Turn thereunto

Today’s entry is about a word that appears in the Bahá’í Writings: tawajjuh, or “attention”.

This word is still in common use, and means “attention”, “focus” or “turning toward”. The root it stems from is wajh: “face” or “countenance”. The form tawajjuh is a verbal noun with the literal meaning of “facing”. Thus, the meaning of “attention” comes from the idea of having one’s face directed at something.

Both this word and its root are found often in Islam. Wajh is seen in the phrases “the Face of God”, and “the Countenance of the Lord”; and also in the phrase “turn thy face unto thy Lord”, which sometimes is expressed using tawajjuh and sometimes by a verb in combination with wajh.

In fact, any word that is significant in Sufism can be traced back to one or more verses from the Qur’án. Wajh occurs many times, and tawajjuh can be seen here:

And then, as he turned himself (tawajjuh) toward the land of Midian, he said: “Perchance my Lord will lead me to the Straight Path” (Qur’án 28:22) وَلَمَّا تَوَجَّهَ تِلْقَاء مَدْيَنَ قَالَ عَسَى رَبِّي أَن يَهْدِيَنِي سَوَاء السَّبِيلِ

This concept of turning towards God lies at the very core of mystical practice. In fact, it might be called a pivot of sorts. In the Writings of the Báb (Risalah fi’s-Sulúk) he distinguishes Paradise and Hell-fire as the difference between being tawajjuh toward God, or regarding one’s own self:

Indeed, the world and the hereafter are but two stations. If you turn to God (tawajjuh), exalted be He, then you are in paradise; but if you remain intent upon (na.zar) your own self, then you are in the fire and in the world. فانّ الدّنیا والآخرة حالتان ان کان توجّهك باللّه تعالى فانت في الجنّة و ان کان نظرك الی نفسك فانت في النّار و في الدّنیا

Bahá’u’lláh, in His Seven Valleys, describes a spiritual station where once the traveler’s self has been “blacked out” (حالک شدن), the only thing remaining will be the “Face of thy Lord” (wajh):

This is the plane whereon the vestiges of all things are destroyed in the traveler, and on the horizon of eternity the Divine Face riseth out of the darkness, and the meaning of “All on the earth shall pass away, but the face of thy Lord…” is made manifest. و اين مقام است که کثرات کلّ شيء در سالک هالک شود و طلعت وجه از مشرق بقا سر از غطا بيرون آورد و معنی « کُلِّ شَيْئٍ هَالَکْ اِلَّا وَجْهِهُ » مشهود گردد

In this case it might be interesting to look at a more literal translation of Bahá’u’lláh’s words. I’ll point out certain of them which may become the focus of future entries:

This is a station (maqám) in which the plenitude of all things (kullu shay’) are blacked out in the wayfarer (sálik); and the appearance of the Face (wajh), rising from the dawn of eternity (baqá), comes out from behind the veil; and the meaning of “All things (kullu shay’) are pitch-black except for His Face (wajh)” (cf. Qur’án 55:26-7) is made manifest.

This builds on a theme which recurs often in the Writings: That man is a mystery, and the fulfillment of that mystery is found by turning towards God (tawajjuh) so utterly that one becomes forgetful of his own self. It is not that the self is destroyed, but rather it fades into darkness before the bright light of His Countenance (wajh).

An analogy may help here: A car driver who is intent on winning a race cannot be focused on his vehicle, rather the whole of his mind must be outside it: on the track and the goal. This does not imply a neglect of the car or its maintenance. Such a car is much better maintained than most. The point is that striving for success must consume every aspect of the driver’s attention, or else he will miss the whole point of being there.

Likewise, the mystic traveler (saalik) strives for a condition of self-nothingness (faná) the flip-side of which might be called “God-everythingness” (baqá). It is like the fading away of a tiny light in the presence of a much brighter one – a candle before the everlasting Sun.

This act of turning from the self to the Divine is expressed by tawajjuh, though in other contexts it has been described as a series of “steps”, the steps one takes in the journey from self to God. This particular interpretation is mentioned by Bahá’u’lláh a text not yet translated (errors are my own), found in Má’idiyyih Asmani, Vol.8, pp.21-22:

He saith, exalted be He: O Muhammad-Taqí! Upon thee be My glory and My mercy! Today the king of all knowledge is the recognition of God. Every soul who acknowledgeth and confesseth His oneness is numbered with the people of Bahá, the companions of the Crimson Ark, who have been inscribed in the Book of Names by the Most Exalted Pen.

In one of Our divinely-revealed Tablets, these verses have been sent down: “In the first step, he who hath turned his face toward God must labor to observe the following weighty verse: ‘Say: It is God; then leave them to entertain themselves with their cavilings.’ (Qur’án 6:91) In the second step, he must hold fast to and meditate upon this blessed verse: ‘I have abandoned the ways of those who disbelieve in God and who deny the life to come’ (Qur’án 12:37). The meaning intended by”step" in both these stages is “turn thereunto”. Blessings be unto the wise.

قوله تعالی: یا محمد تقی علیك بهائی و عنایتی امروز سیّد عرفان عرفان الله بوده هر نفسی بواحدیتش مقر و معترف شد اواز اهل بهاء و اصحاب سفينه حمراء در کتاب اسماء از قلم اعلی مرقوم و مسطور در یکی از صحيفه های منزله اين آیات نازل در اول قدم مقبل الی الله باید باین ایه کبری ناظر و عامل باشد قُلِ اللّٰهُ ثُمَّ ذَرْهُمْ فِي خَوْضِهِمْ یَلْعَبُونَ و در قدم ثابی باين آیه مبارکه تمسك نماید و تلاوت کند تَرَكْتُ مِلَّةَ قَوْمٍ لاَّ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّهِ وَهُم بِالآخِرَةِ هُمْ كَافِرُونَ و مقصود از قدم در اين مقامات توجه است طوبن للعارفين

This concept of “steps” is expressed in the Seven Valleys as well:

…but the severed wayfarer – if invisible confirmation descend upon him and the Guardian of the Cause assist him – may cross these seven stages in seven steps, nay rather in seven breaths, nay rather in a single breath, if God will and desire it. سالک منقطع را اگر اعانت غيبی برسد و ولی امر مدد فرمايد اين هفت رتبه را در هفت قدم طی نمايد بلکه در هفت نفس بلکه در يک نفس اذا شاءْ الله

If these Seven Valleys can be described as seven steps, and if by step is meant tavajjuh, the following quotation becomes somewhat clearer:

It is clear to thine Eminence that all the variations which the wayfarer in the stages of his journey beholdeth in the realms of being, proceed from his own vision (na.zar).

Here the word for vision is “na.zar”, which also means “eyesight”, “look”, “glance”, “outlook”, “view”, etc. – meanings similar to tavajjuh. In fact, in the quote of the Báb’s above, both words are used to describe the traveler’s inner orientation. This “crux of vision” is also found in quotations such as the following, from Gleanings (p.276):

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. Whatsoever deterreth you, in this Day, from loving God is nothing but the world.

It would seem, then, that reality from the perspective of the wayfarer is divided into two parts: “the world” and “the hereafter”, where the former is whatever draws us away from God, and the latter is whatever brings us nearer. The principle spiritual act, then, is turning away from one in order to turn toward the other, or tavajjuh. It is critical to note that in this act there is both a negative and a positive component: In order to turn toward something, we must turn away from something else – but also, the only reason for denying the world is in order to turn towards God.

The dual nature of this act, that it implies turning away at the same time as turning toward, has in the past caused mystics to confound the two. For example, they became so involved in the act of denying the world, that they sometimes lost sight of the purpose of that denial. Others became so inebriated by the joys of turning toward God, that they neglected the necessities of law and restraint.

In Bahá’u’lláh’s Hidden Words, He gives a few guidelines with respect to this dual vision of ours, regarding the essential act of “turning towards”:

O Man of Two Visions! Close one eye and open the other. Close one to the world and all that is therein, and open the other to the hallowed beauty of the Beloved.

O Son of Dust! Blind thine eyes, that thou mayest behold My beauty; stop thine ears, that thou mayest hearken unto the sweet melody of My voice; empty thyself of all learning, that thou mayest partake of My knowledge; and sanctify thyself from riches, that thou mayest obtain a lasting share from the ocean of My eternal wealth. Blind thine eyes, that is, to all save My beauty; stop thine ears to all save My word; empty thyself of all learning save the knowledge of Me; that with a clear vision, a pure heart and an attentive ear thou mayest enter the court of My holiness.

Thus the act of “closing” and “blinding” must be paired with another act of “opening” and beholding. Although blindness usually means the complete lack of sight, in this sense material blindness produces spiritual sight; losing one thing results in the discovery of something far greater.

In the original text, “O Man of Two Visions” is literally stated as “O Possessor of Two Eyes”, and these two eyes are named by Bahá’u’lláh in other places as the “outward, manifest eye” (chasm-i-.zaahir), and the “inward, hidden eye” (chasm-i-baa.tin). By these two eyes we have the capacity to behold the fullness of God’s Creation, since He is both “The Most Manifest of the Manifest” and “The Most Hidden of the Hidden”. In this connection, the mystic Ibnu’l-`Arabí wrote:

Then know that Allah has described Himself as the Outwardly Manifest and the Inwardly Hidden. He brought the universe into existence as a Visible world and an Unseen world so that we might know the Hidden by the Unseen and the Manifest by the Visible.

Since the visible world is so immediately compelling, it is quite possible for people to deny completely even the existence of the unseen world. This is why we must close, or blind, the outer eye in order that the inner eye may be opened.

This point is made in the Seven Valleys using the story of Jacob and Joseph. This story is found in the book of Genesis, chapters 37-50, and the Qur’án, chapter 12. In the Qur’ánic version of the story, Joseph gives his brothers a garment to take back to his father. By smelling this garment, Jacob recognizes that his beloved son is still alive, and it restores his sight: “Then when the bearer of the good news came, He cast (the shirt) over his [Jacob’s] face, and he forthwith regained clear sight” (Qur’án 12:96). (In the Biblical version of the story, Jacob is only told that Joseph is still alive, and believes it by seeing the goods his sons brought back from Egypt). Now contrast the above with this statement from Bahá’u’lláh:

… and until, like Jacob, thou forsake thine outward eyes (chasm-i-.zaahir), thou shalt never open the eye of thine inward being (chasm-i-baa.tin); و تا چون يعقوب از چشم ظاهری نگذری چشم باطن نگشائی

Then if we have two eyes – an outer and an inner – and if we are to turn from one to the other, and this turning is accomplished by a series of steps, then consider anew this verse at the beginning of the Valley of Love:

And if, by the help of God, he findeth on this journey a trace of the traceless Friend, and inhaleth the fragrance of the long-lost Joseph from the heavenly messenger, he shall straightway step into the Valley of Love and be dissolved in the fire of love. و اگر در اين سفر باعانت باری از يار بينشان نشان يافت و بوی يوسف گمگشته از بشير احديّه شنيد فوراً بوادی عشق قدم گذارد و از نار عشق بگدازد

Here we see the notion of “step” used in conjunction with the story of Jacob, this time referring the seeker himself, where the “step” is enacted by inhaling the fragrance of Joseph – an act which, in the Qur’án, restores Jacob’s sight and convinces him that his son is still alive. This sight which is restored in the seeker is the chasm-i-baa.tin, or inward vision. But how can the opening of our inward vision lead to “turning toward” God?

Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting. فَأَرْجِعِ الْبَصَرَ إِلَيْكَ لِتَجِدَني فِيكَ قائِماً قادِراً مُقْتَدِراً قَيُّوماً

The word for sight in this text is ba.sar, which can also mean “vision”, “look”, “perception”, etc. So the purpose of tavajjuh – of all these “steps” and stages and stations – is to discover God.

But there is more to the analysis of this act of turning. On the one hand we have the negative aspect: the turning away from the world, the closing of the outward eye, the blinding ourselves to all but God. The fulfillment of this action describes a spiritual state called faná, or “utter nothingness”. Bahá’u’lláh used a verb above in connection which literally means “being blacked out”. The poet Rumi has describes it as the circumstance of a candle brought before the daytime sun: it simply vanishes. Yet since faná is only the “closing” of the outer eye, it has a definite beginning and an end, and represents a finite reality of limited duration.

On the other hand, we have the Object of the turning and the positive aspect of the journey. This is the turning towards God, the opening of the inward eye, the beholding of the richness of the Ancient Beauty. This condition is called baqá (roughly meaning “eternity” and “paradise”), but it is not finite. It has a beginning but no end, since it is but the seeker’s first entrance to the Divine Realm.

Because this turning happens upon a pivot, the accomplishment of faná is linked to the achievement of baqá. This creates two journeys for the seeker: The first, of finite duration, is the closing of the outward eye. This is the “journey to God”, in which the seeker is mostly blind to His reality, but dimly senses it and is inflamed by its promise. The second journey, starting from baqá, is called the “journey in God”, and is without limit as God is without limit.

It more basic terms, faná is mortal poverty, and baqá is immortal wealth. And the theme of becoming impoverished to discover true wealth is found again and again. I’ll end this entry with the following from Bahá’u’lláh’s Seven Valleys again, since it ties together some of themes of this entry:

O thou dear one! Impoverish thyself, that thou mayest enter the high court of riches; and humble thy body, that thou mayest drink from the river of glory, and attain to the full meaning of the poems whereof thou hadst asked.

Thus it hath been made clear that these stages depend on the vision of the wayfarer….

It should be noted that this final sentence could perhaps be more accurately be translated as: “Thus it is now known that these stages are dependent on the seeker’s own travels [to go see things].” That is, none of these stations will be found or seen if the seeker does not undertake himself to find them.