~ Kabir Helminski, 2022

Definition of a definition: Some of the following definitions are offered for linguistic consistency and clarity; some of these also carry a teaching. For example, the definition of a “dervish”: one who stands at the threshold between slavery and freedom. “A definition has to cover all kindred aspects of what is being defined, and should be free from all aspects that don’t agree with it” (Hasan Tahsin Baba).


Abundant life: Living life fully and being consciously aware of becoming whole with your mind, body, soul, and ecology.

Adab: Spiritual courtesy. This refined and conscious form of spiritual courtesy helps to create an atmosphere of respect and affection which supports the process of transformation. It is one of the most important practices of the Sufi path.

Appropriateness: The child of love and humbleness.

Ashk (Turkish)/eshq (Farsi): In Sufi usage, deep spiritual love.

Attainment: The progress in using human faculties. Something is an attainment if it can be produced at will.

Attribute: The Divine Qualities and Meanings that are the real causative factors of the manifestation of material existence.

Awareness: Any perception; not necessarily “conscious.”

Baqa: The state of resurrecting through the Divine Being.

Baraka: (1) Blessing. (2) When associated with an individual, it is the ability of putting into action the Divine Attributes of supraconscious mind; “Divine charm.”

Beauty: (1) An attribute of the Divine. (2) Something that becomes our point of contact with Love.

Being: (1) God—that is true Being. (2) A timeless, spaceless attribute, satisfying in itself, that can be experienced by the soul. (3) When applied to an individual, it is the degree of our identification with Spirit.

Beloved: (1) God. (2) One’s point of contact with Being; it can be a single person, and it can be sensed as an omnipresent Presence.

Chivalry (Futuwwah): Heroic virtue, sacrifice, and generosity. The Sufi ethic that traces back to the family of the Prophet.

Completion: In the case of an individual human, it is being one with the Whole, realizing Truth.

Complete human being (insāni kāmil): The fully mature human being; someone whose self has become transparent to God and thus can reflect the Divine Attributes appropriately.

Consciousness: The degree of our awareness, inner and outer, on as many levels of our experience as are available to us. A potentially comprehensive awareness that encompasses thinking, feeling, and bodily sensation without being limited by them.

Contentment: In Arabic, qanaat. Knowing that you have; an awareness of one’s present richness without precluding having more.

Denier: In Arabic, kafir. One who denies the reality of a beneficent Unseen order. We reject the dogmatic notion that a kafir is a “non-Muslim.”

Dergah: A traditional Persian word for a Sufi training center. Synonyms: tekkye (Turkish), zawia (North African); khaneqah (Persian and Indian).

Dervish: A person who has committed to the Sufi path; one who stands at the threshold between slavery and freedom.

Discernment: In Arabic, furqan. An innate capacity within the human being to discern the good and the true, the real from the false.

Discipline: Methodical pursuit; the state of someone who does everything for a purpose.

Ecology: Relationship with our environment.

Ego: In Arabic, nafs. (1) The self, which is that which we will always continue to transform and develop into ever more subtle and spiritualized states of being. (2) The lower self.

Egoism: The self in its more compulsive manifestations. The self-righteousness of the intellect working for its own survival at the expense of the whole self.

Elder: A mature carrier of the Teaching; a light-holder of the tradition.

Emancipation: Freedom from the fear of loss.

Essence: (1) For the human being: one’s innate nature. (2) In general, the essential nature of anything; that which is inherently and utilizably good in something.

Essential self: The individual consciousness minus the conditioning of the false self; personal consciousness, experienced as the objective witness before it is socialized or conditioned.

Faith: In Arabic, iman. (1) The perception and understanding that existence is purposeful, intelligent, and beneficent. (2) Hope substantiated by knowledge.

Fana: The state of the self having melted into the Divine Being, which is followed by or alternates with baqa.

Freedom: Having will; being free of negativity; doing what one chooses without hurting anyone.

God: (1) The absolute source of all that exists. (2) The Whole. (3) The subtlest state of everything.

Grace: The continuous overflowing of the Divine that is coming to all beings, all witnesses of God. The amount of grace we receive primarily depends on our ability to receive it.

Haqq: The ultimately Real.

Heart: (1) The true cognitive center of our individuality or soul. (2) The subconscious and supraconscious faculties of mind, primarily non-intellectual. (3) The midpoint between self and Spirit, which allows a connection to be formed between them.

Higher Self: That part of ourselves that is in contact with the Creative Power, or Divine Being.

Himma: Spiritual resolve. A degree of spiritual intention accompanied by yearning. Also see Intention.

Hu: The pronoun of Divine Presence, also understood by Sufis to be the indwelling presence of Allah.

Human being: A vehicle for individualized Spirit; the most complete witness of Spirit within this material world.

Humbleness: (1) The awareness of our dependence on Spirit, that we are not the originators of anything but the reflectors of the attributes of Spirit. (2) The awareness of our interdependence with and need for other human beings.

Imaginal: See Interworld.

Iman: See Faith.

Innate nature: In Arabic, fitra. The natural disposition that God has instilled in the human being.

Intellect: (1) Thought, distinguished from the faculties of the subconscious and supraconscious mind; mind activated by will and reason. The faculty of mind most under our immediate control. (2) See Universal Intellect.

Intention: In Arabic, himma. An aim or wish, clearly formulated in words, by which we mobilize the energy to attain that aim or wish. Having a spiritual intention (himma) is the beginning of integrity.

Interdependence: The recognized need of human beings for one another in order to attain the fullness of life on all levels, from material to cosmic.

Interworld: In Arabic, barzakh. Mundus imaginalis, a visionary realm intermediate between pure meaning and material existence; the locus of imaginal experience.

Knowledge: We recognize seven levels: 1. knowing something’s name, or from merely hearing of it; 2. knowing through the senses by direct experience; 3. knowing about something in its manifold aspects as a result of normal experience; 4. knowing through a deeper grasp involving the subtler aspects of perception and understanding; 5. knowing through skillful doing; mastering the knowledge of a subject so as to make an original contribution to that field of knowledge; 6. knowing through the “inspiration” of supra-conscious faculties, artistic genius; 7. knowing by “Spirit plus nothing,” becoming one with what is known.

Kufr: Denial. The tendency in human beings to be in denial of the spiritual nature of reality. Sometimes mis-translated as misbelief or infidelity, and incorrectly applied to non-Muslims.

Leader: In the spiritual context, someone who is “lifted up” by others in order to be of service, to get a particular job done, to whom we give love, respect, and everything necessary to get the job done.

Life: An attribute of God. It is from eternity to eternity and forms our existence.

Love: The greatest transforming power; our experience of Spirit; the electromagnetic milieu in which we all exist, which exerts various forces of attraction among all that it contains. The final purpose of everything.

Lower self: The self based on ego.

Mathnawi: Rumi’s six volume masterwork of more than 20,000 couplets, containing stories, allegories, sublime supplications, jokes, and metaphysical reflections. Rumi’s lyrical poems and quatrains are contained in another collection known as Kulliyeti Shams, Divani Kabir, or Divani Shams.

Maturity: Skillfulness within our particular ecology, which comes from the development and balance of latent human faculties under Divine grace and guidance. It leads to fulfillment in every department of life.

Meditation: Listening within; a function of conscious awareness, not intellect.

Mevlana (or Mawlana): “Our Master,” an honorific commonly applied to Jalaluddin Rumi.

Mind: (1) The totality of our faculties for knowing. (2) The whole field of reality.

Muraqaba: sustained attention on whatever reflects from the heart.

Murshid: One capable of giving “guidance” (Irshad).

Mysterion: The inner capacity that helps the human being to experience intimacy with the Divine and thus to discern the Real from the illusory. The innermost essence, “the intrinsic meaning” of the human.

Mysticism: A faculty peculiar to the human being, which is neither obvious to the intellect nor the senses but that depends on the refinement and receptivity of faculties within the supra-conscious mind, including developing a receptivity to the Divine at the deepest levels of the subconscious.

Nafs: See Ego.

Nothingness: The point reached by utmost subtilization of mind. Like sugar dissolving in water, the self is not really gone but transparent to the Divine Presence.

Personality: Learned habits of thought, feeling, and behavior; the social self. Personality can either manifest our essence or obscure it.

Point of contact: A person, saint, or prophet through whom we gain access to Higher Self or an experience of the Divine.

Presence: (1) The state of being consciously aware of all our faculties (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) simultaneously. (2) The infinite Divine milieu in which we exist.

Prophet: A person chosen to bring a message (from the Divine) or a code of living, a sacred way of life for the general population. A prophet may also initiate a small group of close companions into knowledge of Truth.

Rabb: “Sustainer,” “Lord,” “Educator”; that aspect of the Divine that educates our souls. A synonym for Allah, the Rabb al-Alameen, Lord and Sustainer of All Worlds.
Rabita: An affectionate bond formed between a dervish and shaikh, student and spiritual guide, in which spiritual support and protection are maintained beyond time and space.

Realization: Understanding reached through our mobilization of the supra-conscious and subconscious minds as well as our five senses.

Remembering, Remembrance: In Arabic, zikr. (1) Conscious awareness of our relationship with the Divine. (2) Repetition of the Divine Name(s).

Revelation: A communication of the Divine for the sake of guidance; instructions for the realization of our true human nature from the Source of our human nature; the Holy Books (explicitly Torah, Psalms, Gospels, Qur’an; implicitly the sacred books of all traditions).

Sacred Law: In Arabic, shari`ah. A human-formulated code of living based upon the Qur’an and the example (sunnah) of Muhammad, the intention of which is to restore and safeguard our humanness and the social order.

Secret: In Arabic, sirr. See Mysterion.

Self: The sense of identity, that with which we are always working. At the lowest level, it can be a complex of psychological manifestations arising from the body and related to its pleasure and survival. At its highest level, it can be experienced as an infinitely fine substance. (See also Soul; Spirit.)

Sema: In the Mevlevi tradition this is the ceremony of the whirling dervishes, involving a precise choreography, supported by a classical tradition of music, and the intention of which is worship. In other Sufi lineages, it may be a ceremonial gathering involving music and zikr.

Sensing: A spiritual practice based in being grounded in an awareness of the body.

Service: (1) Action benefiting something greater than oneself. (2) The natural outcome of being connected to cosmic energy.

Shaikh: In Sufism a shaikh is a person who has been given the spiritual authority and permission (ijazet) by a lineage, typically through another shaikh who has trained them, to represent the teaching of that lineage.

Shari`ah: See Sacred Law.

Sin: (1) Separation from the Divine Reality, the opposite of submission; saying no to God. (2) Personal choice that harms or degrades our humanness.

Soul: Individualized Spirit. The result of the degree of connection between self and Spirit. The core of individuality that can be developed and spiritualized. (See also Self; Spirit.)

Spirit: (1) The first or primary manifestation of the Absolute. (2) As an attribute of the human being, it is our innermost consciousness (Holy Spirit; Ruh, in Arabic). Spirit is one pole, while self is the opposite pole. According to the Qur’an, Spirit is described as an impulse or command (amr) from God. Spirit is the essence of life itself. It is like a non-dimensional point that is linked to the realm of Unity and has access to the realm of Divine Attributes, the Divine Names. (See also Self; Soul.)

Submission: (1) A translation of islam, the Arabic word linguistically related to peace and wholeness. (2) Lower self bowing to Higher Self; listening to the directive of Higher Self wherever we find it.

Subtle faculties: In Arabic, lataif. Literally, “subtleties”; capacities of the human nervous system to reflect the one Creative Energy: for example, just as the brain is the platform of intellectual mind, which is one kind of reflection of the Creative Energy, there are other, subtler faculties that can apprehend the infinite qualities of Being.

Sufi: A person traveling on the way of love leading to Divine Truth. A word whose root means “pure” and “unadulterated.”

Sufism: In Arabic, tasawwuf. The practice of self-purification under the auspices of Divine Love, leading to beautiful character and a profound inner life.

Supra-conscious: Faculties of the human mind that are subtle and beyond the “thinking” mind; a synonym for “heart.”

Tawhid: Oneness; the Divine interconnectedness of all existence.

Truth: The knowledge that “I” am not separate from the Whole. In relation to the manifest world, everything that exists is created “with Truth” according to the Qur’an.

Universal Intellect: The Intelligence of the Whole.

Unseen: In Arabic, al-Ghaib. Those aspects of reality beyond our perception.

Will: The faculty of conscious choice; the ability to “do” consciously; a unique attribute of the human being.

Wisdom: Knowledge that comes from within; knowledge in harmony with spiritual laws.

Worship: Loving respect for a higher spiritual power; a yearning found in human beings.

Yearning: One of the most valuable attributes of a seeker, which becomes the motivating force of the whole journey of return to God.

Zikr: See Remembering, Remembrance.