Meditations

Talisman messages of February to July 2001

Date: Thu Feb 8, 2001 10:27 pm
Subject: Tablet of the Son, etc

Dear Juan,

Thanks very much for your new translation efforts. I have some questions going back a few weeks, so I'll deal with them all at once.

I was interested in your introduction where you comment that Baha'u'llah refers to the issue of human beings as manifestations of divine names. I read the first quote with eager anticipation, looking for the passage and discovered that it was a rather oblique reference. Or so it seemed to me. Perhaps there is something significant in the original Arabic? that I'm missing. Is there more to come on the topic later on?

What does Baha'u'llah mean when he says: "At long last, give some thought to what his purpose was in entitling this work the Book of Names, and in mentioning therein the divine names one after another, as well as interpreting each. Then he commended the manifestations of the names to their creator." I haven't read the Book of Names, so I'm at a bit of a loss. Is he arguing - I'm guessing here, because he doesn't spell it out, but I've read this elsewhere - that Azal is attached to his divine name and uses it as the basis for his claim to divinity, but in the Book of Names the Bab demonstrates that all humans are manifestations of the names, therefore there is nothing special about Azal? Is that it? That still doesn't help me, necessarily, with why the Bab titled his work the Book of Names. Baha'u'llah, of course, would be the Book of Names. Perhaps that's it.

A while ago, you mentioned that there is tablet in which Baha'u'llah says that the two bodies, jism and jasad, were distinct. What is the name of that tablet, do you know? I'd be keen to know what Baha'u'llah says. I was surprised to learn of Baha'u'llah's reference to it. When I first learned of Shaykh Ahmad's theory, in Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, I thought it seemed a very complex theory and imagined Baha'u'llah would think it was just Sufis getting needlessly convoluted and fanciful about things that didn't matter much. I mean, I can live with us having two bodies, a spiritual one and a physical one, but four?! Perhaps Baha'u'llah's reference to it in this tablet is an example of him simply using the discourse of his audience.

During your discussion on the tablet on jurisprudence, you quoted from a book by a guy called Coulson and said it was a good overview of the topic - I presume you mean Islamic jurisprudence? What is it called? I presume it is in English.

Alison


From: Juan Cole
Date: Sat Feb 10, 2001 7:30 am
Subject: Re: [talisman9] Tablet of the Son, etc

Dear Alison:

The first half of the Tablet of the Son is the Azali debate. The second half is Jesus and everyone bearing the divine effulgences, which I think is spectacular. I had been tempted only to do the last half, but I decided it is always better to present the piece in toto, and I've always resented the official 'excerpt' approach.

The Book of Names is a huge work by the Bab, now up in the original at H-Bahai. It is an esoteric commentary on the names of God. Since the Promised One or Qayyum was supposed to be the perfect manifestation in this world of *all* the names and attributes of God, Baha'u'llah is saying that this book in an of itself points to the advent of a future Manifestation, which is himself. (The Azalis did not agree that a Manifestation would come so quickly).

Also with regard to ajsad and ajsam, the two sorts of body, I do not think this distinction plays a huge role in the works of Baha'u'llah or `Abdu'l-Baha, but it is a distinction that is occasionally alluded to briefly, and in the 1899 letter on jurisprudence it seems to me to resolve what otherwise looks like a crucial contradiction. Now that Khazeh has drawn my attention to it, I need to look again at some key passages of Baha'u'llah to see if it explains other mysteries. In the Tablet of Zuhur he says that the bodies of the Manifestations are not like other bodies; but does he say ajsad or ajsam? The allusion I know of by Baha'u'llah to a distinction between ajsad and ajsam is in an untitled prayer.

Yes, Coulson's history of Islamic Jurisprudence (1964) was my reference. I think in some ways it is superseded by a recent book by Devin Stewart of Emory on Shi`i and Sunni jurisprudential thought (though Stewart's is not as good an introduction for the novice). Most of `Abdu'l-Baha's thinking about Baha'i jurisprudence and institutions is stated in the technical terms of Islamic jurisprudence, a subject he studied with clerical tutors in Baghdad. That these Islamic technical terms in the law are not well understood by Western Baha'is has led to many confusions and inconsistencies.

cheers Juan


Date: Sat Feb 10, 2001 9:05 pm
Subject: malakut

Cal,

Malakut is a name for the next world, the Heavenly Kingdom. It's the place where the Concourse on High hang out. Probably where you'll go too, if you're good. :-)

Traditionally, the Sufis said there were five realms of being: Hahut, Lahut, Jabarut, Malakut and Nasut. At one end, Hahut is the realm of God in His essence, where the way is barred, and at the other end is Nasut, which is this physical realm.

Baha'u'llah discussed these realms in his Tablet of All Food. Also, there is an article on them in the Journal of Baha'i Studies vol 5 no 1. It is called JA McLean: "Prolegomena to a Baha'i Theology".

Alison


Date: Sat Feb 10, 2001 9:28 pm
Subject: Re: [talisman9] Tablet of the Son, etc

Dear Juan,

Thank you for your detailed response to my questions. I look forward to the rest of the translation. The issue of all humans being manifestations of the names and attributes is a real sticking point, I think. Although the manifestation is different to us mere mortals, I think Baha'is have not sufficiently grasped how much *like* the manifestation we are in that he is the quintessential human.

I think one can't make sense of Baha'u'llah's mystical writings without assuming that he makes a distinction between a spiritual body and a physical one. The distinction is assumed in all Sufi discourse. The references to seeing with the eye of God and hearing with his ear, knowing him through his eyes, and the many references to tasting and the heart and so forth make no sense unless one thinks about having a spiritual body. In the Seven Valleys, Baha'u'llah alludes to the fact that we use our spiritual body in dreams. It's in that passage where he asks the rhetorical question about the place where we put our limbs to use but are nevertheless asleep in bed.

Alison


Date: Wed Feb 14, 2001 12:56 pm
Subject: Tablet of the Son 3

Dear Juan,

I write in response to part 3 of your translation of the Tablet of the Son, which you haven't posted here yet, but no doubt will do shortly. :-)

Very interesting. It bears on things I have long thought about.

I hear him speaking of revelations as having a sort of defining principle ("One must look at the basic principle of the Cause of God..."), and in this revelation it is virtue ("Note that what appeared was virtues..."). In the two previous revelations, this principle was that of sanctification from the world: "In the dispensations of the Qur'an and the Bayan, the divine will preferred pure transcendence and absolute sanctification." This lead, during those revelations, to the valuing to religious expressions and states of being that emphasised God's transcendence beyond creation - hence Baha'u'llah's examples of the fact that God was not born and that God could not be seen. Baha'u'llah's reference here to sanctification reminds me of his interesting, and obviously very important, comment in the Persian Holy Mariner, where he says: "We have passed beyond the loftiness of abstraction, the sublimity of divine oneness, the ultimate recognition that God is above all attributes, and the most great sanctification."

So what of virtues. I hear him saying that everyone is of the same station, but different in capacity or nature. For example, he makes the distinction between those who ascend the heights of mystical insight and those who are of the lowest rank. Whereas in previous dispensations, it might have been thought those with particular spiritual or intellectual capability were superior (ie they made exalted statements), in this dispensation capacity does not distinguish you, but rather virtue does. I think that's what he means by "For the nobility of knowledge and insight is not dependent on these attributes in themselves". So, being knowledgable in itself doesn't lead to nobility.

How does he define virtue? I think it's: "Glory lies in attaining mystical insight into the Eternal Truth and remaining firm, steadfast and unswerving in the Cause of God." Hence, it is possible to have much capacity for spiritual insight, but unless this leads to insight into the Eternal Truth, it is rejected. Similarly, a person of the lowest rank who has attained insight into the Eternal Truth is accepted. "Mystical insight" is, then, redefined to mean knowing the Eternal Truth etc, or virtue, just as, for example, "monotheism" is redefined in each new dispensation.

The principle, then, is in *being* a person who reflects the names and attributes of God. This is what distinguishes a person, and not their words, which are all on the same level. I think this explains what Baha'u'llah is getting at in the Persian Holy Mariner:

"We have passed beyond the loftiness of abstraction, the sublimity of divine oneness, the ultimate recognition that God is above all attributes, and the most great sanctification. Now, they must put forth their utmost effort and give their unswerving attention, so that their inward secrets not be contrary to their overt behavior, nor their outward deeds at variance with their inner mysteries."

Alison


Date: Fri Feb 23, 2001 10:22 am
Subject: Re: God's baby

>What never ceases to amaze *me* is the emotional closeness to Baha'u'llah that
>some people express. From the time i first started reading His Writings, to the
>present day when i've read all the published English translations at least
>twice, my impression is of a very stern and austere Presence.

Gary,

Yes, I know what you mean. I've come to a point now where I see in Baha'u'llah an integration of balancing qualities. As I understand it, it is a part of Islamic theology to think of God as having both powerful qualities and beautiful ones. So, balanced against his austere Presence is, for example, his repeated references to an all-consuming sadness at humanity's rejection of him. When I run this reality through myself, I become heartbroken. I think Baha'u'llah was permanently heartbroken, and struggled his whole life for glimpses of joy that relieved him of an otherwise debilitating condition. In the Fire Tablet, he ends with a statement about his humility: "...whence thou canst breathe the fragrance of my meekness and know what hath beset us in the path of God..." Another place to visit Baha'u'llah's beautiful Presence is in the Tablet of the Houri. In there she searches for his heart, breast and soul but discovers that they have been destroyed by grief. And there is the tenderness, devotion and adoration he shows to her, his Lord.

As I said, the magic comes for me, now, from the mix of qualities. On the one hand, Baha'u'llah was all-powerful and, as we know, *consented* to being oppressed. But despite this potential power, also consented to a mind-numbing humiliation. This is an incomprehensible grace; the act of a very powerful being displaying such forbearance out of genuine love and mercy. To me, that is Beauty.

Alison


Date: Wed Mar 7, 2001 8:13 am
Subject: character and change

Dear Ian,

Yes, I think we do agree. Must be a new creation! :-)

Yes, I agree that what we are given by God is sound; it just needs educating. But, if a person is educated and their higher natures shine out, it seems as if the person has "changed". And in a sense, they have, but in reality the hidden gem in them has been revealed. Like the fruit in the tree, it can't be seen until certain conditions have been brought about.

BTW, I thought your stand on the Bridges affair was a courageous one. And I think you have every right to make your rejection public. I agree that it is a public matter. A number of people who have been aggrieved at decisions of the Talisman moderators have made public complaints on the newsgroups and Talisman2000. It happens all the time and I don't even think about it. It comes with the job that one's decisions will come under scrutiny.

Alison


Date: Tue Mar 13, 2001 11:35 pm
Subject: houris and things

Jennifer,

>Baha'u'llah once said: These people wouldn't know a houri if she walked up
>and slapped them in the face! I'm referring, of course, to the Tablet of the
>Holy Mariner. :-)

I think if Baha'u'llah were with us in the physical world now, he'd say: Gee, Jennifer, I wish I'd thought of that one - Tablet of the Holy Mariner (English).

>I think that one cannot know the beloved, the houri or manifestation, without
>the courage to lose oneself. You've mentioned before the section in the
>Tablet of the Maiden in which she finds Baha'u'llah has no heart, no being,
>and then both are filled with sadness and love. This is one of my favorite
>metaphors for mystical annihilation,

Yeah. You know, Rumi says:

"If you're Love's lover and seek Love
Cut modesty's throat with a knife"

I don't know about you, but I feel like I don't have a throat left to hack at any more, I took his advice to heart so much. That's why I like:

"I sought to gain our union everywhere
I scrawled letters of nearness on all earth".

There's a wonderful insane desperation in it; it has abandoned decorum and fallen into shame - endless piteous love letters, that get him no closer.

I swing between the yearning and the pathetic-ness of it all, with each voice preaching to the other: Oh God, Alison, look at you, you pathetic creature, pining away like a school girl... yeah, but at least I don't have a cold heart, you wizened up all woman! :-) At least I'll die saying I truly loved!

Alison


Date: Fri Mar 16, 2001 7:56 am
Subject: Re: houris and things

>My correspondence with gays has led me through a lot
>of study and meditation on love and romance, and I've
>developed a theory that the longings and yearnings
>that people translate into a quest for a romantic love
>partner were put there by God to fuel a quest for His
>love. About two weeks ago it occured to me that if I
>really believed that, I should try to apply it.

Dear Jim,

Your theory is sound. But it's not necessary to make up an image in your imagination. Your heart creates the image for you, based on a real person that you love. The image of the person who completely does you in, turns you to mush, is your stand-in image of God. That image appears in dreams and visions and dominates you. You only need to play the image in your imagination for a second, and you blush and cringe with feelings of nakedness, of being "seen within". People think they are just in love, but it is in fact a deeply religious experience - well, can be anyway.

The struggle is in coming to understand within one's heart that the beloved object is not the person out there in the world who you love, but your divine self, which is within. You see, the image of the person that you love is an image that you create in your imagination, based on the qualities that person inspires in your soul. What you are seeing in them is yourself. You look at that person and think, gee, look how s/he can do this and that and you think they are really amazing... what you are actually seeing is your own potential and qualities in them. You are attracted to those qualities in others because you know them in yourself.

The "houri" is the image of the beloved created by your imagination. The Houri in the writings was Baha'u'llah's Image. We all have an image of God, and this is our "houri". The houri can take any form. Put simply, the houri is the image our imagination creates of our divine self.

Alison


Date: Sun Mar 18, 2001 7:07 am
Subject: Re: Anything goes

Dear Larry,

Thank you for sharing your dream with us. I found it very interesting. I think its symbolism is marvellous. Baha'u'llah says that creation is wrapped up within us. We have access to the other worlds of God through the inner path. I see the two gems as being like the outer gem of creation and the inner gem of creation (our divine self), which we wear like a necklace. Mostly we just focus on the outer gem, and never get to know the inner one.

This imagery reminds me of Baha'u'llah saying that the Manifestation of God is like the ring that God wears on his finger. Here's Juan's commentary on it:

"Baha'u'llah states that the very appearance of this metaphysical principle [the Manifestation appearing in a human body] in corporeal garb redounds to its grandeur. He gives the example of a craftsman who adorns his own person with a finely crafted ring which he has fashioned himself, illustrating how that from which the world was emanated could nevertheless bedeck himself with that creation." -- "The Concept of Manifestation in the Baha'i Writings", p20

Alison


Date: Sun Mar 18, 2001 7:07 am
Subject: praying

>There's a prayer I love that begins 'O God, my God!
>Fill up for me the cup of detachment . . .' and
>contains the phrase '. . . refresh me among the
>handmaidens . . .' I read it as is, without changing
>'handmaids' to 'servants.' Sometimes I'm reading the
>prayer for a woman. Other times I read it for myself,
>and when I do I read it as a woman.

Dear Jim,

Yes, I love that prayer too. I've said it a hundred thousands times, hoping that that mysterious thing called "detachment", whatever it is, would graciously visit me in a moment of extraordinary favour and I would find myself completely different from then on. :-) Didn't work for twenty years; then one day not so very long ago I was saying it fervently on the beach and some of the words took me to a new dimension. I felt I had indeed been 'drawn with rapture into the supernal realm'.

Jim, you've got me chatting, I wasn't going to say all that. :-)

I was going to mention about the technique of praying that you describe above. I began experimenting with that a few years back. When I wanted to pray for someone else, I had always beseeched God as if I was Alison, asking God to grant a favour for another. But then, I started learning some stuff about mysticism and realised that in a mystical sense, I am not "other" than a person I love, I am that person - in the sense that they are what I experience of them in me. (As I explained with the houri concept.) So I began praying as if I was that person. I became that person praying for themselves. What a difference! It's so much better and much more powerful. It makes prayer immediate. It became fun to read prayers for men then, and I found myself actively seeking those prayers out for a change.

Alison


Date: Tue Mar 20, 2001 7:35 am
Subject: freedom of conscience

Dear all,

Below is Juan's latest message to H-Baha'i, which I think is fabulous. So I'm posting it here, without his permission. :-)

One of the many things that struck me was this quote from Abdul-Baha:

> "Our Father will not hold us responsible for the rejection of
> dogmas which we are unable either to believe or comprehend,
> for He is ever infinitely just to His children." Paris Talks p26

You know, I damn near want to cry when I read that. What about infallibility... the Baha'is are expected as an article of faith to have a literal interpretation of the infallibility of the House, which violates the consciences of many members, even if they don't admit it. And here is Abdul-Baha saying that God doesn't condemn us for not holding to dogmas that we sincerely reject.

Now, that's the Baha'i Faith I know. That's the one that I carry in my heart. And I sincerely hold to it. God has no problem with my views. And note, this is justice! Only some people who think they know better have a problem with my views. Who are they representing when they do that? It certainly isn't God.

Alison


Date: Thu Mar 22, 2001 8:57 am
Subject: Re: complaint filed today

What is un-Baha'i about standing up for the truth? It is obvious that Deborah was never going to get justice from the Baha'i authorities. Why shouldn't she try to get justice from civil courts? Baha'is have entirely the wrong idea about the civil courts; they have this idea that the courts are somehow evil because they are not religious or Baha'i. But that's not how I see them. I think that is ignorance and fear. Baha'u'llah says: "All things are of God", that includes civil courts and civil society. The Baha'is have this notion that everything that pertains the Baha'i community is of God and everything else is of the devil. But that is just superstition. When Baha'u'llah says all things are of God, he obliterates that kind of thinking. Everything is Baha'i, and Baha'is should use everything for the sake of truth and justice and the betterment of humanity.

What we are witnessing here is a paradigm shift in thinking for the Baha'i community. This really is emergence from obscurity. Baha'is see their religious community as being like every other religious community where religious authorities and their quirks are largely tolerated by the masses, who don't expect high levels of accountability. But the Baha'i community is destined to be a civil society, just like the civil society we live in on a daily basis, where people freely say what they please, where there is freedom of the press, and where administrators are accountable and obliged to excercise their powers within the legal boundaries imposed on them. That's where Baha'i society is headed.

It's Baha'u'llah who is running this show, not the current Baha'i administrators. He can deal with them just as we brush dust off a cuff. Baha'u'llah will realise His own will. And if we're interested in getting a handle on the vision He said he had, I suggest reading Modernity and the Milliennium, which shows that houses of justice are modelled on the British parliament and that Baha'u'llah was furious about the way the authorities of his time could arbitrarily remove all his human rights. There were no competent tribunals, he complained. He was never tried, everything done to him was done by decree.

Alison


Date: Sat Mar 24, 2001 6:56 pm
Subject: Re: houris and things

>These are some of my favorite lines from the Ode! I'm also attracted to the
>desperate, irrational fervor of Baha'u'llah, and I've often wondered if it
>makes sense to see the entire revelation as an expression of love and
>suffering. To me, this means that not only is Baha'u'llah scrawling letters
>to the divinity but also to us, despite the fact that we make him suffer for
>it.

Jennifer,

I agree completely. The real task, though, is being that way within oneself. The path leads to a terrible loneliness. Baha'u'llah was terribly lonely, I think. "Rather shall I weep at the fewness of thy champions, oh thou who has caused the wailing of the worlds." There are those who would argue that using reason to protect the heart from the pain is the way to go. Although I've tried this, I disagree that it is a "solution". "Solutions" come at the ultimate price, in my view. They mean we stop remembering. That's what I think the Houri is driving at when she says: "You will be subjected to temptations, companions of virtue". You see, there is no such thing as having affairs of the heart sorted out. You can't ever be so virtuous that you are not susceptible. And if you ever are, then be worried, 'cos Baha'u'llah has a test in store that will drown you unexpectedly, or worse, you may never face such a test and you will find that you wasted your life and lived a lie. Honesty about our temptations keeps us truly humble, I think. It is a paradox, because on the other hand, we are supposed to be detached. But I think detachment only comes via the path of discovery through open analysis of our susceptibilities; nothing comes from denying them.

Alison


Date: Thu May 3, 2001 6:23 pm
Subject: new houses of worship

Did any one notice in the Ridvan message the reference to new houses of worship?

"A feature of the Fifth Epoch will be the enrichment of the devotional life of the community through the raising up of national Houses of Worship, as circumstances in national communities permit. The schedule of these projects will be determined by the Universal House of Justice in relation to the advancement of the process of entry by troops within countries."

In other words, national communities will get houses of worship as they get entry by troops.

Has it never occurred to the Baha'i administrators that houses of worship might be the *cause* of entry by troops?

I know this idea gets completely lost in amongst all the talk about administration, but in fact, the purpose of religion is to *praise God*. Yes, folks, that's why Baha'u'llah came; that's our purpose in life, to praise God: to know Thee and to worship Thee. It seems to me therefore, that houses of worship should be high priority. And I don't mean national edifices, but local houses of worship where ordinary Baha'is get together to praise their lord. I belong to one locally. Myself and some friends, we get together regularly and praise God. It has nothing to do with any other Baha'i activity, and that's all we do - praise God.

Abdu'l-Baha's vision was to have a house of worship in every hamlet and city:

"It befitteth the friends to hold a gathering, a meeting, where they shall glorify God and fix their hearts upon Him, and read and recite the Holy Writings of the Blessed Beauty ... The lights of the All-Glorious Realm, the rays of the Supreme Horizon, will be cast upon such bright assemblages, for these are none other than the Mashriqu'l-Adhkars, the Dawning-Points of God's Remembrance, which must, at the direction of the Most Exalted Pen, be established in every hamlet and city ..." (Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha, pages 93-94)

Note here that there is no reference to the need for a building. He is saying that when the friends gather together to read and recite the holy writings, this is a Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, or house of worship. And if you do this, he says, the lights of the All-Glorious Realm will be cast upon you.

My feeling is that the Baha'i administrators have got things around the wrong way, especially if they want people to join the Faith. Never mind national buildings. I would argue that if the Baha'is did just this one thing, put praise of God first before anything and stuck to it, it would transform the community world wide. I know from personal experience that when I made the decision in 1998 to do just this, my life took a path that went straight up into the stars and beyond. I discovered that miracles were possible. Life became one endless miracle. Here I am, bursting with the grace of Baha'u'llah's revelation in my heart, despite everything.

I think the Baha'is should take their religion back and make it theirs. All you have to do is join together and praise God! That's all it takes! He does the rest. As Baha'u'llah says, "travel" on this journey is not done with legs and feet, it is done with the heart. Journey in the *heart*, and you'll see the physical world drop away from your feet and become a toy.

Stretch the wings of meaning, fly aloft,
soar through the spheres of nearness unto Him,
near Him in spirit, not by taking steps
Strive with soul and enter the realms eternal
To thus traverse the heavens in a flash
is easy if you bow your head in prayer

-- Baha'u'llah, Mathnavi

Alison


Date: Sat May 5, 2001 8:15 am
Subject: Re: new houses of worship

Cal,

>I saw that in the Ridvan message about the Houses of Worship and the
>entry by troops. I read it as an emphasis away from the Guardian's idea
>that the Wilmette Temple was a silent teacher precipitating
>entry-by-troops. Now it looks like from the message that if we teach,
>teach, and teach we can have enough people to build Houses of Worship
>now that we're through with the buildings on Carmel.

Yes, I think this a sound analysis of the change in thinking. There is a lot of emphasis on erecting buildings. I don't live in the States, but apparently there is a push going on to refurbish and such like the buildings in Wilmette. At huge expense. I honestly think that if all that energy was put into praising God, then the rest would look after itself. It was a mistake to ever get it into our heads that a Mashriqu'l-Adhkar is a building. This is only partly true. In the first instance, the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar is the heart of the believer:

"In reality, the radiant, pure hearts are the Mashrak-el-Azcar and from them the voice of supplication and invocation continually reacheth the Supreme Concourse. I ask God to make the heart of every one of you a temple of the Divine Temples and to let the lamp of the great guidance be lighted therein; and when the hearts find such an attainment, they will certainly exert the utmost endeavor and energy in the building of the Mashrak-el-Azcar; thus may the outward express the inward, and the form (or letter) indicate the meaning (or reality)." Tablets of `Abdu'l-Baha Abbas, p. 678

And, in my previous message, Abdu'l-Baha also says that the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar is a meeting where the believers get together and praise God. It is only when these grassroots houses of worship take on a reality in the world, that there is any need for a building.

>I kind of got
>excited about the idea, until I remembered how long it took us to build
>the American Temple and some of the others without people and money.
>Isn't this a signal to us that we're in for a long-haul to the Kingdom?

Have you read the book: "Music, Devotions, and Mashriqu'l-Adhkar" by Jackson Armstrong-Ingram? It is published by Kalimat Press and I highly recommend it. Much of the book gives the history of the development and building of the Wilmette temple. Although Abdu'l-Baha had the vision that houses of worship should be small and scattered all over the place, nevertheless the American believers pushed hard for a large ostentatious building. And Abdu'l-Baha capitulated. Now we are obsessed with ostentatious buildings and consider them the heart of our Faith!

Alison


Date: Sat May 5, 2001 12:09 pm
Subject: Re: Internet

Daniela,

>Can we try to forget the wrongs we have received, admit that
>no one HAS GOT a monopoly on Truth (a good, old, sound
>Baha'i principle, if I remember well) and go back to the
>spirit of consultation?

The question is whether we would get 'unity' or even 'community' if we forget about injustices. I think that we would not. In fact, Baha'u'llah says explicitly that: "The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity." If we want unity, the way to get it is to stand up for justice. Justice is defined as seeing with one's own eyes and knowing with one's own knowledge. We each have a duty to follow what our own conscience concludes, without allowing ourselves to be influenced by others.

The thing is, of course, that following our conscience inevitably leads us into conflict with others. I know Baha'u'llah says not to contend with others, but in my mind, this does not mean we should not state our truth. It is *always* the case that others will hate it when we do that. That is the nature of the world. History is riddled with examples of people who were hated for expressing their conscience. They all ended up in conflict with others. This is true of all the manifestations of God.

If you look closely at the Iqan, you will see that it's largely an analysis of what happens when a Being stands up and declares his independence from all save God. The manifestation is the first Person to see with his own eyes and know with his own knowledge. He is the embodiment of Justice. In the Iqan, Baha'u'llah summarises the classic arguments of those who oppose people who claim independence like this.

It is hard for Baha'is living now to appreciate just how much Baha'u'llah was seemingly locked into a struggle with Azal. From our point of view, Azal doesn't register much in the scheme of things, but back then, it was very real for believers. And all that many of them could see was a dispute between two brothers. What were they to think? Many sat on the fence and longed for rapprochement. What would we say to them now? The situation, produced by God, forced believers to make an assessment of where they stood on the matter one way or the other, even if it was to sit on the fence.

If you read the Iqan, you see that this is how God works. He creates manifestations and others who will be true to their conscience no matter what. (This idea is also found at the end of the Fire Tablet.) They will not allow themselves to be bought or persuaded or dominated by those with worldly interests. This inevitably causes conflict and forces people to assess the situation depending on how much they buy into their worldly interests or listen to their conscience.

I suggest therefore that the response to what's happening in the Faith now is not to forget the injustices.

The quote you gave is from Abdu'l-Baha: Promulgation of Universal Peace, Page: 453.

Alison


Date: Sun May 6, 2001 1:40 pm
Subject: Internet (was Re: ITC members)

> If we are guided at all times in our love of the Faith by the principle of
> unity, then we won't go far wrong.

But what is the principle of unity, George? You have quoted the Guardian, but he is only a commentator on Baha'u'llah. And the quote you have given us is not an attempt to interpret Baha'u'llah. What is the concept of unity in the writings of Baha'u'llah?

The thing is, the Baha'is use the word "unity" all the time like they know what it is. But I have yet to hear anyone tell me what it means - other than keep quiet and don't rock the boat. And I don't think Baha'u'llah said it meant that. If he had meant that, he wouldn't have spent all his life in prison.

Alison


Date: Mon May 7, 2001 7:59 am
Subject: Re: Concept of Unity

George,

You have taken my words literally and missed the spirit of them. I was not making a point of history and whether Baha'u'llah spent all of his life in prison or just half of it. I was making the following point: the fact that Baha'u'llah went to prison for his beliefs is proof that he did not think "unity" meant keeping one's mouth shut and not rocking the boat. Baha'u'llah spoke his truth. If people didn't like it, then too bad, he would wear the consequences. But he knew that if people couldn't cope with his truth, it was *their* problem, not his. Even if they did imprison him.

As for the quote from the Guardian, no, it is not an attempt to interpret Baha'u'llah. Yes, it's true that the Guardian is an authoritative interpreter of Baha'u'llah, but that didn't mean every thing that popped out his mouth or pen was instantly a take on the revelation. The Guardian himself makes a distinction with regard to his writings. He says that his personal advice to believers was just that, advice for those particular situations. The Guardian is acting in his capacity as interpreter in his general writings such as "World Order of Baha'u'llah".

> To NSA of US November 16, 1932 (Baha'i News #71, Feb 1933, p1-2):
>
> As regards Shoghi Effendi's letters to the individual Baha'is, he is
> always very careful not to contradict himself. He has also said that
> whenever he has something of importance to say, he invariably
> communicates it to the National Spiritual Assembly or in his general
> letters. His personal letters to individual friends are only for their
> personal benefit and even though he does not want to forbid their
> publication, he does not wish them to be used too much by the Baha'i
> News. Only letters with special significance should be published
> there.

Now, the letter you quoted was from a letter dated 16 February 1951 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer. It is therefore not one of the Guardian's general letters or works of interpretation. Also, it wasn't written by the Guardian. I therefore reject that it is an authoritative interpretation of a spiritual principle of Baha'u'llah.

But to make a more general point: the quote that you cited in my view is not helpful. Firstly, it is not relevant. Of course, when people have personal differences due to things like personality clashes or misunderstandings, it does no good to harbour these hurts in our hearts over the long term. But this is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about issues of administrative justice in the Baha'i Faith.

Also, citing passages like this one gives the message that consultation on these matters is somehow wrong. That if we let ourselves be concerned with the issues discussed here on Talisman, we are going against the Faith. The effect of that message is reinforced by the use of the word "unity", which in Baha'i culture means don't rock the boat. The total effect on a Baha'i audience is to generate guilt, shame and silence.

Alison


Date: Tue May 8, 2001 12:56 pm
Subject: Re: [tawil] Tablet of the Son, penultimate part

Baha'u'llah says:
>"My friends, you are the wellsprings of my own discourse. In every spring,
>a droplet from the heavenly stream of divine meaning wells up. With the
>hand of certainty, cleanse these springs of the pollution of unfounded
>judgments and illusions. In this way might you yourselves give convincing
>and unassailable answers to the sorts of questions that have been posed.
>In this greatest of dispensations, all must appear with branches of
>knowledge and sayings of wisdom. For in these days wherein doubt has been
>banished, celestial gales have rendered all human beings--indeed, all
>things--bearers of the divine emanations to the extent of their capacity.
>In the impenetrable depths of the revealed words have been disclosed the
>answers to the issues that were raised, as well as those that remain hidden
>and concealed. God willing, you will gaze with divine vision into his
>words, so that you will discover that which you seek."

My feeling is that this fits in with Baha'u'llah's abolishing clergy and gives us a good overall impression of how he imagined his community to function. As I see it, he says here that all believers have direct access to the Source and his writings, and are asked to live a life that is guided by the revelation of their own souls. If they want anything, be it answers to questions or material things, all they need to do is turn to the Source in them and it will be provided -- such is the enormity of the grace infused into the reality of things in this revelation. There is no more any need for an institution made up of people who act as intermediaries between the believer and God. Everything we need is provided directly to each one of us by God. We are in charge of our own religion and we each in our own way create the revelation by leading our lives according to the guidance that springs from our hearts. Everyone is empowered to be independent all save God and is expected to find this station sometime in their lives.

Alison


Date: Thu May 10, 2001 11:04 am
Subject: Re: concept of unity

George,

>Furthermore, why would myself and other more open minded Baha'is have joined
>talisman9 if we did not enjoy constructive debate and consultation, If I
>thought such 'issues discussed were going against the Faith'? It would be
>foolish of me to have become a subscriber to talisman9 in the first instant.

To be perfectly honest (and I don't say this to point the finger at you), I think our reactions are largely unconscious. Baha'is have been indoctrinated with unity-means-keep-your-mouth-shut for, in many cases, large sections of their lives. I know I was. It kept me silent for ages. I was three years on Talisman before I became an active participant, partly because of that indoctrination. The indoctrination is so strong that literally hundreds of Baha'is do not speak out when they feel inside like they really want to. There is this thing, which registers as fear, that prevents them. I think this deeply seated conditioning has a hold on Baha'is at some level, even those who participate on Talisman and say they are into open discussion. I guess my reaction to your comments on unity was an attempt to bring the assumptions that support that fear out into the open so that they can be seen for what they are - just assumptions, and not the assertion of solid spiritual principle grounded in Baha'u'llah.

> Surely, letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi should have
>been in a book on their own? By mixing them with quotes from the masters
>they have confused many. It will be a debating point for years to come

Yes, you are right, this is a big issue that will be debated for many years to come. And I agree that the publishing of books like Lights of Guidance is very problematic. It gives the idea that Baha'i law is something with ready-made answers. You ask the question, look up the relevant topic, and sure enough, there's the quote with the answer for you. I think it goes against everything Baha'u'llah taught. Baha'is haven't grasped the importance of spiritual principle.

Let's take Baha'u'llah's definition of justice, for example. He defines justice not in terms of result but in terms of *process*: justice is seeing with one's own eyes and knowing with one's own knowledge. The "right" answer is the one arrived at by this process. This is confirmed in the passage Juan has just translated from the Tablet of the Son. Baha'u'llah says:

"Say, people of the Bayan: Be fair. By God, your lord, the All Merciful! Aside from this divine youth, and the immortal manifestations who appeared in this dispensation, consider the Bayan in its entirety, and make your own judgment. Even if you are not, in the end, satisfied with the decree of God and what he revealed, God will nevertheless be pleased with your judgment if it is fair, so that perhaps an eye might be opened by justice and gaze toward God."

Baha'u'llah is asking the believers to make their own judgement, in deciding between Baha'u'llah and Azal. And he says that even if a person, as a result of a fair process, concludes that Azal was the manifestation, this would nevertheless be pleasing to God. Why? Because God is just and by accepting your honest appraisal of things, he proves his justice.

So you see, Lights of Guidance gives entirely the wrong idea of Baha'i law. It's not a matter of getting it right, but more of a matter of going through the inner process of honestly assessing a situation, making a decision and learning from the consequences. In the Iqan, Baha'u'llah says that knowledge is of two kinds: divine and satanic. Divine knowledge, he says, is governed by the spiritual principle: "Fear ye God, God will teach you". A person who follows their conscience and sincerely makes their way in the world doing the best they can is a person on the path to divine knowledge.

Alison


Date: Sat May 19, 2001 1:55 pm
Subject: judge by outward appearances

> "They say with their mouths what isn't in their hearts"

Baha'u'llah says we should not make these sorts of assertions about people. He says that if a person publically testifies that they believe in God and the truth of the pre-existent Beauty, then that is what they should be judged by. People should be judged by their "outward appearances." It is not for people to make judgements about a person's heart; only God is capable of describing that person, he says. Interestingly, Baha'u'llah says that opposing a person who openly declares their belief is "opposing God himself". This is because when a person testifies to their belief in God and Baha'u'llah, then God is shining through that person. Therefore, denying that person's testimony is denying God.

Alison

-----------

"Salman, the Absolute Truth has always judged the people according to outward appearances, and has commanded all the prophets and messengers to do the same. It is impermissible to do otherwise. For instance, consider a person who is at this moment a believer and a monotheist, such that the sun of divine unity is refulgent within him. He affirms and recognizes all the divine names and attributes and whatever the preexistent Beauty testifies to, he bears witness to that, for himself and by himself. In this station all descriptions are true and current in regard to him. Rather, no one is capable of describing him as he really is save God. All these descriptions refer to the effulgence that shone upon him from the sovereign of manifestation. In this station, should any of the people oppose him, they would be opposing God himself. For in him nothing can be seen save the divine effulgences, as long as he remains in this station. Should a bad word be said about him, the speaker would be a liar. After he rises in opposition, however, that effulgence that had been the basis for describing him, and all the other related attributes, depart to their own habitation. Now that individual is not the same person, for those attributes do not subsist in him. If you look with sharp eyes you will notice that not even his clothes are the same. For a believer, while he is believing in and affirming God, might be wearing clothes of cotton, but in God’s eyes they are of heavenly silk. But when he rises in opposition, they are transformed into the flaming tar of Gehenna. At this point, should anyone praise such an individual, he would be a liar and would be mentioned by God as among the people of hellfire."

-- Baha'u'llah: Commentary on a verse of Rumi


Date: Sun May 20, 2001 4:09 pm
Subject: Re: Role of the House of Justice

Dear Jim,

I see the role of the House of Justice pretty much like the role of the government of a western democracy, such as the New Zealand government. The New Zealand parliament makes laws and has an executive that administers the affairs of the country. In the Will and Testament, the House is given the role of legislator, to pass laws not covered in the Aqdas. Other than that, it is the administrative head of the Faith.

I know that some argue that because the institution of the House of Justice was created by Baha'u'llah and further refined by Abdu'l-Baha and the Guardian, it is a "sacred" institution. While I accept that it has divine sanction in that it was created by the Central Figures, I do not think that this means it has exclusive access to divine guidance, or that it or its members should be worshipped or held out as anything more than respected leaders of the community.

Nor do I think this puts it beyond criticism. I know that many Baha'is argue that criticising the House is the same as opposing the House, but I think this argument is ludicrous. Many people criticise their government or a policy promulgated by it and no one ever accuses them of treason. Arguments like that are medieval. Treason (or covenant breaking, in Baha'i terminology) is setting up an alternative administrative system or attempting to overthrow the government. This is miles and miles away from the act of critiquing it. The public of a country debates what its government says, and it does this to support the government not to oppose it. Participating in public debate is what one does in a civil society. It is the right and duty of responsible citizenship. It is consultation.

Moreover, just as the New Zealand government doesn't concern itself with my personal views, I don't believe it is the role of the House to concern itself with them either. This position is supported by the fact that the House of Justice is not an authoritative interpreter of scripture, therefore any view of scripture that it or its members hold is no more authoritative than mine or any other believer.

I strongly disagree with the notion that the House's messages have the same status as Baha'u'llah's writings. The House of Justice is not infallible like Baha'u'llah is. Again, I go back to the government analogy; what our respective governments say is important and is taken seriously by the public because it comes from the institution that is the head of that country. I think that's what Abdu'l-Baha means when he says that what the House decides is "of God". He is asking us to recognise it as the central authority. But he is not saying that its words are divine like Baha'u'llah's are.

If you have time to read Juan's book "Modernity and the Millennium", you can read that Baha'u'llah modelled the Baha'i institutions on the British parliament.

Alison


Date: Tue May 22, 2001 5:30 pm
Subject: Re: constitutional and democratic and mysticism

> Given scores of passages instructing Baha'is to this effect I can not accept
> your analysis. It contradicts the spirit and the letter of the
> Administrative practices, as currrently practised.

Kavian,

It doesn't matter how many passages you cite, the question is 'what is actually happening in reality?' Just because the writings say this and that should happen, doesn't mean that it is happening. Determining whether the facts fit the theory is the heart of scientific/academic enquiry. (That's essential Popper, BTW.)

The whole point of the principle of the harmony of science and religion is that issues relating to religion can stand up to the sort of scrutiny that matters examined by scientists can. The Cause of God does not have to be molly-coddled and protected in some sort of safe house away from the atheists and heretics. We're talking about God here. Every other aspect of God (ie science) is examined ruthlessly by humans, why shouldn't the religious manifestation of God's effulgence take that sort of treatment too? God creates humans; whatever they uncover in their scrutiny of religion will be what He ordains for them to discover.

It is a waste of time endlessly quoting from this passage and that. The purpose of Talisman is serious study of the Baha'i religion. That means we are here to examine what is actually happening in the Faith. We are not here to bore each other senseless with relentless assertions that such and such is happening just because so and so said it should.

Alison


Date: Sat May 26, 2001 10:24 am
Subject: constitution and rights

Juan: “See, that is the nub of the matter. This is where your position errs entirely. We do have a constitution in the Baha'i Faith, and it is the Writings of Baha'u'llah and of `Abdu'l-Baha. Shoghi Effendi's interpretations were often made on the fly and or intended to be only temporary or for some indivdual believer. But Baha'u'llah's and `Abdu'l-Baha's Writings have Constitutional status. And those Writings bestow a plethora of rights on individual Baha'is. Acquiescing in their destruction is a betrayal of the Blessed Beauty and the Master.”

Me: Yes, the Baha'i Faith does have a constitution. The House of Justice has a constitution and it is clear from that document that the House is subject to the writings of Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha.

"The province, the authority, the duties, the sphere of action of the Universal House of Justice all derive from the revealed Word of Baha'u'llah which, together with the interpretations and expositions of the Centre of the Covenant and of the Guardian of the Cause -- who, after Abdu'l-Baha, is the sole authority in the interpretation of Baha'i scripture -- constitute the binding terms of reference of the Universal House of Justice and are its bedrock foundation."

So if Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha gave the believers rights, then the House can't take them away without going against its own constitution, which states that the House is subject to what the Central Figures say. Constitutional rights do trump administrative interests. Each believer has the right to express his or her conscience, for example. If the administration doesn't like what the person says, well, it just has to live with it because to move against that person for expressing his or her views is a violation of that person's constitutional rights, given by Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha. It's in situations like this that the radical nature of Baha'u'llah's new world order shows its bite. Baha'u'llah was obviously super aware and concerned about the abuses of power by religious authorities. The Iqan is full of discussion on this theme.

Alison


Date: Sat May 26, 2001 3:39 pm
Subject: Baha'i civil constitution

Mark F said: >In that sense I agree with you. However, I had in mind a civil constitution,
>not a spiritual one (a Covenant).

But the Faith *does* have a civil constitution, and Juan's references to Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha's writings are an important part of that constitution -- they cannot be relegated to the spiritual sphere alone.

The civil constitution of the House of Justice is called "The Constitution of the Universal House of Justice". The civil constitution of the national spiritual assemblies is called (in New Zealand) "Declaration of Trust and By-laws of a National Spiritual Assembly". This document also includes the By-laws of a Local Spiritual Assembly. These three documents all refer to each other and are inter-related and together form the civil constitution of the Baha'i administration.

It is important to understand that when an assembly (local or national) is incorporated, its constitution becomes a legal document, recognised by the civil laws of the country in which it exists and under the legislation under which the assembly is incorporated. That is one of the important aspects of incorporation, the legal recognition of the constitution of the body by the state and the civil courts. In New Zealand, for example, the assemblies are incorporated under the Charitable Trusts Act and the Declaration of Trust of the assemblies is their constitution. I understand that in England, the assemblies are incorporated under the Companies Act. But in countries with the Westminster system, each assembly will be incorporated under a statute of that country designed to incorporate religious bodies and other societies (such as sports clubs, for example). In short, to be incorporated, you must have a constitution. The details of each constitution will vary with the requirements of the incorporating legislation, but each assembly must have a constitution.

If you read the Declaration of Trust of the assemblies, which has almost identical wording for each country because the Guardian wanted it that way, it says in Article II:

"... we declare the purposes and objects of this Trust to be to administer the affairs of the Cause of Baha'u'llah for the benefit of the Baha'is of (New Zealand) according to the principles of Baha'i affiliation and administration created and established by Baha'u'llah, defined and explained by Abdu'l-Baha, interpreted and amplified by Shoghi Effendi, and supplemented and applied by the Universal House of Justice."

It goes on in article II: "Other purposes and objects of this Trust are: All and whatsoever the several purposes and objects set forth in the written utterances of Baha'u'llah, Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, and enactments of the Universal House of Justice, under which certain jurisdiction, powers and rights are granted to National Spiritual Assemblies".

This constitutional network of documents from the House down to the local assemblies gives the writings of Baha'u'llah legal effect, from a civil law point of view. Effectively, the writings become legal documents and a part of civil law.

This means that in a case where a believer was to challenge a decision of an assembly in the civil courts, arguing that the decision was against that assembly's constitution, the courts would assess that decision in light of the writings and principles set out by Baha'u'llah. This is because the constitutions make it clear that the House and assemblies are subject to them.

In the future, when the believers challenge assembly decisions in the civil courts, we will have a situation were civil courts will be interpreting Baha'i scripture. Civil law will become a part of Baha'i law.

Alison


Date: Sun May 27, 2001 12:53 pm
Subject: moral compass

> Generally speaking, I think that we all have a personal moral compass. It
> is part of what makes us human.

Mark,

In fact, I understand Baha'u'llah to say that very few people have a moral compass. I agree that it is what makes us human, but I argue that it's a virtue that comes with the development of spirituality -- the ability to love passionately and have empathy for others. From what Baha'u'llah says, I would argue that having a moral compass is a grace for which one must become worthy.

Alison

---------

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)


Date: Mon May 28, 2001 8:21 am
Subject: Re: Democracy and Order

> Again, and as FYI, I grew up in
> post-revolutionary Iran, knew many of the Administrators of the Faith (and
> eventual martyrs) in Iran, including my own father, an American educated
> physician. I also know the totalitarian regimes very well having lived in
> one myself.

Yes, but Kavian, what you seem to be asssuming is that a person who has lived with abuse or oppression will not himself abuse or oppress. This is a myth. The opposite is more likely. A person who lives with abuse or oppression does not automatically have a moral compass or an innate or highly developed sense of justice. Such a person is very often seriously damaged by the experience. What happens is that they take on in their psyche the voice of the abuser or oppressor. This voice is called the critical super-ego. It's the little voice inside that goes around with you everywhere you go and tells you that you are not OK. It constantly criticises you, it paralyses you and makes you feel shame and guilt and makes you believe you are a non-person, unworthy of love and any good thing. That is the psychological damage of living with abuse or oppression. That voice takes on a reality inside the person and is manifested in many ways externally, such as being critical of others, strong adherence to obedience and to authority. But the voice is an illusion, and this is what the person needs to discover in order to be healed.

I think the Baha'i community hasn't yet shaken off the effects of the oppression it suffered under the Islamic fundamentalists. The Baha'is argue they know all about oppression, and no, they would never oppress. But I think that the opposite senario is more likely.

Alison


Date: Mon May 28, 2001 10:44 pm
Subject: Re: British parliament

George, why don't you read the book first, before shouting at us about all this and making wild and irrelevant accusations about review and Juan's abilities. The book is full of documentary evidence; it is devoted to precisely that.

Anyway, the guts of the matter was that Baha'u'llah wanted his assemblies to be run on consultaton and reason and he wanted power to rest with the people - such as where the people choose their government in an election. He didn't want his community run by dictators. He'd had a guts full of them in his lifetime.

Alison


Date: Sat Jun 16, 2001 11:04 am
Subject: Re: Now I'm a believer

Dear Milissa,

I suffered from depression off and on for much of my life, until about three or so years ago. Although I had pretty much beaten it by then, the final nail in the coffin was the day I realised in my soul - in my very being, so to speak - that God was in control of what goes on in the world and not human beings. You see, humans are imperfect and unjust and they will deny us what we need when we are desperate for it. So for me, I would go into despair at times when I really needed something, usually affection and comfort. And the thinking would go that I needed something like my life depended on it, but I could never trust that an imperfect human would give it to me. Sometimes a person would, sometimes not.

But then one day when I was lying on my bed thinking about giving it all away, it suddenly dawned on me that whether things were one way or another *in reality* had nothing to do with human beings and everything to do with God. Everything happens with the permission of God. The writings tell us over and over that all gifts are from the Source, which is God. Gifts do not come from humans; humans are just the vehicles by which God grants his bestowals. I lifted my head off the pillow and thought that the mistake I had been making was to think that I had to ask for what I needed from humans. No, I should ask for what I needed from God, and some human or other will grant it when and if God willed it.

"Ask whatsoever thou wishest from Him alone; seek whatsoever thou seekest from Him alone. With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a glimpse he layeth balm on every wound, with a nod He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief." -- Abdu'l-Baha

And so it is with the state of the Baha'i community. It is a spiritual desert, but it is that way by the permission of God. As Baha'u'llah says in many, many places, the way the world is could be different at any moment if God wished it: "And if I wish to invert the contingent beings within less than a twinkling of an eye, I am indeed able." (Suratu'l Haykal) So although things are very bad in the Baha'i community right now, God could make things different in an instant if he chose to do so. This way of looking at things, for me, removes my sense of hopelessness and despair because it takes power away from those who currently have temporal authority in the community. They seem so big and powerful and impervious to change and growth, but in reality, they are powerless. They rule at God's good pleasure. And God says that there is nothing in the world except that He controls its storehouse.

The folly of humans is that they believe themselves to be powerful and independent, and forget that all that pertains to them is bestowed at the permission of God. Baha'u'llah has a wonderful image of this: "Say, the maxim of my creatures is likened unto that of the leaves of a tree -- they appear and feel themselves independent but of their root they are negligent." (Suratu'l-Haykal) "Say, O servant, fear God who created and fashioned thee, and seek not to emulate God" -- in other words, remember that you are not powerful and independent, but a vassal, and that all that pertains to you comes from Him.

Baha'u'llah used to always say that he would never ask any person for anything, that he would rely on God. That's because he knew that humans were powerless; in fact, they were all his creatures and he let them oppress him. Humans do not grant any favour unless God commands them too. Similarly, the House of Justice cannot grant any favour. If, for example, God willed for me to be a member of the Baha'i community, then that is what I would become. People ask why I don't write the House and ask them why they expelled me or what I could do to get back in. The reason is that if I want anything, I ask God for it, not the House of Justice. I don't need to ask the House for anything, they will do as God says.

I therefore accept the current state of the community because it is the way it is at the permission of God, and I don't feel helpless about it unless I slip back into thinking that the institutions are in control and not God. However, even though I accept the way things are, I still yearn and pray for change. God hears my prayers and those of others and grants wishes as he pleases.

Alison


Date: Fri Jun 29, 2001 10:15 pm
Subject: robots and truth

>It seems to me that for there to be successful teaching we need superior
>robots teaching lesser robots who obey and do their jobs looking to
>neither left nor right. --Cal

This image of the Baha'is as robots reminded me of a passage from Abdu'l-Baha in Secret of Divine Civilisation. Among his many excellent arguments is that it is a waste of time spreading the faith by the sword. He was speaking to Muslims, of course, and encouraging them to promote the Word of God. He thought they were slack on this score and showed how well the Christians were doing. Apparently, some Muslims argued that teaching should be done using the sword, and used this tradition for their support: "I am a Prophet by the sword". But Abdu'l-Baha argued that gaining an adherent using the sword results in "a man who is outwardly a believer, and inwardly a traitor and apostate".

I think the Baha'is would do well to look at the principle Abdu'l-Baha is advocating here. Not that the Baha'is use force as a conversion method, but they do use a culture of fear to keep members in line and teach the faith dishonestly, advocating for human rights to trick people into joining a community where rights are not valued. Such means may increase numbers a bit, but they don't produce adherents who have been touched on the inside. Many who declare leave soon afterwards, before the fear and socialisation gets a firm hold.

One interesting thing I've found is just how much the fact of my expulsion is effective for telling people about Baha'u'llah's marvelous revelation. First up, people's interest is caught because of the injustice of the expulsion, but then I say how much I love Baha'u'llah anyway and this creates an interest in Him. I explain that although the administration is fundamentalist and dishonouring Baha'u'llah's principles, nevertheless he is a manifestation of God. People understand that. They can see how people always get their founders wrong. I think truth speaks to people. If you go bla bla bla peace and love and show people a world of perfection like a Seventh Day Adventist pamphlet, they won't believe what you say.

Alison


Date: Mon Jul 2, 2001 8:32 pm
Subject: Re: Why be a Baha'i?

Alex said:
>Baha'is are allowed (oops: required) to read the
>Old and New Testaments as metaphors, why can't we read Baha'i
>scriptures as metaphors?

Baha'u'llah's used a very similar argument, which he put to the Muslims. He said that if they complained about him (Baha'u'llah) taking a figurative interpretation of Christian scripture (such as the stars falling), then they had no cause to complain about the Christians, who complained about the Muslims not taking the Gospels literally. The Christians, of course, did not recognise Muhammad because he did not impose Christian law and faith, and float down from the sky, in accordance with their expectations.

"If the Muslim divines should say that these words are from God and have no figurative interpretation, but must, rather, be understood in an entirely literal fashion, then how can they object to the stance of the unbelievers among the People of the Book? [Jews and Christians] For it is because the latter saw the passages in their Book that we quoted to you, which their clergy explained literally, that they failed to acknowledge God in the manifestations of his unity, the Dawning-Places of his transcendence and the temples of his abstraction." Baha'u'llah: Gems of the Mysteries

The fact is that if the Baha'is want to take a literal, and frankly ridiculous, interpretation of the passage in the W&T, then they have no argument against the Muslims who say Baha'u'llah is not a manifestation because Muhammad was the seal and no prophet would come after him. Both are literal interpretations and lead to conclusions that are not in accord with reason.

Alison


Date: Wed Jul 4, 2001 8:02 am
Subject: the covenant

The Prophet said: Allah the Almighty said: "I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assembly better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm's length, I draw near to him a fathom's length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed." -- Abu Hurairah

Dear all,

I post above what I consider to be a very beautiful hadith qudsi (that's a hadith where Muhammad speaks as if he is God).

I know when the Baha'is hear the word "covenant", they think the W&T. I think this is a real shame because that's only the legal aspect of the covenant and it is secondary to the spiritual aspect of it.

I think this hadith captures something of that spiritual dimension. A covenant is a two-way thing; it's not about "do as you're told and watch out if you don't", where the only part God gets to play is the mean father. God's covenant with us is a recognition of the relationship between lovers, where we and God each play both the part of the lover and the beloved. We love God and God loves us. We yearn for God and God yearns for us.

I think this hadith captures something of that passionate love affair going on between us and God. When I think about the idea of God coming to me at speed when I come walking, I have this image of a shadow in front of me that, although it belongs to me, is independant of me and comes rushing to embrace me. It brings home just how near God is to us and what a generous partner he is in the covenant.

The hadith also shows us that if we think of God as being a mean father, then he will play that part for us. But that has nothing to with God and everything to do with how we limit him to that role, and create our own miserable reality in doing so.

Alison


Date: Thu Jul 5, 2001 8:22 am
Subject: Re: [talisman9] the covenant

Dear Aziz,

Yes, I agree, fundamentalism with regard to Baha'i administration is not the same as faithfulness in the covenant. As you have demonstrated, if Baha'i administration was so important to the covenant, why didn't Baha'u'llah include reference to the House of Justice in the Hidden Words? That book is the essence of religion clothed in brevity; if House infallibility was fundamental to the revelation, I would have thought it would rate a mention there. (In fact, there's no mention of it in any of Baha'u'llah's writings.)

Instead, as your second quote demonstrates, Baha'u'llah tells us to renounce the world -- and that includes Baha'i administration. We are asked to be *detached* from Baha'i administration, not to laud it as fundamental to the covenant! Being detached from it (along with everything else in the world) is what the covenant asks of us. This theme of immersing ourselves in the spirit and detaching from the world weaves its way all through the Hidden Words.

Daniela, the writings say repeatedly that the only thing we need is nearness to God, so I'm not surprised you warmed to a quote that referred to that. The tragic thing is that people don't talk about nearness to God very much, given that it is *fundamental*!

Alison


Date: Sat Jul 7, 2001 8:51 am
Subject: Re: Why Baha'u'llah didn't....

Juan said:
>Alison's point was that when Baha'u'llah spoke of personal *ethics*,
>he stressed the autonomy of the private person. Each of us is to see
>with our own eyes and hear with our own ears. We are to avoid
>blind obedience (taqlid) to anyone else.

That's right. The idea that we should blindly follow our religious authorities is not a part of the Hidden Words. It is not a part of the covenant and it is not a part of Baha'u'llah's revelation. Baha'u'llah abhorred the idea. Below I've posted an old Talisman message from Juan, which contains some quotes condemning blind obedience. I have found a couple of others from Baha'u'llah:

"When, however, the veils of imaginings encompassed the people, they neglected to meditate upon all this. Indeed, they were heedless of the Cause of their Lord. Say: O people, act not as did the people of the Qur'an, and never surrender the reins of your insight into the hands of anyone else. Seize upon the grace proffered you in these days, and see with your own eyes. Turn not upon your heels when the verses of your Lord are recited, nor be of those who reject the signs of God and hurl derision from where they sit." (Surah of Sacrifice (Suratu'dh-Dhibh)

"Say to Ibn Nabil from Us, if thou findest in his visage the radiance of grace: O servant, hesitate not in this Cause, and follow no one in so doing. Then look with fresh eyes at the proofs of the Messengers." (Surah of the Companions (Surat al-ashab))

Alison

----------------

Date: Tue, 12 Dec 1995 00:40:18 -0500 (EST)
From: Juan R Cole
To: talisman@i...
Subject: conscience, blind obedience, and Luther

1. I do not believe it is ever right for an individual to abdicate his or her own conscience, which is to say, to do something she or he believes absolutely wrong, because he or she has been told to do so by some other person or body. This principle was established in international law by the Nuremburg Convention. The Friends may know that enemies of the Faith in Germany have accused Baha'is of fascism (which, in Germany, is an actionable offense), and I am dismayed that Baha'is should take any stances that might lend credence to this outrageous calumny (no one on Talisman, certainly, could be so characterized).

In Roman Catholicism, there was (and is) a debate over whether an individual believer must adbdicate his or her own conscience if so ordered by the Church. Thomas of Aquinas adopted the position that the conscience of the individual is inviolable. His has not always, however, been the reigning view within the Church, though this aspect of his legacy has been championed by reformers like Hans Kung. During the past month or so Pope John Paul II appears to have been attempting to invoke papal infallibility so as to silence the numerous Roman Catholics who have problems of conscience with regard to current Church bans on birth control and on ordination of women to the priesthood.

I agree that any Baha'i who might not feel in good conscience able to agree with a ruling of the House could be liable to administrative sanctions. But if one's conscience does not allow one to obey, then one must face the music. I do not advocate that such a stance should be taken lightly. But neither may one lightly give up one's own conscience.

2) With regard to the principle of blind obedience (taqlid) of religious authority, Baha'u'llah abrogated it. He did not abrogate it in Islam only to re-institute it in the Baha'i Faith in an even more Draconian form.

Seven Valleys, p. 5: "It is incumbent on these servants that they cleanse the heart--which is the wellspring of divine treasures--from every marking, and that they turn away from imitation (taqlid), which is following the traces of their forefathers and sires, and shut the door of friendliness and enmity upon all the people of the earth."

Gleanings LXXV: Tear asunder, in My Name, the veils that have grievously blinded your vision, and, through the power born of your belief in the unity of God, scatter the idols of vain imitation (asnam-i taqlid).

Gleanings p. 166: Such men have been, and will continue to remain, the victims of blind imitation (ahl-i taqlid)

Iqan pp. 73-74: Consider how men have for generations been blindly imitating their fathers (bar taqlid-i aba')

Iqan, p. 183: Muslim divines have "blindly submitted" (taqlidan) to the truth of Muhammad, but would reject the Bab even if he gave the same answers as the former.

Iqan p. 155: he would have preferred to suffer death than violate one letter of those superstitious forms (umur-i taqlidiyyih) and manners current amongst his people

Baha'u'llah clearly insisted that individuals make up their own minds about religious issues, in an impartial and fair-minded way, unswayed by authorities such as their forebears or ecclesiastical figures.

In addition, Abdu'l-Baha on more than one occasion affirmed the necessity of and goodness of "freedom of opinion" and "liberty of conscience" (azadigi-yi vujdan); these passages can be found toward the end of *A Traveller's Narrative* and throughout *Promulgation of Univesal Peace*.

There is, in short, a profound difference between the necessity for every Baha'i to recognize the legitimate authority of the Universal House of Justice to legislate for the community and make decisions as Head of the faith, and the idea that any individual can ever legitimately hand his or her conscience over to others to do with as they please.

3) With regard to Luther, `Abdu'l-Baha gets the last say:

Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 42: "Luther's position . . . was demonstrably correct . . ." (re: abolition of celibacy, iconoclasm, simplification of ritual)

cheers Juan Cole, History, University of Michigan


Date: Sat Jul 7, 2001 5:53 pm
Subject: about the heart

Joseph Chilton Pearce (author / researcher) in an interview about his latest book, Evolution's End.

I can't in a brief time share with you the full implications of neurocardiology except to say three things. First, about sixty to sixty-five percent of all the cells in the heart are neural cells which are precisely the same as in the brain, functioning in precisely the same way, monitoring and maintaining control of the entire mind/brain/body physical process as well as direct unmediated connections between the heart and the emotional, cognitive structures of the brain. Secondly, the heart is the major endocrine glandular structure of the body, which Roget found to be producing the hormones that profoundly affect the operations of body, brain, and mind. Thirdly, the heart produces two and a half watts of electrical energy at each pulsation, creating an electromagnetic field identical to the electromagnetic field around the earth. The electromagnetic field of the heart surrounds the body from a distance of twelve to twenty-five feet outward and encompasses power waves such as radio and light waves which comprise the principle source of information upon which the body and brain build our neural conception and perception of the world itself. This verifies all sorts of research from people such as Karl Pribram over a thirty year period, and opens up the greatest mystery we'll ever face.

Joseph Chilton Pearce is well-known as author of six books: The Crack in the Cosmic Egg; Exploring the Crack in the Cosmic Egg; Magical Child; Magical Child Matures; Bond of Power; and Evolution's End.

The above quote was taken from: http://www.ratical.org/many_worlds/JCP98.html


Date: Tue Jul 10, 2001 12:28 pm
Subject: Baha'u'llah's knowledge

From Juan Cole:
>Baha'u'llah was not omniscient. He could not even answer Haji Muhammad
>Karim Khan until he found a copy of his book in Baghdad, according to his
>own admission in the Book of Certitude. Arguments that we can't "impose
>limits" on what Baha'u'llah "thought" are just a form of special pleading
>and extreme fundamentalism.

Abdu'l-Baha explains in Some Answered Questions (p. 218) that the Manifestations have three conditions:

1. the physical condition; this is subject to limitations just like any other human. Baha'u'llah talks about the manifestation suffering from poverty and oppression and physical deprivation.

2. the rational soul; Abdu'l-Baha explains that this is the intellectual faculty in humans, where we investigate reality and reflect on it and thereby uncover mysteries and so forth. The characteristic of this kind of faculty is that it involves the struggle for knowledge. This is the realm of sciences and arts.

3. the "manifestation of perfection and of the lordly splendour". Elsewhere, Abdu'l-Baha describes this faculty as intuitive (p. 157). The characteristic of this faculty is that knowledge comes not through striving and investigation, but through consciousness. He explains that it is like the way humans are conscious of themselves - the condition of their bodies, their feelings and so forth. With this faculty, you "know" something because you surround it, in the same way that humans "surround" the mineral, animal and vegetable kingdoms. With this faculty, knowledge is a gift. It comes from simply understanding and being aware of mysteries, realities and signs.

Baha'u'llah says in the Hidden Words that we are made in the image of God. Manifestation-humans and ordinary humans share all three faculties. In all three faculties ordinary humans are limited, but in manifestation-humans, the first and second faculties are limited while the third faculty is perfect. Baha'u'llah had to read newspapers and so on, because that kind of information came from faculty 2. Baha'u'llah had to investigate things to get information about them.

Juan's book "Modernity and the Milliennium" focuses on the realm of faculty 2. It is about a science, the science of history. So when you read it, it seems like it is saying that Baha'u'llah was just a person like others and not a prophet. But that's not what it's saying. It's just that the book is not overtly about Baha'u'llah's third faculty. Books about Baha'u'llah's third faculty would be more like mystical treatises.

The terrible, tragic and persistent injustice daily heaped upon Juan by fundamentalists is that they say Juan is not a believer just because he is a scholar that focuses on the realm of faculty 2. The House of Justice says that those who study faculty 2 knowledge do "materialistic" scholarship. And they say this just because they can't see any reference to faculty 3.

It's childish thinking. But anyone with any faculty 3 insight, would see immediately that Modernity and Milliennium is a "sign" of Baha'u'llah's divinity. As Juan pointed out in his reply to Amin, some academics have accused him of being an apologist for Baha'u'llah. These academics say this because they sense the power flowing from the spiritual sign hidden in the book.

Alison


Date: Sat Jul 14, 2001 10:41 am
Subject: Re: untranslated writings

Dear David,

Baha'u'llah says in Gleanings that the Word of God has infinite meaning. My thinking is that the process of finding a meaning for ourselves and the process of walking our spiritual path are part of the same path. That probably sounds trite, but for me, the process of discovering that fact within myself has challenged me to the very core.

For me, the writings broke open like an egg shell when I was confronted with a situation that my conscience couldn't put to bed. And that was what happened to some of the members of this list back in 1996, when a number of them were threatened with covenant breaking. It simmered away in my heart til early 1998, when I couldn't hold my silence about it any more. I had been on Talisman since 1994 and had for two years read its messages and grown to love it and its participants. So to see them wretched and losing faith was too much for me. I had to do something.

I began to speak out. I searched the writings and my heart and mind for arguments explaining why what had happened was wrong and against the writings. The effort lead me to increase my knowledge of the Faith exponentially. It also exploded my limited self-esteem. In one sense, I was terrified; in another, I was passionately devoted to the goal of vindicating those whose reputations had been destroyed. This is why love is crucial in the spiritual path, because it is the force that drives us to lose sight of limitations and act in ways that, if we were in our right minds, we would find numerous reasons not to.

This experience is the reason I link study in the writings with the spiritual path. I think when there is something going on in our lives that really matters and we desperately want answers or change, then we start the search Baha'u'llah discusses in the Seven Valleys. And he says in the Iqan that the qualities of longing desire, passionate devotion and fervent love are what the seeker needs before God's loving kindness is wafted upon our soul. At that point, the meaning in the writings begins to flood in like a tsunami.

And the meaning of the word "teaching" takes on a whole new dimension too. In a desperate attempt to stop yourself from drowning, you are compelled to express the amazing new things you see. The energy invested in that expression affects people, who light up because of it.

Alison


Date: Mon Jul 16, 2001 11:36 am
Subject: Re: omniscience

I want to address the idea that by recognising that Baha'u'llah had limits, we thereby make him less God-like. Instinctively or unconsciously, we assume that if Baha'u'llah wasn't omniscient, then he couldn't have been a manifestation of God. Given that God is exalted beyond all attributes and no limits can be ascribed to Him, it stands to reason that the idea of limits must detract from the idea of God. We are told that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and so forth, so how could we call someone with limits a manifestation of God?

Ibn al-`Arabi has a classic argument for this one. He argues that yes, God is exalted above all attributes and cannot be said to be limited in any way. God is "incomparable". However, Ibn al-`Arabi argues, if God cannot be limited, it also follows that he cannot be limited by his freedom. This means that if God wants to, he can limit himself and not be free. God, therefore, can be both unlimited and limited. He has the ability to limit himself, despite being unlimited.

And this is what God does, he limits himself. Why does he do this? Because if God were only transcendent or beyond limits, how could limited human beings ever approach him, be near to him, or ever know him? In fact, out of his abundant love and grace, God accepts limitations in order to bring himself near to each of us. His act of doing this is a supreme act of love. Who are we, imperfect and unworthy as we are, that the Supreme Being should do this for us? But he does. It's in the contrast of opposite attributes that we can see beauty -- the contrast of the Most Powerful accepting to manifest himself as the Wronged One.

"Likewise God the Exalted, appears in the clothing of his creatures. This is through His favor, so that His servants may not flee from Him, but that they may approach Him and rest in His presence, hear His wonderful melodies and be benefitted by that which proceeds from His mouth, and by that which He reveals unto them from the heaven of His will." -- Baha'u'llah, Tablet of the Manifestation

Ibn al-`Arabi also argues that the sign of the true lover is that the lover will take on the attributes of the beloved one. A lover that is not true will expect the beloved one to take on the attributes of the lover. In other words, the insincere lover will stand aloof from the beloved and expect them to move. If God was like this, He would have remained in his transcendent state and not bothered with us.

"The sincere lover is he who passes into the attributes of the beloved, not he who brings the beloved down to his own attributes. Do you not see that the Real, when He loved us, descended to us in His hidden gentleness by means of that which corresponds to us and above which His eminence and greatness are exalted?" Ibn al-`Arabi, quoted in Chittick: The Sufi Path of Knowledge p72

In accepting human limitations, Baha'u'llah and God (as one) demonstrate a supreme love for us. If we insist that Baha'u'llah can't be God because he was limited, we reject the most great gift of his own Self and Person present as one of us. It's hard to hold within ourselves the reality of God appearing among us as a person, and seeking our company and companionship. But such is God's unlimited grace.

Alison


Date: Tue Jul 17, 2001 5:20 pm
Subject: Re: omniscience (from Alison)

Dear Gary,

You ask: does Baha'u'llah claim to be the mouthpiece of the All-Knowing?

I say yes, he does. Baha'u'llah tells us that because the Essence of God is exalted beyond creation, God sends manifestations of himself in order that humans may learn about God from them.

And he says in one passage that we should regard the manifestations and the Unknowable Essence as one and the same:

"The essence of belief in Divine unity consisteth in regarding Him Who is the Manifestation of God and Him Who is the invisible, the inaccessible, the unknowable Essence as one and the same. By this is meant that whatever pertaineth to the former, all His acts and doings, whatever He ordaineth or forbiddeth, should be considered, in all their aspects, and under all circumstances, and without any reservation, as identical with the Will of God Himself." (Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, Page: 167)

He doesn't mean that the manifestation is literally the same as the Essence of God, but rather that, because the Essence of God is unknowable to humans, the manifestation is the closest we humans get to the Essence. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the manifestation can be regarded as God. This is why Baha'u'llah speaks as though he is the mouthpiece of the All-Knowing. The passage explains that whatever pertains to the manifestation should be considered identical with what pertains to God, but it doesn't mean that the manifestation *is* God.

You ask whether Baha'u'llah had supernatural knowledge. As I explained in an earlier message, Abdu'l-Baha tells us that manifestations have three conditions - essentially, the physical, intellectual and spiritual.

People find it difficult to understand the distinction between the intellectual and spiritual conditions. The intellectual condition is the realm of the rational faculty - that is, the five senses plus the faculty of reflection. The spiritual condition is a faculty of consciousness. If Baha'u'llah had "supernatural" knowledge, this is where he had it. He just knew things about reality. In the same way that you can sit and contemplate your body, emotions, aspirations, and have a sense about what you need to do in your life and so on, that is the kind of knowing that is being referred to here.

It is the mystical realm, and in order to access knowledge on this plane one needs to take seriously injunctions such as "Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart". Without such preconditions, this kind of knowledge is blocked off. Mostly people don't think the injunctions in the Hidden Words are for real, so they ignore them. But without the heart, the third condition and spiritual knowledge are inaccessible. It is a whole dimension that the intellect cannot get to by itself. Most people use their intellect alone to try to understand spirituality and don't realise that they are failing. It is the realm of love, passion, yearning, fear, insight, humanity - it's not a realm you get to through the intellect. This is the realm where Baha'u'llah's divinity becomes truly manifest. But unless a person unlocks this realm within themselves, they won't see it in Baha'u'llah.

What's wrong with believing that Baha'u'llah is God? Nothing. Baha'u'llah says in a tablet that those who think he is God are right and those who think he isn't God are right. What's wrong is calling each other non-believers.

That's the problem here. The House of Justice has basically accused Juan of being a disbeliever because he wrote a book that doesn't openly talk about Baha'u'llah's divinity. And they do this because they are fundamentalists. Being a fundamentalist is about accusing someone of heresy for their beliefs, not about having a particular take on Baha'u'llah's divinity.

Alison


Date: Wed Jul 18, 2001 9:21 am
Subject: response to Jo (from Alison)

>We should not be manipulated into waisting our time arguing over the
>AO but rather producing scholarship which moves the Baha'i Faith into
>the future if it is to survive at all. That's who the Talisman's
>really are. Jo

Dear Jo,

Yes, I agree with this. I think the best way to bring about change in the community is to work on projects that are a positive expression of our spirituality.

For me, for example, rather than focus on the lack of devotions in the local Baha'i community, I participate now in regular weekly devotional meetings with other local believers. Our meetings have nothing to do with the administration, but I believe they are having an enormous spiritual impact on the Baha'i community here.

Baha'u'llah says that: "The mere act of your gathering together is enough to scatter the forces of these vain and worthless people." It took me ages to realise that Baha'u'llah is telling us that if we harness *his* power, rather than try to use our own, change can be brought about the easy way (and, in reality, the only way). All we are required to do is to ignore the kill-joys who try to stop us from expressing our spirituality and just express our inner god-person anyway - and keep doing it. In doing this, we are walking the path asked of us, whereby we realise the attributes of God within ourselves, and at the same time, we release spiritual energy that affects the rest of humanity. The developing of spiritual attributes and the expression of them is the essence of power, I think.

As you say, Talisman is also a place where members can discuss the Cause and express their spirituality. This has tremendous power and, I feel sure, has huge repercussions for change in the Baha'i community.

Alison


Date: Thu Jul 19, 2001 3:34 pm
Subject: Re: omniscience

Dear Gary,

You raise many issues. I can't respond to them all at once. I'll try though to say something that'll touch on the heart of what you are saying.

First up, I want to say that your courage in asking questions that go to the heart of your search, and the vulnerability that goes with that, is exactly what progress on the path is all about. Sincerity is the key. You may feel that you don't know what it means to recognise Baha'u'llah, but you are doing the right thing to find out.

Baha'u'llah says in the Iqan that there are two kinds of knowledge: divine and satanic. Divine knowledge is governed by the principle: Fear God and God will guide you. It doesn't matter what one's beliefs are; what is important is the *state of being* that we take on in relation to knowledge. You may recall Juan telling us about a week ago that Baha'u'llah said that if a person should, after a sincere search, honestly choose Azal over Baha'u'llah, God would be pleased with that person.

We need only to make a sincere effort to the best of our ability. As we walk along our spiritual path, remaining open and asking questions, then our state of being becomes increasingly refined. We develop the attributes of God and our "recognition" of Baha'u'llah becomes ever more acute. The idea that we recognise Baha'u'llah when we declare and then that is that, is nonsense. Recognising Baha'u'llah is an eternal process.

As for recognising the manifestation, I would say that in essence the process is one where we discover our humanity or divinity within ourselves and then recognise those qualities in another. Baha'u'llah tells us in Gleanings that God has placed in everything a "sign" of divinity. It is through this sign that we recognise the manifestation.

"Thou hast asked Me concerning the nature of the soul. Know, verily, that the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel. It is the first among all created things to declare the excellence of its Creator, the first to recognize His glory, to cleave to His truth, and to bow down in adoration before Him." (Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, Pages: 158-159)

"Suffer not yourselves to be wrapt in the dense veils of your selfish desires, inasmuch as I have perfected in every one of you My creation, so that the excellence of My handiwork may be fully revealed unto men. It follows, therefore, that every man hath been, and will continue to be, able of himself to appreciate the Beauty of God, the Glorified." (Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, Page: 143)

It is the soul that recognises God because God has placed in our souls a sign of his perfection. In recognising the manifestation, then, the process is one of awakening ourselves to this perfection that resides in us. The Hidden Word where Baha'u'llah asks us to remember the tree under which we heard him speak to us is a reference to God placing in our souls in pre-existence this sign of divinity.

"O MY FRIENDS! Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all-glorious paradise? Awe-struck ye listened as I gave utterance to these three most holy words: O friends! Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired for you, and approach Me not with lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings. Would ye but sanctify your souls, ye would at this present hour recall that place and those surroundings, and the truth of My utterance should be made evident unto all of you." (Baha'u'llah: Persian Hidden Words, Page: 19)

You see that Baha'u'llah is asking us to wake up and recall within ourselves that Reality and Truth that has been placed in there. It is an inner process to do with facing our fears, guilt, anger, shame and so forth, and realising that those things are illusions that need to be replaced with the Reality of God's attributes.

Mostly, people think that religion is about *putting on* a reality defined for them from outside, by the social organisation of religion. But that's not what Baha'u'llah is saying. He is saying the very opposite. He asks us to reject the social realities given us by tradition and society (renounce the world) and look ONLY at the spiritual reality we experience within us. "Abide not but in the rose-garden of the spirit."

It seems to me that the very essence of the religious struggle is the fight between the pressures external to us, that tell us what to do, and the pressures within our own selves that tell us what we feel and believe is right. Baha'u'llah says we must listen to ourselves, for it is through our own selves that God speaks to us and by which we know him. And if we are true to ourselves in this way, we will necessarily be guided to the manifestation. It is a law: like seeketh like and the company of its kind.

To illustrate this: in Gems of the Mysteries, Baha'u'llah explains that if we want to attain to the station of faith, we must understand the reason why the manifestations are persecuted:

"First of all, you must contemplate the reasons for which the diverse communities now dwelling upon the earth failed to recognize the messengers whom God sent forth by his power, whom he commissioned to establish his cause and whom he rendered the lamp of his pre-eternity in the niche of divine unity. Why did they turn away from them, oppose them, contend with them, and wage war upon them? By what proof did they refuse to acknowledge either their mission or their authority? Rather, they disbelieved in them and poured out invectives upon them, finally murdering them or driving them into exile.

O wanderer in the wilderness of knowledge and passenger on the ark of wisdom, if you remain ignorant of the answer to this question, you will never attain to the station of faith, nor will you acquire certitude concerning the Cause of God, the manifestations of his Command, The Dawning-Places of his decree, the Repositories of his revelation and the Mines of his knowledge. You would join the ranks of those who failed to struggle for the Cause of God, who never inhaled the fragrance of faith from the cloak of certainty, and who never scaled the heights of God's oneness or attained to the stations of divine uniqueness in the temples of his praise and the essences of abstraction."

And the answer? Because the people looked for answers from their religious leaders rather than seeking answers for themselves from the Word itself and from within their souls:

"Therefore, O my friend, strive to attain a knowledge of this station, that your heart may be freed from the veils enveloping it, and that you might be among those whose sight God has made sharp. Then will you witness the origins of the realm of power and discover the mysteries of the kingdom of God and the signs of divinity even in the realms of humanity. You will arrive at the station wherein you can see no defect in the creation, or any flaw in the heavens and the earth. Now that the discussion has reached this pathless and most exalted station, and we have made this difficult and sublime allusion, know that because such peoples as the Jews and the Christians failed to recognize the inner meaning of the divine Word or to comprehend that which God has promised them in his Book, they denied the Cause of God, shunned his messengers and rejected his proofs. Had they gazed at the proof itself, rather than following those of their clergy and rulers who were only scoundrels and reprobates, they would have attained to the repository of guidance and piety. Then would they have quaffed from the waters of life in the city of the All-merciful, in the garden of the All-Praised, and in the reality of paradise. However, they failed to behold the proof with their own eyes, with which God endowed them, and coveted other than what he desired for them in his grace. For this reason, they grew remote from the canopies of his nearness and were denied the fountain of union with him and the spring of his favor. They were dead, enwrapped in the shrouds of their base selves."

Alison


Date: Fri Jul 20, 2001 5:41 pm
Subject: from Abdu'l-Baha

Utterances of Abdu'l-Baha in answer to questions asked by Dr Edward C. Getsinger during a few brief meetings in Haifa, Syria, January 26 to February 5, 1915, and recorded by Dr. Getsinger at the time.

"No obstacle should be placed before any soul which might prevent it from finding the truth. Baha'o'llah revealed his directions, teachings, and laws, so that souls might know God, and not that any utterance might become an obstacle in their way.

Holding to the letter of the law is many times an indication of a desire for leadership. One who assumes to be the enforcer of the law shows an intellectual understanding of the Cause, but that spiritual guidance in them is not yet established.

The alphabet of things is for children, that they may in time use their reasoning powers. "Following the spirit" is a guidance by and through the heart, the prompter of the spirit. The Pharisees were extremely orthodox, holding strictly to the law. They were the cause of the condemnation and ultimate crucifixion of Jesus.

Several times tablets have been written to some friends regarding a small detail in the work of the Cause, which they might attend to, such as reporting about Ezelies, nakazeen, et al., and now we hear that such tablets are used as a proof of their authority over the friends in those regions. Although the books and writings of Abul Fazl are used in many countries as text books, never did he even give a sign that he was an authority on any subject, consequently the gifts of God ever increased upon him, since he bore all honors in humility, until he attained to the supreme nearness. The ones in real authority are known by their humility and self-sacrifice and show no attitude of superiority over the friends. Some time ago a tablet was written stating that none are appointed to any authority to do anything but to serve the Cause as true servants of the friends - and for this no tablet is necessary; such service when true and unselfish, requires no announcement, nor following, nor written document. Let the servant be known by his deeds, by his life!

To be approved of God alone should be one's aim.

When God calls a soul to high station, it is because that soul has capacity for that station as a gift of God, and because that soul has supplicated to be taken into His service. No envies, jealousies, calumnies, slanders, plots, nor schemes, will ever move God to remove a soul from its intended place, for by the grace of God, such actions on the part of the people are the test of the servant, testing his strength, forbearance, endurance and sincerity under adversity. At the same time those who show forth envies, jealousies, etc., toward a servant, are depriving themselves of their own stations, and not another of his, for they prove by their own acts that they are not only unworthy of being called to any station awaiting them, but also prove that they cannot withstand the very first test - that of rejoicing over the success of their neighbor, at which God rejoices. Only by such a sincere joy can the gift of God descend unto a pure heart. Envy closes the door of Bounty, and jealousy prevents one from ever attaining to the Kingdom of Abha.

No! Before God! No one can deprive another of his rightful station, that can only be lost by one's unwillingness or failure to do the will of God, or by seeking to use the Cause of God for one's own gratification or ambition. No one save a severed soul or a sincere heart finds response from God. By assisting in the success of another servant in the Cause does one in reality lay the foundation for one's own success and aspirations. Ambitions are an abomination before the Lord.

How regrettable! Some even use the affairs of the Cause and its activities as a means of revenge on account of some personal spite, or fancied injury, interfering with the work of another, or seeking its failure. Such only destroy their own success, did they know the truth."

Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 43


Date: Fri Jul 27, 2001 3:21 am
Subject: Re: corrosive from the UHJ

Dear Juan,

Is this the quote you were referring to?

"In brief, O ye believers of God! The text of the divine Book is this: If two souls quarrel and contend about a question of the divine questions, differing and disputing, both are wrong. The wisdom of this incontrovertible law of God is this: That between two souls from amongst the believers of God, no contention and dispute may arise; that they may speak with each other with infinite amity and love. Should there appear the least trace of controversy, they must remain silent, and both parties must continue their discussions no longer, but ask the reality of the question from the Interpreter. This is the irrefutable command!" `Abdu'l-Baha: Tablets of the Divine Plan, Page: 56

This one seems to refer to the situation where believers disagree over doctrine.

There is another one, which refers to differences over "insignificant matters". I think this is the one the institutions have in mind when they push the obedience thing:

"Endeavor ye as much as possible that differences may not arise in the affairs; let not every insignificant matter become the cause of disagreement. If such conditions exist the end will be complete dispersion. The believers and maid-servants of the Merciful must all consider how to produce harmony, so that the unity of the human world may be realized, not that every wholly unimportant subject become conducive to differences of opinion.

It is my hope that the friends and the maid-servants of America become united on all subjects and not disagree at all. If they agree upon a subject, even though it be wrong, it is better than to disagree and be in the right, for this difference will produce the demolition of the divine foundation. Though one of the parties may be in the right and they disagree that will be the cause of a thousand wrongs, but if they agree and both parties are in the wrong, as it is in unity the truth will be revealed and the wrong made right." (`Abdu'l-Baha: Baha'i World Faith*, Page: 411)

If this quote is interpreted as "we can, by definition, never be wrong", and this applies across the board, whether the matter is insignificant or a blatant violation of human rights, then you have the current institutional interpretation of the passage.

If one can, by definition, never be wrong, then how can a wrong ever be righted? And if you can, by definition, never be wrong and this applies no matter what, then aren't you playing God?

I see this passage is from Baha'i World Faith. I wonder if the translation is accurate.

Alison


Date: Fri Jul 27, 2001 6:52 pm
Subject: Re: [talisman9] Re: omniscience

Dear Gary,

I've had a long think about what you said and have come up a few ideas in response.

Essentially, I disagree with your thesis that the wayfarer's journey is not an internal one. Surprise! :-)

The Seven Valleys, Baha'u'llah tells us, is a description of the wayfarer's journey to God. It describes an internal process. If the journey to God were an external process, the Seven Valleys would read like a science book or some such. The Bab wrote a tablet called "Journey towards God" and it is about an internal process. In that tablet, the Bab describes what it means for a soul to be standing upon the "true religion", the "true balance" and the "obvious clear path". It means:

"Whenever these four signs [love, Lover, lover and Beloved] are remembered within you and your heart is illumined, and your soul stirred, and your spirit moved and your body quakes with longing, then at that time you are truly among the people of paradise..."

Yes, I agree with you completely that the mystical state is to see God in everything. And yes, for sure God is in everything. But that doesn't mean that our journey towards God is an external one. It means that external stimuli will influence our inner self and in that way challenge us and help us on our way. Stimuli comes from both inside and outside: "we shall show them our signs in the regions and in themselves." The signs of God stimulate us to grow.

But the self that grows is an inner one. Just think about it for a minute. Who is the knowing subject? It is you, your inner self. How could the path to God be other than an inner path? What does it mean to have an outer self? If Alison knows something, does that mean Gary knows it? If a tree is a sign of God, does that mean that Gary knows it? No. Gary only knows something because Gary, the inner self, has learned it.

The inner self of Gary is at the bottom of all his experience. You can't escape it. People like to think that if they cut their awareness off from their inner selves, they thereby free themselves of it. This is an illusion. And it's virtually ubiquitous. Most people are cut off from their inner selves and carry on their lives ignoring it, and think they are on top of things in their lives.

But you must have seen obvious examples of people who are unable to face truths and the reason is because of a limitation in their inner self. Because of some inner condition - Baha'u'llah talks about love and hate - a person's perception is obscured. You are right to point out that this happens. But we can't stop this from happening by cutting ourselves off from our inner selves. That isn't the answer, because the effect of our inner condition continues to determine our reality, no matter how much we try to detach ourselves from inside. The answer is to make a determined effort to look inside and sort out what lingers in there, turn it into light and then see with the divine reality.

What does it mean to change our inner self? You say that your inner self is ego. The writings tell us, however, that we have two selves, a higher and a lower one. There are many images that describe the relationship between the two, but one that strikes a chord in me is this one from the Hidden Words:

"O MY SERVANT! Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer's knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world." (Baha'u'llah: Persian Hidden Words, Page: 72)

You can see from this that hidden in the ego you refer to is the higher self, a finely tempered sword. When you say that your inner self is just ego, you are focusing on the sheath alone. If you focus only on the sheath, then yes, things will look pretty bad. But we are asked to have vision and see what is not readily apparent, what is potential. And that is the sword. Like the fruit or flower of the tree, you cannot see these by looking at branches, unless you have vision and faith.

I understand why you say that you are nothing. On one level, we are non-existent when placed beside the reality of God. We are all servants. However, it is not enough for true spirituality to simply say that you are nothing, unworthy and so forth. In an interesting aside, Baha'u'llah actually says this in the Tablet of the Almighty. He is talking here about the name of God "The Almighty" and about that name manifesting itself in people. He says:

"Whoso is deprived of the effulgence of this name will never succeed in establishing the power of his Lord, the August, the Ordainer. Even should he confess his inability, the confession would fall short of the reality, for how could he ever truly know what he had lost?"

The goal of the path, then, is to realise the attributes of God within us. It is not enough to say that we are useless. We have to take positive action to mine out of ourselves the finely tempered sword, the fruit, the divine self. And we can't do that simply by ignoring our inner reality and saying that it doesn't matter. We have to do the painful work of looking within and sorting out what's there. That's the only way to realise the attributes within. I appreciate that when we can only see bad things inside, the last thing we want to do is focus on that dimension. But we all have the same battle there. No one is spared the terror of facing the overwhelming shame and fear that lurks in there. Abdu'l-Baha explains that facing those inner weaknesses stops us from thinking that we are better than others.

Once you take the first step, an amazing thing happens. You discover that all the bad things you thought you were are an illusion. But you can't know that without doing the work. There is no short cut. You have to go through the inner door and literally pass through the inner realities involved. You can't intellectualise your way through. Your heart must do the experiencing.

Alison