Thursday, 30 September 2010

More on "He is God"

A kind reader wrote and asked me to write more about the phrase "He is God", as I suggested I might. So here's part 2.

What I had in mind to mention was the link between the new phrase "He is God" and the advent of the new "Day of God". As I discussed in my previous message, Baha'u'llah has been singled out by God for His own sake. Baha'u'llah's revelation is a supreme one in that God decided to reveal himself in Baha'u'llah. Up to now, God has set limits on what the manifestations were permitted to reveal, but with Baha'u'llah, he let the limits go. The grace associated with this generous act is infinite and has ushered in what we refer to as The Day of God. It seems to me, then, that if Baha'u'llah is the Self of God manifest, then it is logical that we would simply say of him: "He is God".

But I also think that the change in wording from "No God is there but God" to "He is God" has implications for how we are required to respond to the call of God in this Day. With this being the Day of God, the only fitting response for believers is to be wholly absorbed in God. Anything less is unacceptable. We are asked to detach ourselves from all else but God. It is a primary requirement of a seeker:

"That seeker must, at all times, put his trust in God, must renounce the peoples of the earth, must detach himself from the world of dust, and cleave unto Him Who is the Lord of Lords." (Iqan, para 213)

This idea that we must be detached from all save God is everywhere in the writings. Here are some random instances from MARS:

"Turn ye away from all that is on earth and seek none else but Me." (Tablets of Baha'u'llah,p 169)

"My sole purpose hath been to hand down unto men that which I was bidden to deliver by God, the Gracious, the Incomparable, that it may detach them from all that pertaineth to this world, and cause them to attain such heights as neither the ungodly can conceive, nor the froward imagine." (Gleanings, p 108)

"Detach yourselves from all else but Me, and turn your faces towards My face, for better is this for you than the things ye possess." (Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, p 257)

"Peruse My verses with joy and radiance. Verily they will attract you unto God and will enable you to detach yourselves from aught else save Him." (Importance of Deepening, p 188)

The quotes tell me that we are being asked to be wholly absorbed in God. In that absorbed state, it makes no sense to say, in an objective way, "There is no God but God", because now we are 'inside' God and saying "He is God". The negative forces of "no", don't have a reality there. They have been wiped away. And we should wipe their reality away from our hearts too by forgetting about them and being wholly focused on Baha'u'llah and magnifying his name.

In my own words, I would say "He is a jealous God" (in a nice way). A jealous lover is a person who forbids their beloved from turning their attention to any thing else but the lover. And a jealous lover is a serious force to be reckoned with. The slightest distraction is unacceptable. That is how I think of Baha'u'llah. But I like that, because he's so cool to be with, who would want to be with anyone else anyway? It makes my life happy because I am doing the one thing I want to do, and the one thing Baha'u'llah would have me do. It's a win-win.

Also, I've thought a lot about those negative 'no' forces, and have come to the conclusion that they are bigger than me by a mile, in any case. It was a huge relief to realise that what was required of me was to love Baha'u'llah, and not to win a battle with the negative forces. Baha'u'llah is more powerful than any negative force and is able to deal with them as he pleases. He is God, not me. The purpose of creation is for the believer to return to God; the sideshows are a mirage for those given to distractions.

"This is not the day for any man to question his Lord. When thou hearest the call of God voiced by Him Who is the Dayspring of grandeur, cry out: ’Here am I, O Lord of all names! Here am I, O Maker of the heavens! I testify that Thou hast revealed Thyself and hast revealed whatsoever Thou didst desire at Thine Own behest. Thou, in truth, art the Lord of strength and might.’” Tabernacle of Unity 2:11

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Day not followed by night

I'm finally ready to tackle this thorny one. I've been thinking about it for ages. Finally, a week or so back, I saw it in my heart and decided to record what I saw here.

I began thinking hard about this verse because it bears on the infallibility issue. Baha'is believe that, with this being the Day that shall not be followed by night, the Baha'is will never go off the straight path because the House of Justice is infallible and will guide them aright. House infallibility, therefore, is integral to the common interpretation of this verse. Needless to say, I think this interpretation is magical thinking. But it challenged me to think about what the verse does mean.

I don't know all the places where Baha'u'llah writes about this Day not being followed by night, but my commentary will be on its use in Suriy-i-Haykal, paragraph 63:

"O Temple of Holiness! We, verily, have cleansed Thy breast from the whisperings of the people and sanctified it from earthly allusions, that the light of My beauty may appear therein and be reflected in the mirrors of all the worlds. Thus have We singled Thee out above all that hath been created in the heavens and the earth, and above all that hath been decreed in the realms of revelation and creation, and chosen Thee for Our own Self. This is but an evidence of the bounty which God hath vouchsafed unto Thee, a bounty which shall last until the Day that hath no end in this contingent world. It shall endure so long as God, the Supreme King, the Help in Peril, the Mighty, the Wise, shall endure. For the Day of God is none other but His own Self, Who hath appeared with the power of truth. This is the Day that shall not be followed by night, nor shall it be bounded by any praise, would that ye might understand!"

In my view, when Baha'u'llah speaks of the Day that is not followed by night, he is referring to a transcendent spiritual reality - the one that came into existence with his appearance. The paragraph above tells us that Baha'u'llah has been singled out "for Our own Self" and that this bounty to him "shall last until the Day that hath no end in this contingent world". So the 'Day' that will not end is the spiritual reality of the bounty that came into existence when Baha'u'llah appeared.

The way I understand this is as follows: Baha'u'llah explains in the Kitab-i Iqan that no distinction is to be made between the manifestations. They are all one and reflect all the names and attributes of God. However, their revelations differ in their intensity, which means that, if some manifestations appeared not to show certain divine qualities, this was because of the purpose of their revelation not because the manifestation did not inherently posses that quality.

What we see in Baha'u'llah is God revealing "his own Self". Baha'u'llah's revelation is a supreme one in that God decided not to hold back anything and decided to reveal all of himself. Up to now, God has set limits on what the manifestations were permitted to reveal, but with Baha'u'llah, he let the limits go a great deal. The grace associated with this generous act is infinite and has ushered in what we refer to as the Day of God, for in revelation terms, God himself has been revealed in Baha'u'llah.

The logic of the phrase in question follows from this. What night could be followed by such a Day? Once God has been revealed, how could a night follow? This Day of God "shall endure so long as God, the Supreme King, the Help in Peril, the Mighty, the Wise, shall endure", as the passage above says, so basically nothing can follow it.

I am greatly struck by this idea of a reality being never ending. When I meditate on it, it forces me to think about how huge God is, that he has created this bounty that will never end. I believe the same 'never-ending' idea is also found in Baha'u'llah's Mathnavi. There, Baha'u'llah introduces the idea of a never-ending Spring. He first mentions it in line 36: "Bring a new green spring for all to see/raise up the dead for Your Resurrection", and continues discussing its qualities for another 30 verses.

But within this eternal Spring-time that Baha'u'llah's appearance has brought about, other familiar cycles continue, such as the cycle of revelation. Baha'u'llah tells us in the Kitab-i Iqan that a manifestation does not come unless the condition of 'oppression' exists in the world. In other words, for a manifestation to appear, the people of this world must have gone astray.

"What 'oppression' is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it? … This 'oppression' is the essential feature of every Revelation. Unless it cometh to pass, the Sun of Truth will not be made manifest. For the break of the morn of divine guidance must needs follow the darkness of the night of error." Iqan, para 29

Here is the potential source of confusion. On the one hand, Baha'u'llah says that this Day shall not be followed by night, but on the other, he says that the darkness of error must exist before another manifestation will come. As I understand it, this apparent contradiction is explained by recognising that these two statements are true on different levels. Baha'u'llah's eternal Spring-time is an endless Day in the spiritual realm of the Kingdom. Baha'u'llah's many mystical works describe how its appearance affected that, and other, spiritual realms. This Day reigns outside of time; in fact, it reigns over all of the past and all of the future (500,000 years), which I think this verse in Tablet of the Bell refers to:

"Praised be Thou, O my God, I beseech Thee by Thy Day, whereon all days have been resurrected, and by Thy enumerating from it both former and latter times."

But within Baha'u'llah's eternal supra-Day, the cycle of revelation will continue, manifestations will come and go, and that will involve humanity passing through the darkness of error. This means that the Baha'is will experience a night too, and that, when it comes, their leaders will fall like stars from heaven, just as previous ones have.

"[The revelation of Baha'u'llah] will constitute the first stage in a series of Dispensations, to be established by future Manifestations, all deriving their inspiration from the Author of the Baha'i Revelation, and destined to last, in their aggregate, no less than five thousand centuries. "(Shoghi Effendi: Citadel of Faith, p5)

The Baha'i interpretation of 'the Day not followed by night' verse results in a similar error to the one made by Muslims over 'the seal of the prophets' verse. Again, it is a matter of understanding a verse on its correct level. It is true that Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets, but Baha'u'llah tells us that this statement applies to the transcendent reality of the manifestation - firstly, that it is true of all manifestations and, secondly, that it is true of Muhammad specifically because it identifies his revelation as coming immediately before the Day of God. So, even though Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets, this does not mean the cycle of revelation has ended, as most Muslims believe.

Similarly, the statement that this is the Day not followed by night is about the nature and intensity of Baha'u'llah's revelation - that Baha'u'llah revealed the Self of God. It does not mean that, all of a sudden, the Baha'is can never go off the straight path! God forbid. This interpretation is also a claim to the finality of revelation, for the night of error is a necessary requirement for a manifestation to appear.

I am not suggesting that the reality of Baha'u'llah's eternal Day does not affect what happens in this physical world. The Most Great Peace will come, and life across globe will get easier. But this does not mean that God will stop sending his messages in ways that are contrary to our idle fancies, and it also does not mean that humans will stop rejecting God's signs.

Friday, 3 September 2010

On wealth

I was inspired to write on wealth again here because I've just read a fabulous paragraph, newly translated, in which Baha'u'llah is quoted by Nabil, making one of his usual hard-hitting one-liners. The paragraph appears on a new blog called Kashkul, which is put together by Will McCants. I can't recommend the blog highly enough. Will can translate the writings from the original languages and his entries are fresh translations of material not seen in English before. Here's the paragraph from Nabil's unpublished account:

One day in the outer part of the Blessed House (in Baghdad), one of the travelers from Tehran respectfully asked the Presence (Baha’u’llah), "How large of a stipend and expenditure does the Sadr A`zam (chancellor) allot you every month such that all the expenses which arise are completely taken care of?" (Baha’u’llah) said, "I should give the likes of the Sadr A`zam a salary, not them bestow it on me. My affairs are with God and not in the trust of others."

Nabil Zarandi’s unpublished history, excerpted in Mazandarani, Zuhur al-Haqq, 4: 227-8

Translated by Will McCants in "Fool's Gold"

What a scream. Baha'u'llah's comment captures the issue of wealth in a nutshell: no one gives Baha'u'llah a stipend; he gives everyone else one!

I have certainly been hit hard economically by events of the global financial crisis. For several years, I had a greatly reduced income. I would listen to the radio and think that getting work was very unlikely, given the economic situation. I focused on the depressing things going on around me and was resigned. In my prayers, I would beg Baha'u'llah to lead me to work or some source of income.

But during the year Steve and I were preparing to move north, I had no time to worry about it. I got used to being poor and started looking at the bright side. I adjusted my habits to accommodate my lack of income. I became inventive with my cooking, so that I eventually used all items in my cupboards, which had been there for years. When I had plenty of money, I never looked at them. When I had no money, I ate in a more healthy way because I had no money to be slack and buy everything from the supermarket.

As I began to let go the worry about money, I found myself becoming increasingly joyful. I felt free. Everyone worries about money. It's very difficult not to catch the disease. I shifted my focus from worry about lack of income to a joyful reliance on God. Might as well be happy, as anything, I thought.

When we got to our new home, I was in a position to work again. I began again asking Baha'u'llah if he would send me work. But this time, I took a new approach. I saw that I could suddenly revert into my worry state again, now that I had time to think more about the reality of my situation. The minute any kind of worry about money threatened, I saw how it impacted on my connection to Baha'u'llah. The joy would disappear and the darkness would threaten. I thought: 'no, I have survived this far, I am not about to start worrying again. I will ask Baha'u'llah respectfully for help, then leave it with him.' For I had learned that being happy and near Baha'u'llah was much more fun than worrying.

Two weeks later, a guy I worked for many years ago rang out of the blue and offered me lots of work.

The moral of the story is summed up in the following Word of Wisdom:

"The essence of wealth is love for Me; whoso loveth Me is the possessor of all things, and he that loveth Me not is indeed of the poor and needy." Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p156

If you need wealth, turn your heart to Baha'u'llah and focus on your love for him. Don't hassle him about money. He is the one that dishes out the stipends; that's easy for him. Higher on his agenda is for us to love him and be near him. And that means we love him for his own sake, not because he can do things for us.

It occurred to me that this conclusion is backed up by the Tablet of Ahmad. The whole tablet is about truly recognising God and how important that is. At the very end, Baha'u'llah says he'll sort out all our problems if we say the tablet sincerely. This suggests that getting our hearts in the right place is what matters. The rest is worthy of just a final comment.

Commentary on Tablet of the Son

 Commentary on Tablet of the Son