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.