Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Paragraph 51

And now, comprehend the meaning of this verse: "The whole earth shall on the Resurrection Day be but His handful, and in His right hand shall the heavens be folded together. Praise be to Him! and high be He uplifted above the partners they join with him!" (Qur'an 39:67) And now, be fair in thy judgment. Were this verse to have the meaning which men suppose it to have, of what profit, one may ask, could it be to man? Moreover, it is evident and manifest that no such hand as could be seen by human eye could accomplish such deeds, or could possibly be ascribed to the exalted Essence of the one true God. Nay, to acknowledge such a thing is naught but sheer blasphemy, an utter perversion of the truth. And should it be supposed that by this verse are meant the Manifestations of God, Who will be called upon, on the Day of Judgment, to perform such deeds, this too seemeth far from the truth, and is surely of no profit. On the contrary, by the term "earth" is meant the earth of understanding and knowledge, and by "heavens" the heavens of divine Revelation. Reflect thou, how, in one hand, He hath, by His mighty grasp, turned the earth of knowledge and understanding, previously unfolded, into a mere handful, and, on the other, spread out a new and highly exalted earth in the hearts of men, thus causing the freshest and loveliest blossoms, and the mightiest and loftiest trees to spring forth from the illumined bosom of man.

Well, here we are, the beginning of a new section. Not really, but that was sure fun to write. It actually is still in the same section of "the powers of the earth shall be shaken". He is drawing our attention to yet another quote that explores this particular clause.

Here, He is using a quote that is often taken quite literally, and is basically showing the folly of it. Uhm, taking it literally, that is. Instead, He talks about purposefulness. He points out that were it to be literal, what would be the point? But if we look at it as a metaphor, then worlds of meanings become apparent and we can see how useful it can become.

This becomes yet another tool in our teaching box. Remember, Shoghi Effendi said that if we wanted to become effective teachers of the Cause, we should become thoroughly acquainted with the methods and arguments used by Baha'u'llah in this book.

When we are teaching someone, or even learning within our own heart, we can often get distracted by things that really serve no purpose. Sometimes it can be something as present as which political party to support, or as abstract as whether or not we believe in a particular miracle. Baha'u'llah is reminding us that we need to take a broader and more practical approach.

For example, sometimes we can get involved in a debate about whether or not we support a political issue of the day, such as abortion or gay marriage or whether or not to build a particular hydro dam, forgetting all the while to look at the underlying spiritual issues of the matter. Other times someone can try to corner us as to whether or not we accept a particular teaching of their religion, such as the virgin birth or some other miracle. In the former examples, the trick is to keep our focus on the spiritual issues, and in the latter, the question is what difference it would make in our life. Baha'u'llah is reminding us of this second point.

Baha'u'llah, later in this book, tells us that the purpose of the Manifestations of God is to change the hearts of people and effect a change in their behaviour, too. Their purpose is to shake the earth of men's hearts, so to speak. If we get involved in debates on these side issues, it is with our head, and not with our heart. The true seeker is not concerned with our interpretation of the miracles, but with the teachings of the Faith. What does Baha'u'llah teach us about gender equality? How does He help us learn how to organize a world community? What does He teach us about truthfulness, compassion, and striving for excellence? These are the things that impact our daily life and our interactions with others. The very simple question, "Of what profit would it be to man" becomes pivotal in helping us avoid these distractions.

Of course, it is always important to remain courteous and respectful when engaging in any religious discussion. The seeker is asking a question because it is important to them. After all, when Mulla Husayn first met the Bab, he had a list of requirements that the Bab "had to meet", such as "As to His age, He is more than twenty and less than thirty. He is endowed with innate knowledge. He is of medium height, abstains from smoking, and is free from bodily deficiency." This was very important to him in recognizing the Bab. But for us today, it is almost irrelevant. It is far more important to us that He prepared the way for Baha'u'llah, and instituted a whole whack of teachings that transformed the entire community. So while these things may not impact our life today, and may not be the most important things for us, they do serve their purpose.

Getting back to the point, after our own distraction here, this is a very useful tool when teaching. And the ideas we get with this perspective, that of practical purpose and looking at the spiritual issues at the heart of things, are important. Whether our insights are small or large, a tiny flower or a mighty tree, they are all grown out of the newly transformed earth of our heart. As Baha'u'llah says much later in this book, "the object of every Revelation (is) to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions".

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Paragraph 50

The breeze of the bounty of the King of creation hath caused even the physical earth to be changed, were ye to ponder in your hearts the mysteries of divine Revelation.

And here we are, the final paragraph of these three paragraphs that talk about the changing of the earth. Whew. (We won't mention that it also falls under that clause from Matthew 24, "and the powers of the earth shall be shaken". Nope. We won't mention that.)

To recap, because that's what we love to do here, this little section began with the flowers and blossoms, and then continued with the rains. Now Baha'u'llah mentions the breeze.

The wind? What does that have to do with anything?

Well, let's look at a little story we both love. Many years ago, meaning like 30 or so, not hundreds or thousands, there was an eco-dome that was built, to test and see if we could create larger scale eco-systems, for either placing on the earth away from pollution, or even perhaps on Mars. They carefully selected the plants, and ensured that they were given plenty of water, and the appropriate amount of fertilizers. They introduced various insects and other animals, carefully ensuring all the while that everything was in balance. It all was going very well until one day, without much warning, the trees suddenly decided to fall over. As you can imagine, this puzzled the scientists. They went over all their work, carefully, one step at a time, to see what they missed. unable to find anything wrong, they did what all wise people do when faced with such a puzzle: they closed the project. Later, however, it aroused the interest of the local Aboriginal peoples, and one of the elders stepped forward to talk to the scientists. They recounted all they had done, and the elder quietly listened, and thought about it. In the end, the elder checked that they had ensured the presence of all the elements. They had the earth. The had the water. They had the sun. "And what", the elder asked, "about the wind?"

The wind, you see, is what strengthens the roots of the tree.

Similarly, it is the tests and trials that help strengthen our faith. Without those tests, the roots of our faith would never sink deep enough in our heart to gain in strength.

Another point that stood out for us was the idea that even the physical earth has been changed. So not only does this prophecy refer to the allegorical earth of men's hearts, but also the literal understanding of the very earth itself. While there are many ways to interpret even this literal interpretation, it is fairly safe to say that if someone from 150 years ago, or 1500 years ago, were to suddenly appear on earth today, they would be very surprised at what they would see.

A third point that leapt off the page for us was the idea, again, that we should ponder this in our heart. A couple of paragraphs ago, we mentioned how Peter may not have been an intellectual giant, but his heart was open, and that was what counted. We are very used to the idea of pondering things in our head, but here Baha'u'llah reminds us to ponder these ideas in our heart.

For example. if we think about it with only our intellect, we would say that the earth has not been changed. We would claim that we have only discovered more uses of the various resources of the planet, failing to see just how much has actually changed over the past hundred years.

Earlier on, way back in paragraph 13, we talked about how Baha'u'llah is encouraging us to make this sort of heart pondering a regular activity in our life, to make it a habit. In paragraph 2, He talked about how important it is to cleanse our hearts. This is all intertwined. We can even look at the very first Hidden Word, in which we are told to "Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart". The heart, as we all know, is the very throne of God within us, reserved for God Himself. So when Baha'u'llah tells us to ponder something in our heart, it is a very important thing to do, and something that we all need to learn how to do. It is a spiritual habit, like prayer, that needs to become an integral part of our life.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Paragraph 49

Would that the hearts of men could be cleansed from these man-made limitations and obscure thoughts imposed upon them! haply they may be illumined by the light of the Sun of true knowledge, and comprehend the mysteries of divine wisdom. Consider now, were the parched and barren soil of these hearts to remain unchanged, how could they ever become the Recipients of the revelation of the mysteries of God, and the Revealers of the divine Essence? Thus hath He said: "On the day when the earth shall be changed into another earth." (1 Qur'án 14:48)

This is the second of three paragraphs that focus on the "changing of the earth", and these fall under the examination of the clause from Matthew 24, "and the powers of the earth shall be shaken".

He begins this particular train of thought in the previous paragraph, talking about how the hearts of men have to change, or else they won't give their flowers and fruit. And for those whose hearts haven't changed, well, they're bozos. They pride themselves on their limited knowledge, and even steal silly ideas from each other. Now, in this paragraph, He laments, "Oh, that their hearts would be changed." If so, then they might receive divine bounties. This, He says, is the meaning behind the phrase, "the earth shall be changed into another earth". If it wouldn't happen, then we'd still be bozos. Oh, and to foreshadow a moment, He also points out in the very next paragraph that even the physical earth has changed.

But looking back at this paragraph a bit closer, there are a few things that stand out for us.

First, we noticed a beautiful pattern of nature that Baha'u'llah has given us here. It all begins in the previous paragraph with the earth of the heart, and His description of how they can give flowers. Here, in this paragraph, He says that the hearts are parched, or lacking in water. Then come the rains, the rain of divine bounty. This watering literally changes the heart, just as the rain transforms the dry dirt into a rich soil in which the seeds can germinate. Then, following the rain, comes the sun. it is this light which further transforms the seeds, allowing them to grow and develop, eventually reaching fruition.

The second thing that stood out for us is the phrase "man-made limitations". It is interesting that these limitations are not imposed upon us, but the result of our own choice.

Of course, we also noticed the use of the words "haply" and "consider", which bring us right back to the very beginning of the book. Time and again He reminds us that there is always an element of luck, and that we really, really, need to reflect on all that is before us.

The last point is a bit of a tangent.That final quote reminded us of Revelation 21:1, in which we read, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea." Obviously this talks about the same thing, a transformation of the earth, presumably referring to the earth of men's hearts. But that last phrase in Revelation made us pause. "There was no more sea"? What does that mean? Well, the sea is much smaller than the ocean, so it may refer to the great breadth and scope of Baha'u'llah's revelation, especially in comparison to the other revelations.

Also, when describing the changing of the earth, in a literal sense, this is often due to an earthquake, or some other major catastrophe. We can, for example, easily imagine a major quake shifting the land around so that an inland sea now drains into the ocean. Just a thought.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Paragraph 48

In like manner, endeavour to comprehend the meaning of the "changing of the earth." Know thou, that upon whatever hearts the bountiful showers of mercy, raining from the "heaven" of divine Revelation, have fallen, the earth of those hearts hath verily been changed into the earth of divine knowledge and wisdom. What myrtles of unity hath the soil of their hearts produced! What blossoms of true knowledge and wisdom hath their illumined bosoms yielded! Were the earth of their hearts to remain unchanged, how could such souls who have not been taught one letter, have seen no teacher, and entered no school, utter such words and display such knowledge as none can apprehend? Methinks they have been moulded from the clay of infinite knowledge, and kneaded with the water of divine wisdom. Therefore, hath it been said: "Knowledge is a light which God casteth into the heart of whomsoever He willeth." It is this kind of knowledge which is and hath ever been praiseworthy, and not the limited knowledge that hath sprung forth from veiled and obscured minds. This limited knowledge they even stealthily borrow one from the other, and vainly pride themselves therein!

Again, Baha'u'llah is offering another quote for us to look at in this section which falls under the overall examination of the phrase from the prophecy in Matthew, "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". When He says, "In like manner", He seems to be referring to us seeing all of these prophecies as a metaphor instead of literally. This seems to be a major theme of this part of the book.

In the previous few paragraphs we looked at the "cleaving of the heavens", and now we're looking at the "changing of the earth". The first is like a thunderstorm, which is followed by the rain, which results in the rejuvenation and freshening of the planet.

He begins by talking about the heart upon which the rains fall, offering the heart as a metaphor for the earth. The showers are God's mercy which come down from the Revelation, transforming the heart into a receptacle for divine knowledge and wisdom. We can look at the various Apostles of Christ for examples of this. Peter, as we know from history, was so ignorant of scholarly matters that he was unable to even keep track of the days of the week. And yet he is still the rock upon which Christ founded His church, for he was receptive to the divine knowledge, which is what really mattered.

Now Baha'u'llah introduces the myrtle, a single flower that grows from these rains. The myrtle, He says, is the myrtle of unity. But why a myrtle? Why not, for example, a rose?

This is where Google and Wikipedia come in handy. With a little bit of research, we learned that the myrtle was considered sacred to Aphrodite in Greek mythology, and she was the goddess of love. What better goddess to relate to unity? It was also sacred to Demeter, the goddess of farming and of grain. Do you notice a theme here? Throughout the whole region, the myrtle was considered a symbol of both love and immortality.

In the Jewish tradition, myrtle is a very important plant. It is regarded as the symbol and scent of Eden. It is considered one of the four sacred plants of the Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles. It is symbolic of one of the personality types in the community. Because it has a beautiful aroma, but an unpleasant taste, it represented those people who do good deeds, but are not scholared in the Torah, the divine teachings.

This last point is interesting because the very next line from Baha'u'llah moves us beyond this single flower and out to all blossoms. We can see a growth and development from these two simple words, moving from good deeds without the knowledge of the sacred to a "true knowledge and wisdom". This is further expounded at the end of this paragraph, and later in the book.

The next metaphor He introduces in this paragraph is that of the clay. Clay, as you know, is composed of decaying plant matter. However, for it to be useful, it needs to mixed with water, so that it can be shaped. Baha'u'llah, here, talks about the clay of infinite knowledge, and likens the water to divine wisdom. Clay without water is hard and brittle. It breaks when you try to shape it. It is fairly useless. Knowledge without wisdom is also fairly useless, as we would not know how to apply the knowledge in a constructive and useful manner.

On a side note, once the clay has been molded into the desired shape, say a cup, it then needs to be put in the fire. Without this, it is not all that useful. It will melt away when it is used. After the fires of tests and tribulations, however, it is firm and solid, and very useful. This theme, too, is further developed as Baha'u'llah continues.

Finally, He refers to the difference between divine knowledge, and the knowledge that is prevalent amongst the people. Here He makes just a little poke at the silliness of those who plagiarize such tidbits of information, but later on He really goes into condemning this sort of foolishness.

With all the praise He gives for knowledge and scholarship, the caveat is always there that it must be good knowledge, heavenly knowledge. This brings us all the way back to the very first paragraph again, with the "ocean of true understanding".

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Paragraph 47

Moreover, consider the hardships and the bitterness of the lives of those Revealers of the divine Beauty. Reflect, how single-handed and alone they faced the world and all its peoples, and promulgated the Law of God! No matter how severe the persecutions inflicted upon those holy, those precious, and tender Souls, they still remained, in the plenitude of their power, patient, and, despite their ascendancy, they suffered and endured.

This paragraph has given us pause. While it is quite short, we feel that it is laden with many meanings, and is a reminder of something very important.

To start, we noticed the word "moreover". This clearly implies that Baha'u'llah is expanding a point that He has just made. Our question is, of course, what point was that? Reading the rest of this paragraph doesn't immediately give us a clue.

And so we looked back a bit and re-established the context in which we are reading this. It occurs in the larger section in which He is describing the Sun and the Moon in that prophecy of Jesus from Matthew 24. He has just talked about how the Sun arises each day, and could appear to be different, as we call it by a different name on each day, be it Monday or Tuesday or whatever. Yet, He reminds us that it is always the Sun, which we recognize by its light and warmth.

This, to us, appears to be the context of that opening word, "moreover".

Then He tells us to "consider". How often have we been told, in this mighty Book, to consider the past? Way back in paragraph 3 He told us to do this. And regularly, throughout the Book, He reminds us to do this.

But what is it that we are to consider? The lives of the Revealers, and in particular the hardships and bitterness They faced. Does this sound familiar? It should, for that is what He told us to consider way back in paragraph 6. He said that we should acquaint ourselves "with the indignities heaped upon the Prophets of God". He informed us that the more closely we observe the denials of the opposers, the firmer will be our faith in the Cause of God.

To help us strengthen our faith, which is one of the primary purposes of this whole Book, He reminds us of these persecutions, and Their response. Paragraphs 7 through 21 are all about these trials and tests They faced, and Baha'u'llah is gently bringing this back into our consciousness.

He finishes this thought off with another reminder of how They faced these tests and trials with patience. He reminds us that They suffered. They did not, somehow, escape the suffering inherent in life, but instead endured it all.

How often have we heard the criticism that someone can't be a messenger because they were ridiculed or imprisoned? Baha'u'llah points out that every Messenger suffered such trials, or worse. The difference between Them and a normal person is that They endured with godly patience.

What a lesson for us all.

Another question that comes to us is "What were They patient with?" Were They patient with those who caused Them such suffering? Or were They patient with allowing us to begin to understand Their Message? Or were They, perhaps, patient in how They revealed Their station or laws? We think it could be all of these. We can see just how patiently Baha'u'llah is expounding His message here to the Uncle of the Bab. We can also see, much later in the book, how He exalts the station of patience in the heart of the true seeker, and how He says that the patience of the Babis in their suffering played such a pivotal role in the spread of the Faith.

One last word that stands out for us is the word "tender". We can easily understand why He describes that Manifestations of God as precious and holy, but tender seems a bit unusual. And while we are not sure, of course, we think this might be linked to the fact that They do suffer. They are not somehow oblivious or immune to the sufferings that They face. They do face them. They do feel them. But They endure. And that is what is special. Despite Their power and ascendancy, They patiently endured what we inflicted upon Them, and continued to promote the Word of God. This is a sign of Their love for God, and for us.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Paragraph 46

In like manner, strive thou to comprehend from these lucid, these powerful, conclusive, and unequivocal statements the meaning of the "cleaving of the heaven" -- one of the signs that must needs herald the coming of the last Hour, the Day of Resurrection. As He hath said: "When the heaven shall be cloven asunder." (Qur'án 82:1) By "heaven" is meant the heaven of divine Revelation, which is elevated with every Manifestation, and rent asunder with every subsequent one. By "cloven asunder" is meant that the former Dispensation is superseded and annulled. I swear by God! That this heaven being cloven asunder is, to the discerning, an act mightier than the cleaving of the skies! Ponder a while. That a divine Revelation which for years hath been securely established; beneath whose shadow all who have embraced it have been reared and nurtured; by the light of whose law generations of men have been disciplined; the excellency of whose word men have heard recounted by their fathers; in such wise that human eye hath beheld naught but the pervading influence of its grace, and mortal ear hath heard naught but the resounding majesty of its command -- what act is mightier than that such a Revelation should, by the power of God, be "cloven asunder" and be abolished at the appearance of one soul? Reflect, is this a mightier act than that which these abject and foolish men have imagined the "cleaving of the heaven" to mean?

This is a paragraph laden with all sorts of juicy tidbits to glom onto.

It is good to remember that this paragraph still falls under the analysis of the prophecy, "of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven". Baha'u'llah is still helping us understand the fulfillment of this part of the prophecy from Matthew 24. He has just helped us understand one phrase from Islamic tradition, in the previous paragraph, and is now asking us to understand, "in like manner", the phrase "cleaving of the heaven". He also calls these phrases lucid, powerful, conclusive and unequivocal. What incredible words to choose. First, these phrases are lucid, or clear and easy to comprehend. Then, more than that, they are powerful. They have a great strength to them to effect change. Then, beyond that, they are conclusive. They prove the case. And finally, there are none that are equal to them. Others may try to prove the same thing, but they will never be able to demonstrate as clearly or as well as He has.

So, now He goes on to explain a little bit about this new phrase, "the cleaving of the heavens". He reminds us of what heaven, in this context, means, and then clarifies the phrase "cloven asunder". He says it so simply that there is no reason for us to repeat it here, after all, His phrasing is unequivocal.

Then He interjects a very interesting phrase here: "I swear by God!" When we use this often uttered phrase in our own lives, it is usually very little more than a mild exclamation, even though it shouldn't be. But when Baha'u'llah, a Manifestation of God, uses it, we can be sure that He means it with far more depth than we have ever considered. And it is a preface to the very next sentence, as opposed to an antecedent the previous one.

He is really drawing our attention to the fact that "this heaven", the heaven of divine Revelation, "being cloven asunder", being fully superseded and annulled, is a greater and more powerful act than ripping the entire sky in two. This is His main point here. This is what we really need to pay attention to. So important is this singular concept that we are exhorted, once again, to ponder it.

But of course, we have to ask ourselves why. Why is this so important? Why is it that Baha'u'llah spends over a full page framing this pinnacle of a concept? Why does He "swear by God", setting off all sorts of bells and whistles in our mind to further draw our attention to this singular idea? And more importantly, why is it true?

As usual, Baha'u'llah helps us discover the reason, for ourselves, with the rest of this paragraph. When we look at how He constructs the very next sentence, we can see a trace of the path that He expects us to find. Look at the progression of that sentence beginning "That a divine Revelation..." It begins with the faith being established, people then embrace it and are reared and nurtured in it, people are disciplined by it, it is recounted by people, and then everyone can see its greatness. Isn't this a description of how a Faith rises in the world?

On the other side of it, it begins with the Revelation, continues through the shadow to the light, then there is the word. It then moves on to the eye and ear, followed by action. In the end, Baha'u'llah asks us which is mightier, the literal or the symbolic cleaving, and leaves it to us to understand. Of course, there is another odd little bit right there, too. Note that the word "soul" is not capitalized. Does this mean that it refers to someone other than the Manifestation, Whose reference would presumably be capitalized? Later on He refers to Mulla Husayn in such glowing terms, saying that but for him "God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy, nor ascended the throne of eternal glory." It seems that He is referring to the importance of a receptive soul. And, by this example, He could be referring to each and every one of us. We could be that soul. We could be the one by whom the "heavens" are "cleft asunder", if we but strive to arise to such a position.

And then He finishes with another reminder for us to "reflect". Twice in one paragraph. That's how important this whole concept is, this idea that the symbolic is more powerful than the literal, that the spiritual realm is greater than the physical one.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Paragraph 45

This is the meaning of the sacred verse: "But nay! I swear by the Lord of the Easts and the Wests," (Qur'án 70:40) inasmuch as the "Suns" referred to have each their own particular rising and setting place. And as the commentators of the Qur'án have failed to grasp the symbolic meaning of these "Suns," they therefore were at pains to interpret the above-quoted verse. Some of them maintained that owing to the fact that the sun each day rises from a different point, the terms "easts" and "wests" have been mentioned in the plural. Others have written that by this verse the four seasons of the year are intended, inasmuch as the dawning and setting points of the sun vary with the change of the seasons. Such is the depth of their understanding! None the less, they persist in imputing error and folly to those Gems of knowledge, those irreproachable and purest Symbols of wisdom.

Baha'u'llah is obviously going onto a new section of His interpretation of the verse "in those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven". He has just finished His explanation of how this applies to the clergy, as well as the laws. Then, in two paragraphs, He reminds the Uncle of the Bab, and perforce us, about how to search for truth, and the spiritual nature of this search.

Now, here in paragraph 45, He takes a single verse from the Qur'an, and gives us the traditional interpretation of it. He shows how this interpretation is shallow, and gives us a deeper understanding of it.

More importantly, though, He calls to mind the entire chapter, which has been variously called in English "The Ways of Ascent" (Yusuf-Ali) or "The Ascending Stairways" (Pickthall), or "The Escalator" (us).

As you may recall, this entire Book came about because the Uncle of the Bab asked Baha'u'llah some questions. One of them was about the new interpretations of traditions. He says that taking anything other than the outward understanding of these traditions would be confusing, and Baha'u'llah corrects him of this.

This Surih begins, "A questioner asked..." It was revealed in response to a question, just like the Kitab-i-Iqan. It seems that Baha'u'llah is reminding the Uncle of the Bab about this.

The Surih then goes on to describe the tragedy to fall those who are not believers in the Day of Judgement, but more importantly, it goes on to describe the behaviour of those who will be saved. It says that they will be devoted to prayer, give some of their money to the poor, and be chaste. It says that those who respect their covenants, who are faithful in their testimony, and are generally steadfast in their beliefs, will be safe.

It then asks the question, "Doesn't everyone want to enter the Garden of Paradise?" And the response is "No, for they are created from base material." Now, that's a paraphrase, of course, but it seems to be the gist of it. This is when we get the line, "I swear by the Lord of the Easts and the Wests", and it continues to basically say "We are able to replace them with a better people."

And it finishes by saying to let the people chat and play as they will, for the promised Day of Judgement is coming.

It seems to us that Baha'u'llah is calling to mind all of this by quoting that one simple verse. He is reminding the Uncle of the Bab about the promises surrounding the Day of Judgement, and asking him, in a sense, to look at the behaviour of the Babis and see if they live up to what was called for in the Qur'an. This will surely be a better testimony than clinging to shallow, but traditional, understandings of these various verses.

Remember, throughout the opening paragraphs of the Iqan Baha'u'llah has continually told him that the standards of men are deficient. They are not the touchstone for truth. A deepened understanding, combined with good behaviour, always outweighs tradition. He seems to imply that the Babis are replacing the Imams and the leaders who do not live up to this standard.

Now, the real question is how does this impact our life today? By looking at the guidance in Surih 70 and seeing how those who are going to be saved in the Day of Judgement behave, we can see that those types of behaviour do not change. We need to pray. We need to be chaste in our life. We need to honour our promises, keep sacred our pledge, be sincere in our faith. We need to be conscious of our belief and not merely blind followers. And all of our actions need to be in conformity with the basic and underlying truth of our faith. If we are Christian, all our actions should lead towards love. As Baha'is, all our actions should lead us towards a greater unity with those around us. Holding fast to a belief that seems to contradict this, merely because it is a tradition, is not a worthy standard.

All of this is but another example of how the sun is darkened, the moon no longer gives its light, and the stars fall from heaven.

Now, one last thing. When we began looking at this paragraph, a couple of hours ago, we both were scratching our heads in confusion. We had no idea what this was saying, or where it was going. It was really the most confusing paragraph so far, for us. But we decided to hold fast to our methodology and looked at the source of the quote, to see if there was a greater context that was being alluded to. By reading Surih 70, from the beginning, it seemed to unfold for us. We are very grateful for that, and actually a bit surprised at how fast that all happened. Consulting with each other, and taking a bit of time to try and peruse the verses, has really helped us come to a better understanding than we ever had before.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Paragraph 44

O my brother! Take thou the step of the spirit, so that, swift as the twinkling of an eye, thou mayest flash through the wilds of remoteness and bereavement, attain the Ridvan of everlasting reunion, and in one breath commune with the heavenly Spirits. For with human feet thou canst never hope to traverse these immeasurable distances, nor attain thy goal. Peace be upon him whom the light of truth guideth unto all truth, and who, in the name of God, standeth in the path of His Cause, upon the shore of true understanding.

In the previous paragraph we were asked Who sent down the Book of Moses, and it is obviously the same God that sent down the Qur'an. Now we are being asked to take the next step.

This leads us very cleanly into the next section of the Iqan, a whole pile of paragraphs that begin to refer to the Manifestations Themselves. He has already referred to the sun and the moon as the clergy, but now He moves us into a more positive image.

This paragraph is also laden with imagery of speed, as well as optical references.

Now, let's begin by remembering where we are. All of this section, the whole shebang, is all about that one passage from Matthew 24, in which Jesus says, "the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven". Baha'u'llah, as you can imagine, gives us many interpretations of this one phrase. He has already described how it can represent the various religions, the laws, or many other aspects of faith, but now He is getting ready to introduce us to the idea that this may also (Spoiler Alert) refer to the Manifestations of God.

So once again we're at a transition point in the text, and this paragraph can be seen like a launch pad.

He reminds us that this is a spiritual path we are walking, and that it can be traversed very swiftly. And yet, even though we often think we can achieve reunion, particularly at that time, by going on Pilgrimage, He feels it important enough to re-iterate the fact that it is a spiritual path. We cannot attain our goal with our physical feet. The distances involved, although surpassable in a flash, are immeasurable in distance.

And finally, He brings us back to the beginning of the Book by reminding us, again, like a kind and loving teacher, of that shore of the ocean of true understanding.

So, without further ado, let's cross this point and go on to the next paragraph, keeping firmly in mind that this is a spiritual undertaking, and is fundamentally mystical in its core.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Paragraph 43

And now, with fixed gaze and steady wings enter thou the way of certitude and truth. "Say: It is God; then leave them to entertain themselves with their cavilings."(Qur'án 6:91) Thus, wilt thou be accounted of those companions of whom He saith: "They that say 'Our Lord is God,' and continue steadfast in His way, upon them, verily, shall the angels descend."(Qur'án 41:30) Then shalt thou witness all these mysteries with thine own eyes.

In many ways this seems to be the first of two transitional paragraphs. We have just finished a huge section talking about the wayward religious leaders, and He seems to sum it all up by telling us to leave them to their cavilings, their trivial objections. He tells us to look forward with a "fixed gaze and steady wings", giving us a clear goal and firm intention.

He switches approach from the previous paragraphs, no longer referring to the allegorical, but telling us of the immediate reality of this next quote. If we proceed forward, unwavering in our determination, then we will be among those on whom the angels descend. The mysteries that have long been thought to be mere allegory Baha'u'llah says he, or we, will witness with our own eyes. These mysteries, though, seem to lie further ahead in the Qur'an, later in Surih 40.

Of course, we don't think He is saying that angels are going to fall on our head, dropping like reindeer from the sky, but if we look at it all with spiritual eyes, then we will see the angelic virtues circling around those who arise to serve His Cause, those who are steadfast in striving to build this new world civilization.

Now going back to the beginning, there is an interesting dynamic He points out. He references the Qur'an talking about those who "entertain themselves with their cavilings." What does this mean? As usual, we're not exactly sure, but for us we read it as referring to those people who find it fun to point out trivial faults. They are the ones who get a kick out of arguing. Rather then spending their time building something useful, they tear down anything they can.

This quote from the Qur'an is also in relation to those who would deny a new revelation. The uncle of the Bab, who was a learned Muslim, would know that Muhammad, in the beginning of 6:91, is telling the reader to ask the denier "Who sent down the Book of Moses". Obviously it is the same God that sent down the Qur'an, and also the Bayan.

Baha'u'llah is asking us to move with "fixed gaze and steady wings". By doing so, He is putting in our mind an image of an eagle that is soaring, or hunting. What is it that we are to be hunting? Perhaps the truth hidden within those verses.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Paragraph 42

It is unquestionable that in every succeeding Revelation the "sun" and "moon" of the teachings, laws, commandments, and prohibitions which have been established in the preceding Dispensation, and which have overshadowed the people of that age, become darkened, that is, are exhausted, and cease to exert their influence. Consider now, had the people of the Gospel recognized the meaning of the symbolic terms "sun" and "moon," had they sought, unlike the froward and perverse, enlightenment from Him Who is the Revealer of divine knowledge, they would have surely comprehended the purpose of these terms, and would not have become afflicted and oppressed by the darkness of their selfish desires. Yea, but since they have failed to acquire true knowledge from its very Source, they have perished in the perilous vale of waywardness and misbelief. They still have not awakened to perceive that all the signs foretold have been made manifest, that the promised Sun hath risen above the horizon of divine Revelation, and that the "sun" and "moon" of the teachings, the laws, and learning of a former Dispensation have darkened and set.

To begin, Baha'u'llah is pointing out a simple, "unquestionable" truth: the teachings, laws, commandments and prohibitions that were previously taught have ceased to exert their influence. The rest of this paragraph gives a singular example of this.

Many questions arise from this first sentence, though. First is why are those four listed in that order? It's a great question, but we will not spend time here looking at it, as we have done similar examinations previously.

Second, He talks about these aspects ceasing to exert their influence. Now, it is obvious that these various teachings and aspects of religion still exert influence, but He says that they no longer exert "their" influence. Is He implying that they exert something else's influence? If we look at the idea that these teachings are like the sun, then they should give light and warmth, and promote healthy growth. In a spiritual sense, these teachings should help us grow in compassion and love, lead us to greater knowledge of the world around us, and help promote higher degrees of unity. If there is anything in them that leads us towards hatred, or disunity, or closing off to the knowledge of the world, then we can be sure that we have misunderstood.

One spiritual teacher said that a void of the spiritual can lead to fanaticism. When thinking about this, we realize that if we see ourselves becoming fanatical then we can be certain that we have left spirituality behind.

As soon as we begin to think that we are right and have some sort of superior understanding to others, we have left that spirituality behind, for we have ceased to be humble. When we claim that our religion is the only one, or that another faith is somehow invalid, we have left that spirituality behind, for we have again ceased to be humble. When we deny another the freedom of choice, that God-given right to independent investigation, claiming that they will discover that we are correct at some indeterminate point in the future, we have truly left that spirituality behind along with our humility. But, when we listen to others, with an ear to searching for the truths that they have learned, which we may have missed, then we reclaim that spirit. "Far from challenging the validity of any of the great revealed faiths," writes the Universal House of Justice in their preface to One Common Faith, when referring to the interfaith tradition, "the principle has the capacity to ensure their continuing relevance." They themselves freely promote the truth that all religious teachings still have continuing relevance.

One example to look at, just in case we need it, is that of prayer. When we recite the Lord's Prayer, or even the Short Obligatory Prayer, those Words can raise us up to the heights of spiritual contemplation. Or, if we merely recite them out of obligation, we can feel proud for having fulfilled our duty. In that latter case they have ceased to exert their influence, and are, instead, promoting our own selfish desire.

The next point we want to look at is the interesting phrase, "consider now". This is in contrast to the earlier phrase, "consider the past". Up until this point, Baha'u'llah has not said anything against the Muslims of His day, for the man to whom He is writing would be in that category, and He obviously does not wish to offend. Here, Baha'u'llah has left off the admonition to consider the past, and is now asking this man to consider the present. But what does He do? He brings up an example of the past. He mentions the Christians denying Muhammad, and by allusion, slowly and carefully draws this man closer and closer to the present day problems with the Muslims striving to accept the Bab.

In short, there are many people who believe in the immutability of their religion, and base their understanding on the Words of the Founder of their faith. For example, Jesus, in Mark 13:31, said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away." And these people presume that it means the literal words on the paper, as opposed to the divine spirit contained within those words on paper. They fight, tooth and nail, to defend the least bit of their understanding, failing to see that the very stance of aggressiveness is contrary to the spirit that Jesus taught. They fail to recognize that the word of which Jesus was likely speaking is that same Word that was mentioned in the beginning of John, "In the beginning was the Word..."

When the Buddha said, "Everything changes, nothing remains without change", He gave us an insight into this truth which Baha'u'llah is alluding to here.

Baha'u'llah, in this paragraph, refers to those who have perished. They have died because they got stuck in the valley of waywardness and misbelief. And we can easily see ourselves stuck in this same position. But, with infinite grace, Baha'u'llah ends this paragraph with a glimmer of hope for us. He reminds us that we can get out of it by searching for that promised Sun that is rising, that same Sun that may be hidden by the hills surrounding us.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Paragraph 41

This is the purpose underlying the symbolic words of the Manifestations of God. Consequently, the application of the terms "sun" and "moon" to the things already mentioned hath been demonstrated and justified by the text of the sacred verses and the recorded traditions. Hence, it is clear and manifest that by the words "the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven" is intended the waywardness of the divines, and the annulment of laws firmly established by divine Revelation, all of which, in symbolic language, have been foreshadowed by the Manifestation of God. None except the righteous shall partake of this cup, none but the godly can share therein. "The righteous shall drink of a cup tempered at the camphor fountain." (1 Qur'án 76:5)

Here is the summary of what we have just read.

But it does beg a question. If this is case, that these sacred laws shall be annulled, and that this annulment was foreshadowed, what does it mean that only the righteous and the godly shall drink from this cup?

Simply put, we think that it means that there comes a time when following the letter of the law overshadows the beauty of compassion and mercy. It is at this time that those who remember the light of those virtues shall recognize the new Manifestation, the new Message, for they are the ones who recall the purpose of these laws.

There is reference to the idea of the Sun of divine Revelation, and the Moon of the Laws. What happens when the legalistic understanding of the laws gets in the way of the warmth of the revelation? It's called an eclipse. The Sun is still shining, but the light of it cannot reach us. It has been obscured by the clouds, or even the moon itself.

This reminds us of when Jesus told us that we had to be more righteous than the Pharisees themselves. Remember, this was at a time when to be righteous was thought to mean following the laws in the strictest sense possible. If that was the case, how could we possibly be more righteous than them? We couldn't. And so Jesus changes the very definition of righteousness for us, clarifying our understanding, bringing us back to the animating spirit behind these laws.

This is what happens in every dispensation. Following the letter of the Law overshadows the spirit, and the religion becomes cold, and seemingly dead.

Now, one last point: the camphor. There was a time in history when wine was diluted, mixed with other liquids to make it either more palatable or healthier. One of these elements was camphor. It had the marvelous property of giving it a pleasant fragrance, a light whitish milky quality, as well as a slight tang. It also aided in preventing a hangover. Tempering the wine would make it healthier for us, and here Baha'u'llah is specifying that it is being mixed with camphor, so He is drawing our attention to these specific qualities.

Perhaps we can meditate on these qualities and see how they refer to our following the laws of the previous dispensation, and how this would enable us to better recognize the new Messenger.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Paragraph 40

Moreover, in the traditions the terms "sun" and "moon" have been applied to prayer and fasting, even as it is said: "Fasting is illumination, prayer is light." One day, a well-known divine came to visit Us. While We were conversing with him, he referred to the above-quoted tradition. He said: "Inasmuch as fasting causeth the heat of the body to increase, it hath therefore been likened unto the light of the sun; and as the prayer of the night-season refresheth man, it hath been compared unto the radiance of the moon." Thereupon We realized that that poor man had not been favoured with a single drop of the ocean of true understanding, and had strayed far from the burning Bush of divine wisdom. We then politely observed to him saying: "The interpretation your honour hath given to this tradition is the one current amongst the people. Could it not be interpreted differently?" He asked Us: "What could it be?" We made reply: "Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets, and the most distinguished of God's chosen Ones, hath likened the Dispensation of the Qur'án unto heaven, by reason of its loftiness, its paramount influence, its majesty, and the fact that it comprehendeth all religions. And as the sun and moon constitute the brightest and most prominent luminaries in the heavens, similarly in the heaven of the religion of God two shining orbs have been ordained -- fasting and prayer. 'Islam is heaven; fasting is its sun, prayer, its moon.'"

The reason that we are are writing about all of this, and studying he Kitab-i-Iqan in such detail, is because the Guardian said that if we wanted to be effective teachers of the Faith, we needed to understand the various arguments that Baha'u'llah uses in this book.

In this paragraph, two things really stand out in this light. First, why would Baha'u'llah specifically bring up this man's interpretation? Perhaps because he had tried to find a physical interpretation to this spiritual saying, and it was Baha'u'llah's way of giving us an answer to this common response. Many people look for literal interpretations to spiritual prophecies, or a physical understanding of a metaphorical truth. Here, Baha'u'llah seems to be correcting this common misunderstanding, as well as offering us a response to such a comment.

Second, note how He doesn't say "You're a bozo." Instead, He demonstrates for us how to respond so as to not hurt another's heart.

He does not say "You believe this", but instead points out that the man is merely repeating a current or fashionable belief.

Now, also take a closer look at the way Baha'u'llah describes the situation. He refers to this "well-known divine" as a "poor man". There is an obvious sense of sympathy and compassion for him. Baha'u'llah recognizes that he has "not been favoured" by God with understanding. How sad this is. This poor man has strayed far. Our heart goes out to him.

Then, instead of saying that he is wrong, Baha'u'llah is polite. He does not "correct" him, but instead encourages his understanding. he then leads him to a better understanding. He allows the other man to ask for the other interpretation, instead of imposing it upon him. Baha'u'llah then brings it right back to Muhammad, something that this other man would obviously know and agree with. He is, after all, a divine, so his awareness of the verses of the Qur'an can be presumed.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Paragraph 39

The traditions established the fact that in all Dispensations the law of prayer hath constituted a fundamental element of the Revelation of all the Prophets of God -- a law the form and the manner of which hath been adapted to the varying requirements of every age. Inasmuch as every subsequent Revelation hath abolished the manners, habits, and teachings that have been clearly, specifically, and firmly established by the former Dispensation, these have accordingly been symbolically expressed in terms of 'sun' and 'moon'. "That He might prove you, which of you excel in deeds."[1]
[1 Qur'án 67:2.]

Here Baha'u'llah is showing us yet another aspect of the depth of meaning with Sacred Texts. He has already established that one meaning of the terms "sun", "moon" and "stars" are the divines in all the various Faiths. Now He is giving us another definition: that of prayer.

Every religion has some form of prayer, some way for people to commune with their Creator.

But, and here has been the kicker throughout history, they all do it differently. Some stand, some kneel, some raise their hands, others have their hands at their sides. The confusion, though, arises when some feel that the way they pray is the "correct" one. They confuse the form of the prayer for the state of prayer.

Prayer is an inner condition. It is a state of the soul. The way that we get to that state depends upon the individual. And when we achieve that state, when we immerse ourselves in the spirit of the prayer, then it feels as if our entire being is lit up. We feel that warmth and glow, as if our spirit was bathing in sunlight. We are recharged, spiritually, and we are more susceptible to the promptings of the spirit.

This is something that every Messenger of God has helped us learn.

Now, looking at that last line, Baha'u'llah quotes the Qur'an, and it is an interesting quote. It doesn't appear, to us at least, to have any direct bearing on the topic at hand. However, when we look at the next line verse in the Surih of Mulk, it reads, "[And] who created seven heavens in layers. You do not see in the creation of the Most Merciful any inconsistency. So return [your] vision [to the sky]; do you see any breaks?" This is the translation that seemed to really call attention to the idea of singularity in the sky. In other translations it reads, "Canst thou see any rifts", or "can you see any disorder".

When we refer this to the idea of prayer, we begin to see the consistency throughout all faiths. There is no division. They all refer us to prayer.

There are wonderful examples on YouTube about people of one faith praying like those of another. Of course, this is limited to a few sects, such as this Buddhist group (above) praying like Muslims, but still, it shows further consistency and crossover between the different faiths.