Both these messengers of God refer to the human soul as a sword concealed by the sheath of self:
It is just as if a man were to draw out a reed from its sheath. He might think: “This is the reed, this is the sheath, reed and sheath are different. Now the reed has been pulled from the sheath.” Or as if a man were to draw a sword from the scabbard. He might think: “This is the sword, this is the scabbard, sword and scabbard are different. Now the sword has been drawn from the scabbard.” – The Long Discourses of the Buddha, Sāmaññaphala Sutta, p. 77.
O My Servant! Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 47.
Our ability to truly perceive requires consciousness beyond the literal, material, outward, and visible. To do that, we can advance each day in understanding metaphors and their meanings, hidden like treasures along the path. By cleansing the heart from attachments and prejudices, we prepare it to truly perceive: to receive light, to heal, and to understand. Abdul-Baha says:
…holding to literal interpretation and visible fulfillment of the text of the Holy Books is simply imitation of ancestral forms and beliefs… Unless we perceive reality, we cannot understand the meanings of the Holy Books, for these meanings are symbolical and spiritual—such as, for instance, the raising of Lazarus, which has spiritual interpretation. We must first establish the fact that the power of God is infinite, unlimited, and that it is within that power to accomplish anything. – Abdul-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 246.
Let’s call this power to mind in moments when we’re visited by pain and despair, moments when the world of matter holds our whole attention. We can each help others read the inward significance of outer events, take steps accompanying one another, and progress along the path.
Baha’is collaborate with all people in order to build capacity to detach, awaken, and serve the needs of humanity. Baha’is believe that humanity’s foremost need is consciousness of our inner spiritual reality—that aspect of being human we all share in common. Perhaps we may learn to perceive our spiritual reality distinct from our body, as distinct as a sword is from its sheath.
We can help each other develop, and in the process may find our hearts perceiving a Beauty beyond our individual understanding. In the following passage we see a symbolic description of the concepts explored in this series. In it, Abdu’l-Baha speaks with urgency and with love. What does it mean to awaken? What hope does Abdul-Baha have for all of us? Let’s conclude by seeing and hearing Abdul-Baha expectantly beckon us to new horizons:
The sea of materialism is at flood tide and all the nations of the world are immersed in it. It is my hope that the fish will rise to the surface, so that they may behold other wondrous aspects of creation; for the people are like unto the fish swimming in the deep — ignorant of the rest of the universe. May they be transformed into birds of the air and soar in the nether atmosphere! May they break all bonds of limitation, so that they can observe from the height the lordly processions of infinite creatures; they will see the blue heavens studded with luminous stars, rivers flowing with salubrious water, gardens bedecked with fragrant flowers, trees adorned with blossoms and fruits, birds singing songs of light, humanity ever striving forward, every atom of existence breathing life and force — the universe of God a wonderful theatre upon the stage of which every created thing plays its part.
If you strive unceasingly, if you make a great effort, if you put forward extraordinary exertion, then these people will be awakened, their eyes will be opened and their ears unstopped, so that they can hear the melodious music which streams down from the supreme concourse, the notes and strains of which have been played from all eternity and will be played through all eternity ever enrapturing with the thousand harmonious accompaniments the pure in heart.
It is my hope that you may be the means of changing this wild jungle of materialism into a fruitful orchard, this thorny thicket into a rose garden. – Abdul-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 138-139.