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)

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