Jul 222016

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.

 Posted by at 9:15 am
Jul 152016
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.
 Posted by at 9:52 am
Jul 082016

It is sometimes thought that while life could be wonderful, mankind is just too flawed, corrupt or generally inept; or that the world we’ve built is essentially broken, and the best we can do is struggle for whatever mote of peace we’re able to find.

In this picture of the world, God’s Messengers are seen as agents of a merciful, but distant Entity, sent to help us fix what our sins has wrought. But with time, even the institutions They bring are perverted by man. Evil runs rampant, the innocent are oppressed, sorrow and hardship afflict the least deserving, and where is God? Why aren’t His Messengers a bit more effective, so all this heartache can end at least? Why does God let it all happen?

In the mystical Writings of the Bahá’í Faith, we find indications that not everything is as it seems: that there is a deep perfection in the scheme of the world, even with its wars and venomous anger. It suggests we might “attain a station wherein one seeth no distinction amongst His creatures and findeth no flaw in the creation of the heavens and the earth.”[1]; that a wayfarer on the path of God “seeth in the fashionings of the True One nothing save clear providence, and at every moment saith: ‘No defect canst thou see in the creation of the God of Mercy: Repeat the gaze: Seest thou a single flaw?'[2]”[3]

“O Fleeting Shadow! Pass beyond the baser stages of doubt and rise to the exalted heights of certainty. Open the eye of truth, that thou mayest behold the veilless Beauty and exclaim: Hallowed be the Lord, the most excellent of all creators!”[5]

To make sense of these statements, it is necessary to reorient our thinking about the purpose of this life. If we imagine its aim to be our personal happiness and joy, it is hard not to see the world as a miserable joke for all but the favored few. However, this perspective fails to make sense of existence because it chooses a wrong center: human beings. It revolves the Sun of Truth around man’s sense of well-being, and diminishes virtue by favoring more immediate concerns, such as health and long-life.

If we correct this perspective, and interpret our motions in reference to a central Sun, we may find that creation was purpose-built with a singular objective: for mankind to truly recognize the Manifestations of God, a recognition that only begins with accepting their Mission and has no end in a person’s life. We are most sensitive to light when plunged in darkness, and our heart is attuned to even minute joys when sadness abounds. How can a man know God, if real knowledge is only gained through contrast? In a way, this existence is as “not God” as it is possible to be, so that with parched and thirsty lips we may drink one drop of the Divine Elixir — the Writings of His Holy Ones — and recognize Its savor in an instant.

Suffering is very real, but against eternal life it is unreal. None of us can remember the pains we suffered as infants; why should our souls remember the sorrows of this brief existence across eternity? We have a precious chance in this life to know and to worship God, based entirely on our faith and our choosing. There is a beauty and merit to this that will never, ever come again. As Rumi wrote, “Don’t seek the water; increase your thirst.”

Maybe paradise is not something you enter after you die; maybe paradise is what you discover once you see the world aright.

Footnotes: [1] Bahá’u’lláh, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p.6

[2] Qur’án 67:3

[3] Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, p.12

[4] Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, p.25

 Posted by at 9:26 am
Jul 012016

The word “mysticism” has taken on various meanings throughout history, as have the practices and beliefs of those who term themselves “mystics”. Mysticism can refer to seeking ecstatic union with God, insight into hidden truths, or a radical transformation of the individual through various means. Defined broadly in this way, mysticism may be found in nearly all world’s religious traditions, though its form varies from case to case.

Bahá’í mysticism incorporates many of these same elements, but emphasizes a practical outcome: That is, it is not enough to feel union with the Divine, one should see the Divine in every soul until it results in concrete actions of brotherhood and love; hidden truths are not meaningful unless they embrace and enrich the outward truths governing our daily lives; and transformation of the individual is without merit until that individual becomes a source of good for his society.

In this way, Bahá’í mysticism is a positive mode of belief, and seeks unity of the inward and outward forms. It is not considered helpful, or in some cases, even lawful, to employ fasting, asceticism, denial of pleasure, and withdrawal from society, as a means for advancement along this path. Mysticism should fundamentally connect the individual to the greater whole of humankind — at the level of our common, Divine origin — until one arrives at a conception of life such that the happiness of others is our happiness too, and all our actions are motivated from this attitude.

In terms of specific practices, there are no rituals prescribed, and people are mainly free to adopt whatever works for each person. Prayer, meditation, and study of the Divine Texts, are the primary tools. The influence of the Holy Spirit, God’s unfailing grace, and ecstatic love, are indispensable. Combined with reflection, imagination, and various art forms, a foundation is established for one to act and reflect, examine motivations, question one’s understandings, and observe how one’s effect on the world is improving day by day.

What makes this fundamentally mystical in character is that Bahá’ís believe in a spiritual world that is both greater than this life, and yet contains this life within it, similar to a child gestating in the womb of its mother. The embryo is aware of its own sphere, but lacks perception of the larger world outside, even though most of its future is determined by the beings of that world. The mother and father are very much aware of the child, even when it has no awareness of them.

Similarly, a much greater, far more wondrous, existence awaits humanity after this physical life; yet that spiritual world exists also here, and affects us far more than we can ever realize. The mystic comes not only to expect these otherworldly influences, but to employ them directly in his day to day life, such as using prayer to overcome difficult problems. However, as mentioned above, inward and outward must be in harmony: Prayer alone is not the way; it is prayer followed by action, undertaken with the expectation that one’s prayers will be answered.

This mystical path, because it does not rely on extreme measures, or practices divergent from ordinary belief, can be somewhat difficult to follow. In the end it amounts to a fundamental, almost Copernican, shift in orientation: placing God at the center of one’s life, and revolving everything — knowledge, opinions, even thought itself — around that center. When the purpose of life is seen not as fulfilling the will of the individual, but wholly in terms of the Will of God, it changes how one sees even the most mundane of things. And it is this: seeing beauty where other see plainness; seeing purpose where others see chaos; seeing God where others see only dust and decay: that truly sets apart the path of the mystic.

 Posted by at 8:59 am
Jun 242016

I have always wondered about the meaning of this selection from “The Hidden Words”:

O My Friends! Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those
hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence
beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the
all-glorious paradise? Awe-struck ye listened as I gave utterance to these
three most holy words: O friends! Prefer not your will to Mine, never
desire that which I have not desired for you, and approach Me not with
lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings. Would ye but
sanctify your souls, ye would at this present hour recall that place and
those surroundings, and the truth of My utterance should be made evident
unto all of you.

Recently I was reading the book “Gate of the Heart”, by Nader Saidi, where he quotes the following from the Báb, regarding His first believers, the Letters of the Living:

Further, there can he no doubt that they [the Letters of the Living] were
the first Lights who bowed down before God, accepted the verses He hath
revealed unto His Báb, and proclaimed them to the world.... They are the
lights which in the past have eternally prostrated themselves and will
prostrate themselves eternally in the future, before the celestial
throne.... In each Dispensation, they are called by different names
amongst the people, and in each Revelation, their individual names are
also changed. Yet, the names of their inmost realities, which refer unto
God, are manifest in their hearts.[1]

This led me to wonder whether humans are possessed of two stations: our outward, individual station; and an inward, potential, pre-existent station, that we are born to through faith. That is, outwardly we are unique and transitory: but inwardly we may attain to a station that has always existed and will always exist, by acquiring the characteristics and qualities of that station.

This led me to a verse from the Kitáb-i-Íqán, by Bahá’u’lláh:

Therefore, those who in every subsequent Dispensation preceded the rest of
mankind in embracing the Faith of God, who quaffed the clear waters of
knowledge at the hand of the divine Beauty, and attained the loftiest
summits of faith and certitude, these can be regarded, in name, in
reality, in deeds, in words, and in rank, as the 'return' of those who in
a former Dispensation had achieved similar distinctions. For whatsoever
the people of a former Dispensation have manifested, the same hath been
shown by the people of this latter generation. Consider the rose: whether
it blossometh in the East or in the West, it is none the less a rose. For
what mattereth in this respect is not the outward shape and form of the
rose, but rather the smell and fragrance which it doth impart.[2]

And similarly, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes:

For example, there was a flower last year, and this year there is also a
flower; I say the flower of last year has returned. Now, I do not mean
that same flower in its exact individuality has come back; but as this
flower has the same qualities as that of last year -- as it has the same
perfume, delicacy, color and form -- I say the flower of last year has
returned, and this flower is the former flower. When spring comes, we say
last year's spring has come back because all that was found in last year's
spring exists in this spring. That is why Christ said, "You will see all
that happened in the days of the former Prophets."[3]

Is this, perhaps, the “sovereignty” that is “ancient, imperishable and everlasting”, mentioned in the first Hidden Word? Or when the Seven Valleys says, “the bird of thy soul shall recall the holy sanctuaries of preexistence”?

Can we, by purifying our hearts and attaining to true faith, “remember” and attain a pre-existent reality which, throughout time, has been a servant of the Prophets? Not in the sense of reincarnation, but of fulfilling a role that has always existed, even if the individual souls playing its part continually change.

Bring then into being, by Our leave, resplendent mirrors and exalted
letters that shall testify to Thy sovereignty and dominion, bear witness
to Thy might and glory, and be the manifestations of Thy Names amidst
mankind. We have caused Thee again to be the Origin and the Creator of all
mirrors, even as We brought them forth from Thee aforetime.[4]

The rose in my garden may whither and die; but the qualities of the rose have adorned poetry and artwork for as long as history, and likely always will. What life is more eternal than this, transcending both time and place?

Footnotes: [1] Nader Saidi, The Gate of the Heart, pp.271-272

[2] Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, pp.158-159

[3] `Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.133

[4] Bahá’u’lláh, Summons of the Lord of Hosts, para.82

 Posted by at 5:15 pm
Jun 032016

On its own, a violin is just string, wood and glue; but played well, it can produce wonderful music.

To play that music, however, requires many things to be done well: the way you hold it, how it is tuned, the way the bow is held, timing, pressure, etc. There are many things that must be done right to achieve the greatest music.

Human beings are instruments of God. We are capable of things you cannot even dream of. The moral laws are how we coax those mysteries from our own selves, but they are not the music. Honesty, trustworthiness, sacrifice, service: They are the key to a door, hidden within our inmost nature.

 Posted by at 9:08 am
May 272016

To me, being a mystic means patterning my life around reliance on forces that I can neither directly perceive nor control. I act with the knowledge that God is acting alongside me, and that this unseen assistance is as real and potent as any evident material power.

 Posted by at 9:06 am
May 202016

If you turn at dawn to pray to the sun, your communion is with its rays. The rays are all that the earth knows of the sun, and the sun is only manifest by its rays. So, better to turn toward the rays, than to some notion of the sun apart from them.

 Posted by at 9:04 am
Apr 292016

I wonder if God didn’t create our imperfect natures on purpose. That is, here I am feeling great one day, depressed and irritable the next. The question is, will I forsake my expectation of a “particular condition” and praise God throughout? Will my love for Him transcend every worry caused by the baser sides of my nature?

I think if we abandon all procedure, all expectation, all method, and simply focus on purifying our heart from everything but God, He will grant us the assistance we seek. There are many quotations which appear to me related to this Theme:

The true seeker hunteth naught but the object of his quest, and the lover hath no desire save union with his beloved. Nor shall the seeker reach his goal unless he sacrifice all things. That is, whatever he hath seen, and heard, and understood, all must he set at naught, that he may enter the realm of the spirit, which is the City of God.[^25]

In this quote, I throw away all my past learning and experience. It is not necessary for seeking God.

The understanding of His words and the comprehension of the utterances of the Birds of Heaven are in no wise dependent upon human learning. They depend solely upon purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit. This is evidenced by those who, today, though without a single letter of the accepted standards of learning, are occupying the loftiest seats of knowledge; and the garden of their hearts is adorned, through the showers of divine grace, with the roses of wisdom and the tulips of understanding.[^26]

In this quote, he frees me from the need for knowledge or skill, and makes my progress wholly dependent on my purity, chastity and freedom. These are attributes which oppose acquisition! Purity is being free from obstruction, chastity is being free from lust or inordinate desire, and freedom is of course being free from restriction.

Fear God, and God will give you knowledge.[^27]

Here I need only fear God. In Arabic the term is “Khashíyyatu’lláh”, which implies a reverential awe, such as a Knight of the Round Table would have had for King Arthur. The devotion of such a knight which cause him to prefer death before dishonoring or disobeying his Lord. In fact, the mere suggestion of deceit would feel like a physical sickness. This is different from “tarsídan”, which means fear as one might fear spiders or some threat.

Now is the traveler unaware of himself, and of aught besides himself. He seeth neither ignorance nor knowledge, neither doubt nor certitude; he knoweth not the morn of guidance from the night of error. He fleeth both from unbelief and faith, and deadly poison is a balm to him.[^28]

In this quote, questions of station, knowledge and attainment are simply not the seeker’s focus. In fact, whatever draws one’s attention away from God is not worthy of consideration. As He wrote:

They say: Where is Paradise, and where is Hell?' Say:The one is reunion with Me; the other thine own self, O thou who dost associate a partner with God and doubtest.'[^29]

I interpret this to mean that our self, since it can become a focal point of attention, causes us to turn our eyes away from God, which is the essence of Hell. This is an interesting emphasis, since it means that self-perfection and self-development are not the goal of religion. They are means to an end. That end is reunion with God, which is being so completely absorbed in and by the Divine that there is nothing else. In order for this to happen, as was quoted above, there must be purity, fear of God, etc. — in other words, virtue. But this virtue is functional, not qualitative. We gain nothing if the result of such virtue is that we focus even more intently on our own progress.

So, we progress until we reach a point where we abandon all notion of progress, all hope (for ourselves) of attainment. When there is only the Beloved:

In this realm, to search after knowledge is irrelevant, for He hath said concerning the guidance of travelers on this plane, “Fear God, and God will instruct thee.” And again: “Knowledge is a light which God casteth into the heart of whomsoever He willeth.”[^31]

The secret of life is to become like a moth, circling around the Best-Beloved of all worlds, the Ancient Beauty. In that state, “they swim in the sea of the spirit, and soar in the holy air of light. Then what life have words, on such a plane, that ‘first’ and ‘last’ or other than these be seen or mentioned!”[^33] From this state all knowledge and all things proceed, as He wrote:

… for everyone who sets foot therein knows all branches of learning even before he becomes aware of their inner secrets. He comprehends all knowledge and wisdom by means of the mysteries of divinity deposited in the creation — for he reads in the leaf the secrets of the tree.[^34]

Why should we worry ourselves over the details of attainment, when attainment itself grants all things? Therefore, the only question, the only worry, the only point of focus worthy of attention, is God Himself as manifested in the Primal Point: the Manifestations of God. There is nothing else to consider beyond this.

 Posted by at 9:38 am
Apr 222016

In the Seven Valleys, each Valley depicts a different world-view. Bahá’u’lláh states:

Thus it hath been made clear that these stages depend on the vision of the wayfarer. In every city he will behold a world, in every Valley reach a spring, in every meadow hear a song.[^1]

To have knowledge of each Valley is not enough. One cannot comprehend it from the outside. To be a “wayfarer” is a question of residence, not familiarity.

In Persian there are two words commonly used for knowledge, ‘Ilm and ‘Irfán. They are as different as studying about the ocean, and swimming in it.

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 Posted by at 9:52 am