Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Paragraph 101

And now, We beseech the people of the Bayán, all the learned, the sages, the divines, and witnesses amongst them, not to forget the wishes and admonitions revealed in their Book. Let them, at all times, fix their gaze upon the essentials of His Cause, lest when He, Who is the Quintessence of truth, the inmost Reality of all things, the Source of all light, is made manifest, they cling unto certain passages of the Book, and inflict upon Him that which was inflicted in the Dispensation of the Qur’án. For, verily, powerful is He, the King of divine might, to extinguish with one letter of His wondrous words, the breath of life in the whole of the Bayán and the people thereof, and with one letter bestow upon them a new and everlasting life, and cause them to arise and speed out of the sepulchres of their vain and selfish desires. Take heed, and be watchful; and remember that all things have their consummation in belief in Him, in attainment unto His day, and in the realization of His divine presence. “There is no piety in turning your faces toward the east or toward the west, but he is pious who believeth in God and the Last Day.” Give ear, O people of the Bayán, unto the truth whereunto We have admonished you, that haply ye may seek the shelter of the shadow extended, in the Day of God, upon all mankind.

Well, dear Reader, here we are: the last paragraph of Part 1. What a journey.

Now, to be honest, looking back at the previous paragraph, we would have ended it there. It sure seems like a nice conclusion. We would have been very satisfied with it. But then, we're not Manifestations of God. (See paragraphs 1 - 100 for more details.)

Not only does Baha'u'llah give us the basic parameters for truly searching for truth (see paragraphs 1 - 6), some examples of previous Manifestations that the reader already recognizes (see paragraphs 7 - 23), and expound upon a single verse of that holy Person, Jesus, (see paragraphs 24 - 98), He also places the feet of the reader upon that path that will surely lead to the recognition of that Manifestation of God for this Day, the Bab (see paragraphs 99 and 100). Beyond that, He also lays the foundation for the recognition of Him Whom God shall make Manifest, helping us understand that the criteria for recognizing the Bab will be the same as those criteria for recognizing His own Station.

Surely that must be enough.

But really, one of those amazing things about Manifestations is that They see vistas we can't even dream about. Here, in paragraph 101, He lifts us up to that greater vista.

Now that it is fairly certain that the uncle to whom this book is addressed will recognize that high station of his Nephew and become a Babi, Baha'u'llah takes a moment to address all the Babis, those "people of the Bayan".

And what does He say? It is not enough to recognize the Bab.

We must be supremely heedful of that most important message the Bab gave. When the Pivot of the Bab's teachings declares His Mission, when Him Whom God shall make Manifest appears, we must not fall into those same old errors. We should not cling to certain verses and deny Him due to our own limited understanding, and inflict great harm to Him. For He is supreme. Baha'u'llah, after all this time helping raise our vision of Jesus, Muhammad and the Bab, helping us get a better vision of Their greatness, reminds us that the One to come is far greater.

Now, that being said, this, too, would make a great ending point. But remember, we're not Manifestations. (See above.)

Now that we can recognize the Bab, and have the tools to recognize Baha'u'llah, the question remains, "So what?" How does that change our life? What do we do about it?

That, dear Reader, is Part 2.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Paragraph 100

O affectionate seeker! Shouldst thou soar in the holy realm of the spirit, thou wouldst recognize God manifest and exalted above all things, in such wise that thine eyes would behold none else but Him. “God was alone; there was none else besides Him.” So lofty is this station that no testimony can bear it witness, neither evidence do justice to its truth. Wert thou to explore the sacred domain of truth, thou wilt find that all things are known only by the light of His recognition, that He hath ever been, and will continue for ever to be, known through Himself. And if thou dwellest in the land of testimony, content thyself with that which He, Himself, hath revealed: “Is it not enough for them that We have sent down unto Thee the Book?” This is the testimony which He, Himself, hath ordained; greater proof than this there is none, nor ever will be: “This proof is His Word; His own Self, the testimony of His truth.”

To start our look at this paragraph, we would like to look again at the last sentence of paragraph 99. "It is incumbent upon thee, by the permission of God, to cleanse the eye of thine heart from the things of the world, that thou mayest realize the infinitude of divine knowledge, and mayest behold Truth so clearly that thou wilt need no proof to demonstrate His reality, nor any evidence to bear witness unto His testimony." Our goal is to be so certain that we need no proof. But really, we just ain't there. Here, in recognition of this truth of our own state, He addresses us as an "affectionate seeker". We are still seeking. We are still looking for proof. Perhaps it is proof of the claim of the Bab, or maybe even proof of our own faith. Time and again throughout this book, Baha'u'llah has talked about the various proofs that people are seeking.

Everyone asks for proofs, but really, is there any greater proof than His own life? The Messenger's own Words? What more can we offer? Nothing.

Isn't that what faith in Them has always been based on? Their life and their words?

As we pause and consider this, we notice that Baha'u'llah has given us, yet again, another path which we can walk. We notice that this paragraph describes three states in which we can find ourselves.

First, if we are to "soar in the holy realm of the spirit", then we would recognize that God is above all things.

Second, if we are to "explore the sacred domain of truth", then we will discover that everything is only recognizable in light of the recognition of God.

Third, if we are to dwell "in the land of testimony", then we should be content with what God has revealed.

As we have said, over and over, all of Part 1 seems to be about recognizing a Manifestation of God. The questions that the Uncle of the Bab, which led to the revelation of this incredible work, were all about various proofs that he was trying to understand. But Baha'u'llah doesn't seem to be content with this. It is as if He is saying, "Great. You've recognized. Now what? What are you going to do about it?"

How many countless people throughout history have recognized a Messenger but not done anything about it? In a very real sense, this reminds us of the beginning of Ruhi Book 1. "The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds..." "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning."

This paragraph, in one sense, is the ultimate point of Part 1. It is the culmination of recognition. We have recognized. Good for us. What are we going to do about it? And that, dear Reader, is Part 2.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Paragraph 99

Dear friend! Now when the light of God’s everlasting Morn is breaking; when the radiance of His holy words: “God is the light of the heavens and of the earth” is shedding illumination upon all mankind; when the inviolability of His tabernacle is being proclaimed by His sacred utterance: “God hath willed to perfect His light;” and the Hand of omnipotence, bearing His testimony: “In His grasp He holdeth the kingdom of all things,” is being outstretched unto all the peoples and kindreds of the earth; it behooveth us to gird up the loins of endeavour, that haply, by the grace and bounty of God, we may enter the celestial City: “Verily, we are God’s,” and abide within the exalted habitation: “And unto Him we do return.” It is incumbent upon thee, by the permission of God, to cleanse the eye of thine heart from the things of the world, that thou mayest realize the infinitude of divine knowledge, and mayest behold Truth so clearly that thou wilt need no proof to demonstrate His reality, nor any evidence to bear witness unto His testimony.

Wow. Here we are. After more than six dozen paragraphs devoted to looking at one passage from Matthew 24, we are at the tail-end of Part 1. This whole section, from the very beginning to this point, has all been about how we can begin to recognize a Manifestation of the Divine Spirit.

It all began with cleansing our heart, and looking again at some of the Messengers we already recognize. Once we see some of the things They have in common, Baha'u'llah turned our attention to that beautiful passage, that promise from Jesus Himself, and how it applied to Muhammad, and hence, how it applies to all Messengers. He showed us how much more there was in these lines than we ever imagined. There truly are more things in heaven and hell, Horatio, then we ever dreamed of.

Here, with this first paragraph of the conclusion of Part 1, He is suddenly very intimate with us again. "Dear Friend." This is someone who is close to us, We are close to Him. If we have made it this far, we must be an intimate of His, and He is helping us see how to become even closer.

There are two paths that we notice within this paragraph. Likely there are more, but we will concern ourselves with only two of them.

First, looking at the active parts within this paragraph, we can see that morning has arrived. "The light of God's everlasting Morn is breaking." We can easily see ourselves lost in the desert, like the Jewish peoples at the time of Moses, and the warm light of the sun is beginning to shed its splendor over the horizon.

Second, it is specifically the light of God's Word that is causing this light to appear, and it is appearing to everyone.

Third, we have that reference to the tabernacle again. We are reminded of its sacredness, and the fact that nothing can break or corrupt it. We were just reminded of the sacred nature of the holy Bible in the previous few paragraphs, and can apply this to all sacred Texts.

Fourth, while the Tabernacle is a specific reference to the Jewish peoples, Baha'u'llah is telling us that this time, God is reaching out to all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. He is talking to all. Nobody is excluded.

Finally, it is in our best interest to not sit back and merely look at or study the sacred Texts, important as study is, but to endeavour. We are to get up and work. We are to strive and labour, to do our utmost to reach this station. And if we are lucky, then we might be blessed enough to "enter the celestial City". Furthermore, not only are trying to get into that city, but our actual goal is "the exalted habitation". And with luck, we may be allowed to abide within it.

Of course, this adds another dimension of struggle. Abide, as you know, means to remain with in times of great trouble.

So here we are, in the wilderness of the desert, watching the sun come up. We are aware of the importance of the sacred tent behind us, and we are moving towards the Promised Land, that great city. We enter it, and with great difficulty, seek out the holy household. At the same time, we are also learning about the importance of remaining in this house even when it is difficult.

By the way, we don't feel that this is all merely in relation to Muhammad, even though it has all been about how the uncle of the Bab has come to recognize the Prophet of God. We don't feel that this is even solely about the Bab, Whom Baha'u'llah is helping this uncle to recognize. Nor do we feel that this is directly or indirectly about Baha'u'llah, Himself. We feel that all of this, from the very beginning up to this point of the book, has been about how we can recognize any Manifestation of the Divine Spirit. We feel that this has been about all of Them.

Anyways, on to that second path.

We get the feeling that there is another path hidden within these beautiful Words, namely through the quotes that He uses. In order, they read:

  • God is the light of the heavens and of the earth
  • God hath willed to perfect His light
  • In His grasp He holdeth the kingdom of all things
  • Verily, we are God’s
  • And unto Him we do return

The light is breaking, and that light is God. He is the true light of both the heavens and the earth. But let's face it, that light is blinding. It is difficult for us to see. In order for the light to be more effective, to be more "perfect", He is helping us acclimatize to it. He is giving us the means by which we can better see it. After all, if the light is out there, but we cannot bear it, what good is it to us?

No. God wants us to be able to see it, and this is one of the reasons He has sent us the Messengers.

But let's not forget, everything is within His grasp, and that includes us. It includes both the heavens and the earth. It even includes the Messengers Themselves.

Everything is God's. And to Him do we all, eventually, return.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Paragraph 98

We have also heard a number of the foolish of the earth assert that the genuine text of the heavenly Gospel doth not exist amongst the Christians, that it hath ascended unto heaven. How grievously they have erred! How oblivious of the fact that such a statement imputeth the gravest injustice and tyranny to a gracious and loving Providence! How could God, when once the Day-star of the beauty of Jesus had disappeared from the sight of His people, and ascended unto the fourth heaven, cause His holy Book, His most great testimony amongst His creatures, to disappear also? What would be left to that people to cling to from the setting of the day-star of Jesus until the rise of the sun of the Muḥammadan Dispensation? What law could be their stay and guide? How could such people be made the victims of the avenging wrath of God, the omnipotent Avenger? How could they be afflicted with the scourge of chastisement by the heavenly King? Above all, how could the flow of the grace of the All-Bountiful be stayed? How could the ocean of His tender mercies be stilled? We take refuge with God, from that which His creatures have fancied about Him! Exalted is He above their comprehension!

This basically ends His analysis of Matthew 24. And it's interesting, isn't it, that He has spent all this time referring to this text, deriving such insights and wisdom from it, and only now, at the very end, refutes the silly idea that the true Gospel may not exist? After all this, there really isn't any doubt, but still, He has to address it anyways.

Then there is the way in which He addresses this, with this list of rhetorical questions. As we could expect, it seems that there is a path of guidance within these very questions. They begin with the Book of God, one of the very proofs of the Messenger, His teachings. Once He mentions the Book, He points out that we should cling to it. From there, He introduces the Law, the very heart and essence of the book itself. Then He points out that without giving us the Law, the wrath, which is the punishment for the violation of said law, would be unjust, as would His chastisement. And since God is the very essence of justice, this notion itself is ridiculous. All grace and bounty flow from God, and the very thought that it could be stopped, even for a moment, is beyond absurd.

Again, it is very interesting. Baha'u'llah is seen here not only defending the validity of the Christian texts, but is also using them to show these profound truths. He is demonstrating not only a familiarity with them, but the incredible depth of wisdom contained within them. He is validating their authenticity and their accuracy, and by doing so is reminding us of the importance of our own study of them.

While it is, of course, important for us to know the teachings of the Baha'i Faith, it is also crucial for us to have a very good understanding and familiarity of the sacred texts of all faiths. 'Abdu'l-Baha, Himself, is reported to have said, "It is the religious duty of every Bahá'í to read and comprehend the meanings of the Old and New Testaments." Baha'u'llah has just spent over 70 paragraphs helping us comprehend the meaning of just this one singular passage from the New Testament. Imagine how much more there is to understand.

To us, this is a call to action. It is a very stark reminder of our duty to strive to understand better and better the holy texts of all faiths in light of the teachings of Baha'u'llah. It is also a reminder to us to stand up and defend not only their authenticity, but also their accuracy and relevance. As we encounter religious prejudice in our society, we are called upon to not only overcome it, but to show the profound beauty and depth of truth within every faith.

While we could go on for a long time on this extremely important theme., we will just point out one more thing that has caught our attention in this paragraph. No doubt we will be expanding on this theme in our study of Part 2 of this book, but for now, we will just point out a tidbit of it here.

Almost of all of Part 1 has been about how to recognize a Messenger of God. The first two questions in this paragraph also deal with this very important theme. We need to recognize the Messenger, and after They have ascended, it is through Their teachings that we can do this. Then, with the third question, He talks about the importance of the Law, and our obedience to it.

Recognition and Obedience.

This brings to mind, of course, the very first paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas: The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof, hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.

And our obedience is something that we give to our sovereign, our king and ruler.

All of Part 2, as we shall soon see, is about that station of sovereignty held by the Manifestation of God.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Paragraph 97

Our purpose in relating these things is to warn you that were they to maintain that those verses wherein the signs referred to in the Gospel are mentioned have been perverted, were they to reject them, and cling instead to other verses and traditions, you should know that their words were utter falsehood and sheer calumny. Yea “corruption” of the text, in the sense We have referred to, hath been actually effected in particular instances. A few of these We have mentioned, that it may become manifest to every discerning observer that unto a few untutored holy Men hath been given the mastery of human learning, so that the malevolent opposer may cease to contend that a certain verse doth indicate “corruption” of the text, and insinuate that We, through lack of knowledge, have made mention of such things. Moreover, most of the verses that indicate “corruption” of the text have been revealed with reference to the Jewish people, were ye to explore the isles of Qur’ánic Revelation.

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

He begins by saying that He is "relating these things" to us to warn us. What things? Well, He is saying that if people were to say that certain signs in the Gospel were actually perversions of the text, they're bozos. He is giving us the history, and a way to respond, besides saying that they're bozos.

So let's look back at this whole section. What is it that Baha'u'llah is doing? What is His argument?

He begins by defining angels, and then reminds us that the Word of God is "abstruse, bewilderingly abstruse". He points out to us the conditions for bearing it, and demonstrates quite clearly that the divines of His day do not meet any of those qualifications. Instead, these divines argue that the text must be corrupt. Baha'u'llah goes on to explain that "what is meant by corrupting the text" is very specific. First, it refers to a simple misunderstanding when the Jewish people, for example, rescinded a law when they did not have the authority to do so. Second, it refers to the divines unconsciously interpreting the text according to their own imagination or vain desires. Third, it refers to this same interpretation, but this time consciously. Finally, it refers to these same people consciously transcribing the Text incorrectly and claiming it is from God, in order to get money or other benefits.

Now, this is all well and good, this pattern that He is pointing out to us, but why is He putting it here? Why does He put it here in this book, and why in this section?

Quite simply, He is warning us that these accusations of perverting the text will be made of Him, and are being made of the Bab. But if we examine it, we will see that they are mistaken. The Bab and Baha'u'llah are, instead, offering a new understanding of the text, one that is both fresh and invigorating. They are offering a truth that has been right in front of us all along, and we have just missed it. And Their new message is resounding through the world like a trumpet blast, waking up the people of the world, helping them see that this is a new day. But those in charge, the various divines and such, are trying to lull the people back to sleep.

And these angels, well, they can easily be seen as those Babis who have given their lives for their Faith. So now we can clearly see how He did in fact send His angels with a trumpet blast in order to wake us up, and hopefully allow us to become like angels, too.

Finally, He finishes off with this beautiful metaphor of exploring "the isles of Qur'anic Revelation", which are presumably floating within the "ocean of true understanding", referred to way back in the very first sentence of this book.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Paragraph 96

The same may be witnessed today. Consider how abundant are the denunciations written by the foolish divines of this age against this most wondrous Cause! How vain their imaginings that these calumnies are in conformity with the verses of God’s sacred Book, and in consonance with the utterances of men of discernment!

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

Before we can talk about this paragraph, we have to ask ourselves what Baha'u'llah means when He says "the same". What is it He is referring to?

Quite simply, He seems to be referring to the condemnation referred to in the previous paragraph, namely that some people write stuff and say it is from God.

Here, He specifically uses the word "calumnies" and asks if they are in conformity with the Book of God and consonant with what discerning people say.

Ok, fine. But what does all that mean?

Looking at some of the key words and defining them will help us understand.

Calumnies are statements that are like backbiting, except for the fact that they are a lie. They are specifically designed to hurt and mislead. In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha'u'llah's seminal Text, He talks about calumny in the following verse: Ye have been forbidden to commit murder or adultery, or to engage in backbiting or calumny...

We often read about how awful backbiting is, but rarely do we hear about calumny. We even seem to have a visceral reaction against backbiting in the Baha'i community, knowing how vilified it is, but often wonder about this companion word, "calumny". Well, here is an interesting thought that struck us as we began to look into this word. We believe that everything in the Writings, as we have said repeatedly, is there for a purpose. Nothing is accidental. And so, when we saw this verse, we began to wonder about it. After all, this is a strange group of four acts to condemn together in a single line. Was Baha'u'llah trying to give us a message?

We believe He was.

While we often think of murder as this horrible worst-of-all possible crimes, and in this culture seem to regard adultery as something common, and backbiting more like "yeah, whatever", we wondered at the idea that Baha'u'llah would begin with the worst, and move into a decrescendo. It didn't make sense to us. A crescendo seemed more likely. And so, looking at it in this way, we began to reconsider. Then we realized that murder, awful as it is, merely kills a single individual. Adultery, common as it is, results in the death of a family. Backbiting, we know, leads to distrust and results in the death of the bonds of trust within a community. And backbiting, heinous as it is, at least has the virtue of being true. Calumny is a lie. And so, looking at it in this way, we began to feel that Baha'u'llah is giving us a deeper message about these condemned acts.

So, here, when He refers to "calumnies", we really seem to feel the impact of that word.

"Consonant" basically means an agreement or compatibility between opinions or actions. If you are uttering or writing these appalling things about others, and purport to be spiritual, then your actions are not consonant with your words. "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning."

And then there is "discernment", the ability to judge well. When you look dispassionately at the actions of the Baha'is who are condemned by these calumnies, you can see the prejudice shining through these words.

Given this, we go back to the beginning of this short paragraph and notice the word "consider". Remember "consider"? Way back at the beginning of this book, He regularly asked us to "consider the past", to "reflect", to "ponder". That was our starting point, the first step of the path that has led us to this point in the book.

Now, however, He seems to be asking us to "consider the present".

And then, notice what it is that He is asking us to consider, the abundance of these denunciations.


Well, let's go back to paragraph 6 and see what He says there. "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." And isn't that what this book is all about? Certitude?

Now, here, Baha'u'llah is referring to those people, presumably Muslim, who were writing all sorts of denunciations and uttering all sorts of slander against the Baha'i Faith, but He also seems to be giving us a warning, too. We don't just see this as referring to those condemning the "next faith" in line, but also to any person condemning any other faith. After all, in the forward to One Common Faith, the Universal House of Justice wrote, "Far from challenging the validity of any of the great revealed faiths, the principle (of the interfaith movement) has the capacity to ensure their continuing relevance."

Therefore, we can ask ourselves, when we speak about another religion, or a group of religionists, are our words "in conformity with the verses of God's sacred Book"? Are our judgements "in consonance with the utterances of men of judgement"?

Whatever measuring stick Baha'u'llah uses for judging others, He will surely also use to judge us.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Paragraph 95

Again in another instance, He saith: “Woe unto those who, with their own hands, transcribe the Book corruptly, and then say: ‘This is from God,’ that they may sell it for some mean price.” This verse was revealed with reference to the divines and leaders of the Jewish Faith. These divines, in order to please the rich, acquire worldly emoluments, and give vent to their envy and misbelief, wrote a number of treatises, refuting the claims of Muḥammad, supporting their arguments with such evidences as it would be improper to mention, and claimed that these arguments were derived from the text of the Pentateuch.

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

Well, to start, we just want to point out that an "emolument" is a profit arising from an office, or a wage. And a "treatise" is a just a written work or argument dealing with a particular subject.

But we don't really want to dwell on definitions.

No, we're far more interested in the development of the various types of "perverting" the text. In paragraph 92, He describes how the Jewish peoples had "perverted" the text by rescinding a law, even though they did not have the authority to do so. They really believed that they were doing a good thing. And even then, the text itself wasn't changed. You could still go back and read the original law for yourself. it was only the application they changed.

In paragraph 93, He describes how the divines interpret the text according to their own imagination or vain desires. Again, they're not changing the text itself, just twisting the meaning to satisfy their own ego or wishes, probably unconsciously.

In paragraph 94, they twist the meaning again, but this time they do so consciously.

Here, they actually transcribe the text itself incorrectly, knowing that they are doing so. And why do they do this? For a small sum of money, and to give vent to their envy. They knowingly falsify the text, and then claim that it is true.

Baha'u'llah is showing us, through example, increasing levels of this "perversion". It begins with very good intentions, and we can actually understand where the people doing it are coming from. It moves through selfishness and ignorance, in which this twisting of the text is done with disregard, Finally, it culminates in a deliberate action, in which the changing of the text is calculated and premeditated.