Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Paragraph 34

In another sense, by these terms is intended the divines of the former Dispensation, who live in the days of the subsequent Revelations, and who hold the reins of religion in their grasp. If these divines be illumined by the light of the latter Revelation they will be acceptable unto God, and will shine with a light everlasting. Otherwise, they will be declared as darkened, even though to outward seeming they be leaders of men, inasmuch as belief and unbelief, guidance and error, felicity and misery, light and darkness, are all dependent upon the sanction of Him Who is the Day-star of Truth. Whosoever among the divines of every age receiveth, in the Day of Reckoning, the testimony of faith from the Source of true knowledge, he verily becometh the recipient of learning, of divine favour, and of the light of true understanding. Otherwise, he is branded as guilty of folly, denial, blasphemy, and oppression.

Once again, He is reminding us that there are many interpretations that are valid regarding Sacred Text. When He says, "In another sense", this tells us that there multiple ways to read these words.

Another thing He is doing is eliminating the concept of triumphalism. He doesn't say that they have to be a member of that Faith, just that they be illumined by its guiding principles. If the leaders of religion, He says, are "illumined by the light" of the next Revelation, then they are acceptable before God.

Gandhi, John Paul II, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama: These illumined figures come to mind. They all were, or are, obviously motivated by the principle of unity, and yet none of them are members of the Baha'i community. These divines, because they are illumined by the light of unity, the light of Baha'u'llah, they are shining "with a light everlasting".  They are shining light upon light, as it says in the Qur'an. And there is never any pressure for them to convert to the Baha'i Faith, for we recognize that all paths lead to the same Creator.

If they don't shine this light, however, then all their pomp and glory in this world is quite meaningless.

The list of contrasting attributes is also quite interesting. By placing light and darkness in there, He is showing us that all of these opposites are actually positive attributes and their absences. Darkness, as we know, has no existence of its own. It is the absence of light. We can now see that unbelief has no existence of its own, either. It is merely the lack of belief. The same can be said of all the other attributes here.

Finally, that last list, "folly, denial, blasphemy, and oppression", is a crescendo. Folly is just a lack of understanding, leading to foolishness. Denial is a bit stronger. It is not just being foolish, but a refusal to believe something true. Blasphemy is even stronger, cursing or reviling God Himself. Oppression is the worst, for it using your authority in a cruel and unjust manner.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Paragraph 33

The term "suns" hath many a time been applied in the writings of the "immaculate Souls" unto the Prophets of God, those luminous Emblems of Detachment. Among those writings are the following words recorded in the "Prayer of Nudbih": "Whither are gone the resplendent Suns? Whereunto have departed those shining Moons and sparkling Stars?" Thus, it hath become evident that the terms "sun," "moon," and "stars" primarily signify the Prophets of God, the saints, and their companions, those Luminaries, the light of Whose knowledge hath shed illumination upon the worlds of the visible and the invisible.

This passage could be seen as a simple reminder of what was just said, that the words "Sun", "moon" and "stars" refer to the Manifestations and all the other incredible souls that have helped bring the light of the many Revelations to the world, but, as usual, it is so much more than just that.

Baha'u'llah makes mention of 2 lines from the Prayer of Nudbih. We naturally wanted to know more about this prayer, as we weren't familiar with it. After much searching, we finally found a copy of it here: http://www.duas.org/nudba.htm, along with a beautiful video of a man chanting it.

This prayer is quite fascinating, as it is a lamentation regarding the state of the world at the time, which was some time around 200 years after the passing of Muhammad. This prayer, if you read it, carries you through progressive Revelation, referring to a variety of the Manifestations of God in chronological order, then continues with references to the successorship of Muhammad. Following this, the author, said to be the 12th Imam, asks where the next Messenger is. It is a prayer that, in a sense, sets us up to be ready to receive the Revelation of the Bab.

This is another incredible example of Baha'u'llah using the cultural context of the reader, the Uncle of the Bab, to help prepare his heart to receive this mighty Revelation. As we know, this paragraph still falls under the shadow of the line, "Consider the past." With this reference, Baha'u''llah is pointing to yet another famous work that talks about the progressive nature of religion, and foreshadows the time in which the reader is living. The list of Messengers here is similar to the one Baha'u'llah just used at the beginning of the Iqan.

So while it would be very easy to see this as a simple restatement of what Baha'u'llah said earlier, there is so much more hidden within it if we take a moment to look below the surface.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Paragraph 32

That these divine Luminaries seem to be confined at times to specific designations and attributes, as you have observed and are now observing, is due solely to the imperfect and limited comprehension of certain minds. Otherwise, they have been at all times, and will through eternity continue to be, exalted above every praising name, and sanctified from every descriptive attribute. The quintessence of every name can hope for no access unto their court of holiness, and the highest and purest of all attributes can never approach their kingdom of glory. Immeasurably high are the Prophets of God exalted above the comprehension of men, who can never know them except by their own Selves. Far be it from His glory that His chosen Ones should be magnified by any other than their own persons. Glorified are they above the praise of men; exalted are they above human understanding!

It feels to us like this paragraph is something of an interlude. It appears to be a break from the main theme, but not quite. He is obviously answering a question from the Uncle of the Bab, who has noticed that the various Messengers appear to be different. It is almost as if He is addressing a concern of the Uncle in passing, on His way from one point to another in His argument.

In terms of where this occurs in His main argument, He is still talking about the Suns, and our understanding of them in terms of Matthew 24. This begs the question "How can we know the sun?" The answer is that we can't, not directly. We can know certain things about the sun, through our understanding of the rays and the impact they have on the world, and we can suppose certain things about the nature of the sun, but that's not quite the same as knowing the sun itself.

Throughout religious history the sun has been seen as a metaphor for God. 'Abdu'l-Baha further explains that we can understand the Christian concept of the Trinity through seeing God as the sun, the Holy Ghost as the rays of the sun, and the Messenger as the perfect mirror reflecting the light of the sun. We can look at the reflection in the mirror and say "That's the sun", and we're correct, in a sense. Someone else can look at that same reflection and say, "That's not the sun. It's just a reflection." They, too, are correct. However we choose to view it, the truth is still the same. And the fact remains that we cannot know the sun itself, directly. If we were to even begin to approach the sun, we would completely vaporize long before we got there. And if we were to try and look at the sun directly, its very intensity would cause us to go blind.

Another question is, "If the Manifestations are so high, how much higher and more exalted is God?" This is, of course, a question that can not really be answered, but is well worth pondering in our heart.

In this paragraph, Baha'u'llah says that the Manifestations are "exalted above the comprehension of men". If we cannot know Them through our mind, how can we know Them? Through our heart, or our soul. Way back in paragraph 1, He says, "Sanctify your souls..." This concept of the heart is so important and constantly bears repeating. It is the beginning of this Book, as well as the center of the first Hidden Word: "Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart..."

But it's not a given. There's no guarantee. Remember that word "haply"? Good luck.

Finally, He says that They can only be known "except by their own Selves". What does it mean to know Them through Their own Selves? We are told that the first proof of a Messenger is Their Self. The next proof is Their message. For those who were alive at the time of the Messenger, this is all well and good, but for us, who are living in a day bereft of Their presence, we have to content ourselves with knowing Them through Their Word.