Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The mirror of the soul

I have been reading the Qur'an over the last week. I opened it up because I reread Baha'u'llah's statement in the Kitab-i Iqan about the Surah of Hud:

"To them that are possessed of true understanding and insight the Surah of Hud surely sufficeth. Ponder a while those holy words in your heart and, with utter detachment, strive to grasp their meaning. Examine the wondrous behaviour of the Prophets, and recall the defamations and denials uttered by the children of negation and falsehood..." (Kitab-i-Iqan, pp5-6)

And so I opened the Surah of Hud and read it. Gracious, it was just as Baha'u'llah said: it was an account of how prophet after prophet came to earth and was rejected and how the disbelieving were therefore brought to ruin by God. I was struck with how the theme of the surah was exactly the same as that of the Iqan. I became enthralled and read on to other surahs and found them to be the same: Surah of Jonah and Surah of Thunder. I loved the Surah of Thunder; it is full of power, which I guess you'd expect from the name.

And it was a passage from Thunder that I wanted to discuss; specifically 13:28:

"Who have believed and whose hearts have rest in the remembrance of Allah. Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest!" (Picktall)
"Those who believe, their hearts being at rest in God's remembrance - in God's remembrance are at rest the hearts of those who believe..." (Arberry)

When I read this, I thought, gee, this is very much like one of my favourite passages from Baha'u'llah in City of Radiant Acquiescence:

"Then know that your love for God is God's good-pleasure with you and your good-pleasure with him. This is the religious path that was ordained by the right hand of God's wisdom, and it shall not change with a change of prophets, nor is it renewed by the advent of a new messenger. Rather, all enjoin this upon the people, and it is a trust of God deposited in the hearts of the sincere. This is what suffices you above all else." City of Radiant Acquiescence, para 8

To me, there's a book of meaning in these verses. Essentially, it's about shifting the place where we locate God and the nature we assign to God - from a judgemental father figure outside us to a compassionate lover who experiences sympathetically all that we do.

As I understand Sufism, this shift from external/judgemental to internal/compassionate is the guts of what Sufism is about. The difference in perception is also at the heart of my differences with conventional Baha'is. From what I can make out, Baha'is have an external/judgemental view of God, which is projected onto the House of Justice and is behind why they revere the House so much, effectively making the House an associate of God. You can see it in Moojan's article for Religion. He writes as an unspoken representative of the House-god, standing in judgement over the evil-doers and detailing the dark inner workings of their souls.

But the verses of scripture above tell us that this kind of stand against others is the result of ignorance and distance from God, and is self-defeating. The verses tell us that the goal is for our hearts to find rest, radiant acquiescence and good-pleasure with God. The process of getting to that point takes place between ourselves and God only and entirely within our souls. It's a very private and personal thing. Each of us must sit down with ourselves and God and spend all the time it takes to work it out. Getting it worked out with God is what matters; the rest doesn't matter.

Now I can explain why I called this blog entry "The mirror of the soul". I understand Baha'u'llah to be saying that our good-pleasure with God is God's good-pleasure with us. So, if we sit down and work it out with God and fall in love with God as a result, that experience of contentment and love is contemporaneously God's experience of contentment and love with us. At that moment, what we are experiencing is exactly what God is experiencing. This is how we know God is pleased with us, because in all sincerity we experience love and good-pleasure with God. It's a contemporaneous mutual experience of affection. This is why Baha'u'llah says, for example, that he is closer to us than our life vein, that he sees through our eyes and hears through our ears and knows every thought we think. He is inside us experiencing us as we experience ourselves.

Given this, exhortations in the Hidden Words such as "see no evil, hear no evil" take on a whole new meaning. If we focus on the evil around us, we are forcing Baha'u'llah to see it too. And he's not interested. He's above all that. He's suggesting instead that we live in paradise with him. To do that, we need to focus our minds, hearts and senses on him: "Live then the days of thy life, that are less than a fleeting moment, with thy mind stainless, thy heart unsullied, thy thoughts pure, and thy nature sanctified, so that, free and content, thou mayest put away this mortal frame, and repair unto the mystic paradise and abide in the eternal kingdom for evermore." (PHW 44) When we fill our heart with love, not only do we experience love but Baha'u'llah experiences it with us, and at that moment we transport ourselves to paradise. The feeling and its fruit (existence in paradise) are contemporaneous. That is why the Qur'an and Baha'u'llah underline the fact that God is swift to reckon. Reckoning is instantaneous: the minute you fill up with resentment, you've lost it.

This is why I can't read, for example, Moojan's article. The language it uses and the horrible concepts it outlines - to me, it's a sin to think them at all - about anyone. I can't remain in paradise and run such ideas through my mind. I think this is what's behind the point about loving our enemies. It has nothing to do with whether our 'enemies' are deserving of our love or justice; their reckoning is with God and has nothing to do with us. It's about protecting our own hearts from falling victim to a strong negative reaction. The test evil poses is to stay the course and remain free from it internally. It takes extraordinary detachment, such as Baha'u'llah had, to be able to write about the evil others do without being drawn into feelings of dislike or worse and to say something that is truly equitable.

And so, what is judgement? It is a thing we bring on ourselves when we go to evil places within. "God changes not what is in a people, until they change what is in themselves." (Qur'an 13:11) Our reckoning is, as the Qur'an says repeatedly, what our soul earns. And what our soul earns is the internal states it chooses to go to. At each moment, God witnesses those states and takes us to them, hence our reckoning. Therefore, we don't earn paradise by writing essays pronouncing judgement on others (even if those others have actually done evil things). That activity only takes us to the place our feelings inspire within us when we focus on such things. We earn paradise by filling our hearts with love, forgiveness, forbearance, patience, and compassion. If we can maintain these states within, even in the face of provocation, we can then be said to 'live' in paradise.

Reckoning isn't an external, intellectual process that occurs outside of us. There isn't an external father figure who is standing over us with a perpetual disapproving look on his face. And that powerful father figure can't suddenly inhabit religious institutions such as the House of Justice or individuals with worldly power such as Counsellors and Aux Board members. Those people have as much right and power to judge as we do: none at all. The scriptures tell us that only God judges us and that this process takes place internally. It's not foreign, mysterious and unpredictable. It's actually directed entirely by us: we bring the reckoning on ourselves when we choose the inner states we welcome to inhabit our souls.

You find the idea about instantaneous reckoning in the Bible too. Jesus indirectly refers to it when he counsels his disciples not to judge others. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matthew 7:1-2)