The Eternal Quest for God: Chapter 10
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10
The World of The Kingdom

In our quest throughout the universe we have found traces of God made manifest, according to the different capacities of the various kingdoms of the world of creation. These are the expressions of the world of the Kingdom in the creatures. In this sense, Bahá'u'lláh writes: `Every created thing in the whole universe is but a door leading into His knowledge, a sign of His sovereignty, a revelation of His names, a symbol of His majesty, a token of His power, a means of admittance into His straight path...'[1] These traces are of such great relevance to our purpose of `comprehending the reality of things, as they exist',[2] that it seems opportune here to summarize them briefly, so as to focus on what we can understand about the world of the Kingdom.

The world of the Kingdom within the creatures

The traces of the world of the Kingdom become manifest in the world of creation in different ways and degrees, depending on the capacities of the creatures. The `power of attraction' binding together the `elemental atoms'[3] of `original matter'[4] is but the simplest expression, in the material level, of the spiritual reality of love.

The `perpetual motion' which moves those elemental atoms is the expression of the dynamism of the `universal energy'..[5]

The `law of progression'[6] and the perpetual evolution to which all beings and the world of creation as a whole are subject are `the expressions of spirit in the world of matter'[7] as progressiveness.

The `power of growth'[8] typical of the vegetable world is a further expression of the progress typical of the world of the Kingdom.

The `power of sense perception'[9] of the animal world is `the lowest degree of perception'[10] and yet it is a glimmer of the knowledge of the world of the Kingdom.

Other traces of that supernal world are the continuity of creation, the infinity of the universe, the infinite variety and `the absolute order and perfection'[11] of its phenomena, the oneness of its laws, the intimate relation among created things which are, therefore, a part of an organic unity and, last but not least, individuality -- in the sense of uniqueness of phenomena -- as a sign of the divine unity.

Nor are these all the traces of God within our reach. On the one hand, God has caused the world of creation to be an `outer expression or facsimile of the inner kingdom of the spirit'[12] and, on the other, He has bestowed upon man an extraordinary power which `apprehends the spiritual... (and) sees the world of the Kingdom':[13] the power of knowing through his mind and insight. Therefore, whenever the world of creation is seen through the eye of the spirit, the world of the Kingdom will become manifest in each of the phenomena of existence. This is `the metaphorical nature of material reality' which has been so keenly discussed by J.S. Hatcher.[14]

Since the world of creation is somehow a metaphor of the world of the Kingdom, it provides continuous and endless opportunities for reflecting upon and understanding spiritual reality. The Bahá'í texts, like all other Holy Scripture, are rich in metaphors offered by the Manifestation of God for our understanding of spiritual truth. Spiritual truth belongs to a plane of existence transcending the sense perception to which human beings are bound, and is therefore difficult to represent or understand. In the Bahá'í texts, the sun is at various times a metaphor of the Essence of God, or the Word of God, or spirit, or the Manifestation of God. Enlarging the metaphor, the succession of the four seasons as the sun makes its transit through the zodiacal stations is suggested to represent the evolutionary cycle of the great revealed religions.[15] The lunar cycle is suggested by `Abdu'l-Bahá as a metaphor of the gradual spiritual growth of human beings.[16] The same concept is expressed through other metaphors as well: daylight increasing from dawn to noon,[17] or a germinating seed which grows and yields its fruit,[18] or the soil, which must be cultivated if the seeds thrown upon are to yield their fruit,[19] or a mirror which must be polished and cleaned from dust if it is to mirror forth the light of the sun,[20] or a bird which, once its wings are grown, does not remain upon the earth, but wings its flight towards the sky.[21] Water is another metaphor suggesting the Word or the teachings of God:[22] `rain-showers of divine mercy' which `cleanse the human heart',[23] or an `ocean' in whose waters men are invited to immerse themselves that they `may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depth',[24] or `rivers' which water `the soil of hearts' drawing forth from them `the tender herbs of wisdom and understanding'.[25] The idea of a `journey' or `pilgrimage'[26] is suggested as a metaphor for human life.

The Bahá'í texts are an inexhaustible source of such metaphors and thus a precious instrument through which we may be trained in our understanding of that correspondence between the material world (the world of creation) and the spiritual world (the world of the Kingdom) so that the ancient dualism between spirit and matter may find its solution. Thus will be healed the painful fracture in the heart of a man who wants to learn to express his divine nature in a plane of reality -- material reality -- which tends to dim it, but which should not for that reason be viewed as inherently evil. When material reality is illumined through its metaphorical -- or educational -- meaning, it will disclose to our eyes all its beauty, a beauty which is in itself a metaphor of the Divine beauty of its Creator. And when we discover in the world of creation His beauteous traces, we will, at long last, be no longer broken within ourselves -- soul and body, as two enemies -- and we will exclaim like Doctor Faustus: `Stop, fleeting moment, you are beautiful.' And our Lucifer will be disappointed, because our love for this earthly life will not bind our soul to an inferior reality, but will be an instrument for its edification through that same life whose true meaning we will have at long last understood and learnt to love.

The world of the Kingdom within man

Among the numberless phenomena of creation, man is the creature intended to reflect the entire beauty of that world of the Kingdom to which his soul belongs.

From time immemorial the Manifestations of God have come into the world one after the other to guide man into the way of virtues in order that man may give expression to them in this world more completely and perfectly. In His Sermon on the Mountain[27] Jesus indicated the heights of spirituality any human being may attain to. In His Hidden Words[28] and in many other of His Writings, Bahá'u'lláh -- after almost two thousand years -- renewed and broadened this pattern of spirituality, and at the same time announced that the day of human spiritual maturity has come.

This is an age when each human being gradually -- the times being ripe -- will manifest in himself, through his own efforts, the wonders of the world of the Kingdom, and these wonders will enlighten the world.

In this sense, a man may be viewed as the raw material from which an artist draws forth an inspiring work through his genius, inspiration and ability. Man can, metaphorically, be the artist or the creator of himself.[29] If he avails himself of his God-given instruments and of the `gems'30 he has been endowed with, and if he consciously and willingly strives -- out of his love of God -- to observe the laws of revelation, then he will create in himself such incomparable harmony of spiritual feelings as will be conducive to his own happiness, to the edification of his fellowmen, and to collective progress. This is the meaning of the old tale of the Beast transformed into a handsome prince by Beauty out of her love, or of the ugly duckling which grows into a beautiful swan, or of that fine Japanese poem introduced to me by H.B. Danesh:

I asked the almond tree
`Sister, speak me of God!'
And the almond blossomed.

That such a goal of inner perfection, of fulfillment of the self, of active and constructive participation in collective progress should be attained through such a barren, hard and fatiguing path, which has apparently nothing in common with the light and joy of the goal it leads to, may seem strange, and even unjust and cruel.

St Teresa of Avila[31]31 said: `I am not surprised, my Lord, that Thy friends are so few, if Thou dealest with them in such a way.' This path has been variously described in the Sacred Scriptures and in mystical writings. Jesus said: `... strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life.'32 Bahá'u'lláh poetically described it as the `valley of love', but He said also that `the steed of this valley is pain; and if there be no pain this journey will never end.'[33] `Abdu'l-Bahá mentions the `stony path of God';[34] in one of His prayers, He writes: `This, Thy servant, hath advanced toward Thee, is passionately wandering in the desert of Thy love'35 and describes Himself as `this wanderer in the wilderness of God's love'.[36] The modern mystic, Thomas Merton, mentions a `night of the senses' preceding the contemplation of God and describes a heavy `journey through the desert' filled with `aridness' and `desolation'[37] leading unto the vision of the Lord. In the sixteenth century, St John of the Cross mentions a `night of sense and spirit' that `the soul should first traverse, if it is to attain to the stage of perfection'.[38]

However, if man does not of his own free-will tread this path -- the path of purification from the `satanic self'39 he will not be able to demonstrate through his deeds that he has chosen the attraction towards the world of the Kingdom and given up the ties binding him to the world of creation, and therefore he will not be able to acquire experience of that divine Kingdom.

Once again the words of a poet can assist us: the Persian mystic `Attár, who conveys through his verses the eagerness of that inner yearning, a yearning which, supported by perseverance, endeavour and fortitude, urges man to painfully climb those heights beyond which an initially remote and unknown joy will be found in the nearness of God.

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle's light,
And they decided one of them should go
To gather news of the elusive glow.
One flew till in the distance he discerned
A palace window where a candle burned -
And went to nearer; back again he flew
To tell the others what he thought he knew.
The mentor of the moths dismissed his claim,
Remarking: `He knows nothing of the flame'.
A moth more eager than the one before
Set out and passed beyond the palace door.
He hovered in the aura of the fire,
A trembling blur of timorous desire,
Then headed back to say how far he'd been,
And how much he had undergone and seen.
The mentor said: `You do not bear the signs
Of one who's fathomed how the candle shines'.
Another moth flew out -- his dizzy flight
Turned to an ardent wooing of the light;
He dipped and soared, and in his frenzied trance
Both Self and fire were mingled by his dance -
The flame engulfed his wing-tips, body, head;
His being glowed a fierce translucent red;
And when the mentor saw that sudden blaze,
The moth's form lost within the glowing rays,
He said: `He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak'.
To go beyond all knowledge is to find
That comprehension which eludes the mind,
And you can never gain the longed-for goal
Until you first outsoar both flesh and soul;
But should one part remain, a single hair
Will drag you back and plunge you in despair -
No creature's Self can be admitted here,
Where all identity must disappear.[40]

It is obviously impossible to describe the infinite richness and variety of attributes, qualities, capacities and endowments which a man may express during his earthly life. As `Man is a creation intended for the reflection of [the] virtues',[41] of a perfect world of the Kingdom, so if those virtues are infinite, the potentialities of human nature are infinite as well. In the Bahá'í texts, there is a wealthy of passages in which the infinite potentialities vouchsafed unto man are described through exhortations, loving counsels, descriptions of inner realities or examples of spirituality. Some of the powers of the soul have been already discussed. Each of these powers is, so to speak, assisted by infinitely many spiritual virtues through which it may be brought into operation in daily life. In the sphere of direct or indirect knowledge there is consciousness, certitude, wisdom, eloquence and also justice, equity and honesty. In the sphere of love, there is attraction toward the Kingdom, love of God, charity, benevolence, selflessness, courtesy, kindness, loving-kindness, goodness, patience, tolerance, compassion and mercy; and moreover, there is brotherhood, friendship, respectfulness, purity, chastity and holiness as well as harmony, trust-worthiness, honesty, sincerity, truthfulness, equity, justice, faithfulness, loyalty, integrity, uprighteousness, frankness, humility, meekness, joy and radiance. In the sphere of will, there is tranquility, moderation, temperance, freedom, fear of God, trust in God, resolution, steadfastness, fortitude, diligence, perseverance, patience, endurance, gratitude (even in troubles), spirit of sacrifice and courage. And these are not all the human possibilities. It is only a short and incomplete list of the potential qualities that a human being may concretely manifest in the world of creation, if he only makes an effort. This is the most luminous trace of the world of the Kingdom that a man may discover. However, at this point, a personal endeavour is required; a living experience has to be obtained. Abstract knowledge of these `exemplars'[42] will not be of much use. It is only through a direct perusal of and meditation upon the Sacred Words that minds may be enlightened, that the urge to fulfill them may be kindled in the hearts and the required forces bestowed. Thus may be attained a knowledge which, far from being an abstract, or merely intellectual, will be an inner experience, a way of being. And whoever attains that knowledge will, though he lives on the earth, indeed be getting closer to Paradise, which is reunion with God and His good-pleasure.[43] The meeting with God within human hearts is the core of the aim and purpose of the earthly journey: the soul learns, through deeds performed and feelings experienced upon the earth, the practice of virtues, and thus becomes aware of the virtues by its own experience. In this way man discovers `the world of exemplars' within himself and, in so doing, he knows God, for those `exemplars' are the reflections of His attributes. This is the meaning of the Islamic tradition mentioned by Bahá'u'lláh in His Kitáb-i-Íqán: `He hath known God who knoweth himself.'[44] This tradition re-echoes the aphorism `know thyself', attributed to Thales and engraved by Chilon of Sparta on the pediment of the famous Temple of Delphi. In past ages, these words could be understood only by a few chosen ones; today they convey a truth that each human being in the world can understand and practise for himself.

The world of the Kingdom within society

As man comes to realize and know the world of the Kingdom within himself, he will manifest it in society as well. It is thus that civilization is born. Civilization itself -- in its twofold aspect of material civilization, with its offspring of science and technology, and of divine civilization, with its progressive stages as regards man's awareness of spiritual reality, and the attainment of higher stages of cooperation and unity within society -- is a sign and an expression of the world of the Kingdom in the world of creation. Civilization, on the one hand, manifests the bounties of knowledge and learning, prosperity and success, and, on the other, is conducive to `complete attraction and affinity', `unity and harmony', and `eternal happiness, love and everlasting life'..[45]

Most people today fail to recognize these signs within society. Traversing a period of great disharmony between material civilization, which is well advanced, and spiritual civilization, which is quite backward in comparison with its present potentialities, the majority of mankind consider divine civilization to be a mere utopia; while material civilization is thought to be the outcome of unaided human efforts, without God (Whose same existence is mostly denied) having any part in it.[46] The Bahá'í view quite different:[47] it will be for the history of future decades to demonstrate its soundness, as the driving forces of history, which are always spiritual, bring about a condition of political peace notwithstanding the present difficulties. Within the context of this political peace, the new spiritual civilization, for which mankind is now ready, will flourish in all its unfolding splendour.

According to the Bahá'í teachings, these possibilities and capacities of peace, cooperation and harmony which are slowly and painfully making their ways in the world, are among the shining traces of the world of the Kingdom which spiritual seekers can see. Thus the contemporary flourishing of material civilization may be viewed not only in its material aspects of well-being and ease, nor only in its worst aspects of pollution, impoverishment of the planet's resources, unequal distribution of material wealth, and awesome possibilities of destruction, but also in its diametrically opposed possibilities of realizing, through the efforts of spiritually more mature individuals, such noble goals as the protection of the environment, the preservation of the resources, the promotion of economical equity, and the extension of an acceptable standard of life, of education, health and work to all human beings, as well as the furtherance of spiritual edification.[48] The material means are available. Only the will is missing, perhaps because most men still do not open their inner eyes and thus they do not see the bounties of the world of the Kingdom lavished by an All-Bountiful God throughout His creation, neither do they understand that those bounties may be seized or ignored by us, His creatures, depending on our own free choice.

The world of the Kingdom as the world beyond

But man cannot be satisfied with knowing the world of the Kingdom only through its glimmerings in the creatures of the world and from the feelings he himself experiences in his heart. Man has always been eager to know what his condition will be when he somehow returns -- after his physical death -- into that world. The Bahá'í texts inform us that `the nature of the soul after death can never be described, nor it is meet and permissible to reveal its whole character to the eyes of men'.[49] Nevertheless, they refer to that world through metaphors in order to permit us an understanding within the limits of our capacities, an understanding that can foster our attraction towards that reality.

It transcends time and space

The world of the Kingdom is often referred to by Bahá'u'lláh as the `Placeless';[50] and `Abdu'l-Bahá says that it is a kingdom of `eternal life'[51] which `transcends the life and limitations of this mortal sphere'..[52] Thus, the world of the Kingdom cannot be explored and studied through the categories of time and space typical of our material universe.

When `Abdu'l-Bahá was asked where is the world of the Kingdom, He answered: `... the Kingdom of God... is within this world. The people of this world, however, are unaware of that world, and are even as the mineral and the vegetable that know nothing of the animal and the world of man.' In fact, `... the world of existence', He writes, `is a single world, although its stations are various and distinct'.[53] Therefore, we are already in the world of the Kingdom now, but we must become aware of this fact. And since it is the faculties of mid and insight which, under the guidance of Revelation, enable us to become aware of spiritual truth within material reality, these faculties must be trained and developed in order to acquire such important awareness.

But above all, it should be remembered that the world of the Kingdom is `nearness to God', and that such a nearness can be attained during this earthly life through `the attainment of the highest virtues of humanity'.[54] `Abdu'l-Bahá writes: `Those souls that, in this day, enter the divine kingdom and attain everlasting life, although materially dwelling on earth, yet in reality soar in the realm of heaven. Their bodies may linger on earth, but their spirits travel in the immensity of space. For as thoughts widen and become illumined, they acquire the power of flight and transport man to the Kingdom of God.' Whoever attains this stage will understand that `... the Kingdom is the real world, and this nether place is only its shadow stretching out... images reflected in water'.[55]

Metaphors of the world of the Kingdom in the Bahá'í texts

Although in its limited ways the material world is only `images reflected in water' it can yet permit us to conceive a metaphorical idea of the world beyond.

The Bahá'í texts metaphorically describe the world of the Kingdom as an earthly kingdom: `the Realm of Immortality', `the Realm of Glory', the `Abhá Kingdom'.[56]56 In this Kingdom, there is a `Glorious Height'57 from which the Voice of God is speaking forth. Bahá'u'lláh describes moreover the `Sacred and inviolable Sanctuary' of God, the `Celestial Pavilion', all metaphors that should be perused and deeply meditated upon to be understood. When Bahá'u'lláh describes that Kingdom, He depicts charming country scenery: `rustling... leaves', a `whispering breeze', `flowing waters'58 all raising anthems of praise unto God. In one of His prayers, He implores that He may drink `from the sweet-scented streams of Thine eternity', `taste the fruits' of the `tree of Thy Being'. In that same prayer, He mentions refreshing `crystal springs of Thy love', `meadows of Thy nearness', where He asks that He may wander, as well as a `fragrant breeze of Thy joy... melodies of the dove of Thy oneness... [a] garden of Thine immortality'.[59] In those places of spiritual delight `Maids' or `Damsels'60 of Heaven as well as `heavenly armies'61 dwelling in `mansions of Eternity' within `celestial chambers', `illumine the heaven and all that is therein' and perfume `all things in the Land of Holiness and Grandeur'..[62] This world is also described as `oceans above of God' whose `billows of grace' are surging over `all mankind'.[63]

These metaphors disclose the beauty and the greatness of that world, when compared to the limitations of this one, whose beauties are nevertheless a reflection of the beauties of the former. However, once again, only through a direct and personal perusal of the revealed Words and meditation upon them can a glimpse of the deep inner meanings of those metaphors be caught.

Qualities of the world of the Kingdom

The world of the Kingdom is, `Abdu'l-Bahá says, `the Kingdom of complete attraction and affinity', of `real love', that love `which exists between God and His servants, the love which binds together holy souls, not the love of physical bodies and organisms'; the world of the Kingdom is a world of `light and reality... bliss and joy', of `radiance... illumination', in comparison with the `darkness and uncertainty' of this world. It is a world of `absolute immortality, completeness and unchangeable being', in comparison to the `separation [and] disintegration, which characterize the world of material existence'. It is a world of `unlimited' virtues, whereas `the virtues of the material world are limited'. It is `a world of sanctity and radiance... of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God... a world of lights... of love... of perfections... vivified by the breaths of the Holy Spirit', in comparison to this `world of gloom... of defects... without enlightenment'.[64] In that world, the veils will be cleft asunder, `verities will come to light, and all things unknown before will be made clear, and hidden truths be understood'..[65] It `is the realm of divine bestowals and the bounties of God. It is attainment of the highest virtues of humanity; it is nearness to God; it is capacity to receive the bounties of the ancient Lord', in the sense that in that world the closer the `nearness to God' or the `likeness unto' Him, the more perfectly will human potentialities be fulfilled. This unceasing progress, which is typical of the world of the Kingdom is animated and guided by the Manifestation of God. `In the inner world, the world of the Kingdom, the Sun of Reality is the Trainer and Educator of minds, souls and spirits. Were it not for the effulgent rays of the Sun of Reality, they would be deprived of growth and development; nay, rather, they would be nonexistent... the radiation of the light and heat of the Sun of Reality gives growth, education and evolution to minds, souls and spirits toward the station of perfection'.[66]

The body separates man from that world like a screen. `Abdu'l-Bahá compares it to an `interposed veil' which must be metaphorically `lifted away' so that that `world of perceptions and discoveries' may be perceived. This will undoubtedly occur when the body dies. At that moment, man will hasten `away from this mortal place into the Kingdom of God, then he will be born in the spirit; then the eye of his perception will open, the ear of his soul will hearken, and all the truths of which he was ignorant before will be made plain and clear.' However, this process may begin during physical life with that which is called second birth or spiritual progress.[67]

Human souls in the world of the Kingdom

`Abdu'l-Bahá, dwelling more specifically upon the condition of the soul after death, informs us that at the physical death when the body is decomposed, `only consciousness... is left...'; He says moreover: `After death the condition is one which cannot be clearly explained in words. It is one of comprehension, understanding, which involves all other things -- feeling, etc.' He also says: `You will retain your individuality and will not be swallowed up in one vast spirit. Concerning the condition of the human soul after its ascension from the material world: the essence of the human soul is clarified from material substances and purified from the embodiment of physical things. It is exclusively luminous; it has no body; it is a dazzling pencil of light; it is a celestial orb of brightness.'[68] Therefore, if the body disappears, the mind, which depends on the body,[69] disappears as well; and when the mind disappears, animal and human nature will disappear too. There is no longer that tension between animal and divine nature, typical of the earthly life of man, which has been called dual nature of the soul. The unremitting necessity of choosing between material and spiritual attraction, typical of this earthly life, disappears. The evolution of the soul will be a progressive and continuous `approaching unto God',[70] the supreme Centre of Attraction, through the agency of the bounties of the Sun of Reality, the Manifestation of God. Thus, in the world of the Kingdom, the Manifestation of God `continues... to be our means of contact with the Almighty',[71] and whoever has learnt during his earthly life how to profit from His bounties, will profit of them all the more in the next one.

Bahá'u'lláh writes that in the world of the Kingdom, the soul `... will assume the form that best befitteth its immortality'.[72] And `Abdu'l-Bahá explains that `... in the other world the human reality doth not assume a physical form, rather doth it take on a heavenly form, made up of elements of that heavenly realm',[73] and it remains `in the degree of purity to which it has evolved during life in the physical body'.[74]

For man as an individual, then, earthly life is nothing but a preparation for the life beyond, when the soul will take the consequences or reap the fruits of its life in this world. Bahá'u'lláh writes: `Every pure, every refined and sanctified soul will be endowed with tremendous power, and shall rejoice with exceeding gladness'; in fact `... all men shall, after their physical death, estimate the worth of their deeds, and realize all that their hands have wrought', and `... the souls of the infidels... shall... be made aware of the good things that have escaped them'75 and will suffer.

It is evident that the souls occupy quite different stages in the world beyond according to `what they acquire of virtues or vices in this world'.[76] `Abdu'l-Bahá writes in this regard: `Know that immortality belongs to such souls as have been imbued with the spirit of life. Beside them all the others are lifeless -- they are dead, as Christ explained in the Gospel.'[77]

However, this condition is not a static one. In fact `... nothing which exists', says `Abdu'l-Bahá, `remains in a state of repose', and `... as the spirit continues to develop after death, it necessarily progresses or declines; and in the other world to cease to progress is the same as to decline; but it never leaves its own condition, in which it continues to develop'.[78] Thus, the condition of the soul after physical death is certainly not stationary. The soul proceeds in the world of the Kingdom in its never-ending journey back to God.

In the world beyond, the progress of the soul is through the bounties of the Manifestation of God, as well as by intercession of other souls, both of souls who are still in the physical stage of their lives -- as will be seen further on -- and of souls who have ascended into the world of the Kingdom. `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `... it is certain that -- those who are near the Divine Court are allowed to intercede, and this intercession is approved by God. But intercession in the other world is not like the intercession in this world. It is another thing, another reality, which cannot be expressed in words.'[79]

Relations between this world and the other

Bahá'u'lláh, further explaining the relation between this life and the other, writes: `The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother.'[80] Earthly life is described by `Abdu'l-Bahá as `the condition of a human being in the womb, where his eyes are veiled, and all things are hidden away from him. Once he is born out of the uterine world and entereth this life, he findeth it, with relation to that of the womb, to be a place of perceptions and discoveries, and he observeth all things through his outer eye. In the same way, once he hath departed this life, he will behold in that world whatsoever was hidden from him here: but there he will look upon and comprehend all things with his inner eye...'81 According to this metaphor, just as whatsoever is needed for this world is acquired during intrauterine life, even though some of those instruments are utterly useless inside the womb, so during this life such instruments are acquired as will prove indispensable in the world beyond, and which will be used to a certain extent in this life, too.

`... [I]n this world', says `Abdu'l-Bahá, `he must prepare himself for the life beyond.' And then He enumerates all the qualities which man must equip himself with: `sanctity and radiance... spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God... illumination... virtues or perfections... breaths of the Holy Spirit... everlasting life'.[82]

On the other hand, just as a bodily defect acquired in the womb may have far-reaching consequences upon the conditions of life once a person is born into this world, so a defect in one's spiritual evolution will exert its influence on the conditions of one's life in the world of the Kingdom. `Abdu'l-Bahá explains the condition of a man at his physical death, in the light of this same metaphor: `At first the infant finds it very difficult to reconcile itself to its new existence. It cries as if not wishing to be separated from its narrow abode and imagining that life is restricted to that limited space. It is reluctant to leave its home, but nature forces it into this world. Having come into its new condition, it finds that it has passed from darkness into a sphere of radiance; from gloomy and restricted surroundings, it has been transferred to a spacious and delightful environment... and then it praises God for its release from the confinement of its former condition and attainment to the freedom of a new realm. This analogy expresses the relation of the temporal world to the life hereafter -- the transition of the soul of man from darkness and uncertainty to the light and reality of the eternal Kingdom. At first, it is very difficult to welcome death, but after attaining its new conditions the soul is grateful, for it has been released from the bondage of the limited to enjoy the liberties of the unlimited. It has been freed from a world of sorrow, grief and trials to live in a world of unending bliss and joy. The phenomenal and physical have been abandoned in order that it may attain the opportunities of the ideal and spiritual.'[83]

A further metaphor suggested by `Abdu'l-Bahá, in order to explain the relation between this earthly life and the life hereafter, is that of a garden: `It is as if', He writes, `a kind gardener transferreth a fresh and tender shrub from a confined place to a wide open area. This transfer is not the cause of the withering, the lessening or the destruction of that shrub; no, on the contrary, it maketh it to grow and thrive, acquire freshness and delicacy, become green and bear fruit. This hidden secret is well known to the gardener, but those souls who are unaware of this bounty suppose that the gardener, in his anger and wrath, hath uprooted the shrub. Yet to those who are aware, this concealed fact is manifest, and this predestined decree is considered a bounty.'84 Once more the Bahá'í texts show a benign reality which in its often inscrutable Rationality and Providential Order is guarantee of rationality and order in its creation. And whoever understands and complies with the meaning of that rationality and the harmony of that order will say: `there is nothing more wonderful than that which already exists',[85] and in that awareness will find fulfillment and happiness.

Relations between human souls in the world of the Kingdom

As to the relations among human souls in the world of the Kingdom, Bahá'u'lláh writes that whoever has lived in conformity with the divine will have blissful joy: `The Maids of Heaven, inmates of the loftiest mansions, will circle around [him], and the Prophets of God and His chosen ones will seek his companionship. With them that soul will freely converse, and will recount unto them that which it hath been made to endure in the path of God, the Lord of all worlds.'[86] When `Abdu'l-Bahá was asked `whether the souls will recognize each other in the spiritual world', He answered: `This fact is certain; for the Kingdom is the world of vision where all the concealed realities will become disclosed. How much more the well-known souls will become manifest. The mysteries of which man is heedless in this earthly world, those he will discover in the heavenly world, and there will he be informed of the secret truth; how much more will he recognize or discover persons with whom he hath been associated... Even they will manifestly behold the Beauty of God in that world. Likewise will they find all the friends of God, both those of former and recent times, present in the heavenly assemblage.'[87]

However, mutual awareness among the souls in that world depends on the grade of their development: `They that are of the same grade and station are fully aware of one another's capacity, character, accomplishment and merits. They that are of a lower grade, however, are incapable of comprehending adequately the station, or of estimating the merit, of those that rank above them.'[88]

Thus a hierarchy exists in the world of the Kingdom: there is a great difference between those who, having attained the life of the spirit during their earthly life, are closer unto God; and those who, having not made spiritual progress, are as dead. `He who is deprived of these divine favours, although he continues after death, is considered as dead by the people of truth,' says `Abdu'l-Bahá; and moreover: `For those who believe in God, who have love of God, and faith, life is excellent -- that is, it is eternal; but to those souls who are veiled from God, although they have life, it is dark, and in comparison with the life of believers it is nonexistence.'[89]

Relationship between human souls in this world and in the other

The Bahá'í texts also describe the relationship between those souls who have traversed earthly life and ascended into that Kingdom, and mankind which is wearily making its way here on the earth. `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `those who have ascended have different attributes from those who are still on earth, yet there is no real separation.'[90] In fact, pure and holy souls in the Kingdom are -- in the words of Bahá'u'lláh -- `the pure leaven that leaveneth the world of being, and furnisheth the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest'. `The light which these soul radiate' He writes moreover, `is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples. They are like unto leaven which leaveneth the world of being, and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest. Through them, the clouds rain their bounty upon men, and the earth bringeth forth its fruits... These souls and symbols of detachment have provided and will continue to provide, the supreme moving impulse in the world of being..'[91]

As the souls of the Kingdom have an influence upon this world, so the contrary is true as well. `In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition', says `Abdu'l-Bahá. Then He adds: `Pray for them as they pray for you.'[92] These concepts need to be carefully studied and pondered so that both `the despairing slough of materialism' and `the quagmire of superstition'[93] may be avoided.

These are certainly not all the signs of the world of the Kingdom that may be discovered in the world of creation, within man, within society, or in the Holy Scriptures. This brief discussion is just intended as a starting point, as an encouragement. Seekers will undoubtedly discover other traces, understand other metaphors, and in so doing will foster such attraction toward the world of the Kingdom within their own selves as will kindle the eagerness to tread the path of spirituality, both within their own hearts and in those of others.[94]

End notes:

[1] Gleanings, p.160.

[2] Some Answered Questions, p.221.

[3] Promulgation, pp.268, 284.

[4] Some Answered Questions, p.183.

[5] Promulgation, pp.284, 140.

[6] ibid. p.302.

[7] Paris Talks, p.90.

[8] Some Answered Questions, p.143.

[9] Promulgation, p.29.

[10] Some Answered Questions, p.217. See ibid. pp.217-9.

[11] Promulgation, p.79.

[12] ibid. p.270.

[13] `Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets, p.604.

[14] See J.S. Hatcher, The Metaphorical Nature of Material Reality', in Bahá'í Studies, III, and The Purpose of Physical Reality. A metaphor is a figure of speech which `relates to a certain object an image which evokes immediate impressions and feelings we experience in front of the object'. (A. Ghiselli, C. Casalgrande, Lingua e Parola, p.394.)

[15] `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `... just as the solar cycle has its four seasons, the cycle of the Sun of Reality has its distinct and successive periods. Each brings its vernal season or springtime. When the Sun of Reality returns to quicken the world of mankind, a divine bounty descends from the heaven of generosity. The realm of thoughts and ideas is set in motion and blessed with new life. Minds are developed, hopes brighten, aspirations become spiritual, the virtues of the human world appear with freshened power of growth, and the image and likeness of God become visible in man. It is the springtime of the inner world. After the spring, summer comes with its fullness and spiritual fruitage; autumn follows with its withering winds which chill the soul; the Sun seems to be going away, until at last the mantle of winter overspreads, and only faint traces of the effulgence of that divine sun remain. Just as the surface of the material world becomes dark and dreary, the soil dormant, the trees naked and bare, and no beauty or freshness remain to cheer the darkness and desolation, so the winter of the spiritual cycle witnesses the death and disappearance of divine growth and extinction of the light and love of God. But again, the cycle begins and a new springtime appears. In it, the former springtime has returned; the world is resuscitated, illumined and attain spirituality; religion is renewed and reorganized, hearts are turned unto God, and life is again bestowed upon man'. (Promulgation, pp.93-6.) See above, pp.38 n.40; 106 n.29.

[16] `Abdu'l-Bahá writes: `... the brilliant realities and sanctified spirits are likened to a shining crescent. It has one face turned toward the Sun of Truth, and another face opposite to the contingent world. The journey of this crescent in the heaven of the universe ends in (becoming) a full moon. That is, that face of it which is turned toward the divine world becomes also opposite to the contingent world, and by this, both its merciful and spiritual, as well as contingent, perfections become complete.' (Tablets, pp.1089.) See above, pp.117.

[17] `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `... spiritual advancement may be likened to the light of the early dawn. Although this dawn light is dim and pale, a wise man who views the march of the sunrise at its very beginning can foretell the ascendancy of the sun in its full glory and effulgence. He knows, for a certainty, that it is the beginning of its manifestation and that later it will assume great power and potency.' (Promulgation, p.131.) See above, p.117.

[18] `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `... the human reality may be compared to a seed. If we saw the seed, a mighty tree appears from it. The virtues of the seed are revealed in the tree; it puts forth branches, leaves, blossoms, and produces fruits. All these virtues were hidden and potential in the seed. Through the blessing and bounty of cultivation these virtues became apparent. Similarly, the merciful God, our Creator, has deposited within human realities certain latent and potential virtues. Through education and culture these virtues deposited by the loving God became apparent in the human reality, even as the unfoldment of the tree from within the germinating seed.' (Promulgation, p.91.)

[19] `... the human reality is like the soil. If no bounty of rain descends from the heaven upon the soil, if no heat of the sun penetrates, it will remain black, forbidding, unproductive; but when the moistening shower and the effulgent glow of the sun's ray fall upon it, beautiful and redolent flowers grow from its bosom. Similarly, the human spirit or reality of man, unless it becomes the recipient of the lights of the Kingdom, develops divine susceptibilities and consciously reflects the effulgence of God, will not be the manifestation of ideal bounties...' (Promulgation, p.30.) See above, p.117.

[20] `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `The most important thing is to polish the mirrors of the hearts in order that they may become illumined and receptive of the divine light. One heart may possess the capacity of the polished mirror; another, be covered and obscured by the dust and dross of this world. Although the same Sun is shining upon both, in the mirror which is polished, pure and sanctified you may behold the Sun in all its fullness, glory and power, revealing its majesty and effulgence; but in the mirror which is rusted and obscured there is no capacity for reflection, although so far as the Sun itself is concerned it is shining thereon and is neither lessened nor deprived. Therefore, our duty lies in seeking to polish the mirrors of our hearts in order that we shall become reflectors of that light and recipient of the divine bounties which may be fully revealed through them.' (Promulgation, pp.14-15.)

[21] See ibid. pp.294, 336. He writes moreover: `... once a bird hath grown its wings, it remaineth on the ground no more, but soareth upward into high heaven -- except for those birds that are tied by the leg, or those whose wings are broken, or mired down.' (Selections, p.58.)

[22] Bahá'u'lláh often refers to the `Water of Life' (Gleanings, p.213), as the teachings of the Manifestation of God which, even as water, quicken the soil of human hearts.

[23] Selections, p.146.

[24] Kitáb-i-Aqdas, in Synopsis, p.37.

[25] Gleanings, p.43.

[26] Promulgation, pp.294, 336.

[27] See Matt. 5:1-48 and Luke 6:20-49. With such words does `Abdu'l-Bahá pay a tribute to the moral teachings of Jesus: `...Jesus... founded the sacred Law and the foundation of moral character and complete spirituality and to those who believed in Him traced a special way of living which constitutes the highest way of acting on the earth.' (Secret of Divine Civilization, p.82.)

[28] These are the opening words of that precious collection of aphorisms: `This is that which hath descended from the realm of glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might, and revealed unto the Prophets of old. We have taken the inner essence thereof and clothed it in the garment of brevity, as a token of grace unto the righteous, that they may stand faithful unto the Covenant of God, may fulfill in their lives His trust, and in the realm of the spirit obtain the gem of the Divine virtue.' (Hidden Words, p.3.) A perusal of this booklet and the practice of the advises offered therein will prove a sufficient means of the spiritual progress of anyone who will exert his efforts with purity of motives.

[29] G. A. Eyford writes: `Man must work on himself as he would upon a piece of art. His standards and criteria will be a blend of the aesthetic and the moral as he strives to achieve beauty, purity, virtue, goodness, unity, authenticity, and truth.' (`Aesthetics and Spiritual Education', in World Order, XIV, no.1, p.36.) For a better understanding of this concept, the perusal of the whole paper by G.A. Eyford is suggested.

30 Gleanings, p.260.

[31] St Teresa from Avila or of Jesus (1515-1582), mystic, Spanish writer, reformer of the Carmelitan Order together with her contemporary Spanish mystic St John of the Cross (1542-1591).

32 Matt. 7:14.

[33] Seven Valleys, p.8.

[34] Selections, p.226.

35 Bahá'í Prayers, p.82.

[36] Selections, p.226.

[37] New Seeds of Contemplation.

[38] St John of the Cross, Opere, pp.350, 15.

39 Seven Valleys, p.11.

[40] Farídu'd-Din `Attár (1117-1230). These verses are from his most famous poem, Mantiqu't-Tayr (`The Conference of the Birds'). See ibid. p.206.

[41] Promulgation, pp.302-3.

[42] Promulgation, p.464. The word exemplar (or archetype) is seemingly used by `Abdu'l-Bahá, in this context, in its neo-platonic meaning of `ideas [attributes] existing in the mind of God as models of created things'.. (N. Abbagnano, Dizionario di Filosofia, p.65.) See above, p.147.

[43] Bahá'u'lláh writes: `"Where is Paradise, and where is Hell?" Say: "The one is reunion with Me; the other is thine own self".' (Tablets, p.118). The Báb writes: `Paradise is attainment of His good-pleasure.' (Selections, p.158.)

[44] p.102.

[45] Promulgation, pp.4, 9.

[46] This concept is thus concisely set forth by The Universal House of Justice in its Promise of World Peace: `... religion and religious institutions have, for many decades, been viewed by increasing numbers of people as irrelevant to the major concerns of the modern world. In its place they have turned either to the hedonistic pursuit of material satisfactions or to the following of man-made ideologies designed to rescue society from the evident evils under which it groans.' (p.6.)

[47] Bahá'u'lláh writes: `Religion... is the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world and of tranquility amongst its peoples. The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strengthened the foolish and emboldened them and made them more arrogant... The greater the decline of religion, the more grievous the waywardness of the ungodly. This cannot but lead in the end to chaos and confusion.' (Tablets, pp.63-4.)

[48] The interested reader would do well to read Call to the Nations, a compilation of writings by Shoghi Effendi, published in 1977 by the Universal House of Justice. In this compilation, the most important Bahá'í texts dealing these and other important issues are collected.

[49] Gleanings, p.156.

[50] Hidden Words, Persian no. 17. Bahá'u'lláh mentions in His Hidden Words `the gates that open on the Placeless', (Persian no. 17. `the realms of the Placeless', (Bahá'u'lláh, ibid. Persian no. 39) `the paradise of the Placeless', (Persian, no. 39) as well as in His Kitáb-i-Íqán, `the domain of the Placeless.'(p.157.)

[51] Promulgation, p.226.

[52] Selections, pp.194-5.

[53] ibid. pp.194-5, 193.

[54] Promulgation, p.304.

[55] Selections, pp.202, 178.

[56] Gleanings, pp.141, 301, 207.

57 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablet of the Holy Mariner.

58 Gleanings, pp.11-12, 31.

[59] Bahá'í Prayers, pp.77-8.

60 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablet of the Holy Mariner.

61 `Abdu'l-Bahá writes: `By heavenly armies those souls are intended who are entirely freed from the human world, transformed into celestial spirits and have become divine angels. Such souls are the rays of the Sun of Reality... They are delivered from human qualities and the defects of the world of nature, are characterized with the characteristics of God, and are attracted with the fragrances of the Merciful.' (Tablets of the Divine Plan, p.47.)

[62] Bahá'u'lláh, Tablet of the Holy Marineer.

[63] Selections, p.252.

[64] Promulgation, pp.4, 9, 256, 47, 332, 47, 90, 205, 226, 332.

[65] Selections, p.177.

[66] Promulgation, pp.304, 148, 271.

[67] Selections, pp.170, 149. To a seeker, lamenting her separation from Him, `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote: `We are all under the shade of the unicoloured pavilion of the world of humanity, but heedlessness forms a veil and an obstacle. When it is removed, the veil will be rent asunder and we shall see one another gathered up together and present.' (`Tablets of Abdul-Baha Recently Revealed', in Star of the West, X, p.7.)

[68] Quoted in `Studies in Immortality', in Star of the West, XIV, pp.37, 38.

[69] In the Bahá'í texts, the mind is described as the manifestation of the mental faculties of the soul through the agency of the brain. Since mind is not the only cognitive means at man's disposal, it follows that though man's intelligence (or reason, or intellect) is conditioned by his mind, yet it is not identical with it. As to the concept of mind, see above pp.156-7. [9-10, 176-8, 265-70, 306-7.]

[70] Paris Talks, p.66.

[71] Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, quoted in Dawn of a New Day, p.67. Bahá'u'lláh, describing a `true believer', writes: `his spirit will everlastingly circle round the Will of God'. (Gleanings, p.141.)

[72] Gleanings, p.157.

[73] Selections, p.194.

[74] Paris Talks, p.66.

75 Gleanings, pp.154, 171, 170.

[76] Some Answered Questions, p.233.

[77] Selections, p.189. Shoghi Effendi, explains some passages from the writings of Bahá'u'lláh on the same subject in the following words written through his secretary: `The word "perish"... does not mean that the human soul will cease to exist, but will be deprived of all spiritual capacity and understanding... by "everlasting life" is meant spiritual felicity, communion with the Divine Spirit'. (quoted in Bahá'í Institutions (comp.), p.115.)

[78] Some Answered Questions, p.233.

[79] ibid. p.231.

[80] Gleanings, p.157.

81 Selections, p.171.

[82] Promulgation, p.226.

[83] ibid. p.47.

84 Selections, pp.199-200.

[85] Some Answered Questions, p.177.

[86] Gleanings, p.156.

[87] Tablets, p.205.

[88] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p.170.

[89] Some Answered Questions, pp.225, 243.

[90] `Abdu'l-Bahá in London, p.96.

[91] Gleanings, p.157.

[92] `Abdu'l-Bahá in London, p.157.

[93] Paris Talks, p.143.

[94] For a deeper discussion of this topic see J. S. Hatcher, The Purpose of Physical Reality.


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