Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Paragraph 76

Know verily that Knowledge is of two kinds: Divine and Satanic. The one welleth out from the fountain of divine inspiration; the other is but a reflection of vain and obscure thoughts. The source of the former is God Himself; the motive-force of the latter the whisperings of selfish desire. The one is guided by the principle: "Fear ye God; God will teach you;" (Qur'an 2:282) the other is but a confirmation of the truth: "Knowledge is the most grievous veil between man and his Creator." The former bringeth forth the fruit of patience, of longing desire, of true understanding, and love; whilst the latter can yield naught but arrogance, vainglory and conceit. From the sayings of those Masters of holy utterance, Who have expounded the meaning of true knowledge, the odour of these dark teachings, which have obscured the world, can in no wise be detected. The tree of such teachings can yield no result except iniquity and rebellion, and beareth no fruit but hatred and envy. Its fruit is deadly poison; its shadow a consuming fire. How well hath it been said: "Cling unto the robe of the Desire of thy heart, and put thou away all shame; bid the worldlywise be gone, however great their name."

This is the third of those twelve paragraphs that look at the phrase "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."

As you recall, in the previous paragraph Baha'u'llah ended with the phrase "true knowledge". But what is true knowledge? Here He answers that very question.

Without repeating what He says, we wanted to draw attention to the differences between these two types of knowledge, namely what results each produce. The Divine Knowledge produces patience, longing desire, true understanding and love. Satanic Knowledge produces arrogance, vainglory and conceit.

Both of these are, as we love to find, a path.

When we are talking with someone, striving to both teach them and learn from them, patience is an important starting point. When we have patience, and listen attentively, we will find a desire to learn more building within us. As this desire grows, we will listen even more closely and begin to come to a true understanding of them as an individual creation of God. This, of course, leads to true love.

The second path, which results from the Satanic Knowledge, Begins with arrogance, an overbearing and presumptuous manner. This leads to vainglory, an excessive pride in our own achievements, no matter how insignificant they may be. The final result is conceit, or an excessive appraising of our own worth.

In the end, if we look at the result of any teaching, whether it is from Baha'u'llah, or a teacher in school, or what we learn from the the media, we only need to see the results of it to determine whether it is Divine or Satanic. Does it bring us closer to God and lead us to love to other people? Or does it become a veil, preventing us from even considering the ideas and opinions of others?

There is another interesting aspect about this paragraph, in that Baha'u'llah quotes from the Qur'an, a traditional Sufi saying and an Arabic poem. He draws from all sorts of sources to help bring out His point. And this is something we can learn from. Throughout the Writings we are encouraged to study "such sciences as are useful and would redound to the progress and advancement of the people". The Guardian encourages us to read all sorts of things, from newspapers to fiction to non-fiction, and draw upon all of it in our understanding of the Faith. After all, how can we expect to talk intelligently about the harmony of science and religion if we have never read anything from the various sciences? How can we expect to talk about how the Faith can help solve the problems facing humanity today if we do not read about what is happening in the world?

There are so many instances of people only looking to their own writings, the teachings of their own Faith, and never taking the time to learn about others. Baha'u'llah seems to show us that we can immerse ourselves in the Writings, as well as study other branches of knowledge, just so long as they do not become that veil between us and God.

Baha'u'llah also, in a sense, seems to allude to the story of Adam, with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He refers to the two kinds of knowledge, which can certainly be seen in those terms. He mentions a fountain, which is indicative of a garden. The whisperings remind us of the snake in the Garden whispering to Eve. He talks of fruit and trees. Could He be moving us towards the idea that the divine Messenger bringing us the fruit of the Tree of Ever-lasting Life?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Paragraph 75

In the utterances of the divine Luminaries the term "heaven" hath been applied to many and divers things; such as the "heaven of Command," the "heaven of Will," the "heaven of the divine Purpose," the "heaven of divine Knowledge," the "heaven of Certitude," the "heaven of Utterance," the "heaven of Revelation," the "heaven of Concealment," and the like. In every instance, He hath given the term "heaven" a special meaning, the significance of which is revealed to none save those that have been initiated into the divine mysteries, and have drunk from the chalice of immortal life. For example, He saith: "The heaven hath sustenance for you, and it containeth that which you are promised;" (Qur'an 51:22) whereas it is the earth that yieldeth such sustenance. Likewise, it hath been said: "The names come down from heaven;" whereas they proceed out of the mouth of men. Wert thou to cleanse the mirror of thy heart from the dust of malice, thou wouldst apprehend the meaning of the symbolic terms revealed by the all-embracing Word of God made manifest in every Dispensation, and wouldst discover the mysteries of divine knowledge. Not, however, until thou consumest with the flame of utter detachment those veils of idle learning, that are current amongst men, canst thou behold the resplendent morn of true knowledge.

This is the second of 12 paragraphs looking at the phrase "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." And here, as you can see, Baha'u'llah is specifically looking at the word "heaven". He did this earlier, back in paragraph 46, and is, in a sense, reminding us that there are many layers of meaning in every word of sacred Text. This is a theme He returns to over and over again. Whenever we think we know what sacred Text means, He seems to be saying that we must remain detached from that and be open to even more layers of understanding.

Also, like usual, nothing He does is random. Even the various quotes regarding the word "heaven" seem to have a path. There is the command, with the will to get whatever is commanded done. As we proceed on achieving this, we begin to discover the purpose, which leads us to knowledge. With knowledge, we gain in certitude. From there we can begin to use our utterance to teach the Revelation, which comes from God alone, Who is concealed behind many veils. With every instance of a list in this book, we have seen that there is a path, if we only look for it. (How was that for connecting it to the next line?)

Over and over again He reminds us that if we take the literal meaning of all these phrases, it really doesn't make any sense. He encourages us to use our mind, to be rational, to investigate these things for ourselves. And most importantly, He encourages us to be open-minded, to not let the veils of our education get in the way of seeing the truth.

But then, as usual, He says something that makes us say, "That's odd." He uses the word "malice". He says that if we cleanse our heart from "malice", then we will understand these terms.

Why malice? Malice is an ill-will, or the intention or desire to commit an unlawful act. It seems kind of a strange pre-requisite. But is it? Baha'u'llah says that "malice is a grievous malady which depriveth man from recognizing the Great Being, and debarreth him from the splendors of the sun of certitude." This whole book is all about certitude, so it makes sense that He would be very concerned in this context about it. In the Hidden Words, He says, "Purge thy heart from malice and, innocent of envy, enter the divine court of holiness." This links malice to envy, which is an ill-will. Envy is when you desire an attribute of someone else, or a possession of theirs. If we have even the least trace of envy in our heart, that trace will explode beyond belief in the presence of a Messenger of God. How numerous are the stories of those who were envious of Baha'u'llah and did all they could to tear Him down? Just look at the utter depravity of Mirza Yahya and how he did all he could to try and supplant Baha'u'llah and take over control of the Babi faith. You can even look back at Jesus with the Pharisees. They, too, were obviously jealous of His wisdom and knowledge.

So, once we have cleansed the mirror of our heart from any trace of envy, or other sort of malice, then we have the chance of seeing these things clearly. We won't be blinded by our emotional or egotistical response. With detachment, that very important attribute which is the theme running through all of Part 1 of this book, we can then begin to approach and recognize true knowledge, as opposed to that knowledge which is the product of man's fancy.

Oh, but wait! How can we tell the difference? That, my friend, is in paragraph 76.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Paragraph 74

And now, with reference to His words: "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." These words signify that in those days men will lament the loss of the Sun of the divine beauty, of the Moon of knowledge, and of the Stars of divine wisdom. Thereupon, they will behold the countenance of the promised One, the adored Beauty, descending from heaven and riding upon the clouds. By this is meant that the divine Beauty will be made manifest from the heaven of the will of God, and will appear in the form of the human temple. The term "heaven" denoteth loftiness and exaltation, inasmuch as it is the seat of the revelation of those Manifestations of Holiness, the Day-springs of ancient glory. These ancient Beings, though delivered from the womb of their mother, have in reality descended from the heaven of the will of God. Though they be dwelling on this earth, yet their true habitations are the retreats of glory in the realms above. Whilst walking amongst mortals, they soar in the heaven of the divine presence. Without feet they tread the path of the spirit, and without wings they rise unto the exalted heights of divine unity. With every fleeting breath they cover the immensity of space, and at every moment traverse the kingdoms of the visible and the invisible. Upon their thrones is written: "Nothing whatsoever keepeth Him from being occupied with any other thing;" and on their seats is inscribed: "Verily, His ways differ every day." (Qur'an 55:29) They are sent forth through the transcendent power of the Ancient of Days, and are raised up by the exalted will of God, the most mighty King. This is what is meant by the words: "coming in the clouds of heaven."

Well, here we are, on the next phrase of that incredible prophesy from Matthew 24. As you may recall, all of Part 1 from paragraph 24 on revolves around this quote from Jesus. This paragraph begins the section that looks at the phrase "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." And it goes all the way through paragraph 85.

As we saw in the earlier analysis of other phrases, there are many levels of meaning hidden within the one line, and Baha'u'llah helps us explore just a few of them. To start, He begins here, with this beautiful description of the dual station of the Manifestations of God. Actually, He begins by reminding us of His earlier interpretations of the Sun, the Moon and the Stars. Then He goes on to describe this dual aspect of the Messengers. With this, He ties this back to the earlier sections of the Book, a lesson we can emulate when teaching the Faith to others.

This description appears to us to be a path of Their life. It begins with birth, with mention of the womb, and continues with life on this planet, "dwelling on this earth", and describes Their presence amongst us. He moves from the earth up to the heavens, from the feet to the wings, and describes the immensity of what They perceive. He talks about Their majesty, with the thrones, and Their everyday life with the simplicity of a seat. Although They are with us here on earth., They are, in reality, "sent forth" and "raised up".

While we mourn the loss of the sun, the moon and the stars, we should also rejoice in the presence of the true Light from God. An interesting aspect of this is the idea that "all the tribes of the earth mourn". Is this truly the case? It is, if we begin to think about the various stages of grief, as described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. First, many people deny it. They deny, for example, that the prejudice engendered by their churches response to, say, gay marriages, or interfaith work, is anything other than a lack of love. They deny what is obvious to any outside observer. Then there is the anger, either expressed through the fanaticism that led to the world wars, or the more recent examples of Islamic fanaticism leading to terrorist activities in many parts of the world, or the fanatical Christian anger demonstrated in parts of the United States. There is also the attempt at bargaining, the denial of the reality of climate change, for example, and the attempted bargaining to keep our modern comforts while trying to stave off this impending disaster. The fourth stage is depression, evidenced by the massive upswing in cases of depression and suicide throughout the world. Finally, though, will come acceptance, as we realize the truth of the current state of the world.

Another interesting quote He uses at the end of this paragraph is "Nothing whatsoever keepeth Him from being occupied with any other thing." This is a very interesting phrase, and was seen quite clearly in Baha'u'llah's life. It was also seen in the life of 'Abdu'l-Baha. Many are the reports of 'Abdu'l-Baha as He was dictating letters to His secretaries. He is said to have been dictating one letter in Arabic, while at the same time dictating another letter to a different secretary in Persian, while at the same time writing a third letter by hand in Turkish.

In both of Their lives, it did not matter what was happening around Them, for these events could not distract Them from the all-important work that They were doing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Paragraph 73

From all that We have stated it hath become clear and manifest that before the revelation of each of the Mirrors reflecting the divine Essence, the signs heralding their advent must needs be revealed in the visible heaven as well as in the invisible, wherein is the seat of the sun of knowledge, of the moon of wisdom, and of the stars of understanding and utterance. The sign of the invisible heaven must needs be revealed in the person of that perfect man who, before each Manifestation appeareth, educateth, and prepareth the souls of men for the advent of the divine Luminary, the Light of the unity of God amongst men.

Remember how we said that part 1 can be divided into a series of sections revolving around that prophecy from Matthew 24? Well, this paragraph is the last one that focuses on the phrase "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven."

The "sign", as Baha'u'llah points out here, is two-fold: a sign in the heaven above us, otherwise known as the sky, and a sign through a harbinger, that "perfect man". It is worth pointing out that this station, that of the harbinger, is quite different from those who come after the Manifestation. He is not in the same position as an apostle, or a disciple, or even a saint. For one thing, he has to recognize the signs of the Messenger before they even appear on earth.

But what does this have to do with us? If we look at this book as a blueprint for how to "become competent and useful teachers" of the Cause, then perhaps there is a clue to that here.

Baha'u'llah is not only summarizing this section on the signs in heaven, He is tying it to a previous section, in which He explained the phrase "the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven". He is not only helping us move forward, He is also ensuring that we make the connection to previous ideas and see this prophecy from Jesus as a united whole. It is but another aspect of that unity that Baha'u'llah will infuse into His whole Dispensation. He is talking about the unity of the Prophets, and He helps us see the unity of Their signs, and ensures that we see the over-arching unity of this statement from Jesus. He makes sure that we don't take any line, or any idea, out of context. It is all about the unity and coherency of both Their message and Their selves.

This section on the harbingers also brings to mind the question of some people about their own faith. Some Christians, as but one example, don't recognize that other Messengers had Their own harbinger, or Their own star signaling Their coming. They believe that only Jesus had a John the Baptist and a star signaling the Magi. They refuse to accept the parallel signs in other faiths.

It reminds us of a story from the early 80s, Some US auto executives were going to Japan to try and understand how the Japanese automakers were outperforming their US counterparts. They went over there and were given a tour of at least one factory. Upon their return to the US, one of the Detroit executives said that the whole thing was staged. "They didn't show us", he complained, "a real factory." He said that he had been in the auto manufacturing business his whole life, had seen plenty of assembly line facilities, and knew that the ones he saw in Japan were not real. When asked how he knew this, he said that there weren't any inventories. He said that it was impossible to have an assembly line without a standing inventory on hand.

He was shown the truth and was unable to accept it because it didn't fit with his pre-conceived idea of how things had to be.

This, of course, brings us right back to the very first paragraph. "No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth." If we do not sanctify our soul, and detach ourselves from our previous ideas, allowing ourselves to at least consider new ideas, then we will not see the truth even if it right in front of us.

It also reminds us of another quote from Baha'u'llah: "Consort with all men, O people of Baha, in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and good-will. If it be accepted, if it fulfil its purpose, your object is attained. If any one should refuse it, leave him unto himself, and beseech God to guide him. Beware lest ye deal unkindly with him. A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding...."

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Paragraph 72

And now concerning this wondrous and most exalted Cause. Know thou verily that many an astronomer hath announced the appearance of its star in the visible heaven. Likewise, there appeared on earth Ahmad and Kazim, those twin resplendent lights -- may God sanctify their resting-place!

We want to look at this paragraph sentence by sentence, which is fairly easy because it is so short. Also, because we haven't done that before, look at a paragraph sentence by sentence, that is.

"And now concerning this wondrous and most exalted Cause." Wow. He is finally, after more than 60 pages, directly talking about the Bab and His faith. Everything up until now has been preparing us for this, slowly, one step at a time.

"Know thou verily that many an astronomer hath announced the appearance of its star in the visible heaven." The 1840s? This was when we were discovering new planets, and on the verge of discovering galaxies. We were at the beginning of recognizing the previously unfathomable breadth and scope of the heavens, discovering that there is far more out there than we ever could have dreamed. We didn't just discover a new star; we discovered an entire universe. It is also notable that the famous astronomer, Bessel, discovered, in 1844, the previously unseen companion of the star Sirius, now known as Sirius B. This was the first time we had ever seen twin stars in the sky, just as this is the first time we have ever seen Twin Manifestations here on earth.

"Likewise, there appeared on earth Ahmad and Kazim, those twin resplendent lights -- may God sanctify their resting-place!" We know so little about any of the previous harbingers, a few lines in the Bible, or a small section of the Qur'an. We have a few oral tales here and there, but little in the way of any detail. Not so with Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim. Here we have tons of contemporary records, and even The Dawn-Breakers. They were famous figures in their time, well-known to all. The stories surrounding their lives are legendary. And, for a fun fact moment, Ahmad is buried in Medina, in the shadow of the tomb of Muhammad, while Kazim is buried in Karbila near the Shrine of the Imam Husayn, regarded by many as the holiest of the Imams.

Despite all this, all Baha'u'llah does is give us a brief glimpse here. He mentions them and moves on, leaving us saying, "Wait, what? Tell us more."

Now, let's look at this from the perspective of the Bab's uncle, to whom this book was written.

Not even 20 years earlier, he had seen his society pulled apart theologically, a great schism occurring between those who followed Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim, and those who followed the more traditional forms of religious leadership. He himself was a Shaykhi, and had seen a lot of turmoil caused in his community because of this. More recently he had seen how some of the Shaykhis had recognized in his Nephew the promised One foretold by Ahmad and Kazim and seen how many of them were killed. He had seen the Bab Himself rise from being an obscure merchant to being executed for heresy.

But he himself was still a Shaykhi, perhaps a shaky Shaykhi but still a follower and admirer of Ahmad.

Here, Baha'u'llah is directly mentioning these two luminaries to one of their admirers, and further elevating their station. Not only, He seems to be saying, were they great teachers, they were harbingers in the same light as all those great souls just mentioned. He is, quite simply, saying that Ahmad and Kazim are in the same position as, say, John the Baptist. And, of course, if you recognize the harbinger, then you should also recognize the Messenger that is to follow.