The beginning and the end

There is a recurring theme in the Writings, both Islamic and Bahá’í, of four divine states which are referred to in the verse: “He is the first and the last, the Seen and the Hidden.” It is also found in the New Testament, where it says “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”

Bahá’u’lláh expounds on this theme in the Valley of Unity, yet it is also found in the Valley of Knowledge. In the story of the lover and his beloved, the lover starts in the “world of the beginning”. After he is pursued by the watchmen, he comes upon his beloved and is transported to the “world of the end”.

These two worlds exist in the vision of the wayfarer. Between them is the illusory reality of Time, through which men must pass. Owing to these two worlds, change is witnessed. Because of them, the Prophets appear to have different names, and speak in different tongues. Otherwise, in the realm of unity, “This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.”

Consider yourself in a difficult situation. Without knowing the outcome, you may be seized by fear, or wonder at what may happen. You are in the “world of firstness”. In this condition “the end is veiled to you”, and people are wont “to make their pliant in the beginning.”

After the passage of time, and the appearance of change, we learn the outcome of our situation. We may be happy, or sad, but now things are complete. We have entered “the world of lastness”, and come to the end of our waiting.

It is possible, through faith, and insight into the ways of God, to perceive “the end in the beginning”. That is, while dwelling in the world of the first, it is as though we look across a gorge, and see the details of the world of the last. We take heart in what we see, and our apprehension of the unknown leaves us. Because God “[has] ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things”, we come to perceive even the next life from the vantage point of this life, and learn that everything which occurs materially is for the benefit of spiritual progress. Thus the gap of death is bridged, and we are filled with a spiritual joy that is beyond this world.

This is the station of those in the valley of Knowledge, and by such insight the wayfarer can reach across the boundaries of Time. It is an attribute of those who see the large in the small, the tree in the seed, the future in the present. This is the last world of limitation, for limitations require separation, and separation implies differences.

He says, “… the people of the Valleys above this see the end and the beginning as one…” In this condition, the world of the beginning is not different from the world of the end. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, and however we may seem to other people, we are actually dwelling in the world of the end, though our surroundings have the appearance of the world of the beginning.

To give a concrete example of this: In the game of chess, players are ranked according to their ability on a scale from 0 to 3000. The greater the numerical separation between players, the greater the likelihood that the higher player will win.

At a tournament, where people are playing to win, let’s assume that you are rated 3000, and your opponent is rated 0. This means that you have no possibility of losing. Although no pieces have been moved, and you sit in the world of the first, because of your certitude you already count the game as won. You already experience the joys and emotions of the world of the last. Indeed, no matter what apparent “changes” occur on the board, they have no reality, and time in this case is just a show.

Likewise for the other player. The end and the beginning are one, and while we may see the players at the “beginning”, they themselves already dwell in the “end”. They do not just see the end in the beginning; their emotions, vision, and reality concerning the end and the beginning is one.

This is the station of `Abdu’l-Bahá saying “The Temple is already built.” For Him, Who saw the condition of the believers at that time, the Temple already existed in its full splendour. I imagine He was able to revel in the creation of the believers, and experienced joy at what they had/will build. Time was but a show, a non-thing. In the spiritual worlds, the cornerstone and the Temple were one.

This implies a complete transcendence of the conditions of this life, which seems so ruled by boundaries and temporal causation. It is no wonder that Bahá’u’lláh said that the valley of Knowledge “is the last plane of limitation”. Here the spirit is free, and appearances no longer affect it. Owing to the saying, “Verily we are from God, and to Him shall we return”, he sees the Face of God everywhere, for has he not already returned? Bahá’u’lláh says, “… what life have words, on such a plane, that first' andlast’ or other than these be seen or mentioned! In this realm, the first is the last itself, and the last is but the first.”

He then continues, “Nay rather, the denizens of the undying city, who dwell in the green garden land, see not even `neither first nor last’; they fly from all that is first, and repulse all that is last.” In Gems of the Mysteries, Bahá’u’lláh writes, “In this station change and alteration are pure idolatry and unadulterated belief.” In this realm of the Infinite, change is not only unreal, it is uncreate. “Knowledge is a single point, but the ignorant have multiplied it.” Here there is no believer, for as He said, “There was God and there was naught beside Him”. And further, “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.”

Even love, which implies a lover, debars one from this realm, as it has been said, “Love is a veil betwixt the lover and the loved one; more than this I am not permitted to tell.”