To extract the underlying principles and truths of the process of spiritual perfection, Ostad Elahi did not content himself with examining the core principles of the religions and universal wisdom traditions from a theoretical perspective; instead, he experimented with them in real-life situations and in direct contact with others.
His ensuing method of “natural spirituality” is distinguished by its emphasis on reason rather than emotion as a means of discovering the mechanisms that underlie the maturation of the soul. Contrary to popular belief, spirituality is not about attaining altered states of consciousness through special exercises (ascetic, meditative, or otherwise) or acquiring extraordinary powers. For Ostad Elahi, the practice of natural spirituality enables us to gradually develop a heightened level of attentiveness and an acute consciousness of our faculties within the framework of a normal and productive life in society.
This innovative approach is not limited to an exercise in psychological introspection; on the contrary, it is firmly rooted in experience and practice. As we acquire knowledge of ourselves, we gradually transform our nature; in turn, by exerting the ongoing effort required for this transformation, we acquire a greater degree of self-knowledge. In doing so, we are able to better assess the different forms of resistance that must be overcome, while developing a more profound and accurate understanding of the ethical and spiritual principles upon which our practice is based.
As long as we have not come to know ourselves, we cannot come to know God. The first step in the process of attaining self-knowledge is to overcome our selfishness and self-centeredness.
Such a spirituality, then, is described as “natural” because it is adapted to the inherent nature of human beings. The soul resembles an organism: it must nourish itself with adequate principles to ensure the conditions that will preserve its health and promote its gradual, balanced development. It is in this context that the tripartite matrix comprised of our body, social life, and environment assumes critical importance. That is why Ostad Elahi, contrary to the ascetic tendencies favored by classical mysticism, emphasized the necessity of according equal importance to the rights of the body as to those of the soul.
In practice, the process of maturation and the attainment of self-knowledge requires concretely and repeatedly confronting the impulses and drives of the “imperious self,” the source of all resistance to our ethical and spiritual progress. This inner force, at once impulsive and cunning, originates from our weak points, which, in turn, stem from the unregulated activity of our character traits having an animal origin. As a harmful psychological energy, the imperious self especially manifests through a systematic tendency to infringe upon rights—whether those of our own or others. To identify its different facets and modes of operation, we must engage in a concrete ethical practice—that is, we must strive to respect the rights of everyone and everything and to act altruistically, while striving to oppose the impulsive tendencies of our egoistic animality. Throughout this process, Ostad Elahi highlights the importance of directing our attention toward our ultimate goal and cultivating a disinterested intention that is guided by divine contentment.
By describing the conditions for the natural development of the soul, natural spirituality assumes the form of an educational curriculum that is organized into defined stages geared toward our spiritual perfection. While the authentic religions are intended to instill within us the foundations of morality that constitute the backdrop of spiritual life, the “university” phase in the process of spiritual perfection is a prolongation of this education aimed at fully developing one’s humanity. It is at this stage that the actual work of self-knowledge begins, anchored in the constant battle against the relentless impulses and desires of the imperious self.
Ostad Elahi has analogized this educational curriculum—in which our earthly sojourn is a preparatory stage—to the study of medicine. Just as we learn the objective laws and causal processes that govern the health and development of the body in the science of medicine, so too do we learn the objective laws and causal processes that govern the health and development of the soul in natural spirituality. As all human beings share the same essential nature, the principles of this “medicine of the soul” are universal, as are those that govern the science of medicine or any other experimental science. As such, natural spirituality is not rooted in or tied to any particular culture, time, or place. Anyone is free to adopt and benefit from its application, provided that it is approached with the mindset of a student or researcher, without any expectation of gratifying the ego through ecstatic forms of rapture or states of mental quietude.
Studying this medicine of the soul entails the learning and application of real divine truths that govern the development of the self; no one can learn and assimilate these truths for us. On the basis of a lifetime of personal experience, Ostad Elahi concluded that the master-disciple relationship present in virtually all forms of classical mysticism is unsuitable for the study of natural spirituality, which requires instead that each of us approach the practice of spirituality through sound reason and strive to become the physician of our own souls. Such a pursuit cannot be grounded in blind obedience or compulsion, but must be undertaken freely and voluntarily, with full comprehension and freedom of conscience.