Tuesday, 31 July 2007

The primal call

I wanted to talk some more about why it is important to approach God through our inner selves and not through others, such as the House of Justice. As I explained last time, the inner self - that is, our soul - is the vehicle by which we are linked permanently to God. Through this celestial umbilical cord, we know God and communicate with God.

One reason it is important that we look to our own souls to know God is that God has imprinted them with key information. This information tells us the essential nature of our relationship with God - that God has a primary claim on us and therefore God's will, desire and love are greater than any other concern.

Baha'u'llah describes how this claim was made, in the Hidden Words. He describes a scene in pre-eternity in which we are told about the primal call and its importance to us:

O My friends! Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all-glorious paradise? Awe-struck ye listened as I gave utterance to these three most holy words: O friends! Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired for you, and approach Me not with lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings. Would ye but sanctify your souls, ye would at this present hour recall that place and those surroundings, and the truth of My utterance should be made evident unto all of you." Persian Hidden Words, no 19)

Baha'u'llah tells us that, in a radiant morn, he seated us under a tree and then gave us some instructions: to be satisfied with what God has willed and desired for you and to invest your heart in your communication with God. Then he tells us that if we sanctify our souls, we'd remember that scene and the guidance he gave us.

The point I want to make is that the soul is the key here. It is the reality that has the memory placed in it. Only by going back to our souls and forgetting all else can we read the instructions of the celestial imprint placed on us.

This fundamental spiritual process can never take place in the soul of someone else. We cannot grow spiritually by relying on someone else's memory of the instructions given on that radiant dawn. We have to remember it ourselves within ourselves. If someone else tells you that God has a claim on you that trumps all others and, out of fear or persuasion, you believe them, can you be said to have remembered it yourself?

Baha'u'llah tells us that our faith cannot be conditioned on another - "For the faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself." (Gleanings, LXXV). This means not only that we can't justify our disbelief on the fact that others disbelieved, but also that we can't justify our belief on the fact that others believed.

Those like Counsellor Murphy (I'll call them 'loyalists') who tell us that we have been given a gift to see God through the eyes of the House of Justice say this because they believe that this is the path to uniting the community. They fear that if individuals are left to see God for themselves, they'll go off in all directions and chaos will reign.

If, as I am arguing, God wants us to develop our link with God through our souls, what was God's plan for overcoming what the loyalists fear? If we all looked within, instead of to the House, how would that lead to unity? The answer is that, if we looked within, we'd all find God. We'd all find the divine reality and the divine attributes that Baha'u'llah tells us have been placed in there. (I have covered this issue of God within in my previous message.)

But, in addition to that, we'd also discover the important instructions that God imprinted on our souls in pre-eternity. They have been placed there so that, when we look within, we'll immediately see that God has an absolute claim on us. We'd see God's will, desire and love are over us and greater than any other influence. This inner recognition leads to the fear of God and to our willing compliance with God's purpose for us. And this brings about unity. No one who has truly remembered that scene from pre-eternity is going to be lead by self and passion.

To have everyone looking to the House of Justice is not the path to unity. Firstly, it is inconsistent with the plan God has mapped out for us, where we are all asked to look within. Secondly, it is not spiritually fulfilling for the believers. They never attain the direct link with the divine through their own souls, which is their birthright. Thirdly, it limits the community's vision to that of the nine souls on the House. What of the vision of others? How can the community be successful in teaching if the vision of each member is not brought to bear on the task?

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Turn thy sight unto thyself

For those who may have missed it, here's a passage from Counsellor Murphy's talk at the 2007 US Convention:

"We don't want to be those people who want to see God with their own eyes, or hear His melody with their own ears, because we have been given the gift of being able to see through the eyes of the House of Justice and listen through the ears of the House of Justice."

I'm not going to dwell on the fact that Baha'u'llah says we should see God with our own eyes and ears. No doubt readers will know those passages already. However, here's one passage, which I'll cite for the sake of argument, that isn't often quoted and contains the ideas I do want to discuss:

O son of the throne! Thy hearing is My hearing, hear thou therewith. Thy sight is My sight, do thou see therewith, that in thine inmost soul thou mayest testify unto My exalted sanctity, and I within Myself may bear witness unto an exalted station for thee." Arabic Hidden Words, no 44

I want to look at how Baha'u'llah says our interactions with God should take place. This is really basic stuff - basic to religion and our relationship with God. If we don't understand how this interaction works, we're not going to get anywhere. And it isn't difficult. Baha'u'llah maps out the mechanics of it in the Hidden Words, which is the nuts and bolts of religion.

One clear statement about what we should do is here:

"Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting." Arabic Hidden Words, no 13

Step one, then, is to turn in the direction of our inner self. Baha'u'llah tells us a lot of important information about what God's created in there. He tells us, for example, that our inner self is:
-- God's stronghold, the place where God's love is found and the place where we can get 'near' to God (AHW 10),
-- God's lamp and the place where God's light is found (AHW 11 and 12)
-- rich and noble (AHW 13)
-- God's dominion, light, glory and robe (AHW 14)
-- a breath of God's spirit (AHW 19).

I ask you, what could be clearer? Turn your sight towards your inner self and you'll find out that you exist because God loves you, that God has placed the essence of his light in you and that God has created you rich, with the most noble attributes. It's simple; it's the purpose of our existence, so why would God make it difficult?

Now, why does it go wrong? We turn our sight towards ourselves, all right, but instead of finding the divine self God has placed in there, we access the false self created out of self and passion and allow that to rule us. I don't want to dwell on that here. Following on from Counsellor Murphy's quote above, I want to mention the other thing that can go wrong: we listen to our religious leaders instead of ourselves. (This is related to self and passion as well, but I'll treat it as separate here.)

To be fair, it makes sense that we should listen to our religious leaders. We have to work with them for the day-to-day functioning of the community. It's natural for us to think they might have better ideas than us. I don't have any problems with that. But Counsellor Murphy's statement goes well beyond that. She is not telling us that we should give the House a fair hearing, she's telling us that the only way we can know God is through the House of Justice!

"We don't want to be those people who want to see God with their own eyes, or hear His melody with their own ears, because we have been given the gift of being able to see through the eyes of the House of Justice and listen through the ears of the House of Justice."

I've always maintained, and I know this might sound silly, but if God had intended to give the House of Justice such an exalted station, he'd have mentioned it in the Hidden Words.

On the contrary, what Baha'u'llah does discuss in the Hidden Words in glorious detail is the importance of the divine self of every human being in creation. Each person's inner self is the link that person has with the Creator. It's the umbilical cord by which we are nurtured throughout eternity. When we die, we travel in the 'vehicle' of that link to the next world and we leave the House of Justice behind. That link is vital to our existence. Without it, we die.

If the House of Justice was so important in the process, how would we get on in the next world when we no longer had the House to rely on? Here's a possible scenario:

Baha'u'llah: "Now, tell me, Peter, what made you feel justified in doing that?

Peter: "I'm sorry, Baha'u'llah, I can't understand what you're saying because I don't have the House of Justice to interpret it for me!"

And so, you wonder on what basis Counsellor Murphy says we have been given the "gift" of being able to see God through the eyes and ears of the House. What gift is that exactly? It's not in the Hidden Words. It's true that we've been given a gift, but it's a darn sight better than being able to see God through the House. We can do it ourselves. That's our gift. We have been created noble, why do we bring ourselves down to poverty by relying on the House?

Forthcoming book about Baha'u'llah's mystical teachings

  Paradise of Presence: Conversations in the Mindscape of Eternity by Alison Elizabeth Marshall