Meditations

Talisman messages of January to August 1998

To: talisman
Subject: The Iqan and 'back to Baha'u'llah'

I like this 'back to Baha'u'llah' idea. There's much that Talismanians disagree over, so it seems sensible to start at the point where we agree - we all accept Baha'u'llah - and then go from there. I think there is much to be said for reminding ourselves of the principles Baha'u'llah established and emphasised, and to examine how He saw the situations He found Himself in, and so on. I don't think this means that we forget the interpretations of Abdul-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the House; it means that we keep a hold, through the decades, of the vision of the Manifestation. And it doesn't have to be some fundamentalist thing like 'back to the Bible'. In fact, the whole idea is to avoid that kind of rigidity. If we keep a hold of the principles and vision that Baha'u'llah instituted, then we can afford to be flexible.

The reason I bring this up is because I think it's relevant to the Kitab-i Iqan. I'm in the middle of reading Christopher Buck's book, "Symbol and Secret". In it, he explains Baha'u'llah's interpretation of the concept of resurrection, saying that what 'returns' is not the actual in-the-flesh person, such as Jesus, but the symbol of that person. Baha'u'llah argues that the divine drama, so to speak, repeats itself each time a manifestation appears, and that each role in that drama is portrayed by another actor, who is, in one sense, a 'return' of the ones in previous dispensations.

Now, with the benefit of this knowledge, I think we Baha'is have the opportunity to get smart here. We know another manifestation is coming, therefore we know that this divine drama will be re-created by ...yes, Baha'is! Moreover, looking at the development of previous dispensations should also put us on the alert that rigidity and stagnation in religions begins soon after the death of the manifestation.

Taking some specifics: Baha'u'llah says that the stars and moons that are gonna fall from the heavens are the clergy and the structures of Islam and Christianity. But what about after they have fallen, will more stars fall? I was struck by a hadith that Christopher quoted on page 90: "Were a verse to be revealed concerning a people, and were it to die with their death, nothing would remain of the Qur'an". In other words, just because the historical circumstances in which a verse is revealed no longer exist, it doesn't mean the verse no longer has application.

Looking then beyond our current position in history, if the stars and moons are people who are responsible for the administration of a religion... what stars will fall with the next manifestation? How do we square this with an absolutist interpretation of the infallibility of the House? Other interesting 'returns' relate to: the role of the masses, they always blindly follow their leaders; the literal interpretation of scripture; the loss of the spirit of the message of the manifestation; the imprisoning of the religion in a straightjacket of formalised structure and legalism.

I suggest we get smart and consciously work to recognise where we are falling into the traps clearly pointed out to us by Baha'u'llah. Let's not play the role of the _blindly_ obedient masses. This is why I believe in the idea of 'getting back to Baha'u'llah', and ever-applying the spirit of Baha'u'llah's message to contemporary conditions.

Alison

BTW: It has always been a problem for me that this Day has been described by Baha'u'llah as being the Day that will not be followed by night, and yet, were this to be taken as an absolute, there would be no need for another manifestation. What 'night' will not follow this Day?


To: talisman
Subject: Women manifestations

While reading through many messages, I have come across discussion about whether women can be manifestations. This has puzzled me, because as I read the following quote from Baha'u'llah, it seems clear that he definitely allowed for the possibility. In fact, he implies that such a thing would be a test.

"Know thou moreover that in the Day of Revelation were he to pronounce one of the leaves to be the manifestation of all His excellent titles, unto no one is given the right to utter why or wherefore, and should one do so he would be regarded as a disbeliever in God and be numbered with such as have repudiated His Truth."(Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, page 185)

I think this is fascinating. If the next manifestation is a woman, will the "clouds" that obscure recognition of her be the fact that she has periods? I suspect so. The awful thought is that if this projection is in any way accurate, it gives an idea of how spiritually 'developed' we will be after the next 1000 years.

Moreover, if periods cannot stop a woman from being a manifestation, then they cannot logically be the reason why women are not allowed to be members of the Universal House of Justice. For being a manifestation must encompass all the skills and attributes required to sit on the House and more. This argument can be extended to include all reasons relating to biology, gender and sex that people put forward for why women cannot serve on the House.

Alison


To: talisman
Subject: re Kalimat Press

Dear friends Has anyone read, or started reading, Juan's new book, Modernity and the Millennium? I have a standing order with Kalimat Press for Baha'i Studies books and I was delighted to discover that Juan's book took only five days to reach me from LA. (I live in a city that is not far from Antarctica, by global standards.) When I saw the e-mail advertisement informing me of the book's release, I thought that I was going to have to wait forever before it would arrive in my letterbox. But no! Baha'u'llah knew how excited I was and He winged its way to me very quickly.

So far I am only half way into the first section, which is on the relationship between religion and the state. The book is divided into five sections, each devoted to a theme of modernism, and, among other things, Juan explores Baha'u'llah's and Abdul-Baha's thinking on each of the themes.

When you read the Acknowledgments, you find out that the book is the result of many years of research and thought, and of collaboration with other scholars of the faith. Juan especially thanks Firuz Kazemzadeh and Soheil Bushrui for encouraging him to devote his energies to the academic study of the faith. And now, we Baha'is, and the Baha'i faith, are the lucky recipients of the efforts he has put in as a result of that decision he made years ago.

I have also almost finished reading Abbas Amanat's Resurrection and Renewal. I tell you, it is stunning. I have deliberately read it very slowly because I wanted to remember every single thing that he said, it was so incredibly interesting. Amanat does a fabulous job of making the players of Babi history come alive. You get a real sense of their personalities and also of their spiritual journeys. This was very confirming for me. The mystical path towards God is something that is compelling for me and to discover something of the paths that these courageous people walked helped me to appreciate the value of my own path and the mystical similarities that underpin the paths of all of us, no matter what time in history we live.

I feel deeply grateful to Juan and Abbas Amanat for putting in whole chunks of their lives that we and the rest of humanity may better understand the Baha'i faith. I think their books are signs of the grace and bounty of God. Why deprive yourself? There is so much to learn from them.

Alison Marshall


To: talisman
Subject: infallibility

Dear Talisman

I am in the middle of reading Juan's book and have come across something that interests me enormously. In relation to the infallibility of the House of Justice, Juan argues that "Baha'u'llah spoke of the house of justice as "inspired" (mulham), but, as we have seen above, he connected inspiration with parliamentary deliberation; that is, it is the democratic character of these religious institutions, and their embodiment of public reason, that guaranteed their inspiration. Baha'u'llah never used the word ma'sum, or sinless, or infallible to describe these institutions and appears to have seen them more as instruments of spiritual republicanism than as inerrant centers of unchallengeable theocratic dicta." (p. 96)

In relation to the statement that "it is the democratic character of these religious institutions, and their embodiment of public reason, that guaranteed their inspiration", Juan says: "He [Baha'u'llah] wrote to the Afnan clan of Shiraz late in 1883 and again early in 1884 urging them to set up a consultative assembly and to abide by its rulings. He said that the local Baha'i community was obliged to make its decisions democratically... He assured the Afnan family that divine inspiration (ilham) would descend upon 'the hearts of those souls who gather for the sake of God in a parliamentary meeting." (p. 93)

With regard to the matter of reason and decision making, Juan quotes Baha'u'llah: "Among them is he who declares that he desires autocratic power. Say: Woe unto you, O heedless one who is distant [from God]. We have commanded the monarchs to toss it behind them, and to advance instead toward God, the Almighty, the Beauteous. We affirm the appearance of Reason among all human beings. Therefore, you will see absolutism discarded upon the dust, nor will any approach it."(p. 73)

If what Juan argues is right, how on earth did the Baha'is end up with a popular understanding of the House being infallible in the sense that 'everything the House says is true'? Perhaps it all hinges on the statements in the Will and Testament about the House: 'freed from all error' and 'whatsoever they decide is of God'. I'd be interested to know to what extent our popular understanding of infallibility is based on the English translation of these passages and how much can be gleaned from the words in the original language.

If Baha'u'llah only intended to describe the House as 'inspired', is it open to anyone, including Abdul-Baha, to interpret this so widely as to say that everything the House says is true?

As I see it, the problem with our popular notion that 'everything the House says is true' is that it moves away from the ideal of consultation and its use of reason, and disempowers the community. Baha'is are exhorted to consult with the House, but in practice, this amounts to writing letters and receiving replies. The community punches in the data and the House processes it and tells us the answers. If there's any consultation or reasoning going on, then its happening entirely among the House members. There's no requirement for the community to use its reason, our job is to provide information and not question the answers given.

I'm keen to see us move away from 'everything the House says is true' so that the community can begin to play a meaningful part in the decision making process at the international level.

Alison Marshall


To: talisman
Subject: Re: infallibility

Dear Talisman

This infallibility business is starting to make sense.

1. It would seem that Baha'u'llah didn't say the House was 'infallible' in any sense of the word, but rather described it as 'inspired'. Juan argues that the basis for this 'inspiration' is that Baha'u'llah viewed consultation as a sacred process that attracted divine bounties. Just exactly what Baha'u'llah intended by 'consultation' and how that plays out in practice is up for debate, but Juan argues that Baha'u'llah had parliamentary deliberation in mind, given that Baha'u'llah uses the words shura and mashvirat, which at the time Baha'u'llah was writing, were synonyms for parliamentary democracy. There is concern amongst Baha'is nowadays that 'consultation' should not revert to the corrupt form of parliamentary democracy, the tyranny of the majority. The ideal is a representative republicanism; I guess most Baha'is would agree with that. The question is whether that's in effect what we have.

2. Abdu'l-Baha, in his Will and Testament, described the House as "freed from all error". Juan tells us that in this passage Abdul-Baha uses the word ma'sum and was referring to 'conferred infallibility'. What does that mean? In Some Answered Questions, Abdu'l-Baha explains it like this:

Know that infallibility is of two kinds: essential infallibility and acquired infallibility.... Essential infallibility is peculiar to the supreme Manifestation.... But acquired infallibility is not a natural necessity; on the contrary, it is a ray of the bounty of infallibility which shines from the Sun of Reality upon hearts, and grants a share and portion of itself to souls. Although these souls have not essential infallibility, still they are under the protection of God - that is to say, God preserves them from error. Thus many of the holy beings who were not dawning-points of the Most Great Infallibility, were yet kept and preserved from error under the shadow of the protection and guardianship of God.... To epitomize: essential infallibility belongs especially to the supreme Manifestations, and acquired infallibility is granted to every holy soul. For instance, the Universal House of Justice, if it be established under the necessary conditions - with members elected from all the people - that House of Justice will be under the protection and the unerring guidance of God. If that House of Justice shall decide unanimously, or by a majority, upon any question not mentioned in the Book, that decision and command will be guarded from mistake. Now the members of the House of Justice have not, individually, essential infallibility; but the body of the House of Justice is under the protection and unerring guidance of God: this is called conferred infallibility. (Abdu'l- Baha: Some Answered Questions, Pages: 171-173)

From this, I take it that infallibility is like any other attribute of God, such as generosity, creativity, compassion, and we can all share in it because it is granted to "every holy soul". Also note that Abdu'l-Baha here is translated as using the same language when referring to holy souls as he uses in the Will and Testament to refer to the House; that is, 'preserved from error'. Given this, I don't think the evidence bears up the conclusion that by describing the House has sharing in conferred infallibility, he intended to say that everything it decides is true - that is, propositionally correct. We know that what is intended is something akin to moral sinlessness.

3. The next issue is just what aspects of the House's functioning are infallible. The texts make it clear that its infallibility is confined to the function of legislation. This is clear from the quote above.

4. This leaves us with the question, 'when is the House legislating and when is it simply giving forth an opinion?' The more I think about it, the more I think it's interesting that this should be an issue. I am very clear about when our parliament is legislating. Why? Because it writes its laws down in statute! As I see it, this is a very big problem for the Baha'is. We are left guessing when the House is legislating. Has it ever done any legislating? Perhaps the policy relating to review could be classed as legislation. I think the House would do well to set up a procedure, akin to that of statutes, that makes it very clear when it is making law, because not doing so is resulting in all sorts of problems.

In the study of jurisprudence, you learn that any government that leaves people guessing as to what is and isn't law is acting outside its mandate. Such obscurity makes an institution, whether elected or not, all powerful inasmuch as the checks and balances set up to control its power are subverted. As a result of the imprecise nature of what is and is not law, people are controlled by the mere act of requiring them to guess. It seems to me that this is precisely where the absolutism that Juan refers to can creep in.

Guesswork results in self-regulation and the stifling of the individual. Ooooh, I'd better not say this or do that because the authorities may decide they don't like it. Such a situation gives a lot of power to people close to the centre of power. Counsellors, for example, who have no power under Baha'i law, in effect can wield a lot of power because they are privy to what is *really* meant by the House's statements. Of course, this also points up the fact that we have no independent Baha'i judges, who can determine when a person has broken the law. In the situation as it stands, the AO makes the law and decides when a person has broken it.

5. If it is the case that issues such as the virgin birth and the methodologies employed by scholars, and even the statement on individual rights and freedoms are not matters of legislation, then Baha'is should be free to disagree publicly with the House on any of these matters. Moreover, Baha'is should be free to discuss matters such as the meaning of infallibility, such as I am doing now, and the exclusion of women from the House. It seems to me to be a denial of individual freedom of expression to turn around and accuse someone who does discuss such issues of being contentious, or to smear their reputations by accusing them of engaging in materialistic methodologies or sedition. This has the effect of attaching certain 'unacceptable' theological positions to particular individuals, rather than getting in there and addressing the issues.

IMV, there are real issues to address, which bear on the progress of the Cause, and one of those issues is the widely held view that everything the House says is right, no matter what, and the disempowering effect this has on the community. It is a fundamentalist position that stifles individual inititative and exploration of truth, and is not useful in any way.

Alison Marshall


To: talisman
Subject: infallibility (for X)

Dear X Although I disagree with what you are saying, I nevertheless appreciate your position. In fact, after reading your message, I felt that I understood your position on a spiritual level for the first time. Your message tells me about your deep affection for the House of Justice and how that links up with your relationship with Abdul-Baha. I can feel your adoration of Baha'u'llah coming through in what you say. I respect that. This is where we agree. I'm with you completely on that level. It doesn't matter that we have different understandings about how things shake down - unless, of course, one of us tries to tell the other "If you believe that, then I won't like you" or "If you believe that then, you can't be a Baha'i". This would be a betrayal of our mutual adoration of Baha'u'llah, I think.

Thanks for the history lesson, and I hope you're keeping to that promise to pray for teaching in New Zealand :-)

Lots of Love
Alison


To: talisman
Subject: the value of inspiration

X says:
"If divine inspiration to one of God's Manifestations and institutions does not guarantee infallibility (in one, or all of its 3 forms: moral, intellectual, practical) then divine inspiration is worthless. If the best such inspiration can do is provide increased probability of correctness, then the whole issue of following divine guidance is reduced to a matter of chance and good guesswork and thus religion loses its value. Why call a book 'The Book of Certitude'."

X: I can't work out why divine inspiration is useless if it doesn't guarantee infallibility. It sounds to me as though you are saying something like: there is no point in my being a scholar because I cannot guarantee to know everything. As I understand it, the point of it, and the beauty of it, is all in the endeavour. It is fruitless to self flagellate over the fact that we cannot be perfect (infallible). Such unrealistic expectations are indeed a "means of dealing with personal difficulties".

My spiritual experience of this endeavour is that, if I listen hard - and it helps to learn the best methods of listening - the following happens: "We will surely show them Our signs in the world and within themselves." To me, this is divine inspiration. There are no guarantees here, but we can reduce the chance and guesswork considerably by testing our hypotheses (we know the faith is scientific in its method) and, by this means, be guided by God to "the most cherished desire of our hearts".

For me, far from 'reduce' the value of religion, this process is the thing that brings me the most exquisite emotions. It makes my life meaningful. Everything that ever matters to me happens on this level. It's happening every second of the day and night, and I love it.

I think when Baha'u'llah named His book the Book of Certitude, He was being ironic. There is no certitude except in knowing that you don't know anything. The book is full of illustrations of how things are fairly reliably not as they seem on the surface.

Alison


To: talisman
Subject: leaders of religion

Thank you, X, for that fabulous quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha.

I agree, surely we must all be held to the same standard - Baha'i leaders cannot exempt themselves. It's not that Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha were above such standards (I'm sure they would have shuddered at the thought), it's that they knew about the standards and lived by them, and saw when others preached the standards but did not live by them. Even Baha'u'llah, who was essentially infallible was not above them. God obeys Her own laws, even though She made them. To me, it is through the consistent application of these objective and agreed standards that we can know God and achieve unity and justice.

As I see it, because of a mythical understanding of the infallibility of the House (it cannot do anything wrong), Baha'is never think to apply standards to it. In fact, to even suggest such a thing is blasphemy. However, even if it could do nothing wrong (like Baha'u'llah), the standards should still be applied to it. As such, Baha'is have every right to question whether the House is living up to the standards set by the covenant - the agreed arrangement between us, God and the leaders of religion. There are various checks and balances that apply to the House under the covenant and we should be assessing whether these are working.

Given that the House's infallibility is only a conferred one and that this applies only to its legislative function (it's not like Baha'u'llah!), this makes it all the more imperative that the Baha'is ensure that the House acts within this divinely ordained jurisdiction.

"He that bideth men be just and himself commiteth iniquity is not of Me, even though he bear My name."

Love
Alison

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

"You, who are firm in the covenant: You wrote a glorious letter saying that the time has arrived, of the most great glad-tidings that a national parliament [shura-yi milli] has been established in Iran and that arrangements are being made for a constitutional government that is in accord with the divine Law, in conformity with the explicit command of the Most Holy Book. I read what you wrote about the joy and delight of the American intellectuals and scholars at this life-giving good news, as well as the rejoicing at the Ottoman embassy. This became a cause for great happiness. The constitutional government is, according to the unequivocal divine Text, sanctioned by the revealed Law, and it is a cause of the might and prosperity of the State, to which allegiance is owed, and of the progress and liberty of the respected citizenry.

"But, of a certainty, the hand of the selfish clerical leaders is at work. Outwardly, they desire a national parliament and raise a hue and cry. But secretly, they are endeavoring to spread turmoil, to instigate, and to oppose the good intentions of the State. Most secretly of all, they have no desire whatsoever to see the establishment of a national parliament. Their purpose is not in the least that Iran should become civilized, that the nation should gain insight, that modern progress be achieved, that sufficient information become available or that knowledge become the property of the masses. For thieves seek darkness, hunters desire to foul everyone's water, and bats hate the light of the sun. The dung beetle does not smell of fragrant gardens. The ravenous wolf craves snow and food, and the wine- seller desires uncomprehending drunks. Likewise, these leaders of religion wish to cast the nation into the whirlpool of ignorance, so that the reins will fall into the hands of the evil clerics. In the same way, they believe that learning, rectitude, progress, and the nation's devotion to the truth would lead to their own debasement."


To: talisman
Subject: domestic feud

Dear X I was really interested to read in your book that there was a "vehement feud" between Baha'u'llah's two wives. I'd be interested in knowing more about the nature of this. Can you elaborate? Is there anything in English about this? Baha'u'llah's second wife a mystery to me, and we know so little about Navvab.

I tell you, I was riveted to the page during the last chapter, "Women are as men". Women are so invisible in Baha'i history; what we do know I find fascinating. It makes me realise just how much I am affected by their absence in the stories.

Thanks Alison


To: talisman
Subject: Women on the House

Dear Talismanians I've finished reading Juan's book and here's my attempt to reconstruct some basic arguments that show how the issue of women on the House is problematic. All references are to Juan's book, unless I say otherwise.

1. What Baha'u'llah said

In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha'u'llah on one occasion addresses the members of the House of Justice as men (rijal). "Oh ye Men of Justice! Be ye, in the realm of God, shepherds unto His sheep..." (Aqdas p. 38)

In Questions and Answers, he says: "Should a treasure trove be found, one third thereof is the right of the discoverer, and the other two thirds should be expended by the men of the House of Justice for the welfare of the people." (Aqdas p. 137)

In Ishraqat (a supplement to the Kitab-i-Aqdas), he says: "The men of God's House of Justice have been charged with the affairs of the people." (Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 128) And again: "It is incumbent upon the men of God's House of Justice to fix their gaze by day and by night upon that which hath shone forth from the Pen of Glory for the training of peoples..." (Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p 125)

In Kalimat-i-Firdawsiyyih (a supplement to the Kitab-i-Aqdas), he says: "We exhort the men of the House of Justice and command them to ensure the protection and safeguarding of men, women and children." (Tablets of Baha'u'llah, pp 69-70)

In these passages, was Baha'u'llah referring to the Universal House of Justice or all houses of justice? If women are excluded from the Universal house on the basis of these texts, then perhaps women should be excluded from all houses of justice. Current Baha'i thinking is that these are references to the Universal House of Justice. There seems to be no good reason why they can't all relate to houses at all levels. Juan cites a passage (p. 173) where Baha'u'llah refers to the "men of Baha'i houses of justice", indicating that on at least one occasion Baha'u'llah used the word 'rijal' to refer to *all* house of justice members. There is evidence that 'Abdu'l-Baha interpreted him to mean this also.

It can be argued that when Baha'u'llah used the word 'rijal', he could be interpreted to mean both women and men. Juan quotes Baha'u'llah (p. 176): "Today, the maidservants of God are accounted as men." "O maidservants, arise in a masculine way for the sake of God's Cause. A goodly number of women are today mentioned by God as men, whereas some men are reckoned as women". "...the servants of God and His handmaidens are regarded on the same Plane". "Verily, in the eyes of Baha women are the same as men. All are God's creation, which He created in his image and likeness, that is, they are manifestations of His names and attributes."

In fact, so much is it the case that women can have divine attributes that they can be manifestations of God: "Know thou moreover that in the Day of Revelation were He to pronounce one of the leaves to be the manifestation of all His excellent titles, unto no one is given the right to utter why or wherefore, and should one do so he would be regarded as a disbeliever in God and be numbered with such as have repudiated His Truth." (Tablets of Baha'u'llah p 185) IMV, it makes little sense to hold that women can be manifestations of God but not members of the Universal House of Justice!

2. What 'Abdu'l-Baha said

Juan explains (p 182-3) that women were initially on the Chicago house, but that it was reconstituted in 1901 with men only, "partly at the instance of Persian male teachers, apparently on the grounds that women menstruated and were therefore frequently ritually impure".

In 1902, 'Abdu'l-Baha told Corrine True that women could not serve on the Chicago House because Baha'u'llah refers to the members of the houses of justice as men.

In 1909, 'Abdu'l-Baha told Corrine True that women could serve on 'spiritual assemblies' but not the 'general house of justice'. At the time, 'spiritual assembly' was jargon for "women's gatherings" (p 183). Baha'is now argue that 'general house of justice' was a reference to the Universal House of Justice, but the Baha'is who received the letter thought it referred to the Chicago house, which fits with their understanding of 'spiritual assembly'. Moreover, the Universal House of Justice wasn't around then.

In 1912, 'Abdu'l-Baha came to America and said that women could be members of the Chicago house of justice.

Juan tells us that (p 182-3): "['Abdu'l-Baha] wrote a letter a year later, in 1913, in which he said women would enter all fields except military service and service on 'the house of justice,' adding, 'When the women attain to the ultimate degree of progress, then, according to the exigency of the time and place and their great capacity, they shall obtain extraordinary privileges.'"

It would appear, then, that in 1902, 'Abdu'l-Baha argued that women couldn't be on the Chicago house because women were barred from being members of *any* house of justice. This indicates that 'Abdu'l-Baha's initial interpretation of Baha'u'llah's reference to rijal was that it applied across the board. Given this, there is no reason to interpret the 1909 letter to mean, as Baha'is currently see it, that 'Abdu'l-Baha meant to bar women from only the Universal House of Justice. So, when 'Abdul-Baha allowed women on to the Chicago house, this should have meant that the reversal applied across the board. Juan explains (p 183) that current Baha'is have taken the 1913 letter to mean that women could serve on national and local houses, but not the Universal one. However, 'Abdu'l-Baha never actually came right out and made such a distinction; at best it is based on a dubious interpretation of the 1909 letter.

The above shows that it is not clear what 'Abdu'l-Baha intended. He was confronted with two worlds, Western and Eastern, and the conditions for women in each was very different. Juan says that what 'Abdu'l-Baha told the western women to do was different to what he told the Persian women to do (p 184). Surely, the fact that he at one point actively enabled women to be on a house of justice indicated that he thought that this was the way things would go, or the way things should be in conditions such as they were in the West at the time. Juan suggests that the 1913 letter could be interpreted to "hold out hope" (p 183).

As I see it, nowhere does Baha'u'llah actually come out and say that the House of Justice members must be men. He describes them in passing as men, but never makes a positive law of it. So, in effect we have based a positive exclusion on a word that was not even necessary for the purpose of the passages in which it was used - Baha'u'llah could have referred to the women of the House of Justice and those passages would not be altered in meaning. This rings alarm bells for me. Surely, justifying an exclusion that prima facie is inconsistent with the positive principle of equality needs a more solid foundation. Look at the law relating to polygyny. There 'Abdul-Baha clearly says that Baha'u'llah meant men to have only one wife, and in doing this, gave a positive principle to justify his position, that of justice and treating people equitably. But here there seems to be no principle that can be invoked to overturn equality, except perhaps the idea of gradualism, as suggested by 'Abdu'l-Baha's position, but this would last only a limited time.

Given the lack of clarity, I suggest that we have a situation that is not covered in the Book. This means that the House of Justice *can* rule on the matter, being a legislative body, and change its constitution, which would bring it into line with modern circumstances.


Alison Marshall


To: talisman
Subject: Re: Women on the House

I also would like to say that one reason I can make any sort of intelligent summary of the arguments relating to women on the House is because I was a lurker on Talisman. In fact, I waded my way through masses of brilliant e-mail messages that frequently left me overwhelmed. The participants knew so much about the faith! I didn't know it was possible to know so much about it. I was challenged and fascinated all at the same time. Some of my cherished ideas were shown to be without foundation, but at the same time, it was liberating to finally talk about all those issues Baha'is never talk about, especially women on the house and infallibility, but others besides.

Probably my most difficult emotional reaction to Talisman I, at first anyway, was the highly intellectual nature of it. Although I very much appreciate the intellect, I am also the type who is driven to form relationships with people on other levels. So, for me at least, it was sad that other dimensions of community didn't get a chance to be developed more. Looking at the way I post on Talisman now, I can see how I have been socialised by this experience. This message, being personal, would be more akin to what I might have written four years ago. But most of my messages now are intellectual.

Looking back on it, I am increasingly realising what a privilege it was to have lurked as I did, and just how much I learned as a result of doing this. So many amazing ideas came out of the discussions; I feel it would be a great shame for these to be lost. It's really neat that Juan's book captures some of these ideas and makes them available to a wide audience. I feel that, although Talisman I was destroyed, its impact on Baha'i thought is only just beginning.

Alison


To: talisman
Subject: the sound of one wing bleating

X writes:
>(1) They have not yet really understood the logical distinction
>between the categories of valuation and function and, therefore,
>interpreted the word "equal" to mean "identical", "homogeneous"
>or "same" in valuation, function and/or essence.
>
>This is a common error these days, there being a strong tendency
>to interpret all differences of function as necessarily implying
>a hierarchy of valuation.

Well, X, you say that there is no hierarchy of valuation implied by your position. Let's see whether comments *you* have made bear this out.

To the following comments made by me:
>For me, far from 'reduce' the value of religion, this process is
>the thing that brings me the most exquisite emotions. It makes my
>life meaningful. Everything that ever matters to me happens on
>this level. It's happening every second of the day and night,
>and I love it.

you had this to say:
>Your enjoyment of this "endeavor" is not the point. Human
>enjoyment is not a reliable guide neither to the correctness of
>an idea nor the correctness of an action.
>
>The purpose of religion is to help us think and act correctly
>and learn to take spiritual pleasure in doing so - even if that
>entails temporary physical and intellectual discomfort and suffering.
>Witness the martyrs. If making us feel good were the purpose of
>religion, we could replace it more cheaply and pleasurably with
>other things or activities.

Now this is what 'Abdu'l-Baha has to say about the relevance of my "enjoyment":

"O Lord, the mistress of the women's quarters has surpassed the males and triumphed over the amassed army, and raised the standards of superiority in the arena of [spiritual] ecstasy and joy."

You see X, my "enjoyment" is very relevant. The fact that you belittle it, and attempt to reduce it to the level of a junkie shooting up, is to me an indication that you don't give a damn about women and what they offer the world and nor do you in any way value it. So don't give me this BS about differences of function not necessarily implying a hierarchy of valuation, when you have demonstrated that in fact there *is* such a hierarchy and that you are very much attached to it.

Moreover, X, I have demonstrated my ability to post messages here that are very much on an intellectual level, showing that I have learned to talk your preferred language and operate in your preferred mode. Now I think it's about time you demonstrated to me that you can talk to me about your spiritual experiences and speak to me in my preferred language and mode. Or is that you cannot do this or won't? Why not? You value it equally don't you?

Kia kaha Alison


To: talisman
Subject: Re: discussion of problems

I too am extremely distressed about what has happened to the proud and beautiful Faith of Baha'u'llah. At the moment, I am discovering that it is not just things like freedom of expression and women on the House that have been the victims of AO policies, it is in fact the whole realm of spirituality. I think this is the greatest loss of all. I want to belong to the spiritual community of Baha'u'llah, not just a physical one.

Unfortunately, the AO policies relentlessly emphasise administration and growth. To me, this completely ignores why we are Baha'is in the first place - because we love Baha'u'llah - and does not privilege as it should the expression of our shared connection with Him and each other. Despite the couple of lines in the 1996 Ridvan message about the importance of devotional life, it is glaringly obvious in my local community that the importance of our spiritual connection and its expression is lost on people. They will come to feast, because administration is important, but not community prayers, because they will not think that praying together is of much consequence. The spiritual dimension of the community is totally unnurtured and our shared expression of it hollow.

But shared spirituality is what I need, and I feel betrayed that I can't get such a basic need met by the Baha'i community. We've completely lost a handle on what religion is for.

Alison


To: talisman
Subject: spirituality

My experience of the attitude to the devotional life among Baha'is is very similar to how X describes it. There isn't 'room' made for it in the culture; I have usually felt that it is just squeezed in somewhere.

After being on Talisman I, I came to realise that a big part of the problem is that we don't actually have places to worship locally, and this is because there are no houses of worship except those scattered on a few continents. Right from the start, 'Abdul-Baha's vision was for lots and lots of Mashriqs all over the place, not just one huge edifice planted on the landscape. Worse still, is the fact that the purpose of these Houses of Worship isn't to facilitate and promote the devotional life of the believers, it is to impress people!

It was a real boon for my spiritual life to find myself a Mashriq. There is a church only about one minute's walk from my office and I go there all the time now. It has become my place of worship, and now that I have it, I wonder how I lived without it. And I am alive to the fact that I don't have this experience communally with my community.

One of the people on Talisman used to say that the Mashriq or House of Worship is the feminine aspect of the community, and the House of Justice is the masculine. He argued that we have put all our focus and energy into building the House of Justice (the administration) but not the House of Worship, and that there is now an imbalance between the feminine and masculine aspects of the Faith.

I feel this imbalance as a kind of weeping sore in my soul and it manifests itself in many other aspects of the way the religion is run.

Alison


To: talisman
Subject: adjectives and anger

I've been reading this book called Surplus Powerlessness by Michael Lerner, which X recommends. In it, Lerner argues that anger has a bad reputation in our society because it is a threat to "those who have power ... because it could be directed against them." He argues that it is an emotion that leads "people to feel strong" and to struggle against situations that are not right for them. He says that those in control "always supported an approach to culture that saw anger as ugly and destructive."

He goes on: "Creating an anti-anger bias in the culture is not a matter of giving good arguments against anger, but rather of indoctrinating people with feelings of guilt and shame about the anger they felt, and associating anger with everything that is repulsive and disgusting. It is more a matter of getting people to internalize a sense that 'good manners' requires the suppression of anger..." (p. 174)

As soon as I read this, I immediately thought about how we are trained to write letters to the AO. As I understand it, there is a right way and a wrong way to write to the institutions. It is better to write in a courtly style, and include open statements of obedience and respect. The more one moves away from this style, the more likely it is that your communications will be seen as an affront to what is assumed (as opposed to deserved) to be the mana of the institution, and the less likely you'll get a direct response to the issue you raise, and the more likely it is that you will be told to change your attitude. I read the correspondence relating to the removal of the voting rights of David Langness, and the only 'crime' I could see that he had committed was to have a 'bad attitude'.

The expectation that one should not express one's constructive criticism and emotions (and this includes not questioning too much) is all pervasive in Baha'i culture. It's a great clobbering machine that makes sure nothing ever changes. The other day, I was at a meeting and got angry and said that I was very unhappy that here we were listening to what a counsellor had said at convention as though it was gospel, when he was expressing ideas that had been expressed locally on many occasions before but no one had listened to them, and that this disempowering behaviour was never going to get us anywhere. One person eye-balled me and said, "You seem very angry, what's your problem." So you see, I *personally* had a problem; not, I give a damn about the mess our faith is in and am expressing that.

I agree whole heartedly that we go in for relentless cheerleading and that anyone who dares to say that the emperor has no clothes is crushed - most effectively by other Baha'is who can't bear it when someone breaks ranks and points out what we could all see, should we just choose to repeat the gaze.

Alison


To: talisman
Subject: combat zones

X: I thought your denounciation of X was out of line. I very much appreciated her message and got a lot from it. I don't think you can argue that the message was:
- an exercise in semantics
- engaging in a shouting match
- an attempt to score points
- not an example of honest discourse
- reducing Talisman to a combat zone
- not seeking the truth, however inconvenient, unflattering and painful
- an example of theatrics or melodrama.

If the message was any of the above, then it certainly was no more so than many other messages that are posted, including yours. It was you who said to X, for example: "Had you been called to Wilmette, put in a small dark room with shadowy figures shining flashlights on your face and barking questions at you from behind the table, I would have been deeply disturbed and may even have joined the 'get the sob's' association in cyberspace." I would say that this sentence falls to the following of your criteria:
- an attempt to score points
- reducing Talisman to a combat zone
- not seeking the truth, however inconvenient, unflattering and painful
- an example of theatrics or melodrama. and is sarcastic.

I think that Talisman does very much resemble a combat zone; in fact, I said as much to a friend of mine a few days ago when he indicated an intention to subscribe. I don't find this easy to cope with either. I wanna connect with people, not fight them. However, I'm here, in a war zone, because it's real and I can't connect with people who wear masks.

Alison


To: talisman
Subject: anger and emotion

Dear X I had another thought about the bad reputation of anger. I think that not only anger, but all deeply felt emotion is looked down upon in Baha'i culture. As X said the other day, spiritual freedom challenges control in the same way that intellectual freedom does.

You know, I don't question the fact that the members of my local community love Baha'u'llah, but to listen to them, you'd never think it. They don't talk about him hardly at all. Have you ever been able to stop talking about someone you are in love with? I sure as hell can't. And they don't seem to notice that they are not talking or thinking about him. It's as clear as the sun on the wall that they're minds are filled up with administration.

O My friend in word! Ponder awhile. Hast thou ever heard that friend and foe should abide in one heart? Cast out then the stranger, that the Friend may enter His home.(Baha'u'llah: Persian Hidden Words, Page: 26)

Alison


Date: Sun, 21 Jun 1998 14:25:58 +1200
Subject: Re: Shoghi Effendi/Bombay Baha'is

Dear X

Thank you for sharing with us your translation of the letter Shoghi Effendi wrote to the Bombay spiritual assembly. I thought it was very interesting.

You don't mention it in your comments at the beginning, but I was struck by Shoghi Effendi's passionate request that he be referred to only as "Shoghi Effendi". This begs the question, what were they calling him that he should be prompted to say this? Does this rule out calling him "the Guardian"? Is this one of the titles that he didn't want used? What about "the beloved Guardian"? Does this rule out every other way that we might refer to him?

I just love to hear Shoghi Effendi ask the believers to pray for him. And he says it not just once, but twice! It makes me feel useful, like I can contribute something worthwhile, even to people that are empowered to interprete the writings. He is telling us that he is just a person. Making the leaders of our religion into mythical icons is in such stark contrast this. It is yet more evidence that the revelation is a dynamic dialogue between God and the believers, not a monologue where the believers have no power and don't count.

And yes, the national assembly is the executive of the national convention. Here it is again - dialogue vs monologue. Which institution is primary? Parliament or executive? In New Zealand, the executive controls parliament, and parliament is reduced to playing an almost meaningless role. Similarly, we have come to view the institution of the convention as a short few days where the believers have their say to the more important and ever-abiding institution of the NSA. We have lost sight of the fact that real power is in the body of the believers because it is in them that divine inspiration comes from. The adminstration should be monitoring this force, plugging in to it and helping to focus and channel its expression. But divine inspiration and power from the community are not valued and are pretty much dried up, and the AO has little left to administer except itself.

The same problem exists with feast and local assembly. Here in Dunedin, the local assembly, partly because of the enormous amount of paperwork from NSA, controls the feast agenda. Rarely is there any 'space' at feast consultation for the community to find its inspiration and responses and reveal these to the group for discussion. There is always so much 'talk' going on and so much that 'just has to be said', that in fact nothing is said, and that spiritual connection that we are supposed to feel at feast is hardly ever realised.

Alison


Date: Mon, 22 Jun 1998 22:33:57 +1200
Subject: Re: Shoghi Effendi/Bombay Baha'is

X, still starry-eyed from praying out of forbidden prayerbooks, mumbled:
>Are you saying that the Divine Inspiration for
>Baha'u'llah's Revelation comes from, or is dependent
>upon, those who have recognised Him? If so, no
>believers equals no Revelation, which makes no sense.
>Can you restate your "fact" in another way, and provide
>a quote from Baha'u'llah...

"Among them was Mulla Husayn, who became the recipient of the effulgent glory of the Sun of divine Revelation. But for him, God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy, nor ascended the throne of eternal glory." (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, Page: 223)

"I was alone in my own abode and nobody was aware of my status. Then You brought out some humble people from their dwellings and sent them to me. Afterwards, You made Your command to the [new] call (da'wa) my intent and when Your command reached maturity, I acquired Your covenant from the heart of those who were aware of Your cause, and they submitted to Your cause in such a way that not one of them from that party denied me." - The Báb, quoted by Abbas Amanat in "Resurrection and Renewal", p. 153.

Amanat says: "But 'the command of God,' as the Bab indicates, may not have matured without the covenant of those who first recognized him in Shiraz. If a predestined will was in action, so was human initiative". (p. 153)

I don't think the issue is whether the believers, myself included, are turning their faces towards the covenant. The issue is whether the AO acknowledges the legitimate and essential role of the believers in the unfolding of the revelation and whether the friends are allowed to play that role, or whether the believers are being stymied by an over- controlling administration that wants to run the show itself.

You need only look to the latest Ridvan message for good evidence that something is going badly wrong. It says, in essence, that the institutions are all on track for entry by troops, but hey, the individual is not playing 'his' part. But "why?" Because the individual does not own her religion, that's why. I reject the blaming and guilt- provoking messages that the individual is lazy, or apathetic or undeepened. And I also reject the argument that we are all subsumed in a sea of materialism and individualism. So many believers cannot be so bad. Rather, there is something wrong with the way the system is functioning.

Alison


Date: Tue, 23 Jun 1998 19:18:43 +1200
Subject: Re: Shoghi Effendi/Bombay Baha'is

"I am simply of the opinion, to which I am entitled, that had the Baha'is of the world rallied behind Shoghi Effendi with even more heartfelt dedication than they did, even more would have been accomplished. I feel the same today regarding the UHJ."

X, if what we want is more heartfelt dedication, and I accept that this is something positive to strive for, then the question is how to get it. As I see it, a fundamental part of the equation is what kind of relationship we have with those we need to support. If we see those people/institutions as larger than life, then, I suggest, there is a piece of us that says: "The buck doesn't stop with me. This lot have got it covered, I do not need to invest my everything." And I suggest that this is how many Baha'is play it. Now, if the AO was smart, it would lay off this infallibility, I'm-not-vulnerable, and you-must- obey-me nonsense and came right out and say "I am nothing without you" (which is true). This is what I hear Shoghi Effendi saying.

You see, I believe that it is easier to worship something that we have imagined to be perfect, than it is to open our eyes and front up to the reality and to love and serve that. The second option requires putting ourselves on the line and taking the hurts that come from vulnerability; the first one leaves us safe in an illusion. If Shoghi Effendi didn't feel supported, it was because we chose to worship him, not support him. He didn't need us to worship him, he needed us to share with him in the responsibility of the Guardianship. But we couldn't do that because we were too busy abdicating that responsibility to the deity we had created.

Alison


Date: Sat, 27 Jun 1998 00:09:27 +1200
Subject: Re: the spiritual path

I like the distinction between "love as yearning" and "love as fulfilment". It is useful in that it makes it clear that we are talking about one thing - love - but that it is possible to talk about love in varying conditions. However, given that love as fulfilment is unattainable, then it is not an impediment for search; anyone experiencing a sense of fulfilment in a mystical way would surely also be experiencing yearning at the same time, for they are the same.

I noticed in the following quote that Baha'u'llah tended to mix together the concepts of 'search' and 'love':

"Only when the lamp of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of passionate devotion, of fervid love, of rapture, and ecstasy, is kindled within the seeker's heart, and the breeze of His loving- kindness is wafted upon his soul, will the darkness of error be dispelled, the mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude envelop his being." (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, Pages: 195)

Whatever we call it, search or love, it kinda pans out in the end to that thing that aches big time. I agree that it is primary in the sense that it comes before the structures can be built. God was motivated by it to create us, and we are a reflection of Her. We are asked to be motivated by it also:

"Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty." (Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, Page: 332)

It is the first duty required of us:

"For every one of you his paramount duty is to choose for himself that on which no other may infringe and none usurp from him. Such a thing - and to this the Almighty is My witness - is the love of God, could ye but perceive it." (Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, Page: 261)

"A twofold obligation resteth upon him who hath recognized the Day Spring of the Unity of God, and acknowledged the truth of Him Who is the Manifestation of His oneness. The first is steadfastness in His love..." (Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, Pages: 289-290)

I also agree that it is a "kind of pre-existent yearning or love". I think Baha'u'llah appeals to this in the following:

"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? ... 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)

"Say: God hath made My hidden love the key to the Treasure; would that ye might perceive it! But for the key, the Treasure would to all eternity have remained concealed; would that ye might believe it! " (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Page: 24)

It seems to me that humans have three options: go for the love of God and all the vulnerability and knock-outs associated with that; go for loving the things of the world, an option that may enable you short term to avoid the knocks by using control tactics; and switch out the heart completely. I hear Baha'u'llah arguing that options 2 and 3 are illusions.

As for option 2: "He who attaineth to My love hath title to a throne of gold, to sit thereon in honour over all the world; he who is deprived thereof, though he sit upon the dust, that dust would seek refuge with God, the Lord of all Religions." (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Page: 32)

As for option 3: "My love has made in thee its home, it cannot be concealed." (Baha'u'llah: Arabic Hidden Words, Page: 20)

Love Alison


Date: Sat, 27 Jun 1998 12:48:56 +1200
Subject: the Most Great Panorama

"Every heart is not capable of acting as a repository for divine love. For every soul is not suited for growing wondrous herbs--only the heart of a human being who continues to bear the trustworthiness of the All- Merciful and to give the fruit of wisdom and eloquence. May the All- Merciful bless those endued with virtue and beneficence. Not everyone who hath the form of a human being is worthy of the Most Great Panorama, nor will such a one necessarily be accounted a human being before God. For all who remain bereft of the robe of mystical insight are reckoned as beasts of the field by God." Baha'u'llah in Ishraq- Khavari, ed., Ma'idih-yi Asmani, 8:33:

I know he only mentions it in passing, but I just can't get past the concept of "the Most Great Panorama". It sorta captures in one the field of vision.

Alison


Date: Sat, 27 Jun 1998 17:09:14 +1200
Subject: oneness of religion

X said: "In speaking of the *spiritual* path I would want to differentiate that from the path of organised religion. For the spiritual, it makes no difference whether one is in love with Baha'u'llah or Jesus, Muhammad or Guru Nanak."

I think X speaks from the point of view of the Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness. In this valley, Baha'u'llah explains:

"...the wayfarer leaveth behind him the stages of the "oneness of Being and Manifestation"(46) and reacheth a oneness that is sanctified above these two stations. Ecstasy alone can encompass this theme, not utterance nor argument; and whosoever hath dwelt at this stage of the journey, or caught a breath from this garden land, knoweth whereof We speak. (Baha'u'llah: Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, Page: 39)

In the Valley of Unity, the wayfarer sees that differences "proceed from his own vision". This seems to be the perspective Baha'is intend when we talk in our teaching about the oneness of religion. However, just as a Christian who says, "Only through love of Christ are you saved", has not attained even the Valley of Unity, the same is true of a Baha'i who says 'oneness of religion' but means 'just Baha'i'.

Alison


To: talisman
Subject: A teaching story

I'm not one to go in for teaching stories, but something happened to me today that made me think of X's call for teaching stories in relation to love.

At lunchtime, I went to my Mashriq to say "Halih, Halih, Halih, Ya Basharat" ("Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, O Glad Tidings"). It is 25 stanzas long, and all except the last one follow a pattern like this, which is the first verse:

"The Maid of Eternity came from the Exalted Paradise; Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, O Glad Tidings!"

When I went into the church, I looked around and, as expected, could see that there was no one there. It is winter and hardly anyone ever goes there. So I sat down and started reading the tablet. The accoustics in the church are really superb, so when you read something out loud, you feel like you are immediately transported to the presence of God.

Well, I got about three verses out, when this head rose up in front of me about five rows away, like someone coming out of a grave. I stopped and we looked at each other. I said to him "Were you asleep? Have I woken you?" He said no not really, that he was just dozing. I said that I was reading some poetry, and would he like to hear it too? He said he very much would: "Read it out loud". So I kept reading.

I only got about five more verses out when he interrupted me saying "Is she married?" Hmmm, is the Maid of Heaven married? I said no, that she sort of lives in a spiritual world. A few more verses on, he exclaimed that she was really beautiful. And I said that I thought she was really something too. I was able to read another four or five verses before he asked "Is she you?" I said no, she was sort of like the holy spirit. Then some more verses on, he asked "Did you write this?" I said no, a man called Baha'u'llah did. Then he let me finish.

When I was done, he came over to me and he seemed real keen to hear more. Unfortunately, I had no other translations on me, so I asked him if he would like to hear a prayer. He said yes. I suggested that I say a prayer for him and asked him what he would like me to pray for. "Food" he said. "Pray for food and coffee. I love coffee." I chose the prayer about granting an increase in the necessities of life, and pointed out that the prayer didn't exactly mention the word 'food' but that it mentioned heavenly bread, and it was easy enough to think that it all related to food.

When I had finished, he read two prayers himself out of the book and commented that they were very beautiful. Then we chatted and I told him I was Baha'i. "Do you believe in Jesus?" he asked, and I said yes. He told me he was "Christian - pentecostal, and born again, and methodist, and presbyterian and catholic and so on". I asked him if he would like the prayer book. He said "No, but I would like two dollars for coffee." I said, "If I give you two dollars fifty, you can get yourself a posh coffee". He said "No, I don't like posh coffee, just ordinary coffee." So I gave him two dollars.

As I was walking up the aisle to leave, there was a man leaning on a pillar on the other aisle. He bent over toward me and asked when the funeral was. I said I didn't know, that I had nothing to do with the church except that I came there to pray. He sort of whispered to me that he had missed the funeral of his old girlfriend and that all the people he loved were dying and that he must have been responsible. So ensued another 20 or so minutes chat about sprituality, the devil, tattoos, Christ and love. I was late back for work.

Alison


To: talisman
Subject: Revealing the fireside's hidden treasure

Well, I've been reading Abdu'l-Baha's commentary on the Islamic tradition: "I was a Hidden Treasure and love to be known. Therefore I created the creation that I might be known." It is really amazing; I have learned so much from it, and yet, have nothing like finished reading it. Even after reading just a couple of sections, it has explained terms that are used in prayers and all over Baha'u'llah's writings that previously didn't mean anything to me.

The commentary is so remarkable that I am *amazed* and bewildered that there is no translation of it readily available to the Baha'is. When I went to download the version of it that is linked from Juan's site, I discovered that it is a series of graphics files containing the scanned images of the translation from the pages of a book. This process has produced a set of 30 odd images with text that in some places cannot be read. How can it be that such an important work has been overlooked by those responsible for making the important works available to us? To give just one indication of how important this tradition is, Abdu'l- Baha describes it in the following way:

"...consider a circle: however much a compass moves, it can only move around the point which is the centre of the circle. This illumined verse, in the reality of angelic souls, has the same role as that point, for all of the senses and understanding of man revolve around that Divine verse."

Frankly, when I read this commentary and other mystical writings and think about what goes down as mainstream Baha'i fare, I just despair! Last weekend, I went for one evening to a local teaching conference that was being hosted for our region by the National Teaching Committee. I only went for the evening because, and this was confirmed, I thought that I would get better Baha'i Studies from the Internet. In all my 18 years of being a Baha'i, it had to have been one of the worst sessions I have ever attended. The whole session focused around the definition of a fireside. A few present, including two national teaching committee members, spent one hour arguing about things like, if you were telling someone about the faith in a cafe, would it be a fireside!

Someone brought up the question of the origin of the 'fireside'. Various suggestions were made, including the familiar one about how the Bab teaching Mulla Huseyn is the perfect paradigm for the fireside. There was just one problem though: apparently all day at the conference there had been discussion about the importance of developing over time a relationship with the person you are wanting to teach. Unfortunately, it is reported in the Dawnbreakers (the only source of history) that the Bab went to the edge of Shiraz to pick up Mulla Huseyn as soon as he arrived in town, and there was no time for such a relationship to develop! "I know", someone suggested, "they had developed a relationship in the spiritual world before their physical encounter."

If Baha'u'llah was to write the Kitab-i-Iqan today, I feel sure that the sayings of the Baha'is would run the book to volumes.

Alison


To: talisman
Subject: The first stirrings

I want to comment again on X's original thesis: that love is the first and essential stage of spiritual growth, and that it is the engine that drives everything else. Statements from Abdu'l-Baha in his commentary seem to back this up.

In the section on the Hidden Treasure, Abdu'l-Baha says that it was the "stirrings of love and inner yearnings" that prompted the primal Manifestation and Gaze:

"Within the Hidden Essence, the stirrings of love and the inner yearnings necessitated Perfect Burnishing and Clarification ( - and the phrase 'Perfect Burnishing' among some of the mystic knowers is the manifesting of the Absolute to Itself in the archetypal forms and the word 'Clarification' is the gazing by the Unconditioned Beauty upon the effulgences of Its own Beauty in the mirrors of Realities and Forms). Therefore the Essential Dispositions have, through the Divine Outpouring, manifested themselves out of the station of Essence into the station of Divine Knowledge. This is the first manifestation of the Absolute from the Hidden Treasure in the Divine Knowledge. And from this manifestation the Eternal Archetypes came into intellectual being. And each one, according to its inherent capacity, is distinguished from the others in the mirrors of the Divine Knowledge." This is supported by the comments in the first paragraph on love.

"For love and affection raised their banner within the Essence of the Absolute prior to the manifestation of the Essential Dispositions from the stage of Primal Unity to the stage of archetypal existence. (And the Hidden Essence became enraptured with Its own Beauty within Itself and this became the origin of all love and yearning and the source of all affection and ardour). This love and affection are identical to the Essence of the Absolute and are not separate from or additional to it."

Abdu'l-Baha is reiterating that the emotions of love and affection were felt within the Hidden Treasure before God ever manifested Herself or gazed at Herself. God fell in love with Herself! What is this love and yearning? Well, they are identical with God - they *are* God. Which makes sense in that this 'first' love and yearning no doubt never took place in time and never had a beginning.

In the section on knowledge, Abdu'l-Baha explains that: "this verse[I was a Hidden Treasure], ... is hidden and concealed within the veils and clouds of the self." Baha'u'llah, in his commentary on "He who knoweth himself knoweth his Lord", explains that we have in us a "sign of God", a "sign of the Revelation of the All-Abiding, All-Glorious God". Given all this, it seems to me that we humans participate in this primal love and yearning and that's why we experience these emotions, and why our experience of them is so very important - not something to be ignored!

Another thing... I've finally got an idea of where the Heavenly Maiden fits into the picture. Abdu'l-Baha explains that:

"when that Hidden Essence revealed Its Essence to Its Essence and showed forth Its Self to Its Self, the Maiden of Love, which was veiled within the canopy of the Essence of Unity, arose and came forth."

She seems to be the first embodiment of God's love for Herself. And, when there is a new Revelation and a new creation, she is made anew.

"[1] The Maid of Eternity came from the Exalted Paradise; Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, O Glad Tidings!
[2] With harp and with song, with crimson goblet she came; Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, O Glad Tidings!
[3] With glances of love, with the taste of death--with dance and with song she came; Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, O Glad Tidings!
[4] With musky tresses, with ruby lips--from nigh unto God, she came; Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, O Glad Tidings!"

About serene compassion and passionate love, it's interesting to note something that John Walbridge points out in his article "Erotic Imagery in the Allegorical Writings of Baha'u'llah". After giving an overview of Baha'u'llah's writings about the Maiden, John concludes by saying that the early writings from the Baghdad period were characterised by "the atmosphere of intense sexual longing", "burning conflict between the spiritual exaltation of revelation and the hostility and betrayal of His enemies", and that this is replaced in Baha'u'llah's later vision (1873) "by an inner tranquility" and "a lofty indifference to the events of the world". It makes sense that we should, as we get older, be less inclined to take the world on and more inclined to be accepting of what is. This is instructive for me. For someone like myself, who is typically of the passionate, raging type, it's important to know that adopting a serene compassion does not have to entail a renunciation of what was previously held so dear.

Alison


Date: Sun, 5 Jul 1998 11:37:34 +1200
Subject: Re: the Maid of Heaven

Dear X I really enjoyed reading your poem. The imagery reminded me of the futuristic rendition of Romeo and Juliet - the one with Leonardo in it.

I am not aware of anywhere in the writings where it says or even alludes to the future manifestation being a woman, but I sure like the idea. If the law about women being on the House never changes, then the advent of a female manifestation would sure be a delicious irony.

I also like to read your stories about X. I was wondering if you would tell me about your childhood and where your uncle fits in in the picture. You appear to have had an interesting time of it!

I am also aware that there are about 50 or so people on this list and that I don't know anything about most of them, except an e-mail address. So if anyone else feels moved to come out of the closet and introduce themselves to me, I would appreciate this very much. You know, I don't find it easy to write messages into a void. One thing that adds to my discomfort is that, to a some extent, my personal experiences inform my opinions on things and so I find it difficult to express an opinion without revealing something personal.

Love Alison


Date: Tue, 21 Jul 1998 22:21:05 +1200
Subject: obeying anybody

X says: "I don't have the faintest idea why the people in Haifa do some of the weird things they do. In the case of promulgating obedience of wives to husbands..."

The fact that this is an issue at all betrays an old world order attitude to obedience. What goes down in the family, goes down in the government - and that's what's going down here. One thing that always got up my nose was the relentless demand from the institutions that the believers be obedient. It's pitiful. However, if that's the way they see it on the macro level, then that'll be how they see it working at home.

But if we're going to push obedience, let's do it even-handedly. What about the obedience of institutions to the believers? Oh no, everyone will throw up their hands in horror, they are answerable only to God! Well, exactly. And so am I. They want the right to follow their consciences. So do I.

"Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty." If we want happy families, I suggest that this will be the insight to bring this about. It makes the debate about wives obeying husbands look about as intelligent as an Arnie Schwarzenegger movie.

Really, I'm just overwhelmed by the fact that we go on and on about unity, and yet put little energy into learning about what unites us. We are exhorted to know/love (irfan) and worship God. If we did this, maybe the rest would take care of itself.

Alison


Date: Wed, 22 Jul 1998 20:47:39 +1200
Subject: changing the world

X said: "One thing I firmly believe in is the Master's statement that one person, truly filled with the love of Baha'u'llah can change the world. The problem with that is that the only examples I've been able to come up with so far have been Dr. King and Gandhi. I'm not sure I want to suffer their fate."

Despite the fact that I come across as someone who just sits around and trashes the institutions, I am known for doing some positive things. And I accept, as X politely suggested, that sharing one's insights is important - should anyone feel they are worth listening to.

One positive activity that I am participating in is a regular study class on the Iqan, which we have locally. What a fabulous success it has been. I love going along to this because, amazingly, it is the only time we get together to talk about what *Baha'u'llah* said! I have learned heaps. Every paragraph is a joy. Baha'u'llah has such an amazing sense of humour. He's very dry. It reminds me of the David Bowie song, "Life on Mars". Poor Baha'u'llah must have felt himself to be surrounded by a bunch of crazy people in a horror show, which, like in the song, he was forced to watch on some movie screen somewhere in the middle of eternity.

I used to castigate myself constantly over this idea that one person, wholly devoted to God, can change the world. I used to think that I was failing as a Baha'i because, for over a decade, I had not succeeded in turning myself into the state necessary to completely transform my local community. I remember at a summer school, we were talking about something and I was in tears telling everyone how pitiful my local assembly was and what a painful experience it all was. And someone, bless her heart, said that I just hadn't tried hard enough; that alone and unaided I could be the cause of the transformation of the world and what the hell was I bleating about!

It was while we were studying the Iqan that I developed a new interpretation of this idea of changing the world. When I look at it now, I can see, well, Baha'u'llah was probably pretty devoted to God, but did that mean that all of sudden everyone on earth believed? No way. In fact, there was only a small group of believers around him who actually did what he said. Others believed, and did what they said.

It seems to me that in the Iqan, Baha'u'llah is redefining the whole concept of sovereignty. In the quest for role models of those who have prevailed over heaven and earth, Baha'u'llah cites the Imam Huseyn! Think about it. He was mercilessly slaughtered by co-religionists, at a time when he had only a handful of followers. He was defeated. Is that sovereignty? YES. We can see this now because there are millions of Shi`ites. At the time of his death, Baha'u'llah says that it became known that just one drop of Huseyn's blood from in the dust had the power to heal. And even after this, people would come to collect the dust from where he was slain. In line with this, X posted a message earlier about the power of the blood of martyrs to transform the hearts of bystanders. As for contemporary role models, look around. I don't think we need to look far to find people who have been 'defeated'.

Interestingly, I was thinking about how the Baha'i community measures sovereignty today. I think we measure sovereignty in numbers of Baha'is and in 'important' people in a worldly sense. Even though we are told that fewness of numbers is not important - the Imam Huseyn proves that - we are still fixated with growth in numbers, and even though we are told that the size of the receptacle is not important, we are still fixated with 'people of capacity'.

If you read the more recent issues of "The Baha'i World", which I have forced myself to read because I am reviewing them, it becomes very clear what the Baha'i community values and considers a victory. Events are described in there by, almost without exception, who came that was 'important', how many came, the name of the topic (no mention of the discussion) and anything the important people said that indicated they thought the Baha'is were a hit. No mention of any 'defeats'.

Alison


Date: Sun, 26 Jul 1998 10:41:26 +1200
Subject: Re: theocracy

>"What the Guardian was referring to was the Theocratic
>systems, such as the Catholic Church and the Caliphate,
>which are not divinely given as systems, but man-made and
>yet, having partly derived from the teachings of Christ and
>Muhammad are, in a sense, theocracies. The Baha'i
>theocracy, on the contrary, is both divinely ordained as a
>system and, of course, based on the teachings of the Prophet
>Himself."
>-- Shoghi Effendi, _Directives of the Guardian_, pp.78-79

This is an unfortunate quote - it is misleading and it has not been written by the Guardian. It shows how things go wrong the minute we base our beliefs on the writings of the Guardian and his secretaries, while completely ignoring the spiritual principles outlined by Baha'u'llah. 'Faith by numbers; faith by Lights of Guidance.' We have to read what SE and his secretaries say in the light of what Baha'u'llah says, otherwise, we privilege SE above Baha'u'llah.

In this case, the spiritual principles are outlined in this quote:

"O ye the loved ones and the trustees of God! Kings are the manifestations of the power, and the daysprings of the might and riches, of God. Pray ye on their behalf. He hath invested them with the rulership of the earth and hath singled out the hearts of men as His Own domain."

Alison


Date: Mon, 27 Jul 1998 19:45:15 +1200
Subject: Re: Rulership of the Earth

Dear X I append below a message Juan wrote to H-Baha'i, which contains some of the untranslated passages he refers to and explains the second of Baha'u'llah's quotes that you cite; that is:
>3."The men of God's House of Justice have been charged with the affairs of
> the people. They, in truth, are the Trustees of God among His servants and
> the daysprings of authority in His countries ." Ishraqat, TB p.91
>(identical words in the Bisharat:13,TB p.26) accorded as part of the Aqdas..

As for this last quote, it seems to me that Baha'u'llah is assuming - in line with things he has said previously - that government will be the province of kings and presidents, and spiritual leadership will lie with the Houses of Justice. In other words, physical and spiritual affairs will be dealt with by different institutions, but they will support each other, being both aspects of the World Order of Baha'u'llah.

>2. "According to the fundamental laws which We have formerly revealed in
>the Kitab-i-Aqdas and other Tablets, all affairs are committed to the care
>of
> just kings and presidents and of the Trustees of the House of Justice"
>Lawh-i-Dunya,
>TB p.93.

Here are a couple of quotes from Shoghi Effendi that give further indication of what Baha'u'llah had in mind. Notice in the first one he says that it's not for the AO to interfere with constitutions, and in the second he states that the AO should not even *anticipate* extinguishing civil government.

Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country's constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries. (letter of 21 March 1932 addressed to the Baha'is of the United States and Canada, in The World Order of Baha'u'llah: Selected Letter, 1991 edn p 66)

To conclude from the above quoted words, addressed by Baha'u'llah to the monarchs of the earth, to infer from the recital of the woeful disasters that have overtaken so many of them, that His followers either advocate or anticipate the definite extinction of the institution of kingship, would indeed be tantamount to a distortion of His teaching. I can do no better than quote some of &Baha'u'llah's Own testimonies, leaving the reader to shape his own judgment as to the falsity of such a deduction. (The Promised Day is Come pp 70-71)

Alison


Date: Wed, 29 Jul 1998 19:42:45 +1200
Subject: Re: organized religion

>This brings me to the larger issue. Its a fundamental problem with
>organized religion, Baha'i or otherwise. Jesus pointed it out quite
>succintly "You cannot serve two masters." Sometimes the ideals of a
>religion will conflict with the immediate needs of the organization.

I went through a long period where I was deeply disillusioned by the state of the Baha'i institutions. But in the end, I realised that they didn't matter. I was so conditioned into thinking that they were the Faith, that I just couldn't see past this. I was also conditioned to fear them, which makes it extremely difficult to see past them.

Now I believe that when Baha'u'llah says he is interested only in my heart, he meant it, and when he counsels us to live in the world of the spirit, he meant that too. For me, these are the only things that matter. I think we should measure the institutions against this, Baha'u'llah's, standard; we should not measure Baha'u'llah by what the institutions do. This is my interpretation of the verse "You cannot serve two masters." Similarly, friend and foe cannot abide in the one heart. So, I put Baha'u'llah in my heart and live in his and measure everything else by him - including the AO. Of course, the extent to which the AO is able to align itself with this sanctified relationship between my heart and Baha'u'llah, the more it will 'matter'. That's up to it, and it's up to me to continue my life of Remembrance.

Although it would be convenient if religious institutions didn't go off the rails, I don't think it matters for the Religion of Baha'u'llah. Baha'u'llah's sovereignty is spiritual, and this process goes on regardless of whether it gets any help from those outward signs that are supposed to be its maidservant.

Love Alison


Date: Thu, 30 Jul 1998 19:42:34 +1200
Subject: Re: Rulership of the Earth

>It's a matter of 'belief' Alison. I do not believe that Baha'u'llah
>constrains his followers from determining their own destiny.
>Should, God willing, that reach a requirement for self-govenment,
>the jurists managers and arbiters of the nation-state system
>(ie world government) would monitor and facilitate that process.
>Why limit or handicap yourself?"

Well, IMV, it's a matter of theology, X. In his commentary on the Islamic verse "I was a Hidden Treasure", `Abdu'l-Baha explains that God "has manifested every created thing through one of His Names." Baha'u'llah tells us that kings/governments manifest the power of God. We also know, for example, that the Mashriq is the embodiment of the Remembrance of God.

The important thing is that, just as with humans, each of the institutions and features of society is dominated by one of the Names of God. For each of these things to reach its potential, it must be able to be the best it can be at reflecting that Name. Society benefits when these institutions reveal their potential. But this outcome would not happen if one Name dominated or took over another. From the perspective of the World of Oneness, such a thing would be impossible, for all the Names and Attributes of God are identical with the Essence. But in the world of creation, where all the Names and Attributes of God are seperated out into many manifestations, such a thing might seem to happen, but it would be a perversion. For example, science tries to control religion, religion tries to control science, men try to control women, religion tries to control the state, the state tries to control religion, economics tries to control education, the House of Justice tries to control the House of Worship, whites try to control blacks, the first world tries to control the third, and so on.

So I don't think, no matter how far into the future we look, that there will ever be a time when the state will give itself over to the Baha'i institutions. If this happens, it will be a peversion, because all the Names and Attributes of God are One, and therefore are of equal validity and require equal expression. Balance is the goal, I think.

>"You on the other believe that the behavioural expression of your faith,
>alone or in community, should be regulated and constrained by the ruling
>civil/secular/legislative power and moreover you hold this to be a virtue for
>all times and all places. In some atheistic/secular states this would mean
>that your belief cannot have public expression of visibility, it would be
>circumscribed by the law to the realm of private experience.
>If this be your desire so be it."

First of all, I don't think that the state has to be "secular" in the sense of atheist or not-religious. A state can be Baha'i, just as some current Western states could be said to be Christian. As I understand it, the state *is* a Baha'i institution, just as much as the Houses of Justice are, in as much as they are a legitimate part of the World Order of Baha'u'llah. So, no, I do not worry that the state will somehow control my religious expression, because it will be made up of Baha'is and these Baha'is will be applying Baha'i principles to whatever they do.

Of course, such an ideal can *only* be realised if the spiritual sovereignty of Baha'u'llah is raised in people's hearts. And here it comes clear, that no-one anywhere under whatever system will be truely free unless Baha'u'llah's spiritual sovereignty is realised internally in the people. It's all very well for us to go on about how the Baha'i adminstrative order was designed by Baha'u'llah, but unless it is informed with His spirit, it is no better than any man-made model. So, in this sense, spiritual sovereignty is real power (the All-Subduing).

Second, the irony of what you say is this. In current circumstances, I suffer no threat to my religious expression from the state; all such threats come from religious institutions and people. The current Baha'i adminstration, for example, regulates my expression by, for example, censoring anything I might want to publish. It also does this by making it quite clear that the views I hold are heretical and sanctionable, although I can hold the views I do if I keep them private. Many Baha'is share my beliefs and do keep them quiet. I am one of the ones who is prepared to speak out. So the horror story you describe is already with us, but has nothing to do with civil authorities.

Alison