Monday, February 22, 2010

Outline of the Paragraphs, Part 1

This Book is fairly easily divided into sections, for ease of study. The following outline is not authoritative, nor the only possible way to outline this Text. It is merely the outline that works best for the way in which we are studying.

You will note that we seem to regard paragraphs 1 - 23 as something of an introduction, with the majority of the Text focused on an analysis of the quote in paragraph 24.

1 - 2 An introduction to the goal of our search.
3 - 6 Consider the past, and reflect
7 - 17 Messengers of the past
  • 7 - 8 Noah
  • 9 Hud
  • 10 Salih
  • 11 Abraham
  • 12 Moses
  • 13 - 16 Reasons for the denials
    • 13 "What could have caused such contention and conflict?"
    • 14 The motives of the people
    • 15 The motives of the clergy
    • 16 Ignorance - the main reason for denial
  • 17 Jesus
18 - 23 The Eternal Covenant
  • 18 Introduction
  • 19 "I will return"
  • 20 Unity of the Messengers
  • 21 - 23 "When will You return?"
24 Matthew 24:29 - 31 Immediately after the oppression of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the earth shall be shaken: and then shall appear the signs of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet.

25 - 98 An analysis of Matthew 24:29 - 31

  • 25 - 26 We missed the promise.
  • 27 "I'll explain"
  • 28 - 30 Explanation of "Immediately after the oppression of those days"
  • 31 - 47 Explanation of "shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven"
  • 48 - 66 Explanation of "and the powers of the earth shall be shaken"
  • 66 - 73 Explanation of "and then shall appear the signs of the Son of man in heaven"
  • 74 - 85 Explanation of "and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory"
  • 86 - 98  Explanation of "And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet"

99 - 100 "You've probably recognized the Bab by now"

101 "Now what?"

On to Part 2.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Paragraph 2

The essence of these words is this: they that tread the path of faith, they that thirst for the wine of certitude, must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly -- their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth. They should put their trust in God, and, holding fast unto Him, follow in His way. Then will they be made worthy of the effulgent glories of the sun of divine knowledge and understanding, and become the recipients of a grace that is infinite and unseen, inasmuch as man can never hope to attain unto the knowledge of the All-Glorious, can never quaff from the stream of divine knowledge and wisdom, can never enter the abode of immortality, nor partake of the cup of divine nearness and favour, unless and until he ceases to regard the words and deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true understanding and recognition of God and His Prophets.

This paragraph very much follows the first paragraph, as it is an explanation of it.  Baha'u'llah, with grace and mercy, gives us the "essence of these words".  It is difficult to sum up this paragraph, as it is already a summary.  The best we can hope to do is analyze it a bit.

The word "tread" means "to form by the action of walking". It implies that we are already walking, that there is already movement. We are not beginning our journey with this Book, for we must have some spiritual background to follow the line of argument in this Text. We are continuing our journey. Beyond this, we are further forming the path that others will follow.
Next, we are given a definition of what would qualify as "earthly", but surely there is more to it.  Why are those four attributes, the ears, minds, hearts and eyes, in that order?  Is He reminding us that first we hear something, and then we believe it?  Once we believe it, our heart becomes attached to it?  When our heart is attached to it, we then focus all our attention on it?  If this path is correct, then we really need to pay attention to what we subject our ears to.

Regarding how you cleanse your "ears from idle talk", we learned, with the help of a dictionary, that 'idle' means purposeless or worthless.  This gives us criteria by which we can judge the value of what we hear.  Does it have purpose?  Is it worth listening to?  Or is it merely the cause of "vain imaginings"?

These questions can be applied in so many areas of life.  They can affect what we read, what movies we watch, the music we listen to.  The list is endless. For a more comprehensive list, look at the Guardian's description of "absolute chastity" as a spiritual weapon, found in The Advent of Divine Justice.

All of this can then lead us to questions of the ego.  Do we say we believe something because it is what everyone else says they believe?  Are we listening to a particular type of music because our peers are?  Are we attaching ourselves to something out of fear that we may be ridiculed or ostracized if we do not?  Are we setting our eyes on "that which perisheth"?

Simply put, why are we doing what we are doing?  This paragraph is a bold reminder to be aware and conscious of our actions: to think for ourselves, to act for ourselves, and to base our actions upon our understanding of the Sacred Texts.

We should put our trust in God, and in no other.

That, of course, only looks at the first half of the paragraph.

If we follow the advice in that first half, then we may be worthy of the light that shines upon us. If we approach everything looking for its purpose, then we will approach the Sacred Writings in that way, too. We will read a Book such as the Kitab-i-Iqan with the question of how we can apply it in our life. If we choose not to do that, but merely see it as entertainment, or a nice diversion without seeing how to apply it, then are we really worthy of reading it? If we are not planning on living by these Writings, then what is our motive in reading Them?

When we approach the Writings with the eye of action, apply what we learn in our life, then the Concourse on High will descend upon us and bless our actions. We will become the "recipients of a grace that is infinite and unseen". But if we choose not to act, then those unseen forces can not help us.

This approach, however, is not commonly seen within society. Many people will deride us for acting upon our faith. How often have we seen people chastised in the media for practicing their religious beliefs? Surely this is not the standard we should value. We need to value the standard set forth in the Writings.

We need to study the Writings, immerse ourselves in the ocean of His Words, look for those pearls of wisdom and apply them in our life. We need to make them the basis for our every step and our every breath. It is through this dedication that we will come to a better understanding of the importance of these Teachings and the role of the Manifestations of God.

Baha'u'llah, in addition to all this, seems to allude to a path that we may follow. We begin by hoping "to attain unto (this) knowlege", and to do that, we must "quaff from the stream". Once we have refreshed ourselves with this water we can then enter "the abode". Inside this house, this dwelling-place, we can then "partake of the cup of divine nearness". Of course, this is a different type of beverage than drinking from the stream, yet both are refreshing and carry manifold benefits. What type of beverage is in this cup? Could it be the "wine of certitude" mentioned in the beginning of this paragraph?

Finally, as we walk this journey toward the shores of the ocean, we pause in the abode of immortality, and Baha'u'llah shows us hospitality by giving us a drink. What greater bounty can you imagine?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Paragraph 1


No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth. Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you and enter thus the tabernacle which, according to the dispensations of Providence, hath been raised in the firmament of the Bayan.

The numbering system of the paragraphs does not include the invocation (the first line) in paragraph one, but we felt it important to include it here. It is, after all, part of the Text written by Baha'u'llah Himself. As to why an invocation would not be included in the numbering, we don't know, but there is guidance that it is not to be, so we completely accept that.  We don't need to know why, for we are certain that there is a good reason. Besides, we are, after all, just two guys sitting in a coffee shop studying the Writings.

But why is it there? Is it merely an acknowledgement of our Creator? Or is there more?

We are of the belief that there is nothing random in Sacred Text, and that every word is there for an exact purpose. This underlying belief of ours will regularly come up in our study of this Work.

Here, the Blessed Beauty refers to God as our "Lord", with the qualities of being "Exalted" and "Most High". We believe that our being created in God's image means that we have all the attributes of God within us, just to a lesser degree. If God is the Most Generous, we can show some generosity. If God is the All-Wise, we can show some wisdom.

Here, God is referred to as our "Lord", and we feel that this is a reminder of our own nobility. The following attributes, Exalted (meaning lofty or noble) and Most High, are a stark reminder of our station within the realms of creation. Baha'u'llah is continually reminding us of our noble station within creation, and the need to arise to fulfill that station. It is the very study of this Book that helps us develop these much-needed attributes.

But how do we do that?

In this first paragraph, Baha'u'llah gives us the answer: We should be detached from all that is in the world, and sanctify our souls.

He points out that our goal is to "attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding". Our goal, in this Text, is only the shore, not even the ocean itself. Of course, once we attain this wonderful goal, then we can begin our exploration of the ocean, diving into its depths and searching for those divine pearls of wisdom. You see, getting to the beach is not the final goal, only the first one. Achieving certitude of faith is not the goal, but only a necessary step. The question that follows is, "What do you do with that faith?"

We also note here that the "shores" referred to here are plural, not singular. While we all acknowledge that the ocean is vast, we often forget to mention that the shores of that ocean are vast, too. We will not all arrive at the ocean at the same point, from the same direction, or even on the same side of the ocean. This ocean is large enough to accomodate all of us, from wherever we may be. It is also continually drawing down to its sea-level those rivers and streams that are willing to flow into it. It is the ultimate expression of strength through humility, an expression we are encouraged to emulate, like the Master.

It is also well worth noting that the ocean is almost fractal in its ability to impart information. If you look at a single drop, you will find a world of micro-organisms within it. If you look at a cup of a water from the ocean, you may discover some beautiful fish. However, it is only by diving into its depths that you will begin to discover the whales and the myriad life forms that live within it.

So potent is every single drop of this life-giving water, that "a dewdrop out of this ocean would, if shed upon all that are in the heavens and on the earth, suffice to enrich them with the bounty of God, the Almighty, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise."

The next sentence in this paragraph begins, "Sanctify your souls". What an interesting choice of word: sanctify. It is a verb that means "to observe as holy and make sacred".

Does that mean that your soul is not holy if you do not observe it as such? And treat it as such?

Perhaps.  We do not know.

We do, however, know the soul is created perfect, but requires certain things to flourish. If we ignore our soul, neglect our spiritual nature, we descend into the world of dust. It is similar to when we don't exercise our body; it becomes weak and is more prone to illness. It is also like a seed that is not planted and nurtured. Instead of growing into a lovely plant, it decays and becomes fertilizer, further enriching the soil for the next seed.

Baha'u'llah counsels us, time and time again, to rise to that noble station alluded to above, and recognize the sacred nature of our soul.  How we actually do that requires an exploration of the body of Baha'u'llah's Writings, and a study of the life of the Master.

Here, in this paragraph, He goes a step further and says that "haply", with luck or by chance, we might attain that station which God has destined for us. It is not a guarantee, but we must take that first step.

It's sort of like buying a lottery ticket. You cannot hope to win the jackpot if you don't buy the ticket.

Here, you cannot attain that station if you do not first acknowledge your own sacredness and work on the development of your own soul. You must recognize that your reality is spiritual, not physical. As C S Lewis famously said, when asked if he thought he had a soul, "I do not have a soul. I am a soul, and I have a body."

Once we attain that station destined for us, we can then enter the sacred tent containing the Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle, for clarification, was the sacred tent carried by the Jews during their wanderings in the desert. It was raised each night to house the Ark of the Covenant.

Baha'u'llah is, of course, not referring to the tent of the Jewish people. He is, instead, using it as a metaphor, for He says that it is "raised in the firmament of the Bayan".

The firmament is the arching vault of the sky, and the Bayan is the Mother Book of the Bab, to Whose uncle this Book is addressed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Forward

This is one more attempt to introduce to the West, in language however inadequate, this book of unsurpassed pre-eminence among the writings of the Author of the Bahá'í Revelation. The hope is that it may assist others in their efforts to approach what must always be regarded as the unattainable goal -- a befitting rendering of Bahá'u'lláh's matchless utterance.

We wondered about this paragraph by the Guardian and decided to look at it while studying the Text. Why was it there? Was there something "hidden" within it that the Guardian wished to draw to our attention?

First, it seems that he is reminding us of the numerous other translations that were out there at the time, translations that are now only of interest to scholars or book collectors. These translations, while invaluable at the time, generally fell short, as is obvious when reading them in light of the Guardian's translation. Yet even here, he is reminding us that his own translation is "inadequate". This is but one of many examples of his utter humility in the face of his work.

Secondly, there is the phrase "unsurpassed pre-eminence". What does this mean? It means that nothing is more notable. He does not say it is the most holy, or the most exciting, or the most humourous, but rather that it is the most notable. Nothing exceeds it in that field, although he does not say that nothing else may equal it. In case you are wondering, as we did, about the status of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, in light of such a powerful statement, we figure that it is "the most holy", for that is its name. This is not the same as "the most eminent", and it seems to hold a very different place within the Writings of the Faith, a place that is extremely high, possibly equal to that of the Kitab-i-Iqan.  In fact, we think we're looking at linear terms to describe the station of the Iqan. The Aqdas is in it's own category: the blueprint for a new world order. The Iqan is more like a "how-to" book for recognizing a Messenger of God.

We don't want to go off on a tangent or get ahead of ourselves, but we thought it would be appropriate to mention the opening statement in the Kitab-i-Aqdas: "The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws."
The Kitab-i-Aqdas is the Mother Book of Baha'u'llah's Revelation. A Book which sets forth the Laws of God for this Dispensation. It is a charter for a divine and future civilization. It's purpose is, as Baha'u'llah tells us, "to build anew the whole world". We want to recognize the Messenger of God when he appears to mankind so that we can partake of His Grace, His Mercy, and the laws He reveals for all humanity. By studying the Kitab-i-Iqan we will be strictly concentrating on, "the recognition of Him who is the Dayspring of His Revelation", and how we accomplish this. It is the "first duty prescribed by God" for us. If we want to recognize "the Fountain of His laws", and obey those laws, then we study the Kitab-i-Aqdas.
This Holy Book, the Kitab-i-Iqan, as we see it, is like a prescription for the recognition of a Manifestation of God. As mentioned earlier, it's kind of like, and we say this without meaning to be irreverent, a "How-to Book". This is a Holy Book specifcally designed to assist us in the recognition of the Messengers of God, all of Them. It gives us all the clues, all the details, unravels the mysteries of the Revelations of God, exercises the soul, and attracts the heart of man to his Beloved. It is also an introduction to the truth that Divine Revelation is progressive, not final, and this Book recalls the past errors and victories. It makes us consider, ponder and reflect humanity's religious history.

The Iqan assists us that, haply, or per chance, we may begin to recognize and understand that Spirit that descends in every age to bring divine guidance to the world.