The self-controlled ones are the only possessors of divine wisdom; those who have not mastered this in life are imperfect. Though they may have all riches, comfort and power, yet all this is as dross when the self is not under control. This can be learned by noticing how many virtuous people are at times drawn into sin, and how foolishly the wise sometimes act. Dominant natures often become enslaved, and even the healthy become diseased through lack of self-control.
Self-control is an attribute which distinguishes man from the animal; both have their appetites and passions, but it is man alone who can control them. It is therefore not surprising if Sufis are sometimes seen submitting themselves to most awkward and uncomfortable practices. At first sight it may appear strange, yet on closer observation it becomes obvious that they prescribe this for themselves in order to gain self-control, which alone gives the assurance of a dependable and lasting happiness.
Self-control is mainly achieved by abstinence, which acts against the constant demands of the mind, the senses and the body. The control over each plane is won gradually by special practices of pose, posture and movement, adapted to this purpose. Every motion and action, even each organ and muscle of the body must work under the control of the will. All the powers of the body, whether in absorption or rejection, should be mastered by self-control. For both absorption and rejection control of the breath is necessary, and by the same power all things are controlled.
Control of the mind consists of control of imaginations, thoughts, emotions and feelings. Emotions are the outcome of thoughts and feelings, the vibrations of which are always ringing in the sphere of the astral plane. The scattered clouds in the sky join and separate, at every moment forming various distinct pictures. In like manner the will-as a magnet-gathers these vibrations in the astral sphere from different directions, forming them accidentally or intentionally into a picture which is either a thought, an imagination, an emotion or a feeling. just as clouds do not remain unscattered in the sky, so the pictures formed in the astral world are liable quickly to be dispersed, except when the sky is overcast, or when the atmosphere is overwhelmed with depression or joy.
Vibrations of the same element will group themselves together, for they are naturally attracted to each other. Pictures are often impressed upon the mind and are reflected from the mental plane upon the astral. The vibrations ringing through the astral sphere may be called, in other words, the atoms of the mental plane which are singly or collectively impressed by the names and forms of the external spheres.
The same vibrations appear as different names, forms, things and beings in the dream plane. They seem much more real there when the senses are at rest, but in the waking state they become mere imaginations. What is considered as imagination in the waking state becomes a world of reality in the dream state. All the things and all the beings seen in the dream are a world within ourselves, reflected from the external world and produced by the power of our will.
So the Judgement Day in reality is not the resurrection of the whole creation, but of the world produced in each individual for his trial. The power of the will gathers and controls the desired vibrations through concentration, and it is when control is lacking that, instead of the wished for imaginations, various other pictures are formed, either agreeable or disagreeable - whatever the vibrations may happen to form through their contact with each other. In other words, through self-control man governs his fate, otherwise he is governed by it.
Lack of will-power causes involuntary happiness and sad-ness. The disturbing thoughts which crowd into the mind during concentration can only be dispersed by the power of the will; otherwise the mind will become occupied with agreeable or disagreeable impressions from the external world against our desire.
The way of strengthening the will is knowing how to group and to scatter mental vibrations at will. This can only be done by forming a mental picture of the grouped vibrations, making every possible effort to hold this picture steady, keeping the mental plane so occupied with its reflection that no impression from the external world can enter. Only those who by will-power can scatter the mental vibrations find the way towards the Universal Spirit, and to them the divine light is disclosed which is hidden behind the mind. This light can be found in every creature.
Uncontrolled imaginations form the veil covering the divine light and cause darkness which produces delusion. When the will is able to scatter the clouds and allows the inner light to spread forth its rays, then there is still one more step to be taken. That is the absorption in the light: to become so lost in it that the false ego may become unconscious of itself, which in other words may be called the state of Eternal Consciousness.
The astral plane, the seat of which is the heart, which is situated in the midst of the body and the soul, can only be controlled by a strong love or devotion. Just as the horse is controlled by the will of the driver, in the same way a man whose will controls both driver and horse can hold the rein over his action, speech, thought and feeling. The mind is prone to different temptations and, uncontrolled, it wanders about like a wild horse in a jungle. The will produces an object of love and directs the heart to follow the right path, the path of love, along which one journeys resisting all temptations met with on the way.
The Sufi idealizes the pangs of love by which the heart is warmed. The fire of love melts the heart, no matter how cold and hard it may be; when once it is warmed it can be moulded in whichever way desired. Ice, the frozen condition of water, cannot reproduce the reflections of which it is capable in its melted state.
The resisting of temptations during the period of love helps to expand love, till the object of worship becomes the whole universe. Then self-control could be gained by even resisting the idea of the lover and the beloved. In other words, "I and you" finally becomes love in its pure essence.
The Control of the Spirit
A complete realization of the spiritual plane is difficult for everybody, and only an earnest mureed arrives at this stage through perseverance in the control of the breath under the guidance of a Murshid, when all the senses can be opened or closed at will. The vision he sees and the phenomenon he experiences there are unknown to the average man. This state is incredible to those who have received a worldly knowledge, but have not followed the mystic way.
Only he can control the self, making it rise above the physical plane, who loses himself in the phenomenon of the abstract plane. The mureed, holding this phenomenon in his meditation, becomes so absorbed in it that in the end neither he nor the phenomenon remains, but only the consciousness of being.
The Control of Consciousness
This is the control, which liberates the consciousness from its attachment to the lower planes. That attachment keeps the consciousness deluded and confined to the earth; by self-control it can be liberated. Self-consciousness grows through lack of self-control. Man attaches such importance to his life his slightest joy or sorrow becomes of worldwide importance to him, and thus he becomes prey to every form of weakness. For it is a natural law that a single atom of depression gathers the clouds of gloom, and a slight pain reflected in the consciousness grows into a mountain.
Self-control is the way by which the Sufi makes the consciousness free from all worldly reflections, hereby attaining the blankness out of which the whole world was manifested. This perfection can only be attained by absolute self-control.