Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Paragraph 115

For this reason did Muḥammad cry out: “No Prophet of God hath suffered such harm as I have suffered.” And in the Qur’án are recorded all the calumnies and reproaches uttered against Him, as well as all the afflictions which He suffered. Refer ye thereunto, that haply ye may be informed of that which hath befallen His Revelation. So grievous was His plight, that for a time all ceased to hold intercourse with Him and His companions. Whoever associated with Him fell a victim to the relentless cruelty of His enemies.

This paragraph continues the discussion of sovereignty, a most fascinating discussion that covers a large section of the book, and was one of the pivotal questions asked by the uncle of the Bab.

Looking at the beginning, though, we are faced with the immediate question of "For what reason?" Well, this brings us back to the previous paragraph in which Baha'u'llah has described the fierce torment that was instigated by the divines of the age against Muhammad, and also, in His day, against the Bab.

Now something that we see here, which we haven't really commented on for a while, is the word "haply", as well as the phrase "Refer ye thereunto". This reminds us very strongly of Part 1, in which we are regularly encouraged to "reflect", "consider the past", "meditate profoundly", and other phrases used to help us remember to consider what we have already learned through religious history.

Do we think this request that we refer to the past Books is a coincidence? Of course not. Baha'u'llah seems to have carefully prepared us for this. He began this whole book by teaching us how to recognize a Manifestation of God, giving plenty of examples from the stories from history that we already knew.. He reminded us to continually look to the past and consider what we are seeing today. He then took a single verse from Jesus, found in Matthew 24, and dissected it phrase by phrase for many paragraphs, showing us just a little of the incredible depths that can be found in that one verse.

Are these not the very tools that we are being encouraged to use here, now?

Beyond that, we also want to remember that this book is supposed a template on how to teach. So if that's the case, then doesn't this mean that we need to help people, not to mention ourselves, become more familiar with the sufferings and trials suffered by both the Bab and Baha'u'llah, not to mention 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Guardian? have we actually done this? Do we know anyone who actually became a recognize Baha'i by studying these denials and tests? Honestly, we don't.

Many times we see this sort of appeal as just a means of playing on people's emotions. But we need to be clear that this is not the case here. Far from it. Instead, it seems to be a fundamental aspect of strengthening one's faith. Way back in paragraph 6, a couple of sentence we love to quote over and over again: "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 your faith in the Cause of God."

We are amazed, even flabbergasted (love that word), at just how important these first few paragraphs are so important to the rest of the text. We never dreamed that so far into this study we would still be constantly referring back to these same ideas. It just gives us a greater appreciation of this book, and just how tightly knit this entire book really is.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Paragraph 114

Furthermore, by sovereignty is meant the all-encompassing, all-pervading power which is inherently exercised by the Qá’im whether or not He appear to the world clothed in the majesty of earthly dominion. This is solely dependent upon the will and pleasure of the Qá’im Himself. You will readily recognize that the terms sovereignty, wealth, life, death, judgment and resurrection, spoken of by the scriptures of old, are not what this generation hath conceived and vainly imagined. Nay, by sovereignty is meant that sovereignty which in every dispensation resideth within, and is exercised by, the person of the Manifestation, the Day-star of Truth. That sovereignty is the spiritual ascendancy which He exerciseth to the fullest degree over all that is in heaven and on earth, and which in due time revealeth itself to the world in direct proportion to its capacity and spiritual receptiveness, even as the sovereignty of Muḥammad, the Messenger of God, is today apparent and manifest amongst the people. You are well aware of what befell His Faith in the early days of His dispensation. What woeful sufferings did the hand of the infidel and erring, the divines of that age and their associates, inflict upon that spiritual Essence, that most pure and holy Being! How abundant the thorns and briars which they have strewn over His path! It is evident that wretched generation, in their wicked and satanic fancy, regarded every injury to that immortal Being as a means to the attainment of an abiding felicity; inasmuch as the recognized divines of that age, such as ‘Abdu’lláh-i-Ubayy, Abú-‘Amír, the hermit, Ka’b-Ibn-i-Ashraf, and Nadr-Ibn-i-Hárith, all treated Him as an impostor, and pronounced Him a lunatic and a calumniator. Such sore accusations they brought against Him that in recounting them God forbiddeth the ink to flow, Our pen to move, or the page to bear them. These malicious imputations provoked the people to arise and torment Him. And how fierce that torment if the divines of the age be its chief instigators, if they denounce Him to their followers, cast Him out from their midst, and declare Him a miscreant! Hath not the same befallen this Servant, and been witnessed by all?

The uncle of the Bab has asked a very good question. Where, he wonders, is the sovereignty of the Bab seen? If He is the Promised One, why haven't we witnessed this sovereignty that is supposed to be His?

It's a great question, and one that Baha'u'llah spends considerable time answering.

To do this, He has us reflect on the past, once again. You may remember from Part One that He regularly has us "consider the past", "reflect", "ponder". This is now the foundation upon which He can answer this very important question.

Throughout this response, He will remind us of the sufferings of the Messengers of the Past, hearkening back to paragraph 6. Remember paragraph 6? That is where He said "the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God." As the whole point of this book, indeed, it's very name, is about enhancing our certitude, this is a very important point.

He will also demonstrate how Their sovereignty has always manifested itself over time.

Here, though, He is looking at Muhammad, and how some of the people of His day treated Him. It's a rare example of His use of actual names. Why? Why the names? Because they are remembered for having denied Muhammad. Perhaps He is reminding the uncle, and by extension us, that we don't want to be remembered for such lamentable behaviour.

It is also worth noting that at the beginning of this paragraph He says "that the terms sovereignty, wealth, life, death, judgment and resurrection, spoken of by the scriptures of old, are not what this generation hath conceived and vainly imagined". He spent a good deal of Part 1 of this book offering us many definitions of the terms used by Jesus in Matthew 24. It seems as if this was all in preparation for His response to this very question. His redefining of terms is exactly what He prepared us for.

When we consider the past, we can readily see that the Jewish people expected the Messiah to come riding on a horse and wielding a flaming sword, conquering the Romans as He went. Today, many Christians expect Jesus to come down on a cloud and take over the planet. This has always been the expectation, the literal conquering of the oppressors of the day, and the people have always failed to see Their true sovereignty until much time has passed.

Also, His use of the examples of what befell Muhammad would have been strikingly familiar to the uncle of the Bab. The mullahs and religious leaders of that day called the Bab an impostor. They had doctors sent in to interview Him to see if they could have pronounced a lunatic. They labelled Him a calumniator. Each and every one of these accusations which was thrown against Muhammad was similarly hurled against the Bab. And it was the divines of that day who did this. They were the ones who denounced Him and cast Him out from their midst. And then, to top it all off, they also had Baha'u'llah imprisoned and exiled.

The parallels must have been very obvious to the uncle, and this paragraph must have just driven it all home.

Finally, there is a final thing that catches our attention, and that is Baha'u'llah's mention of "the thorns and briars which they have strewn over His path". This reminds us of the crown of thorns that Jesus wore. it is as if those very thorns that were thrown in His path, which must have caused Him untold sufferings, became that very crown that symbolized His sovereignty. And this just goes right back to paragraph 6, and helps us become even firmer in our faith.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Paragraph 113

And now, to resume Our argument concerning the question: Why is it that the sovereignty of the Qá’im, affirmed in the text of recorded traditions, and handed down by the shining stars of the Muḥammadan Dispensation, hath not in the least been made manifest? Nay, the contrary hath come to pass. Have not His disciples and companions been afflicted of men? Are they not still the victims of the fierce opposition of their enemies? Are they not today leading the life of abased and impotent mortals? Yea, the sovereignty attributed to the Qá’im and spoken of in the scriptures, is a reality, the truth of which none can doubt. This sovereignty, however, is not the sovereignty which the minds of men have falsely imagined. Moreover, the Prophets of old, each and every one, whenever announcing to the people of their day the advent of the coming Revelation, have invariably and specifically referred to that sovereignty with which the promised Manifestation must needs be invested. This is attested by the records of the scriptures of the past. This sovereignty hath not been solely and exclusively attributed to the Qá’im. Nay rather, the attribute of sovereignty and all other names and attributes of God have been and will ever be vouchsafed unto all the Manifestations of God, before and after Him, inasmuch as these Manifestations, as it hath already been explained, are the Embodiments of the attributes of God, the Invisible, and the Revealers of the divine mysteries.

This is the beginning of a long section in the book, from this paragraph all the way until paragraph 132. In some ways, this section helps us see how Part 2 mirror Part 1. Both parts of the book began with an introduction. Then Baha'u'llah looked at the Manifestations of the past, first in a general historical sense showing how we could already see that They were all similar, and then in a more particular sense of showing the implications of that similarity, namely how They all demonstrated all the attributes of the divine. After this look at the Messengers of the past, He goes into the heart of His argument. In Part 1 it was to show us how the prophecies of Jesus are answered by all the Manifestations, and here it is to help us see how They all have these attributes, weather or not They exhibit during Their lifetime.

Remember, this is all in response to the questions that were asked of Baha'u'llah by the uncle of the Bab., and here the underlying question is why isn't the Bab showing sovereignty? The answer, of course, is that He doesn't have to. As Baha'u'llah just pointed out in the previous section, all the Messengers have all the attributes of God, even if They don't show them. Today we clearly recognize the inherent sovereign nature of Jesus or Muhammad, even though during Their lifetimes They seemed to be deprived of it.

Here, in this paragraph, though, it is worth noting that Baha'u'llah doesn't really talk about this at all. Instead He focuses on the question that has been asked by the uncle. He affirms that this is a good and important question. The launching point of his question is true. The sovereignty of the Qa'im is a reality, and we cannot doubt that. Over and over He re-affirms the validity of the question and the starting point of the uncle's reasoning.

But then He points out that this sovereignty is not what people have imagined. Moreover, it is not solely in the realm of the Qa'im; all the Messengers have this true sovereignty. Again, He shows the similarity of all the Manifestations and reminds the uncle of what He had just discussed in the previous number of paragraphs.

Now, if this is supposed to be a template about how we are to teach, we can learn a lot from this. Acknowledging the validity of a question is extremely important. He does this by re-stating the question, ensuring that the uncle knows that his question has been understood. The importance of this cannot be overstated. By reiterating the question back to the person, we let them know that they have been heard. We let them know that we are truly listening to them, and not just composing some sort of answer while they are talking. Perhaps this is one reason why the uncle had to write the questions down, but really, this is a very effective tool in any conversation. It allows the individual to correct us if, by chance, we have misunderstood the intent of the question.

Another aspect here is that Baha'u'llah doesn't immediately dismiss this question. Pointing out the common error inherent within the question does not make it a dumb question, but rather sets the stage for a more comprehensive answer. And as we can see, He will spend the next few dozen paragraphs giving that more comprehensive response.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Paragraph 112

To this testifieth that which hath been witnessed in this wondrous and exalted Dispensation. Myriads of holy verses have descended from the heaven of might and grace, yet no one hath turned thereunto, nor ceased to cling to those words of men, not one letter of which they that have spoken them comprehend. For this reason the people have doubted incontestable truths, such as these, and caused themselves to be deprived of the Riḍván of divine knowledge, and the eternal meads of celestial wisdom.

Paragraph 9 of 9, in which Baha'u'llah discusses how we can only know God through His Manifestations. To recap, He began this argument by pointing out that everything in creation shows a sign of God, but humanity shows all the signs of God. The Manifestations, however, show these signs to the highest degree. And just in case we were wondering, every Manifestation has all the attributes of God within Them, even if They haven't exhibited them to us. The kicker, though, is that humanity has strayed from Them and Their teachings, and this is the cause of so many of our troubles.

Baha'u'llah has established that all the Manifestations have all the various attributes of God, so now He will focus in on the attribute of Sovereignty. This, you may recall, was at the heart of the question asked of Him by the uncle, for whom this book was originally revealed.

Here, though, in this paragraph, Baha'u'llah starts by referring to the last quote from paragraph 111: "And if they see the path of righteousness, they will not take it for their path; but if they see the path of error, for their path will they take it. This, because they treated Our signs as lies, and were heedless of them." While on the one hand this refers clearly to the Bab, it can also refer to all the previous Messengers, and why the people denied Them. The uncle of the Bab would clearly understand that this was exactly what was happening around him. Verses descended, but the people denied them. Rather than following the Islamic teachings of patience and moderation, carefully listening to all that is put forth so that they can discern for themselves truth from falsehood, the people of that day suffered under prejudice and fanaticism. And it is for this reason, He says, that they have been deprived of both divine knowledge and celestial wisdom.

As we ponder on this paragraph, and this whole section, we find that we are reminded of paragraph 6, way back at the beginning of the book. It is there that we are told that the more you "acquaint yourself with the indignities heaped upon the Prophets of God, and apprehend the true causes of the objections voices by their oppressors, you will surely appreciate the significance of their position. Moreover, the more closely you observe the denials..., the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God." The more we study, the greater will be our understanding of this divine cycle: a Manifestation comes, we have direct knowledge through Him, learn, grow, grow estranged, and then no longer know God. This is a cycle that has been going on for millennia. He even reminded us of this way back in Part 1, where He talks about what the various Messengers all have in common. "Conceive accordingly", He says, in paragraph 20, "the distinction, variation, and unity characteristic of the various Manifestations of holiness, that thou mayest comprehend the allusions made by the creator of all names and attributes to the mysteries of distinction and unity, and discover the answer to thy question as to why that everlasting Beauty should have, at sundry times, called Himself by different names and titles."

Baha'u'llah also points out that rather than focusing on the word of God, the people have focused their attention on the words of men regarding these sacred verses, "not one letter of which they that have spoken them comprehend". By doing so, they have come to a corrupted understanding of religion, resulting in strife and contention. Rather than seeing the underlying unity of all the religions, these people focus their hatred on the differences. Time and time again this has been the case.

It is also worth noting that Baha'u'llah is using quotes that the uncle would be familiar with to make His point. He is showing how those very texts that the uncle would regard as sacred clearly show what He is trying to say. This, incidentally, has always been the way of the Messengers of the past. And by showing the fundamental unity of all the Manifestations, Baha'u'llah is imparting to him one of those gems of divine knowledge that we take for granted, namely the oneness of all religions.

Now that Baha'u'llah has helped lead us to recognize the Bab, through Part 1, and shown us the underlying unity of all the Manifestations, He will continue on to show us the highest response we can give in this process. He will help us better understand our true priorities, and encourage us to live the best life that we can in relation to these wonderful teachings.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Paragraph 111

Yea, inasmuch as the peoples of the world have failed to seek from the luminous and crystal Springs of divine knowledge the inner meaning of God's holy words, they therefore have languished, stricken and sore athirst, in the vale of idle fancy and waywardness. They have strayed far from the fresh and thirst-subduing waters, and gathered round the salt that burneth bitterly. Concerning them, the Dove of Eternity hath spoken: "And if they see the path of righteousness, they will not take it for their path; but if they see the path of error, for their path will they take it. This, because they treated Our signs as lies, and were heedless of them."

Paragraph 8 of 9 in this section regarding how we can only know God through His Messengers.

As we began to talk about this paragraph, we found ourselves talking a lot about interfaith, and looking at the sacred Writings and teachings of all faiths through the lens of Baha'u'llah's teachings. In other words, when we looked at the ideas that He teaches regarding unity, we found ourselves looking at the various teachings in other faiths through this lens of asking ourselves how such and such a teaching leads us towards unity. Of course, you can do this with any faith and their essential teachings. A Christian might well ask how Baha'u'llah's teachings regarding the harmony of science and religion lead us to a greater understanding of love. In the end, we found ourselves asking more and more why people would stray from such a path. Why would someone in the desert wander away from the fresh water?

But the more we talked about this, the less we saw what we could write here.

Then we noticed an interesting phrase that Baha'u'llah uses. He doesn't say that they have strayed from this path. He says, "They have strayed far from the fresh and thirst-subduing waters..." We, as some of the people of the world, have strayed from this life-giving water around which we were gathered. We were actually there, not merely on a path to it.

After all, if we look around today, how many speak of the love of Jesus, but attack their neighbour if they believe differently? How many preach the beauty and the wisdom of Muhammad, yet treat those who are different with no mercy. No matter where we look, we can see people admiring a religion that is truly worthy of admiration, yet acting quite contrary to its fundamental teachings.

Part 1 was about the inner meaning of God's holy words, but if we ignore these ideas, then those holy words are not satisfying. Here, Baha'u'llah speaks plain. He doesn't say we need hydration; He says that we are thirsty. We have been in the desert, wandering lost, searching for the promised land.

Why would someone in the desert wander away from the fresh water? While it may seem puzzling, it makes sense if they are led astray by a mirage. By going after this illusion, they have lost their way. When you are in the desert, this is easier than it seems. And here is Baha'u'llah trying to guide us back.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Paragraph 110

These attributes of God are not and have never been vouchsafed specially unto certain Prophets, and withheld from others. Nay, all the Prophets of God, His well-favoured, His holy, and chosen Messengers, are, without exception, the bearers of His names, and the embodiments of His attributes. They only differ in the intensity of their revelation, and the comparative potency of their light. Even as He hath revealed: “Some of the Apostles We have caused to excel the others.” It hath therefore become manifest and evident that within the tabernacles of these Prophets and chosen Ones of God the light of His infinite names and exalted attributes hath been reflected, even though the light of some of these attributes may or may not be outwardly revealed from these luminous Temples to the eyes of men. That a certain attribute of God hath not been outwardly manifested by these Essences of Detachment doth in no wise imply that they Who are the Daysprings of God’s attributes and the Treasuries of His holy names did not actually possess it. Therefore, these illuminated Souls, these beauteous Countenances have, each and every one of them, been endowed with all the attributes of God, such as sovereignty, dominion, and the like, even though to outward seeming they be shorn of all earthly majesty. To every discerning eye this is evident and manifest; it requireth neither proof nor evidence.

Ah, Seven-of-Nine. No, this is not about Star Trek: Voyager, but rather the seventh of nine paragraphs about how we can only know God through His Messengers.

So here, in this paragraph, in the context of this section of the book, there are three things that stand out to us, and one idea that really overshadows the rest.

The first point that hits us is the idea He mentions of how the light of the Messengers only differs in its intensity, and in relative potency. But what does this mean? Well, obviously we don't really know, but we have a few thoughts. Light is light, and it is all made up of photons, but a candle is not as powerful as a bonfire. An LED is different from an incandescent light, and both differ from other bulbs based on their comparative wattage. And yet, they all give light. The only thing that differs here is the intensity. Brighter and brighter, they all shine forth their photons.

As for its relative potency, we often think of this in relation to each other, comparing one Manifestation to another. But is this really what He means here? It could be, but it could also be relative to the surrounding circumstances. A candle in a dark room shines with far more potency than the same candle in a bright room. Baha'u'llah confirms this point in so many other areas, saying that this Revelation is far greater due to His coming at the darkest point in human history.

And this leads us to the second point that stands out for us, namely the fact that "tabernacles" is plural. He talks about the "tabernacles of these Prophets and chosen Ones of God". You may recall the importance of this word from way back in Paragraph 1, in which we are to enter the tabernacle that has been raised in the "firmament of the Bayan". Here, He reminds us that there are many tabernacles, each one raised under a different sky. Is one tabernacle better than another? Is there any inherent superiority in one over another? They are all the movable tent used for the worship of God. And while we may prefer one over another, for whatever reason, they all house the point of holiness.

Finally, the third thing that stands out for us is the idea that He does not have to prove a negative. Just because a Manifestation didn't need to demonstrate a particular attribute of God does no in any way mean that They did not possess it. Prove it, someone may say. And Baha'u'llah's response is "Why?" It doesn't require proof or evidence. It should be self-evident. After all, if we all have all the attributes of God latent within us, to a greater or lesser degree, why would the Manifestations be any different?

But the thing that overshadows all of this in importance is the idea of absolute unity among the Manifestations of God. We remember reading somewhere that an individual felt that the Kitab-i-Iqan and the Seven Valleys dealt with the same themes. After careful consideration, we agree. It seems that the Iqan begins with the Valley of Search, and leads into our love for the Messengers we recognize, it continues with Baha'u'llah imparting the knowledge that the Bab answers the same prophecies Muhammad does. By the penultimate paragraph of Part 1, we are firm in the knowledge that the Bab is a divine Manifestation, and in the next paragraph, He warns us to not turn aside from He Whom God shall make Manifest.

Here, He is leading us into the Valley of Unity, demonstrating the absolute unity of all the Messengers, before cautioning us not to be merely "content", and holding before our eyes the wonderment of the works of the early Babi heroes, and encouraging us to step forth into the Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness, by giving our entire lives to this faith of ours.

Now, this all leads us to another very important question: What do we do about it? It is very easy to sit back and say "Hurray! We recognized the new Manifestation", but here Baha'u'llah is reminding us that to do so requires that we recognize all the Manifestations as divine Messengers sent down by God.

"Well, of course", we can hear you say, but then we need to sit back and see what this looks like in action. Back at the beginning of Part 2, in paragraph 102, Baha'u'llah talks about soaring "on the wings of renunciation". Renunciation, of course, means not just detaching ourselves from our ego, or from the material things of the world, but actually overcoming the illusion of separateness from others. And here, Baha'u'llah seems to be reminding us that we cannot just sit on our laurels, content in having recognized Him, but taking that extra step of truly understanding that all the Messengers are One in Their very essence. When we do this, then we will do our utmost to help the Christian be the very best Christian they can, by helping them see the greater truths within their own faith, those truths that Baha'u'llah has laid out so plainly for us to see. We will do all we can to help the Hindu recognize the greater vision of Krishna, as expressed through the unity shown to us through the lens of Baha'u'llah's teachings. We will overcome our own possible cultural biases or prejudices towards those of other paths and strive to help all move closer and closer to their divine Creator by helping them recognize the validity of their own professed path.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Paragraph 109

From that which hath been said it becometh evident that all things, in their inmost reality, testify to the revelation of the names and attributes of God within them. Each according to its capacity, indicateth, and is expressive of, the knowledge of God. So potent and universal is this revelation, that it hath encompassed all things, visible and invisible. Thus hath He revealed: “Hath aught else save Thee a power of revelation which is not possessed by Thee, that it could have manifested Thee? Blind is the eye which doth not perceive Thee.” Likewise, hath the eternal King spoken: “No thing have I perceived, except that I perceived God within it, God before it, or God after it.” Also in the tradition of Kumayl it is written: “Behold, a light hath shone forth out of the Morn of eternity, and lo! its waves have penetrated the inmost reality of all men.” Man, the noblest and most perfect of all created things, excelleth them all in the intensity of this revelation, and is a fuller expression of its glory. And of all men, the most accomplished, the most distinguished and the most excellent are the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth. Nay, all else besides these Manifestations, live by the operation of their Will, and move and have their being through the outpourings of their grace. “But for Thee, I would have not created the heavens.” Nay, all in their holy presence fade into utter nothingness, and are a thing forgotten. Human tongue can never befittingly sing their praise, and human speech can never unfold their mystery. These Tabernacles of holiness, these primal Mirrors which reflect the light of unfading glory, are but expressions of Him Who is the Invisible of the Invisibles. By the revelation of these gems of divine virtue all the names and attributes of God, such as knowledge and power, sovereignty and dominion, mercy and wisdom, glory, bounty and grace, are made manifest.

In this sixth of nine paragraphs dealing with the theme of how we can only know God through His Manifestations, we see this pyramid of disclosure in its fullest. Everything shows some sign of God, as so aptly stated by the Imam Ali, "the eternal King": “No thing have I perceived, except that I perceived God within it, God before it, or God after it.” Everything shows a sign of God. Man, however, shows all the signs of God. And out of all humanity, it is the Manifestations of the divine spirit that show these signs to the highest degree.

Pretty straightforward.

Over and over again Baha'u'llah is helping raise our vision of the Messengers of God. Over and over again He is helping us see Them in Their highest glory.

But what else is He showing us here? What are some of the hidden paths in this paragraph?

It reminds us of a phrase one of us heard when a child. Someone said "Everything in physical creation can be seen as a metaphor for a spiritual truth." All right, we thought to ourselves, let's test that. And so for years we played this sort of mental game with ourselves. We would look at something, say a flower or a teacup, and ask "How is this a metaphor for a spiritual truth?" Every single time, without fail, we discovered that there was a spiritual truth contained within that object.

A flower? Too easy. There are countless spiritual metaphors about flowers.

A teacup? Well, we knew the Zen teaching, from Nan-in, of having to empty yourself before you can be filled with the spirit. We also learned that a teacup is also a metaphor for the soul after death. We knew that it was made of clay. Now the following is not exactly scientifically accurate, we know, but it works for all intents and purposes. We can say that clay is made up of the part that becomes the ceramic, and another part that burns away in the kiln. Let's call that other part "the organic binders", which is fairly close. It also has water, but we can treat that as one of the organic binders.

Anyways, we can take a piece of clay and form it into a teacup. Then we take this cup and place it in the kiln, for if we don't, it is not useful. It will melt away when we try to drink from it. Only by putting it in the fire, burning away the impurities, and allowing the ceramic to fuse into a glass-like material, will the teacup become useful to us.

Of course, as any potter knows, when you put an unfired piece of clay in the kiln, it shrinks. The amount of shrinkage is dependent upon the amount of impurities, or organic binders, in the clay.

This is like the soul.

As we are living our life, we are building the cup of our soul with the clay of our deeds. Our good deeds are like the pure ceramic, while our not-so-good deeds are like the organic binders (a term all too appropriate). When we go through the trauma of death, it is like having those organic binders burned away in the kiln. And if we lived our life in such a poor way that much of our self burns away, this can be seen as its own form of hell, for we then need to grow all that back in the next world.

And this is just one of many things we can learn from a teacup.

Another example is that of an atom. If we consider an electron, we find that we really know very little about it. We know that if we were to enlarge a hydrogen atom to be one kilometer across, the nucleus would be like a small pebble in the middle, and the electron would be like a grain of sand at the edge. This is all the actual matter contained within a single atom: a pebble and a grain of sand over the distance of a kilometer. But if this is so, why does matter appear solid? The simplistic answer is that it only appears solid due to the relationship that the electrons have with the other atoms surrounding it. When the atom looks at itself, it can truly say, "I am as nothing", for this is virtually nothing within it. But when it sees itself in relation to other atoms then it appears solid. And so, too, it is with humans. When we look at ourselves, on our own, we appear as nothing and can fall into deep depression. But when we see ourselves as part of a community, then we appear ever more solid.

If we can learn these truths from such simple objects, just imagine how much more we can learn from humanity.

And then move it up a notch: how much more can we learn from the example set to us by the Messengers of God.

At this point, He could end His argument in this paragraph and move on, but Baha'u'llah always further elevates our vision. From all creation to the supremacy of humanity, and the supremacy of the Manifestations within humanity, He's shown us how great these Messengers are. But then He spends the second half of this paragraph further elevating our vision of Them. All else lives by Their will. Everything is create by Their grace. It was only for Them that the heavens were created. These are very lofty statements, far loftier than anything we have ever previously seen in religious writings. By Their revelation, all the names and attributes of God were revealed.

So, while we knew that They were special, Baha'u'llah uses this argument of hierarchy help us gain a greater appreciation of Their true station, a station that is far greater than we have ever dreamed.