shadows of the ego-self (nafs)

The hero's main feat is to overcome the monster of darkness: it is the long-hoped-for and expected triumph of consciousness over the unconscious. The coming of consciousness was probably the most tremendous experience of primeval times, for with it a world came into being whose existence no one had suspected before. "And God said, 'Let there be light"' is the projection of that immemorial experience of the separation of consciousness from the unconscious.
- Carl Jung, "The Psychology of the Child Archetype" (1940)

While coming back from a victorious battle the Prophet declared, "We are returning from a lesser struggle (jihad asghar) to a greater struggle (jihad akbar)." The companions explained, "What is greater struggle, O Messenger of God?!" And turning to them, the Messenger replied, "The battle against your own ego-self (nafs)."  
- Sacred Tradition of Islam

He is the One Who sends to His servant Manifest Signs, that He may lead you from the depths of Darkness into the Light and verily Allah is to you Most Kind and Merciful. - The Quran 57:9

One of the glaring flaw of our time's spiritual embodiment for the majority of us who imagine ourselves to be spiritual, or have read tons of spiritual material and hence think we have become one, or lets say genuinely want to be on the spiritual path - for all of them, the flaw remains that we under-estimate, ignore or rebuff 'the shadow' aspect of the psyche (self / nafs / ego-self).

Call it 'shadow', blemishes, impurities, 'that which oppose the light' or 'blameworthy traits' - they all mean the elements of human psyche which are opposite to light, opposite to what buddha would call our "true nature", or what Christ would call, 'image of Father' or what Islam calls "fitra", 'the original purity'. The reality is made with opposites for the very construct of it to operate (heat-cold, day-night, up-down, masculine-feminine), so it is with the makeup of human self or psyche that shadow exist.

Somehow in this age of interesting cross-currents where long history of western church and its authoritarian role, suppression of scientific inquiry and breaking free from all of that - has given birth to a very interesting, complex set of dynamics when it comes to our religious and spiritual fabric. In one sense this is good and necessary to reclaim the essence of truth offered by religion and spirituality, freed from age old biases, conjectures and mis-interpreted dogmas covering over the essentials, but on another level it has some serious weakness of radical (and unhealthy) individualism which is susceptible to superficial spirituality with no 'real' progress on part of the individual in his or her journey of realization. The kind of spirituality that has become fashionable in our time, as characterized or called by names such as: new age, free flow, self-help spirituality, 'i guide my own spiritual growth' type has serious weaknesses and this weakness become exposed when the subject matter of shadow of the psyche or the blameworthy traits of the ego is dealt with. Contrary to what spiritual growth should embody, spirituality at present time is marked by where individuals play a superficial role of holiness for the sake of appearances and to feel good about themselves. This very characteristics of our modern day spirituality of 'feeling good about oneself' is exactly what fails when it comes to, first identification of the inner shadow which is deeply embedded in the psyche, (and hence second to impossible to trace for the majority of the seekers by themselves alone) secondly to stop its projections and third to do "real work" to transcend or getting rid of the shadow (in other word, 'purification', tazkiya in islamic sufi terminology).

Whenever the term shadow is used, immediately the great psychologist and mystic Carl Gustav Jung comes to our mind. He has done extensive work on this subject matter. Even though from purely traditional religious context (specially the extensive spiritual literature of the Sufis to be precise), 'shadow' may not necessarily mean exactly what Jung meant in his discourse. Yet Jungian framework, his life long study of human psychology and link to our inner self can be complementary. Jung was very clear about the necessity of recognizing the shadow within. For him it was not a question of if, but how. Carl Jung's concept of the shadow includes weaknesses, shortcoming and also instincts.

The shadow is an archetype. An archetype simply means that it is typical in consciousness for everyone. Everyone has a Shadow. This is not something that one or two people have. We all have a Shadow and a confrontation with the Shadow is essential for self awareness. We cannot learn about ourselves if we do not learn about our Shadow so therefore we are going to attract it through the mirrors of other people.

On the subject of why the shadow needs to be recognized, Jung wrote in "Psychology and Religion" (1938): "Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected."

From the end of the earth
will I cry unto Thee...
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  
- Psalsm 61:2 

Jung recognized the difficulty of recognizing our own shadow, “it is a quite within the bounds of possibility for a man to recognise the relative evil of his own nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil.”

"Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." - Jung, The Philosophical Tree (1945)

For any religious / spiritual tradition of any time in human history, the departure for the journey of self-realization, for our quest to arrive at Truth, the process of liberation, Nirvana or Moksha or to successfully participate in the alchemy when 'God becomes our eyes, hand and feet' begins by the work upon the self and that is essentially the purification of the self from its impurities, shadows, blameworthy characteristics. There is no exception to this most fundamental, yet most demanding work. Only recently in our transitory experiment with spirituality that we have forgotten about this, but fortunately genuine spiritual traditions such as Sufi Path (and surely other living traditions) not only place great importance on purification of the self, but provide reality map for the self to journey and to arrive at the goal of purification.

By the Sun and its (glorious) splendour;
By the Moon as she follows (the sun);
By the Day as it shows up (the Sun's) glory;
By the Night as it conceals it;
By the Firmament and its (wonderful) structure;
By the Earth and its (wide) expanse:
By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it;
And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right;
Truly he succeeds that purifies it,
And he fails that corrupts it!
- The Quran, Surah ash-Shams, 1-10

Purification of the heart and soul is so central to the Sufi Path that the very term "Sufi", as many point out, is derived from the word, 'safa' which means purification. There is a whole discipline called "Tazkiyya" in Islamic sacred knowledge that deals with the process, methodology, practical aspect and practices of purification of the self.

The fact that purification is so central is without failure can be found in every authentic spiritual tradition. For example, among the fragmented teachings of Christ as preserved in the New Testament, we find the serious emphasis by him on confronting the shadow, specially for those who suffer from religious identity delusions (in modern day's context read 'spiritual identity delusion' ). In one of his more intense criticism directed to those present at the temple, Christ said, "O Blind religious one! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.. Woe to you, teachers of the religion, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

The mastery of a master is demonstrated by his or her ability to first, purify himself or herself from the blameworthy characteristics of the self (nafs) and then those who come in his or her circle of influence, the students, companions, pupil. The great illuminated beings, the buddhas, bodhisattvas, rasools, nabis, saints and awliyas were given this tremendous power to inspire, to demonstrate and to exert influence to purify others around them. A real teacher give his student a practical map for  purification through teachings, ritual practices, practical engagement in real world and in various other methods - collectively which become the alchemical process through which purification happen. And the role of the teacher is central in the process because by very nature, the ego or psyche itself doesnt want to face its shadow, deficiencies and weaknesses, which an authentic master has the ability to recognize and hence can see from outside to provide its right 'treatment' and 'medicine'.

It is He who sent to an unlettered messenger from amongst themselves, reciting to them His signs and purifying them (wa yuzakkeehim) and teaching them the Book and the wisdom even though before they were clearly in error. - The Quran, 62:2

A true master is void of shadow. In Islamic sacred tradition, the Prophet himself is described by his intimate companions as someone who didn't have a shadow. He was so pure in his embodiment, may Allah's pure love surround him, that he became shadowless. That is the fitting description of a true guide, murshid.

As a living tradition, carrying both inner and outer truth teachings transmitted from one human heart to another, tracing back to great illuminated beings - the Sufi Path provides an unparalleled and unmatched guidance and 'ways' that leads to 'real' purification of the self and this result is readily available to witness for anyone to see among the students / followers of any authentic Sufi Path guided by a Sufi Teacher. No matter where in the world, either in the east or west, among the company of sufis one can find human beings of the highest moral and spiritual purity and God is our witness what we speak.

Since without making the container pure (remember the parable of Christ), the vessel can not supply pure water - similarly central to Sufi Path is the purification of the nafs (self-ego) which when purified become the unbound container of divine consciousness. And purification begin by becoming conscious or by recognizing that which is impure and those traits or the shadow aspects of the psyche - as rightly pointed out by Jung as well.

"The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge." - Jung, Aion (1951)

Different sufi orders provide different reality map (they can be called reality map because of the usage of different symbols, language, legends like a map to describe the terrain of the self) for recognizing the shadows within and how to overcome them. Essentially their goal is the same and various order adopted various method through the grace of the great masters of that particular path.

In terms of recognizing the shadow, the Halveti Jerrahi Sufi Path delineate Sixty Eight blemishes of the nafs which becoming conscious about - can be worked upon and purified from the nafs for the seeker to progress on the path. Its worth noting that the number 68 is not the point because as a matter of fact, the shadow aspect of the psyche can be categorized in many different levels or categories and the numbering is for convenience only. For the Jerrahi Halveti Sufis they take these 68 blemishes as something to work upon and there is wisdom and practicality in it.

To clean the nafs of the 68 blemishes listed below is the beginning of good adab (spiritual etiquette) which is the greater part of Islam and of Sufism (Ihsan). These are like thorns growing in a barren field and show you the ugly attributes of the heart (shadows) which surface and become visible. Avoid them and beautify yourselves with the opposite of every one of these faults, because the prayer which pleases Allah and which brings you closest to Him is to have beautiful adab.

   1. Ujub – to be proud of one’s spiritual state
   2. Riya – to show off
   3. Kibr – arrogance
   4. Hasad – envy
   5. Bukhul – miserliness
   6. To be vengeful
   7. Kufr – faithlessness, ungratefulness, covering up the truth
   8. Bid’at- to distort religion and tradition
   9. Kufran-i ni’met – to deny the giver of gifts or to belittle the gifts
  10. To be dissatisfied and complain about one’s state
  11. To cease to have hope for Allah’s Mercy
  12. To be sure of Allah’s punishment
  13. To condone tyrrany and help tyrants
  14. To speak against decent people
  15. To keep the heart attached to this world
  16. To keep wanting to be a leader, craving for power
  17. To expect approval and compliments
  18. To fear criticism
  19. Not to be able to prevent oneself from wanting (craving)
  20. Instead of wishing to learn the truth, being an imitator
  21. To fawn (flatter) over people for personal benefit,  to court favor
  22. To be happy about disasters that fall upon people, even your enemies
  23. To be a coward
  24. To be angry
  25. To be a tyrant (oppressor)
  26. Not to keep one’s word
  27. To believe in bad luck
  28. To think unjustly about people
  29. To love one’s property, material possessions
  30. To be overly concerned with the world and the worldly
  31. To be ambitious after worldly gains
  32. To lead an irresponsible life
  33. To mix oneself into affairs that do not concern one
  34. To be undignified
  35. Not to keep the time of one’s devotions (spiritual / religious practices, worship) due to laziness
  36. To be shameless
  37. To lament the loss of things
  38. To gossip
  39. To be stubborn
  40. To be an egoist
  41. To be a hypocrite
  42. To cheat
  43. To be brutish
  44. To be dishonorable in relations with women
  45. To be lustful
  46. Not to accept one’s error and continue insisting on it
  47. To be afraid of poverty
  48. Not to believe in destiny or to talk about destiny
  49. To make oneself depressed
  50. To take pleasure in belittling others
  51. To be indiscriminately unaffected and happy even when other suffers
  52. To be insincerely kind and fawning over rich people
  53. To be disdainful of the poor
  54. To boast and be proud of one’s past
  55. To show off one’s physical prowess
  56. To belittle others
  57. To like to talk long unnecessarily
  58. To be self centered in conversation
  59. To forget about one’s own shortcomings and be preoccupied with the shortcomings of others
  60. To exclude from one’s heart the fear of Allah and the shame and sadness of one’s state
  61. In distress to make excuses and to fall back on and encourage the nafs
  62. To decline to help in a struggle for Allah’s sake
  63. To pretend to be friends with one’s enemy
  64. To be insincere in one’s work
  65. To set traps for others
  66. To identify with the world to the extent of forgetting Allah
  67. To take pleasure in people’s suffering
  68. Not to be sorry, suffer and repent because of one’s mistakes

May Allah help us to recognize our own shadows, save us from its projections which make us oblivious to our own blameworthy character traits, which prevent us from becoming perfect like our Heavenly Father, which prevent us from becoming true khalifa (vicegerent, representative of God, bridge between heaven and earth) on earth, and we seek strength and help from Allah an-Nasir, God, the Sole Helper to purify us, both within and without.  

la haowla wa la quwwata illa billah, there is no power and transformation except by Allah.

Who may ascend into the summit of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood.. - Psalm 24:3,4

Blessed [are] the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
- Beatitude of Christ

Indeed whosoever purifies himself (man tazakka) shall achieve success. - The Quran 87:14

ayuzubillahi minan nafsi ammara
seeking refuge in God from the inciting ego-self
ayuzubillahi minan nafsi lawamma
seeking refuge in God from the blaming ego-self
bismillahir rahmanir rahim!
in Your Name, O Infinitely Merciful, Singularly Compassionate!

O Beloved, O Light of Existence!
Truly in Your Light we see both within and without!

Ya Nurun ala Nur!
Ya Nurun ala Nur!
Ya Nurun ala Nur!

Make visible our shortcomings, our mistakes, our shadows to us and if we forget, if we make mistake after You have shown us Your Signs and after You have given us Your guidance - if we fall like a child who is learning walking, like a Tender Mother condemn us not, avert not Your Gaze of Love from us. We place our highest trust upon Your Boundless Grace, upon Your Tenderly Forgiveness and upon Your Love, O Love Itself!

Open our eyes.
Ya Fattah! Ya Baseer!

Inna Anta Nurus-Samawati wal-Ard
Inna Anta Nurus-Samawati wal-Ard
Inna Anta Nurus-Samawati wal-Ard

By the Honor of Your Infinite Compassion, raise us not blind in the promised Afterlife,
By the Honor of Your Uncompromising Love, keep us not blind in this precious existence.

Accept our prayers, our cry, our longing, O Lord of Existence.

gentle reminder: God willing, for real progress towards the purification of the ego-self, please make a habit of getting familiar with the 68 blemishes, read and know them, commit them to heart, watch over them, remain vigilant when such traits surface either subtly or otherwise in you ego-self, in engaging in the world, interacting with others and seek refuge in the Sole Refuge, in our Creator Lord from them and journey towards the goal of 'be ye holy as your Heavenly Father is the Most Holy, al-Quddus'.

We bear witness to the reality of One God,
and we bear witness that Muhammad is God's chosen Messenger.

# Related:
. Blameworthy traits of the self
. Tazkiyah Purification of the Soul
. You dont find fault with others, you find fault with yourself 
. Dangers and Vanity of Religious Pride
. Pride and Politeness
. Fantasy Spirituality
. Nafs



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Technology of the Heart: shadows of the ego-self (nafs)
shadows of the ego-self (nafs)
Technology of the Heart
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