Aug 192016

If the Manifestation only wished for people to know the truth of things, this could be achieved with a single Word. So I do not think the objective is our understanding. After all, does it change anything to know whether Huri and Dijnn are figurative or literal?

Within the treasury of Our Wisdom there lieth unrevealed a knowledge,
one word of which, if we chose to divulge it to mankind, would cause
every human being to recognize the Manifestation of God and to
acknowledge His omniscience, would enable every one to discover the
secrets of all the sciences, and to attain so high a station as to
find himself wholly independent of all past and future learning.

God gives to each soul a priceless opportunity to recognize Bahá’u’lláh for His own sake, and not according to his own understanding. Since the mind can never know God, or even the nature of its own self (!), the heart is what is tested.

But I don’t mean this in the sense of blind faith. Imagine an explorer who believes something about the world around him, based on principles he discerns without certain knowledge — even when others tell him he is wrong — and who demonstrates his faith by acting on that knowledge. If the truth of things were clear from the outset, the beauty of such courage would never be.

 Posted by at 9:13 am
Aug 142016

I believe that this world is a crucible, within which the pure of heart are tested, and distinguished from the false and self-seeking.

Everything revolves around the Manifestation of God, and discovering who is true in their devotion to Him. Is it because they want something from the exchange, or do they love Him only for the sake of His Beauty?

None of this is to God’s benefit. He can dispense with everything. He creates this opportunity for us, out of perfect Mercy, so that we might, ourselves, discover the value of that recognition.

Imagine a wealthy father who intends to bestow on his child a boundless inheritance. If the child is going to be without want for the whole of his life, would it not sweeten his appreciation if he were made to endure poverty at the beginning of that life, so that he comes to know the value of every coin? And while doing so, the father discovers which of his sons are pure in heart, and who only hungers for power and advantage.

All of this is truly a bounty to us, that we might come to know God — a knowledge like the thirsty and gasping fish who rediscovers the ocean, and not like those who remain unaware of its existence their whole lives. Just as knowledge of light requires darkness, and only then can a man appreciate the magnificent bounty of the Sun’s light. If he were born in the neighborhood of the sun, he would either be blind, or unable to perceive the infinite variety of colors that potentially dwell within that Light.

Say: My creatures are even as the fish of the deep. Their life dependeth upon the water, and yet they remain unaware of that which, by the grace of an omniscient and omnipotent Lord, sustaineth their very existence. Indeed, their heedlessness is such that were they asked concerning the water and its properties, they would prove entirely ignorant. Thus do We set forth comparisons and similitudes, that perchance the people may turn unto Him Who is the Object of the adoration of the entire creation.

Giving people knowledge of the ocean is only one kind of knowledge. `Irfán requires, at first, a deep and lasting thirst, so that within a single drop one may taste the sweetness of the Kawthar fountain.

 Posted by at 12:07 pm
Aug 052016

A quick analogy occurred to me concerning the different between Ilm and Irfán, that is, between acquired knowledge and the deep understanding of a thing.

The former is reading that animals are treated poorly, and that hot dogs are made of terrible things, yet it doesn’t stop you from enjoying them. The latter is visiting the factory, and then the treatment plants, and having your appetite forever removed by that knowledge, by an awareness you can’t unknow.

 Posted by at 9:43 am
Jul 292016
I lived upon a landscape of broken crystal.
My eyes were closed, and my feet, bleeding. 

One day I awoke with the sun in my face...
And I fell in love,
and my heart became a mortal cup, filled with light.

I looked across the land as the Daystar rose
and all those crystal thorns became as one:
drops of the sun,
diamonds of fire,
a treasure of light
 Posted by at 9:28 am
Jul 222016

An analogy I’ve been giving some thought to lately is that of cells in a human body. I think they have something to say about the meaning of selflessness, and how to balance the needs of the individual against that of the whole.

From the beginning, cells are differentiated by function: liver cells, lung cells, heart cells, etc. Each has a role to play, although roles may differ greatly. However, all cells have a significance to the whole. A healthy organism does not part with its living cells if it can avoid it. If someone came at me with a scalpel, there’s really no part I’d want to give away!

Further, although individual cells have their own notion of health and prosperity, this health is meaningless if the entire organism becomes sick or depressed. The health of the body is the health of its cells, but the health of any cell is also, directly or indirectly, dependent on the health of the body. There is a correspondence between the micro and macro, like a single image reflected in countless mirrors.

This notion of identity held by the person, even though he is physically a moving forms of cells, transcends any grouping of those cells. If you take away arms, ears, or feet, a person would still claim that “I” persists. This “I” is not dependent on the cells, even though it is expressed through and affected by them. In this way, the self of the cell is meaningless on its own; its being lies in how it supports the higher self.

Thus the value of a cell lies entirely in how it serves the whole. Even if some cells play a crucial role at times, brain cells, heart cells, every cell is valued for its function, not the mere fact of its individuality. There is no cell we prize in the body over others simply for its uniqueness. Each cell’s distinction lies in service to a being greater than itself.

This is a subtle point between intrinsic and extrinsic value. A single rose has great value in that its existence gives us access to roseness for a while; without it and others, roseness would be inaccessible. So too, individuals manifest the attributes of God in the world; as Christ said, “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?”

When we play this role, that of manifesting or serving a higher reality, it fulfills our being and grants us extreme value. But this is not an intrinsic merit; it is contingent on our relationship to that greater being. This is what I mean by saying that a cell’s value consists in its function, not its independent reality apart from the body.

When the cell finds its happiness in what it can do to render this service, and measures happiness by the well-being of the whole, I think it has attained to selflessness; not by denying itself, but by shifting its locus of awareness to a higher plane. On that plane, all cells are equal, because their purpose, their joy, their ultimate goal, is equal. In the physical plane they differ by function, but on this higher plane, of the being they support, they differ not at all. I think of this when reading the following statement by Bahá’u’lláh:

“Manifold and mysterious is My relationship with God. I am He, Himself, and He is I, Myself, except that I am that I am, and He is that He is.” So too, I am my cells, and my cells are I, though we each have our own being, in our own sphere.

 Posted by at 9:15 am
Jul 152016
In a time languorous
the moments are honey
long, drawn-out seconds
pool around me
a slow, slow heat
pervades my being.
Yesterday, my other life.
is lost to memory.
The future calls in
mellifluous tones
falling, falling
a thousand years from now.
 Posted by at 9:52 am
Jul 082016

It is sometimes thought that while life could be wonderful, mankind is just too flawed, corrupt or generally inept; or that the world we’ve built is essentially broken, and the best we can do is struggle for whatever mote of peace we’re able to find.

In this picture of the world, God’s Messengers are seen as agents of a merciful, but distant Entity, sent to help us fix what our sins has wrought. But with time, even the institutions They bring are perverted by man. Evil runs rampant, the innocent are oppressed, sorrow and hardship afflict the least deserving, and where is God? Why aren’t His Messengers a bit more effective, so all this heartache can end at least? Why does God let it all happen?

In the mystical Writings of the Bahá’í Faith, we find indications that not everything is as it seems: that there is a deep perfection in the scheme of the world, even with its wars and venomous anger. It suggests we might “attain a station wherein one seeth no distinction amongst His creatures and findeth no flaw in the creation of the heavens and the earth.”[1]; that a wayfarer on the path of God “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?'[2]”[3]

“O Fleeting Shadow! Pass beyond the baser stages of doubt and rise to the exalted heights of certainty. Open the eye of truth, that thou mayest behold the veilless Beauty and exclaim: Hallowed be the Lord, the most excellent of all creators!”[5]

To make sense of these statements, it is necessary to reorient our thinking about the purpose of this life. If we imagine its aim to be our personal happiness and joy, it is hard not to see the world as a miserable joke for all but the favored few. However, this perspective fails to make sense of existence because it chooses a wrong center: human beings. It revolves the Sun of Truth around man’s sense of well-being, and diminishes virtue by favoring more immediate concerns, such as health and long-life.

If we correct this perspective, and interpret our motions in reference to a central Sun, we may find that creation was purpose-built with a singular objective: for mankind to truly recognize the Manifestations of God, a recognition that only begins with accepting their Mission and has no end in a person’s life. We are most sensitive to light when plunged in darkness, and our heart is attuned to even minute joys when sadness abounds. How can a man know God, if real knowledge is only gained through contrast? In a way, this existence is as “not God” as it is possible to be, so that with parched and thirsty lips we may drink one drop of the Divine Elixir — the Writings of His Holy Ones — and recognize Its savor in an instant.

Suffering is very real, but against eternal life it is unreal. None of us can remember the pains we suffered as infants; why should our souls remember the sorrows of this brief existence across eternity? We have a precious chance in this life to know and to worship God, based entirely on our faith and our choosing. There is a beauty and merit to this that will never, ever come again. As Rumi wrote, “Don’t seek the water; increase your thirst.”

Maybe paradise is not something you enter after you die; maybe paradise is what you discover once you see the world aright.

Footnotes: [1] Bahá’u’lláh, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p.6

[2] Qur’án 67:3

[3] Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, p.12

[4] Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, p.25

 Posted by at 9:26 am
Jul 012016

The word “mysticism” has taken on various meanings throughout history, as have the practices and beliefs of those who term themselves “mystics”. Mysticism can refer to seeking ecstatic union with God, insight into hidden truths, or a radical transformation of the individual through various means. Defined broadly in this way, mysticism may be found in nearly all world’s religious traditions, though its form varies from case to case.

Bahá’í mysticism incorporates many of these same elements, but emphasizes a practical outcome: That is, it is not enough to feel union with the Divine, one should see the Divine in every soul until it results in concrete actions of brotherhood and love; hidden truths are not meaningful unless they embrace and enrich the outward truths governing our daily lives; and transformation of the individual is without merit until that individual becomes a source of good for his society.

In this way, Bahá’í mysticism is a positive mode of belief, and seeks unity of the inward and outward forms. It is not considered helpful, or in some cases, even lawful, to employ fasting, asceticism, denial of pleasure, and withdrawal from society, as a means for advancement along this path. Mysticism should fundamentally connect the individual to the greater whole of humankind — at the level of our common, Divine origin — until one arrives at a conception of life such that the happiness of others is our happiness too, and all our actions are motivated from this attitude.

In terms of specific practices, there are no rituals prescribed, and people are mainly free to adopt whatever works for each person. Prayer, meditation, and study of the Divine Texts, are the primary tools. The influence of the Holy Spirit, God’s unfailing grace, and ecstatic love, are indispensable. Combined with reflection, imagination, and various art forms, a foundation is established for one to act and reflect, examine motivations, question one’s understandings, and observe how one’s effect on the world is improving day by day.

What makes this fundamentally mystical in character is that Bahá’ís believe in a spiritual world that is both greater than this life, and yet contains this life within it, similar to a child gestating in the womb of its mother. The embryo is aware of its own sphere, but lacks perception of the larger world outside, even though most of its future is determined by the beings of that world. The mother and father are very much aware of the child, even when it has no awareness of them.

Similarly, a much greater, far more wondrous, existence awaits humanity after this physical life; yet that spiritual world exists also here, and affects us far more than we can ever realize. The mystic comes not only to expect these otherworldly influences, but to employ them directly in his day to day life, such as using prayer to overcome difficult problems. However, as mentioned above, inward and outward must be in harmony: Prayer alone is not the way; it is prayer followed by action, undertaken with the expectation that one’s prayers will be answered.

This mystical path, because it does not rely on extreme measures, or practices divergent from ordinary belief, can be somewhat difficult to follow. In the end it amounts to a fundamental, almost Copernican, shift in orientation: placing God at the center of one’s life, and revolving everything — knowledge, opinions, even thought itself — around that center. When the purpose of life is seen not as fulfilling the will of the individual, but wholly in terms of the Will of God, it changes how one sees even the most mundane of things. And it is this: seeing beauty where other see plainness; seeing purpose where others see chaos; seeing God where others see only dust and decay: that truly sets apart the path of the mystic.

 Posted by at 8:59 am
Jun 242016

I have always wondered about the meaning of this selection from “The Hidden Words”:

O My Friends! Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those
hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence
beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the
all-glorious paradise? Awe-struck ye listened as I gave utterance to these
three most holy words: O friends! Prefer not your will to Mine, never
desire that which I have not desired for you, and approach Me not with
lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings. Would ye but
sanctify your souls, ye would at this present hour recall that place and
those surroundings, and the truth of My utterance should be made evident
unto all of you.

Recently I was reading the book “Gate of the Heart”, by Nader Saidi, where he quotes the following from the Báb, regarding His first believers, the Letters of the Living:

Further, there can he no doubt that they [the Letters of the Living] were
the first Lights who bowed down before God, accepted the verses He hath
revealed unto His Báb, and proclaimed them to the world.... They are the
lights which in the past have eternally prostrated themselves and will
prostrate themselves eternally in the future, before the celestial
throne.... In each Dispensation, they are called by different names
amongst the people, and in each Revelation, their individual names are
also changed. Yet, the names of their inmost realities, which refer unto
God, are manifest in their hearts.[1]

This led me to wonder whether humans are possessed of two stations: our outward, individual station; and an inward, potential, pre-existent station, that we are born to through faith. That is, outwardly we are unique and transitory: but inwardly we may attain to a station that has always existed and will always exist, by acquiring the characteristics and qualities of that station.

This led me to a verse from the Kitáb-i-Íqán, by Bahá’u’lláh:

Therefore, those who in every subsequent Dispensation preceded the rest of
mankind in embracing the Faith of God, who quaffed the clear waters of
knowledge at the hand of the divine Beauty, and attained the loftiest
summits of faith and certitude, these can be regarded, in name, in
reality, in deeds, in words, and in rank, as the 'return' of those who in
a former Dispensation had achieved similar distinctions. For whatsoever
the people of a former Dispensation have manifested, the same hath been
shown by the people of this latter generation. Consider the rose: whether
it blossometh in the East or in the West, it is none the less a rose. For
what mattereth in this respect is not the outward shape and form of the
rose, but rather the smell and fragrance which it doth impart.[2]

And similarly, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes:

For example, there was a flower last year, and this year there is also a
flower; I say the flower of last year has returned. Now, I do not mean
that same flower in its exact individuality has come back; but as this
flower has the same qualities as that of last year -- as it has the same
perfume, delicacy, color and form -- I say the flower of last year has
returned, and this flower is the former flower. When spring comes, we say
last year's spring has come back because all that was found in last year's
spring exists in this spring. That is why Christ said, "You will see all
that happened in the days of the former Prophets."[3]

Is this, perhaps, the “sovereignty” that is “ancient, imperishable and everlasting”, mentioned in the first Hidden Word? Or when the Seven Valleys says, “the bird of thy soul shall recall the holy sanctuaries of preexistence”?

Can we, by purifying our hearts and attaining to true faith, “remember” and attain a pre-existent reality which, throughout time, has been a servant of the Prophets? Not in the sense of reincarnation, but of fulfilling a role that has always existed, even if the individual souls playing its part continually change.

Bring then into being, by Our leave, resplendent mirrors and exalted
letters that shall testify to Thy sovereignty and dominion, bear witness
to Thy might and glory, and be the manifestations of Thy Names amidst
mankind. We have caused Thee again to be the Origin and the Creator of all
mirrors, even as We brought them forth from Thee aforetime.[4]

The rose in my garden may whither and die; but the qualities of the rose have adorned poetry and artwork for as long as history, and likely always will. What life is more eternal than this, transcending both time and place?

Footnotes: [1] Nader Saidi, The Gate of the Heart, pp.271-272

[2] Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, pp.158-159

[3] `Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.133

[4] Bahá’u’lláh, Summons of the Lord of Hosts, para.82

 Posted by at 5:15 pm
Jun 032016

On its own, a violin is just string, wood and glue; but played well, it can produce wonderful music.

To play that music, however, requires many things to be done well: the way you hold it, how it is tuned, the way the bow is held, timing, pressure, etc. There are many things that must be done right to achieve the greatest music.

Human beings are instruments of God. We are capable of things you cannot even dream of. The moral laws are how we coax those mysteries from our own selves, but they are not the music. Honesty, trustworthiness, sacrifice, service: They are the key to a door, hidden within our inmost nature.

 Posted by at 9:08 am