We human beings possess what the philosophers call a higher consciousness—which starts with our own self-awareness and then expands toward the understanding of a greater reality.
When you ponder the purpose of existence, when you wonder why you exist, when you think about the meaning of life, when you work past your own personal concerns and focus on a wider awareness unbounded by the ego, your consciousness transcends its animal instincts and travels to a higher and more universal place. The Baha’i teachings refer to that state as “the consciousness of reality:”
He who has the consciousness of reality has eternal life—that lamp which can never be extinguished. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 56.
That consciousness of reality, though, doesn’t come to us automatically. Instead, we all begin with a lower consciousness associated primarily with our needs and desires for survival and procreation as warm-blooded mammals: food, shelter, mating, etc. Ascending past that lower consciousness to a higher one—toward the reality of life, past its mundane daily requirements—means exerting effort in a quest for meaning.
Ironically, this quest for a higher consciousness—what the Baha’i teachings call “the independent investigation of truth”—has to happen consciously. Like setting out on a voyage of discovery, we each have to first make the conscious decision to go. We have to want to ascend beyond the mundane, to transcend the ego and its immediate needs and demands, to envision a wider horizon that allows us to travel beyond the previous limits of our lives. We have to want to discover a higher truth:
God has not intended man to imitate blindly his fathers and ancestors. He has endowed him with mind, or the faculty of reasoning, by the exercise of which he is to investigate and discover the truth, and that which he finds real and true he must accept. He must not be an imitator or blind follower of any soul. He must not rely implicitly upon the opinion of any man without investigation; nay, each soul must seek intelligently and independently, arriving at a real conclusion and bound only by that reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 291.
The moment when a person decides to move past his preconceived notions and inherited beliefs marks the stepping-off point on the search for a higher consciousness.
If you yearn to search for meaning, to take that journey toward a higher consciousness, the Baha’i teachings offer a roadmap, a path toward the elevation of the human awareness of reality.
Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote extensively about that search. In several tablets and books, including a mystical treatise called The Seven Valleys, he detailed the steps and stages on the path to a higher consciousness. That book, which has been called Baha’u’llah’s greatest mystical composition, “describes the seven stages which the soul of the seeker must needs traverse ere it can attain the object of its existence.” – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 140.
Recently, though, a brief letter on the same subject from Baha’u’llah to a spiritual seeker has been officially translated and released in a book titled The Call of the Divine Beloved: Selected Mystical Works of Baha’u’llah. That letter, contained in three brief pages and written in deeply symbolic, mystical language, summarizes the seven-stage spiritual journey Baha’u’llah elaborated on in The Seven Valleys:
Set out, then, from thine abode, take thou seven steps upon the earth, and with each step complete a stage of the journey.
With the first, enter the ocean of search and seek God, thy Lord, with thine inmost heart and soul.
With the second, enter the ocean of love and make mention of God, thy Lord, in the transports of thy longing and the ecstasies of thy rapture.
With the third, tread the paths of detachment; that is, sever thyself from thine idle fancies and walk in the ways of the Lord.
With the fourth, enter the fathomless depths of oneness and the billowing seas of eternity. Cover thy face in the dust before the Lord of Lords, and sanctify thy self and thy spirit from all departure and return, that thine inmost heart may be freed from all things in the kingdoms of creation.
With the fifth, ascend unto the heaven of wonderment, that thou mayest taste the goodly fruits of this blessed realm, lose thyself in bewilderment before the power of the Beloved and the dominion of the Creator, and proclaim that which the King of existence and the Goal of all desire hath proclaimed: “Increase my wonder and amazement at Thee, O God!”
With the sixth, soar upon the wings of submission and contentment unto the cities of the Unseen, that thou mayest enter the expanses of utter nothingness wherein thou shalt die to thy self and live in Him Who hath fashioned thee.
With the seventh, drown thyself in the depths of eternity, that death may not overtake thee, and that thou mayest abide forever in the shadow of the everlasting Face of God. Thereupon shall the fragrance of the All-Glorious be diffused from the realm of the All-Merciful, and thy heart shall grieve no more over the vicissitudes of a fleeting life and the turns of a transient fortune.
When once thou hast privily completed these journeys, place this robe upon thy sightless eyes, that the eye of thine inmost heart may be opened. By God, O My Friend! Wert thou to attain unto this station, thou wouldst find wondrous worlds; discover heavenly bowers, celestial gardens, and transcendent realms; and unravel the secrets of the progress of the souls of men through the atmosphere of eternal holiness and the heavens of imperishable glory. Thou wouldst so rejoice within thy soul as to cause the signs of joy and gladness to appear throughout the whole earth. Thereafter, sorrow would never again hold sway over thee, nor would grief ever seize thee in its grasp, for thou wouldst abide in the heaven of holiness amidst the concourse of the blissful. – Baha’u’llah, The Call of the Divine Beloved, pp. 65-67.
These seven steps toward a higher consciousness begin with a spiritual search. Every person has the provisions for that journey within them: curiosity, inquisitiveness, the desire for something more and a hunger for knowledge. If you’d like to take that journey in search of a higher consciousness, follow along in this series of essays as we explore Baha’u’llah’s recommended path for spiritual maturation and growth.