Sunday, May 30, 2010


Due to a sinus infection, I have spent most of the past few days either lying down or asleep, and this state of consciousness, or unconsciousness depending on the moment, has made me think of dreams, illusions and reality quite a bit.

In the Buddhist tradition, one of the "fetters" holding us back in our life is the illusion of self. This can be seen in a number of different directions, from the illusions we have about what we think we may be, as in the case of the fool who thinks he is wise (which catgeory some may think I fall into, except that I don't think my sharings particularly wise, just shared), to the illusion that we think of ourselves as seperate from everyone else, when the reality is that we are, in fact, one (take that as you may).

Once I began to think about this, I decided to do a search for "illusions" in the Writings.

Baha'u'llah, in The Seven Valleys, speaks of illusion as darkness and knowledge as light. In this case, it would appear that illusion has no existence, in the same way that darkness has no existence. Knowledge would have some form of existence, just as light has a tangible existence and is made up of photons. Here I would venture to guess that this illusion is imposed upon reality by ourselves, just as we tend to try and find images within clouds, or patterns within chaos.

I find it no coincidence that, in the Valley of Unity, the pivotal valley in that Book and which is easily its longest chapter, He writes, "when thou strippest the wrappings of illusion from off thine heart, the lights of oneness will be made manifest." This line has often been the subject of meditation for me, and still I feel that I have no idea what it means. How can your heart be wrapped in illusion? But I know that it is the meditation on the verse that is important, not the knowledge of it in the head, sort of like when we contemplate God or death.

Time and again in Sacred Writings we find references to the illusions of the world and the need to be aware of them, to not fall prey to them.

In the Book of Certitude, Baha'u'llah writes about the various sciences that do not profit people and are, in the end, quite useless, those that "begin with words and end with words", as He says elsewhere. I won't try to say which those are, and leave those for you to fill in. He does, however, say, "How can the knowledge of these sciences, which are so contemptible in the eyes of the truly learned, be regarded as essential to the apprehension of the mysteries of the 'Mi'raj,' whilst the Lord of the 'Mi'raj' Himself was never burdened with a single letter of these limited and obscure learnings, and never defiled His radiant heart with any of these fanciful illusions? How truly hath he said: 'All human attainment moveth upon a lame ass, whilst Truth, riding upon the wind, darteth across space.'"

When I think about the advancement of science, and how it has plodded along for so long, creeping forward one slow step at a time, this statement rings even more true to me.

This, and again this is only my own opinion and nothing authoritative, speaks of our own view of the heightened station of the sciences. While Baha'u'llah is addressing particular sciences here, it seems to me that it can also be applied to our own mistaken notion that we understand more of the universe than we really do. One thing I really appreciated about my own university days was that the professors always spoke as if what they were telling us was only what we understood today, and not some absolute truth. As students, we were taught to explore, not just take what they said for granted.

Oh, and as an aside, I have always found it interesting that Baha'u'llah so praises Socrates, who was aware of what he did not know. Here, we seem to see, is a man who was truly aware of his limitations and did not live under an illusion.

This brings me back to the question, "What is illusion?"

In one sense, illusion is an erroneous perception of reality, whereas truth is that which conforms to reality. To me, this gives a broader base for the quote, "Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtue", for what else could our virtues be based upon?

If God is the ultimate reality, of which this physical world is but an emanation like the relationship of the rays to the sun, then it is sheer folly to think that we can know God in His entirety. We can, however, come closer and closer to an understanding of our Creator, but we should always keep in mind our limitations. As our understanding increases, though, we can become more aware of our place within creation.

I have written of this many times, and hope that I don't bore you with repetition, but even if I do, here goes.  Simply put, we are really miniscule things. Noble, and worthy of creation, but still quite small. After all, what will we do today that will be remembered in five years? How about in ten years? A hundred? A thousand? Let's up it a bit and say a few billion. The answer is, and I have no illusion about this, quite humbling.

In another direction, try and imagine yourself, from above, sitting in your room right now at your computer (if that's where you are). It's fairly easy to see yourself in the room. Now go a bit higher and visualize your town or city. Can you still see yourself, within the full city, sitting there reading this, while picturing the bustling activity all around you? It's difficult, because we're quite small. I really lose sight of myself when I try and imagine the continent upon which I live, and stil try to see myself there. I just can't do it. Now try zipping back and seeing the earth, or the solar system, or the Milky Way galaxy, or the cluster of galaxies in which we live. Yeah right, never mind.

We are truly small, and if we think anything else, that is nothing but illusion based upon our proximity to ourselves. Remember, even something as small as your hand can obscure the entire world when placed right up against your eye.

Now, within this context, I try and place my troubles. For example, I'm a bit stressed out these days trying to sell my house so that we can move. Really, though, how much does it matter? This week or next? Or even next month? What is more important? Selling the house quickly, or ensuring that I don't blow up at my family, that my son still feels loved?

"If we suffer", says 'Abdu'l-Baha, "it is the outcome of material things, and all the trials and troubles come from this world of illusion." Elsewhere He says, "let us not, with the dark clouds of our illusions, our selfish interests, blot out the glory that streameth from the Abha Realm".

While this train of thought, this meditation upon the nature of illusion, can lead to a calmer and more peaceful life, it should not lead us to a denial of this world. 'Abdu'l-Baha also says, "...though the existence of beings in relation to the existence of God is an illusion, nevertheless, in the condition of being it has a real and certain existence."

In other words, I believe that all of this should lead us to a healthier life, one in which our problems are placed into a proper context, allowing us to respond in a healthier manner. I'm sure my wife and son will be glad to read this, hoping that I won't be as stressed out in the next few weeks as I have been in the past few weeks. Perhaps that is one of the reasons for my poor health right now.

You know, dear Reader, I have often thought of The Hidden Words as a table of contents for religious thought. It has long been my belief that I can find a simple reference to all the various ideas in the sacred Writings there, in one way or another. It is, after all, "the inner essence" of that which was "revealed unto the Prophets of old" and "clothed... in the garment of brevity".

So what does Baha'u'llah have to say about illusion there? "Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more."

And that, my friend, calms my spirit and reminds me, once more, that there is more to this world than I can immediately see.

When I bounce around on the internet, for I cannot think of it as anything as graceful as surfing, there is so much that just seems mere reaction to the jostlings of the world. We generally seem to think ourselves, our thoughts and our views, so important, when in fact we are often more like mere grains of sand blown by the wind. When caught by the eye, these things are usually no more than an irritant.

For myself, I really don't think of these posts as much more than ideas that I scatter, letting them fall as they will. My intention is not to enlighten, as some have suggested, but instead to show how the Writings can enlighten. Many have asked me how I can write so much, so often, and such various things, when I wonder how one cannot be moved to thoughts when reading the Writings every day. These Writings are the Creative Word. How can we not use them to create?

No. My intention is not to be an irritant, claiming that I know so much more than I really do. Instead, my desire is to draw down a tiny bit of that life-giving energy of our Creator, as much as I am able. Like a tiny budding leaf on a tree.

Even now, I sit on my sofa typing, looking out the window at a tree, freshly green with its spring growth, blowing in the wind, its myriad leaves blowing in all directions as they are assailed by the rain. And I pray that I can be like even just the smallest of those leaves.

Now my addled brain is wondering what the tree is, if I am only the smallest of these leaves.

Hmm. Maybe I should leave off writing for now, and go back to sleep for a bit longer.

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