Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Paragraph 109

From that which hath been said it becometh evident that all things, in their inmost reality, testify to the revelation of the names and attributes of God within them. Each according to its capacity, indicateth, and is expressive of, the knowledge of God. So potent and universal is this revelation, that it hath encompassed all things, visible and invisible. Thus hath He revealed: “Hath aught else save Thee a power of revelation which is not possessed by Thee, that it could have manifested Thee? Blind is the eye which doth not perceive Thee.” Likewise, hath the eternal King spoken: “No thing have I perceived, except that I perceived God within it, God before it, or God after it.” Also in the tradition of Kumayl it is written: “Behold, a light hath shone forth out of the Morn of eternity, and lo! its waves have penetrated the inmost reality of all men.” Man, the noblest and most perfect of all created things, excelleth them all in the intensity of this revelation, and is a fuller expression of its glory. And of all men, the most accomplished, the most distinguished and the most excellent are the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth. Nay, all else besides these Manifestations, live by the operation of their Will, and move and have their being through the outpourings of their grace. “But for Thee, I would have not created the heavens.” Nay, all in their holy presence fade into utter nothingness, and are a thing forgotten. Human tongue can never befittingly sing their praise, and human speech can never unfold their mystery. These Tabernacles of holiness, these primal Mirrors which reflect the light of unfading glory, are but expressions of Him Who is the Invisible of the Invisibles. By the revelation of these gems of divine virtue all the names and attributes of God, such as knowledge and power, sovereignty and dominion, mercy and wisdom, glory, bounty and grace, are made manifest.

In this sixth of nine paragraphs dealing with the theme of how we can only know God through His Manifestations, we see this pyramid of disclosure in its fullest. Everything shows some sign of God, as so aptly stated by the Imam Ali, "the eternal King": “No thing have I perceived, except that I perceived God within it, God before it, or God after it.” Everything shows a sign of God. Man, however, shows all the signs of God. And out of all humanity, it is the Manifestations of the divine spirit that show these signs to the highest degree.

Pretty straightforward.

Over and over again Baha'u'llah is helping raise our vision of the Messengers of God. Over and over again He is helping us see Them in Their highest glory.

But what else is He showing us here? What are some of the hidden paths in this paragraph?

It reminds us of a phrase one of us heard when a child. Someone said "Everything in physical creation can be seen as a metaphor for a spiritual truth." All right, we thought to ourselves, let's test that. And so for years we played this sort of mental game with ourselves. We would look at something, say a flower or a teacup, and ask "How is this a metaphor for a spiritual truth?" Every single time, without fail, we discovered that there was a spiritual truth contained within that object.

A flower? Too easy. There are countless spiritual metaphors about flowers.

A teacup? Well, we knew the Zen teaching, from Nan-in, of having to empty yourself before you can be filled with the spirit. We also learned that a teacup is also a metaphor for the soul after death. We knew that it was made of clay. Now the following is not exactly scientifically accurate, we know, but it works for all intents and purposes. We can say that clay is made up of the part that becomes the ceramic, and another part that burns away in the kiln. Let's call that other part "the organic binders", which is fairly close. It also has water, but we can treat that as one of the organic binders.

Anyways, we can take a piece of clay and form it into a teacup. Then we take this cup and place it in the kiln, for if we don't, it is not useful. It will melt away when we try to drink from it. Only by putting it in the fire, burning away the impurities, and allowing the ceramic to fuse into a glass-like material, will the teacup become useful to us.

Of course, as any potter knows, when you put an unfired piece of clay in the kiln, it shrinks. The amount of shrinkage is dependent upon the amount of impurities, or organic binders, in the clay.

This is like the soul.

As we are living our life, we are building the cup of our soul with the clay of our deeds. Our good deeds are like the pure ceramic, while our not-so-good deeds are like the organic binders (a term all too appropriate). When we go through the trauma of death, it is like having those organic binders burned away in the kiln. And if we lived our life in such a poor way that much of our self burns away, this can be seen as its own form of hell, for we then need to grow all that back in the next world.

And this is just one of many things we can learn from a teacup.

Another example is that of an atom. If we consider an electron, we find that we really know very little about it. We know that if we were to enlarge a hydrogen atom to be one kilometer across, the nucleus would be like a small pebble in the middle, and the electron would be like a grain of sand at the edge. This is all the actual matter contained within a single atom: a pebble and a grain of sand over the distance of a kilometer. But if this is so, why does matter appear solid? The simplistic answer is that it only appears solid due to the relationship that the electrons have with the other atoms surrounding it. When the atom looks at itself, it can truly say, "I am as nothing", for this is virtually nothing within it. But when it sees itself in relation to other atoms then it appears solid. And so, too, it is with humans. When we look at ourselves, on our own, we appear as nothing and can fall into deep depression. But when we see ourselves as part of a community, then we appear ever more solid.

If we can learn these truths from such simple objects, just imagine how much more we can learn from humanity.

And then move it up a notch: how much more can we learn from the example set to us by the Messengers of God.

At this point, He could end His argument in this paragraph and move on, but Baha'u'llah always further elevates our vision. From all creation to the supremacy of humanity, and the supremacy of the Manifestations within humanity, He's shown us how great these Messengers are. But then He spends the second half of this paragraph further elevating our vision of Them. All else lives by Their will. Everything is create by Their grace. It was only for Them that the heavens were created. These are very lofty statements, far loftier than anything we have ever previously seen in religious writings. By Their revelation, all the names and attributes of God were revealed.

So, while we knew that They were special, Baha'u'llah uses this argument of hierarchy help us gain a greater appreciation of Their true station, a station that is far greater than we have ever dreamed.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Paragraph 108

I swear by God, O esteemed and honored friend! Shouldst thou ponder these words in thine heart, thou wilt of a certainty find the doors of divine wisdom and infinite knowledge flung open before thy face.

We can only know God through His Manifestations. We know this. Here, in the fifth of nine paragraphs on this theme, Baha'u'llah encourages us, once again, to "ponder".

But what is it that He is asking us to ponder? "These words"? Which words? We are thinking that it may be that last quote from the previous paragraph, "He hath known God who hath known himself.”

Ponder it? Alright. Let's do that.

If we examine the context of this quote, then perhaps we can begin to see a bit about what He means. We already know from the previous paragraphs that we can never have a direct connection to God. We do know, however, that "within every atom are enshrined the signs" of God. We also know that "To a supreme degree is this true of man". Within each and every one of us "are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God".

And then, after this train of thought, Baha'u'llah offers us these words to consider: "He hath known God who hath known himself."

Now, it is interesting to consider what He doesn't say. At no point does He imply that we will receive infinite knowledge, but merely that the door to this infinite knowledge will be opened before us. We won't necessarily receive this divine wisdom, but that the door to this wisdom will be accessible to us.

In order for this happen, though, we have to know our true self. Part of that is understanding our spiritual nature, but another part of it is understanding our position in the grand scheme of things. Remember way back at the beginning of the Book, we talked a lot about the humility that would be needed to begin to understand what Baha'u'llah is saying? This detachment from our own ideas, and being open to new ways of seeing? Well, isn't that true here, too? Isn't this humility part of taking the step through these open doors? We may have a bit of knowledge, but when we understand that this knowledge is as nothing compared to that divine Knowledge of which ours is but a shadow, then we step onto that path of wisdom. When we turn to the divine Messenger for better understanding of our role and purpose in the world, then we take the step towards an infinite knowledge, a knowledge that is just hinted at in the Writings.

But if we never understand our true self, then we can never know God. If we do not recognize our spiritual nature, and our position in the universe, then we will never begin to know God, for we will blind ourselves to His greatness by placing ourselves in His position.

Once again, we find ourselves referring back to the opening paragraph of Part 2, in which we are told of the remoteness of God, and how the Messenger is revealing to us "the gems of divine wisdom, that haply thou mayest soar on the wings of renunciation to those heights that are veiled from the eyes of men."

If Part 1 is all about this recognition of the Manifestation for today, then Part 2 seems to be, as we have said before, primarily about obedience. By helping us understand the supreme station of the Manifestation, a station that is so far beyond what we have previously imagined, then we will be a in a far greater position to be obedient to His counsels out of our love for Him. So much of Part 2 revolves around this obedience, and is just filled with stories of the great heights to which the heroes of the faith have found themselves through their obedience that we cannot help but be inspired to strive to follow in their footsteps.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Paragraph 107

The traditions and sayings that bear direct reference to Our theme are divers and manifold; We have refrained from quoting them for the sake of brevity. Nay, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God, inasmuch as within every atom are enshrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that most great Light. Methinks, but for the potency of that revelation, no being could ever exist. How resplendent the luminaries of knowledge that shine in an atom, and how vast the oceans of wisdom that surge within a drop! To a supreme degree is this true of man, who, among all created things, hath been invested with the robe of such gifts, and hath been singled out for the glory of such distinction. For in him are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God to a degree that no other created being hath excelled or surpassed. All these names and attributes are applicable to him. Even as He hath said: “Man is My mystery, and I am his mystery.” Manifold are the verses that have been repeatedly revealed in all the heavenly Books and the holy Scriptures, expressive of this most subtle and lofty theme. Even as He hath revealed: “We will surely show them Our signs in the world and within themselves.” Again He saith: “And also in your own selves: will ye not then behold the signs of God?” And yet again He revealeth: “And be ye not like those who forget God, and whom He hath therefore caused to forget their own selves.” In this connection, He Who is the eternal King—may the souls of all that dwell within the mystic Tabernacle be a sacrifice unto Him—hath spoken: “He hath known God who hath known himself.”

Maybe it's just us, but we find this study so much easier by breaking the book up into these various sections. It almost makes each section sort of... bite size. We can wrap our minds around it, and then look at the overall structure of the book as a whole. Hopefully this makes it easier for you, too, dear Reader.

Anyways, here we are at paragraph four of nine that deals with the theme of how we can only know God through His Manifestations.

Here we see that everything in creation shows a sign of God, but humanity, at the pinnacle of this creation, shows all the signs of God within. Soon, like in just a couple of paragraphs, Baha'u'llah will explain that just as humanity is at the apex of creation in this regard, the Manifestations are at the apex of humanity. But for now, let's look at what He says here.

Everything in creation shows an attribute of God, has concealed within it some aspect of our divine Creator from which we can learn. A tree, to use a very basic example, demonstrates bounty through the fruits it gives us. God is the Most Bounteous, and an apple tree shows bounty.

In terms of people, we show all the various attributes of God, but of course, we don't show them in the capital. If God is the All-Bountiful, we, like the tree, can show some bounty. If God is the All-Knowing, we have some knowledge. Whatever God shows in the capital, we are in the lower case. We talked about this a little bit way back when we started this whole study, back when we looked at the Invocation before paragraph 1.

Here, though, Baha'u'llah makes an interesting point. He says that "within every atom are enshrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that most great Light." Let's look at that for a moment. We are immediately reminded of nuclear- and astro-physics. We know that one of the attributes of God is that of unity and absolute one-ness. What better example do we have than the sun, where hydrogen atoms fuse together to produce helium, and a whole lot of light and energy. And in fact, this process continues up the periodic table producing all the heavier elements in existence. In a very literal sense, "but for the potency of that revelation, no being could ever exist." Without the nuclear furnaces contained within the stars, none of the heavier elements would have been created. Carbon, oxygen, calcium: they all come from the heart of the stars, or sometimes from their fiery death. It is through this process that most of the elements that make up the more complex molecules of life found their beginning.

Looking even deeper, there are still more questions to examine. Why, for example, is knowledge contained within an atom? Why is wisdom found within that tiny drop of water? To best answer those questions, we would need to explore the Writings even more, seeking out other references to both knowledge and wisdom. And really, we could write volumes on just those two terms alone, but we won't, at least not here. This is just to remind us of how far we can go into the Writings, if we wish. And besides, these are actually fairly facile questions. The real questions begin when we start to ask about how we apply them in our daily lives.

After all, another word that is used here is "potential". All these things lie in potential within each and every one of us. It is up to us to refine and develop these potential attributes and help them become actual.

Now, it is worth remembering that the whole purpose of this book is to help us recognize the Manifestation of God for today. And here, Baha'u'llah is placing this purpose within the context of all of creation. Everything shows a single attribute of God, but humanity has the potential to show all the attributes of God. Now we need to strive to show forth all those attributes to the best of ability, to be worthy of so great a favor.

Remember, Baha'u'llah, in the Hidden Words, says, "Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting."