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.