Thursday, 9 December 2010

Proceeding through manifestation

I have found a preliminary answer to a question that has been bothering me for some time. The issue is this: if everything in creation, including the manifestation of God, proceeds from God by way of emanation, what do Baha'is mean by the term 'manifestation' in the phrase 'manifestation of God'?

Unfortunately, I cannot find in the writings a definition of the word 'emanation'. It is always explained using analogies. A common analogy Abdu'l-Baha gives for proceeding from emanation is the rays of light from the sun. It is said that these emanate from the sun because the sun does not resolve itself into the rays; rather, the rays just come out of the sun, while the sun remains unchanged. Other analogies are action from an actor, writing from a writer, a discourse from a speaker. These are all examples of proceeding through emanation because the essence or reality of the cause does not literally appear in the effect. In other words, the cause does not divide into parts in order to create the effect. Rather, the effect just comes out of the cause.

Proceeding through emanation is always contrasted with proceeding through manifestation. Abdu'l-Baha does define proceeding through manifestation (SAQ ch54): "the proceeding through manifestation means the manifestation of the reality of a thing in other forms". A common example he gives is that of a seed. A seed proceeds through a process of manifestation to become a tree. This is because the actual seed - its reality or essence - changes form, taking on the form of a seedling, and so on until it is a fully grown tree. Given this idea, I think all forms of 'seeds' would proceed through manifestation. For example, the egg and sperm, once joined, would proceed through manifestation to become an adult human. But other, different, examples include the way that water changes its form into steam or ice, and the way the ocean changes its form continually with the activity of waves.

The reason the contrast between proceeding through emanation and through manifestation is emphasised in the writings is because some philosophers believed that creation was a manifestation of God; in other words, something of the essence of God was to be found in all things. But the Baha'i writings reject this outright, emphasising the important distinction between proceeding through emanation and through manifestation. All things emanate from God - that is, come out of God - but they are not manifestations of God - that is, the essence of God does not change form and become a part of created things. This would mean that God had become divided into parts. Instead, Abdu'l-Baha explains (ch54) that God is in one condition and that condition never changes.

This brought me to my question: if every created thing is an emanation of God, what do we mean by the word 'manifestation' when we refer to Baha'u'llah as the 'manifestation of God'? For, it is certain that the manifestation of God is an emanation of God and not a manifestation of God in the sense that we discussed above. The answer came in SAQ ch54 where Abdu'l-Baha is explaining proceeding through manifestation. He says:

"But the proceeding through manifestation (if by this is meant the divine appearance, and not division into parts), we have said, is the proceeding and the appearance of the Holy Spirit and the Word, which is from God." (p 206)

I finally woke up to the very important distinction that is made in the brackets. The bit in brackets makes it clear that there are two meanings to proceeding through manifestation:
1. the manifestation of the reality of a thing in other forms - this is the seed becoming a tree, which involves the seed dividing itself into parts
2. the divine appearance.

So the appearance of the divine in creation - or, put another way, the manifestation of the divine in creation - is a different sense of the word 'manifestation' to that of the reality of a thing resolving itself into different parts and forms. It seems to me that the first definition is a philosophical one - it is a special technical meaning used by philosophers. The second definition is more in line with the dictionary definition: "the demonstration, revelation, or display of the existence, presence, qualities, or nature of some person or thing". (New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary)

Abdu'l-Baha then goes on to explain what is meant by proceeding through manifestation in the second sense - the divine appearance. Basically, the proceeding through manifestation in this sense means the appearance of the Holy Spirit and the Word, which are the perfections of God. This is very close to the dictionary definition of 'manifestation', the idea of the display of the qualities of a thing. Abdu'l-Baha gives an example of this: the reflection of the sun in a mirror. This reflection displays all the qualities of the sun - the heat, light, and image. So when we say that Baha'u'llah is a 'manifestation of God', we mean that he manifests or displays the perfections and qualities of God, including God's existence, presence and nature. This is in line with the dictionary definition of 'manifestation' but not the philosophical one.

But note that the reflection of an image in a mirror is still an emanation - the image emanates from its cause and appears in the mirror. The image is a manifestation in the sense of a display of its cause, but an emanation in relation to how it originates from its cause.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Active force and recipient

I continue with my reading of the dissertation about Shaykh Ahmad's philosophy, Idris Hamid: "The Metaphysics and Cosmology of Process According to Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i", which I downloaded from Dissertation Express. I've read a small passage that I thought I could reproduce here, and which would make sense without the hundreds of pages of explanation that have gone before. Hamid gives an illustration, in my view, of what Baha'u'llah is referring to in the famous creation passage from Tablet of Wisdom:

"The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different... Such as communicate the generating influence and such as receive its impact are indeed created through the irresistible Word of God which is the Cause of the entire creation, while all else besides His Word are but the creatures and the effects thereof." (Tablets p140)

I explained in a previous entry "Notes on the three worlds of existence" that the first 'world' or realm of existence that emanates from the the Essence of God is, variously called, the world of the Kingdom, the Primal Will, the world of Command, the Word of God. Shaykh Ahmad also refers to it as "the First Creation" (Hamid p241) and "Absolute Existence". As I explained in my previous entry, "Being a throbbing artery", Shaykh Ahmad argues that every thing in creation is a composite of existence and essence. The only 'thing' that is not subject to this division is the Essence of God. Its existence is the same as its essence; it is the only truly simple 'thing'. Every thing else is a composite of its existence and its essence (ie, form). This distinction between existence and essence is the same distinction that Baha'u'llah is making between the "active force" and its "recipient". This is clear because, Shaykh Ahmad explains, existence is active and its recipient, essence, is 'passive' - although it is not truly passive, because it is active in its passivity. (Shaykh Ahmad likens it to the 7th form of the Arabic verb, the medio-passive, which is active in form and passive in meaning.)

Shaykh Ahmad explains that this distinction between existence and essence is very subtle at the level of the First Creation and becomes increasingly pronounced at the level of physical reality (p251). At the level of the First Creation, Shaykh Ahmad refers to the aspect of existence as "Willing in Possibility" (p253). At this level, 'existence' is, basically, a realm of possibilities. Shaykh Ahmad refers to the aspect of essence, at the level of the First Creation, as "Willing in Being". Looking at God's Willing from this point of view, it is in a state of actively receiving possibilities and is therefore like a realm infinite possible impressions. The impressions that are actually realised constitute things - what Shaykh Ahmad calls "delimited existence".

Idris Hamid gives a helpful illustration of the interaction between "Willing in Possibility" and "Willing in Being". I think it shows how the two are the same and yet different, and active and receptive, as Baha'u'llah describes them. It's impossible to get one's head around what Baha'u'llah is saying, without a concrete example (for we all rely on sensible images for understanding, as Abdu'l-Baha explains in SAQ ch16). Here is the example - from page 254 of the dissertation.

"Consider a quantity of water. Water has its own configuration, through its molecular structure etc. Now consider that water flowing through a riverbed. The riverbed may be considered as the form of the water. The water inheres in it and, from the geological perspective, defines and determines it over time. The riverbed receives the water and continually becomes though its very receiving of the water. Yet though the riverbed gives form to the water, it does not affect the water's configuration. Yet the configuration of the water determines all of the water's chemical and geological possibilities. It makes it possible for, and determines the manner in which, the water creates the riverbed. The water considered by itself is like Willing-in-Possibility. The water considered with regards to the riverbed is like Willing-in-Being."

I think the illustration is a bit confusing in that Hamid seems to shift from saying that the actual riverbed is the form of the water (which it cannot literally be) to saying that "the water considered with regards to the riverbed" is the form of the water (which it must be). But, that aside, what comes through from the example is the idea that one thing - ie, water - has two aspects and can be viewed from each - in itself (existence), and in relation to its form (the shape of the riverbed). Both aspects are the same yet different; one is active (water in itself) and one receptive (water in the shape of the riverbed).

I thought the image of the water flowing through the riverbed was a nice image of the infinite flow of possibilities and impressions of the Word through the reality of things.

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

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