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Several years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation… – Rene Descartes
How can we become true seekers after spiritual truth?
In 1861, Baha’u’llah wrote The Book of Certitude (in Persian, The Kitab-i-Iqan), the chief doctrinal work of his revelation. In it, he revealed a particularly-beloved set of passages Baha’is now call The Tablet of the True Seeker, laying out the requirements for becoming a genuine seeker after spiritual truth.
The Book of Certitude got its start when an uncle of the Bab, Haji Mirza Siyyid Muhammad, wrote Baha’u’llah a letter that posed four basic questions about the appearance of the promised one of all ages and all religions. He delivered the letter to Baha’u’llah in person in Baghdad, and Baha’u’llah wrote his 200-page reply in two days and two nights in mid-January of that year.
In beautiful, striking, powerful language The Book of Certitude clearly proclaims the existence and oneness of an unknowable Creator; names God as the source of all religious revelation throughout history; declares that religion is both relative and progressive; and links the divine prophets and messengers in one unbroken chain, affirming their unity and their universality. It invites everyone to aspire to the mystical “City of God,” that lofty spiritual destination our souls all seek. Most importantly, it destroys the mistaken idea that religions are separate, competitive or incompatible:
Well may it be claimed that of all the books revealed by the Author of the Baha’i Revelation, this Book alone, by sweeping away the age-long barriers that have so insurmountably separated the great religions of the world, has laid down a broad and unassailable foundation for the complete and permanent reconciliation of their followers. – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 139.
In this series of essays, we’ll explore the Tablet of the True Seeker from The Book of Certitude, examine its advice to those who want to walk a spiritual path, and ask how we can best follow the profound lessons it teaches. In each of the essays in the series, we’ll look at a section of that eight-page tablet in sequence, and try to understand its deep meaning. Here’s the first section of the Tablet of the True Seeker:
But, O my brother, when a true seeker determineth to take the step of search in the path leading to the knowledge of the Ancient of Days, he must, before all else, cleanse and purify his heart, which is the seat of the revelation of the inner mysteries of God, from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge, and the allusions of the embodiments of satanic fancy. He must purge his breast, which is the sanctuary of the abiding love of the Beloved, of every defilement, and sanctify his soul from all that pertaineth to water and clay, from all shadowy and ephemeral attachments. He must so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth. Even as thou dost witness in this day how most of the people, because of such love and hate, are bereft of the immortal Face, have strayed far from the Embodiments of the divine mysteries, and, shepherdless, are roaming through the wilderness of oblivion and error. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, p. 191.
The first step for a true seeker, Baha’u’llah clearly says, involves cleansing and purifying the heart “from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge, and the allusions of the embodiments of satanic fancy.”
Not an easy thing to do, right?
We all have presumptions, preconceptions and prejudices. Those inner convictions and attitudes, Baha’u’llah wrote, can defile our hearts. Unless we rid ourselves of “the obscuring dust” of what we know and the “allusions” of our fancies and imaginations, we run the risk of error, of losing our way to the truth. Our beliefs and attitudes, in other words, can stand in the way of our understanding.
Interestingly, this first passage of the Tablet of the True Seeker focuses on the heart more than the mind. The human heart—the seat of our emotions and the compass of our souls—is the primary instrument the Baha’i teachings recommend employing for any spiritual search. With a pure heart, the true seeker can “sanctify his soul from all that pertaineth to water and clay, from all shadowy and ephemeral attachments.”
We experience the pure promptings of the soul and spirit once we’ve polished the mirror of our hearts, the Baha’i teachings say:
When man’s soul is rarified and cleansed, spiritual links are established, and from these bonds sensations felt by the heart are produced. The human heart resembleth a mirror. When this is purified human hearts are attuned and reflect one another, and thus spiritual emotions are generated. This is like the world of dreams when man is detached from things which are tangible and experienceth those of the spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 108.
Why should we cleanse our hearts? Baha’u’llah wrote, in several different places, that such cleansing prepares us for the spiritual existence that awaits us after we’ve transcended this physical plane:
The world will pass away, and so will all the things whereat your hearts rejoice, or wherein ye pride yourselves before men. Cleanse the mirrors of your hearts from the dross of the world and all that is therein, that they may reflect the resplendent light of God. This, indeed, shall enable you to dispense with all save God, and to attain unto the good pleasure of your Lord, the Most Bountiful, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. We, verily, have unfolded before your eyes that which shall profit you both in this world and in the realm of faith… – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 208.
Next: The Hero, the Seeker and the Quest