When our son Taraz was a year old my wife and I used music to help him get to sleep. The album we used the most came from MJ Cyr, a wonderful artist who puts passages from the sacred writings of the Baha’i Faith to music. As a result, I’ve had a great number of occasions to think about the meaning of the song lyrics.
One of those songs draws its words from The Seven Valleys, a short book by Baha’u’llah about the spiritual journey. The first verse of the song struck me as especially powerful. Baha’u’llah writes that when the spiritual seeker reaches a certain level of development,
He seeth in himself neither name nor fame nor rank, but findeth his own praise in praising God. He beholdeth in his own name the name of God; to him, “all songs are from the King,” and every melody from Him. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 18.
If you find this passage a bit confusing, don’t worry—you’re not the only one. The Seven Valleys is a lot harder to read than most things we read on an ordinary basis. The first time I tried the book, it went straight through my brain and right back out, leaving little impression on my memory or understanding.
To increase my meager understanding, I use a technique that helps me understand passages like this one: examine the sentences around it. To some extent they might re-state the same theme, only using different words and images. Likewise, different passages may say something else entirely, but those ideas might also represent different aspects of the same theme.
In this case, it seems to me that the concepts underlying this passage support two other passages from the same section, despite their separation by a few pages. MJ Cyr even helps us out by including them in her song:
He looketh on all things with the eye of oneness, and seeth the brilliant rays of the divine sun shining from the dawning-point of Essence alike on all created things… – Ibid.
In every city he will behold a world, in every Valley reach a spring, in every meadow hear a song. But the falcon of the mystic heaven hath many a wondrous carol… – Ibid., p. 28.
I think, between the three passages I’ve quoted so far, we have a common thread running through all of them: God’s influence penetrates all things.
So when we adjust our spiritual vision, we can see that everything good in this world reflects God’s love for us. Wherever we look we can see traces of divine bounty. That’s a great inspiration for praising and worshipping God. At the same time, that divine power works within our souls and through our actions. Perhaps this is what Baha’u’llah means when he says the seeker “findeth his own praise in praising God.” By worshipping God, the seeker also acknowledges something holy within the soul that exceeds the boundaries of his or her personhood. That shows us our true nature, not the identity assigned to us by society: “He seeth in himself neither name, nor fame, nor rank.”
In our lives many of us are hungry for praise, and those words of Baha’u’llah address that urge. We want to see other people acknowledge our effort and contributions, and we may often take this to excess. We compete for credit and positive attention and tear people down if we don’t like what we hear. The desire for praise feeds the ego and can bring out all its worst tendencies.
In the selfish pursuit of praise we separate ourselves from each other. We enclose our minds and hearts upon themselves. But in the passages quoted above, Baha’u’llah presents an entirely different way of thinking about the self, and our relationships with the people around us and with God:
He seeth in himself neither name nor fame nor rank, but findeth his own praise in praising God. He beholdeth in his own name the name of God; to him, “all songs are from the King,” and every melody from Him. – Ibid., p. 18.
When this detached, spiritual person praises God, he finds this praise reflected back on the divine within himself—and anything praiseworthy in others manifests this same light. That bright light is in us, but it does not belong to us. It illumines us and praises God, but it is apart from us and does not emerge from the me, me, me of egotism. It opens us to the unity of God that shines within the universe.