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One of the great, happy surprises seekers discover on the spiritual path: Joy!
Why do we search, if not to feel happy, fulfilled and joyous? Shouldn’t our spiritual journey take us toward greater attainment, a happier heart, a satisfied soul, a more delightful life?
In The Four Valleys, Baha’u’llah said that the second valley would produce tests and trials for the seeker: “Now is he lifted up to heaven, now he is cast into the depths.” – p. 53. In a surprising, completely non-intuitive way, those tests and trials—when we face them and conquer them—can give us great joy:
To the loyal soul, a test is but God’s grace and favour; for the valiant doth joyously press forward to furious battle on the field of anguish, when the coward, whimpering with fright, will tremble and shake. So too, the proficient student, who hath with great competence mastered his subjects and committed them to memory, will happily exhibit his skills before his examiners on the day of his tests. So too will solid gold wondrously gleam and shine out in the assayer’s fire.
It is clear, then, that tests and trials are, for sanctified souls, but God’s bounty and grace, while to the weak, they are a calamity, unexpected and sudden.
These tests, even as thou didst write, do but cleanse the spotting of self from off the mirror of the heart, till the Sun of Truth can cast its rays thereon; for there is no veil more obstructive than the self… – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 181.
The mysterious process of spiritual search produces a sense of nobility from our efforts, from our struggle, from our victories over ourselves. It gives us the strength to fight the spiritual battles of life. It engages us in growth, uses our needs as capacities, and helps us develop the spiritual virtues inherent in our souls. It brings us pure, unalloyed exhilaration. Such intense spiritual joy serves as the soul of all religious truth:
He who knows all and sees all, and whose glory the universe knows, dwells as the Spirit of the divine city of Brahman in the region of the human heart. He becomes mind and drives on the body and life, draws power from food and finds peace in the heart. There the wise find Him as joy and light and life eternal. – The Hindu Upanishads
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert… And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. – Isaiah, 35:5-10.
Let everything be as friendly to us as anything can be: may we go smoothly along the roads, find good pathways in the mountains, run easily through the forests, and cross happily the rivers! -The Zend-Avesta
That mendicant, with utter joy and gladness filled, firm in the teaching of the Awakened One, reaches the bliss where all conditions cease, reaches the State of Peace. Lo, ye! a mendicant, though young he be, that strives to grasp the teaching of the Awakened One, lights up the world, as, from a cloud released, the moon lights up the night. -The Buddhist Dhammapada
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. – John, 15:10-11.
No soul knoweth what joy of the eyes is reserved for the good in recompense of their works. -The Qur’an, Sura 32.
O Son of Spirit! With the joyful tidings of light I hail thee: rejoice! To the court of holiness I summon thee; abide therein that thou mayest live in peace for evermore. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 11.
“Joy gives us wings,” the Baha’i teachings say. “In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 109.
Every person seeks joy and happiness, so these peak-experiences on the path of spiritual maturation, growth and development all constitute the fundamental human birthright–happiness.
Maslow, in his book Religions, Values and Peak Experiences, says when we begin to transcend the self and the ego, we can start to perceive the whole universe as an integrated and unified whole, which gives meaning to life. We discover and reawaken the emotions of wonder, awe, reverence, humility, surrender and even worship again, transcending life’s dichotomies, polarities and conflicts. Most importantly, we become more loving and more accepting, more spontaneous and honest and innocent.
Because we grow and progress naturally, our happiness lies in fulfilling our capacity for the joy and ecstasy that comes from true growth. Since everyone’s destiny finally demands we leave this physical plane and journey to the next reality, we only approach true happiness and fulfillment when spiritual movement occurs. The heart rejoices at that recognition, and blossoms when our energies direct us toward what endures. So the true seeker gazes into the mysteries of life, searches out enlightenment, explores the realities of all beliefs, and then selects a path and walks it.