The hidden door

[Today’s entry is a re-post of something I posted in 2004, but that was accidentally deleted from the server afterwards during an upgrade.]

If God is all that is good, and a perfect Creator, how could He make something bad? How can things like sorrow and misery be real, if all was created from good?

If all is good, perhaps we fail to see it because time and space put blinders on our perception. We see only a limited part, a sliver of a moving whole – all of which is good, even if one part seems disjoint from that theme. The “whole picture” cannot be stopped or divided, and still be seen. It includes all the movements of reality, so cannot be frozen; it comprises every element, so cannot be separated without appearing as other than what it is, which is perfect – if indeed it was created by a good and perfect Creator.

What limits and divides our perception are ideas. They abstract from the All certain parts, to allow us to interact with those parts individually. But as long as our consciousness founds itself in ideas, we fail to perceive what lies outside them. Like the eye’s ability to focus, which must pick out certain parts from a whole field, in order to “know” things we contrast them with other “things”. Contrast and distinction make up our awareness, but they also blind us to the All.

There is an exit to this paradox: The knowledge of things through contrast itself contrasts with the nature of the All. Our method of awareness can lead to an awareness of what lies outside it! Through this leap, we may be able to see things without knowing them as “things”. Our awareness is able to transcend the requirements of awareness. Thus contrast, which makes observation of the All impossible, can permit us to become aware of the All. It is like a hidden doorway into a different world.

For the remainder of this essay, I refer to operations outside the scheme of ideas as knowing and seeing, with the idea that knowing follows from realizing the incapacity of knowledge – and what it is incapable in regards to – and seeing comes from abandoning the futility of sight for the same reason.

Since ideas divide reality, it is they that distinguish “good” from “bad”. They make the All appear to contain these two attributes, which appear when we look at one part in exclusion from the rest. Since the All was created by a good and perfect Creator, the nature of the All must be only good – and perfect good – so that ideas allow us to see only “somewhat good” and “somewhat bad” on a sliding scale. In fact, since the underlying reality is only perfect good, what ideas see are merely differentiated values of good from lesser to greater extent. There is no “bad” per se: what we call “bad” is an arbitrary line drawn on the gradient between the least perceived good and the most perceived good. Then each definition of good and bad relates to the perceiver, because each draws that line differently.

This gradient exists only for ideas. If we did not see with ideas, not only would our sight be undifferentiated, but we would see only the underlying, perfect good. Thus if “joy” is what attends our experience of the good, and sadness of the bad, then once we see there can be no more sadness, as “bad” no longer has meaning. Sorrow was never real – since the underlying reality is perfect good – it was simply the perceived form of our deficiency of understanding. Once there is knowledge, sorrow can no longer be. This accords with a statement found in the Bahá’í writings:

This is a station which, wert thou to attain unto it, thou wouldst arrive at a happiness which would not be followed by sadness, a joy which is not succeeded by grief, an ease and comfort that does not end in distress and hardship, a prosperity that does not turn to destitution and misfortune, for the might of thy Lord has grasped firmly the reins of affairs.1

And also here:

The wayfarer in this Valley [of Knowledge] 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?” He beholdeth justice in injustice, and in justice, grace. In ignorance he findeth many a knowledge hidden, and in knowledge a myriad wisdoms manifest.2

If seeing leads to an experience of life which is only good, perhaps the purpose of sight through ideas is to lead us to sight. In other words, the nature of the world we first experience, through ignorance, exists in order for us to become truly aware. Without that first, deficient awareness, we could not become aware of what such awareness cannot approach. The fundamental paradox of contrast must resolve itself for the circle to close in a conscious way.

To say it again: The purpose of the world of seeming, with its mixture of “good” and “bad”, “joy” and “sorrow”, is to offer a hidden door, on the other side of which is a true awareness of the Good – an awareness fundamentally different from what we started with. It’s like teaching a baby how to use a muscle, which can only be learned from the exercise of it. In this way I understand the tradition:

“O my Lord, how shall we reach unto Thee?” And the answer came, “Leave thyself behind, and then approach Me.”3

That is, in order to exit the world of ideas we must learn to leave them behind, foremost among which is “self”.

How to find this door and achieve sight? Well, an element exists to religion which is all about learning to see what doesn’t appear to be there, such as seeing good in the bad that happens to us: Faith. Faith believes that the reality it fails to see is more real than what it does see. It suggests that what we think exists perhaps doesn’t exist at all. And faith develops, not by adding to an ever-growing store of ideas, but by weakening their hold on us through various exercises, such as: detachment, meditation, regarding our strength as weakness and our wealth as poverty, lessening our love of “self”, etc. All of these aspects of religion aim at making the door to the All visible. I even think now that all of religion aims at this on the personal and social scale, that from this goal are born all its laws and institutions. Only when they depart from this objective, of truly awakening man to the perfect joy of knowing God, do they go astray.

Concerning the world beyond the door, because division cannot comprehend it, concepts must regard it as a single reality. Although that world exists within this world – beyond the veil of ideas – it cannot be perceived except by seeing it. As Lao Tzu put it, “Looked at, it cannot be seen.” A man in this realm might use concepts, but he no longer sees in terms of them. In order to know, he gives up knowledge. When hungry he might look for food, but he no longer knows what “hunger” and “food” are. “Thus is it said, `Absolute unity excludeth all attributes.’”

The world beyond the door is not just a cause for undimmed joy, it is the very meaning of joy: to know the good. To such a degree that what we call “joy” is but a shadow of the truth. Everything in this “world” is a shadow cast from that world, along a gradient from light to dark. The perfect good is reflected as “good” and “bad”, perfect joy is reflected as “joy” and “sorrow”, and every other kind of perfection is seen here as more or less imperfect.

The real world is kept from us, not by the barrier of physical death, but the death of our “selves” who hold so dearly to the illusory world of concepts. The true reality, unlimited by time or space, is the world. All failure, impermanence, and insecurity arise from the way we see it, or how our “first awareness” divides and separates it. What we call “flawed” is in fact perfect, and what we call “impermanent” is essentially eternal. It only seems otherwise. And thus, by transcending the limits of our vision, our souls may enter the heaven intended for them, which has been here with us all along.

Strive then, O My brother, to apprehend this matter, that the veils may be lifted from the face of thy heart and that thou mayest be reckoned among them whom God hath graced with such penetrating vision as to behold the most subtle realities of His dominion, to fathom the mysteries of His kingdom, to perceive the signs of His transcendent Essence in this mortal world, and to attain a station wherein one seeth no distinction amongst His creatures and findeth no flaw in the creation of the heavens and the earth.4

  1. This comes from an unpublished and unauthorized translation of a commentary by `Abdu’l-Bahá. I do have the original, however, but still have yet to make my own translation.↩︎

  2. Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys↩︎

  3. Bahá’u’lláh, The Four Valleys↩︎

  4. Bahá’u’lláh, Gems of Divine Mysteries↩︎