The Heart

چو بشنوی سخن اهل دل مگو که خطاست
سخن شناس نه ای جان من خطا این جاست

When you hear the speech of the people of the heart, don’t say it is mistaken.
You are not an expert in speech; that is why you are mistaken.

Khwaja Hafez calls the Sufis ‘people of the heart’. These experts don’t consider the physical heart to be the real heart. Shah Ne’matollah Wali states: ‘The heart [qalb] is an incorporeal luminous substance [jawhar-e-nurani], intermediate between the spirit [ruh] and the self [nafs]’. Shaykh Ibn al-’Arabi says:

‘Were it not for the excess of your talking and the turmoil in your hearts, you would see what I see and hear what I hear’.

Turmoil in the heart can come about by the influence of the desires of the self.

We need to become more and more free of the negative influences of our nafs in order to move into the direction of the ruh. The Divine is made manifest to the spirit. The mystery [see below under sirr] relates to the spiritual world. The heart relates to the intermediary world between the spiritual world and our ordinary everyday world. The self relates to the mundane world.

The traveller along the Sufi path can experience inward progress along seven levels of the heart. Shaykh Nuruddin Isfarayini gives this classification:

  1. The breast [sadr]
  2. The heart [qalb]
  3. The pericardium [shaghaf]
  4. The inner heart [fu’ad]
  5. The blood of the heart [muhjat al-qalb]
  6. The mystery [sirr]
  7. The hidden [khafi]

Shaykh Isfarayini describes in his Kashif al-Asrar [The Revealer of Mysteries] the relationship between the seven levels of the heart and the seven spiritual and corporeal realms. He also explains how you navigate towards perfection through visionary experiences. The present description will only deal with a short commentary regarding the seven levels of the heart.

Ad 1. The breast [sadr]

With a scholar watch your words, with a Sufi watch your heart! You are the gatekeeper of your heart by performing the practice of muraqaba. The outer skin of the heart, the breast, according to shaykh Najmuddin Razi, can be the seat of demonic whisperings and desires of the self. These temptations and enticements have no access to the interior of the heart, which is God’s treasury. The skin of the heart is the barrier between the self and the heart.

In order to repulse these suggestions [khawatir] shaykh Isfarayini recommends eight practices:

  1. Constant ritual purity
  2. Internal purity
  3. Silence
  4. Constant retreat
  5. Fasting
  6. Satisfaction with the Divine decree
  7. Search of a spiritual guide and teacher
  8. Constant dhikr.

Khwaja Hafez says:

دلا ز نور ریاضت گر اگهی یابی
چو شمع خنده زنان ترک سر توانی کرد

O heart, if by means of spiritual practices you gain awareness,
You can smilingly renounce your head like a candle.

Ad 2. The heart [qalb]

The depth and experience of Sufis regarding the subtle faculties are enormous. They at times describe several levels of development of each individual faculty. In regard to the self, they mention seven levels of development. When the self gets more and more purified, it becomes the serene self [an-nafs al-mutma’inna]. According to shaykh Isfarayini, this self that has found inward peace is the same as the heart [qalb] in its second level.

Among the attributes of the heart are liberality, gratitude, contentment with destiny and fortitude during hardship. This heart is the site of insight and comprehension. The possessor of a heart [sahib-i-qalb] is someone – according to Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh – in whose heart knowledge has accumulated so that no tongue, however eloquent, can express it.

The sultan among the recitations is the dhikr la ilaha illa’llah, no god but God. It purifies the heart with the grace of God. Its first part la ilaha [no god] is by way of negation. It makes you aware that you should get rid of your prejudices, negative emotions, addictions and all your other idols. The second part illa’llah [but God] is by way of affirmation. By means of its one-pointed concentration, you may thereby get inward peace.

The turmoil of the previous phase has stopped. That’s why this pacified heart is now a fit site to receive inspiration. Khwaja Hafez apparently loves to become a possessor of a heart and thus be open to intuitions:

ای صبا نکهتی از خاک ره یار  بیار
ببر اندوه دل و مژدهء دلدار بیار

O zephyr, bring the perfume from the dust of the path of the Friend!
Take away my heart’s anxiety and bring tidings from the One who holds my heart!

Ad 3. The pericardium [shaghaf]

This third level, according to shaykh Najmuddin Razi, is the mine of affection, love and compassion towards humanity. He quotes Qur’an 20:30: He enamoured her. N.B.: The noun shaghaf is nearly identical with the verb shaghafa [enamoured]. The pericardium is the outer level of the heart, which is the limit of your love for other creatures.

Shaykh Ahmad Ghazzali offers the following inspirations from the world of pure spirits that clarify the above remarks:

The court of love is the palace of the spirit, since it was there in eternity [azal] that love branded the spirits with the mark of Am I not your Lord? [Hence, in virtue of this primordial mark on the spirits mentioned in Qur’an 7:172] if the screens [of the heart] become transparent, then love will shine out from within the veils.

This brother of the more famous imam al-Ghazzali continues: There is, however, a great secret here, and this is that the love we have just discussed [i.e. the primordial love] comes out from within, while the love of the creature goes in from without. But, nevertheless, it is obvious how far it can go in. Its limit is the pericardium.

The famous brother, imam al-Ghazzali himself, wrote this quatrain:

دل گر رهء وصل تو نپوید چه کند
جان وصل ترا بجان نجوید چه کند
آن لحظه که بر آینه تابد خورشید
آیینه اناالشمس بگوید چه کند

If the heart takes not the road of union with You, what will it do?
If the self seeks not union with You, what will it do?
The moment the sun shines upon its mirror,
If the mirror says not, ‘I am the sun’, what will it do?

Ad 4. The inner heart [fu’ad]

This level of development of the heart is the level of seeing. Mawlana Rumi closes his outward senses in order to attain to vision:

رَو  دیده بِدوز تا دِلت دیده شود
زان دیده  جهانِ دِگرَت دیده شود

Go, close your eyes, so that your heart may be looking,
So that by this vision you may see another world.

A bedouin was asked:

Have you seen your Lord?

He answered: I have never worshipped anything I had not seen. He explained that his eyes did not see Him through the vision of eyesight, but the hearts saw him through the realities of faith.

An ‘arif said: The inner heart is called al-fu’ad only, because there are a thousand valleys [alfu wad] therein. Should an inner heart be that of an ‘arif, a recognizer of God, then its valleys flow with the lights of God’s beneficence, bounty and kindness. The expression inner heart has a more precise meaning than the word heart. However, their meanings are close.

The following explanation has been attributed by some to Hakim Tirmidhi: Know that since the inner heart is the seat of seeing [ru’yah], it is only the inner heart [fu’ad] that sees whereas the heart [qalb] knows. If you combine knowledge and seeing, the unseen [ghayb] world becomes [the object of] seeing and you gain certainty through knowledge, contemplation, and the reality of seeing faith.

That’s why shaykh Najmuddin Razi quotes Qur’an 53:11 The inner heart did not lie about what it saw. The inner heart is the mine of witnessing and the seat of vision. Baba Kuhi tells us what he sees;

In the market, in the cloister–only God I saw.
In the valley and on the mountain–only God I saw.

Him I have seen beside me oft in tribulation;
In favour and in fortune–only God I saw.

In prayer and fasting, in praise and contemplation,
In the religion of the Prophet–only God I saw.

Neither soul nor body, accident nor substance,
Qualities nor causes–only God I saw.

I oped my eyes and by the light of His face around me
In all the eye discovered–only God I saw.

Like a candle I was melting in His fire:
Amidst the flames outflashing–only God I saw.

Myself with my own eyes I saw most clearly,
But when I looked with God’s eyes–only God I saw.

I passed away into nothingness, I vanished,
And lo, I was the All-living–only God I saw.

Baba Kuhi is in the world but is not of the world. The inner heart sees and then a state of emptiness [faraghah] befalls it. See Qur’an 28:10 The inner heart of the mother of Moses became empty and she would have betrayed him. The wife of Pharaoh, who finds the foundling baby, experiences Moses as a soothing to the eye. The mother, who loses him ‘awakes’ with a heart emptied and deserted. Only a void can be filled. She receives the courage to wait and then becomes her baby’s wet nurse.

Khwaja Hafez lets his pen only write from his heart when it is free:

حافظ آن روز طربنامهء عشق تو نوشت
که قلم بر سر اسباب دل خرم زد

Hafez wrote the song-book of Your love on that day,
When his pen removed secondary causes from his joyous heart.

Ad 5. The blood of the heart [muhjat al-qalb]

The owner of a heart at this level is a theotrope. This neologism describes someone whose heart turns all the time towards God, just like the heliotrope or sunflower directs itself constantly towards the movement of the sun.

Imam al-Ghazzali speaks of black blood in the ventricle of the corporal heart as being the source of the spirit. The blood of the heart is essential for the life of the physical heart. The blood of the spiritual heart symbolizes the love for the Divine by which the heart truly gets alive. The heart is now the site of love for the Divine Presence. Shaykh Najmuddin Razi makes it clear that there is no room in such a heart for the love of any creature. This is why Khwaja Hafez sees no other than the Beloved:

مردم دیدهء ما جز به رخت ناظر نیست
دل سر گشتهء ما غیر ترا ذاکر نیست
اشکم احرام طواف حرمت می  بندد
گر چه از خون دل ریش دمی طاهر نیست

The pupil of my eye sees nothing but Your face.
My bewildered heart remembers no other but You.
My tears weave the pilgrim’s garb to circle Your sanctuary.
But they are always mixed with the blood of my heart in pain.

This one-pointed love may give rise to the jealousy of others. That’s why Khwaja Hafez says:

بلبلى خون جگر خورد و گلى حاصل كرد
باد غيرت به صادش خار پريشان دل كرد

The nightingale with drops of his heart’s blood
Had nourished the red rose, then came a wind,
And catching at the boughs in jealous mood,
A hundred thorns about his heart entwined.

Here is a charming [or: curious?] legend that has been attributed to Hazrat Shamsuddin of Tabriz: A certain whirling dervish experienced great sadness when the authorities didn’t allow him to dance anymore. That’s why he died. During a post-mortem examination, a red ruby was found in his heart. This ruby received its place on the ring of a sultan. This sultan changed the law many years later and allowed the whirling dance again to be performed. The sultan turned into a wise man and later even received the mantle of a dervish. He started to participate in the whirling dance when suddenly he saw some blood on his clothes. The ruby had turned into blood again.

Ad 6. The mystery [sirr]

The lower self [nafs] relates to the mundane realm. The heart [qalb] relates to the world between the mundane and the spiritual realm. This mystery [sirr] relates to the spiritual realm. Shaykh Hamdun al-Qassar was asked about those who follow the path of blame. He described them thus: They are a group of people [qawm] that outwardly has no signs to distinguish them from others, nor do they inwardly make claims regarding God, the Elevated. That which is between them and God in their mystery [sirr] is perceived by neither their inner hearts [see ad 4] nor their outer hearts [see ad 2].

Shaykh Najmuddin Razi mentions a small black spot as the core of the heart, which is the mine of unveilings of the unseen and of knowledge that is received directly from God [‘ilm al-ladunni].

Khwaja Hafez makes it clear that this experience is for very advanced travellers on the Sufi path:

محرم راز دل شیدای خود
کس نمی بینم ز خاص و عام را

I see none among the common people or the spiritually elect,
Who can be a confidant to the mystery of my mad heart.

Ad 7. The hidden [khafi]

Seek knowledge even in China: Liu Zhi, however, commented in his Tianfang xingli on the seven levels of the heart. The purification of the heart brings about spiritual clarity. He mentions a specific aspect of each of these seven levels of the heart [hsin]:

  1. obedience
  2. faithfulness
  3. kindness
  4. clear discernment
  5. authentic realness
  6. subtlety [miao]
  7. the appearance of the Real.

The process of refining human nature is associated with the idea of cultivation [hsiu], a word that can also be translated as repairing, regulating, refining, reforming and pruning.

The Sufis advice you that when you were mistaken at any place, you should not leave that place before repairing this mistake. That place was a witness of your mistake, and thus will also be a witness of your repairing it.

Wang Yang-ming aims to recover the true heart, within which all the virtues are fully present: When the heart is free from the obscuration of selfish desires, it is the embodiment of the Principle of Heaven. It requires not an iota added from the outside.

When this heart, which has become completely identical with the Principle of Heaven, is applied and arises to serve parents, there is filial piety; when it arises to serve the ruler, there is loyalty; when it rises to deal with friends or to govern the people, there are faithfulness and humanity. The main thing is for the heart to make an effort to get rid of selfish human desires and to preserve the Principle of Heaven.

As you can read, the practice of service [khidmat] is very important to purify the heart.

Shaykh Ibn al-’Arabi points to the centre of the human heart. It is where your essence is hidden, a storehouse of power and energy. Many an unknown mystery is kept there.  This is the eye of the heart. When the heart shines with the dhikr-Allah as a result of sincere contemplation, meditation and worship, the Divine truth is reflected in it on the surface of that spot, for that spot belongs to the realm of your Lord.

Then an intense light is generated from it, a light which reaches to the deepest corners of your whole being. Your whole being is then conscious and in awe. Not a single of your members will move on its own. That is why the spot at the centre of your heart is said to be the essence and the jewel of awe and marvel.

The heart at the seventh level has not only the innocent characteristics of the heart of a child but also all the experiences of its adult owner who has responded to the call of the Turner of all hearts.