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.