Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Paragraph 93

This is one of the instances that have been referred to. Verily by “perverting” the text is not meant that which these foolish and abject souls have fancied, even as some maintain that Jewish and Christian divines have effaced from the Book such verses as extol and magnify the countenance of Muḥammad, and instead thereof have inserted the contrary. How utterly vain and false are these words! Can a man who believeth in a book, and deemeth it to be inspired by God, mutilate it? Moreover, the Pentateuch had been spread over the surface of the earth, and was not confined to Mecca and Medina, so that they could privily corrupt and pervert its text. Nay, rather, by corruption of the text is meant that in which all Muslim divines are engaged today, that is the interpretation of God’s holy Book in accordance with their idle imaginings and vain desires. And as the Jews, in the time of Muḥammad, interpreted those verses of the Pentateuch, that referred to His Manifestation, after their own fancy, and refused to be satisfied with His holy utterance, the charge of “perverting” the text was therefore pronounced against them. Likewise, it is clear, how in this day, the people of the Qur’án have perverted the text of God’s holy Book, concerning the signs of the expected Manifestation, and interpreted it according to their inclination and desires.

Here is the eighth paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

This is another one of those paragraphs that is actually very straightforward in its argument, clearly re-stating an issue, outlining the problem, and identifying a simple explanation. We don't need to re-state what He has already said.

As usual, what we prefer to do is look at the implications on our own teaching work. After all, if we want to use this book to help us become effective teachers, then we really need to look at not only the methods and arguments that Baha'u'llah uses, but how they impact us, too.

For us, in the Baha'i Faith, we individuals are like the Muslim divines, in a sense. As there are no clergy in the Baha'i community, we are called upon to teach others, like the divines of old. So, for us, this paragraph is a clarion call, a reminder. We need to be very aware of our own inclinations and desires, and strive for that detachment which is the hallmark of part one of this book, ensuring that we are able to pass on the teachings as best as we are able.

We don't need to worry about altering the Text, as the original manuscripts and documents are all on file at the World Centre for all to see. This isn't our concern. Nor was it actually a concern for the people in the pat, as Baha'u'llah points out. The real "corruption" is in the interpretation. And this is where we need to continually rely on the guidance of the Master, the Guardian and even the direction set for us by the Universal House of Justice.

As far as a "idle imaginings and vain desires", we can do no better than to turn our attention to Mason Remey, and his tragic fall and collapse.

As you know, he was one of those few souls appointed to the station of Hand of the Cause by the Guardian, before his passing. Upon discovering that there was no will, and nobody appointed as his, the Guardian's, successor, in his grief he decided that he should be the next Guardian. This was pure folly, of course, but he looked at some various statements about the successorship and applied his own fancy to them. He decided that since 'Abdu'l-Baha had referred to him as His own "dear son", that this must make him an Aghsan, one of the lineal descendants of Baha'u'llah, and thus eligible. He also decided that the Guardian's appointment of him, Remey, as President of the International Baha'i Council, which was the precursor to the Universal House of Justice, must have been the Guardian giving him the blessing of successorship. Again, ridiculous, but that is the problem with the ego: it loves to play these sorts of disastrous tricks on us. Either way, it still didn't fly, because according to the Will and Testament of the Master, he still would have needed the approval of the Hands of the Cause, which he didn't have.

It may not be the strongest of examples, but it sure shows us the importance of trying to take things in context, and being aware of our own "inclination and desire".

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Paragraph 92

Yea, in the writings and utterances of the Mirrors reflecting the sun of the Muḥammadan Dispensation mention hath been made of “Modification by the exalted beings” and “alteration by the disdainful.” Such passages, however, refer only to particular cases. Among them is the story of Ibn-i-Ṣúríyá. When the people of Khaybar asked the focal center of the Muḥammadan Revelation concerning the penalty of adultery committed between a married man and a married woman, Muḥammad answered and said: “The law of God is death by stoning.” Whereupon they protested saying: “No such law hath been revealed in the Pentateuch.” Muḥammad answered and said: “Whom do ye regard among your rabbis as being a recognized authority and having a sure knowledge of the truth?” They agreed upon Ibn-i-Súríyá. Thereupon Muḥammad summoned him and said: “I adjure thee by God Who clove the sea for you, caused manna to descend upon you, and the cloud to overshadow you, Who delivered you from Pharaoh and his people, and exalted you above all human beings, to tell us what Moses hath decreed concerning adultery between a married man and a married woman.” He made reply: “O Muḥammad! death by stoning is the law.” Muḥammad observed: “Why is it then that this law is annulled and hath ceased to operate among the Jews?” He answered and said: “When Nebuchadnezzar delivered Jerusalem to the flames, and put the Jews to death, only a few survived. The divines of that age, considering the extremely limited number of the Jews, and the multitude of the Amalekites, took counsel together, and came to the conclusion that were they to enforce the law of the Pentateuch, every survivor who hath been delivered from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar would have to be put to death according to the verdict of the Book. Owing to such considerations, they totally repealed the penalty of death.” Meanwhile Gabriel inspired Muḥammad’s illumined heart with these words: “They pervert the text of the Word of God.”

Here is the seventh paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

It's always worth remembering where we are in the context of this book. For example, we wouldn't have thought of this story as being a reference to "a great sound of a trumpet", but upon reflection this sure seems like a trumpet blast to us. It must have really shocked the people of the time, the Jews to whom He was talking. A real wake up call.

Here we have Muhammad, Who in their opinion would know nothing of Jewish law, proving that He knows it better than they do. In His initial speech leading up to the question, He is demonstrating that He is well aware of the history of these peoples and is referring to them with the utmost respect.

Then, when Ibn-i-Suriya responds, he does so with a sound argument. His rationale for why the law was changed sure seems to make sense. We can understand it.

But let's face it, the Jewish divines and the Amalekites, one of the Jewish tribes, got together and repealed that law, but they didn't have the authority to do that.

It opens up a very tricky question. What do you do when the conditions change, but you don't have the authority to change the law? Maybe they could have put into abeyance the penalty for the time being, but they didn't. They "totally repealed" it. They may have had the right to offer mercy, but instead they went further. That was beyond their right and authority. There were so many other options they could have chosen. They could have said that anyone who survived the massacre in Jerusalem was exempt from that penalty, provided they remained faithful to a new spouse. They could have done any number of things to provide for the dire conditions of the day, but instead, they chose a simple and expedient solution.

Worse, though, was that this was done for all time. The repealing of this law was taken for granted, so much so that at the time of Muhammad the people had forgotten all about the original penalty.

And so God, through the angel Gabriel, inspired Muhammad to say, in relation to this story, that they perverted the Word of God.

But they didn't change the Word. You could still go back to the Tanakh, the Old Testament, and see that this really was the law. The word "pervert" only refers to their interpretation and application of the law.

And so, when the people of the Bab's day claim that the Christians and Jews don't even have the Word of God, because the Text is "perverted" or "corrupted', they are quite simply wrong. In this context, "to pervert" simply means to twist the meaning of something, or to turn away from something that is good.

All this is a beautiful reminder that the Messenger of God is well aware of the truth and details of the older faiths. He was fully aware of the Text. It is also a reminder that we should go back to the original text and see what it actually says, as opposed to merely listening to what the people thin it says.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Paragraph 91

Were they to be questioned concerning those signs that must needs herald the revelation and rise of the sun of the Muḥammadan Dispensation, to which We have already referred, none of which have been literally fulfilled, and were it to be said to them: “Wherefore have ye rejected the claims advanced by Christians and the peoples of other faiths and regard them as infidels,” knowing not what answer to give, they will reply: “These Books have been corrupted and are not, and never have been, of God.” Reflect: the words of the verses themselves eloquently testify to the truth that they are of God. A similar verse hath been also revealed in the Qur’án, were ye of them that comprehend. Verily I say, throughout all this period they have utterly failed to comprehend what is meant by corrupting the text.

Here we have the sixth paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

To start, this paragraph is giving us an example of an argument that was common at the time, and even today we have heard it referred to by some. The basic question is why have the Christians failed to recognize Muhammad. The response, absurd as it may be, is that the Bible has been "corrupted" and that the Christians don't have the Word of God by which they can begin to recognize Muhammad. Obviously, you know this is not true, for the beauty and wisdom of the Bible testify that it is of God.

What is actually meant by "corruption of the text" is explained in the next paragraph, so we won't go into it here. Instead, we want to look at Baha'u'llah's methodology and see what we can learn from it.

First, when the uncle of the Bab wrote his questions to Baha'u'llah, there was nothing in them about this supposed corruption of the text. Baha'u'llah is answering a question that wasn't even asked.

Why? We may wonder at His reasoning for doing such a thing. But then, when we take into account the historical time and culture in which this was written, He was aware that it would have been a common question that anyone would have asked at this point. He is anticipating the question in the reader's heart and addressing it before it even becomes an issue.

Second, He is re-affirming the validity of the Bible. The very words of the Bible itself, He says, testify to the truth that they are of God.

When talking with people of another faith path, we are, in a very real sense, walking on holy ground. The Universal House of Justice, itself, in the introduction to One Common Faith, refers to the interfaith movement, saying, "Far from challenging the validity of any of the great revealed faiths, the principle has the capacity to ensure their continuing relevance."

This, in one sense, is what Baha'u'llah is doing.

Remember, virtually everything that we have read is coming from that one verse from Matthew 24. The reading of the Qur'an goes hand in hand with the reading of the Bible. They compliment each other. You cannot have one without the other.

Third, Baha'u'llah is showing a tremendous amount of respect. This book, while primarily written for the uncle of the Bab, is also written for all of humanity. And this audience includes people of all faiths. Just imagine that you are a Christian, and you are told by a Muslim, "Oh, it's ok that you missed Muhammad. It's not your fault. Your Bible is corrupt." Where is the respect? Baha'u'llah is reminding us that these holy books, and not just the Bible and the Qur'an, but also the sacred books of all faiths, are considered holy for a good reason. They are transformative. They have a power that has moved and motivated people for many generations. "No other force in existence", we read in One Common Faith, "has been able to elicit from people comparable qualities of heroism, self-sacrifice and self-discipline...Viewed in perspective, the major religions emerge as the primary driving forces of the civilizing process. To argue otherwise is surely to ignore the evidence of history." "The scriptures", they go on, "have not changed; the moral principles they contain have lost none of their validity. No one who sincerely poses questions to Heaven, if he persists, will fail to detect an answering voice in the Psalms or in the Upanishads. Anyone with some intimation of the Reality that transcends this material one will be touched to the heart by the words in which Jesus or Buddha speaks so intimately of it."

If we truly believe that the Bab is from God, and that Baha'u'llah is the Promised One of All Ages, then we must acknowledge the validity of all those sacred Texts of the past. To do that, we have to honour and respect all the various Faiths.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Paragraph 90

Great God! Notwithstanding their acceptance of the truth of this tradition, these divines who are still doubtful of, and dispute about, the theological obscurities of their faith, yet claim to be the exponents of the subtleties of the law of God, and the expounders of the essential mysteries of His holy Word. They confidently assert that such traditions as indicate the advent of the expected Qá’im have not yet been fulfilled, whilst they themselves have failed to inhale the fragrance of the meaning of these traditions, and are still oblivious of the fact that all the signs foretold have come to pass, that the way of God’s holy Cause hath been revealed, and the concourse of the faithful, swift as lightning, are, even now, passing upon that way, whilst these foolish divines wait expecting to witness the signs foretold. Say, O ye foolish ones! Wait ye even as those before you are waiting!

Here we are: the fifth paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

So, just as a reminder, "this tradition" refers to that one from the previous paragraph that says the Cause is sorely trying. Also, we realize that we haven't really talked about it, but we begin every session with a prayer, usually one for either detachment or for teaching. And, another thing that is interesting for us is that we have been studying this for a while. In fact, on this very paragraph, Samuel has written a note in his copy of the book that we first studied it together back in July of 2001.


All of a sudden, the few years we've spent writing this blog don't seem all that long now.

Anyways, this paragraph seems to focus on humility. The divines that Baha'u'llah is speaking of don't seem to show it, but it really is one of the most important qualities we can have when searching out the truth, or trying to share what we have discovered.

We remember a story of a dear friend of ours who was living in the west side of Chicago back in the 60s. This was a part of town that was was mostly African American, or as they used to say back in the day, Black. And a group of Baha'is showed up in the area, who were mostly White, with just a few of the "token Black folk", as our friend put it. Now this woman was a fairly militant, angry Black woman who had seen all the hypocrisy and junk that the White folk had done, and she was having none of it. So when these two Baha'is knocked on her door to talk about wonderful their faith was, she asked them some really difficult questions.

And we mean really difficult.

Now, as is the usual case, there were two Baha'is there, as we said. One was the newbie who was to do all the talking, and the other was the old hand who would reflect back and help the newbie grow. It's sort of like how we "accompany" others today, only they didn't have that word in their lingo at the time. Actually, it's exactly like how we accompany others.

Before this newbie could say a word, though, the other Baha'i turned to them and said, "These are very important questions. They are the questions that every person in this neighbourhood has in their heart. And if we can't answer them, then we have no business being here."

This respect, honesty, and humility completely defused any anger that was in her heart, and showed her that this really was something different.

Now we compare that to these divines that Baha'u'llah is describing. No humility, and even anger if they're asked questions.

But here, Baha'u'llah is, as we know, helping prepare the Uncle of the Bab to recognize Him. He shows the obvious hypocrisy of the divines of His day, and points out how they are making the same mistakes that the divines made at the time of Muhammad, not to mention the time of Jesus.

"Wait ye even as those before you are waiting!" The parallels are obvious, and Baha'u'llah is giving him the choice of taking a different stance, or, well, being foolish.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Paragraph 89

Such objections and differences have persisted in every age and century. The people have always busied themselves with such specious discourses, vainly protesting: “Wherefore hath not this or that sign appeared?” Such ills befell them only because they have clung to the ways of the divines of the age in which they lived, and blindly imitated them in accepting or denying these Essences of Detachment, these holy and divine Beings. These leaders, owing to their immersion in selfish desires, and their pursuit of transitory and sordid things, have regarded these divine Luminaries as being opposed to the standards of their knowledge and understanding, and the opponents of their ways and judgments. As they have literally interpreted the Word of God, and the sayings and traditions of the Letters of Unity, and expounded them according to their own deficient understanding, they have therefore deprived themselves and all their people of the bountiful showers of the grace and mercies of God. And yet they bear witness to this well-known tradition: “Verily Our Word is abstruse, bewilderingly abstruse.” In another instance, it is said: “Our Cause is sorely trying, highly perplexing; none can bear it except a favorite of heaven, or an inspired Prophet, or he whose faith God hath tested.” These leaders of religion admit that none of these three specified conditions is applicable to them. The first two conditions are manifestly beyond their reach; as to the third, it is evident that at no time have they been proof against those tests that have been sent by God, and that when the divine Touchstone appeared, they have shown themselves to be naught but dross.

This is the fourth paragraph referring to "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

It begins with the people, the regular folk, like us, not the leaders. And He says something quite intriguing, but doesn't really go into it. He says that it is only, and here we emphasize the word "only", due to this blind, thoughtless, imitation of the divines that the people suffered "such ills".

Of course, from there He condemns these leaders for going after temporary and dirty things, instead of striving to find God and lead exemplary lives. Then He reminds us that we will all be tested, every one of us. And finally, He implies that these same leaders seem to think that they are somehow exempt from these tests.

It's all fairly straight forward, but what can we learn from it?

First of all, we learn to avoid blind imitation. Whatever we encounter, whatever we are told, we need to examine it for ourselves. If someone says to us that work is worship, we should examine that, for it is obvious that someone whose job entails abusing their workers or the environment is not actually worshiping God while they are doing so. With a bit of research, we find that 'Abdu'l-Baha has a caveat on that phrase: Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship. So it must be done in the spirit of service.

So, in one sense, we can come back to the concept of independent investigation of the truth. That's one thing we learn from this.

Another thing we can learn is to expect tests. Muhammad said, "Think because you say you believe you will not be tested?" Baha'u'llah re-emphasizes this. If we are not a favorite of heaven, or an inspired Prophet, then He promises us that we will be tested. And really, if you are a favored one, or a Prophet, why are you reading this? No. We will be tested. It's part of life. It's part of growing.

It's also part of our Faith.

The early Christians, for example, when they came to recognize Jesus did not expect heaven. They did not expect their life to be all cheery and rosy. They didn't expect people to surround them and pat them on the back, welcoming them into a nice church community with bake sales and choir concerts. They expected the cross. They expected to get thrown to the lions.

The Babis did not have anything to look forward to from their declaration expect perhaps the loss of their job and their homes, confiscation of all their possessions and eventual martyrdom.

Baha'u'llah, here, seems to be reminding the uncle of the Bab, in a very gentle way, that the tests that he may face will be very real.

And by extension, Baha'u'llah is reminding us of this, too.

When we come to recognize Baha'u'llah, we will need to make some very tough choices in our life. We may need to stop drinking that beer that we love (alright, maybe not so tough), or perhaps quit that job as it goes against some of our core beliefs. We may need to re-think how we spend our money or our free time. We know that we will do it with joy and love, but that joy and love may take some time to recognize. We will be called on to make a sacrifice, but as we know from the Ruhi books, a true sacrifice is giving up something lower for that which is higher.

And guess what? It all comes down to detachment. Remember detachment? Way back in paragraph 1? As we become detached from all that is in heaven and on earth, we can face these tests more easily, and stand a better chance of finding ourselves on the shores of the ocean of true understanding.