Esoteric Islam

7 Stages of Nafs – 7 Levels of Soul (Ego)

There are 7 stages of nafs in Sufism, which are the 7 levels of the soul in the ascension to become an Insani Kamil (The Perfect Man). In this post, I will sate your hunger with a flavor of esoteric knowledge from the wisdom of old.

These 7 stages are not based on coincidence, but they are based on the spiritual law that governs the universe. Each stage is associated with a specific classical planet and is proven by the Doctrine of Seventy Thousand Veil, which I will show you at the end of this post:

  1. What is Nafs in Islam?
  2. 7 Stages of Nafs
  3. 7 Rules about 7 Stages of Nafs
  4. Esoteric Meanings behind 7 Types of Nafs

If you prefer to watch video, please refer to this Youtube video for more information:

1. What is Nafs in Islam?

In Islam, “nafs” is the lower self (soul), ego, or animal nature in contrast with “ruh“, which is the higher self, holy spirit, or divine nature of man. In the Quran, “jihad” is referred to the inner fight between the nafs and the ruh in the progress of the soul development. In other words, the nafs needs to engage in the holy war to fight against its animal instincts in order to aspire to the level of highest perfection.

According to Sufism, becoming a complete, whole and perfect human being is our human destiny. This process is broken down into 7 stages of the nafs, representing the 7 levels of development from the lowest level of being (nafs al-ammara) to the highest state of ascension (nafs al-satifyya).

2. 7 Stages of Nafs

The 7 stages of the nafs, 7 types of the ego, or the 7 levels of beings are as followed:

  1. Nafs al-ammara (the depraved, commanding nafs)
  2. Nafs al-lawwama (the accusing nafs)
  3. Nafs al-mulhama (the inspired nafs)
  4. Nafs al-mutma’inna (the peaceful nafs)
  5. Nafs al-radiyya (the pleased nafs)
  6. Nafs al-mardiyya (the pleasing nafs)
  7. Nafs al-safiyya (the purified and perfect nafs)

1.  Nafs al-ammara (the depraved, commanding nafs)

Level of purity: 0-20%

The first stage of the nafs is called the depraved or commanding nafs, in which it excites us to do evil. This is the lowest state of the soul because it refers to our animal instincts that are inclined to commit evil. In Islam, nafs al-ammara does not acknowledge the rational or moral boundary of the society but will pursue whatever it wants regardless of any limit.

“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you (the nafs), but do not transgress limits, for Allah love not transgressors.” (Quran 2:190)

The ego at this level does not command but is commanded by vain desires of the world. The nafs al-ammara is the most dangerous type of nafs for it attaches itself to the lowest things of the world such as lust, anger, selfishness, envy, arrogance, back-biting, bitterness, lying, and ignorance. In the worst scenario, the nafs even takes pleasure in committing evil deeds and reject the guidance coming from God.

The influence of this type of nafs is very heavy. Unless you develop a strong will to resist its temptation, you will live your life as the Children of Israel under the command of the tyrant Pharaoh, being ruled under the instinctual desires instead of living life as a pure human being.

The best sign to acknowledge this stage is the unrestrained appetite, uncontrolled habits, and unchecked moral consequences. That is, you are heedless about the effects of your habits, actions, and behaviors. Yet, the nafs al-ammara will convince you that you are totally fine and there is no need to change.

The commanding nafs is usually depicted with animal imagery such as a donkey or unruly horse. The horse represents the unruly desires that we have in our human nature. Therefore, the nafs must be trained and controlled so that the rider (the higher self) can reach the destination. Otherwise, its desires will lead us to perdition, damnation, and destruction.

Possible treatments:

  • Accept where you are.
  • Contemplate on the consequences of your actions.
  • If you don’t know what to do, stop what you are doing or DO NOTHING.
  • Constantly purify the body, mind, and heart.
  • Ask for help (usually from sheikh or wise masters because they have actually experienced the situation).
  • Don’t follow the nafs’ command, but follow your rational decision.

Main characteristics:

  • Attach to the lowest of characteristics: back-biting, arrogance, jealousy, greed, selfishness, lack of gratitude, anger, hypocrisy, narcissism, etc.
  • Pursue lust, worldly pleasures, and material possessions.
  • Deny God and enjoy doing evil.
  • The commanding nafs convinces itself that it’s perfect; thus, you will feel no need to change. In other words, it makes you heedless of the consequences of your thoughts and actions.
  • Very hard to resist temptations.
  • Uncontrolled desire, appetite, and instinctual habits.
  • A sense of restlessness.
  • Tendency of habits: pride, cruelty, restlessness, impulsion, enmity, recklessness, stubbornness, lust, strong sexual desire.

2.  Nafs al-lawwama (the accusing nafs)

Level of purity: 20-50%

In Sufism, this is the stage when if you listen to your ego, your higher self will accuse you of doing so and will constantly irritate you until you change your actions. That’s why it’s called the “accusing nafs” because you will have a chance to develop conscience at this stage, which is the ability enabling you to discern between good and evil.

In contrast to taking enjoyment in doing evil, you will be blamed by your “self” if you commit wrongdoings. Therefore, your nafs al-lawwama urges you to repent and ask God for forgiveness. The ego is now conscious of evil, tries to resist it, and replaces evil with good; it is not in the all-commanding-evil nafs as before.

The boundary between right and wrong becomes clearer. The nafs al-lawwama tries to adhere to the religious rituals as strictly as possible, including prayer, fasting, and charity. Thus, it is connected to the first level of the 4 stages of Sufism. However, the nafs is prone to being a hypocrite, which means that it thinks in one way but its actions direct to another way.

According to Islamic teachings, this stage is when the ego lies in the middle between the command of the spirit and the lowly desires. It is conscious of both sides but is inclined on neither side, yet the nafs al-lawwama is always in conflict when it comes to making decisions.

One sign to recognize this level of nafs is that you have taken great effort to resist your animal nature. Your awareness about the results of your actions is higher, but it’s still difficult for you to break your previous habits. You also have more capacity for self-observation on this level of soul development.

Possible treatments:

  • Be aware of self-righteousness and hypocrisy in your actions.
  • Learn humility.
  • No procrastination when performing good deeds.
  • Perform good deeds privately instead of publicly.

Main characteristics:

  • Hesitation in making decisions.
  • Hear a lot of mental conflict and argument when making decisions.
  • Take pride in doing good actions – think that a small good deed is already a big achievement.
  • Try to oppose evil and blame yourself for bad actions.
  • May have a tendency to perform good deeds to prove to others that you’re good (hypocrisy).
  • Not willing to listen to others’ advice.
  • Prone to be self-righteous, hypocrite, angry, arrogant, and intolerant.

3.  Nafs al-mulhama (the inspired nafs)

Level of purity: 50-60%

On this level of beings, nafs al-mulhama inclines more towards one’s conscience, yet the ego does not totally surrender. It is not the middleman between good and evil anymore, but the good has begun to dominate the evil.

One way to know the nafs al-mulhama is by the state of constant repentance. This kind of nafs continually asks for God’s forgiveness because what it wants is to be purified regardless of any circumstance. In other words, the soul seeks God’s forgiveness even in its goodness and righteous acts.

That’s why this stage is called “the inspired nafs” in Islam because the ego now exerts its efforts in performing good deeds. You probably set “exercising good deeds” as your “goal” because you understand the power of karma better on this level.

God’s inspiration flows much easier and there is a chance that you will be rewarded with baraka for your good behaviors. However, the devil can fake the inspiration, so you may find it hard to distinguish which revelation is authentic or false.

Although there are some minor mistakes on this level, the soul is stronger, more persistent, and more obedient to carry out what God wills. A sense of hypocrisy and arrogance is reduced significantly, yet it is still there and needed to be refined. You can choose to follow the path of blame on this level to counterattack the poison of self-righteousness.

One special trait that you may encounter is spiritual greed, which means that you may want to make something out of your spiritual pursuits for your selfish goals, such as money and fame.

In Islamic teachings, it is advisable that you should be honest with yourself, not to cover up yourself with false reasoning. By this, I mean that if you acknowledge your wrongdoings, you should correct your mistakes instead of making reasons that back up your behaviors.

Possible treatments:

  • Detachment from worldly desires.
  • Feel contempt at your actions.
  • Purify and correct your intentions.

Main characteristics:

  • Continual repentance regardless of circumstances.
  • Exert much effort to perform good deeds.
  • Receive regular inspiration from God.
  • Feel irritated even with your minor mistake.
  • Perceptions start to change.
  • Difficulty in distinguishing between false and real inspiration.
  • Good traits begin to develop: modesty, gratitude, empathy.

4.  Nafs al-mutma’inna (the peaceful nafs)

Level of purity: 60-70%

This level of soul is called “the peaceful nafs” because the soul now finds harmony and acts according to the guidance of the higher self. There is little or no conflict here because the naf has released itself from most worldly desires. Therefore, the nafs al-mutma’inna satisfies with mostly everything. The Quran describes this type of nafs as followed:

“To the righteous soul will be said: O soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction.” (Quran 89:27)

On this level, the ego enjoys the sweetness of faith and strongly fights against hypocrisy in its actions. It doesn’t try to pursue the outer desires but focuses its intention on the quality inside itself.

This level of being will change the soul’s perception towards itself and the outer worlds as the nafs al-mutma’inna will look at things from different perspectives and do things in different ways. You may take delight in executing good behaviors or following religious requirements.

Fears, faults, and mistakes are released while confidence, commitment, honesty, and faith increase. You feel a sense of peace and tranquility in your daily activities even though there are still some minor mental conflicts.

In Islam, the soul gains more spiritual understanding such as interpretation of dreams, knowledge of natural things/events, and discernment ability on this level. According to Al-Ghazali, the first knowledge is the knowledge of “self”, followed by the knowledge of God and of the universe.

Possible treatments:

  • Focus on yourself first then help others later.
  • Develop discipline, patience, and constancy.
  • Be aware of false piety.

Main characteristics:

  • Feel more confident in your actions.
  • A sense of peace, calm, contentment, and tranquility in physical and mental activities.
  • Feel closer to God.
  • Start to enjoy life more in a sense of silence and contemplation.
  • Good traits: kindness, generosity, sincerity, forgiving attitude, loyalty, dignity.

5.  Nafs al-radiyya (the pleased nafs)

Level of purity: 70-80%

At level 5, we have “the pleased nafs” which is pleased with the blessings coming from God and lives fully in the moment, not in the past nor the future. The longing to transform yourself is intense here. The lataif of your heart starts to open, which are the chakras, subtleties, or energy centers in your subtle body.

The nafs al-radiyya can see the straight path and strive its best to stay on this path, so patience, firmness, and thankfulness are highly good virtues which can be developed on this level. You may feel continual gratitude, joyfulness, and thankfulness in most life circumstances.

At this stage, the nafs doesn’t try to control the situation but let life flow naturally as it is already pleased with what has happened. Love starts to manifest and you begin to see the truth.

However, the nafs al-radiyya may be tested with the joy that it’s already had because God will test you not only in hard times but also in good times.

Possible treatments:

  • Don’t let joy hinder the path of God.
  • Be mindful of excess.
  • Spirituality is not feeling good about yourself.

Main characteristics:

  • A sense of being at the moment.
  • Appreciate the past experiences.
  • You do not ask for anything except God.
  • Good traits: constant gratitude, happiness, acceptance, endurance, and thankfulness.

6.  Nafs al-mardiyya (the pleasing nafs)

Level of purity: 80-90%

According to Islamic scholars, you have good manners and are soft and tolerant with people on this level. You feel a strong sense of completeness, wholeness, and contentment in your heart as stated in the Quran:

“Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. This is only for those who are aware of their Lord.” (Quran 98:8)

The veils of darkness are gradually lifted as spiritual insights are expanded. The nafs al-mardiyya starts to see ‘light’ and the secrets of manifestation at this stage of development.

The relationship between you and God is closer and more intimate. You’re animal nature completely disappears and beauty begins to manifest in everything that you do.

Taqwa (God’s consciousness) increases substantially on this level of being. This stage is called “the pleasing nafs” because it is continually receiving blessings and being in the presence of Allah (“pleasing” is a present continuous verb tense).

Possible treatments:

  • Have faith and develop wisdom.
  • Acquire more knowledge about spirituality.
  • Contemplate on the signs of God.

Main Characteristics:

  • The state of “being” whole, complete, full, and perfect balance.
  • Gifts of psychic powers.
  • Many good virtues manifest in behaviors and thoughts.
  • Good traits: compassion, servitude, divine knowledge, unbounded faith, and selfless giving.

7.  Nafs al-safiyya (the purified and perfect nafs)

Level of purity: 90-100%

In Islam, the final stages of nafs is called “the pure nafs”, which is when the nafs completely surrender to God’s will. The nafs al-safiyya’s actions are based on whatever God wills and its thoughts come directly from the Divine Universal Mind.

This is the highest station of all because the ego is now purified because of its great efforts in previous levels. That is, it contains ALL of the good qualities in prior stages and prepares itself for the “death before death”.

It is very hard to describe this type of nafs in words because one needs to have the direct taste of this experience to “be” it. Some Islamic scholars believe that you are as flexible as water on this level, where you have no habit and are freed from duality – yin and yang.

In simple understanding, the main trait of this stage of nafs is the total surrender to God’s will. The nafs is willing to carry out the command of God and is under the servanthood of God. Moreover, its love is for every living thing on the planet: for God, for His messengers, and for the universe.

All of the 5 lataif centers in your body become luminous. When you reach this level, it is said that you have become an insani kamil, who is the Perfect Human Being.

Possible treatments:

  • The one who tastes will know.

Main characteristics:

  • Close intimacy with God.
  • Complete surrender to God’s will.
  • Purity of the soul: sinless, transparent, humble, free from duality.
  • To die before death.

3. 7 Rules about 7 Stages of Nafs

Based on my authentic, sincere and original experience, there are some ‘rules’ regarding to the 7 types of the nafs, which are my observation of the universal truth that I want to share with you:

  1. The 7 stages of nafs are universal as it is proven since the ancient time. In other words, regardless of your colors, background and ethics, we are on the same boat heading to the same destination and having the same Creator of the worlds.
  2. The stages are not permanent: you can either level up or level down based on the choices that you make.
  3. Each successive stage contains the quality of its previous stage. For example, stage 2 contains the quality of stage 1, stage 3 contains the quality of stage 2 and stage 1, etc.
  4. It is common to receive divine punishments during earlier stages (stages 1-4) as we are in the state of uncleanness. It does not mean that God hates you; it means that God cares much about you so that He brings into your awareness about your particular problems.
  5. The lower the stages, the greater the efforts to purify oneself.
  6. Taqwa (God’s awareness), faith, and righteous deeds are the special cure for every encountered problem at any stage.
  7. Passing or failing one level can be manifested through dreams.

4. Esoteric Meanings behind 7 Types of Nafs

Doctrine of Seventy Thousand Veils (Kashf)

The origin of the 7 stages of the nafs can be traced back to the ancient times far beyond Islam such as Neo-Platonism or Gnosticism and is of the same concept as mysticism schools.

The earth is encircled by 7 heavenly planets: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, beyond which are the Fixed Stars; and beyond the Fixed Stars is the world of Absolute Reality.

Each stage of the soul development corresponds to each of the 7 heavenly planets. These planets represent the veils that hinder us to see the truth, which is stated in this Hadith:

“God has seventy thousand veils of light and darkness; if He were to remove them, the radiant splendors of His Face would burn up whoever was reached by His Gaze.” (Ibn Majah)

The 70 thousand veils are what separate the soul from its source – Allah. Before birth, every soul has to pass through these 70 thousand, with the outer half of the veils made of darkness and the inner half made of light.

In the journey towards birth, for every one of the light veils the soul passed through, it “puts off” divine quality; for every one of the dark veils, it “puts on” earthly qualities. Therefore, the child is born “crying” because it experiences separation from the Unity (Allah). The soul now is trapped in his body, separated by 70 thousand veils away from God.

Thus, the goal of Sufism is to move through these veils to recover the unity with Allah while we are still in this body. The body is made to be refined rather than to be put off to support the soul to come back to the spirit. This is when the art of alchemy comes in, which is about transmuting the gross earthly substance of the body into the spiritual essence of the spirit through the help of fire (light).

Patience is needed the most when a seeker is in the early stages because these are the stages of repentance and are in Dark Veils. This was when the Banu Israel killed themselves for every repentance, so the seeker will also “die” many times daily. The Sufis call this stage “The Lesser Nirvana”, or the “death before death“.

Association with 7 Stages of Nafs

Besides the 7 heavenly planets, each stage of the soul development is associated with a specific prophet, day of the week, and Dhikr. This knowledge needs further explanation of its esoteric meanings, but for simplicity, I will just leave it here so you can use it whenever you need for your soul development.

StageProphetPlanetFirst 7 Verses of the QuranDayDhikrMeaning
1. Nafs al-ammara (the depraved, commanding nafs)    AdamMoon Praise to Allah, the Lord of the WorldsFirst dayThere is no God but AllahStage of uprooting lust and anger and replace them with good virtues
2. Nafs al-lawwama (the accusing nafs)  IdrisMercuryThe Most Compassionate, the Most MercifulSecond dayAllahStage of cutting away vices, yet some of the evil roots are still there. Divine love is the beginning on this level.
3. Nafs al-mulhama (the inspired nafs)    NoahVenusMaster of the Day of JudgementThird dayHuThe eliminating process is now done. The soul recovers its sight and receives divine passion.
4. Nafs al-mutma’inna (the peaceful nafs)    AbrahamSunThee we worship and Thee we ask for helpFourth dayHayy (Living one!)The true virtue begins to live; the soul becomes calm and tranquil as struggles are passed away
5. Nafs al-radiyya (the pleased nafs)  MosesMarsGuide us to the straight pathFifth dayQayyum (self-subsistence)Stage of marifa or gnosis (divine knowledge)
6. Nafs al-mardiyya (the pleasing nafs)    Jesus ChristJupiterThe path of those whom you bestow favorsFriday – Day of AssemblyLatif (Kind!) – Not necessary on this stageThe stage when one is free from all religious observances, such as prayer or Dhikr
7. Nafs al-safiyya (the purified and perfect nafs)    MuhammadSaturnNot the path of those who evoke Your angers and are astraySaturdayEl-Quahhar (Subduer-by-constraint) – Not necessary on this stageThe seeker reaches the Reality. The soul becomes the mirror – the measurement of all things. No outward laws or religious observance can bound the Sufi on this level
7 stages of nafs – 7 levels of beings – 7 classical planets

A Seeker Of Truth - A Student Of Life - A Master Of Self

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