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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.