Tell us not the tale of Layli or of Majnuns woe -
There is a strong desire in all human beings to communicate with a higher supernatural force. This is a manifestation of the yearning of the human soul, the reality of man, to make contact with its Creator. The path to achieve this spiritual union with God has been revealed by the Divine Messengers in all religions. The chief means to attain this blissful state are prayer and meditation on the Word of God. Other processes helpful for the purification of the human heart and communion with God recommended in the Scriptures are: fasting; self-analysis; inner transformation; inculcation of divine virtues; the company of the godly; and above all, living life according to the divine commandments.
However, the quest of most people to fulfil this innate desire to commune with God, often leads them to miracle makers and even participation in experiments involving communication with spirits, both benevolent and malevolent. They begin to indulge in practices that are not prescribed in the Scriptures and are even harmful. Ignorance; simple curiosity; eagerness to witness other worldly events in person; seeking solutions to intricate problems; interest in life after death; etc., are among the many reasons for this indulgence. Obviously, almost none of these persons are able to attain what they initially set out to achieve. The true communion with God is achieved through prayer and meditation.
The Baháí Writings describe prayer as a conversation with God. When in prayer, Abdul-Bahá says, "We should speak in the language of the spirit and heart. It is different from our language as our own language is different from that of the animals, who express themselves only by cries and sounds."
"It is the language of the spirit which speaks to God. When, in prayer, we are freed from all outward things and turn to God Without words we speak, we communicate, we converse with God and hear the answer."2 He assures us that "All of us, when we attain to a truly spiritual condition, can hear the voice of God."3
The law of prayer has been a fundamental element in the Revelation of all the Prophets of God. The form and the manner of this law, however, have been adapted to the varying requirements of every age.4
Baháulláh teaches that the true seeker should commune with God every day, at dawn and in the evening. Prayer is to be offered individually free from all rituals and ceremonies. The practice of congregational prayer is thus annulled in the Baháí Faith. No idols are to be worshipped because these are mostly the result of idle fancies and vain imaginings whereas Baháulláh has described God as an "Unknowable Essence."5
Baháulláh has given the right to all people to read the Holy Scriptures because the Word of God has a positive and transforming influence on the human soul. Since He strongly advocated the cause of universal education and foresaw it as an achievable goal, He has totally abolished the institution of priesthood and there is no question of seeking their help. Instead of the priesthood, the divinely ordained and non-politically elected world-wide Baháí Administrative institutions help in performing marriages and conducting the last rites.
The Baháí Houses of Worship are famous for their beauty, architecture, peaceful atmosphere and cleanliness all over the world. There are no statues in them. At the time of prayer, the Word of God is read or chanted from all the Holy Scriptures. The Gita, Dhammapada, Bible, Qurán, and the Baháí Holy Writings are used for this purpose and no musical instruments are employed. The audience is generally composed of people from almost all religious backgrounds, nations and races. No specific language is advocated for worship. Prayers are chanted in those languages that are easily understood by the gathering.
Temples are symbols of God on earth.6 They remind us of our Creator and make us aware of the divine purpose of our creation. However, Baháulláh does not limit the act of praying to the sanctum sanctorum of the Houses of Worship. Any place is sanctified where mention of God is made and His praise glorified. The only condition that He puts forward is the purity of the human heart that is the real temple where God resides. The utmost cleanliness of the surroundings has been emphasized and use of rose water and pure perfume has been recommended.
The Baháí Writings teach that the " most acceptable prayer is the one offered with the utmost spirituality and radiance; its prolongation hath not been and is not beloved by God. The more detached and the purer the prayer, the more acceptable is it in the presence of God."7 The quality of the prayerful state is of utmost significance. How long one prays is not important.
Mans Creator is a prayer hearing and prayer answering God. Baháulláh asks, "Who is there that hath cried after Thee, and whose prayer hath remained unanswered? Where is he to be found who hath reached forth towards Thee, and whom Thou hast failed to approach? Who is he that can claim to have fixed his gaze upon Thee, and toward whom the eye of Thy loving-kindness hath not been directed?"8
No doubt, God answers the prayers of His servants even before they approach His Court. Baháulláh describes the prayer answering quality of God in these words: "I bear witness that Thou hadst turned toward Thy servants ere they had turned toward Thee, and hadst remembered them ere they had remembered Thee."9 Of course, not everything we ask for is automatically provided. "But whatever we ask for which is in accord with divine wisdom, God will answer. Assuredly!"10 The Baháí Writings further emphasize: "The true worshipper, while praying should endeavour not so much to ask God to fulfil his wishes and desires, but rather to adjust these and make them conform to the Divine Will. Only through such an attitude can one derive that feeling of inner peace and contentment which the power of prayer alone can confer."11
Baháulláh has revealed hundreds of prayers that are unsurpassable in beauty and matchless in style. The three Baháí Obligatory Prayers occupy a sublime station in the Baháí Revelation.12 These are known as the Long, Medium and Short obligatory prayers. One of these prayers is to be said the specified number of times each day. Ablutions have been prescribed before saying the obligatory prayers. The Short obligatory prayer must be said between noon and sunset every day after washing hands and face. It reads: "I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting."13 Such is the significance of the Obligatory Prayers that no man under no pretext whatever is excused from saying one of these prayers " unless he be mentally unsound or an insurmountable obstacle prevent him."14
Water seems to play an important role in all religions for performing ablutions before offering prayers. In Christianity, water is sprinkled for christeningoften the infants are immersed in water to symbolize their spiritual rebirth. Devotees in the Hindu Faith are encouraged to bathe and to complete daily ablutions before saying their prayers. Water is freely used while performing yajnas small quantity of charnamrit, or holy water from the lotus feet of gods and goddesses, is drunk after offering prayers in temples. Water is used at the time of baptism in the Sikh Faith. Temples of various religions are often encircled by pools of water. It is also customary to have a holy dip in these pools, ponds or certain rivers flowing by the places of worship.
What is the significance of water used in this manner? Obviously, water is the most efficient cleaning agent or purifier available to man; it is usually cheap and found in great abundance. It is important to wear clean clothes and find an unsullied and quiet spot before we turn to God in prayer. Water ensures outer cleanliness, and reminds us that our hearts should be cleansed of all material dross so that we turn to our heavenly Father in all purity.
Prophets seem to prescribe the use of water for the purposes of cleanliness according to its availability. Baháulláh has prescribed washing of face and hands before offering the Obligatory Prayer. Since the Baháí Faith is a truly Universal Religion, the limited use of water may be to allow for the lack of water in some places of the world.
The few simple directions given by Baháulláh for chanting certain prayers have a spiritual significance and assist the individual "to fully concentrate when praying and meditating."15 Abdul-Bahá indicates that "in every word and movement of the Obligatory Prayer there are allusions, mysteries and a wisdom that man is unable to comprehend, and letters and scrolls cannot contain." 16
He says that such prayers are "conducive to humility and submissiveness, to setting ones face towards God and expressing devotion to Him." 17 Through these prayers " man holdeth communion with God, seeketh to draw near unto Him, converseth with the true Beloved of his heart, and attaineth spiritual stations."18
There is no prescribed way for reciting other Baháí prayers. All are free to use such prayers in gatherings or individually as they please.19 Thus Baháí prayer is not confined to the use of prescribed forms, though they may be important. The Baháí idea is that ones whole life should be a prayer. Work done in the right spirit is equivalent to worship.
Abdul-Bahá emphasizes: "Prayer need not be in words, but rather in thoughts and attitude. If this love and this desire are lacking, it is useless to try and force them. Words without love mean nothing."20 He further states that: "In the highest prayer, men pray only for the love of God, not because they fear Him or hell, or hope for bounty of heaven . When a man falls in love with a human being, it is impossible for him to keep from mentioning the name of his beloved. How much more difficult is it to keep from mentioning the Name of God when one has come to love Him . The spiritual man finds no delight in anything save in commemoration of God."21
Prayer is like gentle rain. The blessings of God fall drop by drop and drench the soul completely in everlasting joy. In a truly prayerful state, with his thoughts completely turned towards God, man longs for more and more heavenly showers. He likes this blissful state to last for ever more and to never end. Man feels his whole being covered by the divine armour and his heart totally reassured after communing with his heavenly Father in this manner. Khalil Gibran, the renowned poet and philosopher states, "Prayer is the song of the heart. It reaches the ear of God even if it is mingled with the cry and the tumult of a thousand men."22
A spiritual man is always engaged in singing the praises of the Lord. He complies with wholehearted joy and happiness the prescribed commandments of each prayer, including the chanting of Gods name. Baháís are enjoined to chant "Alláh-u-Abhá" (God is Glorious) ninety five times every day along with other prayers after performing ablutions.23 This is indeed a great bounty, for a spiritual person always looks forward to sitting down in solitude to sing the praises of his Lord.
Abdul-Bahá says: "The prayerful condition is the best of conditions, for man in such a state communeth with God, especially when prayer is offered in private and at times when ones mind is free, such as at midnight. Indeed, prayer imparteth life."24
"Wonder not, if my Best-Beloved be closer to me than mine own self; wonder at this, that I, despite such nearness, should still be so far from Him."25
Meditation has been acclaimed, through out ages and centuries, as an important means for communing with God. The importance of meditation is that it opens the doors of knowledge and inspiration and in the process our spiritual life is enriched. However, there are many misconceptions about meditation. Some consider it to be the exclusive domain of godmen or ascetics. Others think of it as a tool for the attainment of miraculous powers. They connect it with such phenomenon as levitation, astral travelling, telepathy, self-hypnosis, communicating through a medium, automatic writing, etc. There are still others who have made yogic exercises and breath control an integral part of the process of meditation. Therefore, many find it impossible to practise meditation without the help of an accomplished guru. They are apprehensive of the ill-effects of meditation if undertaken without proper supervision.
What is meditation in reality and how do we meditate? Abdul-Bahá explains the process in simple and clear terms: "It is an axiomatic fact," says He, "that while you meditate you are speaking with your spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed. You cannot apply the name man to any being void of this faculty of meditation; without it he would be a mere animal, lower than the beasts."26
He continues: "Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spiritthe bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation."27
"The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs to which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food."28
The Baháí Writings point out that " one hours reflection is preferable to seventy years of pious worship."29 The Names, Attributes and the Word of God are the best sources for meditation. For instance, Baháulláhs Writings naturally evoke in the reader the spirit of meditative reverence. He has stated: "Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye many unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths."30
Abdul-Bahá explains: "Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. In that state man abstracts himself; in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves.31 Illustrating this, Abdul-Bahá says that we should " think of man as endowed with two kinds of sight; when the power of insight is being used the outward power of vision does not see."32
The meditative faculty in man can be compared to a mirror. If we hold the mirror before earthly objects, it will reflect them. In other words if we contemplate upon earthly subjects, we will be informed of these. Abdul-Bahá confirms that the faculty of meditation " brings forth from the invisible plane the sciences and arts."33 Through it, He says, " inventions are made possible, colossal undertakings are carried out" and even "the governments can run smoothly."34
"But," says Abdul-Bahá, "if you turn the mirror of your spirits heavenwards, the heavenly constellations and the rays of the Sun of Reality will be reflected in your hearts, and the virtues of the Kingdom will be obtained."35 He asserts, "This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God."36
Briefly, meditation can be described as a type of deep and silent contemplation that is the sign of human intellect. One cannot speak and meditate at the same time.
A word of caution may be necessary. We must guard against superstitions or vain imaginations creeping into the practice of prayer and meditation. Examples include meeting or seeing God, perceiving Him as a particular colour of light, conversing with spirits, ghosts, angels, gods, etc. Abdul-Bahá comments, " some thoughts are useless to man; they are like waves moving in the sea without result."37 Similarly, we should be careful that excessive reading and too many acts of piety should not make us vainglorious.
For example, never should it be thought that the Divine Being is, under any circumstances, comparable unto men, or can, in any way, be associated with His creatures. Baháulláh states that "Such an error hath been committed by certain foolish ones who, after having ascended into the heavens of their idle fancies, have interpreted Divine Unity to mean that all created things are the signs of God, and that, consequently, there is no distinction whatsoever between them. Some have even outstripped them by maintaining that these signs are peers and partners of God Himself. Gracious God! He, verily, is one and indivisible; one in His essence, one in His attributes. Everything besides Him is as nothing when brought face to face with the resplendent revelation of but one of His names, with no more than the faintest intimation of His gloryhow much less when confronted with His own Self!"38
Commenting on the hollowness of such ideas, He exclaims, "How puny and insignificant is the evanescent drop when compared with the waves and billows of Gods limitless and everlasting Ocean, and how utterly contemptible must every contingent and perishable thing appear when brought face to face with the uncreated, the unspeakable glory of the Eternal! We implore pardon of God, the All-Powerful, for them that entertain such beliefs, and give utterance to such words. Say: O people! How can a fleeting fancy compare with the Self-Subsisting, and how can the Creator be likened unto His creatures, who are but as the script of His Pen?"39
In His Writings, Baháulláh clearly indicates that God excels all things, and is sanctified from, and immeasurably exalted above, all creatures. He further elaborates the idea that each created thing in the world has to function in its own sphere. When God shed His radiance upon the universe, every created thing had, according to a fixed decree, been endowed with the capacity to exercise a particular influence, and been made to possess a distinct virtue. According to the divine Writ, "To transgress the limits of ones own rank and station is, in no wise, permissible. The integrity of every rank and station must needs be preserved. By this is meant that every created thing should be viewed in the light of the station it hath been ordained to occupy."40 Thus it is a fallacy to think that man can become one with his Divine Creator at any stage.
During our meditation, we do commune with God, but it is impossible to comprehend His Reality. In the Qurán it is revealed: "No vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision, and He is the Subtile, the All-Informed!"41 Baháulláh has testified: "The meditations of the profoundest thinker, the devotions of the holiest of saints, the highest expressions of praise from either human pen or tongue, are but a reflection of that which hath been created within themselves, through the revelation of the Lord, their God. Whoever pondereth this truth in his heart will readily admit that there are certain limits which no human being can possibly transgress."42
Baháulláh explains that the conceptions of the devoutest of mystics, the devotions of the holiest of saints, the meditations of the profoundest thinker, the attainments of the most accomplished amongst men, the highest expressions of praise from either human tongue or pen "are all a product of mans finite mind and are conditioned by its limitations."43 How can a human being attaining direct access to God, when even the Prophets cannot fully comprehend the Divine Reality. Baháulláh writes of them, "Ten thousand Prophets, each a Moses, are thunderstruck upon the Sinai of their search at His forbidding voice, Thou shalt never behold Me!; whilst a myriad Messengers, each as great as Jesus, stand dismayed upon their heavenly thrones by the interdiction, Mine Essence thou shalt never apprehend!"44
Baháulláh clarifies that all that the sages and mystics have said or written has never exceeded, nor can they ever hope to exceed, the limitations to which mans finite mind has been strictly subjected. He writes, "To whatever heights the mind of the most exalted of men may soar, however great the depths which the detached and understanding heart can penetrate, such mind and heart can never transcend that which is the creature of their own conceptions and the product of their own thoughts."45
From time immemorial, God has been "veiled in the ineffable sanctity of His exalted Self, and will everlastingly continue to be wrapt in the impenetrable mystery of His unknowable Essence."46 It is a well-known fact that in the past, every attempt to attain to an understanding of Gods inaccessible Reality has ended in complete bewilderment. Similarly in the future too, every effort to approach His exalted Self and envisage His Essence is bound to result in hopelessness and failure.
God is immeasurably exalted above the strivings of human mind to grasp His Essence, nor can any human tongue ever describe His mystery. Baháulláh asserts that "No tie of direct intercourse can ever bind Him to the things He hath created, nor can the most abstruse and most remote allusions of His creatures do justice to His being. Through His world-pervading Will He hath brought into being all created things. He is and hath ever been veiled in the ancient eternity of His own exalted and indivisible Essence, and will everlastingly continue to remain concealed in His inaccessible majesty and glory. All that is in heaven and all that is in the earth have come to exist at His bidding, and by His Will all have stepped out of utter nothingness into the realm of being. How can, therefore, the creature which the Word of God hath fashioned comprehend the nature of Him Who is the Ancient of Days?"47
It is understandable that the nature of divine Reality is beyond the grasp and reach of the minds of the most accomplished mystics and sages. However, it is true that man is informed of the pearls of divine wisdom through the faculty of meditation. This faculty is Gods gift to man through which he can commune, though within certain limits, with his Creator and thus become informed of the divine mysteries. Blessed are those who meditate.
Baháulláh recommends meditation on the divinely revealed Word contained in the Scriptures to know God through His own Self and not through others. For no one else besides God can ever profit man. He writes, "Meditate upon that which hath streamed forth from the heaven of the Will of thy Lord, He Who is the Source of all grace, that thou mayest grasp the intended meaning which is enshrined in the sacred depths of the Holy Writings."48 In the divinely revealed words, lie treasured the mysteries of divine wisdom and meditation on them make man aware of the purpose of God for him.49
Baháulláh advises us, "Meditate profoundly, that the secret of things unseen may be revealed unto you, that you may inhale the sweetness of a spiritual and imperishable fragrance, and that you may acknowledge the truth so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses from thorns."50 Truly indeed, meditation helps man to shun such deeds and words which are not according to the divine Will, and also to give up worldly desires
The Baháí Writings emphatically state that a single letter of the divine verses can quicken the spiritually dead with the spirit of faith thus pulling them out of the of the valley of self and desire. Thus each one of the divine verses is unto all the peoples of the world an unfailing testimony and a glorious proof of Gods truth. Each of them verily suffices all mankind, were men to meditate upon the verses of God. In them pearls of mysteries lie hidden. Whatever be the ailment, the remedy They offer can never fail.51
In one of His meditations, Baháulláh entreats God to supply the believers with "the choice Wine" of His mercy, that it may cause them to be forgetful of anyone except Him, and to arise to serve His Cause, and to be steadfast in their love for Him.52
Fasting for the Baháís is " essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character. Fasting is symbolic, and a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires."54
Baháulláh states that " obligatory prayer and fasting occupy an exalted station in the sight of God."53 The Baháís observe nineteen fasts from March 2 to 20 every year. During this period they completely abstain from food and drink from sunrise till sunset every day.
In fasting, prayer and meditation, the principle of moderation is to be upheld as in all other aspects of our lives. There are many who pray, meditate or fast excessively and in the process lose their balance. There are others who are guilty of gluttony even during the fasting period.
Another important principle that needs to be observed is detachment. One of the main purposes of observing the fast is to learn detachment. We do not pray, meditate or fast with some ulterior motive in mind. We do it for the love of God and happily agree with His Will. The realization of Divine love fills our heart and soul with divine ecstasy.
Baháulláh mentions this state of divine ecstasy in the last of the Seven Valleys that a true seeker must cross in his quest to attain union with God. "In this Valley, the wayfarer reacheth a oneness that is sanctified . Ecstasy alone can encompass this theme, not utterance nor argument; and whosoever hath dwelt at this stage of the journey, or caught a breath from this garden land, knoweth whereof We speak."55
Prayers, fasting and meditation are the right means to commune with God. They help the individual to transform his life and spend it in the service of His creatures.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Sadi as quoted by Baháulláh in the Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, pp. 48-9.
2. J. E. Esslemont, Baháulláh and the New Era, pp. 85-6.
3. ibid., p. 86.
4. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 39.
5. ibid., p. 98.
6. Abdul-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 163. "Temples are symbols of the reality and divinity of Godthe collective center of mankind. Consider how within a temple every race and people is seen and representedall in the presence of the Lord, covenanting together in a covenant of love and fellowship, all offering the same melody, prayer and supplication to God. Therefore, it is evident that the church is a collective center for mankind. For this reason there have been churches and temples in all the divine religions; but the real Collective Centers are the Manifestations of God, of Whom the church or temple is a symbol and expression. That is to say, the Manifestation of God is the real divine temple and Collective Center of which the outer church is but a symbol."
7. Báb, Selections from the Writings of The Báb, p. 78.
8. Baháulláh, Prayers and Meditations, p. 254.
10. Abdul-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 247.
11. The Importance of Prayer, Meditation and the Devotional Attitude, compiled by the Universal House of Justice, Baháí Publishing Trust, P. O Box 19, New Delhi-110001. 1980. p. 37. (Shoghi Effendi. Letter dated 26 October, 1938 to an individual believer).
12. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: Other Sections, p. 145.
13. Baháulláh, Prayers and Meditations, p. 314.
14. Baháí World Faith, Abdul-Bahá. p. 368.
15. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: Notes. p. 167.
16. ibid., p. 167.
17. ibid., p. 166.
19. ibid., p. 173.
20. J. E. Esslemont, Baháulláh and the New Era, p. 90.
22. Khalil Gibran, Spiritual Sayings of Kahlil Gibran, Anthony R. Ferris, 1963. p. 50 [different translation, same meaning]
23. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 26.
24. Lights of Guidance, p. 455.
25. Baháulláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 185.
26. Abdul-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 174-5.
27. ibid., p. 175.
29. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 238.
30. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 85.
31. Abdul-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 175.
35. ibid., p. 176.
36. ibid., p. 175.
38. Baháulláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 187.
39. ibid., pp. 187-8.
40. ibid., p. 188.
41. Baháulláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf , p. 13.
42. Baháulláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 317-8.
43. ibid., p. 52.
45. ibid., p. 317.
46. ibid., p. 53.
47. ibid., p. 318.
48. Baháulláh, Tablets of Baháulláh, p. 143.
49. Baháulláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 153.
50. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 5.
51. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 210.
52. Baháulláh, Prayers and Meditations, p. 183.
53. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Questions and Answers, p. 134.
54. ibid., Notes. pp. 176-7.
55. Baháulláh, Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, p. 39.