Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Paragraph 144

Similarly, call thou to mind the day when the Jews, who had surrounded Jesus, Son of Mary, were pressing Him to confess His claim of being the Messiah and Prophet of God, so that they might declare Him an infidel and sentence Him to death. Then, they led Him away, He Who was the Day-star of the heaven of divine Revelation, unto Pilate and Caiaphas, who was the leading divine of that age. The chief priests were all assembled in the palace, also a multitude of people who had gathered to witness His sufferings, to deride and injure Him. Though they repeatedly questioned Him, hoping that He would confess His claim, yet Jesus held His peace and spake not. Finally, an accursed of God arose and, approaching Jesus, adjured Him saying: “Didst thou not claim to be the Divine Messiah? Didst thou not say, ‘I am the King of Kings, My word is the Word of God, and I am the breaker of the Sabbath day?’” Thereupon Jesus lifted up His head and said: “Beholdest thou not the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and might?” These were His words, and yet consider how to outward seeming He was devoid of all power except that inner power which was of God and which had encompassed all that is in heaven and on earth. How can I relate all that befell Him after He spoke these words? How shall I describe their heinous behaviour towards Him? They at last heaped on His blessed Person such woes that He took His flight unto the fourth Heaven.

"Similarly"? Similar to what?

In the previous number of paragraphs we have seen how the wealth and sovereignty wielded by the Manifestations are not the wealth and sovereignty that most people think of when they consider these terms. And so similarly Jesus was sitting at the "right hand of power and might", although to those around Him He seemed devoid of those things.

Again and again Baha'u'llah is showing us how those standards by which we judge those around us fail when considering the Messengers and the Holy Ones.

This is another example of how we often fail to look at the spiritual reality, dwelling instead on the material.

But let's look at this from the perspective of the uncle of the Bab. How would he have seen this example?

To start, he was probably not all that familiar with Christian apologetics, so we won't go into that. But we know that he recognized Jesus as a Manifestation of God, and he would have agreed with what Jesus was saying. He also would have likely made a connection between this story from the Bible and the stories of Muhammad being asked to prove His Station, too. When asked to demonstrate a miracle, Muhammad pointed out that the Qur'an itself was a miracle. Was Muhammad a ruler over men, in the material sense? Of course not. Was He a sovereign? Again, not in the material sense.

Over and over Baha'u'llah is showing these, and similar stories, reminding us that we should not judge the Bab by these deficient standards. It is as Baha'u'llah says, way back in the first couple paragraphs of this book: that no one "shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding" until we cease "to regard the words and deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true understanding and recognition of God and His Prophets".

Interestingly enough, we were looking at this and wondering where we had seen this notion of a deficient standard. We knew that there was a quote we had read about it that sort of nailed it, but could not remember where it was. And then, after a quick search, we discovered, to our vast amusement, that it was in the first two paragraphs of this book. Even now, so far into it, Baha'u'llah is still bringing us back to the very beginning of this same volume.

Now, as for how this applies to us, it is nothing short of a stark reminder that we, too, need to keep the standard of God firmly in our sight. It is so easy to be distracted by the arguments of those who would deny this Faith, claiming that it does not fulfill the various prophecies or promises in the way that they would demand. Here, Baha'u'llah is alluding to that quote from Gleanings, number 42, "Follow thou the footsteps of thy Lord, and remember His servants even as He doth remember thee, undeterred by either the clamor of the heedless ones or the sword of the enemy.... Spread abroad the sweet savors of thy Lord, and hesitate not, though it be for less than a moment, in the service of His Cause."

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Paragraph 143

This poverty and these riches, this abasement and glory, this dominion, power, and the like, upon which the eyes and hearts of these vain and foolish souls are set,—all these things fade into utter nothingness in that Court! Even as He hath said: “O men! Ye are but paupers in need of God; but God is the Rich, the Self-Sufficing.” By ‘riches’ therefore is meant independence of all else but God, and by ‘poverty’ the lack of things that are of God.

Way back in paragraph 102, the first paragraph of Part 2, you will recall He wrote, "He verily is independent of all earthly dominion, though He be utterly destitute." Here, Baha'u'llah is continuing to help us redefine what we think of as common terms: sovereignty, wealth, power, dominion, and the like.

In fact, by citing this particular verse from the Qu'ran, 35:15, He is also reminding us of the entire Surih in which it is found. This Surih, or chapter of the Qu'ran, begins by warning the people not to be deceived by those whose motives are satanic, and then continues on by giving examples of contrasts that are not equal. He reminds us in this Surih, that not all things are equal. There is a great difference between the darkness and the light, the living and the dead. And we would do well to remember this.

It seems to us that every time Baha'u'llah quotes a passage from the Qu'ran, He is not merely quoting that particular passage, but in fact is reminding us of the entire context of the quote itself.

In Part 1 of this book, the Kitab-i-Iqan, Baha'u'llah gave us multiple meanings of those phrases from Jesus, found in Matthew 24. Here, in Part 2, He is redefining basic terms so that these meanings can make sense.

For example, if we think of wealth as the mere acquisition of worldly property, then the statements about the wealth of the Messenger of God make no sense. Neither Jesus nor Muhammad were what we would call wealthy. And if we try to apply this limited definition to the Bab, then we would see that it doesn't apply to Him either.

But when we look at Baha'u'llah's new definition, wealth and riches being independent of all save God, then we recognize the true wealth of all the Messengers and saints.

Whether in science or philosophy or religion, if we have poor definitions of our terms, then we can only go so far in our understanding before things break down. But when we get a better set of definitions, miracles can seemingly occur. The best example we have of this is Einstein redefining our concepts of time and space. Before his new definitions, we had found the limitations of the Newtonian definitions, and could not get any further in our discoveries. But with Einstein's new definitions, we had breakthroughs in various fields like chemistry, nuclear physics, computer technology, and discovered all the wonders and miracles of the modern age.

The same holds true with these new definitions that Baha'u'llah is giving us, too. When we apply the old definitions, we find that we can only go so far in our understanding of the world. Various quotes and traditions make no sense when we examine them closely. But when we use His new definitions, then wonders open up before our eyes, and everything seems so much clearer.

As we discover these new meanings, and begin to embrace them in our lives, and our vision of the world around us, it is as 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "Thou shalt surely behold wondrous traces and shalt discover the signs of thy Mighty Lord."

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Paragraph 142

In like manner, it is related that on a certain day, one of the companions of Sádiq complained of his poverty before him. Whereupon, Sádiq, that immortal beauty, made reply: “Verily thou art rich, and hast drunk the draught of wealth.” That poverty-stricken soul was perplexed at the words uttered by that luminous countenance, and said: “Where are my riches, I who stand in need of a single coin?” Sádiq thereupon observed: “Dost thou not possess our love?” He replied: “Yea, I possess it, O thou scion of the Prophet of God!” And Sádiq asked him saying: “Exchangest thou this love for one thousand dinars?” He answered: “Nay, never will I exchange it, though the world and all that is therein be given me!” Then Sádiq remarked: “How can he who possesses such a treasure be called poor?”

Here, Baha'u'llah is continuing His theme of true wealth.

He says, "In like manner...", and we can see the similar refocusing of our understanding of what is meant by wealth. Whereas in the previous paragraph He talks about how poverty and wealth are an internal perception of the true wealth in the world around us, here He looks a bit more closely at what is truly valuable, namely the love of God.

It's very interesting to read this story, in our overly-consumeristic culture, for the emphasis is placed so directly on the intangible. It touches on detachment from the material, and also on the importance of love.

Today, we focus so much of our attention on work and our paycheck that we often forget about what is truly important in our life. Time and again we read of elders who are on their deathbed saying that they regret not spending more time with their family. They will often comment that they have never heard anyone say that they wished they worked a few more hours. Even as we write this, it sounds ridiculous. And yet, this is how we often define ourselves, and others. We talk about our job, or our salary.

In some cultures, though, the emphasis is on family, or religion. They talk about their ancestors or which faith they follow. In these cultures there is often a healthier balance in their lives.

When we see the true wealth of our relations, whether by blood or love, then we are far more aware of the great bounties in our life.

Baha'u'llah, in His Hidden Words, writes, "I have created thee rich and have bountifully shed My favor upon thee." He also says, "I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty?" In both these quotes, He reminds us of the great gifts He has bestowed upon us, and that it is usually ourselves, through our lack of awareness and gratitude, that create our own inner poverty.

Here, in this story, Sadiq reminds his companion that there are many things worth far more than a few measly coins. The love of one's family, the time spent with one's children, those moments spent growing older with one's spouse: how can any of these be worth sacrificing for a bit of pocket change?

Now, this is not to say that we shouldn't work. Of course we should earn a living. But this is just to help put that into a healthy perspective.

And that, we feel, is one of the things we can learn from this paragraph.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Paragraph 141

Thus Jesus, Son of Mary, whilst seated one day and speaking in the strain of the Holy Spirit, uttered words such as these: “O people! My food is the grass of the field, wherewith I satisfy my hunger. My bed is the dust, my lamp in the night the light of the moon, and my steed my own feet. Behold, who on earth is richer than I?” By the righteousness of God! Thousands of treasures circle round this poverty, and a myriad kingdoms of glory yearn for such abasement! Shouldst thou attain to a drop of the ocean of the inner meaning of these words, thou wouldst surely forsake the world and all that is therein, and, as the Phoenix wouldst consume thyself in the flames of the undying Fire.

Back in paragraph 102, the first paragraph in Part 2, Baha'u'llah says that the Messenger of God has "undisputed sovereignty over all that is in heaven and on earth, though no man be found on earth to obey Him." From there, He goes on to say that He is also "independent of all earthly dominion, though He be utterly destitute."

As He has just talked about the issue of sovereignty, we can now see that He is moving on to the next topic, namely that of wealth and poverty.

Here, in this paragraph, we see that He is connecting this to the previous theme with the word "thus". By going back a sentence we read, "Amidst the darkness of their abasement there shineth upon them the light of unfading glory, and upon their helplessness are showered the tokens of an invincible sovereignty." Now He is connecting this to the issue of wealth and poverty, demonstrating the truth of this assertion with the quote from Jesus, which clearly shows His sovereignty over the world.

If we try to focus on what we typically think of as wealth, then we will fall into the same problem as we did when we thought of sovereignty as being an earthly sovereignty. The Manifestations generally are not wealthy, in the sense that They do not have money stored up in a bank somewhere. Their wealth, Their ability to survive in the world, comes from a different perspective of the world itself. They do not count wealth based on what They can buy. They see wealth as a recognition of what is possible.

If we think of wealth as a recognition of choice, and use the buying of a car as our example, then we can clearly see that the more money we have, the more options we have. But when we recognize that we do not need a car, that our feet will carry us more places with less damage to the world around us, then we realize that we have even more choice then we first considered.

Jesus is pointing out, in this quote, that He will never starve, for He sees all the different bounties that God has given us in the world. He can eat the grass in the field, if need be. He will never be homeless, for the entire world is His bed. He has lights in the night far more beautiful than anything in our modern electric world. This, He seems to say, is true wealth, and we should not be distracted by such trivialities as money.

There are a few phrases here that catch our attention, too: Thousands of treasures circle round this poverty, and a myriad kingdoms of glory yearn for such abasement!

What does this mean?

Perhaps it is a recognition that this poverty, this lack of material wealth is, in fact, worth far more than any material riches. Gold, we know, can be stolen, or lost, but this perspective of our position in the world is eternal. We may lose everything we have of our material possessions, but this understanding of the true bounty all around us allows us to be detached from them.

Tying it back to the issue of sovereignty, He says that these many kingdoms long for such abasement. It reminds us of E. G. Browne's comment that Baha'u'llah was "the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain", even though to outward seeming He was a prisoner.

We could talk more about this, but really, Baha'u'llah will further explore this theme over the next few paragraphs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Paragraph 140

Should We wish to impart unto thee a glimmer of the mysteries of Husayn’s martyrdom, and reveal unto thee the fruits thereof, these pages could never suffice, nor exhaust their meaning. Our hope is that, God willing, the breeze of mercy may blow, and the divine Springtime clothe the tree of being with the robe of a new life; so that we may discover the mysteries of divine Wisdom, and, through His providence, be made independent of the knowledge of all things. We have, as yet, descried none but a handful of souls, destitute of all renown, who have attained unto this station. Let the future disclose what the Judgment of God will ordain, and the Tabernacle of His decree reveal. In such wise We recount unto thee the wonders of the Cause of God, and pour out into thine ears the strains of heavenly melody, that haply thou mayest attain unto the station of true knowledge, and partake of the fruit thereof. Therefore, know thou of a certainty that these Luminaries of heavenly majesty, though their dwelling be in the dust, yet their true habitation is the seat of glory in the realms above. Though bereft of all earthly possessions, yet they soar in the realms of immeasurable riches. And whilst sore tried in the grip of the enemy, they are seated on the right hand of power and celestial dominion. Amidst the darkness of their abasement there shineth upon them the light of unfading glory, and upon their helplessness are showered the tokens of an invincible sovereignty.

Here we are, the last of the six paragraphs that talk about the Imam Husayn.

It is worth remembering, here, that this is the conclusion of Baha'u'llah's argument about "true sovereignty". This was all in response to the uncle's question about how his Nephew could possibly be the Promised One when He did not appear to be a sovereign at all.

In this paragraph, after a beautiful reminder of the glorious station of the Imam Husayn, Baha'u'llah sums it up for us. Within the darkness of his abasement we could see "the light of unfading glory", and in his helplessness we could see his "invincible sovereignty". There appears to be a strange contradiction here, but this just brings us right back to paragraph 102, the very beginning of Part 2. In that paragraph, you will recall, the Messenger of God holds "undisputed sovereignty over all that is in heaven and on earth, though no man be found on earth to obey Him." We can see it so clearly in Husayn, and Baha'u'llah allows us, at this point, to make that connection to the Bab on our own.

He talks of the "mysteries" of Husayn's martyrdom, and the "fruits thereof", reminding us that we don't really know the benefit of his martyrdom. All good Shi'ite Muslims are well aware of Husayn, and revere him, rightly so, but that doesn't mean that they have thought about this aspect of his life and death.

Similarly, we can presume that we don't really know the effects of the martyrdom of the Bab. We do know, though, that although His "dwelling be in the dust," His "true habitation is the seat of glory in the realms above".

There is a lot of metaphor in this paragraph, a lot to do with nature. There are the fruits of his martyrdom, the breeze of mercy, the divine Springtime, the tree of being. We see the Tabernacle again, and following that we get that metaphor of music, as well as those mysterious apparent contradictions.

But what really stands out to us, amidst this wealth of imagery, is that singular word "haply", with luck. We first encountered this word way back in paragraph 1, where we were told "Sanctify your souls... that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you and enter thus the tabernacle which... hath been raised in the firmament of the Bayán." Then we were told to "scan for a while the horizon of divine knowledge, and contemplate those words of perfection which the Eternal hath revealed, that haply the mysteries of divine wisdom... may be made manifest unto you." Over and over again He shows us these great insights into the sacred Texts of the past, hoping that, with luck, we might understand.

When He gets to Part 2, it is no longer just about understanding. In that first paragraph, paragraph 102, He hopes that through all of this, "haply", we may "soar on the wings of renunciation to those heights that are veiled from the eyes of men." He reminds us that these heights are veiled from our sight, but goes on to remind us of what we already know. These heights are real, and, with luck, we may have the opportunity to move up to them, if we but strive.

Most of all, here, we need to be careful not to let ourselves be blinded by the fact that to outward appearances, these holy Souls were disgraced, abased and powerless. Truly, He seems to say, we should know better.

In the end, if we question the validity of the Bab based on our understanding of sovereignty, then we have to question all those great souls of the past that we already revere. But when we re-examine what we understand of true sovereignty, and begin to get a better understanding the spiritual nature of Their sovereignty, then we not only gain a greater appreciation of those Messengers of the past, and Their followers, we also come to a better understanding of the station of the Bab, Himself. This, presumably, is just a taste of that fruit of "true knowledge".

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Paragraph 139

Think not that because these things have come to pass after Husayn’s martyrdom, therefore all this glory hath been of no profit unto him. For that holy soul is immortal, liveth the life of God, and abideth within the retreats of celestial glory upon the Sadrih of heavenly reunion. These Essences of being are the shining Exemplars of sacrifice. They have offered, and will continue to offer up their lives, their substance, their souls, their spirit, their all, in the path of the Well-Beloved. By them, no station, however exalted, could be more dearly cherished. For lovers have no desire but the good-pleasure of their Beloved, and have no aim except reunion with Him.

This is the fifth of six paragraphs relating to the Imam Husayn. In it, as you can see, He talks about the sacrifice made by Husayn, and by extension all those who have made such sacrifices in the path of their Lord. It gives a list of some of the things we can offer up in this path, whether it is our life, our material goods, our very soul or spirit, everything.

This is a direct reminder, also, that our actions are not limited in their effect to this world. Do we wish to be like Husayn, or like any of the heroes of the Faith that we admire? Here He is giving us the method. He is showing us how far we have to be willing to go, how much we may be called upon to give up.

And it is very interestingly placed in the context of this book. By this point the uncle of the Bab is likely beginning to see his Nephew as being the Promised One. And while some of us may have been content with convincing the uncle, or anyone for that matter, of the truth of the Cause, Baha'u'llah, quite naturally, goes further. Here He seems to be saying, as we said way back at that juncture between parts one and two, "You believe? Fine. What are you going to do about it?"

Most of the rest of the book deals with those various heroes who have sacrificed their all, and this is just the beginning of those numerous, inspiring stories.

But here, at the very beginning of this paragraph, we are reminded that our actions, his actions, are and were not limited to this world. It is the great danger we all face, thinking that our actions are limited to this world. Here, Baha'u'llah reminds us that if we believe, then this is one of the implications of our belief: We must accept the reality that our actions carry on into the next world.

And yet there is a caution, too. We should not fall into the trap of doing good merely for the reward of heaven. We should "have no desire but the good-pleasure" of our Lord.

It is as 'Abdu'l-Baha said: "In the highest prayer, men pray only for the love of God, not because they fear Him or hell, or hope for bounty or heaven... The spiritual man finds no delight in anything save in commemoration of God."

This, we are reminded, is the touchstone. Husayn and all those "Essences of being", were prepared to sacrifice literally everything to be nearer to their Lord. How can we do any less?

One last point. We looked at this list that Baha'u'llah gave us: their lives, their substance, their souls, their spirit, their all. And honestly, we don't understand why they are in this order. We'll look at it for just a moment, but ask you, dear Reader, if you can shed more light on it.

To start, offering up your life, difficult as it is, sort of ends there. You offer it up as a martyr, and bang, you're done. That's it.

But when you offer up your substance, your material wealth, as Baha'u'llah did when He became a Babi, there is a very real question of how you survive. How do you pay for your next meal? Your shelter? How do you provide for your family? While martyrdom is quick, in some ways, this becomes more of a life-long martyrdom. So with these two, we see the beginning of that crescendo pattern that we love to look for in the Writings.

The next two, your soul and your spirit, we are stumped on. We just don't get it. Obviously they are of a higher order than both your life and your materials possessions, but why are they in that order? In fact, how are they different? It may make more sense in the original, but for us, we're stuck.

Finally, there is your all. Well, that about takes care of it, doesn't it? You can't get much more than your all. And in fact, there is a story that we are reminded of with this, that of Adam. As Tahirih pointed out, Adam was a Manifestation of God, the first One in the Adamic Cycle. The Cycle was named after Him, so come on, of course He was a Manifestation. But how does this accord with how He is treated in, say, the Bible, or history? For centuries He was regarded as something of a buffoon, having eaten the apple just because Eve asked Him. Well, this doesn't sound like a Manifestation to us. But, as Tahirih said in her incredible poem, Adam's Wish, He sacrificed His reputation to allow us, humanity, to begin this path that has led us to the revelation of both the Bab and Baha'u'llah. He taught us the difference between good and evil, and that opened up the path of choice, which has resulted in this incredible spiritual journey for all humanity. And we, the spiritual children of this glorious faith of ours, have the incredible bounty of helping humanity move on to the next stage in this path.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Paragraph 138

Furthermore, call to mind the shameful circumstances that have attended the martyrdom of Husayn. Reflect upon his loneliness, how, to outer seeming, none could be found to aid him, none to take up his body and bury it. And yet, behold how numerous, in this day, are those who from the uttermost corners of the earth don the garb of pilgrimage, seeking the site of his martyrdom, that there they may lay their heads upon the threshold of his shrine! Such is the ascendancy and power of God! Such is the glory of His dominion and majesty!

Here we are at the fourth of six paragraphs that talk about the Imam Husayn. It all falls under the response to the question of the uncle trying to understand how the Bab demonstrated the sovereignty that was to be shown by the Promised One.

By bringing up the Imam Husayn, whom the uncle honours, and pointing out the "shameful circumstances that have attended the martyrdom" of this man, Baha'u'llah is reminding us to look to the past. If this uncle calls into question the validity of the Bab due to His martyrdom, then how can he claim to properly respect the Imam Husayn?

"Call to mind". "Reflect". These are two things that we were regularly asked to do back in Part 1. By this point, we should be fairly decent at this.

There is no question in the mind or heart of that the uncle already knows, and is reframing his knowledge. He is pointing out the many similarities between the stories of this Imam and the Bab.

And the reference to none taking up his body? That reminds us of the Bab, Himself. At the time, only a handful of people knew that His body had been rescued from the moat outside Tabriz.

Today, people don't just seek the site of His martyrdom, they go to His actual Shrine as part of their Baha'i Pilgrimage.

To us, the importance of this paragraph, and in fact the whole section on the Imam Husayn, is to help remind us to recognize what others feel is important and sacred. We can always use that as a starting point in our teaching. At no point does Baha'u'llah belittle Islam or any of the Imams. He continually reaffirms what the uncle knows and points out those tidbits of knowledge that will help him advance on his spiritual journey.

Baha'u'llah regularly goes back to history, shows what the uncle already knows, and seems to say, "See how this applies today?" He shows how everything that we love in the history of our religion, no matter what religion it is, can be directly applied today.

There are two other interesting points here that seem to come together. The uncle's faith is very much alive. He is a firm believer, but he is not closed-minded about it. He has serious questions that have prevented him from recognizing his Nephew, but he is willing to listen.

It is as if Baha'u'llah is saying that questions are ok. We are not expected to know everything. But we are expected to be open to hearing an answer.

Today, when talking about the Faith with others, it is important to understand this distinction. There are many people who are very spiritual, but closed to hearing anything different. There are also those who are very open to learning new things, but are not spiritual at all. We, however, need to be open to recognizing those who are both spiritual and open.