Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Paragraph 43

And now, with fixed gaze and steady wings enter thou the way of certitude and truth. "Say: It is God; then leave them to entertain themselves with their cavilings."(Qur'án 6:91) Thus, wilt thou be accounted of those companions of whom He saith: "They that say 'Our Lord is God,' and continue steadfast in His way, upon them, verily, shall the angels descend."(Qur'án 41:30) Then shalt thou witness all these mysteries with thine own eyes.

In many ways this seems to be the first of two transitional paragraphs. We have just finished a huge section talking about the wayward religious leaders, and He seems to sum it all up by telling us to leave them to their cavilings, their trivial objections. He tells us to look forward with a "fixed gaze and steady wings", giving us a clear goal and firm intention.

He switches approach from the previous paragraphs, no longer referring to the allegorical, but telling us of the immediate reality of this next quote. If we proceed forward, unwavering in our determination, then we will be among those on whom the angels descend. The mysteries that have long been thought to be mere allegory Baha'u'llah says he, or we, will witness with our own eyes. These mysteries, though, seem to lie further ahead in the Qur'an, later in Surih 40.

Of course, we don't think He is saying that angels are going to fall on our head, dropping like reindeer from the sky, but if we look at it all with spiritual eyes, then we will see the angelic virtues circling around those who arise to serve His Cause, those who are steadfast in striving to build this new world civilization.

Now going back to the beginning, there is an interesting dynamic He points out. He references the Qur'an talking about those who "entertain themselves with their cavilings." What does this mean? As usual, we're not exactly sure, but for us we read it as referring to those people who find it fun to point out trivial faults. They are the ones who get a kick out of arguing. Rather then spending their time building something useful, they tear down anything they can.

This quote from the Qur'an is also in relation to those who would deny a new revelation. The uncle of the Bab, who was a learned Muslim, would know that Muhammad, in the beginning of 6:91, is telling the reader to ask the denier "Who sent down the Book of Moses". Obviously it is the same God that sent down the Qur'an, and also the Bayan.

Baha'u'llah is asking us to move with "fixed gaze and steady wings". By doing so, He is putting in our mind an image of an eagle that is soaring, or hunting. What is it that we are to be hunting? Perhaps the truth hidden within those verses.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Paragraph 42

It is unquestionable that in every succeeding Revelation the "sun" and "moon" of the teachings, laws, commandments, and prohibitions which have been established in the preceding Dispensation, and which have overshadowed the people of that age, become darkened, that is, are exhausted, and cease to exert their influence. Consider now, had the people of the Gospel recognized the meaning of the symbolic terms "sun" and "moon," had they sought, unlike the froward and perverse, enlightenment from Him Who is the Revealer of divine knowledge, they would have surely comprehended the purpose of these terms, and would not have become afflicted and oppressed by the darkness of their selfish desires. Yea, but since they have failed to acquire true knowledge from its very Source, they have perished in the perilous vale of waywardness and misbelief. They still have not awakened to perceive that all the signs foretold have been made manifest, that the promised Sun hath risen above the horizon of divine Revelation, and that the "sun" and "moon" of the teachings, the laws, and learning of a former Dispensation have darkened and set.

To begin, Baha'u'llah is pointing out a simple, "unquestionable" truth: the teachings, laws, commandments and prohibitions that were previously taught have ceased to exert their influence. The rest of this paragraph gives a singular example of this.

Many questions arise from this first sentence, though. First is why are those four listed in that order? It's a great question, but we will not spend time here looking at it, as we have done similar examinations previously.

Second, He talks about these aspects ceasing to exert their influence. Now, it is obvious that these various teachings and aspects of religion still exert influence, but He says that they no longer exert "their" influence. Is He implying that they exert something else's influence? If we look at the idea that these teachings are like the sun, then they should give light and warmth, and promote healthy growth. In a spiritual sense, these teachings should help us grow in compassion and love, lead us to greater knowledge of the world around us, and help promote higher degrees of unity. If there is anything in them that leads us towards hatred, or disunity, or closing off to the knowledge of the world, then we can be sure that we have misunderstood.

One spiritual teacher said that a void of the spiritual can lead to fanaticism. When thinking about this, we realize that if we see ourselves becoming fanatical then we can be certain that we have left spirituality behind.

As soon as we begin to think that we are right and have some sort of superior understanding to others, we have left that spirituality behind, for we have ceased to be humble. When we claim that our religion is the only one, or that another faith is somehow invalid, we have left that spirituality behind, for we have again ceased to be humble. When we deny another the freedom of choice, that God-given right to independent investigation, claiming that they will discover that we are correct at some indeterminate point in the future, we have truly left that spirituality behind along with our humility. But, when we listen to others, with an ear to searching for the truths that they have learned, which we may have missed, then we reclaim that spirit. "Far from challenging the validity of any of the great revealed faiths," writes the Universal House of Justice in their preface to One Common Faith, when referring to the interfaith tradition, "the principle has the capacity to ensure their continuing relevance." They themselves freely promote the truth that all religious teachings still have continuing relevance.

One example to look at, just in case we need it, is that of prayer. When we recite the Lord's Prayer, or even the Short Obligatory Prayer, those Words can raise us up to the heights of spiritual contemplation. Or, if we merely recite them out of obligation, we can feel proud for having fulfilled our duty. In that latter case they have ceased to exert their influence, and are, instead, promoting our own selfish desire.

The next point we want to look at is the interesting phrase, "consider now". This is in contrast to the earlier phrase, "consider the past". Up until this point, Baha'u'llah has not said anything against the Muslims of His day, for the man to whom He is writing would be in that category, and He obviously does not wish to offend. Here, Baha'u'llah has left off the admonition to consider the past, and is now asking this man to consider the present. But what does He do? He brings up an example of the past. He mentions the Christians denying Muhammad, and by allusion, slowly and carefully draws this man closer and closer to the present day problems with the Muslims striving to accept the Bab.

In short, there are many people who believe in the immutability of their religion, and base their understanding on the Words of the Founder of their faith. For example, Jesus, in Mark 13:31, said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away." And these people presume that it means the literal words on the paper, as opposed to the divine spirit contained within those words on paper. They fight, tooth and nail, to defend the least bit of their understanding, failing to see that the very stance of aggressiveness is contrary to the spirit that Jesus taught. They fail to recognize that the word of which Jesus was likely speaking is that same Word that was mentioned in the beginning of John, "In the beginning was the Word..."

When the Buddha said, "Everything changes, nothing remains without change", He gave us an insight into this truth which Baha'u'llah is alluding to here.

Baha'u'llah, in this paragraph, refers to those who have perished. They have died because they got stuck in the valley of waywardness and misbelief. And we can easily see ourselves stuck in this same position. But, with infinite grace, Baha'u'llah ends this paragraph with a glimmer of hope for us. He reminds us that we can get out of it by searching for that promised Sun that is rising, that same Sun that may be hidden by the hills surrounding us.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Paragraph 41

This is the purpose underlying the symbolic words of the Manifestations of God. Consequently, the application of the terms "sun" and "moon" to the things already mentioned hath been demonstrated and justified by the text of the sacred verses and the recorded traditions. Hence, it is clear and manifest that by the words "the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven" is intended the waywardness of the divines, and the annulment of laws firmly established by divine Revelation, all of which, in symbolic language, have been foreshadowed by the Manifestation of God. None except the righteous shall partake of this cup, none but the godly can share therein. "The righteous shall drink of a cup tempered at the camphor fountain." (1 Qur'án 76:5)

Here is the summary of what we have just read.

But it does beg a question. If this is case, that these sacred laws shall be annulled, and that this annulment was foreshadowed, what does it mean that only the righteous and the godly shall drink from this cup?

Simply put, we think that it means that there comes a time when following the letter of the law overshadows the beauty of compassion and mercy. It is at this time that those who remember the light of those virtues shall recognize the new Manifestation, the new Message, for they are the ones who recall the purpose of these laws.

There is reference to the idea of the Sun of divine Revelation, and the Moon of the Laws. What happens when the legalistic understanding of the laws gets in the way of the warmth of the revelation? It's called an eclipse. The Sun is still shining, but the light of it cannot reach us. It has been obscured by the clouds, or even the moon itself.

This reminds us of when Jesus told us that we had to be more righteous than the Pharisees themselves. Remember, this was at a time when to be righteous was thought to mean following the laws in the strictest sense possible. If that was the case, how could we possibly be more righteous than them? We couldn't. And so Jesus changes the very definition of righteousness for us, clarifying our understanding, bringing us back to the animating spirit behind these laws.

This is what happens in every dispensation. Following the letter of the Law overshadows the spirit, and the religion becomes cold, and seemingly dead.

Now, one last point: the camphor. There was a time in history when wine was diluted, mixed with other liquids to make it either more palatable or healthier. One of these elements was camphor. It had the marvelous property of giving it a pleasant fragrance, a light whitish milky quality, as well as a slight tang. It also aided in preventing a hangover. Tempering the wine would make it healthier for us, and here Baha'u'llah is specifying that it is being mixed with camphor, so He is drawing our attention to these specific qualities.

Perhaps we can meditate on these qualities and see how they refer to our following the laws of the previous dispensation, and how this would enable us to better recognize the new Messenger.