No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth. Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you and enter thus the tabernacle which, according to the dispensations of Providence, hath been raised in the firmament of the Bayan.
The numbering system of the paragraphs does not include the invocation (the first line) in paragraph one, but we felt it important to include it here. It is, after all, part of the Text written by Baha'u'llah Himself. As to why an invocation would not be included in the numbering, we don't know, but there is guidance that it is not to be, so we completely accept that. We don't need to know why, for we are certain that there is a good reason. Besides, we are, after all, just two guys sitting in a coffee shop studying the Writings.
But why is it there? Is it merely an acknowledgement of our Creator? Or is there more?
We are of the belief that there is nothing random in Sacred Text, and that every word is there for an exact purpose. This underlying belief of ours will regularly come up in our study of this Work.
Here, the Blessed Beauty refers to God as our "Lord", with the qualities of being "Exalted" and "Most High". We believe that our being created in God's image means that we have all the attributes of God within us, just to a lesser degree. If God is the Most Generous, we can show some generosity. If God is the All-Wise, we can show some wisdom.
Here, God is referred to as our "Lord", and we feel that this is a reminder of our own nobility. The following attributes, Exalted (meaning lofty or noble) and Most High, are a stark reminder of our station within the realms of creation. Baha'u'llah is continually reminding us of our noble station within creation, and the need to arise to fulfill that station. It is the very study of this Book that helps us develop these much-needed attributes.
But how do we do that?
In this first paragraph, Baha'u'llah gives us the answer: We should be detached from all that is in the world, and sanctify our souls.
He points out that our goal is to "attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding". Our goal, in this Text, is only the shore, not even the ocean itself. Of course, once we attain this wonderful goal, then we can begin our exploration of the ocean, diving into its depths and searching for those divine pearls of wisdom. You see, getting to the beach is not the final goal, only the first one. Achieving certitude of faith is not the goal, but only a necessary step. The question that follows is, "What do you do with that faith?"
We also note here that the "shores" referred to here are plural, not singular. While we all acknowledge that the ocean is vast, we often forget to mention that the shores of that ocean are vast, too. We will not all arrive at the ocean at the same point, from the same direction, or even on the same side of the ocean. This ocean is large enough to accomodate all of us, from wherever we may be. It is also continually drawing down to its sea-level those rivers and streams that are willing to flow into it. It is the ultimate expression of strength through humility, an expression we are encouraged to emulate, like the Master.
It is also well worth noting that the ocean is almost fractal in its ability to impart information. If you look at a single drop, you will find a world of micro-organisms within it. If you look at a cup of a water from the ocean, you may discover some beautiful fish. However, it is only by diving into its depths that you will begin to discover the whales and the myriad life forms that live within it.
So potent is every single drop of this life-giving water, that "a dewdrop out of this ocean would, if shed upon all that are in the heavens and on the earth, suffice to enrich them with the bounty of God, the Almighty, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise."
The next sentence in this paragraph begins, "Sanctify your souls". What an interesting choice of word: sanctify. It is a verb that means "to observe as holy and make sacred".
Does that mean that your soul is not holy if you do not observe it as such? And treat it as such?
Perhaps. We do not know.
We do, however, know the soul is created perfect, but requires certain things to flourish. If we ignore our soul, neglect our spiritual nature, we descend into the world of dust. It is similar to when we don't exercise our body; it becomes weak and is more prone to illness. It is also like a seed that is not planted and nurtured. Instead of growing into a lovely plant, it decays and becomes fertilizer, further enriching the soil for the next seed.
Baha'u'llah counsels us, time and time again, to rise to that noble station alluded to above, and recognize the sacred nature of our soul. How we actually do that requires an exploration of the body of Baha'u'llah's Writings, and a study of the life of the Master.
Here, in this paragraph, He goes a step further and says that "haply", with luck or by chance, we might attain that station which God has destined for us. It is not a guarantee, but we must take that first step.
It's sort of like buying a lottery ticket. You cannot hope to win the jackpot if you don't buy the ticket.
Here, you cannot attain that station if you do not first acknowledge your own sacredness and work on the development of your own soul. You must recognize that your reality is spiritual, not physical. As C S Lewis famously said, when asked if he thought he had a soul, "I do not have a soul. I am a soul, and I have a body."
Once we attain that station destined for us, we can then enter the sacred tent containing the Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle, for clarification, was the sacred tent carried by the Jews during their wanderings in the desert. It was raised each night to house the Ark of the Covenant.
Baha'u'llah is, of course, not referring to the tent of the Jewish people. He is, instead, using it as a metaphor, for He says that it is "raised in the firmament of the Bayan".
The firmament is the arching vault of the sky, and the Bayan is the Mother Book of the Bab, to Whose uncle this Book is addressed.