Fear not, little seed. The Farmer has destined all good things for you: A warm sun, furry friends, a refreshing breeze. With what wisdom! He thrust you into a hole, pitch and dark; airless, lightless; every movement a struggle. A world, in every way opposite. Never cease reaching toward the sky you were promised. Fear not, little seed, Fear not.
The Bahá’í Faith originated in Persian in the middle of the 19th century, at a time when the Industrial Revolution was just underway; when woman did not have the right to vote in America; when the world was connected at best by steam ships; when the South was still an advocate of slavery; and when monarchies were still rivaling for power in the Old World.
In such circumstances, two Men appeared, separated in birth by two years, and by their claim to be Messengers of God, by nineteen. Together they announced the arrival of a new Age of Man, destined by God to achieve, in due course, the ancient dreams of Peace on Earth and a Golden Age. They wrote on matters of world governance; of the equality of the sexes; of a spiritual solution to economic injustice; of universal suffrage and education; of the need for a global auxiliary language; of the high destiny every soul is capable of achieving; and of the reality of a spiritual Kingdom, within which we now develop even as embryoes in a womb, and to which we will all gain admittance after this mortal life.
Yet we believe that the welfare of society, of ourselves—even the future life of our souls—hinges upon the Message of God, and how humanity responds to that Message. Today we celebrate the lives of two special Beings Whom we believe were chosen to convey this Message to us, tailored to the exigencies of humanity’s present circumstance, and designed to move us forward toward a world founded on unity and mutual respect among all creeds, races, genders and nations.
It may be asked how any message can effect a change of this kind, and this is what makes these Manifestations of God unique in nature: That their Message is endowed with a power beyond the ken of mortal mind, capable of transforming the reality of every atom, and beginning a process that must inexorably arrive at a total realization of God’s intended purpose.
The first of these blessed Individuals to appear was Mírzá Husayn-‘Alí, born at dawn on November 12, 1817 by the Gregorian calendar, and to one of the most ancient, wealthy and renowned families of Núr—within the province of Mázindaran, Persia—a family honoured by its descent from Abraham, Zoroaster and the ancient Prophets, and through the last Zoroastrian King of Persia. Later, Mírzá Husayn-‘Alí would be given the title Bahá’u’lláh, an Arabic term meaning the “Glory of God” by which He is known to us today.
“Bahá’u'lláh’s father was distinguished by a special name from the Shah himself. One day the Shah was marvelling at a masterpiece of beautiful writing, wondering if anyone alive could ever create its equal. Bahá’u’lláh’s father was suggested, and was sent for. Challenged to match its excellence and beauty, he copied this work of art, adding his own lines, and after illuminating them, he brought the new masterpiece as a present to the Shah.
“The Shah was overwhelmed with admiration, and he issued a royal decree giving Bahá’u’lláh’s father the name of ‘Mirza Buzurg’; he also gave him a robe of honour, which he had himself worn, and exempted his entire village from tax. A few years later, Bahá’u’lláh’s father was made a high-ranking advisor to the Shah’s own son…”
The Prime Minister himself offered Bahá’u’lláh a post in the government, but He showed such a lack of interest in matters considered to be important that it was a cause of great surprise and frequent comment.
Bahá’u’lláh “greatly loved outdoor life, spending most of His time in the garden or fields.
“Extremely kind and generous, He had an incredible power of attraction, which was felt by all. People always crowded around Him, children were devoted to Him, and the ministers and people of the [Shah's] Court would gather about Him.”
The second of these sacred Beings to appear was Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad, born of noble lineage to a house in Shíráz, Persia, the child of a cloth-seller, and whose family was of the merchant class. This took place on October 20, 1819.
However, by the Islamic calendar, this day was the first day of the new year, whereas Bahá’u’lláh’s birth had taken place on the second day after the new year, two years prior. This is why, although 22 days set these two births apart in the Western calendar, they took place on the 1st and 2nd days of the first month of the Islamic calendar. From this year forward, the entire Bahá’í world will also celebrate these twin days together, as if they were one day, following the eighth new moon after the first day spring, or Naw-Rúz, thus uniting the solar and lunar reckoning.
To return to the early life of the one Who would call Himself the Báb, or the “Gate”: “His mother would often relate, how from the very first moment of birth, the Báb was utterly unlike all other children; He was so perfectly serene, all the time; wholly lacking any sign of displeasure, often His mother would become taken over with anxiety.”
“Whoever encountered Him, whether friend or stranger, was struck with wonder at the extraordinary character of the Child.”
“Being only a few years of age, He would lift up His hands to the threshold of the One God, reciting beautiful prayers. Rising up in the midst of the night, He would stand to offer His prayers, and be brought to tears.”
The Báb was destined to reveal His Station as a Manifestation of God nineteen years before Bahá’u’lláh made a similar announcement. Before an assemblage of divines, and presented under armed guard, the Báb had this to say of His mission at meeting called for His arraignment by the authorities:
“I am,” thrice exclaimed the Báb, “I am, I am, the promised One! I am the One whose name you have for a thousand years invoked, at whose mention you have risen, whose advent you have longed to witness, and the hour of whose Revelation you have prayed God to hasten. Verily I say, it is incumbent upon the peoples of both the East and the West to obey My word and to pledge allegiance to My person.”
The Báb dedicated a great part of His Writing to preparing the way for One Whom He said would follow after Him, and Who would fulfill all that the Báb had Promised. This person was later known as Bahá’u’lláh, about Whom the Báb wrote: “Of all the tributes I have paid to Him Who is to come after Me, the greatest is this, My written confession, that no words of Mine can adequately describe Him, nor can any reference to Him in My Book, the Bayán, do justice to His Cause.”
One Mullá Muhammad-i-Mu’allim thus recounts the day when He presented Bahá’u’lláh with the Báb’s Writings: “‘As I approached the house of Bahá’u’lláh, I recognised His brother Mírzá Músá, who was standing at the gate, and to whom I communicated the object of my visit. He went into the house and soon reappeared bearing a message of welcome. I was ushered into His presence, and presented the scroll to Mírzá Músá, who laid it before Bahá’u’lláh. He bade us both be seated. Unfolding the scroll, He glanced at its contents and began to read aloud to us certain of its passages. I sat enraptured as I listened to the sound of His voice and the sweetness of its melody. He had read a page of the scroll when, turning to His brother, He said: “Músá, what have you to say? Verily I say, whoso believes in the Qur’án and recognises its Divine origin, and yet hesitates, though it be for a moment, to admit that these soul-stirring words are endowed with the same regenerating power, has most assuredly erred in his judgment and has strayed far from the path of justice.”
Today we celebrate the first Days of these Two Persons, Who may well have changed the course of history, even if it has always been God’s way that such changes begin slowly, and by the hard work of those who follow Him.
If human reality is a mirror, then it only shines because of the sun appearing within it. A painting’s beauty is only revealed because of light within the room. The quality of anything derives from a Source other than that thing itself.
If we look to ourselves, what we find worthy of attention is Him; otherwise, alone, we would be like corpses without life. Life is from Him, and of Him, and a manifest sign of His handiwork.
In a sense, it means that the very act of contemplating God is to witness the agency of God, in the same way that being able to see and ponder a physical thing is to bear witness to the light which makes such vision possible.
Put another way, my human reality is a like lamp, which God has filled with oil. Now, in a dark room, devoid of light, my nature is indistinguishable from everything else. That is, by myself I have no visible existence. But then God kindles a flame within me. This is made possible because He has endowed human nature with certain potentialities.
Once I am lit, I manifest qualities which are not akin to my lamp-nature, but resemble Another nature: light, heat, illumination. These qualities, which originate from the Sun, are, to a reduced degree, apparent in me. In this sense God’s qualities appear with me, and I am “made in His image”.
If I look within myself, and see this light, then I am seeing Him, not myself; for of my own nature there is nothing to be seen. That is, I cannot exist without His light. If that light should go out, my being would vanish. We have no existence apart from Him, and so the appearance of our reality is a revelation of His. If we see ourselves in these terms, we should see God within us, for if He is Light, every lantern is His dawning place.
Another metaphor to describe what I’m aiming at is to compare ourselves with a painting. Alone, a painting is just paper and pigment. It has no beauty, no form. Only when the Master Artist takes up both, and reshapes them according to His Own design, does the painting achieve an exalted station. If the painting could then regard itself, it would see the hand of the Master evident upon it, and know the majesty of its Creator.
O Son of Spirit! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.
To me, this Hidden Word is saying: Recognize the greatness of God’s having created man; perceive human reality with a clear eye, and witness how God has made him the dawning place of His names and attributes, and we are therefore the very means by which we know Him. Love, beauty, justice, grandeur: all these require human hearts, and human minds, to become known. He has created us to this end: that we be His mirrors in the world of creation. Thus we are both proof, sign and evidence; seeker and sought; end and beginning.
The material world is a scroll. We are ink, which God has traced upon that scroll, to reveal His intent. If, therefore, we look upon ourselves, we will see His Hand reflected there.
Religious truth can at times seem obscure and difficult to fathom:
- Can detachment co-exist with caring about someone?
- Does the Unity of God mean transcending the world’s variety, or relishing in it?
- Would a perfected man savor life, or remain unmoved by its changes and chances?
- If I’m human, and told to consider the needs of humanity, why am I also told to completely disregard my self? Aren’t I human too?
- If the Covenant is just an agreement, why is it spoken of so much?
Despite these conundrums, I think that religious truth is something universal, which everyone not only can understand, but already understands. By the time a person has reached adulthood, no matter their culture or background, they have lived through certain, common experiences relating to each of the divine mysteries. The reason why these mysteries remain obscure is that we live those truths by a material context and have yet to translate them into a divine context. Doing so calls to mind Bahá’u’lláh’s words: “One must, then, read the book of his own self, rather than some treatise on rhetoric.”
By a material context, I mean that we understand these principles first in worldly terms, even if the same truth holds for eternal things as well. For example, anyone who has fallen in love knows what the love of God means, even if at first they only know it through loving another person or thing. The essential truth of love is the transcendant experience; but moving it beyond the physical is the job of the seeker.
Can religion really satisfy human needs? Hasn’t it been the product of disorder and strife more often than not?
Religious organizations are run by human beings. Not everything they do should be described in the same terms as religion itself. One concerns the efforts of this world; the other, the teachings of an Ideal Realm. This is a main reason why religion recurs through history: to lessen the gap as humanity slowly matures.
The measure of genuine unity and virtue which can result from religion – despite the paucity of its resources and resistance from society — is not achievable by minds alone. It’s easy to rally a group of fanatics around a prophecy; but fanatics are notorious for their hatred of outsiders. True religion engenders unity not only within a group, but toward those outside it as well.
Religion should make of man a perfected being: upright, noble, renowned in virtue. He should become a lover of humanity — both the righteous and the rebellious — and behave as a servant and friend to all. Whether in peace or war, he finds contentment in the Will of God, and acts as a symbol of the Divine promise to all who encounter him.
When a person takes on these attributes, he finds the “fulfillment” the soul is longing for. Throughout history, people have sought it in wealth, fame, power, etc., but there is always something missing, as though we were “meant for something more”. Is Alexander the Great remembered for his joy at conquering the world? Or didn’t he weep when he realized there were no more rulers to overcome?
There is a real thirst in the soul, a hunger for things not of this world. I believe religion contains the blueprint to finding this Water and Bread of Life, but it’s not about simply assenting to what others have believed. Let the inaudible voice of the soul serve as a guide. Examine every idea with an eye to what satisfies your innermost longing.
If God has provided us with the means to find Him, we will if we are sincere; if He hasn’t, how can we be blamed if we fail?
I first met Ashley Alvis, I don’t know how — in that way things happen which are meant to happen. We spoke briefly over a few e-mails, and I recognized right away a soul who knew things by knowing them intimately. It was not enough for Ashley to ponder the depths of religious truth; his desire was to become truly and completely wet.
He was someone who knew ecstasy as a doorway to transformation: when the darkness of misery and despair must vanish before pure light. He became a beacon of joy, filling up with light until his very fullness became its own pain. For there were not many he could speak to, or share such states with. At such moments verse was his only companion, nodding its lines of assent beneath starred skies at his home in Georgia.
He wrote to me once that our Faith has need of a Hafez. Someone who will disregard all boundaries, and break all ties, that others may be prompted to do the same within themselves. There can be no room for stillness or movement, in the end, save the Beloved. And who can tread such impossibilities who has not courted the insanity of love, or been remade by knowledge, or been dissolved at once in the Divine Unity? Ashley was a trailblazer to such lands, who wrote of his travels. As he once wrote, “This is a sea of nothingness in which He cast His lure.”
Below are some lines I wrote to Ashley less than a week after we had created a mailing list together for our friends of the mystic persuasion. His passing brought an end to those discussions, and I have missed them — and him – ever since:
Open, my friend, your unseen lips to carol a thousand lover's songs that time and fate may have wearied of -- though not our lonesome throng. We await your foolish words, that for fools are "full of meaning"; and anticipate a screeching rent in all these veils of seeming. Like idiots, are minds are blanked of all "seen and heard and understood", to gather in our Teacher's words in the form of you, my Robin Hood: Steal from the angels, and gift we poor! Their heaven is too bright and dear, not to spare some bauble for us, or the hope of drawing near. "No man that seeketh Us will We ever disappoint, neither shall he that hath set his face towards Us be denied access unto Our court...." (Bahá’u’lláh)
Even though things are not as they could be, things at the present are as they should or must be. It doesn’t mean they will stay that way tomorrow, or even hours from now, but in the moment itself there is never any defect:
The wayfarer in this Valley seeth in the fashionings of the True One nothing save clear providence, and at every moment saith: “No defect canst thou see in the creation of the God of Mercy: Repeat the gaze: Seest thou a single flaw?”
Consider a child: Although they are not what they could be, in their state of being a child they are what they should be. Further, growth cannot be stopped! Appreciating the child as a child does not cause him to remain a child. Change is ineluctable.
We see faults in others because we look at what is in terms of what we think it should be. We reject it, reserving our love for another time, another day. This rejection is a form of hate. It is a willful denial of what is, an earnest wish that it were different. We are left tolerating the present in a state of inward revulsion, enduring it until our desired future comes about.
But in this state, how can we serve? Can we truly care for the people, the situations, that exist here and now? Like the child, loving the present as perfect in-itself does not preclude change. In fact, it assists change, is the best guide of change, because we are serving the person, not who we wish the person to become.
Relative to our potential, all things exist in a state of imperfection. So if God placed us here to learn how to love, that can only mean loving things in their “imperfect” state. If the world were suddenly transformed into its promised future, how could we develop the ability to love it, apart from its outward form?
An individual has two parts, his spiritual, or divine nature, and his self, or lower nature. His spirit is manifested by the soul, and his self, within the material body.
The aim of religious is to perfect the individual, but this means the whole person: where self becomes wholly subordinate to the spirit. If spirit is a light, then self is the cold and crude lantern which encases this light. It can also protect and nurture its flame; choice decides whether it will hide or reveal the inner realities.
Because the lantern is the tangible thing, so self is the most direct thing we can operate on. This can caused the goal of “perfecting the individual” to become “perfecting the self”.
For example, in the pursuit of knowledge, it seems most natural and accessible to increase the knowledge of the self, through discipline and learning. But this does not necessarily make the individual more wise. In fact, it can seem in every way to be like wisdom — to give every appearance of it — but it may still not be real wisdom.
The path of knowledge for the individual is to learn, as well as knowable things, also the immensity of the unknown, of mystery, of God’s inscrutable Will. This knowledge must increase until the self utterly abandons any feeling that it possesses real knowledge. At that point, knowledge comes from its acquiescence before God, and dawns in the heart through spiritual inspiration. “Fear God, and God will give you knowledge”.
So the individual is not perfected through enriching the self, even though it seems that the self can acquire virtue and learn humility. Instead, its humility must come from its awe of the Creator, and trembling before His majesty. Whatever it may seem to possess is as nothing, and this cannot be in thought alone. If he hold a cup full of water, he must contemplate the Sea at all times.
I think the spiritual world is real, but it is like a seeing man looking for the sun in a cave. Until he leaves the cave, no report, however accurate, will convince him that the sun is anything more than a description.
If it weren’t real, how to explain the dramatic changes in society that have taken place after each religion was founded? Christ walked around and talked to people, informally, for three and a half years. A carpenter, a son without a father, poor. And yet, not only did He utterly transform the Roman Empire, but His legacy remains world-embracing to this day.
How many philosophers have labored for decades to produce a change in the world’s affairs, only to end in futility, or be remembered for their thoughts without producing any actual change? Plato’s masterpiece, the Republic, has yet to create a single enduring city with even a passing resemblance to his hopes.
If wish-fulfillment alone were this powerful, how to explain the utter failure of millions of self-help books to alleviate the inner difficulties of the world? If the soul were so easily satisfied, religions should be popping up left and right. Who doesn’t want a piece of the pie that the Catholic church and the mosques rake in every day?
One man, for three and a half years, talking briefly to the people around him. Think about that. Another man, exiled from His home city, built up a band of Arabian followers and fought a few battles with them. So many generals have done more; why isn’t Aurelius — a devoted supported of Stoicism — as remembered?
And the Báb, who went on a pilgrimage, proclaimed Himself to be the Promised One, then spent several years in prison until He was executed. His ministry did not last seven years! And yet, look at the effect: tens of thousands not only went to their deaths, but laughed during torture, kissed the hands of their executioner, gave them money and gifts. When has blind fanaticism ever yielded such generosity of heart in the midst of suffering? When has it led to consideration for one’s enemies, to sacrificing one’s own life in order to honor the faith of his enemy?
If you look to the original history of each of the world’s religions, you will find a quality that no one has learned how to reproduce. Perhaps because there is something deeper involved? Because, although mystical experience can sometimes be explained in psychological terms, there is a truth involved that can’t be captured by description?
The whole point of seeking is to find. This is not an easter egg hunt in an empty field. The reason you bring up these questions — why so many people do – is because the question hasn’t been answered to your satisfaction. But why would God create such a hunger, and not provide the food? Every creature’s desire has a fulfillment: why would our souls be an exception to this rule?
Today’s entry is about a word that appears in the Bahá’í Writings: tawajjuh, or “attention”.
This word is still in common use, and means “attention”, “focus” or “turning toward”. The root it stems from is wajh: “face” or “countenance”. The form tawajjuh is a verbal noun with the literal meaning of “facing”. Thus, the meaning of “attention” comes from the idea of having one’s face directed at something.