Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Paragraph 84

Likewise, He saith: “On the day when the heaven shall give out a palpable smoke, which shall enshroud mankind: this will be an afflictive torment.” The All-Glorious hath decreed these very things, that are contrary to the desires of wicked men, to be the touchstone and standard whereby He proveth His servants, that the just may be known from the wicked, and the faithful distinguished from the infidel. The symbolic term “smoke” denotes grave dissensions, the abrogation and demolition of recognized standards, and the utter destruction of their narrow-minded exponents. What smoke more dense and overpowering than the one which hath now enshrouded all the peoples of the world, which hath become a torment unto them, and from which they hopelessly fail to deliver themselves, however much they strive? So fierce is this fire of self burning within them, that at every moment they seem to be afflicted with fresh torments. The more they are told that this wondrous Cause of God, this Revelation from the Most High, hath been made manifest to all mankind, and is waxing greater and stronger every day, the fiercer groweth the blaze of the fire in their hearts. The more they observe the indomitable strength, the sublime renunciation, the unwavering constancy of God’s holy companions, who, by the aid of God, are growing nobler and more glorious every day, the deeper the dismay which ravageth their souls. In these days, praise be to God, the power of His Word hath obtained such ascendancy over men, that they dare breathe no word. Were they to encounter one of the companions of God who, if he could, would, freely and joyously, offer up ten thousand lives as a sacrifice for his Beloved, so great would be their fear, that they forthwith would profess their faith in Him, whilst privily they would vilify and execrate His name! Even as He hath revealed: “And when they meet you, they say, ‘We believe’; but when they are apart, they bite their fingers’ ends at you, out of wrath. Say: ‘Die in your wrath!’ God truly knoweth the very recesses of your breasts.”

This is the eleventh 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." We keep mentioning this because we want to make sure that we keep track of where we are in the book, and as you know, this quote from Jesus is the main part of Part 1. It sort of forms the outline.

Previously we saw the gentle clouds that block the sun, and then the dark and stormy clouds. Now Baha'u'llah is describing for us those clouds of black smoke, the ones that can actually choke us and kill us.

It is worth remembering that most people who die in a fire actually die from the smoke inhalation, and not the fire itself. And this smoke gets into everything. When you have a fire in your home, the smoke damage is immense. Everything needs to be replaced.

It is also worth remembering the old adage, "Where there is smoke, there is fire." Here, Baha'u'llah tells us that this smoke, which is so destructive and deadly, comes from the fire of self. Fire, in the Baha'i writings, has two very different connotations. In one sense, it is the fire that we use for light, warmth, and as a tool. In the other sense, it is that fire which burns, causing incredible pain and destruction. Back in paragraph 19, He spoke of "the fire of the love of Jesus (that) consumed the veils". Here He is talking about that fire of self that burns in our heart. In both cases, the greater the power of the Faith, the more that fire grows. In one way, it is like He says in the Hidden Words, "My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy." To some, it makes their anger burn fiercer, to others it makes their faith firmer.

In terms of the bad fire, He says that it will give off a "palpable smoke". This is a smoke that we not only can see, but can actually touch, too. He says this will be an "afflictive torment". While we often use the word "torment" to mean pain, it more traditionally was used to refer to a great commotion. Here there is no doubt, it is a very painful commotion. When the fire of self burns high, it truly throws our life into what can only be called a painful commotion.

No matter how we read this, it's not a good thing.

If we are subject to our ego, then the fire that will burn in the heart will be a bad thing, leading to great pain and death in our life.

Baha'u'llah also, as usual, gives us a bit of a path to follow here. He says that the more these people are told about the Faith, the fiercer this fire will grow. The more they see of it, the more they will become disheartened, and this will ravage their soul. And if they were to meet a Baha'i, they would publicly agree with them, all the while cursing them in private.

This is in direct contrast to that sincere seeker who will initially hear about the Faith and feel the fire of love. Then they will see it and become awe-stricken. Finally they will meet the friends and become a confirmed believer.

It is just like way back in paragraph 6, where He says, "Should you acquaint yourself with the indignities heaped upon the Prophets of God, and apprehend the true causes of the objections voiced by their oppressors, you will surely appreciate the significance of their position. Moreover, the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be you faith in the Cause of God." You hear, you see, you act.

In both cases, we have a fire in our heart. As long as we don't just sit idle and let life pass us by, there will be a fire in our heart. The only question is, which fire will we nurture?

That was the question facing the uncle of the Bab, and by extension each one of us.

The other question, of course, is how does this apply to our life? In the example Baha'u'llah has given, we see someone who is proud and believes they are right. As they are shown to be mistaken, they have a choice. They can either change their mind, or, as we often see, they become defensive and get angrier. The more they are shown that they are wrong, the angrier they become. It is as one author said: "It is easier to forgive someone for being wrong than it is for being right."

For us, in our daily life, we can watch for this reaction in ourselves. If we see ourselves becoming defensive and angry, then it likely means that we are probably on this path of the ego.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Paragraph 83

Gracious God! Notwithstanding the warning which, in marvelously symbolic language and subtle allusions, hath been uttered in days past, and which was intended to awaken the peoples of the world and to prevent them from being deprived of their share of the billowing ocean of God’s grace, yet such things as have already been witnessed have come to pass! Reference to these things hath also been made in the Qur’├ín, as witnessed by this verse: “What can such expect but that God should come down to them overshadowed with clouds?” A number of the divines, who hold firmly to the letter of the Word of God, have come to regard this verse as one of the signs of that expected resurrection which is born of their idle fancy. This, notwithstanding the fact that similar references have been made in most of the heavenly Books, and have been recorded in all the passages connected with the signs of the coming Manifestation.

This is the tenth 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."

After the heavy weight of the previous few paragraphs, in which He talks about those dark clouds, paragraphs laden with so much symbolism and direct warnings, we actually thought that this paragraph might be something of a decrescendo. We came to it thinking that we might actually get a bit of a breather and have to really struggle to find something in it worth talking about.

Initially, we thought to mention a little bit about those things that "have come to pass", such as the martyrdom of the Bab and the slaughter of over 20,000 Babis, which the uncle to whom this was written was no doubt aware. But then we decided against it, thinking that this is not really meant to be a history lesson. Besides, we're sure that you are already aware of it.

Then, out of nowhere, we noticed the phrase "the billowing ocean", and immediately were reminded of the very first sentence: "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."

As if in response to this, we noticed the phrase "idle fancy" and were reminded of the second paragraph, in which Baha'u'llah says that those who want to tread the path of faith must cleanse "their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth."

This reminded us of something that happened just last week.

A friend of ours was looking at the beginning of this book, reading those opening paragraphs, and thinking about our methodology of looking for patterns. She noticed that there was a pattern there that we had missed. Now that's really not that difficult, for there is undoubtedly a lot that we have missed, but it was still very confirming. She pointed out that Baha'u'llah moves us from our ears to our mind, to our heart and then on to our eyes. She observed that we listen to those around us. We take in what they say, and think about their point of view. This effects our mind, and can even change it. From there, our mind effects our heart. And the state of our heart directly impacts how we perceive the world around us.

All of a sudden, we saw how directly this related to the paragraph here.

In the Qur'an, Muhammad says that God will come down overshadowed with clouds. What else would we expect? But then there are those divines who have their own notion of what the Promised One will look like, how He will come, and Baha'u'llah says that this is merely their own idle fancy. Idle means that it has no basis in reality and is useless. Fancy means that they are really attracted to it. When you are attracted to something, attached to it, you feel threatened when someone tries to take it away. And here, what they are attracted to is actually useless.

The Messenger of God comes along and, in a sense, takes away their frivolous idea, supplanting it with something that is both useful and effective, and they get angry.

Now, in relation to paragraph 2, these divines talk about their own belief. Their followers listen and they believe the divines. They, too, become attached to these ideas, and their hearts are effected. When they see someone come along who believes otherwise, they attack them.

Remember, you can only see someone as an enemy if you believe that they are trying to take something you have. By being "detached from all that is in heaven and on earth", you can no longer see anyone as an enemy.

This is a crucial concept for searching for the truth. It is an essential element for consultation. And it is an important ingredient for world peace.

And all of this is but one of the elements of the teachings of Baha'u'llah.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Paragraph 82

It behooveth us, therefore, to make the utmost endeavour, that, by God’s invisible assistance, these dark veils, these clouds of Heaven-sent trials, may not hinder us from beholding the beauty of His shining Countenance, and that we may recognize Him only by His own Self. And should we ask for a testimony of His truth, we should content ourselves with one, and only one; that thereby we may attain unto Him Who is the Fountain-head of infinite grace, and in Whose presence all the world’s abundance fadeth into nothingness, that we may cease to cavil at Him every day and to cleave unto our own idle fancy.

Here is the ninth 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."

Baha'u'llah is, in one sense, reminding us we have to work hard, and rely on God's grace, to avoid these dark clouds that He has just mentioned in the previous paragraph. He also reminds us that we should not rely on our own deficient standards as a measuring stick for proof. After all, we are prone to error. We are, however, allowed to ask for a testimony of His truth. With wonderful patience and bountifulness, He is freeing us from the injunction by the Bab to not ask for any proof. But we are to only ask for one. After all, if you don't recognize Him after one, when will you recognize? Too often we ask for proof, and then say, 'Oh, that was just coincidence." And then we raise petty objections, never taking the step of recognition.

In all of this, we are reminded of two very different stories.

In the first story, a group of clergy challenged Baha'u'llah, saying that He had to perform a miracle if they were to even think about believing in Him. He agreed to this on one condition. They would need to come together and agree on a single miracle which, if He performed, would suffice for them. They would need to agree to back His claim publicly, if He did as they requested. When this was presented to them as the condition, they were unable to either agree on a single miracle, nor were they willing to back His claim if He did perform it. In short, He called their bluff.

The second story involves Mulla Husayn, the first Letter of the Living and the first to recognize the Bab. Now, before we tell this story, we need to remind you, as well as ourselves, that this is the person with such a high station that Baha'u'llah Himself, later in this very book, says, "But for him, God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy, nor ascended the throne of eternal glory." (Wow! We really can't even begin to wrap our heads around this quote.) So were talking about quite a remarkable person here. Now, the story is that later in his life, Mulla Husayn was walking in his home town, passing by the very school in which he began his studies. His companion began to praise the school as the very place in which Mulla Husayn began his journey which resulted in him recognizing the Bab. Mulla Husayn, however, turned to him and said something to the effect of, "No, curses be upon this school, for if it wasn't for what I learned here, I would never have argued with my Lord." You see, when Mulla Husayn sat with the Bab on that fateful night, he presented a list of criteria that the Bab needed to fulfill. That was his question, and the Bab answered, demonstrating that He fulfilled all those criteria. But this wasn't enough. Mulla Husayn said that He should be careful, for this was quite the claim to make. Then Mulla Husayn gave the Bab a notebook filled with questions that he had about the teachings of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim, saying that the Promised One would be able to unravel all these questions he had. The Bab did this, too, but still it wasn't enough. Mulla Husayn then remembered that he wanted the Bab to reveal a commentary on the story of Joseph, as his own teacher had said that the Promised One would do this unasked. Only when the Bab revealed this commentary did Mulla Husayn accept.

The Bab was, of course, being incredibly gracious here. He could have turned Mulla Husayn away saying that it wasn't for the people to test God, but instead allowed Mulla Husayn to come to Him as he would.

Here, years later, Baha'u'llah is reminding us of this, that we are allowed to ask, but should content ourselves with a single proof.

'Abdu'l-Baha also gives us a bit of guidance: "Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God. Therefore depend upon your own reason and judgment and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation; otherwise you will be utterly submerged in the sea of ignorance and deprived of all the bounties of God."

At the end of this paragraph, Baha'u'llah reminds us not to cavil, to avoid raising these trivial objections. After all, this is a habit in many cultures. We are always saying, "Oh, but what about this? what about that?" We never really seem to be satisfied. In fact, it can be asked of us when we do this, where is our humility?

"Turn to God," continues 'Abdu'l-Baha, "supplicate humbly at His threshold, seeking assistance and confirmation, that God may rend asunder the veils that obscure your vision."

By the way, here is the full quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha that we used above:
God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth. He has endowed man with ears that he may hear the message of reality and conferred upon him the gift of reason by which he may discover things for himself. This is his endowment and equipment for the investigation of reality. Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another’s ears nor comprehend with another’s brain. Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God. Therefore depend upon your own reason and judgment and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation; otherwise you will be utterly submerged in the sea of ignorance and deprived of all the bounties of God. Turn to God, supplicate humbly at His threshold, seeking assistance and confirmation, that God may rend asunder the veils that obscure your vision. Then will your eyes be filled with illumination, face to face you will behold the reality of God and your heart become completely purified from the dross of ignorance, reflecting the glories and bounties of the Kingdom. - 'Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, page 75

(We really love "cut and paste".)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Paragraph 81

It is evident that the changes brought about in every Dispensation constitute the dark clouds that intervene between the eye of man's understanding and the divine Luminary which shineth forth from the dayspring of the divine Essence. Consider how men for generations have been blindly imitating their fathers, and have been trained according to such ways and manners as have been laid down by the dictates of their Faith. Were these men, therefore, to discover suddenly that a Man, Who hath been living in their midst, Who, with respect to every human limitation, hath been their equal, had risen to abolish every established principle imposed by their Faith -- principles by which for centuries they have been disciplined, and every opposer and denier of which they have come to regard as infidel, profligate and wicked, -- they would of a certainty be veiled and hindered from acknowledging His truth. Such things are as "clouds" that veil the eyes of those whose inner being hath not tasted the Salsabil of detachment, nor drunk from the Kawthar of the knowledge of God. Such men, when acquainted with these circumstances, become so veiled that without the least question, they pronounce the Manifestation of God an infidel, and sentence Him to death. You must have heard of such things taking place all down the ages, and are now observing them in these days.

Here is the eighth 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."

In the previous paragraphs, He refers to the various clouds that block our vision of the Manifestations. He mentions such things as the fact that the Messengers had to eat and sleep. These are similar, in sense, to the nice fluffy clouds that occasionally block the sun, such as the cirrus clouds.

Here He is referring to "the dark clouds", those clouds that are the harbinger of serious storms. These are the clouds that send us scampering for cover, the ominous nimbostratus clouds.

But what are they? Well, Baha'u'llah tells us that they are those traditions by which we judge whether someone is a good person or not. They are those old traditions that we know of, but do not necessarily why they exist.

Our favorite example is that of turning to Jerusalem when praying. For centuries people were told that if they wanted to pray in the right way, they were to face Jerusalem, that if they were good people they would face Jerusalem. They were told that all good people faced that way when praying. But in many cases they were not told why. They were never told that God is everywhere and so it doesn't really matter where you face, but that you faced Jerusalem in honour and remembrance of the Temple there.

When Muhammad came along, He, too, turned to Jerusalem during His prayers. But them , one day, after a falling out with some Jewish people, He suddenly turned away from Jerusalem and began to face Mecca.

Naturally, some people saw this and understood that "He doeth as He willeth", but others saw it as an indication that He was not a good person. The former became staunch Muslims while the latter fell away as infidels, confirming the statement, "Think because you say you believe, you will not be tested".

Another example of this is Jesus in the New Testament when He healed someone on the Sabbath. He understood, and even explained, that the Sabbath was created for man's benefit, and that there were times when you had to do some work on that day because otherwise it would be too late.

We, too, within the Baha'i community, can also be aware of this dynamic. For example, we face Bhaji when saying our obligatory prayer, and some choose to face it when reading the Tablet of Visitation during the commemoration of the ascension of Baha'u'llah. The latter, of course, is optional, but some of the friends occasionally try to impose it upon others. Either way, we can be aware of the importance of explaining why we face Bhaji, and not allowing it to become an empty ritual devoid of meaning.

So, how can we avoid falling in to this trap? Simple: detachment.

Baha'u'llah also gives us a taste of the effects this, this blindness causing harm in others, when He refers to the three levels of immorality. The first is the infidel, who is merely a person who doesn't believe. The second is the one who is profligate, who indulges themselves in immoral or extreme pleasure. The third, though, is the one who is wicked, who intentionally seeks to harm another.

Finally, Baha'u'llah makes mention of two interesting things at the very end: the Salsabil of detachment and the Kawthar of the knowledge of God.

Salsabil literally means "soft flowing" and is one of the fountains found in Paradise, according to Islamic tradition. Kawthar is a river in Paradise, from which all the other rivers flow. Part of its waters flow into a lake on whose shores the faithful are said to rest after having crossed the bridge that takes them over the fires of Hell.

We find these two analogies beautiful because He seems to be implying that when we apply our sense of detachment, the very essence of this first part of the Kitab-i-Iqan, we are in the heart of Paradise.

And when we apply the knowledge of God, then we can see the traps that are all there before us, avoid them, and find our rest and comfort on the shores of that lake in paradise.

Of course, we also need to remember that "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."