Sunday, 6 November 2011

God does suffice

I discovered recently something new about the 'God sufficeth' prayer revealed by the Bab. The full version of the prayer appears on page 123 of Selections from the Writings of the Bab.

"Say: God sufficeth all things above all things, and nothing in the heavens or in the earth or in whatever lieth between them but God, thy Lord, sufficeth. Verily, He is in Himself the Knower, the Sustainer, the Omnipotent."

What I didn't know is that, in Persian Bayan 9:6, the Bab says that if a person recites this prayer 314 times, any question that person may have will be answered. Well, that is a very succinct comment on what the Bab actually says, but I don't have a translation of it, sorry.

I decided to give it a go. I haven't done a marathon session in ages. Baha'u'llah put me off doing it because he recommends not praying so much that you get fatigued. But since the Bab suggested it, I thought it would be OK.

I paced myself. I found that I was able, just, to do roughly 100 at a time. I took an hour or more off between each session. Effectively, it took all day, and the praying was my principal occupation for that day. My concentration went in and out, but overall, wasn't too bad. Certainly, it was all spent by the time I could see the finishing line. I used a book with over 314 pages to count, turning a page each time I recited two prayers.

As for the issue I was ostensibly praying about (a solution to a friend's difficulty), that is already sorting itself out like it never really was a problem at all.

What I didn't anticipate was the brand new view of the Kingdom I gained from my effort. The sessions took me deep into a zone that is hidden in the words of the prayer and I saw the heaven of unlimited abundance that Baha'u'llah speaks of in his writings. I can relate now to the image of the bread coming down from heaven. Bread is our sustenance. In everyday life, we tend to look 'laterally' for it; in other words, we look for it in things and people around us. But that isn't where the baker's shop is. The baker's shop is the invisible realm of the Kingdom. That's where all gifts and bounties originate. If you need anything, that's the place to source it. The difficult bit is to see that the shop is located close to you and that it is open, so you can walk into it anytime to obtain what you need, for free.

"Now look, what a sun in the sky there is;
night has retreated from the hills.
The wholesale bazaar of lovers
has been scattered by your perfumed locks
And because of your lips -- sugar rubies --
everything smells like a confectioner's shop."
-- Baha'u'llah: O Nightingales

There really is a confectioner's shop, just two bow length's away. And the amazing thing is this: it is an unending bounty. It never goes away. It is eternal. So once you find it, that's it, you have it for good. On and on, for a very, very long time after physical death. I love it now when Baha'u'llah uses images like "the ocean of Thy generosity", "the ocean of Thy knowledge", "the heaven of Thy gifts", "the living waters of Thy loving-kindness", "the endlessness of Thy purpose".

To everyone out there searching, I say: stop focusing solely on your difficulties, the details of your life and what's going on in this world. Give them to God to sort out, for God can do anything - absolutely anything. Baha'u'llah wants to be with you, and that means he wants to be with a person who is present to him, not one who is concerned with the comings and goings of the world of limitations. Leave that world to those who think they can win in it. Choose to win, instead, where you can win everything you've ever wanted and much, much more, and where there's enough for everyone else to do the same.

You know what? I'm beginning to wonder if I will run out of prose. I can see why some mystics wrote poetry, because there really does come a time when you can only allude to what you want to say. No words will point directly.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Powerlessness and God's power

I've been thinking a great deal recently about my powerlessness and God's power. The issue came to a head when I was writing an introduction to Surah of the Almighty, in which Baha'u'llah says:

"God will render anyone who reflects the effulgence of this Name powerful over all things, to the extent that if he were to instruct all things to turn upside down, they would do so. If he should wish to conquer all beings by the power of his will, he would be enabled to accomplish it by the might of his Lord. This is, verily, a grace for all to see."

I didn't know what to make of it because I had never experienced anything like what is described here. I also thought that it couldn't be taken literally for I've never seen any Baha'i with such power - even Baha'u'llah opted to appear to the world as powerless, even though he wasn't. He argued that if he showed the world the real power he had, no one would disbelieve. So what to make of this passage?

Not long after I was wondering about this, I embarked on a prayer campaign to improve my financial situation. It had become a bit dire and I felt I needed divine assistance. Over a week or more, I said the Tablet of Ahamd, the Long Healing Prayer and some other favourites. Gradually, in that time, assistance arrived and my circumstances improved dramatically.

At that point, I believed I'd had a glimmer of what the passage meant. Yes, I am powerless, but in turning to God, truly amazing things are achievable. I realised that I'd been selling God short and, to a huge extent, not relying on God and using the power that Baha'u'llah promises in the surah he will send if we call on it.

This has opened up huge possibilities for me. My horizons have been too low. I'm far too focused on the world and what it might supply or not supply and not enough focused on God and God's unlimited power to bring about any outcome. What I see as a fix between a rock and hard place is no such thing at all to God. God can open up doors out of rock and hard places. All things are possible to God.


My thinking has been shockingly narrow. I'm overwhelmed now by a new view of unlimited, infinite and eternal majesty standing just in front of me, on tap whenever I put in the effort to access it. I now see that there is nothing I can't do, so long as it is willed and so much has been willed that I can't fathom its depths. I need to pray much, much more and skip over the terrain of my future like the humans who leap over trees in that movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". Yes, the only limits are mine.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Relationship between the names and the attributes

I'm writing an introduction to Surah of the Almighty and I've just written a paragraph discussing in general terms the relationship between the names and the attributes. My source is a paragraph from Baha'u'llah's "Tafsír-i-Hu", translated by Keven Brown and quoted in his "Creation" essay, Section 3. I wish someone would translate the whole tafsir!

I thought I'd post here what I've written, because I have not found this information in any other place. Baha'is talk about the names and attributes of God, but the only place I've ever found information about what they are as a reality is in Keven's essay. What I've explained here is just a simple version of what is an endlessly complex topic.

Here is the paragraph from "Tafsír-i-Hu":

'In another station, the names are garments for the attributes, since an attribute is an act being manifested by an actor, such as giving something or causing one thing to prevail over another. Thus whatever is manifested by the actor appeareth through the stages of his will and his power. This act is made manifest as an effect of the action produced by the actor. When God purposed to make His action manifest in His realm, reveal it upon His earth, establish it in His land, and make it a perpetual word and a clear sign, He clothed it in the garment of names. This is the same as when ye say [of certain acts]: “this is munificent,” “this is discerning,” “this is informed,” and so forth with similar names…. If these actions were not named by these names, they would not become known and made manifest…. Nothing in the heavens or on the earth can exist unless it is under the shadow of certain names among His names. For example, if thou seest the knowledge of a learned person, be assured that this knowledge hath appeared as a result of the effulgence of the name of God the Knowing. If thou observest the power of a powerful individual, know that this power oweth its existence to its reflection of the name the Powerful. In like manner, the loftiness of the sky is a consequence of His name the Exalted, the radiance of the sun is a consequence of His name the Luminous, the stability of the earth is a consequence of His name the Imperturbable, the flowing of water is a consequence of His name the Fluid, and the blowing of wind is a consequence of His name the Sender.' (from the Tafsír-i-Hu, International Bahá’í Archives, unpublished manuscript, no. BC003/070/00084 C)

Here's my short discussion:

"Baha'u'llah says the names are 'garments' for the attributes. I think, in a simple sense, he is saying the names are titles we give to attributes that appear in the actions of actors. For example, you make a donation to a charity. That action comes about through your will and power and is freely chosen by you, so it is a genuine expression of who you are. The effect of this action is to transfer wealth from you to others in need of it. Through this action, you manifest the attribute of generosity. The name given to this attribute is the name of God, the Generous or the Giving. God's 'actions' can be understood along these lines. God acts, which produces particular effects on the intelligible realities in the World of Command, and the attributes manifest in those actions come under the shadow of related names of God. Baha'u'llah says that, if actions are not clothed in the garment of the names, they could not be known. Everything must be named; that is the structure of reality."

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Memorising a hidden word

White Smart on the gate, with the orchard in the background

Life out here in the country is much quieter than it was in the city. Days go by where Steve and I don't see anyone except each other. It has meant that I now have the space to learn some of the writings. I haven't set myself huge goals, like learning long passages. I have contented myself with a hidden word at a time and found that to be more than enough.

The hidden word I've been most recently working on is Persian Hidden Word number 70:

"O son of worldliness! Pleasant is the realm of being, wert thou to attain thereto; glorious is the domain of eternity, shouldst thou pass beyond the world of mortality; sweet is the holy ecstasy if thou drinkest of the mystic chalice from the hands of the celestial Youth. Shouldst thou attain this station, thou wouldst be freed from destruction and death, from toil and sin."

I've developed a strategy for learning a hidden word. It takes weeks to work through. I don't start with a finish line in mind; I start with the determination to see the process through however long it takes (sometimes months). I've adopted this attitude because I have to be realistic about my abilities. There is a good chance I will experience difficulties in my life and find it impossible to concentrate. If I don't allow for this, I will give up, and then all is lost.

The one task I set myself is to slowly read the hidden word through twice a day, during either my morning or evening prayers. That's all. I do not try to memorise the hidden word as such, although that is the intended goal. I just read it through slowly, focusing on what it says. I find that, after about a week, I am starting to remember bits of it - most likely, the first line by then.

At this stage, I wonder what the hidden word could mean, but I am focused mainly on articulating the words themselves. Although I may have read the hidden word many times during my 30 years as a Baha'i, it seems like I'm seeing it for the first time. I begin to wake up to words that I never noticed before; for example, in the hidden word above, the "realm of being", the "domain of eternity" and the "world of mortality". The words "realm", "domain" and "world" are all possible synonyms, and when I read the hidden word quickly, I miss the subtleties behind why one word has been used instead of another in different phrases.

After a while, a couple of weeks perhaps, I become familiar with phrases in the hidden word and begin to focus on the meaning, instead of struggling with the issue of what word comes next. I start to see the structure of the whole and the positioning of phrases and ideas in relation to each other. For example, I start to see the close line up of the three phrases "realm of being", "domain of eternity" and "world of mortality". You see that Baha'u'llah is referring to each of these as an identifiable chunk of reality, and that he is particularly emphasising the contrast between the domain of eternity and the world of mortality.

This got me wondering: well, what is the domain of eternity as compared to the world of mortality? I am being asked to pass beyond the world of mortality and enter the domain of eternity. He is asking me to do this right now, and not when I die. So how do I do that? What is the world of mortality I should... What should I do? I should "pass beyond" it. What does it mean to "pass beyond"?

And so I keep reading. Each day, I think about my life and what about it could constitute "the world of mortality" and "the domain of eternity". Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the world of mortality was pretty much everything in my daily life, and that the domain of eternity was the spiritual realm I can't see. And that's the rub; I can't see it, but Baha'u'llah is asking me to 'enter' it by passing beyond my daily reality. He tells me that the domain of eternity is "glorious". Gee, who wouldn't want to be there? There's very good reason, apparently, to make the effort to pass beyond my immediate experience and be in this invisible realm.

In the end, I decided that I was almost a complete failure at doing what Baha'u'llah is asking of me. I believe he wants me to focus on him all the time, throughout my daily activities. At best right now, he comes and goes. I've got a long way to go. But that's all right. I've spent 50 years practicing being submerged in the world of mortality; it might take another, say, 20 years to lift me out of it in any significant way.

The main thing is that I'm memorising hidden words and finding the transforming element in them, and not simply memorising words.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Animal welfare and veganism

As you'll no doubt have realised, I am passionate about animal welfare issues. Treating animals with kindness is a Baha'i principle. I've noticed that many people who are passionate about animal welfare are also vegan. Vegans not only do not eat meat, but do not make use of other animal products either, such as eggs or milk, or leather for shoes. I think it's unfortunate for the animal welfare movement that it appears to be dominated by vegans. Many people can be won over to the idea that farm animals should be treated humanely, but many people don't see a problem with eating meat and think veganism is extreme.

I am pleased to be a member of WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals). It may be run by vegans for all I know, but such things are never mentioned in its animal welfare work. The organisation sticks to its purpose of preventing animal cruelty and leaves people to run their own lives. But other animal advocacy groups, such as the New Zealand organisation SAFE (Save Animals from Exploitation), also promote veganism. SAFE's board members "Ideally ... will possess a compassionate attitude for all life, a personal commitment to improving the wellbeing of all animals, and an understanding and belief in a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle." I've also found that many people discussing animal welfare on the Internet are vegan.

For example, I took a look at a lecture by Gary Yourofsky, an animal rights activist in the States, in which he outlines the philosophy behind his veganism. He relies heavily on the religious principles that we should do unto others as we'd have them do to us and that we should not kill. He widens the usual interpretation of these principles by arguing that they apply to animals as well as to humans. Gary argues that, when we say we should treat 'others' as ourselves, 'others' means animals as well as humans. He puts animals and humans in the same category, in that animals share the physical capabilities of humans, such as sensory organs and a brain, and the ability to experience trauma and distress too. It is therefore not right to kill such creatures. He believes that treating animals differently to humans is like racism; he calls it speciesism. "The term is mostly used by animal rights advocates, who argue that it is irrational or morally wrong to regard sentient beings as objects or property." Wiki

I see two separate issues here, which vegans conflate: one is animals living free of cruelty, and the other is killing animals for meat. In Gary's lecture, he forces his audience to watch what goes on in a slaughter house. He really lays it on thick in order to get people to feel disgusted about eating meat. But all along I am thinking that he's merging the two issues into one. For him, cruelty is the same thing as killing. All the abuse of animals that goes on in factory farming is just a prelude to the killing end game. The unavoidable conclusion is that everyone who eats meat is responsible for the horrific abuse of factory farm animals. It isn't smart politics to alienate people like me who really care about animal welfare.

I see Gary's view as a product of modern Western society. The idea that the 'do not kill' principle applies to animals is very modern. I'm not familiar with Old Testament law, which is where the principle comes from, but I can't imagine anyone who lived a thousand years before Christ ever imagined it applied to animals. Unlike people back then, people today have a very uncomfortable relationship with death. We hide it away in hospitals, homes and slaughterhouses. I know from my experience how difficult it was to accept the (humane) killing of some of my roosters. But in the end, it was good to go through that process because I gained more appreciation of life and the reality of death as a defining moment within it. (The latest craze about planking, where guys lie down flat and balance in dangerous places like railings, is a good example of how death is unreal to young men.)

As I understand Baha'i law, cruelty to animals is forbidden but eating meat is permitted:

"Burden not an animal with more than it can bear. We, truly, have prohibited such treatment through a most binding interdiction in the Book. Be ye the embodiments of justice and fairness amidst all creation." Baha'u'llah: Kitab-i-Aqdas, page and para 87)

"Briefly, it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man. Man hath not grasped this truth, however, and he believeth that physical sensations are confined to human beings, wherefore is he unjust to the animals, and cruel." Selections ... `Abdu'l-Baha, pp 158-159)

"Say: O concourse of priests and monks! Eat ye of that which God hath made lawful unto you and do not shun meat. God hath, as a token of His grace, granted you leave to partake thereof save during a brief period [ie, the fast]. He, verily, is the Mighty, the Beneficent. Forsake all that ye possess and hold fast unto that which God hath purposed. This is that which profiteth you, if ye be of them that comprehend." Tablet to Napoleon III, in Summons para 154, p80

Based on the above, I agree with much of what Gary Yourofsky says. Yes, we should treat animals with infinite kindness and yes, they do suffer under cruelty just as humans do.

But is killing animals for food a form of cruelty? As I understand it, there is a fundamental difference between humans and animals. Humans have a soul, which means they are eternal life forms. When they die physically, they continue living in spiritual worlds forever. Animals do not have a soul. When they die physically, that is it for them. (Note though, that although animals do not have a soul, that does not mean they do not suffer under cruelty.)

The soul is also the vehicle behind our conscience and moral dimension. It's via the soul that a person has the ability to understand abstract concepts like justice, loving kindness and cruelty. Animals do not have a soul and therefore do not have the capacity to understand such concepts. They do not establish institutions to discuss the implications of these principles for the affairs of this world.

Animals, then, do not have a moral code that tells them not to be cruel to each other. My chickens will happily peck each other just to get an advantage over others. Little chicks are not protected, but picked on. As the farmer and the one with the moral code, it is me who interferes to ensure that the weakest in the flock get sufficient food and are protected. I think that, although humans and animals have much in common, we should avoid getting romantic about animals. We say they are innocent, but that is because they can't be held responsible if they are cruel. They don't know any better. They are not innocent because they are always kind. Animals kill each other for food, and always will. You can't tell an animal that this is cruelty. This shows that, despite shared sensory capacities, there is a fundamental difference between humans and animals.

Animals also do not understand the concepts of time - of past, present and future, and eternity. I noted someone saying that animals were eternal but humans not. But what is eternity to a creature that is created to be always in the present? A creature in the present is focused on whether life is good right now. If it is, all is well. They do not understand that they might be killed for food one day. They do not suffer weeks and years of terror in anticipation as a human would. Ideally, animals live very happy lives and then, maybe, one day, suffer a quick and painless death. That is that.

Some of my chickens in a house Steve built for them
Some of my chickens in a house Steve built for them

But although I am not against meat-eating, I am wholly against factory farming, which is cruel. If we are to eat meat, the least we can do is ensure that the lives of the animals we benefit from are happy. Factory farming means high-density animal populations, and no animal will be happy living like that. Some 'free-range' farms house thousands of chickens in very large barns. In theory, the chickens are free range because they can go outside, but in practice very few do because that many chickens cannot get to the doors. For example, in theory, you can get 'out' when you are at a packed rock concert (the doors are not locked), but you only make the effort if you absolutely have to. Chickens are creatures of habit and if they are not trained to find the door, they'll stay put for good.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Principles of pre-existence

The following is the beginning of my attempt to explain the ideas of pre-existence that Abdu'l-Baha discusses in chapter 80 of Some Answered Questions: "Real Pre-existence". It's not finished, but is enough to make a worthy blog entry. It is certainly meaty! Heaven knows, I saw stars trying to work it out.

Principles of pre-existence

Pre-existence of cause and time

Pre-existence refers to the idea of something existing before something else.

There are two ways to look at pre-existence:
- in terms of cause: A existed before B in that A caused B; for example, your mother came before you in that she gave birth to you.
- in terms of time: A existed before B because it preceded it in time; for example, the 19th century came before the 20th century.

Essential pre-existence and temporal pre-existence

Abdu'l-Baha divided pre-existence into two kinds: essential pre-existence and temporal pre-existence. These relate to the two ways of looking at pre-existence explained above. Essential pre-existence is to do with cause and temporal pre-existence is to do with time.

Essential pre-existence or pre-existence of essence
Abdu'l-Baha defines essential pre-existence as an existence that is not preceded by a cause.

The word 'essential' here is used in a philosophical way to mean a characteristic that is "guaranteed by the identity of the subject; necessary" (The Free Online Dictionary). In other words, an essential characteristic is a characteristic that is guaranteed to be a part of a thing's identity. For example, light and heat are essential attributes of the sun. If the sun did not give out light and heat, it would not be the sun.

If a thing is essentially pre-existent, this means that pre-existence is a necessary aspect of what that thing is. By definition, it 'pre-exists' or always already existed. It did not rely on anything else to bring it into being. It has no cause.

Temporal pre-existence or pre-existence of time
Abdu'l-Baha defines temporal pre-existence as an existence that is without a beginning.

A thing that is temporally pre-existent is a thing that has always existed, stretching back throughout all eternity.

Absolute and relative pre-existence

The concept of pre-existence can also be looked at in terms of absolute pre-existence and relative pre-existence.

Absolute pre-existence refers to the pre-existence of God. In philosophy, the idea of an absolute refers to the qualities of "perfection, completeness, universality, non-relativity, exemption from limitation or qualification, unconditionality". (Dagobert D. Runes, "Dictionary of Philosophy") Therefore, with absolute pre-existence, the quality of pre-existence is perfect, complete and without limitation. This is impossible for a created thing; it refers to God's pre-existence.

In contrast, relative pre-existence refers to pre-existence as between created things. The word 'relative' means "relational or pertaining to relations" (Dictionary of Philosophy). Therefore, relative pre-existence is about how created things are pre-existent in relation to each other.

For example, Abdu'l-Baha cites the example of the sun and its rays. The sun in relation to its rays is said to be an essential pre-existence. There is an unequal relationship between them: the rays are dependent on the sun for their existence, but the sun is independent, for it does not rely on its rays for its existence. The sun pre-exists, or always already exists, from the point of view of its rays.

But although the sun is said to be essentially pre-existent in relation to its rays, it is not in itself essentially pre-existent. It has a cause. It is not absolutely pre-existent, only relatively so.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Chicken slavery

This past week, I've been thinking a great deal about caged hens. I was reawakened to the issue by a guy down south who is spending a month in a cage to protest the caging of layer hens. The New Zealand National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee has produced a new Draft Code of Welfare for Layer Hens, which is supposed to improve the living conditions for layer hens. But instead of banning cages outright, it continues to allow the practice of housing layer hens in cages, albeit slightly bigger ones. The fact still remains that these poor creatures endure 18 months confined in an area barely larger than their own body mass. The harmful effects on the health of hens kept in such cruel conditions is beyond doubt. I won't go into the details here because they invariably cause me to weep uncontrollably. But here's a YouTube clip from one of our TV channels, Prime, that appeared in 2007. It shows the horrific things that some protesters found when they secretly went into a factory farm in Auckland and filmed what they found.

The interesting thing for me is why, after being reminded of this issue, it began to torment me. I realised this was because I now have my own chickens. I've been tending my own flock for just under a year now and I've come to love my birds very much. I put them to bed every evening at sundown, by closing up their huts, I get up each daybreak to let them out, I make up their morning mash, I clean their huts and change their water, I throw them wheat and treats, I ensure they have fruit to peck at, I talk to them and, when necessary, interfere in their power struggles. They are like children to me. I am responsible for their welfare. I make sure their needs are met and that they are happy. So when I was reminded that there are hens in the world that don't have even sufficient room to move around in, I suddenly saw how it would be if my hens were treated in that fashion. And the idea devastated me.

I began to notice the daily habits of my hens that battery hens wouldn't experience. The morning flutter: immediately after vacating their huts, they run and flap their wings, gliding along the ground for many meters, rising up and down. The little chicks do this too. Their morning stretch is a flutter that lifts them up in one place, wings outstretched (see photo above). They often do it in pairs, with their little chests facing each other. Grazing: all my chickens eat grass all day, just like sheep and cattle. Pecking and scratching: all my birds spend the day pecking in the soil and scratching around to find insects. Dust bathing: This is an important communal activity, apparently. They put their tummies on the dirt, then dig at the dirt with their beaks, loosening the soil. Then, somehow, using their feet and wings, they fling the dirt up over themselves. It goes up under their wings and right over their backs. My white hens look awful after a dust bath. But they love it.

The difference between me now and me a year ago is that hens have shifted from the arms-length 'farm animal' category to the familial 'pet' category. Of course, they are still farm animals, but I think of them as pets and love them as pets now. They recognise me and I recognise each of them as individuals. When I come out in the afternoon with their wheat, they get excited when they see me and come running up to the house. It's a thrilling sight to seem running along on their little legs with such gay abandon. When I walk down to them with their trays of mash, they walk with me, around my boots, and I have to ensure I don't stand on them. They make quick warm clucky sounds, which put together sound like a composition.

They have a complex social network. For example, our main rooster, Roostie, has got two girlfriends, Smart White and Smart Brown. All three hang out, roaming around all day together, and rule the entire flock. Trouble came when the two Smarts, for some reason, decided they were both clucky at the same time and sat on their respective nests all day. This left Roostie without his usual playmates. He looked awfully dejected. He started stalking the Red family (a Silkie hen with 3 Rhode Island Red adult kids), who are independent of the main flock. Roostie turned his attention to Beetle Bomb, the hen of the Red family. He would follow them around and, whenever he got the chance, try to jump Beetle Bomb. Meanwhile, we encouraged the Smarts to get off their nests (because we want them to lay, not sit on eggs). Luckily, Smart White got off a day later, and Roostie is back to his normal self and Beetle Bomb is no longer harassed. When I looked on the Internet, I discovered that science backs my experience up. Chickens are much more intelligent that humans give them credit for. Housing them in cages torments them and causes them to go out of their minds.

"The well-known author and zoologist Dr Desmond Morris has pointed out that studies of birds have shown that their world is subtle and complex, and that they have a complicated set of drives and responses—all of which are denied in factory farms." The natural lives of chickens

Of course, those who are responsible for torturing chickens do it because they can produce eggs cheaply. It's all about economics. When I saw this, I was reminded of the movie "Amazing Grace", which depicts the struggle by William Wilberforce in England to outlaw the slave trade. I know the movie isn't all that historically accurate, but it does depict the heart of the matter - that Wilberforce was up against economics. Most men in parliament at the time benefited from the trade and many of their constituents too. So it was a real battle to get the practice stopped.

For us today, it is amazing that people back then saw slavery entirely in terms of economics, and not in terms of ethics. The traders justified the practice to themselves by refusing to see the slaves as human beings. I think something similar happens with farm animals - hens and pigs and so on. I base that conclusion on my own experience. Before July last year, I had never had anything to do with hens, and so I didn't think much about them in cages. Now, all I can see is cruelty to my own family. I encourage everyone to read up about the intelligence of chickens and know how badly they suffer in cages and refuse to buy non-free range chicken products.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The functioning of the human spirit

Below is the next installment in my study guide on the philosophy of SAQ. It is part one of chapter 3, which is called "The nature of human existence". Part two is called "The reality of the Kingdom of God" (unless I change it). I'll put that up when I've completed it. Again, numbers in brackets refer to chapters of SAQ.

The functioning of the human spirit

Human spirit has a beginning but no end

Abdu'l-Baha describes the human spirit as "phenomenal". (38) By this, he means that it is preceded by a cause. It comes into existence when the body's elements are combined in the womb in accordance with the laws of nature. It does not exist before that.

However, unlike the other spirits in nature, the human spirit does not cease to exist when the body's elements decompose. This is because the human spirit is, as explained in the previous section, a "divine sign" (38); that is, it is a sign of the perfections of God in the phenomenal world. In addition to that, the human spirit is the state of perfection in the phenomenal world and, as such, it cannot cease to exist. Without the human spirit, the phenomenal world would have no purpose. (52)

Mind is the power of the human spirit

In several chapters in Some Answered Questions, Abdu'l-Baha explains that the human spirit is the intellectual power of investigation and discovery. Within the bounds of human ability, this power encompasses intellectual and sensible things and makes discoveries in the spiritual worlds and the physical world. (38) It is behind the discovery and development of such things as sciences, arts, law, inventions and institutions, which were once hidden and unknown. (48)

The human spirit has five distinct abilities:
1. Imagination, which conceives ideas
2. Thought, which reflects upon ideas
3. Comprehension, which understands ideas
4. Memory, which retains ideas
5. The common faculty, which communicates data from the senses to the spiritual powers. (56)

In explaining the relationship between the mind and the human spirit, Abdu'l-Baha says that mind is "the power of the human spirit." (55) The functioning of the mind is an "essential quality" of the human spirit, in the same way that the rays of the sun are an essential quality of the sun. Abdu'l-Baha also likens the spirit to the lamp and the mind to the light. It seems, then, that the human spirit is the source of the mind's power and the means by which it functions.

This is also confirmed by the following passage from Baha'i World Faith, p 346, "These faculties [of the mind] are but the inherent properties of the soul, such as the power of imagination, of thought, of understanding; powers that are the essential requisites of the reality of man, even as the solar ray is the inherent property of the sun. The temple of man is like unto a mirror, his soul is as the sun, and his mental faculties even as the rays that emanate from that source of light." (Tablet to August Forel, pp 24-25)

The human spirit has two modes of operation

The human spirit has two modes of operation.

First, it can act and perceive reality using the body as its instrument. In this mode, the spirit uses the eyes to see, the ears to hear, the tongue to speak and so on.

Second, because the human spirit is independent of the body, it can also operate without the body. In this mode, the spirit operates in the way we experience ourselves in dreams. While we are dreaming, the body is asleep and the functions of the body, such as sight and hearing, are shut down. Nevertheless, the spirit still acts and perceives reality. It still sees, moves, speaks and so on. In fact, the spirit can do things that it cannot do using the body; for example, it can see the future, whereas through the eyes, it can see only what is physically in front of it. It can fly unaided, whereas the body can fly only in aircraft.

The spirit also operates without the body when the body is awake by using its spiritual, or inner, senses and faculties. Abdu'l-Baha gives the example of people being able to see America even while they are standing on the opposite side of the world from America. When we imagine things in our mind's eye, hear things with our inner ear, organise affairs in our mind, the spirit is operating independently of the body.


Humans possess all the divine perfections

All things have been created in such a way that they reflect something of the perfections of God. That is, each thing is like the earth in the sense that the earth is a centre that absorbs and reflects the rays of the sun. Similarly, each thing absorbs and reflects the perfections of God.

But things reflect God's perfections differently, depending on their nature and position. For example, when the sun shines on objects on earth, their absorption and reflection differs depending on each object's position and nature. Similarly, each created thing, depending on its nature and position, will reflect the glory of God differently. For this reason, it will reflect a different attribute of God. It might demonstrate God's greatness, power, generosity, vision, grace and so on.

The human spirit, however, is unique because it is "the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth." In other words, the nature of human beings is such that they can reflect all the attributes of God. They are a "collective reality" that incorporates into one all of the perfections of God. This means that there is a sign in humans for every attribute of God; for example, the sign in humans of God, the Seer, is the human eye. Because we are created this way, we are able to understand all the perfections of God. For example, through the process of hearing, we gain an understanding of God, the Hearer. If we could not hear, we could not imagine what it was like.


Humans can live in materiality or spirituality

As explained earlier, human beings possess the powers that are found in nature; that is, they have the powers of the mineral, plant and animal, and the power of the human spirit, which is the power of investigation and discovery. In addition to this, the human spirit has the potential to reflect all the divine perfections.

Because humans have all the material and divine perfections, Abdu'l-Baha describes the human condition in this world as "in the highest degree of materiality, and at the beginning of spirituality". (64)

As a result, human beings have a choice. They can live their lives in the material world, relying entirely on the powers they have from nature. Alternatively, they can choose to explore the spiritual realms, which are beyond the material world, and develop their latent spiritual perfections, and thereby awaken to the heavenly realities and mysteries.

Abdu'l-Baha says that "Not in any other of the species in the world of existence is there such a difference, contrast, contradiction and opposition as in the species of man." (64)

Perfections appear only through the spirit of faith

The spirit of faith, or heavenly spirit, is a level of spirit above the human spirit. Unlike the human spirit, it is not a spirit of nature and it is not a power of investigation. It is a ray of light that comes from the Holy Spirit (the manifestation) and its bounty is granted only to the righteous. (36, 58)

The spirit of faith is the power that causes human beings to realise their spiritual capacity. We access its power when we read and follow the writings of the manifestation, which teach us the secrets and realities of the spiritual worlds. Knowledge of these worlds cannot be gained by the investigative powers of the human spirit because the spiritual worlds are beyond the material world. (36) The human spirit must be aided by the power of faith. "It is like a mirror which, although clear, polished, and brilliant is still in need of light. Until a ray of the sun reflects upon it, it cannot discover the heavenly secrets." (55)

Abdu'l-Baha gives examples of divine perfections that humans acquire in attaining perfection: "These are the divine appearances, the heavenly bounties, the sublime emotions, the love and knowledge of God; universal wisdom, intellectual perception, scientific discoveries, justice, equity, truthfulness, benevolence, natural courage and innate fortitude; the respect for rights and the keeping of agreements and covenants; rectitude in all circumstances; serving the truth under all conditions; the sacrifice of one's life for the good of all people; kindness and esteem for all nations; obedience to the teachings of God; service in the Divine Kingdom; the guidance of the people, and the education of the nations and races." (15)

If any trace of these divine perfections appears in the world of nature, it is unstable, for it is not supported by the spirit of faith. It is ephemeral like the sun shining on a wall. (15)

Monday, 21 February 2011

The spirit of faith

I am working on the next section of my study guide for SAQ. I thought I'd put up a small section of it now, because it was interesting for me when I wrote it. Abdu'l-Baha usually says that there are five spirits: plant, animal, human, spirit of faith, and holy spirit. The human spirit, as explained in the previous chapter, "The organisation of nature":

"is the intellectual power of investigation and discovery, and the reasoning faculty that apprehends ideas and intelligible and sensible things. It encompasses all things. It can make discoveries in the spiritual worlds as well as in the physical world. (38) Its power is behind the development of sciences, arts, law, inventions and so on, which were once hidden and unknown. (48) The human spirit is the highest level of perception in nature. (58)"

The following small section explains the relationship between the human spirit and the spirit of faith. The key thing that came out of it for me is that the human spirit, that enormously inventive power of investigation, cannot, alone, steer a person into the realms of the heavenly realities. This can only be done through the spirit of faith. The flight of the soul into the heavenly realities can only take place if the soul accesses the power of the spirit of faith. Human intellect and reason, alone, cannot do it. It is another power, beyond the human powers, that can transport us heavenwards. That power is the spirit of faith, which is beyond nature and is not a power of investigation.

Virtues appear only through the spirit of faith

The spirit of faith, or heavenly spirit, is a level of spirit above the human spirit. Unlike the human spirit, it is not a spirit of nature and it is not a power of investigation. It is a ray of light that comes from the Holy Spirit (the manifestation) and it is a bounty of God enjoyed only by the righteous. (36, 58)

The spirit of faith is the power that causes human beings to realise their spiritual capacity. Humans access it through the writings of the manifestation, which teach people the secrets and realities of the heavenly worlds. Knowledge of these spiritual worlds cannot be gained by the investigative powers of the human spirit because those worlds are beyond the material world. (36) The human spirit must be aided by the power of faith. "It is like a mirror which, although clear, polished, and brilliant is still in need of light. Until a ray of the sun reflects upon it, it cannot discover the heavenly secrets." (55)

Abdu'l-Baha gives a list of examples of divine perfections that humans acquire in attaining perfection: "These are the divine appearances, the heavenly bounties, the sublime emotions, the love and knowledge of God; universal wisdom, intellectual perception, scientific discoveries, justice, equity, truthfulness, benevolence, natural courage and innate fortitude; the respect for rights and the keeping of agreements and covenants; rectitude in all circumstances; serving the truth under all conditions; the sacrifice of one's life for the good of all people; kindness and esteem for all nations; obedience to the teachings of God; service in the Divine Kingdom; the guidance of the people, and the education of the nations and races." (15)

If any trace of these divine perfections appears in the world of nature, it is unstable, for it is not supported by the spirit of faith. It is ephemeral like the sun shining on a wall. (15)

Monday, 31 January 2011

The organisation of nature

Below is chapter 2 of my study guide on "The Philosophy of Creation in Some Answered Questions". The chapter is called "The organisation of nature". It is divided into two sections: "The structure of nature" and "Spirit and being in nature". Again, the numbers in brackets refer to chapters of SAQ. References that are up against the margin refer to the set of paragraphs above it.


The structure of nature

The material world is nature's world of appearance

Abdu'l-Baha defines 'nature' as "that condition or reality that, in appearance, consists of life and death or the composition and decomposition of things". (1)

This tells us that the appearance of nature is the world we witness as life and death, or the composition and decomposition of things. For Abdu'l-Baha, 'life and death' and 'the process of composition and decomposition' are the same thing.

The reality that appears to us in this way is the material world, which is created from things that are subject to composition and decomposition, from the largest object in outer space to the smallest atom. We think of the material world as a solid physical thing, but this apparent solidity is not what defines the material world; it is in fact the process of elements combining and recombining. Keven Brown puts it this way:

"What defines the material realm is not matter, which is an essential principle of both the material and spiritual worlds, but the ability of something to become decomposed after composition." Keven Brown, "Creation", section 3

So the world of appearance in nature is the material world.

The essence of nature is an intellectual reality

If the reality of nature has a world of appearance, this implies that part of that reality is a world that does not appear. In this respect, nature can be likened to a human being, who appears as a physical body, but who also has a rational soul, which cannot be seen.

Abdu'l-Baha says that: "nature… in its essence, is an intellectual reality and is not sensible." (16)

An intellectual reality is "a reality of the intellect; it has no outward form and no place and is not perceptible to the senses." (16)

Examples of an intellectual reality include spiritual qualities, love, sorrow and the rational soul, for these are realities but do not have a place or form and cannot be perceived by the senses. For more details on intellectual realities, see "Spirit appears in nature as a set of powers", below.

Nature's reality has a hidden dimension that is its essence. This is an intellectual reality, which means it does not have a place or form and it cannot be perceived by the senses.

The intellectual realities are nature's organisation

In Baha'i World Faith, Abdu'l-Baha gives another definition of nature, which gives us more information about the reality he had in mind when he spoke about nature. He says:

"By nature is meant those inherent properties and necessary relations derived from the realities of things. And these realities of things, though in the utmost diversity, are yet intimately connected one with the other." (p340, 344)

In this passage, Abdu'l-Baha is referring to the intellectual realities that are the invisible properties of things in nature and the relationships that exist between things. These intellectual realities and their relationships are diverse and yet they form a close network of interconnectedness.

These intellectual realities and relationships are like the properties and relationships of the parts of the human body. Each part is designed with its own purpose and influence and has crucial relationships to the other parts.

Similarly, all parts of nature are connected together like a chain and act on other parts. All have a power to influence others either directly or indirectly. This is due to the capacity for "reciprocal help, assistance and interaction" that is a property of all things. This mutual influence causes beings to come into existence, and to grow and develop. (46)

Nature is ruled by one divine organisation

"Nature in its own essence is in the grasp of the power of God … He holds Nature within accurate regulations and laws, and rules over it." (1)

Ultimately, the things in nature and their inherent realities and relationships are governed by an all-unifying power. This is the Will of God.

This all-unifying power determines the structure of the overall organisation and the laws that govern its functioning. It defines how the elements that make up the beings in nature are combined, mingled and arranged, thereby mapping out their form, purpose, influence and lifespan. Nothing can deviate from this organisation. (1)

Beings come into existence only from this natural organisation. This is why no being can come into existence by chance or by the design of humans. They can only come into being through the operation of the divine organisation. (47)

Things in nature have no will or intelligence. They act according to their inherent nature; for example, the element of fire burns, the element of water flows, plants grow and light shines according to their natures and not according to an individual will and intelligence. The exceptions to this are the beings that have perception, which are animals and humans. The movements of animals and humans are voluntary. (1)

Perfections in nature are revealed gradually

"The universe has no imperfection." The world that exists could not be better than it is, because it has been created according to the divine organisation. If the world were not perfect, this would mean the Creator lacked perfection. (46)

All beings are created perfect and complete at the start of their existence, but their perfections appear in degrees. All perfections appear when a being reaches maturity.

For example, all the perfections of the plant are contained in the seed. But these are not visible until the seed opens and begins the growth process. The plant then begins to manifest leaves, stems, branches, flowers and fruits.

In the same way, the embryo develops gradually, passing through different forms from a fertilised egg into a mature adult human being. During this process, hidden perfections in the embryo show up in the person's differing forms and strengthening abilities. For example, the perfections of spirit, mind, sight, smell and taste become manifest by degree.

Also, the earth was created from the first "with all its elements, substances, minerals, atoms and organisms". But these perfections developed gradually and appeared by degree; for example, minerals appeared first and humans appeared later.


The same principle applies to original matter, which is the embryonic state of the universe. Its earliest forms gradually grew and developed through ages and cycles until it appeared in the system of nature that we know today. (47)

The purpose of nature is human existence

The purpose of existence is to reflect the divine perfections. This purpose is carried out within the reality of humanity. For this reason, human beings are created with the ability to reflect all the divine perfections. (50)

Humans are unique among all beings in nature in their ability to reflect all the divine perfections. They constitute the highest, or chief, member of nature - like the fruit of the fruit tree of the world. (46, 52)

There was never a time when humanity did not exist, in the same way that the fruit of the tree always exists, even if it has not yet appeared on the tree. If humanity at one time did not exist, then existence would have lacked its purpose. (46)

Species do not evolve out of other species

In accordance with the principle that perfections appear gradually, the appearance of humanity in the world has passed through numerous stages and forms. Signs in the human body of redundant organs from ages past are proof of that evolution. Throughout this process, humanity has always been a distinct species. This evolutionary process should be likened to the development of the person in the womb. The embryo is, from the beginning, a human embryo and never an animal embryo. Changes in form do not mean changes in species. (47)

Again, in accordance with the principle that perfections appear gradually, the earth reveals its perfections in stages. This has meant that animals appeared on earth before humans. But this does not mean that humans were once animals. The order in which beings appear in nature is determined by the divine organisation. It is not evidence that a later species developed out of an earlier one. (49)

Individual beings in nature are unique

"No being in any respect is identical with, or the same as, another being." (81)

All things are unique. This is because all things reflect the divine perfection of oneness. This principle applies to spiritual beings as well as those composed of elements.

Because of this principle, it is impossible that a thing, with its exact same composition of elements, should appear twice in this world. Therefore, the doctrine of reincarnation, where a person, after death, is believed to return to this world in a new life, is false.

However, categories of beings, or species, do appear repeatedly in nature. For example, the same kind of tree or bird or animal appears repeatedly, and this is the reason for the appearance of species in nature. But the same individual being, with the exact same make up of elements, does not reappear in a nature. Species appear repeatedly through combinations of new elements.


Spirit and being in nature

Spirit appears in nature as a set of powers

By the word 'spirit', Abdu'l-Baha is referring to a power that a thing in nature inherently possesses as a result of the combination of its elements, which enables it to perceive realities in nature and/or have an effect on nature.

Spirits are intellectual realities; that is, they have "no outward form and no place and [are] not perceptible to the senses."(16) The only way we can access them is through our minds. Because spirits are intellectual realities, they cannot do the things that sensible realities do; for example, they do not enter and exit bodies, or come down or go up from bodies. Instead, spirits have a "direct connection" to the body or a thing. For example, the intellectual reality of knowledge is directly connected with the brain, but does not enter the brain. The relationship of "direct connection" is like that of images reflected in a mirror. (25)

Because spirits are intellectual realities and cannot be accessed directly using the senses, the proof of spirits is through the effects they produce in nature. For example, using our senses, we are able to witness that plants have the power to grow and animals have the powers of the senses. (48)

Spirit in nature is not the same thing as the 'Spirit' referred to in the scriptures; for example, where Christ says: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit”. This is because the spirits in nature are subject to composition, corruption, change and decomposition, whereas the Spirit referred to in the scriptures is a divine perfection and an effulgence of the world of the Kingdom. See Baha'i World Faith, p 370.

Four grades of spirit and being in nature

Generally speaking, there are four grades of spirit found in nature:

  1. the mineral spirit
  2. the vegetable spirit
  3. the animal spirit
  4. the human spirit. (36)

In relation to these four grades of spirit, there are four kinds of beings in nature: mineral, vegetable, animal and human. (50)

The mineral spirit

The mineral spirit is not mentioned specifically in Some Answered Questions, but in Baha'i World Faith, Abdu'l-Baha identifies that there is a spirit in the mineral:

"As to the existence of spirit in the mineral: it is indubitable that minerals are endowed with a spirit and life according to the requirements of that stage." (p 338)

Abdu'l-Baha does not say what power the mineral spirit refers to. It could refer to such phenomena as chemical reactions, electricity and nuclear power.

In Some Answered Questions (36), Abdu'l-Baha does refer to electricity and the fact that, like all else in nature, it is subject to the composition and decomposition of elements:

"So, to use another figure, electricity results from the combination of elements, and when these elements are separated, the electric force is dispersed and lost."

This tells us that he saw the power of electricity as a power of nature, whatever category of spirit he might have placed it in. The quote comes in his discussion on the vegetable spirit.

The vegetable spirit

The vegetable spirit is the power of growth. It comes about through:

  • the combination of elements
  • the mingling of substances
  • the influence, effect and connection of other existences.

When the above three requirements for the vegetable spirit are withdrawn - for example, when the elements are no longer combined - the vegetable spirit is terminated. (36)

Perfection in the vegetable world is to grow well in ideal conditions and to fruit. Prosperity in this world is to progress into, and nourish, beings in the animal and human worlds. (15)

The animal spirit

The animal spirit is the power of the senses. It perceives the reality of things from what is visible, audible, edible, tangible and smelled. (36) It is the lowest level of perception in nature. (58)

It comes about through the combination of elements and the mingling of substances. But the processes of combining and mingling are more complete and perfect than those for the vegetable spirit. It is like a lamp, which produces light when the oil, wick and fire are brought together. (36)

When the above requirements for the animal spirit are withdrawn - for example, when the elements are no longer combined - the animal spirit is terminated. (36)

Perfection in the animal world is to grow well in ideal surroundings and have all needs supplied. Prosperity in this world is to progress into, and nourish, human beings. (15)

The human spirit

The human spirit is also called the rational soul and the human reality.

The human spirit is the intellectual power of investigation and discovery, and the reasoning faculty that apprehends ideas and intelligible and sensible things. It encompasses all things. It can make discoveries in the spiritual worlds as well as in the physical world. (38) Its power is behind the development of sciences, arts, law, inventions and so on, which were once hidden and unknown. (48) The human spirit is the highest level of perception in nature. (58)

The relationship of the human spirit to the body is like the sun shining in the mirror. The sun appears in the mirror but does not descend into it. (38)

The human spirit is attracted to the human body like a magnet. This occurs when the elements of the body are brought together according to the laws of nature. (38) This attraction takes place as a matter of course, in the same way that, if a mirror is clear and facing the sun, it will certainly become illumined and reflect the sun's rays. (52)

Unlike the other spirits in nature, the human spirit does not cease to exist when the body's elements decompose. It is a "divine sign" - that is, it reflects the perfections of God - and is therefore eternal. (38)

"'Abdu’l-Bahá explains… that because the soul of man 'is not a composition of diverse elements…and is not subject to decomposition…it is ever-living, immortal, and eternal.'" Keven Brown, "Creation", section 3

More details about the human spirit will appear in the next chapter, "The nature of the human spirit".

Saturday, 15 January 2011

One manifestation: two stations

I've started reading Nader Saiedi's "Gate of the Heart". I was spurred on by Sen's raving about it on his blog and thought, well, it must be good, and therefore better than "Logos and Civilization", which I couldn't finish. I'm glad to say that some issues I had with Logos have been rectified in Gate of the Heart. A key one was that, in Logos, Saiedi would say that the Bab said this and that, but not back it up with quotes from the Bab (and it's not as if you can consult official translations). Gate of the Heart includes quotes. Yay!

The very first one blew me away. It's about the two stations of the manifestation. It isn't news to us that the manifestation has two stations; Baha'u'llah says as much in the Iqan:

"We have already in the foregoing pages assigned two stations unto each of the Luminaries arising from the Daysprings of eternal holiness. One of these stations, the station of essential unity, We have already explained. "No distinction do We make between any of them." The other is the station of distinction, and pertaineth to the world of creation and to the limitations thereof. In this respect, each Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission, a predestined Revelation, and specially designated limitations." Kitab-i-Iqan, para 191

But reading what the Bab has to say about the two stations has made me see that this two-station business is more complicated than I thought. Drawing on the three-world structure of existence (which I have covered in previous entries), I assumed that the two stations Baha'u'llah speaks of lined up with the two worlds of existence - the world of the kingdom and the world of creation - like this:
- world of God
- world of the kingdom - first station of the manifestation
- world of creation - second station of the manifestation.

My assumption wasn't wrong. But the two stations that the Bab refers to are two stations within the world of the kingdom; that is, within the world of the manifestation or, to use the Bab's terminology, within the Will or Point. So the structure looks more like this:
- world of God
- world of the kingdom - first station of the manifestation
- world of the kingdom - second station of the manifestation
- world of creation - second station of the manifestation.

On page 46, Saiedi quotes the Bab:

"Verily the Point possesseth two stations. One is the station that speaketh from God. The other is the station that speaketh from that which is other than God, a station whereby He expresseth His servitude for the former station. By virtue of the former, the latter worshippeth God in the daytime and in the night season, and glorifieth Him at morn and at eventide.

The substance of this gate is that God hath fashioned two stations for the Sun of Truth. One is the station of His unknown and unknowable Essence, the Manifestation of His Divinity. Thus, all His revealed divine verses stream forth on behalf of God....All else beyond this supreme Sign present within Him is His creation....

And within the inmost reality of all things there hath been, and will forever continue to be, a sign from God through which the unity of the Lord is celebrated. This sign, however, is a reflection of His Will present within it, through which naught is seen but God. However, within the Will, that supreme Sign is the Will Itself, the Supreme Mirror of God, which hath never referred, nor will it ever refer, to aught but God....He is the possessor of two signs, that of God and that of creation, and through the latter he worshippeth God and boweth in adoration before Him. [...]"

(The ellipsis in square brackets is mine; the others are in the original.)

In chapter one, Saiedi discusses the two stations of the manifestation with regard to the different voices of the manifestation. For example, on the one hand, Baha'u'llah speaks with the voice of God, as in the Hidden Words, and on the other hand, he speaks in supplication to God, as in the prayers and meditations. Saiedi explains that, in the first station, the manifestation speaks "from God and on behalf of God", and in the second station, speaks "to God". In the first station, the manifestation reveals "divine verses" and in the second station, reveals "prayers and supplications",(p46) which we later find out includes the passages in the writings that explain, and comment on, the divine verses.

But going back to the quote above, I understand the Bab to be saying in the third paragraph that the essence of all things is a reflection of the Will, but the essence of the manifestation is the Will itself. Following the Bab, Saiedi refers to the first station of the manifestation as the "hidden" aspect, which is pure God, and the second station of the manifestation as the "manifest" aspect, which is the self of the Will as a created reality.

This left me confused about the relationship between the second station of the manifestation in the Will and how things come into being in the world of creation. An answer came from a quote from the Bab that I found on Keven Brown's site. The Bab speaks of creation coming into existence in seven stages. The first two - Will and Purpose - equate to the two stations of the Will outlined above. Once this pairing takes place, the lower levels of creation follow as a matter of course. The two levels below Will and Purpose are Determination and Fate. The Bab says:

"The first stage of anything for which the “thingness” of existence is not a condition is the Will. The moment thingness is attached to it, it becometh Purpose, and this moment is accompanied by predestination. The manifestation of these three stages is fate. In this regard,[2] it is incumbent upon all creatures to acknowledge the spontaneity (badá’ ) of God,[3] lauded and exalted be He, for His will cannot be altered after the stage of fate; it is fixed." Quotes re the 7 stages, no 1

This quote helps me to understand better the two stations of the manifestation. 'Thingness' of existence is not a condition of the first station of the Will. The second station is its 'thingness' and, once these two come together, then existence comes into being through the stages of Predestination and Fate. The Bab says: "The names of these three at the beginning of the creative act are Will, Purpose, and predestination, which the people of eloquence express as calling-into-being, origination, invention, creation and being made". Quotes re the 7 stages, no 6

The final three stages of creation are called permission, fixed time and book.

I have by no means finished Saiedi's book. This subject is complex, and every time I sit down to read about it, I learn more. I will therefore write more as I can make sense of it.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

The nature of existence

I'm working on a study guide on the philosophical principles found in Some Answered Questions. The book is structured according to answers to questions, but running through the answers is a system of thought, which gets lost in the question-answer structure. I've tried here to bring that system out.

Below is a draft of chapter 1, "The nature of existence". I expect to fill it out with more detail in the final version. But I thought I'd put it up at this stage to show what I'm up to and because the material is interesting even now, I think.

The numbers in brackets refer to chapters in Some Answered Questions from which the referenced material is drawn.

Comments welcome.

The nature of existence

The three conditions and worlds of existence

There are three conditions of existence:
- divinity - the existence of God
- prophethood - the existence of the manifestations
- servitude - the existence of creation. (62)

This means that there are three kinds of existence or degrees of existence.

Each of these conditions of existence has a corresponding world of existence:
- the world of God
- the world of the Kingdom
- the world of creation. (82)

The reality of existence in each of the three worlds is different.

The conditions of existence place limits on the way a thing can develop. A human being, who is created in and for the world of creation, can never develop into a manifestation, and a manifestation can never develop to a state of perfection equivalent to that of God. (37)

The lower cannot comprehend the higher

Abdu'l-Baha asserts the following principle: (37)

That which is lower cannot comprehend that which is higher.

In terms of the three worlds of existence, this principle means that human beings cannot understand the world of God or the world of prophethood. Humans have no idea what it means to say that God 'exists' in the world of God, nor can humans comprehend the reality of prophethood in the manifestations.

This principle also applies to the various levels of existence found within the world of creation; for example, the mineral world cannot comprehend the vegetable world, the vegetable world cannot understand the animal world, and animals cannot understand the intellectual powers of human beings.

The world of God is beyond attributes

As explained above, the reality of divinity is a realm of existence that we cannot understand. Because of this, whatever the characteristics of that world are, we cannot know them. (37)

However, humans can witness signs, reflections and appearances of God in the world of creation. We commonly refer to the perfections of God that we witness in this world as the names and attributes of God. But these names and attributes are not the actual perfections of God, for whatever those are we cannot understand them.

God is the source of all perfection but is not limited to perfection as it is manifested in the lower worlds of existence. Therefore, when we say that God has names and attributes such as the Generous and the Merciful, we do not assert that God is generous and merciful, we assert that God is not capable of being miserly and mean. We are not describing God's perfections, but denying that God has any imperfection. (37)

The object of existence is the appearance of the perfections of God. (50)

The names and attributes need beings

Abdu'l-Baha asserts the following principle: (47, 80)

The names and attributes of God require the existence of beings.

By this is meant that the names and attributes need beings to display the characteristics of their perfections. In practical terms, this means that, for a person to be a lover, they need a beloved; for a person to be a teacher, they need a pupil and so on. If there is no being on which the characteristics of the perfection is manifested, then the perfection cannot be witnessed in reality.

Absolute non-existence cannot become existence

Abdu'l-Baha asserts the following principle: (47, 80)

Absolute non-existence cannot become existence.

If beings were once absolutely non-existent, then existence would not come into being. This is because absolute non-existence does not have the capacity for existence.

Creation has always existed

Based on the two principles outlined above, Abdu'l-Baha explains that creation has always existed; that is, it does not have a beginning, and, for the same reasons, does not have an end. (47)

Firstly, based on the principle that the names and attributes require beings, if God is to be assigned the names Creator, Pre-existent and Everlasting, there must be a corresponding creation that has always existed and always will exist in some form or other. To imagine a time when beings did not exist is to imagine an imperfection in God - that there was once a time when God was not a creator.

Secondly, if absolute non-existence cannot become existence, then existence must always have been a reality in some form or another.

Original matter was arranged into infinite forms

The first things to exist were created from matter, which was one. (47) The different aspects of matter appeared in different elements and this produced various forms. Over a very long time, these elements became permanent and specialised, and were combined and arranged, according to a natural organisation and universal law, into infinite forms and beings.

Existence and non-existence are relative

The concepts of existence and non-existence are relative. To say that a thing has come into existence from non-existence is to say that the condition it was in before was a condition of 'nothingness' compared to what it is now. But that 'nothingness' is not absolute non-existence. (80)

For example, man comes into existence from dust. Both man and dust exist. (80) But in relation to each other, man exists and dust does not - dust in relation to man is 'nothingness'. Similarly, when a person's body no longer 'exists', that means it has passed back into dust.

Things develop by passing from one level of existence to another.

Existence is in motion

Abdu'l-Baha asserts the following principle (63):

All things are in motion.

Nothing stays in the same state. This means that the process whereby elements combine, disassociate, recombine and bring about changes in form, is going on all the time in all things.

This state of motion is essential - that is, natural - to all things. It cannot be separated from them.

All that is composed of elements must decompose

Abdu'l-Baha asserts the following principle (47):

All that is composed of elements is subject to decomposition.

Every composition, collective or particular, must of necessity be decomposed. Some quickly decompose, others more slowly. It is impossible that a composed thing should not eventually be decomposed.