divine communion of lovers.” I said, “Still, I must travel to it. So describe its path to me.”

He said, “Listen and heed my words, and do not forget the oath. The first hardship you will encounter is two seas: they are the breath and disposition. Then you will encounter seven mountains filled with calamities. Then you will find a path that is narrower than the eye of an ant. You will walk on your head in the populated land. There you will find two roads: the outward and the hidden.”

So I travelled and I traversed the two seas, the mountains, the obstacles, and I reached that path that he mentioned. I remained in it for a long period of time until I approached and entered my destination. I remained there for a while. I could not recall my oaths. As I circled its outward and hidden areas, I reached the master of the land who was seated upon the throne of a king.  So I greeted him, and he responded in greeting. I spoke to him, and he spoke to me. Everything I did and said, he, too, would do and say. I glanced at him again and realized he was me. The master was my reflection. This situation awakened me and reminded me of my oaths. As I was in this bewilderment, I found the vizier of my lord who directed me and to whom I swore my oath. He took me by my hand and said, “Dive into this water.” He brought forth the Water of Life. When I dove into it, I understood all of the symbols that he brought forth, and I found the Creator, my Lord, after realizing the meaning of the signs. I thus no longer needed them.

Then he said to me, “You are one of us.” He conveyed to me glad tidings of my communion with Her, and told me I would return to my land of origin, safe and sound.

So when I raised my head from the entanglement with the world, I found the vizier. He was my master, who was actually me: the inverted vizier. I remained in a state of bewilderment. Amidst this bewilderment, my master pointed to the thread of a spider’s silk web, then broke it into two, then rejoined it as one. Then he said: The one that is in the one is one. And I found my self to be him, and I was his invert.

All these are allusions and symbols pointing to the river of everlasting felicity. This cannot be completed nor attained except by way of gnosis of the self: the rational, distinguished, contemplative soul. By means of reflection upon one’s actions, the bestial human being can transcend herself.

Key concepts for our journey (Many resonate with other belief systems and esoteric doctrines):

The Land of Origin and “the Populated Country”:

Sufi belief holds that all beings originally dwelt in the presence of the divine, fully imbued in the sacred, only to descend into earthly life (the populated country) with an oath to return to the divine and be holy once more. The purpose of the descent in Sufi thought is for the full manifestation of divinity so that, upon return, God comes to know Herself through reflecting Her qualities perfectly through all beings. Thus, the purpose of existence from the Sufi human perspective is to ascend back into the divine so as to perfect existence and fulfill true Self-knowledge.

Hardships and Obstacles

As one begins to tread the Sufi path of self-realization, one necessarily encounters hardships and obstacles along the way. In Sufi belief, hardships are necessary as the process of realization is an alchemical process that requires the pain and affliction of a purifying fire in order for base mettle to emerge as pure and whole gold. Thus, in Sufi and Islamic belief, every challenge in our lives is actually a tool to purify oneself and find within oneself self-expression as a higher being, preparing the soul for the reception of the felicity of being in the presence of God.

Separation and Divine Communion

The Sufis believe that all suffering in the world arises from the fact that we are lovers separated from our Divine Beloved, longing to return but not witnessing to (or rather forgetting) the fact that we are already one with our Beloved. Thus, the Sufi journey is a return, but in reality it is un “unveiling” of the fact that we are already and forever will be in communion with the divine presence.

The Water of Life

The Water of Life is a metaphor for wisdom that cleanses the soul and cures its blindness so that it may witness the divine.

The Inverted Self

The vizier, the master and the traveler are really all the same being in the story–again pointing to the idea that all beings participate in the divine presence and the Sufi journey being a realization of oneness.  The human soul is the inverted version of the divine in that it is a mirror for the divine, and so represents an image of the divine that is inverted as your image would be in a mirror. The soul has to turn back on itself to see its true Self again.

“The one that is in the one is one”

The central tenet of Islam, and therefore Sufism, is that God is One (tawhid). This is part of the testimony one must undertake to become both a Muslim and a Sufi. Some Sufis understand the testimony of faith in Islam, “There is no god but God,” to truly mean, “Nothing exists beside God,” as in “All in reality is just God.” The Sufi path can thus be understood as a realization of oneness through purifying the soul and uniting with the divine presence.

The Seven Mountains

Although Sufis conceptualize the heavenly ascent in many different ways, many common descriptions of the Sufi path depict seven stations and seven or more states that a spiritual wayfarer must traverse and experience before reaching enlightenment. A common Sufi roadmap includes:

Stations (maqamat) – What you work towards and achieve on the path

  1. Repentance
  2. Scrupulousness (discernment)
  3. Renunciation
  4. Poverty
  5. Patience
  6. Trust (surrender)
  7. Contentment

States (these often occur in pairs) – What you experience and receive on the path

  1. Proximity and distance
  2. Expansion and Contraction
  3. Love
  4. Fear and hope
  5. Longing
  6. Intimacy
  7. Tranquility
  8. Witnessing
  9. Certainty

This is the roadmap we will be following, alternating between stations and states (so the first post will examine a station and the second will examine a state and so on).

Our first station is Repentance: the starting point of any journey, when one turns inwards, leaving behind one’s old life and envisioning a new one

Peace and blessings,

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(P.S. Apologies if this post was a bit dry! The Sufi path is, above all, experiential. It’s not to be talked about but to be lived. So now that the talking is out of the way, I’m excited to explore the path with you through my yoga! If you have any questions, comments, concerns or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to let me know!)



22 thoughts on “The Sufi Journey: Key Concepts

  1. I’m in a rush and just glanced through this quickly but I already have goosebumps and butterflies. I am going to finish my appointments and rush back to read this and take it all in…. I can wait for the series to begin…. good one ( i need to slow down…. in everything…i need to overcome my two seas…breathe and disposition… and I know somehow this will help…

    Thanks again!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Definitely! The Sufi Yogis weren’t shy about sharing in the wisdom explored in Hindu philosophy 🙂 I think it’s a beautiful example of spiritual and intellectual exchange between transforming cultures. Thank you for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel that each individual, through the process of spiritual evolution and rebirth, goes through the same stages towards enlightenment. And I commend you for your study of Sufism and Yoga, a personal blend of Abrahamic faith, mysticism, and lived religion is right on and should be more wellknown.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your insight and gentle encouragement! Warmest wishes to you and may you be blessed on your own journey!


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