Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Paragraph 38

In another sense, by the terms 'sun', 'moon', and 'stars' are meant such laws and teachings as have been established and proclaimed in every Dispensation, such as the laws of prayer and fasting. These have, according to the law of the Qur'án, been regarded, when the beauty of the Prophet Muhammad had passed beyond the veil, as the most fundamental and binding laws of His dispensation. To this testify the texts of the traditions and chronicles, which, on account of their being widely known, need not be referred to here. Nay rather, in every Dispensation the law concerning prayer hath been emphasized and universally enforced. To this testify the recorded traditions ascribed to the lights that have emanated from the Day-star of Truth, the essence of the Prophet Muhammad.

As we have noted, Baha'u'llah just gave us a chance to pause, to breathe, in paragraph 37. Here, in this paragraph, He offers us another interpretation of the terms "sun", "moon", and "stars".

But what were those other meanings? And just how many meanings can there be?

You may recall that He began talking about these terms way back in paragraph 31, in which He also informed us "manifold are the meanings they have intended for these terms".

In that same paragraph, He said that the "sun" refers to the "universal Manifestations of God". In paragraph 33, He said that these three "terms, 'sun', 'moon', and 'stars', primarily signify the Prophets of God, the saints, and their companions". Then, in paragraph 34, He says that they can also refer to "the divines of the former Dispensation". The universal Manifestations, the Prophets, and the divines: Three different definitions, but all have the same primary function. They all are supposed to teach us about the Will of God. You will also, of course, note the decrescendo there. He is going from the greatest to the least, from the universal Manifestations down to the simple priest who lives just up the road.

If we accept one of these definitions, then we are likely to accept them all. If we see how this term can apply to one, then we will intuitively understand how it can apply to all. By showing us how these terms can work on all three levels, He is gently allowing us to grow into understanding that there is not a single "correct" definition. Moving away from our traditional understanding of there being a single correct answer gives us another opportunity to sanctify our soul, as He gently encouraged us way back in that first paragraph. This is yet another way that we can "be detached from all that is heaven and on earth." This may, perhaps, be one of the reasons why He gave us a breather, a rest, in the previous paragraph. We are so used to searching for the singular correct interpretation that it may take a few moments for any knee-jerk reaction we may have to this new understanding to subside. And in His loving patience, He allows us that time.

Now, however, He is taking us a step further. Here He introduces an entirely new concept: these terms can refer not only to those whose job it is to teach us about the things divine, but can also refer to the laws and teachings themselves.

He uses prayer as a singular example, stating that it is a universal law, found in every religion. But He doesn't talk it about it yet. He waits until the next paragraph before going into that.

It is also interesting to note that He refers to prayer as universal, but not fasting. As far as we know, it is not found in every religion, but we could be wrong.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Paragraph 37

And now, O seeker, it behooveth us firmly to cling unto the Urvatu'l-Vuthqa, that perchance we may leave behind the darksome night of error, and embrace the dawning light of divine guidance. Shall we not flee from the face of denial, and seek the sheltering shadow of certitude? Shall we not free ourselves from the horror of satanic gloom, and hasten towards the rising light of the heavenly Beauty? In such wise, we bestow upon you the fruit of the Tree of divine knowledge, that ye may gladly and joyously abide in the Ridvan of divine wisdom.

This is another point in the Text where Baha'u'llah allows us the opportunity to pause and catch our breath. In some ways the questions He asks here are rhetorical, and He is reminding us of what appears to be obvious.

Of course it behooves us to cling to the strong cord of God teachings. Of course we should seek the divine guidance, and the shelter of certitude. Who, in their right mind, would not run towards the rising light of heavenly Beauty?

But why is it here? Why now?

Perhaps He understands our inherent reluctance to hear something new. Perhaps He is allowing that initial reflex of pushing away something different to subside so that we can catch our breath and take a moment to think that, just maybe, He is right. Remember, we are still in the section of the Text in which He is talking about the sun, the moon and the stars. He has just given us multiple definitions of these terms which are quite contrary to what the common understanding of these terms is, at least in the context of this quote from Jesus.

Also, as just an aside, this paragraph is so rich with metaphor. On the one hand, He is moving us along that continuum from 0 to infinity, from darkness to light, from denial to certitude, from horror to beauty. He also brings together two different gardens: Eden, through the reference to the Tree of divine knowledge, and Ridvan. In terms of the garden, we can ask ourselves what else is growing there. If it is a garden, surely there is more than just a single tree. We can also note that it is the summer time, for the tree is giving its fruit. The last time we know that this tree bore fruit was in the time of Adam, for He ate of it in Genesis. This foreshadows the idea that we are at the beginning of yet another Cycle, moving from the Adamic Cycle to the Baha'i Cycle, from the time when this fruit was forbidden to a new age in which it is freely given to us. Originally we were cast out of this garden, but now we are being welcomed back.

Oh, and in case you cannot recall (we forgot, so we're mentioning it here), we talked about the Urvatu'l-Vuthqa way back in paragraph 28, when Baha'u'llah first mentioned it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Paragraph 36

That the term "sun" hath been applied to the leaders of religion is due to their lofty position, their fame, and renown. Such are the universally recognized divines of every age, who speak with authority, and whose fame is securely established. If they be in the likeness of the Sun of Truth, they will surely be accounted as the most exalted of all luminaries; otherwise, they are to be recognized as the focal centres of hellish fire. Even as He saith: "Verily, the sun and the moon are both condemned to the torment of infernal fire." You are no doubt familiar with the interpretation of the term "sun" and "moon" mentioned in this verse; no need therefore to refer unto it. And whosoever is of the element of this "sun" and "moon", that is, followeth the example of these leaders in setting his face towards falsehood and in turning away from the truth he undoubtedly cometh out of infernal gloom and returneth thereunto.

For much of our time we have done simple analyses of what Baha'u'llah has said. We have tried to offer a few insights, and talked a bit about how some of this applies in our life. Here, we are going to take a page from the great Jewish scholar, Rashi, and talk a bit more obliquely about this paragraph. You already know a bit about our style and can obviously see the variations on a theme that Baha'u'llah touches on here, with the "good cop/ bad cop" motif, so we don't need to go there. You already have.

In life, we are all ignited at some point. Something catches our attention and just seems to light us up, whether for good or bad. Some are inspired by helping the poor, such as Mother Teresa, while others are more inspired by greed. Some people find their motivation by the arts, while others dedicate their lives to a branch of science, and still others to the invention of gadgets and gizmos to help humanity.

Regardless of our the object of our inspiration, we are all ignited.

But, as Baha'u'llah says in the Hidden Words, "with fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants." When testing gold in this manner, we are, in effect, burning away the impurities that may have contaminated it. If the gold is pure, you will have nearly the same amount at the end as what you started with. If it is not pure, and is filled with lots of junk, then all the junk will burn away, and you'll only have a small amount of pure gold left.

In this case, we are all ignited, lit up, on fire, if you will. Some of us, if our hearts and intentions are pure, will burn like the sun, giving a lasting and life-giving light for all to see. But if our hearts are corrupt, intent only on our own pleasures, then we will burn like a torch, feeble and easily extinguished, even though, to outward seeming, we are giving a light like the sun. In the end, though, no one is fooled.

This paragraph is a great reminder to look at ourselves. While we can see this as an indictment against others, seeing them for what they are, it can also serve as a reminder for ourselves. We may be giving light to others, but is it because we are shining with a reflection of the Sun of Truth, or is it through our own immolation?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Paragraph 35

It is evident and manifest unto every discerning observer that even as the light of the star fadeth before the effulgent splendour of the sun, so doth the luminary of earthly knowledge, of wisdom, and understanding vanish into nothingness when brought face to face with the resplendent glories of the Sun of Truth, the Day-star of divine enlightenment.

What's the difference between evident and manifest? Evident means plain or clear to the sight or understanding, and comes from the Latin ēvidēns, from vidēre to see. Manifest means readily perceived by the eye or the understanding; and comes from Latin manifestus  plain, literally: struck with the hand, from manū  with the hand + -festus  struck. It is interesting to mediate on why Baha'u'llah used both words here.

We won't go into it, for it is good to meditate on the Writings for ourselves, and we too often go into word definitions here.

Instead, we want to look a little bit further into this short paragraph.

It is good to be reminded of that truth in nature, that the stars in the night fade before the rising splendor and brilliance of the sun in the morning. How many of us are actually up at that hour of the day? How many of us get to witness that incredible phenomenon? We ll know it to be true, but how often do we really think about it?

And it is not that the stars are useless, or without merit. They are what guide the ships in the dark of the night. They tell us where we are in the vast cosmos. They are the reminder and the promise of the grand universe that is out there. And yet they fade to nothingness when compared to the sun.

They are tiny points of light, truly minuscule from our perspective, but they are so well positioned that they guide us. Through them we know where to turn.
It is like those great teachers of earthly knowledge, wisdom and understanding. They truly do guide us. But their guidance is as nothing when compared to the guidance that is given to us by the Messengers of God.

If we try to continue to follow the stars during the day, we will become hopelessly lost. That knowledge is useless, for we cannot see the stars any longer. Besides, we no longer need it. We can now follow the sun. Through the light of the sun, we will know where we are going. We will be able to see the full world around us. The stars guide our steps in the darkness, but the sun illumines our way.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Paragraph 34

In another sense, by these terms is intended the divines of the former Dispensation, who live in the days of the subsequent Revelations, and who hold the reins of religion in their grasp. If these divines be illumined by the light of the latter Revelation they will be acceptable unto God, and will shine with a light everlasting. Otherwise, they will be declared as darkened, even though to outward seeming they be leaders of men, inasmuch as belief and unbelief, guidance and error, felicity and misery, light and darkness, are all dependent upon the sanction of Him Who is the Day-star of Truth. Whosoever among the divines of every age receiveth, in the Day of Reckoning, the testimony of faith from the Source of true knowledge, he verily becometh the recipient of learning, of divine favour, and of the light of true understanding. Otherwise, he is branded as guilty of folly, denial, blasphemy, and oppression.

Once again, He is reminding us that there are many interpretations that are valid regarding Sacred Text. When He says, "In another sense", this tells us that there multiple ways to read these words.

Another thing He is doing is eliminating the concept of triumphalism. He doesn't say that they have to be a member of that Faith, just that they be illumined by its guiding principles. If the leaders of religion, He says, are "illumined by the light" of the next Revelation, then they are acceptable before God.

Gandhi, John Paul II, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama: These illumined figures come to mind. They all were, or are, obviously motivated by the principle of unity, and yet none of them are members of the Baha'i community. These divines, because they are illumined by the light of unity, the light of Baha'u'llah, they are shining "with a light everlasting".  They are shining light upon light, as it says in the Qur'an. And there is never any pressure for them to convert to the Baha'i Faith, for we recognize that all paths lead to the same Creator.

If they don't shine this light, however, then all their pomp and glory in this world is quite meaningless.

The list of contrasting attributes is also quite interesting. By placing light and darkness in there, He is showing us that all of these opposites are actually positive attributes and their absences. Darkness, as we know, has no existence of its own. It is the absence of light. We can now see that unbelief has no existence of its own, either. It is merely the lack of belief. The same can be said of all the other attributes here.

Finally, that last list, "folly, denial, blasphemy, and oppression", is a crescendo. Folly is just a lack of understanding, leading to foolishness. Denial is a bit stronger. It is not just being foolish, but a refusal to believe something true. Blasphemy is even stronger, cursing or reviling God Himself. Oppression is the worst, for it using your authority in a cruel and unjust manner.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Paragraph 33

The term "suns" hath many a time been applied in the writings of the "immaculate Souls" unto the Prophets of God, those luminous Emblems of Detachment. Among those writings are the following words recorded in the "Prayer of Nudbih": "Whither are gone the resplendent Suns? Whereunto have departed those shining Moons and sparkling Stars?" Thus, it hath become evident that the terms "sun," "moon," and "stars" primarily signify the Prophets of God, the saints, and their companions, those Luminaries, the light of Whose knowledge hath shed illumination upon the worlds of the visible and the invisible.

This passage could be seen as a simple reminder of what was just said, that the words "Sun", "moon" and "stars" refer to the Manifestations and all the other incredible souls that have helped bring the light of the many Revelations to the world, but, as usual, it is so much more than just that.

Baha'u'llah makes mention of 2 lines from the Prayer of Nudbih. We naturally wanted to know more about this prayer, as we weren't familiar with it. After much searching, we finally found a copy of it here: http://www.duas.org/nudba.htm, along with a beautiful video of a man chanting it.

This prayer is quite fascinating, as it is a lamentation regarding the state of the world at the time, which was some time around 200 years after the passing of Muhammad. This prayer, if you read it, carries you through progressive Revelation, referring to a variety of the Manifestations of God in chronological order, then continues with references to the successorship of Muhammad. Following this, the author, said to be the 12th Imam, asks where the next Messenger is. It is a prayer that, in a sense, sets us up to be ready to receive the Revelation of the Bab.

This is another incredible example of Baha'u'llah using the cultural context of the reader, the Uncle of the Bab, to help prepare his heart to receive this mighty Revelation. As we know, this paragraph still falls under the shadow of the line, "Consider the past." With this reference, Baha'u''llah is pointing to yet another famous work that talks about the progressive nature of religion, and foreshadows the time in which the reader is living. The list of Messengers here is similar to the one Baha'u'llah just used at the beginning of the Iqan.

So while it would be very easy to see this as a simple restatement of what Baha'u'llah said earlier, there is so much more hidden within it if we take a moment to look below the surface.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Paragraph 32

That these divine Luminaries seem to be confined at times to specific designations and attributes, as you have observed and are now observing, is due solely to the imperfect and limited comprehension of certain minds. Otherwise, they have been at all times, and will through eternity continue to be, exalted above every praising name, and sanctified from every descriptive attribute. The quintessence of every name can hope for no access unto their court of holiness, and the highest and purest of all attributes can never approach their kingdom of glory. Immeasurably high are the Prophets of God exalted above the comprehension of men, who can never know them except by their own Selves. Far be it from His glory that His chosen Ones should be magnified by any other than their own persons. Glorified are they above the praise of men; exalted are they above human understanding!

It feels to us like this paragraph is something of an interlude. It appears to be a break from the main theme, but not quite. He is obviously answering a question from the Uncle of the Bab, who has noticed that the various Messengers appear to be different. It is almost as if He is addressing a concern of the Uncle in passing, on His way from one point to another in His argument.

In terms of where this occurs in His main argument, He is still talking about the Suns, and our understanding of them in terms of Matthew 24. This begs the question "How can we know the sun?" The answer is that we can't, not directly. We can know certain things about the sun, through our understanding of the rays and the impact they have on the world, and we can suppose certain things about the nature of the sun, but that's not quite the same as knowing the sun itself.

Throughout religious history the sun has been seen as a metaphor for God. 'Abdu'l-Baha further explains that we can understand the Christian concept of the Trinity through seeing God as the sun, the Holy Ghost as the rays of the sun, and the Messenger as the perfect mirror reflecting the light of the sun. We can look at the reflection in the mirror and say "That's the sun", and we're correct, in a sense. Someone else can look at that same reflection and say, "That's not the sun. It's just a reflection." They, too, are correct. However we choose to view it, the truth is still the same. And the fact remains that we cannot know the sun itself, directly. If we were to even begin to approach the sun, we would completely vaporize long before we got there. And if we were to try and look at the sun directly, its very intensity would cause us to go blind.

Another question is, "If the Manifestations are so high, how much higher and more exalted is God?" This is, of course, a question that can not really be answered, but is well worth pondering in our heart.

In this paragraph, Baha'u'llah says that the Manifestations are "exalted above the comprehension of men". If we cannot know Them through our mind, how can we know Them? Through our heart, or our soul. Way back in paragraph 1, He says, "Sanctify your souls..." This concept of the heart is so important and constantly bears repeating. It is the beginning of this Book, as well as the center of the first Hidden Word: "Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart..."

But it's not a given. There's no guarantee. Remember that word "haply"? Good luck.

Finally, He says that They can only be known "except by their own Selves". What does it mean to know Them through Their own Selves? We are told that the first proof of a Messenger is Their Self. The next proof is Their message. For those who were alive at the time of the Messenger, this is all well and good, but for us, who are living in a day bereft of Their presence, we have to content ourselves with knowing Them through Their Word.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Paragraph 31

And now, concerning His words -- "The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give light, and the stars shall fall from heaven." By the terms "sun" and "moon," mentioned in the writings of the Prophets of God, is not meant solely the sun and moon of the visible universe. Nay rather, manifold are the meanings they have intended for these terms. In every instance they have attached to them a particular significance. Thus, by the "sun" in one sense is meant those Suns of Truth Who rise from the dayspring of ancient glory, and fill the world with a liberal effusion of grace from on high. These Suns of Truth are the universal Manifestations of God in the worlds of His attributes and names. Even as the visible sun that assisteth, as decreed by God, the true One, the Adored, in the development of all earthly things, such as the trees, the fruits, and colours thereof, the minerals of the earth, and all that may be witnessed in the world of creation, so do the divine Luminaries, by their loving care and educative influence, cause the trees of divine unity, the fruits of His oneness, the leaves of detachment, the blossoms of knowledge and certitude, and the myrtles of wisdom and utterance, to exist and be made manifest. Thus it is that through the rise of these Luminaries of God the world is made new, the waters of everlasting life stream forth, the billows of loving-kindness surge, the clouds of grace are gathered, and the breeze of bounty bloweth upon all created things. It is the warmth that these Luminaries of God generate, and the undying fires they kindle, which cause the light of the love of God to burn fiercely in the heart of humanity. It is through the abundant grace of these Symbols of Detachment that the Spirit of life everlasting is breathed into the bodies of the dead. Assuredly the visible sun is but a sign of the splendour of that Day-star of Truth, that Sun Which can never have a peer, a likeness, or rival. Through Him all things live, move, and have their being. Through His grace they are made manifest, and unto Him they all return. From Him all things have sprung, and unto the treasuries of His revelation they all have repaired. From Him all created things did proceed, and to the depositories of His law they did revert.

This paragraph begins a 17 paragraph sequence all referring to the quote, "The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give light, and the stars shall fall from heaven".

There is so much in this paragraph that it would be impossible to try and capture everything that it calls to our minds. One thing that stands out for us, though, is the fact that He tells us that there are many meanings to each of these phrases from that prophecy in the Book of Matthew. Time and again He reminds us that there are so many levels of meanings to every aspect of the Sacred Writings, and He is only giving us a few of them.

We feel this is so important in our work as teachers of the Faith for it is a clear reminder that our own understanding is not the only one. Whatever we understand by the verses we read, they are correct, so are the understandings of others. This serves to remind us to be both humble and aware of the truths that others have found. Of course, this is not to say that things contrary to the obvious meanings are correct, such as someone trying to say that it's okay for a Baha'i to drink alcohol as long as they don't get drunk. That just isn't true.

It seems that one of the things that Baha'u'llah is doing here is saying to the uncle of the Bab, "You are correct. Your understanding of the sacred Writings is correct, and there is more." Once again He is taking the Uncle where he is and leading him ever forward, and this, to us, is the very essence of effective teaching. It is also a sign of a depth of understanding.

Imagine if we all shared the Faith in this manner. It would raise the station of our own teaching from the usual debate-like style to a form in which we truly share with and learn from others. Instead of denying what we already know, we would, instead, build upon it, recognizing that knowledge is infinite, we can always learn more and more.

On another note, Baha'u'llah brings in some very beautiful metaphors, and we wanted to make sure to touch on these, for they are there for a reason. We're just not sure we know why, so we want to explore it a bit.

There seem to be four groups of metaphors in this passage:

  1. the trees, the fruits, and colours thereof, the minerals of the earth, and all that may be witnessed in the world of creation
  2. the trees of divine unity, the fruits of His oneness, the leaves of detachment, the blossoms of knowledge and certitude, and the myrtles of wisdom and utterance
  3. the waters of everlasting life stream forth, the billows of loving-kindness surge, the clouds of grace are gathered, and the breeze of bounty bloweth
  4. the warmth that these Luminaries of God generate, and the undying fires they kindle, which cause the light of the love of God to burn fiercely in the heart of humanity

In simple terms, that first one seems to refer to the basic material world. The second is all about the vegetable kingdom. The third is about water. The fourth is in terms of fire. When looking at spiritual metaphors, this seems to be a crescendo, moving from the base of earth up through plants, the water of life and culminating in the sun of divinity.

On another level, there is also a crescendo of meaning implied in each. The first has no implications. He just mentions those things of the earth. In the second He likens the plants to various attributes of the human spirit that we are all striving to achieve. In the third, He likens the waters to those gifts from God, such as everlasting life or grace. In the fourth, He likens the attributes of the fire to various aspects of the Manifestations.

In another sense, we can see this as the work of a farmer. You have the field, you plant it, you water it, then you burn off the chaff. The farmer also uses the sun to know when to do his planting. These metaphors can serve to remind us of how the Manifestations perform Their functions.

There was an aspect of third metaphor that reminded us of the story of the wind - There was a group of scientists that built a giant biosphere and within it they planted a group of trees. Everything grew well, but after some time, the tall trees began to fall over for no reason that they could understand. Afterwards, they were talking with an elder, who heard all they had done to make the trees strong. They had given them water and fertilizer, pruned them and took care of them. The elder nodded and said that they had forgotten the wind. This is what gives the trees their strength: their resistance to the wind. It is like what 'Abdu'l-Baha said: "It is clear, then, that tests and trials are, for sanctified souls, but God's bounty and grace, while to the weak, they are a calamity, unexpected and sudden."

These are, of course, just a few things that can be understood from these metaphors. There is obviously so much more there, but we don't want this post to go on forever. Besides, we know that you already see so much more than what little we've mentioned.

There is one last thing, though, we want to mention that caught our attention. We were wondering about this last part: Through Him all things live, move, and have their being. Through His grace they are made manifest, and unto Him they all return. From Him all things have sprung, and unto the treasuries of His revelation they all have repaired. From Him all created things did proceed, and to the depositories of His law they did revert.

Are these re-phrasings of passages from previous revelations? We're not sure. He may be carrying us through religious history, but we haven't really explored that. That first sentence reminds us of Moses, while the second, for some reason, reminds us of Jesus. That third reminds us of Muhammad, while the last reminds us of the Bab. But again, we're really not sure.

We did, however, notice that it is like a heartbeat. We are made manifest, and then return. We spring out, and then repair back. We proceed, and then revert. Why He put that in here, we don't know, but we sure found it interesting. And we'll also keep an eye out in the next few paragraphs and see if anything helps explain it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Paragraph 30

Were this "oppression" (which literally meaneth pressure) to be interpreted that the earth is to become contracted, or were men's idle fancy to conceive similar calamities to befall mankind, it is clear and manifest that no such happenings can ever come to pass. They will assuredly protest that this pre-requisite of divine revelation hath not been made manifest. Such hath been and still is their contention. Whereas, by "oppression" is meant the want of capacity to acquire spiritual knowledge and apprehend the Word of God. By it is meant that when the Day-star of Truth hath set, and the mirrors that reflect His light have departed, mankind will become afflicted with "oppression" and hardship, knowing not whither to turn for guidance. Thus We instruct thee in the interpretation of the traditions, and reveal unto thee the mysteries of divine wisdom, that haply thou mayest comprehend the meaning thereof, and be of them that have quaffed the cup of divine knowledge and understanding.

Here it is: the third of three paragraphs looking at this oppression.

To start, He denies the literal interpretation that some had made regarding this prophecy. With that out of the way, He then tells us in very simple terms that this term means that real oppression caused by difficulties in life, and the suffering that results from not knowing where to turn at such times.

We have written a little bit about the previous two paragraphs, mostly recapping what Baha'u'llah says, but the real question before us is "How does this apply in our life?" It would be very easy to say that we don't feel oppressed because we know to turn to the Writings of Baha'u'llah for guidance, or that we are not in a position of spiritual authority and therefore can't oppress others in this way. We could say these things and, in a sense, we might even be correct.

But is that so?

In regards to the first thought, that of knowing where to turn, sure. But let's be clear. We know to turn to Baha'u'llah, but that doesn't mean that we do, nor that we know where in His many Writings to look. Throughout history we have had divine guidance, and there have been countless scores of people who have known to turn to the Writings of their faith, but they have often, and with great consistency, misunderstood that guidance. It is for this reason that Baha'u'llah is letting us know what Jesus meant when He gave us this incredible promise in Matthew 24. We need to be very careful and not let our ego get in the way. If we think that we, ourselves, have the "answers", then we are forgetting humility, as well as reliance on God. That is when we are in the greatest danger, and when those divine bounties are withheld from us.

But if we turn to the guidance, look at the Master, study the words of the Guardian and follow the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, in other words, if we wholeheartedly turn to the Administration, which is inseparable from the spiritual guidance in the Writings, then we have a better chance of beginning to discover some of those priceless gems that are contained within the Faith.

In regards to that second thought, that we are not in a position of authority, and that we can't oppress someone else in their search for truth, that also is open for discussion. While it is true that we do not have authority in the traditional sense of the word, we are in a position of greater understanding in regards to the Writings compared to someone who has never seen them. For those who want to learn about the Baha'i Faith, the chances are fairly good that they will ask us first, before searching through the Writings for themselves. We have the responsibility to offer the Writings in such a way that they are the most accessible to the person. How we do this can have a tremendous impact on their life, and their view of the Writings of Baha'u'llah.

Here an example is probably in order. Suppose we meet someone who loves Jesus, and is eagerly striving to better understand what Jesus has taught us. If we were to tell them, "Well, Baha'u'llah is the return of Christ, and you should turn to Him from now on", how do you think they will react? Our direct bluntness will most likely have them thinking that we are nuts, offend them, and leave a very poor impression on them regarding the Faith. But if, instead, we speak of our own love for Jesus, and praise His teachings, as well as offer some of the beautiful insights regarding those teachings given to us by either Baha'u'llah or 'Abdu'l-Baha, then they will be more likely to want to hear more. Whether or not they ever embrace the Faith is secondary. Regardless of what they call their own path to God, offering these teachings from the Baha'i Faith can still have a tremendous impact on their life. There are countless stories of people who were impacted by the teachings, who went on to use them in their own lives, even though they never became members of the Baha'i community. In fact, it would probably not be an exaggeration to say that for everyone who has become Baha'i, there are probably dozens who have been impacted by the teachings they have heard.

In both of these instances, there is oppression. The first is the oppression that is induced by our own ego, or idle fancies, which results in much suffering, while the second is the oppression caused by placing a veil between someone else and the Writings.

Baha'u'llah also talks of the "want of capacity" as a part of this oppression. Some may think that this means an inability to acquire this spiritual knowledge, but that may not be the case. After all, it would be unjust for God to condemn us for failing to do something that we are incapable of. Instead, we think of this "want" as a current weakness, or a falling short. For example, I have the "want of capacity" to bench press 200 pounds, but I can work up to it. I have the "want of capacity" to run a marathon, but I can, if I practice, train, and strive to do so.

Today, we can look around society and see many examples of people who are denying religion and spirituality any place in the world. They, rightly so, see contradictions in some traditions, for example the separation of religion and science, and, unfortunately, deny all spirituality because of this inconsistency. They're throwing out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. Here we have two parties, the religious and the scientific, and they have separated from each other, and both are unwilling to hear any alternative interpretations of the traditions that could unite them once again. They are lacking the capacity to listen.

Oh, and there's our favorite little word again: "haply". Can't forget that.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paragraph 29

What "oppression" is greater than that which hath been recounted? 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? For opinions have sorely differed, and the ways unto the attainment of God have multiplied. 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. For this reason, in all chronicles and traditions reference hath been made unto these things, namely that iniquity shall cover the surface of the earth and darkness shall envelop mankind. As the traditions referred to are well known, and as the purpose of this servant is to be brief, He will refrain from quoting the text of these traditions.

This is the second of three paragraphs on the phrase, "immediately after the oppression of those days". In the first of these three, He talks a bit about the problem with some of the ignorant clergy, as opposed to the good clergy.

In this paragraph, He continues this by pointing out that this is a theme found throughout all of history. As the people find themselves lost, without any clear understanding of where to seek God, as the ignorant are in the positions of power and authority, as darkness overshadows all regions, then the Messenger appears.

In some ways, this is like a heartbeat. It is regular, continual and systematic. We seem to have the regular infusion of divine Knowledge which gives life to all humanity, just like the regular infusion of blood into our body, pumped by the heart, gives life to our body.

One thing that stands out for us is the phrase, "the ways unto the attainment of God have multiplied". We are reminded of Jesus saying "“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." The only way to God is through the Messenger, whether that be Muhammad or Jesus, Buddha or Moses, Baha'u'llah or the Bab. And yet at this time in history, the time that calls for a new Messenger, the clergy misdirect people to look to them, the clergy instead of the Messengers, and their feeble interpretations of the Word of God.

People try to be obedient, follow the clergy, of which there are too many, and are in obvious confusion. They know that what these people say doesn't make sense. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so many people today disregard religion altogether. They see the hypocrisy and ignorance and figure that the whole thing must be junk.

It is sort of like those Babis who saw Mirza Yahya and his claim to be a Manifestation, and figured, "If this yahoo is making a claim, then I must be the real Messenger." Remember how many claims were made before Baha'u'llah made His? Many dozens. Compared to Mirza Yahya, it just seems to make sense. But when these people saw the true majesty of Baha'u'llah, they understood their iniquity and became Baha'i.

But going back to the passage, this cycle still makes sense. After all, if the people were rightly guided, and could easily find the path to God, why would there need to be a new Messenger? How can the sun rise in the morning if it hasn't set the night before?

We could talk more about this here, but really, part 2 of 3 is always is hardest to explore. Baha'u'llah concludes His look at this phrase in the next paragraph, and so shall we.