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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
I believe that within each of us lies a door — a hidden door — that opens on a place both entirely strange and perfectly familiar. Our awareness of this door gets lost in the mental models we use to perceive reality, since such models are poor approximations, too much colored by our worldly ignorance to substitute for the “real real”. But I have no doubt this mysterious place still exists, like a world of gold hiding beneath a skin of lead. It can be rare for the circumstances of life to align just as they need to to propel us into that degree of existence.
If we set aside our mental models, we can reach out with hands that do not feel; look around us with eyes that do not see; and listen closely with ears that do not hear. It is then that everything flips around. What was night becomes day, and what was dark becomes light. Then it’s as though our worldly eyes never saw anything at all, or our ears heard anything of value. This is when the doorway to the Placeless stands wide, and a sense of understanding fills us that does not accord with anything others would call “understanding”.
I describe it this way because when we commune with the Ancient Beauty, we discover the ultimate purpose of knowledge and understanding — the knowledge of Him — and yet this secret knowledge is a thing of such beauty that our ideas and approximations cannot approach it.
How can feeble reason encompass the Qur'án, Or the spider snare a phoenix in his web? Wouldst thou that the mind should not entrap thee? Teach it the science of the love of God!
As one burns with love for God, the whole visage of the world changes. A camaraderie binds us together, until we are like many heads stretching from the neck of one shirt. How can one feel estranged or alone in the midst of such unity? That we often do is the nature of this world — but we can escape from it. Through prayer and meditation and study of the Writings, we can escape the bonds of ignorance that blind us to the oneness of all things. “Say: All things are of God!” This one phrase declares the end of separation and the attainment of our true Goal.
The challenge is to stop ourselves from disbelieving it.
As I read the Four Valleys, it gives me the impression that, like the Seven Valleys seems to do, it depicts a series of relationships that believers develop with the Manifestation of God. In particular it reminds me of this Hidden Word:
O Son of Man! Write all that We have revealed unto thee with the ink of light upon the tablet of thy spirit. Should this not be in thy power, then make thine ink of the essence of thy heart. If this thou canst not do, then write with that crimson ink that hath been shed in My path. Sweeter indeed is this to Me than all else, that its light may endure for ever.
Each Valley seems to describe a different degree of sacrifice. In the first Valley, the believer sacrifies himself: his substance, energy, effort, even his life. In the second Valley, the believer sacrifies his mind: thoughts, opinions, notions of Truth. In the third Valley, he sacrifices his heart: all that he cares for, every hope and goal now culminates in the Beauty of God. And in the fourth Valley he sacrifices his very self, until nothing else remains but consciousness of the Friend.
How do we choose a “Way” to follow? We have to ascertain whether someone is qualified to give us Laws, and then follow them. A child can’t judge by himself which of his parent’s rules are necessary and which aren’t. Trying to assess the words of the Prophets this way leads to endless arguments.
Likewise, a patient does not find a good doctor by seeking the “correct prescription” for his illness. Only a doctor can know that. Instead, we look for the signs of skill and experience which distinguish a good doctor, and put ourselves in his hands.
I’ve mentioned before that perhaps spirituality consists of the degree to which one has truly recognized the Manifestation of God, and devoted themselves to His instruction. In this vein, an analogy occurred to me that could describe how self, or nafs, fits into the picture.
Imagine Albert Einstein had decided to give an advanced course on physics at the University. As a student attending the class, it is impossible to really appreciate who Einstein is — apart from reputation — until the class is over and all its material absorbed. That is, during the process of learning, a student must necessarily fail to appreciate the depth of his master, else their roles should be reversed. And the greater the teacher, the greater this gap.
Thus, the most important thing for a student to progress is to eliminate everything he thinks he knows about the subject, whenever his teacher tells him he does not understand something. This includes not only facts, but also opinions, ideas, and his very conception of the subject. If Einstein tells us that the Earth travels in a straight line, and not in circles around the Sun, we should discard our thoughts immediately, and ask: why was our understanding so flawed?
“Self” is that impulse within us to hold onto ignorance as if it were knowledge, despite being corrected by the very Source of knowledge. There is a strange obstinacy in us, perhaps a defense mechanism?, that interferes terribly with the learning process if we are not fully committed to being changed. In fact, this tendency must “die”, so that knowledge may be “born”, since the deepest understandings are highly abstract and subtle, and requiring shifts in perception that cannot occur unless we are willing.
In a spiritual context, the Divine Educator has gifted us with a perfect knowledge, but we cannot receive it until every last trace of misconception is eliminated; and our tendency to cling to shadows, in spite of the rising Sun, is put to rest.
I was not made to be perfect. I was made flawed, for that moment when I discover perfection despite myself -- because I willed it with a earnest heart. The beauty of the rose emerges from soil, and the finest spring day, after winter's toil; A reed is cracked, that the pen's ink may flow, as a lover's mind is broken, for the heart to know.
This world is joined to another, in the way that these words are joined to the meaning behind them; and like these words, if you cannot read them, or do not know the language or the concepts, you cannot access that world. Both stem from the author’s mind, while the words themselves are only pigment. A mystic strives to learn the divine language, so he may read the book of the world and apprehend its meaning; otherwise, it is only atoms and coincidences.