Thursday, March 24, 2011

Paragraph 16

With fixed and steady gaze, born of the unerring eye of God, scan for a while the horizon of divine knowledge, and contemplate those words of perfection which the Eternal hath revealed, that haply the mysteries of divine wisdom, hidden ere now beneath the veil of glory and treasured within the tabernacle of His grace, may be made manifest unto you. The denials and protestations of these leaders of religion have, in the main, been due to their lack of knowledge and understanding. Those words uttered by the Revealers of the beauty of the one true God, setting forth the signs that should herald the advent of the Manifestation to come, they never understood nor fathomed. Hence they raised the standard of revolt, and stirred up mischief and sedition. It is obvious and manifest that the true meaning of the utterances of the Birds of Eternity is revealed to none except those that manifest the Eternal Being, and the melodies of the Nightingale of Holiness can reach no ear save that of the denizens of the everlasting realm. The Copt of tyranny can never partake of the cup touched by the lips of the Sept of justice, and the Pharaoh of unbelief can never hope to recognize the hand of the Moses of truth. Even as He saith: "None knoweth the meaning thereof except God and them that are well-grounded in knowledge."[Qur'án 3:7] And yet, they have sought the interpretation of the Book from those that are wrapt in veils, and have refused to seek enlightenment from the fountain-head of knowledge.

This is the last of four paragraphs that lead us to consider some of the reasons for the denials, contention, conflict and all of the other myriad problems that the Messengers of God faced. In the first paragraph (13), Baha'u'llah pointed out that all of Them suffered the same pattern, and They also gave signs for the next Messenger's appearance. In the second paragraph (14), He gave us some of the reasons for the people denying Them, including being led astray by the leaders of religion. In the third one (paragraph 15), He drew our attention to the motives of the clergy, saying it was due to lust of leadership, as well as ignorance. Now He tells us, quite plainly, that it is their "lack of knowledge and understanding" that is the main reason for all these problems. And so we think that this whole paragraph can be understood in terms of this point. But, once again, we are not going to go there. Baha'u'llah already did, and He did it far better than we can. Instead, as is becoming our new norm, we're going to look at few tangental points, after taking a brief glance at one of the phrases we find interesting.

"Scan... the horizon" - isn't this like watching the horizon for the sun to rise during the early morning dawn? But then He mentions the tabernacle, so it is a tent, the holy tent, that is there somewhere on the horizon. And then the leaders of religion raise the standard of revolt against this sacred tent. But all this only means that these leaders are looking with their own eyes, and not the eye of God. We should look with an eye of humility, not with pride in our own knowledge and understanding.

We often say that the Jews wandered in the desert, lost, for forty years, but this is not really the case. As long as they knew where the tabernacle was, they were not lost. That was their centre. You are only lost if you cannot find that which you are seeking. After all, as Baha'u'llah says in the Hidden Words, "Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved?"

But here, the focus of the leaders of the religion is a bit off. They are not focused on the tabernacle. They are, instead, looking at their own learning and understanding. The leaders have contemplated the Writings, for that was the basis of their studies, but they haven't seen the mysteries within them. They are still ignorant of the spiritual truths of their faith, even though they are very familiar with the hermeneutics and theology (wow, pretty big words for us). These mysteries are often missed by those who study their faith from a purely intellectual perspective. They often forget that religion is fundamentally mystical at its core. They have missed the spiritual truths, and are not living according to the principles of their religion. They are obeying the letter of the law, but not its spirit. Why would this be? Well, early on, in paragraph 2, we are given the conditions our heart must manifest.
Because they haven't understood "the signs that should herald the advent of the Manifestation to come," and thought they had, they actually ended up raising the standard of revolt.

Now, rather than analyzing and repeating what is said here, we would like to look at something else Baha'u'llah is doing (or at least seems to be doing, in our own unofficial opinion). You have no doubt noticed that Baha'u'llah is constantly quoting the Qur'an. If this is supposed to be a model for how we are to effectively teach the Faith, then doesn't this imply that we should also ground our arguments in the Word of God that is recognized by the listener?

"...(S)can for a while the horizon of divine knowledge, and contemplate those words of perfection which the Eternal hath revealed"? Doesn't this seem to imply looking at all of the sacred Texts that have been revealed?

This is something that most people tend not to do. They generally only quote their own sacred texts, but not the sacred texts of others. How often have we, as Baha'is, tried to quote Baha'u'llah to "prove" our point? This isn't very effective if the person we're talking to doesn't recognize Baha'u'llah. We need to show the proofs in their sacred text. Jesus, for example, always answered the religious leaders of His day with quotes from their texts, the Tanakh (or the Old Testament, if you must), and not from His own parables. He used those to unveil to His followers new truths.

Here, Baha'u'llah isn't quoting the Writings of the Bab. He is quoting the holy Qur'an.

To us, this implies a need for a deeper understanding of the importance of interfaith work. As we dive into the sacred texts of other faiths, we find that we come to a greater appreciation of those works and can share in the love of that faith with its followers. We also find that, as we look at these texts through the lens of Baha'u'llah's teachings, we have a greater understanding of those books than we did before we were Baha'i. They just seem to make more sense.

It is also interesting to note that as we speak, with love and reverence, about these sacred texts, and try to discover some of the truths hidden within them, other people generally begin to see the widsom of the simple explanations that we offer. It is this simple look at the spirit of what is there within those texts that wins over the minds of these people. But it is our love and respect that wins over their hearts.

Only the Messengers can truly be said to understand the Word of God. Those who dwell in the everlasting realm are also privy to those same melodies, but we, who are so far from there, can only try to pass on those few phrases that we hear. It is like a song that can only be heard in the town square. We can try to offer some of that divine melody to others, in our own imperfect manner. We can train ourselves to better convey its melody, or meaning, but we must recognize that it is truly only the Messengers that can be said to understand it in its fullness.

These words are a gift. And as was said way back at the beginning of this book, it is only by purifying our heart that we even stand a chance of understanding even a bit of it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Paragraph 15

Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people. By their sanction and authority, every Prophet of God hath drunk from the chalice of sacrifice, and winged His flight unto the heights of glory. What unspeakable cruelties they that have occupied the seats of authority and learning have inflicted upon the true Monarchs of the world, those Gems of divine virtue! Content with a transitory dominion, they have deprived themselves of an everlasting sovereignty. Thus, their eyes beheld not the light of the countenance of the Well-Beloved, nor did their ears hearken unto the sweet melodies of the Bird of Desire. For this reason, in all sacred books mention hath been made of the divines of every age. Thus He saith: "O people of the Book! Why disbelieve the signs of God to which ye yourselves have been witnesses?"[Qur'án 3:70] And also He saith: "O people of the Book! Why clothe ye the truth with falsehood? Why wittingly hide the truth?"[Qur'án 3:71] Again, He saith: "Say, O people of the Book! Why repel believers from the way of God?"[Qur'án 3:99] It is evident that by the "people of the Book," who have repelled their fellow-men from the straight path of God, is meant none other than the divines of that age, whose names and character have been revealed in the sacred books, and alluded to in the verses and traditions recorded therein, were you to observe with the eye of God.

As you can tell, this is the third of those four paragraphs that help us consider today's events in light of the past. He obviously draws our attention to that last part of paragraph 14, and gets us to focus on the leaders of religion. But we're not going to go there. Baha'u'llah did. And we don't need to repeat what He says so well.

By now, you know that we would normally point out the reference to the shores and draw your attention back to paragraph 1, or that we would identify the dual problems of lust of leadership and ignorance, or even the recurring theme of the bird. We would even look at the pattern of the three quotes from the Qu'ran, moving from disbelief to knowingly hiding the truth (probably due to lust for power) and therefore repelling people from the true Path.

Rather than looking at what is no more than a summary of this, we, instead, want to now look at why the Guardian says, "The friends, and particularly those who wish to become competent and useful teachers, should indeed consider it to be their first duty to acquaint themselves, as thoroughly as they can, with each and every detail contained in this Holy  Book..."

The more we study this Book, and the more we look at the minute details of how Baha'u'llah presents His case, the more we feel we can learn. It is truly an example of that humble truth, "The more we learn, the more we realize how little we know."

What have we learned here, in this Book, about how Baha'u'llah would guide someone to the Faith?

The first thing that we think we have picked up is the gentle and careful approach He seems to take. As we have noticed in the past, Baha'u'llah begins His whole approach here by first reminding the reader of what has always been required in one's search for truth. This is nothing new, and the follower of any faith tradition, or no faith, would already recognize the truth of it. If you go in with your own preconceptions, then you are not open to hearing what might actually be true.

Once this is established, after the first half dozen paragraphs, He then goes on to talk about what they both already agree upon. The above paragraph, number 15, is in the middle of all of this. His audience is Muslim, and so He speaks about those Prophets that they already recognize: Noah, Hud, Salih, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. He does so simply and systematically.

As we have tried to point out, He slowly unfolds a new understanding of each of these Messengers, showing the similarities between Their stories. He gradually moves the reader through religious history, leading them towards the unmistakable conclusion that God never withholds His bounty and will always send a new Messenger to guide us onwards.

By this point, after taking so much time to get to this early paragraph, we have already changed our own personal teaching styles. We now recognize more clearly then ever that while we need to proclaim the Most Great Name, proclamation is not the same as personal and individual teaching. This is far more intimate and requires a greater capacity to listen closely to the one we are hoping "to bring into the fold" of the Faith. This "readiness to listen, with heightened spiritual perception" is what allows us to decide the "suitability of either the direct or indirect method of teaching". It is what enables us to better gauge how long we need to take in unfolding these truths.

Of course, we also recognize that this does not take years, even with the indirect method. By this point in the book, Baha'u'llah is already beginning to allude to the station of the Bab, through inferences and subtle hints. By this point in the book, He is ready to launch His incontrovertible argument, and goes into it in just a few more paragraphs.

Everything up to this point has been, in a sense, history. It has been a reframing of the historical understanding, to be sure, but history, nonetheless.

Now, as we move towards paragraph 24, things begin to shift. This is the time when we need to start buckling our spiritual seat belt, for He is getting ready to put the car into overdrive.