Thursday, 9 December 2010

Proceeding through manifestation

I have found a preliminary answer to a question that has been bothering me for some time. The issue is this: if everything in creation, including the manifestation of God, proceeds from God by way of emanation, what do Baha'is mean by the term 'manifestation' in the phrase 'manifestation of God'?

Unfortunately, I cannot find in the writings a definition of the word 'emanation'. It is always explained using analogies. A common analogy Abdu'l-Baha gives for proceeding from emanation is the rays of light from the sun. It is said that these emanate from the sun because the sun does not resolve itself into the rays; rather, the rays just come out of the sun, while the sun remains unchanged. Other analogies are action from an actor, writing from a writer, a discourse from a speaker. These are all examples of proceeding through emanation because the essence or reality of the cause does not literally appear in the effect. In other words, the cause does not divide into parts in order to create the effect. Rather, the effect just comes out of the cause.

Proceeding through emanation is always contrasted with proceeding through manifestation. Abdu'l-Baha does define proceeding through manifestation (SAQ ch54): "the proceeding through manifestation means the manifestation of the reality of a thing in other forms". A common example he gives is that of a seed. A seed proceeds through a process of manifestation to become a tree. This is because the actual seed - its reality or essence - changes form, taking on the form of a seedling, and so on until it is a fully grown tree. Given this idea, I think all forms of 'seeds' would proceed through manifestation. For example, the egg and sperm, once joined, would proceed through manifestation to become an adult human. But other, different, examples include the way that water changes its form into steam or ice, and the way the ocean changes its form continually with the activity of waves.

The reason the contrast between proceeding through emanation and through manifestation is emphasised in the writings is because some philosophers believed that creation was a manifestation of God; in other words, something of the essence of God was to be found in all things. But the Baha'i writings reject this outright, emphasising the important distinction between proceeding through emanation and through manifestation. All things emanate from God - that is, come out of God - but they are not manifestations of God - that is, the essence of God does not change form and become a part of created things. This would mean that God had become divided into parts. Instead, Abdu'l-Baha explains (ch54) that God is in one condition and that condition never changes.

This brought me to my question: if every created thing is an emanation of God, what do we mean by the word 'manifestation' when we refer to Baha'u'llah as the 'manifestation of God'? For, it is certain that the manifestation of God is an emanation of God and not a manifestation of God in the sense that we discussed above. The answer came in SAQ ch54 where Abdu'l-Baha is explaining proceeding through manifestation. He says:

"But the proceeding through manifestation (if by this is meant the divine appearance, and not division into parts), we have said, is the proceeding and the appearance of the Holy Spirit and the Word, which is from God." (p 206)

I finally woke up to the very important distinction that is made in the brackets. The bit in brackets makes it clear that there are two meanings to proceeding through manifestation:
1. the manifestation of the reality of a thing in other forms - this is the seed becoming a tree, which involves the seed dividing itself into parts
2. the divine appearance.

So the appearance of the divine in creation - or, put another way, the manifestation of the divine in creation - is a different sense of the word 'manifestation' to that of the reality of a thing resolving itself into different parts and forms. It seems to me that the first definition is a philosophical one - it is a special technical meaning used by philosophers. The second definition is more in line with the dictionary definition: "the demonstration, revelation, or display of the existence, presence, qualities, or nature of some person or thing". (New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary)

Abdu'l-Baha then goes on to explain what is meant by proceeding through manifestation in the second sense - the divine appearance. Basically, the proceeding through manifestation in this sense means the appearance of the Holy Spirit and the Word, which are the perfections of God. This is very close to the dictionary definition of 'manifestation', the idea of the display of the qualities of a thing. Abdu'l-Baha gives an example of this: the reflection of the sun in a mirror. This reflection displays all the qualities of the sun - the heat, light, and image. So when we say that Baha'u'llah is a 'manifestation of God', we mean that he manifests or displays the perfections and qualities of God, including God's existence, presence and nature. This is in line with the dictionary definition of 'manifestation' but not the philosophical one.

But note that the reflection of an image in a mirror is still an emanation - the image emanates from its cause and appears in the mirror. The image is a manifestation in the sense of a display of its cause, but an emanation in relation to how it originates from its cause.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Active force and recipient

I continue with my reading of the dissertation about Shaykh Ahmad's philosophy, Idris Hamid: "The Metaphysics and Cosmology of Process According to Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i", which I downloaded from Dissertation Express. I've read a small passage that I thought I could reproduce here, and which would make sense without the hundreds of pages of explanation that have gone before. Hamid gives an illustration, in my view, of what Baha'u'llah is referring to in the famous creation passage from Tablet of Wisdom:

"The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different... Such as communicate the generating influence and such as receive its impact are indeed created through the irresistible Word of God which is the Cause of the entire creation, while all else besides His Word are but the creatures and the effects thereof." (Tablets p140)

I explained in a previous entry "Notes on the three worlds of existence" that the first 'world' or realm of existence that emanates from the the Essence of God is, variously called, the world of the Kingdom, the Primal Will, the world of Command, the Word of God. Shaykh Ahmad also refers to it as "the First Creation" (Hamid p241) and "Absolute Existence". As I explained in my previous entry, "Being a throbbing artery", Shaykh Ahmad argues that every thing in creation is a composite of existence and essence. The only 'thing' that is not subject to this division is the Essence of God. Its existence is the same as its essence; it is the only truly simple 'thing'. Every thing else is a composite of its existence and its essence (ie, form). This distinction between existence and essence is the same distinction that Baha'u'llah is making between the "active force" and its "recipient". This is clear because, Shaykh Ahmad explains, existence is active and its recipient, essence, is 'passive' - although it is not truly passive, because it is active in its passivity. (Shaykh Ahmad likens it to the 7th form of the Arabic verb, the medio-passive, which is active in form and passive in meaning.)

Shaykh Ahmad explains that this distinction between existence and essence is very subtle at the level of the First Creation and becomes increasingly pronounced at the level of physical reality (p251). At the level of the First Creation, Shaykh Ahmad refers to the aspect of existence as "Willing in Possibility" (p253). At this level, 'existence' is, basically, a realm of possibilities. Shaykh Ahmad refers to the aspect of essence, at the level of the First Creation, as "Willing in Being". Looking at God's Willing from this point of view, it is in a state of actively receiving possibilities and is therefore like a realm infinite possible impressions. The impressions that are actually realised constitute things - what Shaykh Ahmad calls "delimited existence".

Idris Hamid gives a helpful illustration of the interaction between "Willing in Possibility" and "Willing in Being". I think it shows how the two are the same and yet different, and active and receptive, as Baha'u'llah describes them. It's impossible to get one's head around what Baha'u'llah is saying, without a concrete example (for we all rely on sensible images for understanding, as Abdu'l-Baha explains in SAQ ch16). Here is the example - from page 254 of the dissertation.

"Consider a quantity of water. Water has its own configuration, through its molecular structure etc. Now consider that water flowing through a riverbed. The riverbed may be considered as the form of the water. The water inheres in it and, from the geological perspective, defines and determines it over time. The riverbed receives the water and continually becomes though its very receiving of the water. Yet though the riverbed gives form to the water, it does not affect the water's configuration. Yet the configuration of the water determines all of the water's chemical and geological possibilities. It makes it possible for, and determines the manner in which, the water creates the riverbed. The water considered by itself is like Willing-in-Possibility. The water considered with regards to the riverbed is like Willing-in-Being."

I think the illustration is a bit confusing in that Hamid seems to shift from saying that the actual riverbed is the form of the water (which it cannot literally be) to saying that "the water considered with regards to the riverbed" is the form of the water (which it must be). But, that aside, what comes through from the example is the idea that one thing - ie, water - has two aspects and can be viewed from each - in itself (existence), and in relation to its form (the shape of the riverbed). Both aspects are the same yet different; one is active (water in itself) and one receptive (water in the shape of the riverbed).

I thought the image of the water flowing through the riverbed was a nice image of the infinite flow of possibilities and impressions of the Word through the reality of things.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Being a throbbing artery

I haven't written for a while because I am enthralled by the discoveries I have made in my reading. It all began when I started reading Keven Brown's writings about creation from his web site. He has researched and written extensively in this area and has made great strides in it. He has helped me to understand the process and structure of creation as taught in the Baha'i writings and Shaykh Ahmad, and I am enormously indebted to him. After reading Keven's explanations, I was able to make more sense of what the writings say. For the Baha'i authors use the jargon of their day and the implications are lost on modern readers, unless we have someone like Keven to explain them for us. Keven has done much translation work as well, translating passages on the subject of creation that are not currently available and retranslating passages, many from Abdu'l-Baha, to make the meaning clearer. He has put some of his translations up on his site.

From reading Keven's article "Abdu'l-Baha's Response to Darwinism", I found out about a dissertation written in English about Shaykh Ahmad's philosophy. It is Idris Hamid: "The Metaphysics and Cosmology of Process According to Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i". I was able to download it from Dissertation Express. I am currently about half way through reading this. It is amazing. I never realised that such a comprehensive work had been written about Shaykh Ahmad's system of thought. The dissertation focuses on Shaykh Ahmad's "al-Fawa'id Hikmiyyah" (The Wisdom Observations). Idris Hamid describes this work as "a concise summary of the author's philosophical and mystical commitments"(p5). And, because the dissertation is written within the Western philosophical tradition, Hamid has the unenviable task of making Shaykh Ahmad's Islamic concepts meaningful to a Western audience. This is the task all Baha'is face when teaching the Faith, and it is interesting to see the tack that Hamid takes. I haven't read the whole thing yet, so I can't say too much, but Hamid says that he will use the concepts of another thinker who is roughly close to Shaykh Ahmad, and compare them.

So to the phrase Baha'u'llah uses in the Tablet of Wisdom:

"Be thou as a throbbing artery, pulsating in the body of the entire creation, that through the heat generated by this motion there may appear that which will quicken the hearts of those who hesitate." (Tablets p143)

As a result of all this reading and learning, I went back to the Tablet of Wisdom to see if I could get more out of the enigmatic statements about creation that Baha'u'llah makes there. I found that I was certainly able to get more out of it. And I had a new thought about the sentence above.

One of the key things I have learned from my reading is how to look at existence. What all Baha'i authors teach and Shaykh Ahmad too, is that existence - that is, an object or a substance or even an intelligible like justice - has two parts to it - it is a pairing of 'existence' and 'essence' or, in other words, 'matter' and 'form'. Matter is like a blank canvass on which form is imprinted. Matter is like stone out of which a form is sculptured. (This gives new meaning to the phrase, "O moving form of dust"!) This pairing is at work at all levels of existence, from the most subtle reality in the highest heaven to the most solid one in the depths of the earth.

The Bab links this pairing with the process whereby the letters B and E are joined together. Baha'u'llah describes how, at the beginning of creation, God says "Be! and it is", and, in the Long Obligatory Prayer, speaks of how "the letters B and E have been joined and knit together". In relation to this, the Bab says:

'Through the "B" God created the matter (mádda) of all things...and through the "E" God created the form (Súra) of all things.' (trans Keven Brown, Excerpt 8)

And, in fact, the same pairing is being referred to in Baha'u'llah's passage in the Tablet of Wisdom about how creation came into existence:

"The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different. Thus doth the Great Announcement inform thee about this glorious structure. Such as communicate the generating influence and such as receive its impact are indeed created through the irresistible Word of God which is the Cause of the entire creation, while all else besides His Word are but the creatures and the effects thereof." (Tablets p140)

"The active force" and "its recipient" are, again, a reference to the pairing of matter and form. This helps explain why they are the same, yet different. If you look at an object, you can see how its matter is different from its form, and yet these two things cannot be separated and are, in a sense, the same thing. Baha'u'llah goes on to say that "Such as communicate the generating influence and such as receive its impact are indeed created through the irresistible Word of God...", which shows the line-up with the B and E: the generating influence is the B and the recipient is the E, for these are also created through the Word.

With these ideas in the back of my mind, I was struck anew by the language used in the passage quoted above: "Be thou as a throbbing artery, pulsating in the body of the entire creation, that through the heat generated by this motion there may appear that which will quicken the hearts of those who hesitate." I saw that we are being asked to replicate within our own selves the creation process that takes place at the level of the Word. We are being asked to become a generating influence on a recipient humanity. This new insight underscored for me the truth of an idea I've had for years, but have been unable to easily substantiate: that what is of primary importance in teaching is our own spiritual state. This principle is outlined by Baha'u'llah:

"Whoso ariseth among you to teach the Cause of his Lord, let him, before all else, teach his own self, that his speech may attract the hearts of them that hear him. Unless he teacheth his own self, the words of his mouth will not influence the heart of the seeker." Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, CXXVIII)

The reason why it is important for us to focus on our own spiritual state is because real teaching isn't, at root, an intellectual process, where we share a bunch of nice-sounding ideas ("God is one, religion is one, humanity is one - yay!"), or try to convince people of things using reason. It is an ontological process - that is, it is a process that takes place at the level of reality. For example, when a child is born, that young person comes into existence anew in this physical world - that is an ontological process in that it takes place in the arena of reality or existence. In order for us to engage with reality, our beings have to become highly crafted tools that have the ability to influence the processes and outcomes of reality. When we develop to such a refined state, we become mini creators - we actually bring into existence in this world things that were never here before. This idea of our being mini creators is found in the following tradition, which Baha'u'llah quotes approvingly:

"O My Servant! Obey Me and I shall make thee like unto Myself. I say `Be,' and it is, and thou shalt say `Be,' and it shall be." (Baha'u'llah: Fourth Valley of the four)

After writing the above, I suddenly remembered the following passage. I believe that what I have said about our being mini creators is what Baha'u'llah means by our being quickeners of mankind.

"Verily, He (Jesus) said: `Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.' In this day, however, We say: `Come ye after Me, that We may make you to become quickeners of mankind.'" (Baha'u'llah: Proclamation of Baha'u'llah, p91)

Friday, 5 November 2010

Dream about hell

Sometime last year, Steve and I watched a documentary series on TV called "Ross Kemp in search of pirates". I will never forget seeing the images of the pollution in the Niger Delta. As Ross travelled up a stretch of waterway in a small boat, the camera caught the metres-wide strip of rubbish that sat on top of the water all along the edge where the water met the bank. And then behind that were the shacks, where people 'lived'. I was astonished that people could live in such a place. And I was even more astonished that it had got into such a state in the first place. Surely, you think to yourself, ordinary sane people would never allow that. But, oil companies are not run by ordinary sane people!

I have found on YouTube the video clip that I saw on the Ross Kemp programme and you can watch it for yourself here. I have also found an article describing how Nigeria got into such a dreadful state, as a result of the appalling human rights violations and gross environmental negligence of the oil companies: "Niger Delta - by the Light of Shell's Flares Bursting in Air!"

Those images have stuck with me. I don't believe I have seen worse images of environmental degradation anywhere - even though there are dreadful things going on all over the globe. Then mid-last week, suddenly remembering those images again, I said to Steve that I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of those responsible for that pollution, for they will experience first hand what they have done, when they pass to the next world. Their life may be cruisy now, but their life in the next world won't be. They do have a reckoning coming, even if they deny it.

That night, I had a dream about what was coming to those people. I didn't ask to see it, but for some reason the Lord decided to show it to me. I found myself standing in front of a table with a book sitting on it. It was one of those books that is crammed full of high quality colour photos, with little text. The sort of thing that might sit on a coffee table. It was open and as I looked down and focused my attention on the photos, I realised that they were of a terror that was so horrible it was beyond anything one could imagine. The images were of masses of naked bodies, all black, in positions that suggested unimaginable torment. I could barely look at them, they were so dreadful. They were like serious close-ups of bodies in piles, such as were found in the concentration camps. I kept taking glances and then turning away. But I couldn't get rid of the sick feeling I had - like I was standing in a medieval torture chamber that was so large it constituted the whole world.

I began turning pages back toward the beginning of the book, in a bid to turn away the horror and find something nice to look at. But as I turned, I found more and more images, just as bad as before. As I turned, the horror became relentless. There seemed to be no escape. I began to see that the book had sections, and each section was devoted to a different 'shade' of torment. First, there was a section of male bodies, and then a section of female ones, and so on. I said to myself: "Dear Lord, there are variations on torment! Endless variations! Surely, this is hell. Anyone who has seen this would never do anything that might displease the Lord, for fear that they might end up here!" I wanted the experience to end, and so I kept turning the pages and trying to get to the beginning of the book. Then it dawned on me that there was no beginning of the book. I could turn forever and the sections of the book would vary and vary and vary, but the horror would never end. When I realised the book had no beginning, I woke up in shock. I knew that I had been shown images from a book depicting hell. But those who live there, never leave, never wake up.

Later, I wondered why all the images were of black bodies and I thought of the movie "Amazing Grace". The man in that movie who was responsible for carrying 20,000 Africans by ship to America was tormented by the images of those souls. I guess those responsible for polluting the Niger Delta, and forcing its inhabitants to live in misery, will be similarly tormented by images of those they have so badly wronged. If they ever saw what I have seen, they would crawl on the ground like a snake if it meant avoiding that fate. Anyone who knew it to be their lot would do anything to avoid it.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

A note on perfection

Blessings and greetings to all on this splendid anniversary of the birth of the Bab. I thought it was fitting on this glorious day to make a note on something I have been reading by the Bab.

Yesterday, I read Sen's article "Perfection and conservation in Gate of the Heart". I recommend it. It has the clearest statement I've seen about what the Bab would say about humanity's abuse of nature's waterways.

"In the Persian Bayan He writes: 'Nothing is more beloved before God than to keep water in a state of the utmost purity, to such an extent that if a believer should become aware that the glass of water he holdeth in his hand hath passed through any impure parts of the earth, he would be grieved.' In other words, it is implicitly necessary that all streams, lakes, and seas through which the water passes be clean."

But I wanted here to note a few thoughts on perfection. Sen summarises the spiritual principle in the Persian Bayan that underpins whether an action is acceptable:

"if it is performed for God and to attain God’s good pleasure, then every single action must be a means of realizing the potentialities of things and the beautification and refinement of the world."

The implication for action of this principle is that:

"in whatever activity the Babis are engaged, whether in the realm of industry or art, they must perform that work in the best possible manner and realize the utmost perfection in all things."

This principle reminds me of the pilgrim's note that reports Baha'u'llah as saying that we should finish what we begin. There is always something to learn from finishing a project because there is a different set of lessons at the beginning of a project to at the end. But the discipline of finishing projects also forces us to think hard about what projects we start in the first place. For, if we have to finish what we start, we will confine ourselves to a few projects and be forced to think about what our priorities are. (I said to Steve the other day that I think the fundamental principle of conservation should be 'stay at home'. If everyone lived at home and didn't use their home simply as a hotel, I think this would force us to reduce the number of projects we involved ourselves in.)

But the main comment about perfection I want to make is how the Bab's principle relates to the negative messages I tell myself. For example, I now recognise the following statement as being at the root of my anxiety- and depression-inducing thoughts: 'things as they stand are wrong and should be different to what they are'. Based on this, I am culpable: for I am responsible for things being wrong, but am pretty much powerless over how things work out in the world. My response was to constantly run around trying to fix things.

Recent reading in theology has helped me through this trap. I understand now that the world is always in a state of perfection. So it isn't true that things are wrong as they stand; things are perfect as they stand. But, at the same time, things are always changing, moving toward a higher degree of perfection. And that is where I come in with my work - it is an effort in the advancement of perfection. Each day, I work to realise "the potentialities of things and the beautification and refinement of the world".

I use this new understanding to counter negative messages that come in. I feel way better now that I can focus on a small number of projects and getting them right. People around me are busy, busy, busy! But I am determined to swim against the tide, for I believe this is the straight path.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Notes on the three worlds of existence

I have been researching the concept of the manifestation and have learned about the worlds of existence in the process. I'm writing up notes as I go to solidify what I'm learning and have decided to put them up here to share it with readers. I am greatly indebted to Keven Brown. He has written some fabulous stuff in the fields of Baha'i philosophy and theology and I have benefited from his efforts; in particular, from his excellent article in Journal of Baha'i Studies 2001, 11(3), "Abdu'l-Baha's response to the doctrine of the unity of existence". I have relied on this article almost entirely in these notes.

It was Keven Brown who alerted me to an important sentence in chapter 82 of Some Answered Questions (SAQ), where Abdul-Baha says: "The Prophets… believe that there is the world of God, the world of the Kingdom, and the world of Creation: three things" - as opposed to the two-world universe of the Sufis: world of God and world of creation. I wanted to find out what those worlds were exactly and how they related to the common Sufi way of dividing existence into five worlds: Hahut, Lahut, Jabarut, Malakut and Nasut. I have some preliminary results, which also draw on Moojan Momen's article in volume 5 of Kalimat's Babi and Baha'i Studies Series, "Relativism: A basis for Baha'i metaphysics", pp 190-5.

Differing kinds of existence

Although I refer to the three worlds as worlds of existence, the reality of existence in each of them is different. We have no idea what it means to say that God 'exists' in the world of God. The 'existence' that is witnessed in the worlds below the world of God is a creation of God and is specific to each world.

The world of God (Hahut)

This is the world of the Essence of God, which is beyond the understanding of the prophets as well as ourselves. All essences, archetypes, names and attributes, potentialities and things are hidden here – which means they don’t exist here.

Emanation and manifestation

All worlds below the world of God come into existence as a result of their emanation from God. The analogy usually used to explain emanation is the light that emanates from the sun. The light comes from the sun and is dispersed everywhere, but the sun itself stays separate from the light. The idea of emanation should be distinguished from the concept of manifestation. Manifestation means that a single thing changes its form, but its essence remains the same. For example, if the sun was manifested in the light, this would mean that the sun itself somehow changed form so that it took the form of the light. An example of manifestation is the ocean and the waves. The ocean itself is in the waves and the waves of the ocean move, changing the form of the ocean. Similarly, water can take the form of ice and snow. Abdu'l-Baha, in SAQ, gives the seed as an example of manifestation – it changes its form over and over and gradually becomes a tree. The principal reason it is important to distinguish between emanation and manifestation in this context is to underscore the fact that the essence of God does not make up the essence of the created worlds below it. It remains separate from them in the same way that the sun remains separate from sunshine.

The world of the Kingdom/ Primal Will/ world of Command (Lahut)

This world is the first emanation from God. It comes into existence as a result of God's will, which is why it is referred to as the Primal Will. Keven Brown translates the Bab:

"In truth, the Essence is not connected with anything, for the cause of contingent things is His very creating, which is the Will that God created by and through itself without a fire touching it from the Essence. God created the existents through this Will, and it has ever indicated its own self and pointed to its own being." (Journal article)

To understand how things work in this world, the best analogy is oneself, for Baha'u'llah says that one reason we have been created in the image of God is so that we can better understand how God works. All that you do is a result of your will, which leads you to act – for example, by thinking, speaking, or breathing. These three actions correspond to descriptions of this realm as the First Intellect, the Word, and the Breath of the Merciful respectively. As a result of the will, God, in this first emanation, is said to take on differing 'states', such as the state of thinking, speaking or breathing, and the source of these states are perfections (divine attributes) hidden in the essence. These states are said to be 'with' God but not 'in' God. I think the idea here is that just as our essence is not manifested in our thoughts, God's essence is not manifested in God's thoughts; but in both cases, the thoughts emanate from the essence and reflect the perfections/characteristics of the thinker.

The entities that come into existence in this world are the essences of things. They take on a conceptual, or immaterial, existence. Keven explains in his Journal article that the essences of things "are equivalent to natural laws". In other places, he says they are "in some sense, ontological structures of the names and attributes", and the same thing as Platonic Forms. As these descriptions indicate, the important thing about them is that they determine the composition of things in the physical world – presumably, by pulling together various combinations of form with the names and attributes. By causing these combinations to occur, these essences cause things in the physical world to be actualised. This demonstrates that the cause of things in our physical world are these immaterial essences and not God directly. Here is Keven's translation of Abdu'l-Baha:

"The Primal Will, which is the realm of Command, is the inner reality of all things, and all beings are therefore the manifestations of the Divine Will, not the manifestations of the Divine Essence and Reality itself. 'His are the realms of Command and creation'. …Rather [in our view] is it the Primal Will, which consisteth of the radiance and bounties of that Sun [of Reality], that causeth the manifestation, appearance, and visibility of all beings." (Journal article)

Something to note here: that Abdu'l-Baha clearly states that humans, along with everything else in this physical world, are manifestations – that is, not emanations – of the Primal Will. That means that the essences in the Primal Will constitute our essence. This explains the extent to which we are 'divine'.

The world of the Kingdom and its essences are an "essential creation", which means that they always existed (are eternal, without beginning or end) but are nevertheless preceded by a cause - God. In relation to the world of time, they are preexistent, for they precede the creation of things in time.

Moojan Momen (p 190) says the world of the Kingdom is referred to in the writings as the All-Glorious Horizon, the Heavenly Court. The manifestation in this world is referred to as the Lord of Lords, the Tongue of Grandeur, the Most Exalted Pen, the Primal Will, the Primal Point, the Word of God.

The world of creation

The remaining three Sufi worlds are in the world of creation.

Jabarut: Moojan (p 191) says this is "the realm of the revealed God acting within creation; the realm of 'Thou art He Himself and He is Thou Thyself'. This realm is called the paradise of conditioned oneness, the all-highest Paradise. This is the realm of God's actions and decrees". I think this must be the realm where the essences discussed above take a form in the world of creation. Here, they are a temporal creation instead of an essential creation, which means they now exist in time.

Malakut: This is the realm of similitudes (alam-i mathal); the next world. This is the spiritual world in which we experience our dreams and in which we exist after we die.

Nasut: This is the physical world. In SAQ, chapter 47, Abdu'l-Baha says that "original matter" is eternal. It may change form, but as a substratum, it is an essential creation.

Moojan (p 192) cites a passage from Baha'u'llah about these worlds and how they are interlinked:

"[Malakut] is the world of similitudes (alam-i-mithal) which existeth between the Dominion on high (jabarut) and this moral realm (nasut); whatever is in the heavens or on the earth hath its counterpart in that world. Whilst a thing remaineth hidden and concealed within the power of utterance it is said to be of the Dominion (jabarut), and this is the first stage of its substantiation (taqyid). Whenever it becometh manifest it is said to be of the Kingdom (malakut). The power and potency it deriveth from the first stage, it besotoweth upon whatever lieth below." (Lawh-i-varqa)

This quote gives some idea of how things work in the world of creation. Essences in the Primal Will are manifest in jabarut and this constitutes their first 'substantiation' in the world of creation. When an essence is the cause of the combining of properties, realities are manifest in image form in malakut and physical form in nasut. Keven explains Abdu'l-Baha as saying (in SAQ chapter 82 regarding our general physical existence being a mental construct of man) that "'Materiality' is the product of impressions on minds resulting from the combination of attributes, properties, and symmetries deriving from a level more fundamental than 'material' things themselves." (Journal article) So the combining-type work of the essences causes materiality in the physical world and, presumably, we 'construct' that materiality in accordance with our inherent nature, which is why we experience materiality differently.

We also know from Tablet on the People's Right that all things, including deeds and characteristics, in nasut have corresponding forms in all the other worlds. "Certainly the realities of things, through different appearances and various manifestations, truth after truth, shine forth and reveal thenselves in every world." So each of us, and what proceeds from us, already has an image-form in malakut.

This is the reason why I don't go with what Moojan (p 192) says about malakut in his article - "This is the angelic realm" - leaving the impression that it is a world that only believers enter. I think the picture is more complex than that. If all humans and their characteristics and deeds already have image-forms in malakut, then we all appear in malakut now. The issue is what form we take there – a heavenly form or a hellish one. A similar principle is at work in the physical world, in keeping with the combining effect of the essences. We each live in a physical world here, but the nature of that world is determined by our inner spiritual state.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

More on "He is God"

A kind reader wrote and asked me to write more about the phrase "He is God", as I suggested I might. So here's part 2.

What I had in mind to mention was the link between the new phrase "He is God" and the advent of the new "Day of God". As I discussed in my previous message, Baha'u'llah has been singled out by God for His own sake. Baha'u'llah's revelation is a supreme one in that God decided to reveal himself in Baha'u'llah. Up to now, God has set limits on what the manifestations were permitted to reveal, but with Baha'u'llah, he let the limits go. The grace associated with this generous act is infinite and has ushered in what we refer to as The Day of God. It seems to me, then, that if Baha'u'llah is the Self of God manifest, then it is logical that we would simply say of him: "He is God".

But I also think that the change in wording from "No God is there but God" to "He is God" has implications for how we are required to respond to the call of God in this Day. With this being the Day of God, the only fitting response for believers is to be wholly absorbed in God. Anything less is unacceptable. We are asked to detach ourselves from all else but God. It is a primary requirement of a seeker:

"That seeker must, at all times, put his trust in God, must renounce the peoples of the earth, must detach himself from the world of dust, and cleave unto Him Who is the Lord of Lords." (Iqan, para 213)

This idea that we must be detached from all save God is everywhere in the writings. Here are some random instances from MARS:

"Turn ye away from all that is on earth and seek none else but Me." (Tablets of Baha'u'llah,p 169)

"My sole purpose hath been to hand down unto men that which I was bidden to deliver by God, the Gracious, the Incomparable, that it may detach them from all that pertaineth to this world, and cause them to attain such heights as neither the ungodly can conceive, nor the froward imagine." (Gleanings, p 108)

"Detach yourselves from all else but Me, and turn your faces towards My face, for better is this for you than the things ye possess." (Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, p 257)

"Peruse My verses with joy and radiance. Verily they will attract you unto God and will enable you to detach yourselves from aught else save Him." (Importance of Deepening, p 188)

The quotes tell me that we are being asked to be wholly absorbed in God. In that absorbed state, it makes no sense to say, in an objective way, "There is no God but God", because now we are 'inside' God and saying "He is God". The negative forces of "no", don't have a reality there. They have been wiped away. And we should wipe their reality away from our hearts too by forgetting about them and being wholly focused on Baha'u'llah and magnifying his name.

In my own words, I would say "He is a jealous God" (in a nice way). A jealous lover is a person who forbids their beloved from turning their attention to any thing else but the lover. And a jealous lover is a serious force to be reckoned with. The slightest distraction is unacceptable. That is how I think of Baha'u'llah. But I like that, because he's so cool to be with, who would want to be with anyone else anyway? It makes my life happy because I am doing the one thing I want to do, and the one thing Baha'u'llah would have me do. It's a win-win.

Also, I've thought a lot about those negative 'no' forces, and have come to the conclusion that they are bigger than me by a mile, in any case. It was a huge relief to realise that what was required of me was to love Baha'u'llah, and not to win a battle with the negative forces. Baha'u'llah is more powerful than any negative force and is able to deal with them as he pleases. He is God, not me. The purpose of creation is for the believer to return to God; the sideshows are a mirage for those given to distractions.

"This is not the day for any man to question his Lord. When thou hearest the call of God voiced by Him Who is the Dayspring of grandeur, cry out: ’Here am I, O Lord of all names! Here am I, O Maker of the heavens! I testify that Thou hast revealed Thyself and hast revealed whatsoever Thou didst desire at Thine Own behest. Thou, in truth, art the Lord of strength and might.’” Tabernacle of Unity 2:11

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Day not followed by night

I'm finally ready to tackle this thorny one. I've been thinking about it for ages. Finally, a week or so back, I saw it in my heart and decided to record what I saw here.

I began thinking hard about this verse because it bears on the infallibility issue. Baha'is believe that, with this being the Day that shall not be followed by night, the Baha'is will never go off the straight path because the House of Justice is infallible and will guide them aright. House infallibility, therefore, is integral to the common interpretation of this verse. Needless to say, I think this interpretation is magical thinking. But it challenged me to think about what the verse does mean.

I don't know all the places where Baha'u'llah writes about this Day not being followed by night, but my commentary will be on its use in Suriy-i-Haykal, paragraph 63:

"O Temple of Holiness! We, verily, have cleansed Thy breast from the whisperings of the people and sanctified it from earthly allusions, that the light of My beauty may appear therein and be reflected in the mirrors of all the worlds. Thus have We singled Thee out above all that hath been created in the heavens and the earth, and above all that hath been decreed in the realms of revelation and creation, and chosen Thee for Our own Self. This is but an evidence of the bounty which God hath vouchsafed unto Thee, a bounty which shall last until the Day that hath no end in this contingent world. It shall endure so long as God, the Supreme King, the Help in Peril, the Mighty, the Wise, shall endure. For the Day of God is none other but His own Self, Who hath appeared with the power of truth. This is the Day that shall not be followed by night, nor shall it be bounded by any praise, would that ye might understand!"

In my view, when Baha'u'llah speaks of the Day that is not followed by night, he is referring to a transcendent spiritual reality - the one that came into existence with his appearance. The paragraph above tells us that Baha'u'llah has been singled out "for Our own Self" and that this bounty to him "shall last until the Day that hath no end in this contingent world". So the 'Day' that will not end is the spiritual reality of the bounty that came into existence when Baha'u'llah appeared.

The way I understand this is as follows: Baha'u'llah explains in the Kitab-i Iqan that no distinction is to be made between the manifestations. They are all one and reflect all the names and attributes of God. However, their revelations differ in their intensity, which means that, if some manifestations appeared not to show certain divine qualities, this was because of the purpose of their revelation not because the manifestation did not inherently posses that quality.

What we see in Baha'u'llah is God revealing "his own Self". Baha'u'llah's revelation is a supreme one in that God decided not to hold back anything and decided to reveal all of himself. Up to now, God has set limits on what the manifestations were permitted to reveal, but with Baha'u'llah, he let the limits go a great deal. The grace associated with this generous act is infinite and has ushered in what we refer to as the Day of God, for in revelation terms, God himself has been revealed in Baha'u'llah.

The logic of the phrase in question follows from this. What night could be followed by such a Day? Once God has been revealed, how could a night follow? This Day of God "shall endure so long as God, the Supreme King, the Help in Peril, the Mighty, the Wise, shall endure", as the passage above says, so basically nothing can follow it.

I am greatly struck by this idea of a reality being never ending. When I meditate on it, it forces me to think about how huge God is, that he has created this bounty that will never end. I believe the same 'never-ending' idea is also found in Baha'u'llah's Mathnavi. There, Baha'u'llah introduces the idea of a never-ending Spring. He first mentions it in line 36: "Bring a new green spring for all to see/raise up the dead for Your Resurrection", and continues discussing its qualities for another 30 verses.

But within this eternal Spring-time that Baha'u'llah's appearance has brought about, other familiar cycles continue, such as the cycle of revelation. Baha'u'llah tells us in the Kitab-i Iqan that a manifestation does not come unless the condition of 'oppression' exists in the world. In other words, for a manifestation to appear, the people of this world must have gone astray.

"What 'oppression' is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it? … This 'oppression' is the essential feature of every Revelation. Unless it cometh to pass, the Sun of Truth will not be made manifest. For the break of the morn of divine guidance must needs follow the darkness of the night of error." Iqan, para 29

Here is the potential source of confusion. On the one hand, Baha'u'llah says that this Day shall not be followed by night, but on the other, he says that the darkness of error must exist before another manifestation will come. As I understand it, this apparent contradiction is explained by recognising that these two statements are true on different levels. Baha'u'llah's eternal Spring-time is an endless Day in the spiritual realm of the Kingdom. Baha'u'llah's many mystical works describe how its appearance affected that, and other, spiritual realms. This Day reigns outside of time; in fact, it reigns over all of the past and all of the future (500,000 years), which I think this verse in Tablet of the Bell refers to:

"Praised be Thou, O my God, I beseech Thee by Thy Day, whereon all days have been resurrected, and by Thy enumerating from it both former and latter times."

But within Baha'u'llah's eternal supra-Day, the cycle of revelation will continue, manifestations will come and go, and that will involve humanity passing through the darkness of error. This means that the Baha'is will experience a night too, and that, when it comes, their leaders will fall like stars from heaven, just as previous ones have.

"[The revelation of Baha'u'llah] will constitute the first stage in a series of Dispensations, to be established by future Manifestations, all deriving their inspiration from the Author of the Baha'i Revelation, and destined to last, in their aggregate, no less than five thousand centuries. "(Shoghi Effendi: Citadel of Faith, p5)

The Baha'i interpretation of 'the Day not followed by night' verse results in a similar error to the one made by Muslims over 'the seal of the prophets' verse. Again, it is a matter of understanding a verse on its correct level. It is true that Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets, but Baha'u'llah tells us that this statement applies to the transcendent reality of the manifestation - firstly, that it is true of all manifestations and, secondly, that it is true of Muhammad specifically because it identifies his revelation as coming immediately before the Day of God. So, even though Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets, this does not mean the cycle of revelation has ended, as most Muslims believe.

Similarly, the statement that this is the Day not followed by night is about the nature and intensity of Baha'u'llah's revelation - that Baha'u'llah revealed the Self of God. It does not mean that, all of a sudden, the Baha'is can never go off the straight path! God forbid. This interpretation is also a claim to the finality of revelation, for the night of error is a necessary requirement for a manifestation to appear.

I am not suggesting that the reality of Baha'u'llah's eternal Day does not affect what happens in this physical world. The Most Great Peace will come, and life across globe will get easier. But this does not mean that God will stop sending his messages in ways that are contrary to our idle fancies, and it also does not mean that humans will stop rejecting God's signs.

Friday, 3 September 2010

On wealth

I was inspired to write on wealth again here because I've just read a fabulous paragraph, newly translated, in which Baha'u'llah is quoted by Nabil, making one of his usual hard-hitting one-liners. The paragraph appears on a new blog called Kashkul, which is put together by Will McCants. I can't recommend the blog highly enough. Will can translate the writings from the original languages and his entries are fresh translations of material not seen in English before. Here's the paragraph from Nabil's unpublished account:

One day in the outer part of the Blessed House (in Baghdad), one of the travelers from Tehran respectfully asked the Presence (Baha’u’llah), "How large of a stipend and expenditure does the Sadr A`zam (chancellor) allot you every month such that all the expenses which arise are completely taken care of?" (Baha’u’llah) said, "I should give the likes of the Sadr A`zam a salary, not them bestow it on me. My affairs are with God and not in the trust of others."

Nabil Zarandi’s unpublished history, excerpted in Mazandarani, Zuhur al-Haqq, 4: 227-8

Translated by Will McCants in "Fool's Gold"

What a scream. Baha'u'llah's comment captures the issue of wealth in a nutshell: no one gives Baha'u'llah a stipend; he gives everyone else one!

I have certainly been hit hard economically by events of the global financial crisis. For several years, I had a greatly reduced income. I would listen to the radio and think that getting work was very unlikely, given the economic situation. I focused on the depressing things going on around me and was resigned. In my prayers, I would beg Baha'u'llah to lead me to work or some source of income.

But during the year Steve and I were preparing to move north, I had no time to worry about it. I got used to being poor and started looking at the bright side. I adjusted my habits to accommodate my lack of income. I became inventive with my cooking, so that I eventually used all items in my cupboards, which had been there for years. When I had plenty of money, I never looked at them. When I had no money, I ate in a more healthy way because I had no money to be slack and buy everything from the supermarket.

As I began to let go the worry about money, I found myself becoming increasingly joyful. I felt free. Everyone worries about money. It's very difficult not to catch the disease. I shifted my focus from worry about lack of income to a joyful reliance on God. Might as well be happy, as anything, I thought.

When we got to our new home, I was in a position to work again. I began again asking Baha'u'llah if he would send me work. But this time, I took a new approach. I saw that I could suddenly revert into my worry state again, now that I had time to think more about the reality of my situation. The minute any kind of worry about money threatened, I saw how it impacted on my connection to Baha'u'llah. The joy would disappear and the darkness would threaten. I thought: 'no, I have survived this far, I am not about to start worrying again. I will ask Baha'u'llah respectfully for help, then leave it with him.' For I had learned that being happy and near Baha'u'llah was much more fun than worrying.

Two weeks later, a guy I worked for many years ago rang out of the blue and offered me lots of work.

The moral of the story is summed up in the following Word of Wisdom:

"The essence of wealth is love for Me; whoso loveth Me is the possessor of all things, and he that loveth Me not is indeed of the poor and needy." Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p156

If you need wealth, turn your heart to Baha'u'llah and focus on your love for him. Don't hassle him about money. He is the one that dishes out the stipends; that's easy for him. Higher on his agenda is for us to love him and be near him. And that means we love him for his own sake, not because he can do things for us.

It occurred to me that this conclusion is backed up by the Tablet of Ahmad. The whole tablet is about truly recognising God and how important that is. At the very end, Baha'u'llah says he'll sort out all our problems if we say the tablet sincerely. This suggests that getting our hearts in the right place is what matters. The rest is worthy of just a final comment.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

On the phrase, "He is God"

I searched MARS to find commentary on the meaning of the phrase "He is God" and found a couple of passages from Abdu'l-Baha about it. Confirming the principle that the Word of God has multiple meanings, Abdu'l-Baha gives two different, but complementary meanings, neither of which I want to dwell on here, for another meaning is found in Baha'u'llah's Commentary on a Verse of Rumi, which I do want to discuss. But I will quickly cover Abdu'l-Baha's two meanings as well.

The first comment I found from Abdu'l-Baha appears in Promulgation of Universal Peace. He mentions it while explaining the opening verse from John ("In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God") and how this bears on the station of Christ and the fact that he is the Word. In response, Abdu'l-Baha explains that Christ embodied all the perfections of God, therefore it can be said that "He is God".

"'The Word was with God.' The Christhood means not the body of Jesus but the perfection of divine virtues manifest in Him. Therefore, it is written, "He is God." This does not imply separation from God, even as it is not possible to separate the rays of the sun from the sun. The reality of Christ was the embodiment of divine virtues and attributes of God. For in Divinity there is no duality. All adjectives, nouns and pronouns in that court of sanctity are one; there is neither multiplicity nor division. The intention of this explanation is to show that the Words of God have innumerable significances and mysteries of meanings - each one a thousand and more." (Promulgation of Universal Peace, p 155)

Given that "He is God" can mean "Christ is God", it is also the case that "He is God" means "Baha'u'llah is God".

The second comment from Abdu'l-Baha is from volume 3 of Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha. It is a short tablet written specifically to explain the meaning of the phrase. Abdu'l-Baha says it means that the Essence of God cannot be accessed by humans and that our access to God is through Baha'u'llah.

"Thou hast asked regarding the phrase, 'He is God!' written above the Tablets. By this Word it is intended that no one hath any access to the Invisible Essence. The way is barred and the road is impassable. In this world all men must turn their faces toward 'Him-whom God-shall-Manifest.' He is the 'Dawning-place of Divinity' and the 'Manifestation of Deity.' He is the 'Ultimate Goal,' the 'Adored One' of all and the 'Worshipped One' of all." (Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha Vol 3*, p 485)

The point seems to be that, because our access to the essence of God is cut off, we therefore access God through Baha'u'llah; in which case, we can say: "He [Baha'u'llah] is God".

The two definitions are therefore closely related: one says "Christ is God" and the other says "Baha'u'llah is God"; but in both, the basic idea is that the Essence of God is out of reach, therefore, we say that the manifestation is God. And it doesn't matter which manifestation we are talking about, they are all "God" from the point of view of their divine stations.

Baha'u'llah's discussion of the phrase "He is God" in his Commentary on a Verse of Rumi appears to give a new, but no doubt related, meaning. It comes out of a fascinating paragraph, which begins with the bald statement: "These days are the manifestation of the firm and incontrovertible phrase, 'No God is there but He.'" [para 2] For years, I understood Baha'u'llah to be referring to the new Day of God when he used the words "these days". And perhaps he does, but I'll pass over that issue for now because more evidence about it comes up later. The rest of the first sentence - "God is there but He" - seems straightforward, until Baha'u'llah expands on its implications in the next sentence. He goes on to explain the significance of the way the famous "No" phrase is worded. In particular, the fact that the word "no" is at the beginning of the phrase and precedes the word "God" means that the negative idea of "no" appears to dominate over the positive idea of God. As Baha'u'llah puts it: "The negative particle modifying the positive noun is prior to and has taken precedence over the essence of affirmation."

This placement of the word "no" at the beginning of the phrase has implications for reality, for the Word of God is the author of reality and the way that God has chosen to word things makes a difference to how events play out in the physical world. Baha'u'llah explains that the presence of the word "no" at the beginning of the phrase has resulted in the forces of darkness appearing to win out against the forces of light in this world. He says: "What you have witnessed, that to outward seeming the letters of negation have triumphed over the letters of affirmation, is because of the influence of this phrase", and states that the phrase was consciously worded in this fashion on account of a hidden wisdom of God: "the Revealer of [the phrase] has, owing to a hidden wisdom, caused the negative particle to come first in this universal phrase." He doesn't tell us what that wisdom is because it would cause the reader to fall dead. (That's what I like about Baha'u'llah, he knows really important stuff!)

I found Baha'u'llah's point reassuring: I wasn't going mad; the baddies do seem to win. (For those who haven't seen the movie "No Country for Old Men", it is about that issue. And there's that negative particle appearing at the beginning of a phrase again.) But Baha'u'llah's next point is reassuring. He explains that although events on earth do seem to play out in a way that's contrary to God's will, on an esoteric level - that is, on a higher spiritual plane - they are playing out exactly according to God's will.

Baha'u'llah says that the "form of the words" is like a container that holds truth, and the meanings intended by God are like pearls of knowledge that are deposited in them. The people can find those pearls of knowledge only when God lifts a veil and gives us access to them. Paragraph 3 is devoted to an illustration of this principle: the Muslim clergy wrote commentaries about the Qur'an but never understood it. But with the appearance of the Bab, God has lifted a veil and this has enabled children to know more than clergymen.

At the beginning of paragraph 4 comes the other striking point: that the All-Merciful says in this dispensation: "We have removed the negative particle from before the affirmation…" (God does not give the wisdom for doing this, but might send it later). So what have we got? It seems to me that if the negative particle is removed from the beginning of the "No" phrase, we are left with something like "God is there but He", which can be turned around to the positive statements "God is He" and "He is God".

Back to the first sentence of para 2: "These days are the manifestation of the firm and incontrovertible phrase, 'No God is there but He.'" I now think that by the words "these days", Baha'u'llah refers to the early days of his dispensation before events in the physical world have had a chance to manifest the change in the wording of the phrase. For it seems clear that, with the appearance of the Bab ("In this dispensation"), the negative particle has been removed and so the influence of the "no" on the word "God" has been removed.

This gives us a new explanation of the phrase "He is God". In this new dispensation, God has removed the negative particle "no" from before the positive noun "God" in the phrase "No God is there but He". Therefore, Baha'is say, "He is God".

The implications of this new wording on the world are beyond anyone but God. But it is inspiring to think about their possibilities, knowing that anything we can dream up will be a drop in the bucket of the reality. For, how could anyone in the 1980s have imagined the implications of the Internet a decade later? I often think about how Baha'u'llah told the believers that, in future, women will be able to travel all over the world unveiled and alone, without fear of molestation. That must have seemed extraordinary to them. (I can't remember where I read that; I hope I didn't dream it up.)

More on this topic next time, provided I can get my head around it.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Baha'u'llah's images

For years, I've been grappling with the concept of detachment and how to explain it. Baha'u'llah does define it in a few places; here's one such definition:

"The essence of detachment is for man to turn his face towards the courts of the Lord, to enter His Presence, behold His Countenance, and stand as witness before Him." (Words of Wisdom, Tablets p155)"

But these are just words until the meaning dawns in the heart, and that is the understanding I am trying to fathom. I saw another vista of it the other night, when I couldn't sleep and got up to pray.

I've found over the last, say, three years that the images Baha'u'llah creates in his writings have stayed with me and have begun to paint a metaphorical picture in my mind's eye of creation through Baha'u'llah's eyes. That creation is the mind-boggling vastness of this physical world and the infinite spiritual worlds. My overall sense of the universe that I occupy has expanded. For much of my life, my sense was of living in this physical world. My world was bounded by the physical features that surrounded me. But through the images that Baha'u'llah uses in his writings, and his persistent instruction to look at him and not the world, it's as if I've 'lifted' my eyes up and looked beyond and begun to see the infinite creation around me. The world I occupy now isn't bounded by its physical features, but by the vistas Baha'u'llah has implanted in my heart.

Here are some examples of those images. A couple of early ones to get a hold on me are from the first Persian Hidden Word. Baha'u'llah tells us to live on the mount of faithfulness and in the garden of the spirit, and points out that these are my "habitation". Gee, my habitation, I thought. You mean that's where he has decreed I should be living. I knew I wasn't living there. It sounded too good, and certainly better than where I was. He ends the Hidden Word with another key point "if on the wings of thy soul thou soarest to the realm of the infinite and seekest to attain thy goal." So I realised that if I was to grab hold of what Baha'u'llah held out to me in his chalice, I had better up sticks and move myself to the designated habitation.

More recently, I have been impressed by the frequent use Baha'u'llah makes of the image of the horizon. I just did a search in MARS and there are 244 uses of the word 'horizon'. Most commonly, the horizon is the Supreme Horizon, and the other references are to images of the same thing; for example, the horizon of God's will. But when I awoke to the many references to the horizon in the writings, I began looking at the horizon in my physical world and gradually came to see it as the Supreme Horizon - not literally, but metaphorically.

And now, you see, 'canopy'. I have horizon, now what about a canopy to join the horizons all around me up? There are canopies too - the canopy of majesty, the canopy of grace and the canopy of mercy.

So maybe you are getting the idea: my habitation is in the rose garden of the spirit, on the mount of faithfulness, surrounded by the Supreme Horizon and a sky of grace. You can fill out your picture as you please, because there is no shortage of images in the writings. I like "the Orb of Thy Power" (gives me a sun), "the Day-Spring of Glory" (gives me a water source) and "the Ocean of Thy Grace"(gives me a view to die for). (Blue prayer book, pp148-9)

When I realised that I was unconsciously creating a metaphorical world around me, I had a new way of understanding detachment. For the times when I cannot see this metaphorical universe are the times when I have become caught up worrying about the details of my life. I create little dramas in my heart and mind over life's difficulties. Then I become attached to the world, and forget that the only answer to any problem is God, not me. I forget the import of the images: the Orb of Thy Power - what does that tell me? That if I need anything in my life, then having that Orb in my universe is a really smart way to go!

This, then, gives you an idea of my spiritual journey and the place I'm headed on it. I'll finish with these wonderful images: "Therefore, cast away what is in your right hand, then follow God's paradise so that you might find an august station at the center of the Garden near the sea of immortality." (Countenance of Love) I really like the image of a vast garden stretching right down to the edge of a beach and on to the sea.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

He is the Unconstrained

Yesterday, I was reminded about the issue of women on the House. I hadn't thought about it for years, so I pondered the issue briefly again to register what my heart would say. First, I noticed that the issue did not raise my hackles, as it used to. I found I couldn't bring myself to care, in that I have moved on and other things interest me more now. In part, this is because my Baha'i experience is located outside of the Baha'i community these days and is therefore not concerned with the community's administrative problems.

I also found myself saying: it's inevitable that women will be on the House one day. The reason for this is the following. I have just finished reading the book "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel (which is brilliant, by the way; a must-read, in my view). It is set in the time of Henry VIII - the transition time between his first and second wives. I didn't realise how much change went on in England during that time. A key issue was church and state, played out as whether the king of England was subject to the Pope, for if he was, then the Pope's religious law trumped any civil law made by Parliament. It's a fascinating subject in itself, but my point here is that reading the book threw me back into the prevailing attitudes of the time. I saw how issues that are settled by society now, back then, were being debated with great passion. And people were dying for them; for example, whether the people could have access to the gospels in English. Back then, if you had an English translation of the gospel, you would be burned. (Interesting, eh, the parallels: today the Baha'i administration tries to control scripture, too).

This is a long-winded way of saying that, viewed in this light, it is inevitable that women will one day be on the House. The Baha'is debate the issue, bringing in all manner of detail about what Abdul'Baha said here and there and bringing up 'evidence' like women having periods, but all this is like "the droning of a gnat in an endless valley" (Summons, p10). What these attitudes reflect is not related to the issue of women on the House, but to the state of the souls of those that voice them. For example, we get a picture of the spiritual state of those who burned people for having English bibles.

The way I look at issues like women on the House these days is in terms of the names and attributes of God, for these are the building blocks of reality. They explain the reality of the principle that men and women are equal: they are equal because both have the capacity to reflect all the names and attributes of God. Given this, women are able to be manifestations and House members just as much as men can. This was always true, but God has chosen to reveal it in this revelation.

And one day, the potentiality of this equality in the realm of the names and attributes will be manifested on earth in the form of women on the House. This will come about when God wills it. Baha'u'llah says that people would not be able to see the sun if God did not will for them to be able to do so. God unlocks the hidden possibilities in human souls according to his inscrutable decree. I used to hear Baha'is say in a cavalier sort of way that the next manifestation will be a woman. But, oh boy, look at the furore the mere thought of a woman on the House is causing!

God is unconstrained - this is what's important for me, above all. I can accept that the religion of God is constrained at any one time by those who reflect its light at that moment - which is why there are no women on the House now. What I can't accept is that those constrained humans have the power to constrain the outcomes of the Faith for all time. They can't, and to believe they can is chaining up the hand of God.

Here's another unconstrained thought: that, when quizzed, Baha'is will one day say: "Ruhi, what's that?"

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The atmosphere of thy knowledge

I'm aware that that's a grand title, and this reflects a conflict that goes on in me over what to write here about my spiritual journey and accounts for why I have, up to now, been conservative in what I have chosen to say. I have wonderful experiences and thoughts about Baha'u'llah, but know that the minute I try to put those things into words, they're liable to sound cheap compared to the experience.

But I've noticed that often Baha'u'llah says that when he writes about the majesty of God, his words are a blasphemy in that they are not and never can be even close to the reality he is trying to describe. However, I've also noticed him ask the Lord to inspire those who believe in him with a vision of the Lord's greatness so that they will feel compelled to gush out in words what they are experiencing, in the hope that the spirit in this effusion will attract others to Baha'u'llah. From all this, I'm starting to get a picture of how it works - well, a small picture that pertains to me and enables me to make sense of something that is a mystery. Even though any attempt I make to praise the Lord will inevitably fall short, nevertheless it is a bounty for me to do this so that others might be attracted by the spirit in what I say. This new understanding has given me fresh impetus to get writing, despite my inability to say anything about the Lord that is worthy.

As I said in my previous blog entry, I have been coping with the uncertainty that goes with packing up everything and moving to the opposite end of the country. This test has forced me to focus my attention on the meditations of the Bab and Baha'u'llah, in an effort to find an inner peace in the middle of my changeable circumstances. What did I find in the writings? First, I immersed myself in the Bab's meditations in the back of the Selections book. Repeatedly, he says that God is in control of everything and that nothing happens without the Lord's permission. I learned to repeat this line to myself: "Whatever God hath willed hath been, and that which He hath not willed shall not be." This gave me comfort. And then I'd repeat the line that comes after that: "There is no power nor strength except in God, the Most Exalted, the Most Mighty." (Selections from the writings of the Bab, p 191). Here is the same idea again, in different words:

"For assuredly whatsoever God hath decreed for Me shall come to pass and naught else save that which God hath ordained for us shall ever touch us." (Selections, p 15)

But of course, it's not that simple. What happened, and still happens, is that I would repeat these verses to myself in the morning during my prayer time, then get up to work on the house during the day and promptly forget what I had been repeating and fall back into my old mode of thinking. Then I'd wind up again about my situation and get into a panic state. Daily, I fought my stress and worries in this way. In the beginning, the effort felt hopeless. I would switch back into my old thinking patterns as soon as I put my prayer books down and got up to start my day. It was all about blind faith in God's promise to me then. I knew I was hopeless; all I had was perseverance. I just kept at it morning and evening, and sometimes not in the evening because I was too tired or wound up to read.

It's been several weeks and I've noticed some improvement. What I can see now, and couldn't before, is the existence of two spiritual worlds: the spiritual world in which I was living in my daily life, and the spiritual world that Baha'u'llah was calling me into. I've often wondered about the phenomenon of human culture, how people brought up in different cultures can be human and yet experience common things completely differently, having different stories with which to interpret what's happening to them. Now I see the differences between my old spiritual world and the one Baha'u'llah calls me to as being like two different cultures. Baha'u'llah says that everything in the physical world is a symbol of a spiritual reality. Now I see that my move from my old spiritual world to Baha'u'llah's spiritual world is a culture change. It means I have to re-examine everything I once held to be true and rethink the stories I tell myself in order to make sense of my world.

It was while I was meditating on this idea of a change in culture that I came across this verse, with the phrase "atmosphere of thy knowledge":

"I implore Thee, O my God and my Master, by Thy word through which they who have believed in Thy unity have soared up into the atmosphere of Thy knowledge..." (Baha'u'llah: Prayers and Meditations, p 188)

And I got to thinking about the concept of atmosphere - we have an atmosphere here on earth, which enables us to breathe, but there is a different atmosphere on the other planets, where we can't breathe. What is Baha'u'llah saying about his spiritual world, when he says it has a special atmosphere? All I know is that I need to be breathing the air from his world and stop breathing the air from mine.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Response to Roy Hilbinger (2)

In my last entry, I responded to some of the issues Roy Hilbinger raised in his blog entry "No going back" and said I had more to say. This time I want to respond particularly to this comment of Roy's: "there is in the writings of Baha’u'llah an advocacy of blind obedience".

What I was trying to say last time, and probably didn't drive home properly, was this: that Baha'u'llah isn't like an ordinary human being claiming to have authority over others and to lay down the law; for example, he's not like a politician or religious leader. Baha'u'llah is saying that his voice is the voice of existence; that is, the voice of nature and of reality. So when he says 'obey me no matter what I decree', there isn't any choice in the matter because, as they say in climate change circles, there's no negotiating with nature. Countries may be facing issues with their economies and pressure from interest groups, but nature will not compromise. Like or lump it, we must knuckle under and reduce emissions, make the necessary cultural and ethical changes that are required. To accuse nature of blind obedience is a category error, for one would not call the sun a despot because it regulates our whole existence by disappearing for half the day. In fact, we are so conditioned to its rhythm that we celebrate its patterns. We can see benefits in it, such as the chance to wind down and rest at night. Perhaps we've turned a negative - the sun's 'oppression' - into a positive.

I want now to go back to the ordinary, the usual, meaning of blind obedience, which is requiring a person to act according to another's instructions even if this means - and it usually does - acting against one's own conscience. First of all, I want to say that, contrary to Roy's assertion that Baha'u'llah advocates this, in fact Baha'u'llah forbids it absolutely. I will cite a couple of passages that I think make clear Baha'u'llah's uncompromising position on this.

I start with the well-known passage from the Arabic Hidden Words, in which Baha'u'llah links justice with conscience. He admonishes us to be just and explains that this involves us seeing with our own eyes and knowing with our own knowledge.

"O son of spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes." (Baha'u'llah, Arabic Hidden Word no 2)

But there is another, lesser known passage from Surah of Sacrifice:

"Say: O people, act not as did the people of the Qur'an, and never surrender the reins of your insight into the hands of anyone else. Seize upon the grace proffered you in these days and see with your own eyes. Turn not upon your heels when the verses of your Lord are recited, nor be of those who reject the signs of God and hurl derision from where they sit." (paragraph 11)

You can see here that the word is "never"; never surrender the reins of your insight into the hands of another. I don't know, how clearer can it be?

The challenge inherent in what Baha'u'llah is saying can't be overstated. For example: we know from personal experience and from what we hear on the TV that there is a vast religious world out there that is the Muslim world. It's huge and has a powerful influence on the world. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets and so refuse to give the time to day to Baha'u'llah's claim to be a prophet after Muhammad. But here is Baha'u'llah, seemingly against the odds, asking Muslims to look at his claims with an open mind, which is an enormous thing to ask of a believer who has been raised with the idea that his claim is heresy and should never be given the time of day.

But the challenge isn't just meant for Muslims. Just as there is a Muslim world, with its unique beliefs, customs and identity (whether scripturally based or not), there is an American culture with these too. It has beliefs, customs and an identity that is just as ingrained as the Muslim one. So what Baha'u'llah is saying here, when he asks us to see with our own eyes, is to see his claim without the rose-tinted glasses our culture has given us. I know that Roy genuinely believes he is seeing with his own eyes; nevertheless, he is seeing through the values of his culture: "The progressive social agenda is just a facade over something much darker; there is in the writings of Baha'u'llah an advocacy of blind obedience, and a condemnation of things that we as Americans hold as basic truths." This statement tells me that Roy's religion is American nationalism; it's to this pool of ideals that he appeals for his standard of truth. I doubt his interest in neo-Paganism would fundamentally challenge this standard.

There are other passages in which Baha'u'llah forbids blind obedience, but I'll not bother with them for I don't believe that citing passages will convince many of Baha'u'llah's sincerity in the matter. Instead, the point I want to make is that advocating blind obedience is against Baha'u'llah's system of thought. If Baha'u'llah is indeed the voice of existence, as he claims, then it's to the very heart of reality that he wants us to turn. Let's face it, as I have argued above, he is up against it asking people to do this; in addition to our cultural milieu, there are powerful influences such as family, love and work that pull our attention and alliances this way and that, depending on vested interests. Nevertheless, the principle is sound: in order to see reality, we must look at it with our own eyes. It is impossible to see reality in any other way; relying on others is indeed blind obedience. Therefore, if Baha'u'llah is the voice of reality and he wants us to see him, then we must blind ourselves to all else and gaze upon what stands before us - reality - with the faculties the Lord has placed within us; that is, with our own senses and mind. Independent action is, in this way, a fundamental requirement of Baha'u'llah's claim and teachings.