Thursday, May 1, 2008

Intone My Servant -- The City of Immortality

I have spent the last month reading Gems of the Mysteries, and am close to the end. This morning's reading was from "The City of Immortality": In this instance, I actually prefer the official translation:

Having, in this journey, immersed himself in the ocean of immortality, rid his heart from attachment to aught save Him, and attained unro the loftiest heights of everlasting life, the seeker will see no annihilation either for himself or for any other soul. He will quaff from the cup of immortality, tread in its land, soar in its atmosphere, consort with them that are its embodiments, partake of the imperishable and incorruptible fruits of the tree of eternity, and be forever accounted, in the lofty heights of immortality, amongst the deniszens of the everlasting realm.

Now, I am intimately familiar with the Valley(or Garden) of Search, acquainted with the Valley(or City) of Love, and have gotten a few scattered glimpses of the Valley of Knowledge (which doesn't appear in "Gems"), but when you get towards these upper stations, Baha'u'llah is talking beyond my experience -- and, I suspect, beyond the experience of virtually everyone else who reads these passages. 'Abdu'l-Baha' says somewhere that those who recognize the Manifestation have already traversed all seven valleys, but the slightest trace of self brings us back to the beginning -- and which of us is free from "the slightest trace of self"?

What Baha'u'llah describes here is an enticing vision of what our goal is -- this almost reads like a description of the afterlife, rather than anything attainable in this one. But, I've just seen further down the page:

Know, moreover, that should one who hath attained unto these stations and embarked upon these journeys fall prey to pride and vainglory, he would at that very moment come to naught and return to the first step without realizing it.

Just what 'Abdu'l-Baha' said -- and the greatest temptation for any seeker, indeed for any religious person at all, is to take pride in what they've accomplished in their path. Who among us passes that test? Who among us doesn't think "Well, I've done really well at that, unlike those other guys who are really messing up big time"? We all like to think well of ourselves -- and then, we're back to pride. It's like tattle-taling at school -- the reason second-graders are such big tattle-tales is because they want attention for being good; they want Teacher to know that this other kid is being bad, which makes the tattler feel good by comparison. Children also take pride in knowing the "right" way to do things, which by second-grade they've gained some confidence in. Adults aren't so different; we're just more subtle about it.

Another interesting verse, down the page a bit: For were they to reach the ultimate object of their quest for God and their attainment unto Him, they would have but reached that abode which hath been raised up in their own hearts.

This journey is entirely internal, what we end up getting to know is the reflection of God in our own hearts -- God Himself being entirely unknowable and inaccessible. If we don't know God within ourselves, where else can we know Him?