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.

Commentary on Tablet of the Son

 Commentary on Tablet of the Son