Dear reader! You are the unsought treasure. The jewel mistaken for glass. The sleeping queen taken for a peasant. Awaken your true self! You are the gateway, the hidden door, the catalyst for what might be. A painting in a lightless cave is equal to the pressing void. You were made to catch the light; to reveal its beauty secrets. Your nature is never far from Him. Only: the unlit candle knows nothing at first of Heat and Flame.
What follows are some musings on the following Hidden Word:
O Son of My Handmaid! Didst thou behold immortal sovereignty, thou wouldst strive to pass from this fleeting world. But to conceal the one from thee and to reveal the other is a mystery which none but the pure in heart can comprehend.
When the Writings speak of this world and the next, it can also refer to the world of self, and the world of nearness to God:
Know ye that by “the world” is meant your unawareness of Him Who is your Maker, and your absorption in aught else but Him. The “life to come,” on the other hand, signifieth the things that give you a safe approach to God, the All-Glorious, the Incomparable.
Viewed in this sense, the first sentence of the Hidden World could be saying that if we only knew the station of a pure heart, devoted to God, we would impatiently cast away our selves.
In another Hidden Word He writes:
Possess a pure, kindly, and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty, ancient, imperishable and everlasting.
Here again we see the image of an immortal sovereignty, but it refers to a condition of heart, and not the worlds after physical death. And the phrase “strive to pass from this fleeting world” reminds me of another verse along these lines:
O My Brother! A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and severance from all save God, that the true sun may shine within it and the eternal morning dawn. Then wilt thou clearly see the meaning of “Neither doth My earth nor My heaven contain Me, but the heart of My faithful servant containeth Me.” And thou wilt take up thy life in thine hand, and with infinite longing cast it before the new Beloved One.
But why is the glory of this station concealed, and the unreality of self allowed to hold sway over both our understanding and our perceptions, such that we must battle life-long to overcome it?
Maybe, in order to know God, we must first perceive what is “not God”; that is, acutely know the pain of His absence, until we are able to perceive even the least hint of His presence; until, “Each and every thing, however small, would be to him a revelation, leading him to his Beloved, the Object of his quest”, and where, “none shall contemplate anything whatsoever but that he shall see God therein”.
For example, a thirsty man perishing in the desert knows far more about water than the fish who swims in it always. That man can perceive its life-giving potential in a single drop — savoring its sweetness, longing for it with all his heart — while the fish remains ignorant in the very heart of the sea!
God’s revelation is like that sea, and to truly recognize it for its own sake — and not for the benefits it may confer — we must endure the dark, to sensitize our eyes; we must endure pain, to know the sweetness of mercy; we must feel the anguish of separation, poignant and deep, to savor the joy of reunion.
Within the contrast between what is and what could be, between “this fleeting world” and the joys of “immortal sovereignty”, lies a mystery both awesome and dreadful: “For the head raised up in the love of God will certainly fall by the sword, and the life that is kindled with longing will surely be sacrificed, and the heart which remembereth the Loved One will surely brim with blood.”
Again, if “head” and “life” are taken as references to selfhood, and “falling by the sword” and “sacrifice” refer to what must happen in order for us to die from self and live in God, then the brimming of our hearts with blood is a beautiful mystery — and one I believe is also addressed quite eloquently in the Fire Tablet.
Two men prayed to God: One said only one word and was given a life of bounty in response. The other prayed for decades... but received only a drop. Of these two, I think the latter was much more fortunate. Because,one day, these two will approach God. To the first, He will ask: "I gave you a life-time of bounty; why just one word?" To the other He will say: "For only a drop, you pledged your life." If this life gives you suffering in answer for your prayers: perhaps He answers another prayer, to be asked by a future self.
God is nearer to us than our life’s vein, and we are always “but one step away from the glorious heights above, and the celestial Tree of Love.” I don’t think the Abhá Kingdom is a place we are debarred from until we are worthy, because we are never worthy. “Should God punish men for their perverse doings, He would not leave on earth a moving thing.”
The real paradise for human souls lies in recognition of the Manifestation of God. I mean, really, truly knowing who He is, and what He represents. If we knew this, we would cry for joy until expiring from this life. This is the Abhá Kingdom, and to reach it requires changing our vision, our perception, the very fabric of who we think we are.
This sort of sea change cannot come about through study or reflection; not even by action alone. It must be accompanied by sacrifice, pain, and constant testing. We are all iron ingots, being pounded into shining blades of steel. There is no moment’s rest, no greater joy than to be fashioned into our perfect state, hammer blow by hammer blow.
If this does not accord with our current definition of happiness, then our concept of happiness must be changed for something greater. A seed is quite happy far under the ground, but this is not fitting for a tree; the infant must endure being born if he is to live, no matter how happy a place the womb world might be.
Is this process hard, difficult, arduous? Of course it is. And the reward is equally wondrous, delightful, and amazing. If we only knew!
If the Manifestation only wished for people to know the truth of things, this could be achieved with a single Word. So I do not think the objective is our understanding. After all, does it change anything to know whether Huri and Dijnn are figurative or literal?
Within the treasury of Our Wisdom there lieth unrevealed a knowledge, one word of which, if we chose to divulge it to mankind, would cause every human being to recognize the Manifestation of God and to acknowledge His omniscience, would enable every one to discover the secrets of all the sciences, and to attain so high a station as to find himself wholly independent of all past and future learning.
God gives to each soul a priceless opportunity to recognize Bahá’u’lláh for His own sake, and not according to his own understanding. Since the mind can never know God, or even the nature of its own self (!), the heart is what is tested.
But I don’t mean this in the sense of blind faith. Imagine an explorer who believes something about the world around him, based on principles he discerns without certain knowledge — even when others tell him he is wrong — and who demonstrates his faith by acting on that knowledge. If the truth of things were clear from the outset, the beauty of such courage would never be.
I believe that this world is a crucible, within which the pure of heart are tested, and distinguished from the false and self-seeking.
Everything revolves around the Manifestation of God, and discovering who is true in their devotion to Him. Is it because they want something from the exchange, or do they love Him only for the sake of His Beauty?
None of this is to God’s benefit. He can dispense with everything. He creates this opportunity for us, out of perfect Mercy, so that we might, ourselves, discover the value of that recognition.
Imagine a wealthy father who intends to bestow on his child a boundless inheritance. If the child is going to be without want for the whole of his life, would it not sweeten his appreciation if he were made to endure poverty at the beginning of that life, so that he comes to know the value of every coin? And while doing so, the father discovers which of his sons are pure in heart, and who only hungers for power and advantage.
All of this is truly a bounty to us, that we might come to know God — a knowledge like the thirsty and gasping fish who rediscovers the ocean, and not like those who remain unaware of its existence their whole lives. Just as knowledge of light requires darkness, and only then can a man appreciate the magnificent bounty of the Sun’s light. If he were born in the neighborhood of the sun, he would either be blind, or unable to perceive the infinite variety of colors that potentially dwell within that Light.
Say: My creatures are even as the fish of the deep. Their life dependeth upon the water, and yet they remain unaware of that which, by the grace of an omniscient and omnipotent Lord, sustaineth their very existence. Indeed, their heedlessness is such that were they asked concerning the water and its properties, they would prove entirely ignorant. Thus do We set forth comparisons and similitudes, that perchance the people may turn unto Him Who is the Object of the adoration of the entire creation.
Giving people knowledge of the ocean is only one kind of knowledge. `Irfán requires, at first, a deep and lasting thirst, so that within a single drop one may taste the sweetness of the Kawthar fountain.
A quick analogy occurred to me concerning the different between Ilm and Irfán, that is, between acquired knowledge and the deep understanding of a thing.
The former is reading that animals are treated poorly, and that hot dogs are made of terrible things, yet it doesn’t stop you from enjoying them. The latter is visiting the factory, and then the treatment plants, and having your appetite forever removed by that knowledge, by an awareness you can’t unknow.
I lived upon a landscape of broken crystal. My eyes were closed, and my feet, bleeding. One day I awoke with the sun in my face... And I fell in love, and my heart became a mortal cup, filled with light. I looked across the land as the Daystar rose and all those crystal thorns became as one: drops of the sun, diamonds of fire, a treasure of light unbounded.
An analogy I’ve been giving some thought to lately is that of cells in a human body. I think they have something to say about the meaning of selflessness, and how to balance the needs of the individual against that of the whole.
From the beginning, cells are differentiated by function: liver cells, lung cells, heart cells, etc. Each has a role to play, although roles may differ greatly. However, all cells have a significance to the whole. A healthy organism does not part with its living cells if it can avoid it. If someone came at me with a scalpel, there’s really no part I’d want to give away!
Further, although individual cells have their own notion of health and prosperity, this health is meaningless if the entire organism becomes sick or depressed. The health of the body is the health of its cells, but the health of any cell is also, directly or indirectly, dependent on the health of the body. There is a correspondence between the micro and macro, like a single image reflected in countless mirrors.
This notion of identity held by the person, even though he is physically a moving forms of cells, transcends any grouping of those cells. If you take away arms, ears, or feet, a person would still claim that “I” persists. This “I” is not dependent on the cells, even though it is expressed through and affected by them. In this way, the self of the cell is meaningless on its own; its being lies in how it supports the higher self.
Thus the value of a cell lies entirely in how it serves the whole. Even if some cells play a crucial role at times, brain cells, heart cells, every cell is valued for its function, not the mere fact of its individuality. There is no cell we prize in the body over others simply for its uniqueness. Each cell’s distinction lies in service to a being greater than itself.
This is a subtle point between intrinsic and extrinsic value. A single rose has great value in that its existence gives us access to roseness for a while; without it and others, roseness would be inaccessible. So too, individuals manifest the attributes of God in the world; as Christ said, “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?”
When we play this role, that of manifesting or serving a higher reality, it fulfills our being and grants us extreme value. But this is not an intrinsic merit; it is contingent on our relationship to that greater being. This is what I mean by saying that a cell’s value consists in its function, not its independent reality apart from the body.
When the cell finds its happiness in what it can do to render this service, and measures happiness by the well-being of the whole, I think it has attained to selflessness; not by denying itself, but by shifting its locus of awareness to a higher plane. On that plane, all cells are equal, because their purpose, their joy, their ultimate goal, is equal. In the physical plane they differ by function, but on this higher plane, of the being they support, they differ not at all. I think of this when reading the following statement by Bahá’u’lláh:
“Manifold and mysterious is My relationship with God. I am He, Himself, and He is I, Myself, except that I am that I am, and He is that He is.” So too, I am my cells, and my cells are I, though we each have our own being, in our own sphere.
In a time languorous the moments are honey long, drawn-out seconds pool around me a slow, slow heat pervades my being. Yesterday, my other life. is lost to memory. The future calls in mellifluous tones falling, falling a thousand years from now.