Modern Sufis hold on hard to the terminology worked out many centuries ago. They can be understood; after all, all the teaching stands on it, including those parts of it which far from everyone manages to live through their own experience. Time has made sacred practically all Sufi terms, and anyone who does not want to fall out of the common context must use them. As a result, what happens this: some terms in the past had not a quite unambiguous or vague interpretation, and therefore we must to some extent discuss them approximately. For example, nafs. It is commonly acknowledged that it means the animal nature of a person, but there are other interpretations. The Sufis say that nafs is a fine substance, embodying in itself will, feeling and life forces. And if in the first interpretation, the animal nature simply must be tamed and subjected to the spirit or the soul (although sometimes the soul also relates to the nafs), then in the second interpretation, the nafs becomes what can be changed.
Then the stages appear – the commanding, judging and other forms of nafs (of course there are all of seven of them) in which can be traced the changes of these very feelings and wishes (read: will). The choice of method and the horizon of possibilities in the work with this very nafs depends on the interpretation of this or that term and the designation of its meaning. The more broadly this or that concept can be interpreted, the less definite the methods of work on the Way become. Of course, one can pray and turn over everything to the Will of God, but as experience shows, in order to really advance along the Way, that is not enough for the majority of seekers. The modern level of common knowledge enables us to specify and even develop certain customary concepts, and after that, to explain the methods enabling work to be done in eradicating the ego and developing a person’s essence more effectively. The conservativism common to the majority of today’s Sufi orders and schools maintains ambiguity, and from this, Sufi methods begin to seem like magic rituals.
Here, for example, is the work with energy centers – latifa. There are various forms of exercises aimed at their activization, but a coherent explanation of what happens during this work is practically impossible to find. Points open up, light appears in them, and this is extremely beneficial to the spiritual state of the student. There is a sense that no one has achieved success in this practice for a long time, because there is no way to explain further that a more modern description of its effects and tasks has never appeared. And if the experience of the Truth that occurred in the Middle Ages was sufficiently adequately reflected on the level of common knowledge available then, in the context in which it was expressed, now it is completely obvious that it is outdated.
In this, in part, is contained yet another reason for the degeneration of Sufism – the descriptions are too general and diffuse, and the methods, which have ceased to be understandable, have turned into notions of people into exercises acting in some magical fashion. When understanding is lost, even really working practices inevitably turn into rituals. Modern books seemingly written by Sufis either re-tell the works of Sufis of the past, or offer some strange and at times mysterious practices, or are filled with long and hazy argumentations on common topics such as the Heart, Love and other concepts popular among Sufis. Those who hold tight to the Koran do not even need to move anywhere because its message is not subject to criticism or review or renewal. Moreover, quotations from the Koran always confirm the truth of the claims of the speaker and Koranic Sufism is not supposed to be renewed and change by definition. It cannot be ruled out that this is precisely why Sufism had to move to where modern expression of the Truth is still possible.