'Paradise within' - it's one of my favourite topics. I've spoken about it before, but it's a subject that is not understood and can do with multiple airings.
Baha'u'llah tells us clearly in the Hidden Words, and alludes to it throughout his writings, that paradise is within us. You can figure this out by following the logic of the following Hidden Words. First of all, Baha'u'llah tells us that his paradise is his love and that we are to enter it; this is our destiny:
"O SON OF BEING! Thy Paradise is My love; thy heavenly home, reunion with Me. Enter therein and tarry not. This is that which hath been destined for thee in Our kingdom above and Our exalted Dominion." (AHW 6)
A little further on, he tells us that his love is his stronghold and that we are to enter it, otherwise we'll stray and perish:
"O SON OF BEING! My love is My stronghold; he that entereth therein is safe and secure, and he that turneth away shall surely stray and perish." (AHW 9)
In the next Hidden Word, he tells us that his stronghold is us and that we are to enter it. His love, which we were told above is his paradise, is in us. We should know this so that we can draw near to him:
"O SON OF UTTERANCE! Thou art My stronghold; enter therein that thou mayest abide in safety. My love is in thee, know it, that thou mayest find Me near unto thee." (AHW 10)
We can therefore conclude that God's paradise is his love and that it is our destiny to enter it. God's love is his stronghold and his stronghold is us; again, we are to enter it. Furthermore, God's love is within us and we are asked to know this so that we can draw near to God.
This issue is fundamentally important. Baha'is are immersed in a non-stop discussion about their administration and community. This reality is so pervasive that believers miss out on exploring the reality latent within them. They are not encouraged to undertake the journey into their souls. Instead, they believe that, if they give themselves over entirely to the agenda of the UHJ and NSA and devote their time to attending meetings, salvation is assured.
But is it? A person can spend their whole life consecrated to this course of action, but die knowing nothing about who they are. Baha'u'llah describes this as "true loss":
"True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self." (Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p156)
Repeatedly, Baha'is wonder out loud about it - the ongoing plans, the frequent meetings, the endless consultation, the careful navigation around egos, the dream that looks all the more like a black hole thirsty for effort. Where's it all going? Has all this work closed the two-paces of gap that Baha'u'llah says stands between us and him? No, the fruits are exhaustion and achievements that never seem to solidify into substance.
It was precisely this disillusion that forced me off the treadmill of community life and into exploring a new way of being a Baha'i. For me, it all began about ten years ago when I came to understand the true purpose of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar in the Baha'i community: the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar wasn't just a building on a continent but my radiant heart and any devotional meeting. This new understanding changed me completely. I saw what was wrong with my community: it didn't have a Mashriqu'-Adhkar; that is, it lacked a spiritual core. But, of course, there was no telling anyone that. They couldn't see it, and it was hopeless to gear them up to establish one.
And so, I decided that I'd do it myself, on my own. Because I worked in town at that time, I began going every lunch hour to the church just down the road from my office and reading the writings. It was a watershed; within three months everything had changed within me and I never looked back. Ten years and an expulsion later, I have learned a great deal about the paradise within and look forward to an everlasting journey of discovery about it.
What was the process I went through? The heart of the process is captured in this Hidden Word, which Baha'u'llah says is the essence of his teaching:
"O SON OF LIGHT! Forget all save Me and commune with My spirit. This is of the essence of My command, therefore turn unto it." (AHW 16)
This makes it perfectly clear what we have to do. The difficulty is in identifying and removing the obstacles to doing it. I'll tell you about the obstacles I faced, which will be much the same for others.
The first obstacle was the Baha'i community. Most Baha'is never get over this one. In theory, the Baha'i community is supposed to be perfectly supportive of your aim to journey within. But the constant activity of community life and its focus on the administration and community functioning pushes the inner journey aside and it is lost sight of. If you want to journey within, you have to free yourself from Baha'i community life enough to make space for your inner journey. And you have to believe that the path to salvation isn't in devoting yourself entirely to the agenda of Baha'i institutions, but in your personal pilgrimage to the spiritual horizons within.
Another major obstacle is love. I used to be the sort of person that fell in love quite easily. I am a sensitive and emotional person and love was never far from my experience. That worked against me all my life; it got me into all sorts of pickles. But then I found out that Baha'u'llah was in fact my lover, and then it suddenly turned into an advantage. I guess it's one reason I am able to sustain myself each day on my Baha'i path, despite near isolation from the Baha'i community.
But in any case, the point is that, if you're absorbed in the reality of some person, you can't travel within to visit God. Baha'u'llah tells us that we have only one heart and that he has claimed it for himself. I'm not suggesting that you should not love your partner; I'm saying that your love for your partner should not be an obstacle to your destiny, which is to make that fateful journey within. One day, you'll die and continue on that journey and leave your partner behind. Or your partner will die before you and you'll find yourself alone. Either way, we are in the end "Alone with the Alone" (as the book title says) and must account for the effort or lack of it that we've put into discovering ourselves.
Finally, another major obstacle for me has been work and the Protestant Work Ethic. Like the rest of us, I was brought up hearing stories about how Abdu'l-Baha slept only four hours a night and worked tirelessly and constantly, and the Guardian saying:
"The field is indeed so immense, the period so critical, the Cause so great, the workers so few, the time so short, the privilege so priceless, that no follower of the Faith of Baha'u'llah, worthy to bear His name, can afford a moment's hesitation." (The Advent of Divine Justice, p46)
After I was disenrolled from the Baha'i community and found my feet on my spiritual path, I had a million things I wanted to say and many projects I wanted to undertake. I began talking and working and drove myself like there was no tomorrow. The last couple of years, I found myself in an inner state of collapse. The fire in my belly had dampened and I couldn't find the same enthusiasm I had before. I wondered what on earth was wrong with me. I still had the same vision and understanding - nothing had gone wrong there. I still believed I was on the right track. The problem was I hadn't learned this:
"Make not your deeds as snares wherewith to entrap the object of your aspiration, and deprive not yourselves of this Ultimate Objective for which have ever yearned all such as have drawn nigh unto God. Say: The very life of all deeds is My good pleasure, and all things depend upon Mine acceptance. Read ye the Tablets that ye may know what hath been purposed in the Books of God, the All-Glorious, the Ever-Bounteous. He who attaineth to My love hath title to a throne of gold, to sit thereon in honour over all the world; he who is deprived thereof, though he sit upon the dust, that dust would seek refuge with God, the Lord of all Religions." (Kitab-i-Aqdas, para 36)
I had to reassess my earlier Baha'i conditioning, which drove me to tireless effort. Instead of leading me to God and to success, it drove me to exhaustion - so much so that I didn't have the energy even to concentrate on my devotions! I saw my situation was absurd and self-defeating. In my quest for God, I'd driven myself from God. I began to listen anew to the principle that anything taken beyond the point of moderation ceased to exert a beneficial influence. I began to see that I needed to interpret the messages of Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi in accordance with the principles laid down by Baha'u'llah. Yes, we were to work hard, but not so that we lost sight of our purpose!
Ironically, my work had driven me out of paradise. I was no longer happy and could no longer feel God's eternity within me. A new appreciation of the words above pervaded me: "Say: The very life of all deeds is My good pleasure, and all things depend upon Mine acceptance."
And so, a couple of weeks ago, I did something I'd never consciously allowed myself to do before: I put myself on holiday. I am self-employed, you see, and don't take holidays at the same time as the rest of the workforce. I consciously stopped all my work for the cause and mixed up my routines. I read my book, went to the movies, went for drives in the car, and otherwise just lazed around.
It took three days before I began to feel my soul again. Gradually, the paradise within has returned, and when I contemplate it in there, I see myself as the richest and most powerful person on the planet. "He who attaineth to My love hath title to a throne of gold, to sit thereon in honour over all the world." Achievement comes from being in, and acting from, that place.