By sleep we understand the covering of ourselves from the world of which we are conscious, but we do not realize that, when we are awake, we are covering ourselves from another world which, in fact, is more real; it is the self which is covered. The difference between the sleeping and the waking state is that, when we cover ourselves from what, in fact, is real, we say, "I am awake" and, when we cover ourselves from what is unreal and illusion, we say we are asleep.
The reason for this is that in the state in which we are conscious of all things around us we are able to point to things about which we have no doubt. We recognize the objects around us, therefore we say that we are awake, and during the time of sleep we think we are dreaming, we do not know where we are or what we are doing. In reality that is the very time when we are experiencing our real life.
What does our real life consist of? Our real life consists of natural happiness, peace and purity. By purity I mean that our heart, our mind, our intelligence are pure from all worries, anxieties, pains and tortures, from bitterness or sweetness, such as we experience in the world. Otherwise our heart reflects on these things all the time and accordingly brings us suffering.
How valuable is the peace we obtain in sleep! We cannot realize this until we long for sleep which will not come. At such a time we shall realize that everything we possess in the world is worth sacrificing for the peace which sleep brings and the happiness we experience then. All the pleasures in the world afford only a glimpse of that happiness which is within us, in our innermost being. In our everyday external life that happiness is as buried. If there is a time when happiness is experienced by the soul, it is the time during which we are asleep. The little happiness we experience in this world is not real, but only a shadow which we call pleasure, whereas the true happiness which we experience by our natural life we do not call happiness, for we do not know what it is. Only its after-effects remain with us, and we feel happy when we come to the wakeful state after having had a good sleep.
The peace we experience during sleep cannot be compared with the peace we experience in the form of rest in a comfortable chair or on a couch, in the form of material comfort at home or elsewhere. The life we experience during sleep is outside a wall, a prison-wall; the pains and diseases of this world are within the prison during this time. In the waking state we are in the prison, our life is unhappy; when fast asleep we are free. The moment sleep comes to a person who is in pain and suffering all his disease is left behind; at that moment he is above all suffering and pain. This shows that during sleep we experience a life which is beyond this mortal existence.
Although man experiences sleep every day, he never realizes it as the greatest blessing of his existence, until he suffers from lack of it. Man disregards all natural blessings, and not regarding them as blessings he remains discontented. A person who can see the blessing which is in life itself will be so thankful that whatever may be lacking in his outward life will seem insignificant. The inner blessing is so much greater, compared with what is lacking in the outer world, that, indeed, there is no comparison between them.
All this shows that what develops a person and helps him to advance along the spiritual path, should be sought no further than along the natural lines of the mystery of sleep. Once this mystery is solved, the deeper question of the inner cult is solved as well. The explanation of things is so near to us and yet, at the same time, it is so far beyond our reach!
In Sufi terms there are five stages of consciousness: Nasut, Malakut, Jabarut, Lahut and Hahut.
Nasut is the consciousness which depends upon our senses. Whatever we see by means of the eyes, or hear by means of the ears, whatever we smell and taste, all these experiences which we gain by the help of the material body, prove to us that this is a particular plane of consciousness, or a particular kind of experience of the consciousness.
Malakut is a further stage of consciousness working through our mental plane. By means of this higher consciousness we experience thought and imagination - which are beyond our senses. Very often it happens that a person does not notice a passer-by, so deeply is he thinking upon some subject. You may speak to him, but he will not listen, so deeply is he absorbed in his subject. Though his ears are open he cannot hear, though his eyes are open he cannot see. What does this mean? It means that at that moment his consciousness is experiencing life on a different plane. Though he is sitting before you with open eyes and ears, his consciousness is on another plane, working through a different body.
The plane of Malakut is experienced by every person not only when absorbed in thought, but also in dreams. While the different sense-organs are resting, the mind is free to work, and it works with the aid of the same mechanism which it has collected during the experience of the Nasut condition. In other words, all the experiences which a man gathers during the day are assembled during the night, and the mind works with that mechanism; whatever has been collected during the day is at work during the night. Therefore, if a person has acquired an impression of fear, fear will manifest itself in the dream in different forms; if a person has acquired an impression of love, love will appear in the dream in various forms; if of success the dream will show success in different forms. So the mind prepares a cover for every impression it receives, it prepares an outward appearance for it: that is what accounts for the meaning of dreams.
Suppose that a person goes to a wise man saying, "I have seen flowers in my dream. What will be the result of it?" The wise man will answer, "Love, happiness, success". Why? Because the wise one knows that the mind disguises itself and the impression it receives into something beautiful, when something beautiful is going to happen, and into something ugly, when something bad is going to happen.
It is, however, not only so that the mind adorns itself with a certain form in order to tell you that you are going to have a good or a bad experience. There also is the natural outcome of things, there is action and reaction: what we take from the outer world is prepared in the mind, and it reacts again in another form. This gives us a sort of key by which we formed by the assembled experiences and impressions of the senses can understand what the next step will be. In that form the dream is a warning.
There is no need to take it as a warning in a spiritualistic form, and claim that a spirit, a ghost or an angel came to tell you the future. It is your own mind which disguises itself as a spirit, a ghost or an angel, in whatever form you wish it to come to you, or in whatever form you are accustomed to. It will never come in a form strange to you, such as you have never known; it will only come in a form to which you are accustomed. For instance, if you were to see a dog with wings, it would still be the form of a dog with which you are familiar; only the mixture or combination of forms is curious. Although wings are attached to the dog, the form is not actually new; you are seeing something which you recognize.
In the dream the state of the mind has two different aspects. When the mind is not expressive but responsive and is not acting in a positive but in a negative rhythm, then it becomes visionary. That mind is visionary which is apt to catch the reflection of whatever other mind falls upon it. Thus it may catch the reflection of a living person's mind, or of a deceased person's mind, of a spiritually advanced person, or of a very ordinary person. That mind lies open like a piece of uncultivated ground which a person may turn into a farm or into a garden; in that soil he may sow seeds of flowers or only seeds of thorns.
This accounts for people having different experiences in their dreams from those they had in their waking life. When people say, "I learn something from my dreams, I am inspired by them, I have received new ideas, new lessons in my dreams", it is because their mind was exposed to the given impressions. However, a mind open to impressions in this way may reflect a satanic as well as an angelic impression, a wrong one as easily as a right one: it is open to whatever comes into it. Such a person is as likely to be led astray as to be helped. The result, therefore, is only good as long as the impressions to which the mind responds are good ones.
What then is the way in which one can be sure to have the mind focused upon good things, and so to receive only good impressions? There are three considerations.
First, one must be able to keep all the ever-moving thoughts away which come into one's mind. One must develop that mental strength, that willpower which will keep all thoughts away which come into one's mind during concentration and take one's mind away from the object on which one focuses it.
Secondly, the mind will always focus itself upon the object which it loves. If one does not have love for the divine Being, for God, if one does not have that ideal, then it will certainly be difficult, for it cannot be done by the intellect. The person who only uses his intellect keeps asking, "Where shall I direct my mind, on what object shall I focus it? Please, picture it for me, and point out where it is". It is the lover of God whose mind cannot wander anywhither, save always directly to God.
Then, purity of mind is necessary. The mind must be pure from all fear, worry and anxiety, and from every kind of falsehood, for all this covers the mind from the vision of God. When the mind, full of faith, love, purity and strength, is focused upon the ideal of God, man will receive teaching, inspiration and advice directly and for every case he meets with in life.
The simple teaching of all the religions during every age, the essence of all religion and philosophy, is contained in these words: Go and stand before God in simple faith, being as a little child before God. At that moment you will say, "I know nothing, I have not learned anything, I am only an empty cup waiting to be filled. I have only love to offer You, and because my love is too insufficient, I ask to be given more. I have only faith, and yet that is insufficient; so I ask that it be strengthened and developed so that it will be strong enough to hold me before You. Purity I need, but I do not have it, or at least, if I have it, it is only Your own essence which is within my being, and I wish to keep it as clean as possible. With these three things I come, as a simple child, with no knowledge of my own, leaving aside all doubts and questions or whatever can come between us". Here is the essence of religion.
It is so simple that even a child could do it, should he wish so. He does not need much learning to be able to do it; once it is explained to him he will understand it. We need not have learning or great intellectual knowledge to be able to do it.
The next stage, beyond the plane of Malakut, brings us to Jabarut, the plane of consciousness where the experience is like that of a person in deep, dreamless sleep - who is said to be sound asleep. The blessing here is greater still. In this higher experience there is God's own Being through whom we experience the life, peace and purity which are within us. Moreover, whilst anyone may experience this blessing during sleep, the person who follows the path of spiritual development will experience it while awake. Yogis call this state Sushupti. This joy of life, peace and purity the mystic experiences with wide open eyes, wide awake; others can only touch it during deep sleep.
A still further experience of consciousness is Lahut. This raises a person from the material to the immaterial plane. In this plane the state of being fast asleep is not necessary. There is greater peace and joy, and nearness to the essence which is called divine. In Christian terms this stage is called communion. In Vedantic terms it is called Turiyavastha, and the further step to this is called Samadhi which may no doubt be described as merging in God. In other words, in this stage we dive into our deepest selfhood; God is in our deepest self. In this state we have the ability to dive so deep as to touch our deepest being, which is the home of all intelligence, life, peace and joy, and where worry, fear, disease or death do not enter.
Hahut is the experience which is the object of every mystic who follows the inner cult. In Vedantic terms this stage is called Manan; the equivalent in Christian terminology is at-one-ment.
From these considerations it may be seen that the work of the Sufi is to aim at ennobling the soul. When initiated into the Order we take the path of ennobling the soul - there is no wonder-working, no communication with spirits, no performing of miracles, no developing of magnetic or psychic powers, no clairvoyance or clairaudience, nor anything of the kind. The one single aim is to become humane, to live a healthy life, to try and better the moral conditions of our life, to ennoble our character, and to meet not only our own needs, but also those of our neighbours and friends. Our work is to try and develop that spark which is in every soul, whose only satisfaction lies in the love of God and in approaching towards God, with the intention of one day having a glimpse of that truth that cannot be spoken of in words.