Thursday, 28 April 2016

Nobody would do these things except us

In talk no 5 of the series entitled "Text and Context in the Baha'i Heroic Age" (2014), Dr Nader Saiedi describes his recent visit to the Baha'i archives at the World Centre and the profound effect it had on him. I have produced a transcript of this section of the talk, which you will find quoted in full below. It is four pages long. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, because Dr Saiedi gives the reader an overview of the sheer size of Baha'u'llah's revelation and the amount of work yet to be done in terms of translation, research and study. His perspective is unique and very worthwhile. He says that we do not yet know a very great deal about what Baha'u'llah said.

I found this talk so inspiring that it galvanised me to begin the Windflower Translations Project. As you will read in the transcript, Dr Saiedi is saying that there is so much that needs to be done in terms of Baha'i Studies and translation work that we all need to take ownership of this task. There are no priests or scholars to do it for us. We must do it, for no one else will. As I read it, this is a call for provisional translations, from a man who is in a position to know what's needed. His time at the World Centre gave him a very real sense of the totality of the writings of Baha'u'llah and the amount of work that is required for humanity to gain even a provisional idea of what Baha'u'llah taught. Dr Saiedi emphasises that, from the perspective he gained from his time at the World Centre, the idea of the Faith that we currently have can at best be described as tentative.

Dr Saiedi was at the World Centre for two-and-a-half months. He explains that he was involved in a process of indexing the tablets of Baha'u'llah:
"But because I had to engage in indexing, which means each tablet, each paragraph of each tablet, I had to put a target in terms of different subjects. I couldn’t just read fast and then write a summary. I worked extremely hard."
He goes on to say that, during this two-and-a-half month period, he was able to read about 15 percent of the writings of Baha'u'llah. And of that 15 percent, he found many tablets that were "extremely important" for clarifying our understanding of Baha'u'llah and his message.
"In any case, despite all this, I could read only 15 percent of the writings of Baha’u’llah. I found lots of tablets of Baha’u’llah, lots of documents - things like what I shared with you tonight - which are extremely important and clarify so many issues in terms of Baha’u’llah and his messages and so on."
And the important lesson Dr Saiedi tells us he came away with, after his visit to the World Centre archive, is that we have now only a provisional idea of what the Faith is about.
"In principle, the conceptions that we have of the Baha’i Faith and the nature of the Baha’i community at this time is very tentative. We should never think that we know exactly what the Baha’i Faith is and that the existing institutions and forms of structures of community and so on is exactly as it would be in the future. ... The vast majority of the writings of Baha’u’llah, of Abdu’l-Baha, we have not studied. We don’t know. And for that reason, we Baha’is in particular, but also non-Baha’is, we have to be much more humble in terms of our conception of the Baha’i Faith. We should not be very dogmatic and sure that this is what has happened and these are the Baha’i ideas and so on."
And so, Saiedi continues, if we don't know, then we must do something about that. And the emphasis is on "we" - we must do something about it and not wait for others to do it for us, because there is no one else.
"The Baha’i Faith is something which is completely fresh and untouched and unexplored.  … Now, because we don’t have priesthood in Baha’i Faith, but then we have the idea that we have particular scholars and that these scholars know everything and that they have read everything. There is no such thing. As I mentioned, the Baha’i Faith as it exists right now is completely tentative. We have to explore that, we have to begin to study that, Baha’is, non-Baha’is, in the form of research and so on. Particularly the younger generation, they should know that there is nobody to do this for them. We don’t have priests, so it is ourselves who have to explore these things gradually."
As I see it, the implication of what Dr Saiedi is saying is that the Baha'i Faith will be what we discover about it as a result of our own efforts. If we make no effort and leave it to crystallise, then this will be what we get. It is on the shoulders of everyone. It isn't a matter of leaving everything to be done in Haifa, or to scholars, and wait to be told what the revelation is by them. The revelation belongs to everyone. It is immense in scale and it's just waiting for all of us to decide whether we want to be a part of it.
"So, many of the fundamental, primary works of Baha’u’llah has been published, has been translated. But those other works which are not translated, it’s not that they are not important. I mean I share with you one work of Baha’u’llah. This is absolutely, for me, one of the most important, one of the most significant documents of Iranian history. And there are infinite numbers of these things. But the Baha’i literature and Baha’i writings, as I mentioned, are not confined to one book or two books or three books. So in its time and resources, and the Baha’i community also is the one who is directly involved in this. We need people who can read these things, who can work on these things, who can translate and so on. Nobody would do these things except us."
The work in unravelling the meaning and implications of the revelation is so huge that, if it is left to the World Centre to do it, it will never be done. Baha'u'llah wrote so much, and his words are so full of meanings, that humanity will not exhaust this divine resource in 1000 years. It doesn't matter whether the House of Justice is infallible. This is about us. To sit back and say to ourselves that Haifa will do everything for us, and we do not need to worry about it, will limit the outcomes for the revelation. It doesn't matter that Baha'u'llah is infallible either. Our attitudes and decisions in relation to this issue determine the future here. Revelation is a dialogue, a covenant, between two parties. If we sit idle and mute, we have not played our part. As believers, we have a duty to actively respond to the texts and seek to uncover their meanings as we find them. We need to do this for the sake our own spiritual maturity as well as for the betterment of the world.

----------------------------------------------------------

Text and Context in the Baha'i Heroic Age

A series of talks by Dr Nader Saiedi, 2014

http://www.santamonicabahai.org/images/audio/podcasts/

Transcript of talk no 5, beginning 49:20 to the end

Note: The document Dr Saiedi refers to in the talk is a prayer written by Baha’u’llah in which he frees his slave Isfandiyar. It is an example of a work by Baha’u’llah that predates his revelation in the Siyah Chal. The Arabic text of the prayer, along with Dr Saiedi’s English translation of it, can be found at here.


[49:20] [Question from the audience] I was taught that manifestations of God are really a separate class. It’s not something that one could evolve into. Is there anything that you have studied where Baha’u’llah has the awareness of being a manifestation of God before he actually declares it or has the experience in the Siyah Chal?

[Answer] This question is really a metaphysical question. You can look at, for example, the documents or episodes which I shared with you and interpret that, and conclude that, this means that Baha’u’llah had, from the very beginning, a prophetic consciousness that he was actually a prophet. Later on, he declares that but he already was that. This is a very plausible form of reading of these documents. But also you can believe that he had this claim of prophetic consciousness in the future and these are earlier stages of development of a personality, which is in terms of that same logic, compatible with that same worldview, but not completely developed yet. Both readings are possible. Unfortunately, we don’t have that much writings of Baha’u’llah available, or documents of Baha’u’llah available, belonging to earlier times of Baha’u’llah.

[51:04] I should say, however, I should modify what I said. I haven’t seen and I haven’t studied all the writings of Baha’u’llah. When I was in Haifa working in Baha’i archives on the writings of Baha’u’llah, we were there for about two-and-a-half months. But because I had to engage in indexing, which means each tablet, each paragraph of each tablet, I had to put a target in terms of different subjects. I couldn’t just read fast and then write a summary. I worked extremely hard. I mean I slept when I would pass away - pass out out more or less. Not pass away, pass out. Although “pass away” is not also inappropriate, because it was an unusual spiritual experience reading these works of Baha’u’llah and life and death would merge together. In any case, despite all this, I could read only 15 percent of the writings of Baha’u’llah. I found lots of tablets of Baha’u’llah, lots of documents - things like what I shared with you tonight - which are extremely important and clarify so many issues in terms of Baha’u’llah and his messages and so on. So I haven’t read the vast majority of the writings of Baha’u’llah yet. It is possible that within those that I have not read yet, there would be a number of texts which are written during his earlier times, then our understanding might be different. But at this time, based upon what I know, we have few of the writings of Baha’u’llah available prior to his experience in the Tehran dungeon and the beginning of writing, of works in 1853. [53.40]

[Question and the answer, which leads into…]

[55.25] The second one [ie the prayer], this one, I mean you are the only large group that I am sharing this. It was among the tablets which is there, which is untouched, nobody really haved worked with them, nobody have perhaps noted them. I shared this with my class [55:47] ... [56:30] But in principle, you are the first people who become aware of the existence of such a tablet. It is not published anywhere, but it exists in archive of the Baha’i Faith. And this is what I wanted to say a few moments ago. In principle, the conceptions that we have of the Baha’i Faith and the nature of the Baha’i community at this time is very tentative. We should never think that we know exactly what the Baha’i Faith is and that the existing institutions and forms of structures of community and so on is exactly as it would be in the future. We have, as Baha’i communities, we have not studied writings of the Bab, writings of Baha’u’llah, writings of Abdu’l-Baha - a few of them we have - but vast majority of the writings of Baha’u’llah, of Abdu’l-Baha, writings of the Bab, we have studied nothing almost. The vast majority of the writings of Baha’u’llah, of Abdu’l-Baha, we have not studied. We don’t know. And for that reason, we Baha’is in particular, but also non-Baha’is, we have to be much more humble in terms of our conception of the Baha’i Faith. We should not be very dogmatic and sure that this is what has happened and these are the Baha’i ideas and so on. We have to have a tentative idea and to be confident that as time goes on and we become more and more familiar with the Baha’i writings that the complexity of Baha’i message and so on becomes more available to us. And so everything that we have at this time is really a tentative expression of Baha’i Faith. This was the most important message for me of spending time in Haifa, for instance, and studying the writings of Baha’u’llah. The most important implication of that for me was that I understood that I should not be so sure. Every single thing about the Baha’i Faith that we know. I mean we know some aspects of the Baha’i Faith, but a lot of that we don’t. And many things that we think we know. But really those statements, those discussions mean, those meanings become much more enriched, and much more complex when we look at the totality of the writings. And so it’s a fresh, happy, hopeful future of exploring Baha’i writings and understanding Baha’i culture and so on. [59.31]

[Question and the answer, which leads into…]

[1:03.04] The very existence of this prayer I just discovered last winter. And there are so many of these writings that almost no one is aware of its existence. So we need lots of particularly younger scholars that they devote themselves to learning Persian, learning Arabic, and try to engage in Baha’i Studies deeply and therefore explore increasingly these works and discover and share, elaborate and so on. The Baha’i Faith is something which is completely fresh and untouched and unexplored. Sometimes in traditional conceptions of religion that some of Baha’is sometimes share - that traditional conception - the idea is that we have this particular ulama, scholars, - previously, they were … Now, because we don’t have priesthood in Baha’i Faith, but then we have the idea that we have particular scholars and that these scholars know everything and that they have read everything. There is no such thing. As I mentioned, the Baha’i Faith as it exists right now is completely tentative. We have to explore that, we have to begin to study that, Baha’is, non-Baha’is, in the form of research and so on. Particularly the younger generation, they should know that there is nobody to do this for them. We don’t have priests, so it is ourselves who have to explore these things gradually. I mean in a sense it is sad because we don’t have familiarity with all these layers and complexities of the Baha’i Faith. But at the same time, it is so delightful and happy and exciting that there is so much which is unexplored and it’s really an adventure to go and do that. [1:05:29]

[In answer to a question, Saiedi briefly discusses the fact that Baha’u’llah says in one of his writings that Baha’u’llah and the Bab met in the physical world, often Quddus was present. Then another question, to which Dr Saiedi replies...]

[1:08:36] Actually, the reason that I was there [at the World Centre] last winter was because the House of Justice wants to make all these tablets of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, the Bab and so on, to make them accessible to the world and the Baha’i community. So the idea is first to know what are existing; for example, what tablets exist, what topics they are discussing. When I worked on the writings of the Bab, this began with work on the writings of the Bab five years ago. I was invited in Haifa and I was doing this. At that time, there was no indexing. So I would just read the work of the Bab and I would write a summary in English. I like that much more because I could read much more. I was in there four months. I did everything, everything of the writings of the Bab which exists in Haifa. I created an inventory. Because the House of Justice was pleased with that system, they wanted to make this much more elaborate, much more sophisticated, adding now indexing. And right now they have this plan that, for each work of Baha’u’llah, at least three different readers would engage in this writing abstract and indexing and so on. That is to be one perspective of one particular person and if one makes mistakes, at least two other readers and so on. So on the basis of these, the idea is that to...

Ah, and when I was working on the writings of the Bab, one very important issue was ‘which one of these are the writings of the Bab?’ Because it is possible that some of the works which are there are assumed to be by people who have collected them and have put them together, they have assumed that this would be the work of the Bab, but this might be the work of somebody else. Might be the work of Baha’u’llah, might be the work of one of the major Babis, or someone else. And, as a matter of fact, occasionally I found a few works which were not by the Bab and so I indicated that this is not work of the Bab so should be excluded. So the idea of publishing, whether in the form of online publishing or in the form of books and, later, translation, because this is the scriptural Word and so on has to be a work which would be meticulous and make sure that the copies would be authentic and not mistaken. So it’s not an easy task. But it is what the House of Justice wants to do and so this process is going on right now. It depends how fast those people who are engaged in this process.

But many of the writings which are not published, you can find sometimes in different manuscripts or collections in different universities and some of them have become online and so on. So it is not the case that only things which are formally published are accessible now. Many other things are also accessible. But nowhere - for example, in terms of the writings of the Bab which I’m much, much more familiar with that, nowhere in the world has the rich collection of the writings of the Bab than Haifa archive. Nowhere in the world is remotely comparable to that. So many works of the Bab. I found at least 15 works of the Bab which are about 500 pages. Nobody knows they exist! When I was doing that work, I have to give them names because they have not been discussed in any literature, so they don’t have a name! Nobody has talked about them and so on. In order to make a computer file for that, I had to assign a name to this. Hopefully, later on, these names will change and the names will be something which would fit the text better. But my point is that there are so many writings of the Bab that no researcher, past, present, no literature which has talked about the Bab or the writings of the Bab is aware of the existence of these texts, let alone that they have read and so on. They have no names in the literature. There are so many. Nobody is like Haifa, and for Baha’i writings, writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha even more. I mean that’s the place. Having said that, for those who want to make research and so on, oceans of possibilities exist in different collections, some of them online and so on. But in the future, of course, more and more would be available, more and more would be translated. That’s one of the problems with the Baha’i Faith. It has no one book. It has library of sacred books. The challenge becomes much more complicated. [1:14:35]

[Question from the audience]

[1:15:00] No, there is no such thing. Rumours are very popular among human beings and human communities, including Baha’i community. And so lots of people say lots of things for themselves and this one here is from that one and that one here is from this and suddenly it is accepted as fundamental truth or something like that. The works that has been written by Baha’u’llah, by Abdu’l-Baha, by the Bab, they are works for humanity and the purpose has been to have them accessible. If Baha’u’llah himself decides that some of his writings humanity’s not ready for that and so on, he’s the only person who would make a decision like that. But the writings are available. The point is that nobody at this time - it’s difficult to say this - but nobody at this time really knows, or has really read, or is familiar with, all the writings of Baha’u’llah, of Abdu’l-Baha and so on. It is so much and it requires lots of work. This is one of those stages that the Baha’i community is entering. And so as I mentioned, future is so exciting. In terms of the idea of why not all the writings are available, sometimes people make these sort of statements, but then when you ask them have you read works which are translated, which are published and so on, vast majority have not read almost... in any case. So, many of the fundamental, primary works of Baha’u’llah has been published, has been translated. But those other works which are not translated, it’s not that they are not important. I mean I share with you one work of Baha’u’llah. This is absolutely, for me, one of the most important, one of the most significant documents of Iranian history. And there are infinite numbers of these things. But the Baha’i literature and Baha’i writings, as I mentioned, are not confined to one book or two books or three books. So in its time and resources and the Baha’i community also is the one who is directly involved in this. We need people who can read these things, who can work on these things, who can translate and so on. Nobody would do these things except us. Younger generations in particular, I emphasise that it’s very important that some of us, I mean not that I would be part of the younger generation, but some of us would take this issue of devoting our life to Baha’i Studies seriously.

Download a pdf file of the transcript