Monday, 27 April 2009

The principle of virtues

Sometime back, I was raving on to Steve about a passage from Tablet to the Son, in which Baha'u'llah states what is the fundamental principle of his revelation. After reading this passage, I suddenly remembered how the Baha'is like to say that the fundamental principle of the Baha'i revelation is unity (never mind what that means). But unity isn't what Baha'u'llah identifies in this passage - he says it is virtue.

"Note that what appeared was virtues, of which all remained ignorant." para 8, Tablet of the Son

This statement comes in the middle of a fascinating passage, which most Baha'is are, unfortunately, unfamiliar with. In paragraph 6, Baha'u'llah is lamenting the fact that the world is full of people who imagine they have attained mystical insight into God and then imagine that God is like them. He prays that God might cause the people to recognise themselves, which would enable them to distinguish themselves from God. If they could distinguish God from themselves - which, presumably, would enable them to see God better - they would be able to work out the purpose behind the verses, and hence recognise each new manifestation.

"The people have been stricken with an illness... This epidemic consists in people believing that they have attained mystical insight, and then supposing that God is like them. Today, most are afflicted with this disease... Beseech God to render hearts pure and eyes sharp, so that they might perhaps recognize themselves, and distinguish between themselves and God. Thus might they discern God's purpose in the revealed verses. If the peoples had understood the divine purpose, they would not have remained veiled at the moment of revelation." (para 6)

Baha'u'llah goes on in paragraph 7 to say that the Muslims never understood their scripture and this meant that they did not recognise the Bab when he appeared in the year 60. But then he, Baha'u'llah, came and washed everyone clean in a great celestial river.

"The dust of misconceptions and the clay of illusions prevented all humankind from attaining the panorama of divine unity, until the greatest purifier arrived and washed the people with the most cleansed of celestial rivers, calling them to the radiant countenance and informing them of the good news."

This leads into the first sentence of the next paragraph (para 8), which I quoted above. "Note that what appeared was virtues, of which all remained ignorant." In other words, what appeared with Baha'u'llah was virtues. He explains that it is true that virtues were also a part of previous revelations, but they gain a new meaning when they are renewed with a new revelation. This principle applies to all concepts associated with religion. He gives the example of the concepts of "mystical insight" and "monotheism". They all gain a new meaning with each new revelation. "For if God speaks a word today that comes to be on the lips of all the people, before and after, that word will be new, if you only think about it." (para 9)

In the first sentence of paragraph 12, Baha'u'llah says that we must look at the basic principle of each revelation and not allow ourselves to be distracted over this by the opinions of those held out by the people to be wise. "One must look at the basic principle of the cause of God, not at the high or low levels of verbal insight that have been achieved among the people." And so, as stated above, Baha'u'llah clearly states that the principle that arose with the Baha'i revelation was virtues. He also tells us that the principle favoured by God in the Muhummadan revelation was the state of transcendence and abstraction.

"In the dispensations of the Qur'an and the Bayan, the divine will preferred pure transcendence and absolute sanctification. For this reason, the brilliance of these utterances has established itself and become apparent in the hearts of the believers." (para 11)

When I think about virtues, I recall that, right up into the 1990s, Baha'is would say that what believers must endeavour to do is reflect the virtues of God. I don't hear talk like that any more. It's all about unity, and that's interpreted to mean that believers must reflect the attributes of their religious leaders - good or bad - for the sake of unity. Talk about having the disease of thinking that God is like you!

I get an idea of what Baha'u'llah means by 'virtues' from the following Persian hidden word:

"O son of my handmaid! Guidance hath ever been given by words, and now it is given by deeds. Every one must show forth deeds that are pure and holy, for words are the property of all alike, whereas such deeds as these belong only to Our loved ones." (PHW 76)

As I understand it, the new principle of virtues is the death-knell for hypocrisy. That's why I think President Obama is likely to find solutions that seemed intractable to President Bush. President Bush's motive was always expediency, not virtue for virtue's sake. And he achieved nothing, for nothing is achieved without the permission of God, and God has set the standard if you want to achieve things in this day.

It may be that those with questionable motives used to achieve their goals in previous revelations, I don't know. Perhaps, back then, one could get somewhere by sheer force of will, rather than by virtue. But I understand Baha'u'llah to be saying that he has put an end to that state of things. Now, if you want to prevail, you must do the inner work. This is the fundamental flaw of the new global teaching campaign. It is run on the force of will and numbers, not on the power of virtue and quality.

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