Mystics know mysteries. They discover secrets. Mystics disclose those secrets in code. You can read what they say. But do they say what they mean?

Decoding mystic writings is an art in itself. Mystics veil their truths in metaphors, symbols and allegories. Did you know that Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, was a mystic? Here’s an excerpt from the opening of Baha’u’llah’s most celebrated mystical work, The Seven Valleys:

By My life, O friend, wert thou to taste of these fruits, from the green garden of these blossoms which grow in the lands of knowledge, beside the orient lights of the Essence in the mirrors of names and attributes—yearning would seize the reins of patience and reserve from out thy hand, and make thy soul to shake with the flashing light, and draw thee from the earthly homeland to the first, heavenly abode in the Center of Realities, and lift thee to a plane wherein thou wouldst soar in the air even as thou walkest upon the earth, and move over the water as thou runnest on the land. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, pp. 3-4.

Did your soul ever “shake with the flashing light”? Did you ever “soar in the air” while walking, or “move over the water” while running?

These mystical allusions, symbols and metaphors ask us to think about our spiritual experiences in a completely different way, by opening a whole world of new meanings and concepts to us. They attempt to describe the indescribable and plumb the depths of unfathomable realms. They introduce us to our own inner mysteries, while they also introduce us to the spiritual world we all long to attain.

Mysticism, wrote Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, lies at the very heart of spirituality and religious faith:

For the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling which unites Man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be brought about and maintained by means of meditation and prayer. And this is the reason why Baha’u’llah has so much stressed the importance of worship. It is not sufficient for a believer merely to accept and observe the teachings. He should, in addition, cultivate the sense of spirituality which he can acquire chiefly by means of prayer.

The Baha’i Faith, like all other Divine Religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character. Its chief goal is the development of the individual and society, through the acquisition of spiritual virtues and powers. It is the soul of man which has first to be fed. And this spiritual nourishment prayer can best provide.

Laws and institutions, as viewed by Baha’u’llah, can become really effective only when our inner spiritual life has been perfected and transformed. … For prayer is absolutely indispensable to their inner spiritual development, and this … is the very foundation and purpose of the religion of God. – Directives from the Guardian, pp. 86–87.

Every religious tradition contains mystical writings about quests for profound experiences, and how to progress along the mystic path. In most mystical literature the goal is union with God. A mystic’s “peak experience” is typically achieved through “beatific vision”—seeing God—or “divine audition,” hearing God.

The Baha’i teachings, however, say this cannot be done directly. Union with God, in Baha’i terms, becomes possible only through our knowledge of the prophet of God, that powerful individual God sends to humanity every few centuries or millennia to reveal divine teachings and manifest divine qualities:

… man can never hope to attain unto the knowledge of the All-Glorious, can never quaff from the stream of divine knowledge and wisdom, can never enter the abode of immortality, nor partake of the cup of divine nearness and favour, unless and until he ceases to regard the words and deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true understanding and recognition of God and His Prophets. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, pp. 3-4.

Keeping this in mind, it becomes clear how and why the mystic writings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, are a form of proclamation, with Baha’u’llah as the teacher—or Sufi master (Persian: pīr)—progressively unveiling his revelation, station and mission through symbolic allusions, hints and cryptic references in his mystical writings.

This idea is based on Baha’u’llah’s own statements. Baha’u’llah progressively proclaimed his mission to mystics, then divines, and then kings. Baha’u’llah himself wrote as a mystic, a prophet, and a lawgiver.

Baha’u’llah’s proclamation to mystics took place primarily during the early years of his ministry, from 1853 to 1863. Baha’u’llah’s total revelation is vast—some 18,000 distinct works, containing over 6 million words, composed in Arabic and Persian, less than a tenth of which has been translated into English.

Baha’u’llah’s mystical writings form the transcendent core of the Baha’i teachings, inviting insight into the beginnings of a new global Faith prior to its definitive emergence as a distinct religion. His poetic, profound passages reveal the seeker’s search for oneness with the Creator:

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, and the lights of singleness reflected over all creation. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 18.

Mysticism sees the ordinary as extraordinary—in other words, it understands that life is endowed with profound significance. Our actions matter. Not only do our actions affect other people, they have a formative impact on our character as well.

Service to others is part of the mystical path. Service to others not only benefits others, but develops our moral character as well. To see self-sacrifice as gain, to understand that giving to others is a gift in itself, and that efforts to bring happiness to those in our personal lives is all part of our purpose and destiny in the greater scheme of things.

Socially engaged mysticism means that loving others is loving God, and serving others is serving God:

Today the confirmations … are with those who renounce themselves, forget their own opinions, cast aside personalities and are thinking of the welfare of others. Whosoever has lost himself has found the universe and the inhabitants thereof. Whosoever is occupied with himself is wandering in the desert of heedlessness and regret. The “master-key” to self-mastery is self-forgetting. The road to the palace of life is through the path of renunciation. – Abdu’l-Baha, quoted by Shahnaz Waite, “Meditation, Supplication and Service,” Star of the West, Volume 17, p. 348.

The true mystic is a true humanitarian. Being godly is being goodly. We express the love of God when we love humanity. Solitary contemplation of the divine, standing alone, is not enough. To progress along the mystic path, we must contribute to the greater good in the best way we can. By doing so, we become greater—not in the sense of self-aggrandizement, but of intrinsic self-worth.

Mysticism is simply a heightened awareness of our purpose in life, and a greater commitment to fulfilling that purpose.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

11 Comments

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  • Christopher Buck
    Jun 27, 2017
    "Mysticism is simply a heightened awareness of our purpose in life, and a greater commitment to fulfilling that purpose." "Of such cardinal importance is this principle of unity that it is expressly referred to in the Book of His Covenant, and … proclaims it as the central purpose of His Faith. 'We, verily,' He declares, 'have come to unite and weld together all that dwell on earth.' 'At one time,' He has written with reference to this central theme of His Revelation, 'We spoke in the language of the lawgiver; at another in that of the truth seeker and the ...mystic, and yet Our supreme purpose and highest wish hath always been to disclose the glory and sublimity of this station'." – Baha'u'llah, qtd. in God Passes By, p. 217.
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    • Robert Lopez-Lengowski
      Jun 29, 2017
      "Mysticism is simply a heightened awareness of our purpose in life, and a greater commitment to fulfilling that purpose." That is mysticism as it plays out in the realm of limitation i.e the valley of knowledge and below . But once one enters the Kingdom one adds too that by feeling that "mystic feeling", the Holy Spirit, the Love of God. The key word is feeling. A feeling is much more than an awareness but perhaps includes awareness. My Friend opened the Bible when he was 17 and immediately felt a "mystic feeling" and accepted God. He was atheist at ...the time. He also had that same thing happen with the Qur'an, the Bab's, and Baha'u'llah's Writings.
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  • Robert Lopez-Lengowski
    Jun 27, 2017
    Hello Christopher Buck, I enjoyed your piece and its nice to see people writing on the subject. I do have some problems with the conclusion; "The true mystic is a true humanitarian. Being godly is being goodly" This type of think can delude oneself with the fake it until you make it mindset while never actually having a mystical union with God. One's dark side is purified in the mystic union. This may be why Abdu'l-Baha said good deeds are insufficent. If I win the lottery and volunteer the rest of my life to doing good deeds, the support for ...such noble action is the material money. Regular mystical experiences have the hope of transforming our material support closer to spiritual support. Without that I feel the risk is imitation.
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  • Melanie Black
    Apr 05, 2017
    Christopher, thank you for a wonderful article on a subject close to my heart, for since I was young, God in His mercy, gifted me with some lovely mystical experiences. I knew they were real because I always forgot myself in the midst of them. To be free from the insistent self even for a few moments always felt like a kind of grace. I'm not any more spiritual than the next person. God gives to each of us what we need or seek with great yearning. I went through some deep suffering at one point in my life. A ...lot of people do. It really can be a great, yet mysterious mercy.
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  • Christopher Buck
    Apr 05, 2017
    Distinguish between God’s essence and nature. God's essence is transcendent. God's nature is imminent. It pervades Nature and the spiritual realms. Mystics experience euphoric degrees of "nearness" to God, expressed as "union" with God, which is proximity to God's spirit. Rumi’s verse, "Love is a veil," pertains to our imagination, which both experiences and interprets reality. Although the experience is real, interpretation is imaginary. Our imagination is the veil. We "imagine" God. Recall that, in the "Tablet of the True Seeker" in the Book of Certitude, Baha'u'llah states that the seeker must put aside both love and hate, so as ...not to be swerved by either in pursuit of the truth. Love is a "veil" in this case as well.
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  • Natalie Bantz
    Apr 04, 2017
    So if one can't achieve union with God, then what are mystics experiencing in these peak experiences? Are we saying they are lying or delusional when this happens? I think they're achieving union with *something*. It can't be "God" in God's totality because God is infinite and we are finite beings with finite senses. So what's happening during a mystical experience? Baha'u'llah said: "Love is a veil between the Lover and the Beloved. More than this I am not permitted to tell." What does that mean to you?
  • Christopher Buck
    Apr 04, 2017
    Thank you, Badi Shams, for your welcome comment! I encourage you to write up a short article on your "Mystic Economist" project for BT. Would it be correct to say that the spiritual solution to the world's economic problems—offered by Baha'i principles— basically is to reconnect economic values with human values? Is "prosperity" defined as the moral and social well-being of society, in addition to its gross national product (GNP) and other parameters and benchmarks of economic growth? I'm no economist. But I recognize and encourage others, such as yourself, to expand on how economic values must be linked with, ...and even predicated upon, the promotion of human values. Isn't "economy" all about monetary value — and more?
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    • Apr 04, 2017
      Badi and Christopher,
      Don't forget, there is already an index of nation's relative happiness:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_National_Happiness
    • Badi Shams
      Apr 04, 2017
      Thanks for the encouragement, I may do that.
      We need a new yardstick to measure. Something like (GNH) Gross National Happiness. Abdul'-Baha often asked visitors "Are you happy?"
      I venture to guess that is how he measured it. Happiness stems from many factors both material and spiritual.
  • Badi Shams
    Apr 04, 2017
    Dear Christopher,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on a subject so close to my heart and related to new project I am working on "Mystic Economist". I really believe the "new race of man" will have a certain level of mysticism in order to clearly see their place in the universe. Mysticism is like a torch shedding light in the long road of life.
    Thank you for your wonderful reminder.
  • Jan 01, 1970
    Thank you, Badi Shams, for your welcome comment! I encourage you to write up a short article on your "Mystic Economist" project for BT. Would it be correct to say that the spiritual solution to the world's economic problems—offered by Baha'i principles— basically is to reconnect economic values with human values? Is "prosperity" defined as the moral and social well-being of society, in addition to its gross national product (GNP) and other parameters and benchmarks of economic growth? I'm no economist. But I recognize and encourage others, such as yourself, to expand on how economic values must be linked with, ...and even predicated upon, the promotion of human values. Isn't "economy" all about monetary value — and more?
    Read more...