The investigations of those who travel the Sufi path are practical and personal, not theoretical, and the resulting realizations are difficult to convey in words. Sufism is a journey from the inner to the outer. Through the realization of the self, the seeker realizes God. Through realizing God, the seeker becomes selfless.
Among students’ first realizations is the awareness of a transcendental dimension. Glimpsing aspects of the universe that are inaccessible to intellect, they receive a taste of something beyond material phenomena. A new vision of reality begins to influence their lives and thoughts.
As students awaken the heart and other lata’if (subtle centers of consciousness), their understanding of self deepens. The rational mind expands, and seekers acquire the illumination necessary for the possibility of seeing all aspects of existence in proper perspective.
Students who continue to do the practices diligently may gain personal experience of the following assertions:
- The phenomenal world of matter and individual consciousness is only a partial reality.
- The human being has a self other than the empirical self: the eternal self.
- One can have direct experience of the Divine through a carefully nurtured interior which is superior to reason and intellect alone.
- Through faithfully pursuing a discipline with an authorized guide, one can identify one’s limited self with the true self.
Beyond a certain point, realizations become inseparable from a person’s way of being. It becomes clear to students that human beings are not merely slaves to instinct, but have an urge to express higher values and a will capable of controlling their actions. As students begin to see the Divine Presence in everything, they become better able to grasp the meaning of human life – both of their personal lives, and of the collective destiny of humanity. Narrow, ego-centered points of view give way to a broader perspective, encouraging students to make every thought, word, and act a form of ‘ibddah (worship) and khidmah (service). They approach a state of consciously desiring good, even in situations involving no personal advantage or external pressure.
Knowing with certainty that everything is governed by the will of God, seekers learn to depend on God, to be patient and accepting. Through the practices they may also receive confirmation that there is life after death. As they recognize that this world is preparation for the next, they are further inspired to adopt a more pious, virtuous lifestyle.
Step by step, his or her former being becomes transformed, until by the grace of God he or she may attain fana’ and baqa’: the experience of unity, of being annihilated or consumed in the Divine, of abiding in and with the Almighty.
The experience of unity is not the final realization of the Sufi journey. Those who attain this stage return from it to assist their fellow beings. They are with God and in this world simultaneously, translating the nearness that they feel to the Creator into service to creation. They keep themselves attuned, ready to fulfill the duties and responsibilities that God presents in day-to-day life. The world is like a workshop run by God, and the Sufi at the highest stage of realization is a worker, striving to fill his or her role in the best way possible, relying always on the mercy and blessings of God.