Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Paragraph 104

To every discerning and illumined heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. He is and hath ever been veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men. “No vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision; He is the Subtile, the All-Perceiving.” No tie of direct intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures. He standeth exalted beyond and above all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness. No sign can indicate His presence or His absence; inasmuch as by a word of His command all that are in heaven and on earth have come to exist, and by His wish, which is the Primal Will itself, all have stepped out of utter nothingness into the realm of being, the world of the visible.

Thus begins our incredible journey into Part 2 of this remarkable Book. For nine paragraphs Baha'u'llah will talk about the concept of how we are unable to know God directly, and can only begin to know Him through His Manifestations. Two paragraphs earlier, the introductory paragraph to Part 2 begins, as you recall, "Verily He Who is the Day-star of Truth and Revealer of the Supreme Being...", and here He begins showing us that aspect of His station as the "Revealer of the Supreme Being".

But what is He saying, exactly?

He begins by recognizing that if our heart is able to distinguish subtle and hard-to-recognize differences, which is the definition of "discerning", as well as illumined, which we like to think of as radiant through various attributes such as humility and detachment, then we understand that God is so much more than ourselves. Remember, detachment was such an important quality in Part 1, and here it seems to play an equally strong part, too. Many people like to think of God as just a big person. Somehow this seems to make them think that we, as a species, are somehow bigger or more important, but all it really does is shrink their perception of God. Here Baha'u'llah is really telling us that any human attributes that we want to try to place upon our understanding of God are bound to fall far, far short. Not only do these attributes fall short, God is "immensely exalted beyond" all of them. In Prayers and Meditations LXXV, He goes on to explain this further, saying, "I know not how to sing Thy praise, how to describe Thy glory, how to call upon Thy Name. If I call upon Thee by Thy Name, the All-Possessing, I am compelled to recognize that He Who holdeth in His hand the immediate destinies of all created things is but a vassal dependent upon Thee, and is the creation of but a word proceeding from Thy mouth. And if I proclaim Thee by the name of Him Who is the All-Compelling, I readily discover that He is but a suppliant fallen upon the dust, awe-stricken by Thy dreadful might, Thy sovereignty and power." However we attempt to describe God, our description must fall short.

We should not think, however, that this means we cannot praise God, for as anyone who has prayed knows, we can. But rather we should be aware of His caveat: we cannot "adequately recount His praise". Any praise we attempt to use to try to praise God will, also, fall short.

This whole paragraph seems to drive this point home: God is so much more than we think.

Although we can have indirect contact with God, through His Manifestations, we cannot know God directly.

To be clear, though, this does not mean that we, as a species, are any less worthy or smaller than we thought, but rather that God is so much greater than we had previously believed.

Saying it, though, doesn't really do it justice. Let's use an example instead.

Imagine yourself, for a moment, sitting in your room, where you are right now. Picture yourself, from above, looking down on yourself, sitting there. It's easy, right? Now try to imagine yourself sitting there, in that room, inside the building in which you are, whether it is a house, or an apartment block, or even a local coffee shop. Imagine yourself sitting there, in that building. Picture the building around you, with you sitting there comfortably reading these words.

Again, not too difficult.

Now try to see yourself, from further above, still sitting there in the room in the building in your city or town. Visualize the whole town, and try to see yourself sitting there in your room.

Not as easy, is it?

Now move further away. Try to visualize yourself, where you are, in your whole country. Look down at the entire country. Can you still see yourself?

How about from the perspective of the entire planet? Or solar system? Or galaxy? Or galactic cluster? And remember, this is just one of many millions of galactic clusters in the universe.

None of this, however, means that you are any smaller or less than when you first imagined yourself sitting in your room. You are still the same. Unchanged. It's just that now we have a far grander vision of the reality of the universe than we did, say, a hundred years ago.

Remember, in almost every sacred Book there is a line somewhere that says that the "fear of God is the beginning of wisdom". "Fear", you may recall, is actually "a mild discomfort", not the terror that we often associate with the term. "Terror" is a "paralyzing fear", but fear itself is just a mild discomfort. And this exercise of seeing where we actually are in the immensity of the universe often makes us a little bit uncomfortable as we begin to contemplate just how minuscule we are in the immensity of the universe around us.

We have not gotten any smaller. We have just allowed ourselves to begin to understand how incredibly big this universe actually is.

Here, in this paragraph, Baha'u'llah is beginning to do the same thing with our understanding of God.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Paragraph 103

The significance and essential purpose underlying these words is to reveal and demonstrate unto the pure in heart and the sanctified in spirit that they Who are the Luminaries of truth and the Mirrors reflecting the light of divine Unity, in whatever age and cycle they are sent down from their invisible habitations of ancient glory unto this world, to educate the souls of men and endue with grace all created things, are invariably endowed with an all-compelling power, and invested with invincible sovereignty. For these hidden Gems, these concealed and invisible Treasures, in themselves manifest and vindicate the reality of these holy words: “Verily God doeth whatsoever He willeth, and ordaineth whatsoever He pleaseth.”

Once again, we can be very grateful to Baha'u'llah for explaining to us what it is that He has just said. This paragraph, like paragraph 2, offers us His own explanation of the paragraph just before it. Like paragraph 2, since it is already a summary, it is difficult for us to further sum it up. And so, as before, we will just do a bit of analysis of it.

To start, "significance" means "important quality" and the "essential purpose" is "the necessary intention and objective". So, the most important thing we can get out of the previous paragraph is that these Messengers have "an all-compelling power" and "invincible sovereignty". However, we should also remember that "no man be found on earth to obey Him".

Why would this be? And why is it so important that He state it here, at the very beginning of Part 2? Well, of course, we're not really sure, but we think that it may be because by this point in the book the uncle of the Bab has already recognized his Nephew. And yet, he still has some very important questions. For example, if the Bab is a divine Messenger, of which there is no doubt, then why aren't people obeying His commands? Well, "God doeth whatsoever He willeth". People will obey, but not just yet.

Most of the time, they do not obey because they can't. Take, for example, the idea that women and men are equal. The early Babis, and the early Baha'is for that matter, likely accepted this as true, but given their cultural milieu, they were not able to act upon it. And many of the laws in the Kitab-i-Aqdas are also reliant upon a whole social structure being put into place for them to work. That social network just isn't there yet. Most of the time, we want to obey, but are unable to. Pilgrimage, as another example, is supposed to include the House of the Bab in Shiraz, as well as the House of Baha'u'llah in Baghdad, but given the current circumstances, we cannot do this.

In short, He is correct: nobody can be found to obey Him.

Everything Baha'u'llah says here is basically just fact: "they are sent down... to educate the souls of men". They are endowed with this power, and invested with this sovereignty, even though we, at this time, may not see it.

At this point, though, we are left wondering about all of this, and what we can do to further look at this paragraph. Is it just a simple statement of fact? That hardly seems worthy.

If we look back at part 1, after Baha'u'llah talks about the importance of detachment, He goes right into the idea of "consider the past". What if we apply that here?

Well, the first thing we notice is that we can readily see the manifest sovereignty of Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha, and all the other great Teachers that have been sent down throughout history. Perhaps Baha'u'llah is reminding us not to look at the current state of His religion, or that of the Bab, but remember that all Religions started off without any seeming power or authority.

From here, as we can see from our outline, Baha'u'llah will begin this part of the book by looking at how the Manifestations reveal what we understand about God, and then move into explaining more about this concept of sovereignty.

Here, He uses the phrase "in whatever age and cycle they are sent down", reminding us of what He told us way back in Part 1, when He went through the story of a number of different Manifestations. This has always been the way of God, He seems to be saying remember the other stories, and see how similar it is to what we are witnessing today.

In fact, if we keep our eyes open and really look at what was happening at that time, then we can readily see how much more potency there was in the Bab's Revelation by the very stories that this uncle would undoubtedly know. Those stories that we read in the Dawn-Breakers were stories of people he actually knew. When he would look at it through the lens of what Baha'u'llah is saying here, then he would get a better idea of the incredible station of his Nephew.

And this touches upon us today.

When we look at how far the Faith has come in such a short time, and compare it to where the other Faiths were less than two centuries after their founding, then we get a far better appreciation of the potency of this Faith of ours.