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Sufism and Psychoanalysis

    A Comparison Between Sufism and Psychoanalysis

    by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh

    A seeker starts his search for a master after he senses his own incompleteness and feels the urge to reach perfection. Upon finding a master, the seeker surrenders himself to the master's will and becomes his disciple (morid); in this way he may pass through the stages of perfection and finally reach the state of the "Perfected One" (insan-i kamil).

    The spiritual bond which links the disciple to the master through this process is known as iradah. Although literally the word iradah means to want, will, or intend, among the sufis iradah signifies the negation of one's own will before that of the master. In a similar way, while the literal meaning of the word morid (disciple) is one who possesses will, the sufis paradoxically consider a morid to be one who has no will of his own. Thus, as long as a person has not surrendered his will, he is not qualified to be called a morid.

    While finding a perfect master depends upon both searching for him and being able to recognize him, the encounter between the master and disciple comes about for the most part (and perhaps completely) in an unconscious way. It is an affair of the heart and of a purely spiritual nature.

    The spiritual psychology of the sufis recognizes two basic kinds of unconsciousness: the heart (del) and the "commanding self" (nafs-i 'ammara).

    The heart is considered to be a divine gift. It is often likened to a mirror which must be cleansed of the rust of the natural and material world until it becomes polished and reflects the Truth. In it reside Love (' ishq), compassion, self-sacrifice, spiritual nobility, purity, and goodness. In the words of the Prophet, "the heart inbetween the two fingers of the Merciful. "

    The "commanding self," on the other hand, is the force or power that drives man to satisfy his animal, sexual, and aggressive instincts: it is the source of all man's baseness and impurity. In reference to this, the Qur'an states, "Surely the soul of man ('am mara) incites to evil, except inasmuch as my Lord has mercy" (12:53). In order to return to the Truth, the "commanding self" must be transformed first into the "blaming self" (nafs-i lawwama) and then into the "self-at-rest" (nafs-i mutma'ina). The "blaming self" seeks perfection and reproaches the "commanding self" for its passional and animal tendencies. The "self-at-rest" ha found peace and arrived at perfection as expressed in the Qur'anic verse, "O Self-at-Rest, return to your Lord, well-pleased (with Him), (and) He well-pleased with Thee" (89:28).

    The discipline and spiritual method of the tariqat gradually purify the heart, bringing forth its spiritual qualities, and at the same time transmute the nafs-i 'ammara or "commanding self." When the sufi attains a purified heart, he will also attain the nafs-i mutma'ina, the "self-at-rest." It is in this regard that great sufis have said, "Sufism is the abandonment of the self to servitude (rubudiyyah) and the attachment of the heatt to the Divine Lordship (rububiyyah).

    The Particular Intellect and Universal Intellect
    There are two kinds of intellect in sufi terminology: the particular intellect (aql-i juz'i) and the universal intellect (aqli kulli). The particular or acquired intellect is used in one's daily life and profits from what is learned in one's material existence. When necessary, human beings use the particular intellect as an instrument to guard against the dangers of the environment and to dominate nature. At the same time, the particular intellect serves to keep the "commanding self" within the framework of social customs and mores and the laws and principles of exoteric religion, subjugating and controlling the nafs-i 'ammara when it becomes wild and unruly. The particular intellect, however, can never be a guide towards the Truth. To expect it to perform such a lofty task is an utter absurdity. In the words of Rumi:

    The acquired intelligence is like the conduits
    which run into a house from the streets:
    (If) its (the house's) water-way is blocked,
    it is without any supply (of water).
    Seek the fountain from within yourself!

    Rumi has also said:

    Imagination and opinion are the bane of the particular reason
    because its dwelling-place is in the darkness.
    Mathnawi (Vol. IV, p. 87)

    And in another passage of the Mathnawi, he says:

    The particular intellect is not the intellect (capable) of production;
    it is only the receiver of science and is in need (of teaching).
    Mathnawf (Vol IV, p. 344)

    When the heart has become cleansed of the rust of multiplicity, it will reflect the Truth as It is. The person who possesses such a heart is called a "Perfected One," and the source of the Perfected One's knowledge - a knowledge devoid of any delusion, error, self-love, or profit-seeking - is called the universal intellect or "heart-consciousness." In fact, the one who possesses such an intellect can himself be referred to as the universal intellect:

    The universal intellect and universal soul are the man of God.
    Do not imagine that the Throne and Pedesta
    are separate from him.
    Since his pure essence is the manifestation of God,
    search for God in him and in no one else.
    Rumi, Mathnawi

    It is in this state that the Perfected One, who has attained the universal intellect, negates everything other than God and with the aid of Love affirms only Him. In the words of Shah Ni'matullah, "the intellect negates everything other than God, so that Love can affirm Him."

    Love and Intellect
    It is very common in sufi literature for Love to be praised and the intellect disparaged. Of course, what is being disparaged in these instances is only the particular intellect and not the universal intellect with which it is not to be confused. As Rumi has pointed out:

    The particular intellect has given the (universal) intelligence a bad name;
    Worldly desire has deprived the (worldly) man of his desire (for the world hereafter).
    Mathnawi(Vol. VI, p. 30)

    What the sufis have meant by Love is nothing but the perfection and intensity of iradah, the motivating force of the heart and the fire of the heart's longing. It is by such a force, and not by the particular intellect, that the heart reaches perfection. Obviously, the particular intellect is dependent upon the perceptions of the senses and the experiences of life. Love, however, is a divine gift and blessing. It is not surprising, therefore, that in every age those who have followed the particular intellect exclusively, such as jurisprudents and ascetics, have denied the lovers of the Divine Beloved and considered them to be misled. As Rumi has noted:

    Partial (discursive) reason is a denier of Love,
    though it may give out that it is a confidant.
    Mathnawi (Vol. II, p. 107)

    The sufis, on the other hand, have always accepted those who denied them, for they have considered such men to be prisoners of the particular intellect, not only ignorant of Love but unaware of their own ignorance.

    The Transference Phenomenon
    According to psychoanalysts, the creation of the relationship between a patient and analyst is a crucial element of the therapeutic process. Freud termed this phenomenon "transference." Under certain circumstances an individual being analyzed transfers his past to the person of the therapist. H. Racker has explained, "Freud denominated 'transference' the entirety of the patient's psychological phenomena and processes referred to the analyst and derived from the other previous object relations."

    In transference, a relationship is formed between the analyst and patient in which the latter becomes obedient to the former and puts his trust in him. This obedience and surrendering of trust, which stem from the child's relationship to his parents, are used in the psychoanalytic situation as a therapeutic instrument. By virtue of the new relationship that is formed, the analyst comes to be perceived as a person to be relied upon. Such a relationship usually occurs spontaneously at some point in the course of therapy and is indispensable for any real therapeutic progress to take place. As Freud explains:

    We observe that the patient, who ought to be thinking of nothing but the solution of his own distressing conflicts, begins to develop a particular interest in the person of the physician. Everything connected with this person seems to him more important than his own affairs and to distract him from his illness.

    The Differences Between Transference and Iradah
    When the bond of iradah brings master and disciple together, the disciple unconsciously projects his image of the ideal person upon the master and transfers his feelings and worldly passions to him. In this way, the disciple comes to fully accept the master and surrender his total being to him. The question arises of whether or not this phenomenon is what Freud has called transference.

    As noted earlier, the term iradah is used in sufi terminology to describe what takes place when God establishes a bond between the heart of the disciple and that of the master. It has been said, "The reality of iradah is the motion of the heart in search of the Truth." In order to determine whether or not iradah is the same as transference, we must distinguish between two different kinds of iradah. One, which can be called iradah only in the loosest sense, is the iradah of those who are dominated by the "commanding self," that is, of those who suffer from the sickness of the self. Such patients practice iradah firstly and essentially because of the demands of the carnal self, and secondly and apparently because of the judgement of the particular intellect. It is only this kind of iradah that can be related to the transference of psychoanalysis.

    The second kind of iradah is the iradah of the lovers of the Truth who practice it in relation to a spiritual master, first by virtue of the guidance of God, and second because of the approval of the heart. Only in such instances can the sufi term iradah be accurately applied.

    On the basis of what has been said here we can conclude:

    Transference is the establishment of an appropriate relationship between the patient and the analyst which may result in curing the patient and bringing him to the state of a "normal" person. Iradah, on the other hand, is a spiritual relationship between master and disciple for the purpose of elevating the state of a normal person to that of the "Perfected One."

    Transference is the establishment of a relationship with an analyst to fulfill the desires of the self (nafs-i am.m.ara); iradah is love of another person established to escape from self-love.

    The transference phenomenon demands the choosing of an appropriate listener to listen to the words of a self-worshipping speaker, while iradah requires becoming a listener qualified to learn how to worship the Truth.

    Finally, transference is a material, relative, and temporal phenomenon, while iradah is spiritual, absolute, and eternal.

    Fana Fi'l-Shaikh
    One of the stages in Sufism is known as fana fi 'l-shaikh ("the passing away of the self in the master"). Some of those who travel the Path become so thoroughly attracted (majzub) to the master by the perfection of their iradah or love ( 'ishq) that they become annihilated in the being of the master, and in everyone and everything they see only him. It is at such a point that the morid (disciple) is said to have reached the station of fana fi 'l-shaikh. Many of the great sufis attained this station, the most outstanding of whom was RC1mi:. It was in the station of being totally attracted to his master, Shams-i Tabrizi, that Rumi declared:

    My shaikh, my morad/ My affliction, my remedy!
    Let me divulge the secret:
    My Sun (Shams), my God!
    Until thou gazest at me, I am bewildered by Love
    For thou art the king of the two worlds:
    My Sun, my God!
    I will become extinguished before Thee
    so that no trace of me remains;
    Such is the requirement of decorum:
    My Sun, my God!
    Ghazaliyat-i Shams-i Tabrizi

    It should be noted here, though, that fana fi 'l-shaikh is but a preparatory step for the station of fanafi'llah ("passing away of the self in God").

    Self-Love and Iradah
    As indicated above, the seeker must be both mentally and physically mature and healthy in order to be qualified as a novice on the Path and as one who can put his iradah into practice.

    The first effect of iradah upon the disciple is that his attention is turned away from the world and its affairs and becomes focused solely upon the master. Thus, the first step that a novice takes with the help of iradah is that he becomes free from selflove as his attention is directed towards the master. For those who are deeply entangled in self-love and self-adoration, however, not only will this initial step be impossible, but iradah will have a negative effect. In fact, this entanglement will eventually become a great hindrance in the development of genuine iradah and consequently to the attainment of the final goal of the Path. As Hafiz has put it:

    Going to the door of the Tavern
    is the work of those who are spiritually integrated.
    Those who boast of their own worth
    are not given entrance to the quarters of the wine-merchants.

    In terms of a patient's relationship with his analyst and the transference phenomenon, Freud concluded much the same thing:

    Experience shows that persons suffering from narcissistic neurosis have no capacity for transference, or only insufficient remnants of it. They turn from the physician, not in hostility, but in indifference.

    Morid and Morad
    Just as the morad (master) is the manifestation of the Divine Name al-Morad, so is the morid (disciple) the manifestation of the Divine Name al-Morid. Since both morid and morad are manifestations of Divine Names, the object of worship in iradah is in fact God and not an individual person. Iradah is then, in essence, a divine relationship between two attributes of God, the personal and material aspects of the relationship between master and disciple being irrelevant.

    Aquired Knowledge (Ilm-i Husuli) and "Presential" Knowledge (Ilm-i Huduri)
    As noted above, the patticular intellect is formed as a result of acquiring knowledge in the sensible world. Not only do the sufis renounce this kind of intellect , but they consider the knowledge acquired by it to be the greatest hindrance in understanding the Truth. This is the significance of the saying, "knowledge is the greatest veil (to the Truth)." In other words , the sufis reject all knowledge not connected with Love and approve only the knowledge of the heart, knowledge which is "presential" (beyond the distinction between subject and object). As has been said, "knowledge is a light which God casts into the heart of whomsoever He Will." From the perspective of the sufis, acquired knowledge only increases one's self-love and egotism and consequently separates one further from an understanding of the Truth.

    The sufi's book is not (composed of) ink and letters;
    it is nought but a heart as white as snow.
    The scholar's provision is pen-marks (written letters and words);
    what is the sufi 's provision? Footmarks.
    Rumi, Mathnawi(Vol. IV, p. 366)

    The Chain of Initiation (Silsila) and Authorization of Mastership
    Sufis believe that a person is not qualified to be a spiritual master unless he has traversed the stages of the Path under the guidance of a "Perfected One." Moreover, he must have been authorized to be a master by the previous master or qutb. In short, a master must have had a vision of the Path, traversed it from end to end, and come to know it thoroughly. The chain of initiation which exists in genuine sufi orders reaches back to the Prophet himself and from him to God. Thus, a master who is not connected to an authentic chain of initiation is not considered by the sufis to be eligible to guide others. Since such an individual has not traversed the Path and learned its principles under a true master or qutb, he cannot help or guide others. Moreover, the danger exists that such an individual will mistake the transference phenomenon for true iradah and thereby unknowingly communicate his own defects to others. In other words, a master who has not been authorized to be master by a previous master connected to an authentic chain of initiation will not only be unable to lead a disciple to a state of perfection but may very will turn the disciple into one who is empty-handed and sick. As psychoanalysts have rightly pointed out, unless a person has already been psychoanalyzed, he cannot himself analyze anyone else. Of course, the question arises here of who analyzed Freud.

    The Relationship of Transference to the Spiritual Life of the Sufis
    To truly distinguish between transference and iradah is extremely difficult. Only sufi masters and saints, very few of whom exist in every age, can draw the line between the two. Unfortunately, in different eras various people connected with sufism on the popular level have mistaken transference for iradah. Thus, so-called "masters" who had not reached perfection unknowingly misused the transference phenomenon for their own benefit, without considering its egotistical aspects. In connection with this idea, Rumi has said:

    On this account the whole world is gone astray
    and is scarcely cognizant of God's abdal (saints)
    Mathnawi(Vol. VII, p. 16)

    Such "masters" would attract the mentally ill as disciples. These disciples would then establish a transference relationship with the master and make converts for him by acting as missionaries and claiming that miracles had taken place which were in fact only the result of the strong emotions established by transference. The imperfect "master," unaware of his own egotism, would in turn benefit from people's ignorance. By calling himself a saint, he would establish a parasitic livelihood for himself. Sometimes, upon hearing a disciple attribute a miracle to him, he would come to think that all the while he had in fact been a man of God but simply not realized it. In effect, this kind of "master" would be pulled along by the crowd because of his need to make a living, becoming more and more certain of his own claims. Thus, a vicious circle would be created between the disciple and "master," both of them firm in their own egotism.

    In every age, this vicious circle would stimulate a certain number of people to become "masters." These masters would attract disciples who would then become enchanted and start telling extraordinary stories about them. In this way, "sufi" schools would be established which were really nothing more than shops for these "masters" to display their wares and for disciples to worship the very idols that they themselves had created. This type of master was, in fact, dependent upon his disciples. The disciples enjoyed having a certain man as their master and the master, because of his defects and imperfections, enjoyed having a crowd of followers to support him. Here Rumi has said:

    (Beware, for) the crows (imperfect masters)
    have lit (the lantern of) fraud:
    They have learned the cry of the white falcons.
    Mathnawi(Vol.IV, p. 366)

    The result of this type of false Sufism was that the imperfect masters were unable to raise true spiritual progeny and bring them to a state of perfection and mastership. Consequently, the majority of such masters, introduced their own offspring as successors and thus transformed the basis of spiritual mastership in their orders into a matter of blood inheritance, a strictly material affair.

    The genuine and perfect masters of the Path, on the other hand, should accept only those disciples who were chosen by God and free from mental illness and ulterior motives. It was only after the disciples had fulfilled such conditions that they were trained and guided. While most masters would not accept the psychologically ill, there were some masters who were so perfect that they would accept this type of person as well. Such disciples, or rather patients, would undergo treatment through psychoanalysis and transference before entering upon the Spiritual Path itself. However, there were very few masters of such a degree of perfection. One of the most outstanding of these was Shah Ni'matullah who used to say "send me whoever is rejected by other masters and I will train him according to his aptitude." Referring to the greatness of Shah Ni'matullah, Rida Qull Hidayat has written, "The narrow streams complain about the rocks, but the ocean shapes them."

    Owing to the skill and courage of such perfect masters, elementary classes were established in sufi orders to cure the psychologically ill. In such classes, a perfect master or "divine physician" would, through transference, treat patients in need of psychological care. When this treatment was over and the patient had recovered, he would either leave the school or, if it were God's will and iradah had helped him, he would be initiated and admitted into the esoteric circle.

    Summary and Conclusion
    While superficial similarities do exist between Sufism and psychoanalysis, there is no real similarity of a genuine and profound nature between the two. The aim of psychoanalysis is to treat an abnormal person and bring him to a state of "normality;" the aim of Sufism is to treat a psychologically normal person and bring him to the state of perfection. The analyst-patient relationship is based upon transference, whereas the relationship between master and disciple is based upon iradah. Transference is a material, psychic, and temporal process, while iradah is spiritual, divine, and eternal.

    However, even granting its material, psychic, and temporal qualities, transference has not been ignored by the sufis. Although in quasi-sufi schools the transference phenomenon has caused a number of imperfect individuals to claim spiritual mastership and to lead others to ignorantly follow them as disciples, there have nevertheless been perfect masters who have validly used transference, sometimes as a therapeutic instrument for patients in need of psychological care and sometimes as an initial step in the real program of Sufism.

    This article was translated by William Chittick and edited by Jeffrey Rothschild. It was originally published, in a slightly different version, as Part Two of an essay in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry (Vol. 24, No. 3). A different version of Part One was published later as the first essay in Dr. Nurbakhsh's second book translated to English, The Path: Sufi Practices. The entire two-part essay was included in Dr. Nurbakhsh's third English title, What the Sufis Say, which is no linger in print. Footnotes have been omitted.

    Article taken from Sufi Journal, Issue 76, 2009