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More on the Latifa


M.Alan Kazlev

The Four Lataif

In Sufism, reference is often made to a number of subtle organs or centres, called latiaf (singular latifa), each of which is associated with a particular colour and psychospiritual faculty.  The simplest version of this is described by Idries Shah and, quoting him, Kenneth Raynor Johnson, who give the following correspondences:

Intuition khafi black forehead
Mind ("heart") qalb yellow left side of body
Spirit ruh red right side of body
Consciousness  sirr white solar plexis

Kenneth Johnson observes that these are the standard colours of Western alchemy, and that if the hand follows the body positions in the usual alchemical sequence - black, white, yellow and red - the result is the action of crossing oneself.  One wonders then whether there may not be some Knights Templar or other esoteric Christian influence here, although Johnson points out that this is not an exclusively Christian gesture.

I might add that these colours also correspond in part to the three subtle states of consciousness (shunyas or "empties") in Tibetan Buddhism: i.e.: "the mind of white appearnace", "the mind of red near-attainment", and "the mind of black near-attainment"; this last being followed by the Clear Light or direct experience of Reality.

Alaoddawleh Semnani - the seven latif

A much more developed doctrine of lataif was formulated by the 13th/14th century Persian Sufi Alaoddawleh Semnani.  Linking the seven prophets of the Koran with the mystical physiology of seven latifa, Semnani referred to seven grades of being which constitute the ascent of the soul to the Godhead.  These are the latifah qalibiyya, the mould (= the theosophical "etheric body") or "Adam of one's being", black or dark-grey in colour; the latifah nafsiyya, the vital senses and animal soul, the "Noah of one's being", blue in colour; the latifah qalbiyya, the spiritual Heart, the "Abraham of one's being", red in colour; the latifah sirriyya, the Secret, the edge of superconsciousness and stage of spiritual monologues (c.f,. the Throat Chakra) or "Moses of one's being", white in colour; the latifah ruhiyya, the Spirit which is the vice-regent of God (c.f. Ajna = "Command" chakra), the "David of one's being", yellow in colour; the latifah khafiya or organ of spiritual inspiration, the "Jesus of one's being", luminous black in colour; and finally the latifah haqiqa, the Divine Centre or Eternal Seal, the "Mohammed of one's being", emerald green, this being the sacred colour of Islam.

 It would seem that Semnani's latifa have a double meaning: they refer both to psychic centres (=chakras) and to a succession of subtle bodies (Sanskrit kosha, Greek okhema) or levels of self.  It is interesting that some modern clairvoyant and theosophical writers, who are totally ignorant of this particular Sufi teaching, also match up the seven chakras with seven bodies or levels of self (e.g. according to Barbara Brennan the base or Muladhara chakra corresponds to the etheric body, the second or Swadhishthana chakra to the emotional body, and so on), and also to colours (usually a rainbow sequence from red through to violet).  Even though the two sets of correspondences are quite distinct, the principle of their equivalence is nevertheless quite similiar.

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 29 November 1998, last modified 6 September 2004