The world soul

In the entry on detachment, the essential split was between reality and those of our ideas which obscure that reality. We must detach, or cut away, from whatever causes us to become separate from our Goal: thus, detachment leads to reunion, not division.

This thought strikes a cord with something Thoreau wrote. Here, where he says, “I wanted… to put to rout all that was not life”, is what I see as the very essence of detachment:

I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner…

Prior to this scheme, I had used the metaphor of reflection to describe this life in comparison to the next: where attributes of the divine are seen as lambent images upon a pool of water. Without the pool, there would be no reflection; without the reflection, there would be no vision. Detachment is not turning away from the pool, but seeing beyond the apparent color of the water – to the discovery that higher values imbue it from elsewhere. This both justifies the role of water in conveying the image, and the independent beauty of the source of that image. There is no conflict between mundane and divine.

Next is knowing the thing revealed to be the true interest, until the water is all but forgotten: present, yet invisible, like a polished mirror contributing nothing to the vision. In terms of the mundane this is impossible, because everything reflects only a part of the view – whatever is seen is always colored by its place of reflection. But the holy texts say that the soul of man is capable of freeing itself from every impediment, until it perfectly reveals that Light. From the mirror of the human heart can appear a perfect manifestation of the Divine.

Mystics, such as the Sufis, have so fallen in love with their Beloved that they wholly forget the mirror in gazing at the beauties within. Their daily task is to polish its surface, the better to reveal its forms. Their pursuit of a perfect mirror, through transforming the heart, is the Straight Path offering access to the Goal. It is the Way. “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.’12

The glimpses that appear within the mirror have a nourishing quality, like food, or the quenching power of water – in the same way that good things are known to be good, and beautiful things, beautiful: The difference between an idea and the underlying reality, or a body and the life that animates it. In this sense, the world is animated by a world soul, giving life to the qualities we call “wondrous” and “good” – without which they would be only words.

It is said “… the revelation of my Best-Beloved hath so permeated my being that He is closer to me than my life-vein”3. He is our life! If light lost its luminance, all color, shapes, and visible objects would cease to be. The possession of eyes would no longer matter. So too, if the world soul departed, we would have no “we” to reflect – a universal death. Steal the image from the reflecting pool, and nothing remains to be seen. The animation of the world, in the perception of its qualities, is a sure evidence that a greater, universal life animates the body of this existence, with which we possess a very intimate relationship.

  1. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of, p. 185

  2. From the Díván of Ibn-i-Fárid.

  3. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 276