Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Hidden Heart

I awoke this morning with my head pressed against my pillow, listening to the sound of my own heartbeat.  There never really is absolute silence, is there?  Even if you can block out all the sounds of the world around you, there are still the sounds of the world within you.  "Won't it be nice", I thought this morning as I woke to the reality of the day, "when the imposing beat of my heart stops and I can enjoy the rich texture of true silence?"

Try as I may, I can't shake that thought, the thought of the beauty of the next world and how you can enjoy a moment of the absolute silence that we will never find in this world.

But then I realized that once you savour that silence, you will never again be able to enjoy those moments of hearing each individual heartbeat.  Once you leave that beating of your own heart behind, it will never come back, so as much as I may look forward to the silence, I will now treasure each of those moments as much as I can.

And these thoughts, which ran so much more poetically through my waking brain than they do through my typing fingers, led me to think about the importance of the heart.

In many of my earlier posts, I have talked about walking through The Hidden Words, following the path of a single word.  This morning, with these thoughts still lingering as I awaken, I want to walk that path with the heart.

When I first began investigating the Faith, I did so with my head, reading and thinking about what I read in relation to my own knowledge.  I have never told anyone this before, dear Reader, but I feel I can confide in you: When I first read Baha'u'llah's Writings, they seemed like nonsense to me.  Fortunately, I take consolation in the fact that Mirza Abu'l-Fadl had the same reaction when he read the Kitab-i-Iqan.  He said to Ali Kuli Khan "that he had read the Iqan with the eye of the intellect seventeen times through, and it had seemed to him a meaningless string of words."   He said that later he read it "with the eye of faith, and had found it the key with which he could unlock the secrets".  If so eminant a Baha'i as Mirza Abu'l-Fadl had this problem, I feel there is hope for me yet.

When I began to think about the importance of the heart, and the emphasis placed upon it in the Writings, it seemed like whole new worlds opened up to my eyes.

I began to re-read The Hidden Words looking for the heart, and there it was, right in the very beginning:
(1) O Son of Spirit!  My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.

His very first counsel concerns the heart.  Of course, this theme can be found in many other Writings of His.  In the Kitab-i-Iqan, which had seemed so meaningless to Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, not to mention one so obtuse as myself, Baha'u'llah speaks at length about the need for cleansing the heart of worldly affections, and pondering the past within it.  In fact, the whole idea of considering ideas, which is often thought of as being in the head by the world at large, is given great importance when done within the heart.

Even the Bab gets into this one, when He speaks of memorization of Sacred Texts: every breast which committeth His Words to memory, God shall cause, if it were that of a believer, to be filled with His love; and every heart which cherisheth the love of His Words and manifesteth in itself the signs of true faith when His Name is mentioned, and exemplifieth the words, 'their hearts are thrilled with awe at the mention of God', that heart will become the object of the glances of divine favour and on the Day of Resurrection will be highly praised by God.

Memorization, in case we are not yet convinced of its importance, is said, here, to be the cause of filling our breast with His love.  Pretty powerful stuff.  I always bring up this quote in my study circles when people question the need for memorizing.

If we turn our attention to the description of the true seeker, from Baha'u'llah, the heart also plays a very important part there, but I'll let you do the research on that one.

Back to The Hidden Words, for now.

Great importance is laid upon the state of heart, right at the very beginning.  It is not just any heart we are to possess, but one that is "pure, kindly and radiant".

But how are we to achieve this?  How do we purify our heart?  It seems evident to me that once it is pure, we will naturally act more kindly, and slowly become more radiant, but that is just my own opinion.  The word "naturally", by the way, does not imply that it is immediate in its effect, just that it will occur and grow over time.

One of the simplest ways that I am aware of helping purify our heart is to turn to the Writings and say prayers.  I'm sure it is no coincidence that these are the first two practices in the Ruhi curriculum, for, after all, they are the basis of our spiritual growth.

Radiance, incidentally, means to shine with a warm brighness.  If it is not perceptible by others, then it cannot be truly called radiance.

So, presuming we are actually able to do all this, how will we know?

(2) O Son of Spirit!  The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.

When we begin to purify our heart, and step on this path of spiritual growth, we will slowly grow in our justice.  We will see with our own eyes, and know through our own research and understanding, not blindly imitating others.  We are asked to ponder this in our hearts.  It is how we are to be.

You see, I believe that when we recognize we are taking this second step, it means that we have already taken the first one.  I may be wrong, but this is my own understanding.  Of course, having taken a step on this path does mean that we have perfected it, or are done with it, just that we have taken it at least once.  This step of purifying ourselves is an on-going one, and we must always act kindly and be radiant.  It is like the Seven Valleys: by becoming a Baha'i, we have already traversed all seven, but we still continually go through them.

Now, to these first three attributes we can add justice, which is a sign of God's loving-kindness.  And isn't that the highest example of kindness which we are to emulate in that second part of the first step?  Won't our acting with justice be a sign of our kindness, too?

And that leads us to the third mention of the heart in The Hidden Words:

(36) O Son of Man!  Rejoice in the gladness of thine heart, that thou mayest be worthy to meet Me and to mirror forth My beauty.

Are we not glad when we show forth justice?  In fact, I can't think of anything else that would make me glad except being able to show a bit of some of the virtues of our Creator.  We are created in His image, and being able to show that is such a wonderful bounty.

Many people find their joy in the things of this world, either through money or fame or any of countless other pleasures, but really, our joy should be found in the virtues we show, and help others to show.  In fact, it reminds me of the next Hidden Word in which the word heart is found:

(54) O Son of Being!  If thine heart be set upon this eternal, imperishable dominion, and this ancient, everlasting life, forsake this mortal and fleeting sovereignty.

Doesn't that just say it all?  We should look towards God, and His pleasure, not that of our fellow-men.

Why should we do this?  Well, just in case it is not obvious, it is so that the light of God can shine more brightly within our own hearts.  After all, the heart is where God wants to be.  There are countless statements in the Writings of all faiths that speak of this, reminding us that God can be found within us.  This is not to say that we are God, but rather that we are mirrors in which the light of God shines, and if we want to see that light, we must look within.  It also speaks of the great importance of teaching so that others may, too, see this light within themselves.  To do this, however, takes time and dedication, but it is so important.

(59) O Son of Being!  Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent. Thy spirit is My place of revelation; cleanse it for My manifestation.

How could we even think of desecrating God's home?  Or the place of His revelation?  We must recognize that sacred nature of our heart, preparing it to receive this light.  Perhaps that is one of the many reasons that 'Abdu'l-Baha doubly cautions us to be concerned about the heart:  Beware!  Beware! Lest thou offend any heart.

We must be so careful not to offend that place which is God's home, for it is sacred ground.  And we should always remember how important that is.  After all, God told Moses to remove His sandals because He was walking on sacred ground.  How much more carefully should we tread?

(63) O Son of Man!  The light hath shone on thee from the horizon of the sacred Mount and the spirit of enlightenment hath breathed in the Sinai of thy heart. Wherefore, free thyself from the veils of idle fancies and enter into My court, that thou mayest be fit for everlasting life and worthy to meet Me. Thus may death not come upon thee, neither weariness nor trouble.

"The Sinai of the heart".  What a beautiful phrase.

But here is another caution and another promise that may be lost upon us, in our "modern" age.  He speaks of entering His court, the realm of a King.  Was this not the dream of every person out there at the time?  To enter the court of the King and lay eyes upon his face?  What a bounty this was considered.  Countless are the tales of those people who walked for miles, or even days, just to be able to see the King's carriage pass by.  Even today, thousands line the streets to see the Queen when she visits, or to catch a glimpse of the President's car.

The caution, however, is hidden: Don't take it for granted.

How many people lost their lives because they were in the court of the King and became complacent about that bounty?  You must think back a hundred years ago, or more, when the King was the ruler of most countries.  If you did not bow when you entered his presence, or treat him with the appropriate dignity worthy of his station, you could be killed.  But if you treated him appropriately, then all the treasures of the kingdom could be yours.

I am reminded of my dear friend who served at the World Centre and said that his term ended at the perfect time.  He was still in awe of the Shrines.  He felt that if he served there much longer, he might begin to take them for granted, and that would be the beginning of his spiritual downfall.

But really, can we ever be "fit for everlasting life and worthy to meet" God?  Can we ever truly understand the bounty that is being given to us?

(66) O Children of the Divine and invisible Essence!  Ye shall be hindered from loving Me and souls shall be perturbed as they make mention of Me. For minds cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me.

This is so much bigger than we can imagine.  We can easily become overwhelmed by even considering these questions.  I think of this as another example of the "fear of God", causing us uneasiness as we contemplate all this.  It is so easy to fall over trembling in awe.

You see, contemplating God is like contemplating the universe, and our position within it.  You can try and imagine yourself sitting at your computer reading this, and that is fairly simple.  You can imagine seeing yourself, from above, sitting within your town or city, a small person within the large map of the area.  But how easy can you see yourself within the entire country in which you live?  We are so small in comparison to the size of our country that it is fairly impossible, but still do-able.  Now try and imagine seeing yourself where you are right now, while looking at the planet from space.  We are just too small to do that.

And when you add the sun into the picture, you can barely even see the earth.

Now keep moving back.  Look at the whole galaxy, with its millions of stars, of which the sun is but a small one, or our galaxy amidst the thousands of galaxies.  Where are you now?

Or try and imagine this in the context of time.  What will you do today that will be remembered next week?  What will you accomplish right now that will make a difference in the world next year?  In fact, what will you accomplish in your lifetime that will be remembered ten years after you have passed away?  Or a hundred?  Or a thousand?  And don't forget, the universe is billions of years old.

How little we are.  How pitiful.

And yet, Baha'u'llah says:

(68) Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created.
How were we created?  The answer is found earlier in The Hidden Words: With love.

This brings us right back to the beginning of The Hidden Words:
(3) O Son of Man!  Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.
Now we could go back to the beginning and retrace our path through this small volume again, with "love" as our path, or we could continue on to the last reference to the heart in this book.  For now, I'd like to go on and leave this other path for another time.

Baha'u'llah concludes The Hidden Words in Arabic with this touching piece:
(71) O Son of Man!  Write all that We have revealed unto thee with the ink of light upon the tablet of thy spirit. Should this not be in thy power, then make thine ink of the essence of thy heart. If this thou canst not do, then write with that crimson ink that hath been shed in My path. Sweeter indeed is this to Me than all else, that its light may endure for ever.

And if you feel you can't do any of the above, then you write a blog.

1 comment:

  1. Wonder if you've come across this fascinating article titled "The Resonant Heart," a scientific paper issued by the Institute of Heartmath (www.heartmath.org) that states:

    "Many believe that conscious awareness originates in the brain alone. Recent scientific research suggests that consciousness actually emerges from the brain and body acting together. A growing body of evidence suggests that the heart plays a particularly significant role in this process.

    Far more than a simple pump, as was once believed, the heart is now recognized by scientists as a highly complex system with its own functional “brain.” Research in the new discipline of neurocardiology shows that the heart is a sensory organ and a sophisticated center for receiving and processing information. The nervous system within the heart (or “heart brain”) enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the brain’s cerebral cortex. Moreover, numerous experiments have demonstrated that the signals the heart continuously sends to the brain influence the function of higher brain centers involved in perception,cognition,and emotional processing."

    The entire article can be downloaded from: