Talisman messages of January to March 1999
Date: Mon, 18 Jan 1999 23:27:14 +1300 (NZDT)
Well, to my mind, the letter is an outrage. When I read it, it makes my skin crawl. It is patronising and sick - shot through with empty concern for X's spiritual welfare and ending in an insulting assertion of sincerity, when the writer, himself, is the very cause of X's problems!
It is the letter itself that violates the covenant. Birkland's whole argument is based on the assumption that he and others know what the teachings are and anyone who disagrees should be shunned. Where does he or anyone else living get the authority to claim a privileged understanding and a right to make threats? Really, this is cause for deep concern. What if you want to say something that others disagree with? What has the community of Baha'u'llah come to if we cannot say what we believe because someone somewhere might take exception to it?
Has God any need of this ego-driven fear-inducing control? Not the God I know. The One I've read about has no need of any of His creatures, much less have them act like guards on people's beliefs. He is the very reason they have beliefs in the first place; He is the reason we are inspired to our personal expression of faith, whatever that is. To go around censuring people for participating in this natural spiritual process is a gross violation of human rights, and really silly for someone claiming to represent a religion.
"Know ye, the paths to God are as numerous as the breaths of the creatures"
> To imagine that the Universal House of
X, look at spiritual history. Name me just *one* religion whose head did not become corrupt. Surely, it would be "exceptionally naive" to imagine the Baha'i religion to be the exception. In fact, to maintain that such an eventuality is impossible is precisely the root of the problem. We are all human here, which means our only hope is to always remember the demise of other religions - just as Baha'u'llah explains in the Iqan. This is our only hope of avoiding the night - or bringing back the day.
You may not want to discuss individuals in a public forum, but you do repeatedly set yourself up as a private covenant police woman and go around making assessments on the state of people's hearts and minds. You have no authority to do this, but you sure make it sound like you do when you say this about X:
If you really find all this business disagreeable, then stop judging others and get on with making assessments about your own heart, mind and motives.
Just yesterday, I was sitting in X's lounge discussing the subtleties of love and life, when I noticed something very odd in the tree in the neighbour's place. I looked and looked and, no, my eyes weren't deceiving me. It was a bird literally hanging upside down from one of the top brances of the tree. X and I went out to take a closer look, and we could see that its leg was caught. Occasionally, it would flutter its wings wildly, but it was no use, the bird was caught beyond its control. It was clear that it would hang there for ages and eventually die.
I told X that this was such an astonishing sight that it couldn't possibly be happening by chance. The bird was me, it was us. We discussed the mystical meaning of the situation briefly, and then determined to go next door to rescue the bird. After knocking on the door and finding no one there (excuse me, you have a bird hanging from your tree), X looked in through a window and found a young man at home. He bravely climbed the tree in his bare feet. When he got to the top, he was unable to free the bird for the fibres that held it were too strong. He had to break the branch off and drop it! Despite this, the bird survived and we took it back to X's and cut the twig from the thread, but the little bits of fibre were very tightly wrapped around the bird's tiny toes. We needed surgical scissors or similar, which I had at home. X searched and found a box and put the bird in it and I took it home.
Steve met me when I arrived. "Dear, the bird" I said, "the bird, it's us, it's us." I took the box out of the car and explained what was in it. We closed ourselves in the bathroom away from the cat and open windows, and I held the bird while Steve cut the nylon from around its toes. The bird must have been half dead with heat. It was 30 degrees C outside, and even hotter between my hands. But, upon close examination, it seemed that the bird's toes were not damaged. We took it outside and put it on the grass. It sat there for a few seconds, then tried its wings and flew onto the car, looking very pleased with itself. Then it flew away.
On a few occasions when you were not subscribed to Talisman, there were some debates about what exactly the Talisman rules were. One particular debate arose over the number of messages a person may post to Talisman in a day. Some of us remembered you suggesting that two per day was sufficient, while others felt that this restriction was a restriction on their free speech, and likened it to the silencing the AO goes in for. This is just one example of such a discussion over the rules.
My feeling is that these discussions tend to be bitter, and usually leave people feeling genuinely aggrieved. They have lead me to believe that what the list needs is a set of rules up front. These could be promulgated regularly, to remind members and new subscribers of what is and is not acceptable netiquette. This has the advantage of being just, preventing disputes and giving us something to work with in your absence.
Would you therefore please consider putting together a list of Talisman rules for us?
Thank you very much for the Talisman list rules. I especially like the pleading-on-my-knees image. :-)
Do you think it's a good idea to include in the rules some reference to the fact that Talisman is for discussion of the Haifan tradition?
The following captures the things that sprang to my mind when I read Baha'u'llah's comments on The Secret of Divine Civilisation. This is a message I posted to TRB.
This strikes me as the guts of the problem. The institutions seem to think that their brains contain the extact same ideas and concepts and understandings that pervaded the minds of Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha when they wrote what they did. Moreoever, the institutions seem to think that in order to maintain unity, it is important for the believers to read the texts in the same they do.
From my reading of the writings, however, the only way that we mere mortals can possibly hope to approach Baha'u'llah's intent is to come to grips with our first duty - to 'recognise' God. The Arabic word Baha'u'llah uses in the first passage of the Kitab-i Aqdas is 'irfan', which, interestingly, is currently being discussed here on TRB. Now, what does this irfan business mean? Well, to my mind, while a categorisation of the spheres of reality is interesting, irfan is in the end a personal mystical experience. Actually, Baha'u'llah gives us a clue to irfan in the quote Juan cited for us about Secret of Divine Civilisation:
Notice how Baha'u'llah links the ignorance of the Persians with their lack of spiritual insight (irfan)? He goes on to describe how one would perceive the book if one were looking at it with spiritual insight: one would smell its fragrance and see the lights of its sun. Time and again, we are asked in the writings to see things with our inner senses and hearts. This has nothing to do with what a word might literally refer to (that would be using our outer senses), but with what it inspires in us and how that fits with our spiritual journey.
Here is the beauty of unity in diversity at work. We all through our inner senses apprehend an understanding of a text, but if we each use our inner senses sincerely, we will all smell the fragrance and see the lights, just as we would all agree that a rose has a fragrance and the sun light. The thing about a spiritual fragrance is that it requires self trust and belief to perceive it and acknowledge its reality, and even more to act in the world as though it were more real than physical things.
I think this is where things start to fall apart. How much are we each prepared to trust and believe and act on these spiritual subtlties as though they were of unquestionable import? This process actually requires a complete exercise of free will and an enormous amount of courage. If we use our inner senses, then the fragrance and lights that we perceive are such that we will fall in love and then find courage for anything. However, if we do not trust that this process is real, then we fake it. One classic way to fake it is to rely on the results of other people's inner sense perception. This is a good way to bank up courage. Others say such and such, I'll just fall into line with them and then that'll sure up my position. But this doesn't fit with: "By thine aloneness, the sun of oneness shone". This faking takes two to tango. Anyone really using their inner senses will never consent to another relying on their data, but will encourage the other person to see and smell for themselves. This is called teaching the faith.
But in a situation where one person or institution does allow or require another person to base their perceptions on them, then we have a faking situation. As mentioned earlier, this comes about as a result of not believing that a mystical experience leading to oneness is possible. I believe that the institutions think that to maintain unity, we all must understand the texts as they do. This is linked in with the related idea that they have an authoritative understanding of the text based on their right to temporal power. In other words, being given temporal power means what is in your head is what is in the head of the faith's Authors because such a set leads to unity. No such luck. What was in the head of the faith's Author was this injunction for us to develop spiritual insight, that through it, we might all be united through our inner perception of the fragrance and lights. If we really believe that God is the One Source of all, then God will out when we recognise Him. This is how we can each be free and yet one. It is mysterious and magic and wonderful. This mystery is what keeps our hearts perpetually in love and tied in with God and each other.
I agree with you completely. The naivete of the 'bottomers' plays a big part in perpetuating the power sham. But, how much do people want to wake to it? I think this is crucial too. Steve and I have worked for change in our local community for nearly a decade, and it has been a fruitless exercise. I think Steve summed it up the other day when he said that the community is resistant to change in a total way. Not only does it resist liberal influences, but it also resists conservative ones. No matter what the potential influence, people resist it. The community is locked up. Of course there are small movements this way and that, but nothing significant and long lasting.
In the end, people believe that religion is a commodity. They go to feast like they go to the movies. The people producing the spiritual 'bigdeals' for entertainment are also part of this commodity/market mentality. To break out of this mindset means putting yourself at risk, making waves in the heart and soul and, frankly, who can be bothered? Luckily, the rare ones who do want more from religion can find each other on the net and form communities together.
I can see the contradiction you point to between the House's stand on meditation at summer schools and the Guardian's statement about the friends learning to meditate. Reading between the lines of the House's letter, it seems to me that it had a problem on their hands with some conservative believers complaining about meditation being taught at summer school sessions and felt it necessary to make a decision to stop the wrangling.
It strikes me that the way the House jumped on this one is another instance of it backing the conservative position. When liberals say things people don't like, the AO leaps on them with accusations of covenantal instability. When conservatives say things people don't like, and the House fully admits that they do, then they are said to be making unwise statements. In this case, I think the House could have said that any sessions on a meditation technique should not be seen as instances of the AO backing that technique, but are an exploration of the Guardian's recommendation that we learn to meditate. The conservatives, after all, do not have to attend sessions they don't like.
I think it's a pity that the letter relegates dhikr to a private, hidden activity and that the House did not take the opportunity to promote the one form of meditation Baha'u'llah does specifically mention. Steve Scholl - you'll recall he posted to Talisman just recently - has written an indepth article on dhikr. He defines it as "the repetitive recitation of divine names or short, sacred formulas, often derived from scripture." In the House's letter, they refer to it when they mention the technique of repeating the greatest name 95 times. In his article, Steve explains the basic Sufi take on dhikr and then follows through how the Bab and Baha'u'llah took those Sufi ideas and molded them for their own revelations. I can post the article to Talisman if people are interested and Steve doesn't mind.
X, I am trying to work out from what you say just what was the problem with the session. Am I right that the people taking it were holding themselves out as "gurus" and were "ordering" people to do things they didn't feel comfortable with?
If that is the case, then I think the problem is with the people taking the session, and the issue has little to do with meditation.
And I'm not sure what you are driving at when you ask if I have to attend sessions I don't like. No, I don't have to attend sessions I don't like. I know many Baha'is do feel they have to, and I think this is unfortunate. Given that I am fussy about what I attend, I attend very little, which I think indicates the poverty of what's on offer. If people simply voted with their feet more, perhaps the standard would improve. I'm with your Buddhist friends taking action on the spot.
At 01:23 PM 10/2/99 -0800, you wrote:
Yes, I think of Her as Baha'u'llah's anima. She represents Baha'u'llah's spiritual self, and she is the vehicle by which He receives the revelation. You know, in the same way that the Angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad and the Dove to Christ, the Maid of Heaven speaks to Baha'u'llah. Baha'u'llah has many tablets describing his encounters with God, and they are affectionately referred to as the 'Maiden' tablets. The "Ode of the Dove" is another of these tablets.
To a large extent, the Baha'i world has lost the heart of the revelation through not having these tablets available to it. These tablets give us an ear in on Baha'u'llah's relationship with God and give us a chance to hear and see as He heard and saw. Something we are constantly exhorted to do. They let us 'become' His experience. And from them, we can see that His relationship with God was a passionate love affair with a gorgeous woman. Each Maiden tablet gives us another chapter on what happened between them. Each one is different; in this one, Baha'u'llah is God - He sits on a throne and says I am God. She appears. Often, Baha'u'llah explains that She comes from the realm of the Essence of God, and He usually says that no one has ever seen anything like her before, because She is the new creation that God made for this revelation. So each time She does an entrance, everyone in Heaven is always utterly blown away. Of course, She and Baha'u'llah are completely in love. X, think about it. You're in the realm of the All-Glorious Horizon (which by the way is also the realm of the Snow-white Light), and in walks the personification of your spiritual self. You love her like you love yourself and visa versa. Wouldn't you swoon? Now that, from what I can make out, is something of what Baha'u'llah is trying to capture in these tablets, and what He desires us to experience too.
But many people would dismiss all this as emotional illusion. But, I think Baha'u'llah is educating us otherwise. At the end of the Tablet of the Maiden, Baha'u'llah says: "Thus do we address you, O concourse of paradise, with a vision of eternity." Note the reference to eternity. These encounters are outside time and it seems to me are therefore ongoing. They are taking place in the realm of the All-Glorious Horizon, which is the realm of the Logos or the Creative Word. What happens in these realms is the author of what happens in this material world. So, these Maiden tablets are like divine dramas that are permanently played out and, if we are open to them, they will play out in our lives also, for we are a reflection of what happens in the spiritual realms if our hearts are open. In this way, I would say that the tablets use symbolism to teach us what is real. Most real. And anything that seems to disprove their reality is itself unreal.
I very much enjoyed your message, and thank you.
I think X's criticisms of the ITC and House are sound. However, if we approach disagreements in the way that you counsel, then the differences will eventually lead to enlightenment. If we approach disagreements with open-mindedness and not promulgate fear to stop people from listening to opposing views, then this will lead to enlightenment. It is when one side says to the other "You cannot say that", or uses devices such as threats of covenant breaking to silence opposing views, that this beautiful process is subverted. We must assume that the people with whom we are consulting are sharing opinions sincerely held, otherwise we are not consulting in good faith.
How would you feel if in all sincerity you put forward an opinion to the House and they came back at you saying that your opinion is contrary to the covenant, and moreover, if you promulgate that opinion you will be shunned by the whole community or declared to not be a Baha'i? I know that your answer would be that if you were told this by the House, then you would believe your opinion was unacceptable, you must renounce it, or at the very least keep silent about it. And there precisely is the issue - two of them actually: Does the House have the power from Baha'u'llah to control your conscience? Is this declaration of the unacceptability of your views an acceptable tactic in consultation? The two are related because most Baha'is would say that declaring a person's view to be unacceptable is not allowed in consultation, *except* in the situation with the House, who they believe has the power to control consciences.
This all falls apart, however, when Baha'is are educated about the covenant and learn that the House's sphere of authority is legislation, and even then, legislation relating to action, not thought. They cannot declare your views illegal, say that your views are against the essence of the faith, or say that you are not a Baha'i because of the views you hold. Once this is accepted, then the House becomes an equal in a consultation situation, and if it does declare your opinions unacceptable then it violates the wonderful sentiments you express below, as well as its own mandate.
Really, X, I ask you to look at this with the eye of fairness. Is anyone questioning the fact that the House is the head of the faith? Is anyone setting up an alternative administration? *This* is covenant-breaking, and it is simply not happening and never was. It is just fear and superstition at work, the very fear that subverts the dispassionate assessment of criticisms. Perhaps you could put it to your ITC buddies that these 'enemies of the Faith' are in fact motivated by a love of the Faith that they had not anticipated. If the people in Haifa are the people you believe them to be, then will they look with the eye of compassion, an essential ingredient of consultation, and see that the angry words spoken have been prompted by a searing pain that goes right to the heart of creation. Tell them that I testify on the life of my daughter that this is true.
Yours in good faith, Alison
I have come to believe that women have no need to be worried about the Baha'i revelation being sexist. "Observe my commandments for the love of My beauty." It seems to me that this statement, at the heart of the revelation, captures both its feminine and masculine aspects and molds them into one. At the heart of law and reason is love and beauty. They have a relationship to each other like the form and the essence, the ink and the letters, the revelation (Maiden) and Baha'u'llah. "The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different."(Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, page 140)
Of course, people generally aren't prepared to believe what Baha'u'llah says here about the relationship between law, and love and beauty. That's where the sexism comes in. They think that right being is the form controlling the essence - must control that essence, otherwise where the hell would we be?!
Who cares? Did Martin Luther sit around on his backside because he couldn't imagine a bunch of WASPs abandoning racial prejudice? No, he had a vision - a vision of the Glory of the Lord - and he followed it. It was his vision that gave him power. "As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be." And he shared that vision with others. The Baha'is could sure do with a new vision. What I'm doing is sharing what I think is the vision of Baha'u'llah, based on a passage from the Aqdas. To suggest that this passage no more than mere idealism is admitting defeat.
X: What I meant by "no need to worry" was that I had finally come to an understanding within myself that the heart of the Revelation was not sexist. Prior to that, I wasn't sure how it worked. I did not mean that the community is not sexist. Of course it is. And of course this is a worry. That is the very reason I am suggesting we consider this passage from the writings. I think it is the basis for a new vision.
I don't hope for the full Monty from the writings that have not been released. I think we have as much as we're gonna get, and we gotta make the most of it. If X is blinded to his own talents, let's just feel sorry for him. :-) I know that pretty much the whole Baha'i world has carved out a patriarchal understanding of the revelation, but I think it's possible to carve out an alternative with what we have. In fact, I have an alternative in my dreams, and it gets me going.
On TRB at the moment, there is discussion of there being many 'schools of thought' within the Baha'i community. This set up has the advantage that you and I, for example, simply don't have to buy into the monolithic patriarchal imagery of the Baha'i masses. We can present an alternative to those who are interested. We can live it and breath it ourselves, which is what makes it real, and if others like to join in, well and good. I guess this option has become possible with the onset of the Internet. Prior to that, our Baha'i communities were our local ones. But now, this is no longer the case. My Baha'i community - the one I feel I belong to - is in cyberspace. Mostly, I have more communication with Baha'is in cyberspace than locally. When I go visit Mark, we talk mainly about our Baha'i community - the one on cyberspace!
I don't believe it is productive to focus entirely on the men in Haifa. Sure, they don't help and I agree with you that their vision doesn't include mine, but they aren't the whole picture in my view. Probably to most Baha'is they are the whole picture because of the doctrine of infallibility, which you refer to. But I don't believe their vision is infallible. They are empowered to make laws and administer the affairs of the Cause, that's all. Their laws and ways of seeing things will change over time, as the community changes. Nothing is set in concrete. We mustn't think that the hand of God is chained up! The House is not God, God is bigger than it. There is hope! In the meantime, I think it's smart to help promote change. This is my interpretation of 'teaching the faith'.
As for the hundreth monkey principle, well, I guess I am a link in that chain, but I am certainly *not* the first of the monkeys. I believe Baha'u'llah was. And those who taught me about the faith so that I could see Baha'u'llah's vision in his words for myself were men. Stand up X! And, as I mentioned before, X has written a book on the divine feminine in the revelation of Baha'u'llah, which will come out of Kalimat Press in a year. I am in the middle of editing that book now and these ideas that I am expressing are all in there. It's not just me. I am not alone.
The thing is, no-one has any power except Baha'u'llah, and he hasn't been asked to join the party yet. I'm for getting Him in on it, actually. He's the one who gets to say "I verily do whatsoever I will". It impresses me terrifically.
It reminds me of when the 'national institutes' were set up at the beginning of the four-year-plan at the request of the House. Our NSA dutifully set one up, with a board of governors and a director (full-time paid) and all sorts of business-model correctness and it has been a dismal failure. All it has done is suck money out of the fund. After some time, and even after the NSA gave it the hurry along and after changes to its administrative structure and personnel, it has produced poor resources that haven't even been distributed particularly well. Right back at the beginning of all this, Steve argued that they should have simply used the money that was to go into all this institute thing to provide computers and Internet access to the Baha'is throughout the country. Once set up, their learning would have been for life, with access to all the learning and resources available on line.
Alright, I'll admit it. I don't teach the faith to people who are not Baha'is because the state of the community is such that my conscience will not allow me to. I know others who feel this way also. At the last feast - I rarely attend them - I sat beside I guy who, when pressed, openly said he did not tell a couple he knew about the faith because he didn't want to ruin their lives. I think things have come to a very sorry state if people are feeling that it violates their conscience to tell others about what they believe, lest those people end up members of the community.
The believers are placed in an impossible position, it seems to me. We say equality, but no women on the House; we say social and economic development, but have no access to the writings on charity; we say scholarship, but have limited access even to our own writings. Those making available the information that has previously been locked away, and are questioning all those things that don't add up are doing humanity a great service. They have sure made life easier for me. At least now I feel there is a world that I can be myself in. If they are interested, I tell other Baha'is that I have found such a place. And I am honest to non-Baha'is about how I see the state of the community.
I was angry for years. When X was pushed to resign from the Faith, I stopped every activity I was doing that was supporting the administration. I searched everything I did and purged it of the administration. I stopped giving to the fund. It wasn't until about 18 months later when Mark convinced me - he did some hard talking - to help our local assembly write its four-year-plan that I did anything for the AO again. Now, I focus on participating in activities that are based around individuals. But this amounts to very little. I just can't bring myself to have any dealings with the admin. Get anywhere close to it and you get trapped like in quicksand.
But you can't be angry for ever, in the sense that it's your own spirit you sacrifice to bitterness. I've had to find a positive space for myself and a positive response to the outrage. That doesn't mean there is no revolution inside me. There is. I put my constructive energies into expressing it. I think the important thing is to find a space that doesn't compromise your conscience. If all Baha'is were to do this, the House would be in its proper place. I think I found that space when I decided I would not let them rule me with fear. The writings say we should fear God, not the House. There is a crucial difference. Actually, I've lived in my new space now for long enough that I forget it is vastly different to the space most Baha'is live in. This probably isn't a good thing.
I agree with you, I believe that the faith is for everybody, if they want it. What about this from 'Abdu'l-Baha?
"Every soul can find, at that table of infinite bounty, that which he desires. If the question is restricted to universal peace alone, the remarkable results which are expected and desired will not be attained. The scope of universal peace must be such that all the communities and religions may find their highest wish realized in it. The teachings of Baha'u'llah are such that all the communities of the world, whether religious, political or ethical, ancient or modern, find in them the expression of their highest wish." (`Abdu'l-Baha: Selections ... `Abdu'l-Baha, page 304)
I think Baha'is live in fear of the administration, especially of the House. But the writings tell us to fear God, not the House. Everyone should fear God, including the House. The problem is that with the Baha'is all fearing the House, they have in effect turned it into a God in their minds and made it a partner with God. This has created a problem because once you go giving something in creation other than the Manifestation that kind of power over you, you're gonna live to regret it. Which is what we're doing. Baha'u'llah reserved to himself *alone* the station of the Most Great Infallibility. The House's infallibility is derived from this, and is confined to strict boundaries by the covenant. If the Baha'is all feared God, this would create a culture in which the House's boundaries were an accepted part of life, and we wouldn't have the problems we're having now.
As for the line in the Tablet of Ahmad that "he who turns away from this Beauty hath also turned away from the Messengers of the past", I don't think Baha'u'llah necessarily meant to instill fear, but rather point out the hypocrisy of those who claim to believe. They claim to believe in God, but are in fact submerged in an ocean of delusion because they refuse to look at God with their own eyes. They try to see Him with their idle fancies - through the eyes of tradition, dogma, the thirst for power and so forth. If they really did believe, they would look at God with their own eyes and see the Reality of the messenger they claim to follow and, by extension, that of Baha'u'llah also. "Pride towards God"? Well, how would you feel if someone went around claiming to know you when they didn't even think you were worth bothering to look at!
Interesting isn't it? I don't think there is any difference between the way people claim allegiance to God and yet deny Him and the way patriarchy appropriates women and yet makes them invisible.
I think those who take only the literal interpretation and use it to judge others have missed the point. In fact, all they do is bring judgement on themselves. The point, as Baha'u'llah explains in the Iqan, is to learn the read the texts from the point of view of "spiritual logic", as Juan has called it, and not solely from a literal point of view. From the point of view of spiritual logic, Baha'u'llah, in his station as a manifestation, is the 'same' as the other manifestations:
"These Manifestations of God have each a twofold station. One is the station of pure abstraction and essential unity. In this respect, if thou callest them all by one name, and dost ascribe to them the same attribute, thou hast not erred from the truth. Even as He hath revealed: "No distinction do We make between any of His Messengers!"(1)" (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, page 152)
I don't think Baha'u'llah meant for there to be a 'dualism' between Himself and his laws, such that Baha'u'llah is in one place in us and the laws (of the admin) are in another, and pulling us away from Him. In the first paragraph of the Aqdas, Baha'u'llah says that recognition of him and the expression of that recognition - be it through worship, law, service, whatever - are *inseparable*. The fact that the Baha'is are placed in a position where they feel these twin duties as competing demands indicates to me that the system is not working properly. Once we recognise Baha'u'llah - that is, dump the pride, take a risk and really look at him - we'll see his beauty, and we'll obey because we've fallen in love with what we see. This is how I see the twin duties working together. And I believe this process is sacred. No one or thing has the right to drive a wedge in there and demand behaviour that violates our conscience. This is where the boundaries set up within the covenant act to protect us.
I haven't thought much about the fear of God. Like you, I've had trouble coming to terms with it. I am little motivated not to do something out of fear; I am more motivated to act because I am drawn to do something, so I focus on that aspect of things. Perhaps what I do fear is not so much Baha'u'llah's wrath, as the loss of my self-respect. That I do fear. I bring this up 'cos Mark and I were discussing raising teenagers and I told him that I instinctively knew when it was no longer any use for me to say to my daughter X, "you cannot do that". I couldn't actually stop her, and if she did do it, I'd lose credibility and therefore lose her entirely. So I went for, "I don't think it's a good idea, but you can do what you like". Luckily, it worked, but that was only because I had her respect. She has just recently left home, and I'm realising just how much our relationship is built on that respect. If I lost her respect, our bond would vanish and I would be without her. These ideas seem to fit with this quote on fear of God, in which Baha'u'llah ties fear of God in with the sense of shame:
"The first word which the Abha Pen hath revealed and inscribed on the first leaf of Paradise is this: "Verily I say: The fear of God hath ever been a sure defence and a safe stronghold for all the peoples of the world. It is the chief cause of the protection of mankind, and the supreme instrument for its preservation. Indeed, there existeth in man a faculty which deterreth him from, and guardeth him against, whatever is unworthy and unseemly, and which is known as his sense of shame. This, however, is confined to but a few; all have not possessed, and do not possess, it. It is incumbent upon the kings and the spiritual leaders of the world to lay fast hold on religion, inasmuch as through it the fear of God is instilled in all else but Him." (Baha'u'llah: Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pages 27-28)
There is a deepening on LSA functioning going on here this weekend. I have looked at the titles for the topics and have been put off. Not that there is anything wrong about them; it's just that when I read them, I can see that there is such a focus on the admin to the exclusion of everything else. It's like the admin has become the faith.
It seems to me that what the Baha'is need is not more rave about LSAs, but education on what we're all doing it for in the first place. The faith is supposed to be fundamentally mystical in character! We need spirituality, and the main channel is God to believer, not God - LSA - believer.
Like I said before, my response to this pervasive illusion has been to find a Baha'i community I can live in. And that community is in cyberspace, and has little to do with the administration. If it were not for the cyberspace community, I probably would not be a registered member of the community. When I joined Talisman back in late '94, I was almost out then, and there were quite a number of participants who came in from the ranks of the 'inactive'.
Then the Talisman discussions started to supply answers to my questions and I became excited about the faith again. All those issues that were locked away in the 'never to be looked at or answered' basket were hauled out, discussed and answered! These discussions and answers are gradually filtering out and getting around. I think that, in this way, the community in cyberspace will eventually affect the local communities and the administration. And then people will begin to declare, and when they do they won't be conditioned into fanatics, and they'll stay.
I think it's important to have a long-term view. When I look around at the local community, I get depressed too. And X is reporting some seriously unhappy news about how fanatical the Baha'is can get when pressured to assert their real position. This is all evidence for how bad things are and therefore, how long it's gonna take to change it. So, my vision looks over generations. Over the long-term, the Internet will have the same kind of liberating effect that the printing press did. This seems inevitable to me. Anyone working against it is just pissing in the wind, as Neil Young once put it. And I think X has it in one when she says that everything that happens works for the good of God.
I can't emphasise enough the fact that our job is to step aside from ourselves in our efforts to bring about change. This is the key. We must step aside from ourselves and let Baha'u'llah work through us. He is the one with the power; he is the one that brings about the change, using us as vehicles. In reality, we are powerless, and if we focus on that, we will either become dispirited or try to control the process. But if we step aside, Baha'u'llah says that win or lose, we will win the wager. And I'm keen to win, so if this is the recipe for that certain outcome, count me in.
> After all these years, I now hear Baha'is
That's it, X, that's the feeling! You have described it perfectly. I think to myself, who could mistrust such a transformative experience? When it has done something so magical for me, it can do so for others too, if they choose it. This is why I believe that the Internet will change things over time.
And now that I live in my new world, I am very happy in it. More happy than I have ever been before - ever. All because of what I have found in the world-wide Baha'i community in cyberspace.
Actually, this miracle reminds me of another one that took place a few years back. You'll probably know that a bunch of LA scholars produced the first article on the women on the House issue and this paper was read out at the first Baha'i Studies conference in New Zealand. Interestingly, the woman who read it out was X, X's first wife. A very dear friend of mine was there, and he said that when he heard it being read out, he felt this powerful feeling come over him - 'Abdu'l-Baha's promise that it would be clear as the noon day sun was fulfilled!
I can see Baha'u'llah right before me saying "and you thought I was chained up, oh ye of little faith..."
Is there an electronic version of your play "Fear in Baha'i Eyes" that you can share with us?
So, if I was to put together deepenings on the LSA, I'd go back to the believer - God set up in an effort to encourage people to rediscover why they are in the faith in the first place. Once this is found, an assembly has a purpose. Without this, it does not. And if an assembly were to find itself in the middle of a community that had lost its spirit, then its first job would be to reinvigorate that spirit. Usually, this means the assembly has to be prepared to 'die' so that new life can be born. Steve and I are constantly saying to the community that if such and such an activity has no support, then let it die. That includes activities such as feast. That way the community finds its level and new ways of being spring up.
Our community had a visit from an NSA member a few months back and Steve was putting the heat on about civil society. The NSA man argued that it wasn't the time to free things up as much as Steve was advocating. He argued that the community was too small and fragile for that kind of interaction. But I could see that what he was really doing was protecting the administration from what he perceived to be its destruction for all time. "We must at all costs protect the institutions because they represent the Cause of God on earth and without them there is no Baha'i faith." Wrong. That thing he perceives with fear is the only thing that will save us. It is the mystery of sacrifice. Baha'u'llah says we should 'die in him' so that he may eternally live in us. This exhortation is just as necessary for institutions as it is for individuals. But institutions will only do it if the individuals on them do. And that is why the believer to God set up is primary.
At 06:45 AM 26/2/99 -0800, you wrote:
Yeah, they were not too happy. They didn't seem to see the sun at high noon like my friend did. No baqa' eyes. :-)
The House banned the publication of the paper because it didn't like the Baha'is thinking that women might one day be on the House. Many of us were very upset. But then, when the Internet came on the scene, the paper went up on the Net anyway and the issue was discussed at length on Talisman.
BTW did you find out what the Modest Proposal was?
I don't know anything much about Christianity, but assuming you are correct and it went all spiritual and had no regard for the affairs of the world, this does not mean that the Baha'is do not have the exact opposite problem and that this needs balancing. Sure, we don't want to go the way of Christianity as you paint it, but there seems to me little danger of that at the moment.
Having said that, I suggest that there are parallels between the Christian and Baha'i scenarios. If the Christian position was to believe that the "subjective" and "mystical" had no connection with law and institutions, then it strikes me that that is the exact same misconception the Baha'is currently have. The Baha'i institutions administer affairs in such a way as to ignore the spirit, thus believing that the spirit is not relevant to what they are doing. Boils down to the same misconception - that the spiritual has no connection with the material.
Yes, I do think that consultation and electing a council of nine is better than clergy. I just wish we would try it! Consultation at my local feast is a joke. No one says anything of significance because intuitively they know they do not have the power to decide or even particularly influence affairs. The culture has it that decision making is firmly kept in the grasp of the assembly. Ask questions and express opinions? People don't have questions or opinions because there is no point in having them.
Except here in cyberspace. When you get used to exercising those muscles again in cyberspace and then go back to a local feast, the culture shock is so extreme, it borders on the bizarre. It's like being transported back in time to a sort of bland 1950s, where life was determined by roles that locked away any hope of poignancy.
At 06:34 AM 26/2/99 -0800, you wrote:
This is something that I have long wondered about too. What intrigues me is that whenever Baha'is hear the word "obedience", they immediately think in terms of the individual obeying the institutions, *never* the other way around!
But here's a list of the things administrators should *not* get up to. It is a list of words that a guy in our community extracted from Shoghi Effendi - Baha'i Administration p64. The Baha'is need to think in terms of the institutions obeying 'God', by having a good look at what's listed here.
I came across the quote about the fear of God that was in my mind. It is from the fourth valley of the Four Valleys:
"Verily, the wayfarer who journeyeth unto God, unto the Crimson Pillar in the snow-white path, will never reach unto his heavenly goal unless he abandoneth all that men possess: "And if he feareth not God, God will make him to fear all things; whereas all things fear him who feareth God."(36)" (Baha'u'llah: Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, page 58)
It says what I was trying to say - about how it is important for us all to fear God *only*. Baha'u'llah emphasises the importance of abandoning "all" that men possess, and then follows immediately with "and if he feareth not God..." In effect, he is equating 'abandoning all that men possess' with 'not fearing anything that men possess', which is the condition of fearing God. So you could define the fear of God as 'not fearing anything that men possess'. This shows that the fear of God is not something that makes you feel afraid, but something that gives you unsurpassed courage, because if you fear God, you fear nothing of men and men fear you.
I was arguing in my previous message that the Baha'is fear the House; they do not fear God. They equate the House with God, and think that if they fear the House they are doing their duty. But as the quote indicates, if you fear something that is not God, you fear all things. And I think this is what's happened to the Baha'is. They are paralyzed with fear. It is all around them. And the religion has been turned into a nightmare, instead of a vehicle for freedom and progress.
So, you see, the situation we are in is happening not because God has abandoned us, but rather because we have abandoned God. In His place, we have set up the House of Justice. And we do this because we have an erroneous and naive understanding of the concept of infallibility. We attribute to the House the Most Great Infallibility, instead of what rightly belongs to it - the right to make law and administer the affairs of the community.
At the level of the fear of God, the House and its members and all of the administration have exactly the same station as you and I - we are all servants of God. Given this, I don't think an institution has the right to coerce our conscience. But if it tries to, I think we must stand up to it because this is the path of the fear of God.
I am sorry to hear that you are considering leaving the Baha'i community. We could do with having you around! Given that you are open about the problems facing the community. But I understand your feelings of frustration and anger. I have been wrestling with similar for about 15 years now. As I have already stated, the only reason I am still a member of the community is because of Talisman and the people I have found in cyberspace, who experience what I do and work to create a community we can be ourselves in.
I also understand why you say that spirituality and administration seem to be mutually exclusive. However, my understanding and intuition of the revelation does not support that conclusion. I think that the two seem to work against each other because revelations must exist among human beings, and human beings place this kind of limiting cloak on religion. But I don't think the problem is intrinsic to the Baha'i faith or any other religion. Also, because the problem is a human one, I don't think any other group of humans will be entirely free of it.
In his commentary on the hadith "I was a hidden treasure...", 'Abdu'l-Baha discusses the famous image of the ink and the letter, describing the relationship between them. For communication to occur, the ink needs the letter for form and the letter needs the ink for essence. This is how I see spirituality and adminstration working together. Of course, realising this perfection in this world is the most challenging issue (there you go, X, I've redefined it!) and we need more people who can see it for themselves and help humanity discover its beauty.
At 03:22 PM 27/2/99 -0800, you wrote:
True. I think this is it exactly. This sort of feeling is addictive. You remember how Baha'u'llah used to look at trees and yearn to be hanging from them? It strikes me that this explosion of freedom and power constantly pervaded him - he was fearless and, as you say, undefeatable. It must have been something akin to this that drove the martyrs to their happy fate.
But Baha'u'llah didn't want the believers dead, if at all possible, rather, he wanted them teaching the faith. The spirit and courage is the same in both cases, though, as the quote indicates:
The source of courage and power is the promotion of the Word of God, and steadfastness in His Love. (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, page 156)
This explains why teaching the faith doesn't work like it should these days. The feeling of fearlessness and total reliance on God is rare in a community where such a transformed state is viewed as a threat to the administration!
A few days ago, you asked about whether there was any concept of a Goddess in the Baha'i Faith. Well, yes, the concept of the Divine Feminine is very much a part of the Faith. This is pretty much unknown to most Baha'is, and that's because the writings of Baha'u'llah in which the Divine Feminine is central - and there is quite a number of them - are, for the most part, untranslated. And the believers are not educated about them; you have to go looking yourself. I discovered all this when I came on cyberspace and found out that Juan Cole had translated a number of these tablets. Some of them are up on his web site: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jrcole/index.htm. There are also links from Jonah's site: bahai-library.org. Were you on Talisman when I posted the Tablet of the Vision a few weeks back? I will send it to you if you didn't receive it. Another of these tablets is the Tablet of the Holy Mariner.
These writings are not easy to read and understand for people unfamiliar with their cultural context. But, as you know, Baha'u'llah received his revelation from the Maid of Heaven. This is significant because this is the first time a manifestation has received his revelation from a feminine being. She appeared to him in the Siyah Chal, suspended in the air right in front of him, and Baha'u'llah was overcome. In the article about the Maid of Heaven in "Scripture and Revelation" (George Ronald's Baha'i Studies vol 3), Kamran Ekbal explains that the appearance of the Maiden as the embodiment of the spiritual side of our souls goes right back to Zoroastrianism. He quotes a number of documented experiences, which are a very interesting read. He found, for example, that the images appearing as 'suspended' is common. In my first dream of my 'maiden', the image was suspended before me on a large screen.
If you read tablets like Ode of the Dove and the Tablet of the Houri, you can get a feel for the relationship Baha'u'llah had with the Maiden. To put it bluntly, he was crazy about her and she about him. The tablets reveal this embracing attraction and ethereal tenderness that takes your breath away, and leaves you with concrete emotional images of how Baha'u'llah experienced his spirituality. No arid duty there - he would have done anything for her because of the intensity of his love.
It's a real pity the Baha'is don't know about this stuff. As you can see, it would transform the community if they knew more about it.
OK X, here's my take on soul mates.
I believe in soul mates, but probably not in the way that most people do. People tend to think that a soul mate is something that just falls out of the sky without your doing anything except being in the right place at the right time. If you're lucky, this process will throw up someone you get on with very well, and you may marry.
But people fall in love with expressions of themselves - you know, 'like seeketh like and the company of its kind.' They tend to think the object of their affection is outside of them, but, in fact, it is inside them and they transfer what they feel onto something in the world. If you think about it, love is experienced entirely inside our private worlds; but we are so attached to the 'reality' of the physical world, that we think love has something to do with being physically close to a particular person or thing we adore.
So people fall in love, and think they have found a soul mate. But what they have actually done is attract something that embodies their current understanding of who they are. When this understanding changes, they fall out of love again. At this stage, they either go looking for another emobodiment of the new them, or they wise up and realise that the feeling of complete union is ultimately something they experience inside their souls.
I would argue that a soul mate situation is the attraction to two souls that *both* know themselves well enough to experience union with the 'God' inside. What happens here is that they are attracted to each other because each finds himself or herself in the other at the level of perfection (relatively speaking). In effect, they each 'experience' God by reflecting Him to the other and by seeing Him in the other. You gotta be prepared to 'take your shirt off' to get there. :-)
And so, depending on the way things play out in your life, if you ever get to experience this level of union with someone, it may or may not be with the person you are married to. It all depends on how self aware you were when you married. However, because the soul mate situation is in reality a spiritual one, it exists despite physical distance. Again, because of the spiritual nature of it, a soul mate union includes God and is therefore all inclusive.
>Then aren't you saying here what the Guardian said in his letter? That
I think the Guardian was emphasising that the bond between people when they marry should be a spiritual one and not just a physical one. And that if it is a spiritual one, it will last into the next world, otherwise it will not. And he is pointing out that all our relationships should be spiritual. I was saying more than that; I was arguing that there is such a thing as soul mates. He seems to be saying that there isn't. I like this idea of souls being created in pairs. I'd like to see the quote too. But whatever, I'm an incurable romantic and believe in soul mates. Love transforms us, in my view. It works for me.
>Anybody on the same level can be soul
*Potentially* anyone on the same level can be soul mates, but I think it is more complicated than that. Souls are different, so not all souls will be attracted to all other souls on the same level. I think that if you don't meet a person on your level in this world, then you will in the next for sure. The next world is where we meet ourselves, so if we are nice to know, then going to the next world will be a nice experience.
>My Jungian therapist told me years ago that I was as capable of as many
I agree with your therapist. And beyond the list you have given, I'm not sure about the purpose of marriage. As the Gurardian says, perhaps it's that "marriage should lead to a profound friendship of spirit." And if it doesn't do this, then, well, it's like religious communities, which don't live up to their potential either.
From my very limited experience learning Arabic, I would say that the biggest obstacle in the student's path is not the language itself, but the thought that it is impossible to learn. I spent nine months deciding to begin learning. Looking back on it now, I realise it was nine months of wasted time. I should have just started when the burning desire took me over. It's not impossible to learn, nothing is. And all efforts put in are useful. I haven't learned much, but what I have learned has given me the ability to least appreciate subtleties I couldn't grasp before. Just do it!
In response to my:
However, nobody's *experience* is suspect, if reported with sincerity. I think this is a basic principle of displaying humanity. Even if a person's experience of something does not equate with yours, this is no reason to trash the other person's experience. It's real for them. What is suspect, in my view, is the propensity of some to trash the 'other' at a personal level
X, I agree with you completely. I saw that movie with X, a couple of weeks back. He was sobbing right next door to me. :-)
I like the way you have equated the movie with prayer. This is the way I see it too. I loved the way the movie showed how Shakespeare was inspired by love in his creativity, and the way the poetry captured their spirituality. As I see it, Baha'u'llah captured his spiritual experiences in exactly the same way. Baha'u'llah was human, as well as manifestation. He had to use language that transcended words in order to explain experiences that were beyond words. Then when we read his poetry, we are praying. We've got it into our heads that it should be hard work, not fun. We think it's not spiritual if we're enjoying it or getting off on it. But that's the only to do it!
I really like the line early on where Shakespeare says to the woman who does not choose him (the one who wears the braclet of his destiny) "I could have made you immortal". For me, this is the key to the movie and to prayer and to our relationship with God. It is through a sincere connection with another that we find a link through to eternity. When that sincere link is set up, accessing that link and walking on the breeze of connection is like walking through the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's a direct access to another world. But for such a link to get set up requires pure sincerity and honesty. That's the foundation. My feeling is that whatever a person experiences in a mode of complete sincerity is a real world. My experience has always been that when I have achieved such moments with Baha'u'llah, they have always been crucial moments in my spiritual life. I think we spend too much time worrying about whether our spiritual experiences are "real", so to speak; for example, when Mark said:
I think this is irrelevant. What is relevant is a person's sincerity, what that person experiences in those moments and what those experiences mean to *them*. A person can only move forward when those precious moments are acknowledged, understood and loved.
About sincerity, the Maiden said to Baha'u'llah in the Ode of the Dove:
"Blessed are the sincere, who to the shade of My Lordliness made haste from every side."
Your beautiful messages are inspiring me!
I am also one of those people who can't grasp God or the concept of the Manifestation without some tangible object. Through my study of Sufism, I have learned some more about this, which I have found helpful beyond words. In essence, there is the concept of the transcendent God and the concept of the imminent God. The transcendent God is the One Abdul-Baha describes when he says that we speak of God as being, for example, All-Knowing or All-Merciful. This is the aspect of God that lacks nothing; whatever we can say about God, God is not that. Then there is the imminent God, and that's when we see God in things in the world.
It is a huge issue in Sufism just exactly what is the nature of the God that is imminent; for example, some Sufis held that the aspect of God that is imminent is the very *essence* of God, that the One behind the many is the essence of God. This position is called the Unity of Being. With this position, everything becomes God, and even evil is good because it is a part of God. Baha'u'llah rejects this. He argues that because God is transcendent, it is Baha'u'llah who is the One behind the many in creation. But He also didn't want people squabbling over theological issues like this, and stopped the believers from doing so.
Anyway, I was particularly struck by how this idea of the imminent God worked when I learned about the personal life of the Sufi poet Rumi. I discovered that he was a shaykh with a group of followers to whom he taught theology and so forth, and that one day a wandering dervish, Shams-i Tabriz, who was looking for a shaykh who really knew his stuff, came up to him in the street and asked Rumi a couple of questions. Rumi gave Shams impressive answers and they embraced and became spiritual lovers. Rumi and Shams spent months and months together, like on a daily basis. Rumi's son records how Rumi would walk around the house just out of his head in love.
Your love has made my drunk, my hands are trembling. I am intoxicated. I don't know what I'm doing.
As it turned out, Rumi's followers were jealous for being passed over like this and ultimately had Shams killed, without Rumi's knowledge. Rumi thought Shams had just disappeared forever. After that, Rumi sat down and wrote poems about Shams, which are the most famous love poetry in all Sufism. And, guess what, Baha'u'llah adored Rumi's poetry! He knew who Rumi loved.
This story had a huge impact on me. I think it illustrates the potentially powerful effect of the imminent God on us. Rumi saw God in Shams, and vice versa. I think they are a perfect example of soul mates. It is through his relationship with Shams that Rumi also experienced his relationship with God. And he celebrated it accordingly. Rumi would say that his love for Shams emptied him (fana') and that all that remained of him was his name. He would write as if had become Shams (God living in us, baqa'), and use Shams's name when referring to himself. So there is here the complete experience of union, which is what we strive for as believers, whether we are aware of it or not.
At 05:11 PM 25/3/99 -0800, you wrote:
I think you can set it up however you like, X. That's the beauty of it. Over to you to create your own bliss. No one is going to vy for your attention when your attention is pointed only where you want it. But wherever it is, that is where Baha'u'llah is for you. Baha'u'llah is not 'out there' seperate from you, but 'in there' with you.
>If the UNKNOWABLE ESSENCE (God) selected BAHA'U'LLAH
It doesn't matter about names. What's within is the reality of the manifestation; the Logos, the Creative Word. Whatever the name, they are all One in their station as Logos. The realm of the Creative Word interposes between the Essence of God and creation. Whatever name is given to the Being in creation that manifests that realm is not important. Baha'u'llah would never want us hung up on names. What people choose to call that Reality is what works for them, and is not wrong.