Talisman messages of March to June 1999
Date: Mon, 5 Apr 1999 09:57:52 +1200 (NZST)
At 07:41 AM 4/4/99 -0700, you wrote:
Another thought on this is X's idea that the abolition of slavery also has a more subtle meaning: the right of each individual to self-determination, not just in a political sense, but also in the sense of, for example, being one's own person within a marriage, or within one's heart (freedom to love), or within one's mind (freedom of conscience).
> We can
You can't make people believe, and it is vain to try. As I see it, the power is with Baha'u'llah. Verily, He does what He wills. I think our task is to *become* transformed - all the talk in the world will do no good unless we become it ourselves. When we become it, others are transformed by the flow of God's power through us. There are those who will choose it and those who will not. I think there is plenty of evidence that Baha'u'llah would have us leave to God those who do not. They are not worth focusing on. I would rather focus on the transformation process, on supporting each other in it, and thereby attracting others to make constructive choices and develop spiritual insight. To some extent, I think, Talisman achieves this.
>How do I avoid thinking ill of Muslims when I'm constantly told that
Those who caused suffering to Baha'u'llah were not Muslims in general, but those who for selfish reasons, such as love of power and money (principally, the clergy), stood in the way of the masses from recognising Baha'u'llah by spreading lies about him and threatening people with cruel consequences if they fell in love with him. To my mind, the ones to be weary of are those who use power games to get in the way of the spirit. It doesn't matter what religion such people are - there are Baha'is like this. This seems to me to be the guts of Baha'u'llah's argument in the Kitab-i Iqan. It is always those who feel they have something personal to lose that are the ones who try to control the free development of the Cause (I mean the Cause of the Spirit).
X: You have clearly made your mind up about all this, and I would be the *first* to agree that the evidence for what you say about the behaviour of the Baha'is is overwhelming. But I must stand up for Baha'u'llah. You will not find anywhere in Baha'u'llah's writings a justification for the behaviour you witness. I am a Baha'i because I believe in what Baha'u'llah says, not what the Baha'is do. To my mind, this is looking at something with one's own eyes, and not with those of others.
In the Kitab-i-Iqan, Baha'u'llah says:
"Furthermore, the sign of truth and falsehood is designated and appointed in the Book. By this divinely-appointed touchstone, the claims and pretensions of all men must needs be assayed, so that the truthful may be known and distinguished from the imposter. This touchstone is no other than this verse: "Wish for death, if ye are men of truth."(2)"
As well as being the touchstone of truth and falsehood, I suggest that this is also the touchstone of teaching/promotion of the Cause. For example, immediately following this, Baha'u'llah goes on to say:
"Consider these martyrs of unquestionable sincerity, to whose truthfulness testifieth the explicit text of the Book, and all of whom, as thou hast witnessed, have sacrificed their life, their substance, their wives, their children, their all, and ascended unto the loftiest chambers of Paradise." (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, Pages: 227-228)
"If these companions be not the true strivers after God, who else could be called by this name? Have these companions been seekers after power or glory? Have they ever yearned for riches? Have they cherished any desire except the good-pleasure of God? If these companions, with all their marvellous testimonies and wondrous works, be false, who then is worthy to claim for himself the truth? I swear by God! Their very deeds are a sufficient testimony, and an irrefutable proof unto all the peoples of the earth, were men to ponder in their hearts the mysteries of divine Revelation." (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, Pages: 226-227) And so, I would argue that "wish for death" is at the heart of teaching, for it is through the bahaviour that we show when we are detached from all but God that people are attracted to truth. This teaching process that you think of as proslytising is in reality is a process that involves the most exquisite expression of love and attraction for God that would take you breath away. It is humility, not arrogance.
You are right not to settle for anything less than this in your faith. But to deny that it's in every heart beat of, and word written, by Baha'u'llah, is, I think, a big mistake.
I think the answer is sincerity. Baha'u'llah: "Blessed are the sincere, who to the shade of My Lordliness made haste from every side." People who are sincere grow and change because they are honest with themselves. I think this is the same as looking at God straight with your own eyes. Such people have a telephone line to their souls and hearts and can therefore listen to the signs of God in them and in the world.
Having said that, though, it's impossible to know for sure who will choose to do the work that will develop spiritual insight. That's the will of God aspect to it. I think that God blesses some people and gives them an extra special hard time or somehow magically guides them so they will become jewels.
I think the job of each of us is to develop that telephone line in ourselves and then what seems to happen is that it acts as a magnet and people are attracted to it. So, rather than making judgements about people, it's like the process itself chooses 'who is worth it'. Perhaps these attracted souls are like the signs of God in the world for one's own spiritual journey.
This is how I see it at the moment. I'll let you know if come up any new ideas on it. :-)
At 12:34 PM 10/4/99 -0700, you wrote:
I'm with you on this. It suddenly hit me one day a few months ago that a Manifestation of God came, lived on the earth for a whole lifetime and then passed on to the next world, and the world didn't even know about it. For heaven's sake, most of the people who lived in the immediate vicinity of him didn't know about it. Did his appearance change people much? I mean, were there people all over flocking to be taught the faith by Him? Well, yes, but you'd think that for a Manifestation - and he was the closest the world has had to 'God in the Flesh' - he'd have more impact than that. But no. He sat around and revealed verses and gave an audience to those he thought were sincerely interested in his cause, otherwise he just dismissed them and didn't bother.
My point is this. I think Baha'i culture has it that we should run ourselves ragged through guilt trying to convert every man and his dog. And because the world doesn't listen, we feel we are failing. But look, no one much took any notice of Baha'u'llah, so what notice are they going to take of us? The worst thing about all this working hard, as you point out, is that it's no fun! It's got the worst of Presbyterian and Catholic: work ethic combined with guilt. Truely, we have forgotten to be happy. If we are deleriously happy, we feel bad or that a test must be somehow around the corner to get us down again - back to the real world.
This is rubbish, as far as I'm concerned. Real happiness is the best teacher. And, no, this does not conflict with the idea of dying being at the heart of teaching, because what we die to is our suffering on account of our attachment to this earthly life. This results in happiness. It is a delicious paradox. Baha'u'llah confirms that a state of permanent happiness beyond fear is a real station. It is called baqa' and should be our spiritual goal.
"Sever yourself from all that which is renowned among the people, and soar with the wings of detachment into the most glorious and sacred heavens. By God, if you fly into it, and reach the pole of meaning therein, you shall never see in existence anything but the countenance of the divine beloved, and shall never see the opposers save as a day whereon none of them is mentioned." --Baha'u'llah: Commentary on a verse of Rumi (for Salman)
X, About this elimination of fear thing, I believe we find it by looking inside, not by looking at other people's accounts of it. And yes, I do believe that the station of baqa' is a station that is beyond fear. Baha'u'llah describes it in Gems of the Mysteries as the valley in which the sun is always at high noon.
You can take him up on his offer. Why not? I think we make a big mistake looking at the people in the history of the faith as if they were made out of another breed of human being. They were not. Although, to be fair, Baha'u'llah does say that people living in the time of the manifestation do live at a time when they can find themselves detached from all save God in a really supremely amazing sort of way. But that doesn't mean we should all roll over and give up, and act like we're no hopers. If this were the case, God would be unjust, wouldn't he?
It seems to me that what we are dealing with is how to respond when the community of the Cause of God takes on inevitable human failings. The Cause of God is beautiful and perfect, but people aren't, and like all religions of the past, this one's appearance in the world of creation is going to lose its lustre too. Already has, in fact.
It also seems to me that what's going down here on Talisman is healing; it's a pressure valve where we can let off steam and work out constructive responses. So I'm with John. Talisman gets a bad name, but as X C said the other day, Talisman is the place people go when there is nowhere else to go. Talisman is my spiritual community, I have nowhere else to go. Talisman is not trash, Talisman is proud. I bet there is nowhere else that people are talking about these issues openly. This is the place I found my constructive responses and came to terms with these difficult issues. I think constructive things happen here. It's just life that the more obviously constructive things are going to happen in amongst the family disputes.
Now, how to respond to the fact that the community is in such a bad state. I want to quote Denis McEoin. He is discussing how the Babis responded to the fact that their hopes of redeeming the world had come to naught, with the Bab and many leaders being killed and the followers dispersed:
"Where millenarian expectancy had led to particularly violent action, and where this has met with repeated military defeat, it is common for a revolutionary movement to undergo a radical change in its attitudes to the world at large. Militancy is replaced by quietism, political radicalism gives way to acceptance of the status quo (or, at least, a willingness to put up with it), and the wish to change 'the world' is transformed into an emphasis on spiritual change within the individual." ("From Babism to Baha'ism" in Religion 13? 1993, p222-223)
Denis goes on to say that this was the pattern that characterised the shift from militant Shi'ism to "the normative Imami position that eventually came to be identified as the Twlever sect". He also shows in the article how Baha'u'llah followed the same course with the Baha'i faith. I think it also best describes where I came to rest on the issue.
Nor do I think that an emphasis on spirituality is a bad thing; it is precisely what is needed. Perhaps it's written in creation for these disappointments to occur, because if they didn't, no one would go spiritual. Let's face it, the fruits of that path are not apparent in this world, so people are only going to choose it or see it when all other options are closed off. Like Baha'u'llah says, for example, people cannot demonstrate whether they are miserly or generous unless they are given wealth.
Here's a quote from Baha'u'llah, which shows how he felt about injustice and choosing the spiritual path:
"Salman, my tribulations among the nations and states is powerful evidence and unassailable proof [of the Cause]. For a period of twenty years we have not so much as taken a drink of water in peace, or rested all night. Sometimes we were bound with chains and fetters, and at others we were arrested and made prisoner. If our gaze had been fixed upon this world and what is on it, we would never have fallen victim to these afflictions."
-- Baha'u'llah, in his Commentary on a Verse by Rumi
At 09:28 AM 16/4/99 -0700, X wrote:
Actually, "Karbila" has already happened, or may still be happening. This is what we are talking about. Many people have been treated unjustly by an administration that has been taken over by those concerned entirely with power that is not of the spiritual kind. These administrators wield total control and are now able to silence all dissent.
The fact that the Baha'is don't know this is happening does not mean that it is not happening. Most of the world does not know that Baha'u'llah came, but that does not mean he didn't. That Blessed Beauty's appearance was the most significant event in human history, and yet he languished most of his life in a prison, largely unnoticed by humanity. Why? Because these events take place in a spiritual realm that can only be seen with spiritual eyes.
The same is true of what's happening in the Baha'i community today. Most Baha'is don't see it. They cling to what's safe, instead of what's true. They abandon the data that comes in from the personal investigation of truth process (if they even sincerely apply it at all), because they fear its consequences, which are huge. And, true to form, the Baha'is are not encouraged by their leaders of religion to act on that data. Baha'u'llah makes it abundantly clear in the Iqan the role that the leaders of religion play: for their own personal gain, they stand in the way of the masses recognising the truth.
So, to your question: where is the better place to be? I say you want to be standing inside yourself in a seat of truth with Baha'u'llah. Look at the cosmic paradigms. Baha'u'llah has outlined them in the Iqan with perfect clarity. These paradigms have not stopped; the Baha'is are not exempt from them, as Ron has shown and Baha'u'llah has predicted. You have the leaders of religion, you have the blind masses, and you have the martyrs.
It's my personal interpretation that Baha'u'llah says that this Day shall not be followed by night because this spiritual paradigm is playing out in a backdrop of a real seperation between state and religion. Juan and Steve Scholl, for example, are not physically dead as a result of speaking out about the unjust way they have been treated. Spiritually they have been crucified, but today they still live to tell the tale, and this is something the administrators can do nothing about. I think this is new, and it'll be interesting to see how it plays out in the long term. And the other encouraging aspect is the advent of the Internet, which, like X mentioned about the effects of television, allows for the injustices to be publicised.
At 11:53 AM 21/4/99 -0700, you wrote:
X: I didn't read X's comment to be sarcastic. Why, for example, isn't a sharman a clergyman?
Seeing as you like definitions so much, the definition of clergy in my dictionary is "body of all persons ordained for religious service". Now, under that definition, I think a case can be made that the body of all those who serve on the institutions is a clergy. "Ordain" means 'appoint ceremonially for Christian mininstry', and also 'destine', 'appoint'. So, I can see no reason why those elected (appointed ceremonially) to serve on Baha'i institutions cannot be clergy.
These issues can be looked at from different levels. It's all very well to go around demanding that people stick to defintions and produce solid proof for things in order to convince those whose minds are only influenced by that kind of information, but there are spiritual levels at work as well. If you demanded that kind of evidence from Baha'u'llah to the exclusion of all else, then you would be in the same place as the clergy were then, accusing him of being a crazy poet and a heretic.
Having said that, if a study was done, I think it would show just how much our administrators have become clergy. Just off the top of my head, it is seen in the promotion of a culture in which: -- it is heresy not to believe that the House is infallible in the sense that everything it says is true -- the covenant has been reduced to a one-sided demand for obedience -- the believers are expected to turn to the House for 'clarification' on the writings (even though interpretion is not given it by the covenant); and scripture is interpreted through the lens of the writings of the House back through to Baha'u'llah, not visa versa -- primary sources, and secondary sources that conflict with the recieved view of the faith, are not openly shared, if at all, with the community, which means that the House can control how the community and the world views the Baha'i religion -- individual initiative is stiffled by the focus, to the exclusion of all else, on the administrative aspects of the religion -- individuals are not allowed to question the institutions except within very narrow processes that keep individuals isolated in relation to the administration; and individuals that agree on criticisms of the adminsitration are automatically assumed to be lobby groups motivated by power and are crushed.
I think this is something of how a clergy works in the Baha'i Faith.
At 03:45 PM 21/4/99 -0700, you wrote:
What is a 'sound' argument? On one level, a sound argument is composed of definitions and empirical evidence. That approach is academic and perfectly valid. But it is not the only way to approach this issue, although it seems to be the only way you want to approach it.
As I said, there are spiritual aspects to it as well, and these are conveniently denied by a person who relentlessly demands evidence on an empirical level. For example, empirically, Baha'u'llah was an absolute nobody: he had no power in the physical world, he was manifestly human and suffered as one, he had family problems, he was involved in a bitter war with his enemies. Any yet, these are precisely the things he would not want us to dwell on when assessing his claims. Spiritually, all these things are veils. So you see, from the point of view of the realm of Nasut (the physical world) Baha'u'llah's claims do not stack up, certainly not in the immediate future before his religion becomes a force in the world, but his claims not only make sense in the spiritual worlds, they define those worlds and what is true in them.
Those who insist on empirical evidence in spiritual matters are indeed those that the House characterises as materialistic and humanistic. It is a heartless position, and leads to conclusions that are sexist, racist, fanatical, literal and dominating. Such people have not tapped into the love that is at the heart of the mystical relationship with God, which is at the heart of all religion.
So although my 'evidence' for a Baha'i clergy of the administration does not fit with your conveniently reductionist model, many members on this list, as you have heard, feel in their hearts that this is happening. There is also solid evidence of things like widespread fear and silencing. Spiritually, this is evidence. Even if, for arguments sake, these members were all totally misguided, the smart and compassionate thing to do would be to look into why so many feel the way they do and really examine it so that they might feel heard and be healed. But, no, the Baha'i administration takes the position you have, which is why nothing ever changes. And this, in my view, is the spiritual disease at work here.
Yes, as X rightly pointed out, everyone is a clergyperson. I agree that this is precisely what Baha'u'llah intended. But this is not allowed to happen in current Baha'i culture. If it were, why are the writings and much secondary sources locked away in Haifa? It is control of information pure and simple. As X likes to remind us, for example, we can't let out the fact that Baha'u'llah had slaves. Why are the mystical writings not published and promoted? Because there is a belief that the Baha'is are not able to understand them. This is patronising control. Baha'u'llah's mystical writings are subversive. If they got out and were widely understood, the Baha'i Faith would be radically changed. People would find in them the path to precisely what you describe - a direct link with God that bypasses any clergy or administration. This result is not the goal of the current administration. Its vision is to get the Baha'is out there teaching in a proslytising way, get as many people cheerleading under its banner as possible, keep them in line with myths such as 'infallibility is propositional inerrancy' and 'convenant is obedience' and then work to take over the government of the world because the new world order is viewed as a Baha'i theocracy (again, no evidence whatsoever for this in the writings, in fact the opposite).
>In other words, everyone must be
The shari'a is prefaced with beauty. This is what the belivers would know if they were all their own clergypeople. They would be in love with beauty: "Observe my commandments for the love of My beauty".
Dear X Opening the Kitab-i Iqan at random, I find one among very many passages in which Baha'u'llah roundly denounces the divines. In this book, Baha'u'llah uses 'spiritual logic', in that he argues that these divines are the same divines in each age even though they are not the self same people. Now this is a spiritual argument, and it is in this sense that I mean that there are spiritual dimensions to this issue. Here is the passage, and I argue that it applies just as much to current Baha'i administration as it did to the divines that lived in Baha'u'llah's time:
"And, now, strive thou to comprehend the meaning of this saying of Ali, the Commander of the Faithful: "Piercing the veils of glory, unaided." Among these "veils of glory" are the divines and doctors living in the days of the Manifestation of God, who, because of their want of discernment and their love and eagerness for leadership, have failed to submit to the Cause of God, nay, have even refused to incline their ears unto the divine Melody. "They have thrust their fingers into their ears."(1) And the people also, utterly ignoring God and taking them for their masters, have placed themselves unreservedly under the authority of these pompous and hypocritical leaders, for they have no sight, no hearing, no heart, of their own to distinguish truth from falsehood." (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, Page: 164)
You are right, of course, that one could approach the issue of whether the Baha'i administration is a clergy by defining clergy in sociological terms and carrying out some research. Don't get me wrong, I believe such a study would be extremely profitable. But it will not help us with the likes of "They have thrust their fingers into their ears", whereas X's comparison with the Columbine High School incident does precisely this. X is using his spiritual insight here to draw our attention to denial. And X also is using spiritual insight, when she says, in effect, 'well who the hell cares what we call it, it's real and it's bad news'!
At 04:15 PM 27/4/99 -0700, you wrote:
X, This sounds like a classic H-Baha'i question. :-) It's kinda weird having you ask these questions on Talisman. Welcome! Anything in particular inspire you to move to this neck of the cyberwoods?
Well, I'll grasp the nettle and say no, I believe there never has been a generation that is not a half-light one. And I argue this because the perfection of a revelation when manifested in the world is inevitably obscured by the imperfections of humanity. Baha'u'llah knew. Here he is saying it:
13. O MY CHILDREN! I fear lest, bereft of the melody of the dove of heaven, ye will sink back to the shades of utter loss, and, never having gazed upon the beauty of the rose, return to water and clay. (Persian Hidden Words, No 13)
To me, he is saying that unless humanity attains mystical insight (gazes upon the beauty of the rose), then when Baha'u'llah goes from our midst, we'll all just go back to being what we were before. Cos it's only the mystical insight - the perception of beauty - that leads us to know that the spirit is more real than the physical. Once Baha'u'llah's gone, he's not there to guard the core of the outer religion and keep it focused on the spiritual. And now we've got people at the top valuing the 'look' of things
I know it says in the writings that this is the Day that shall not be followed by night. My interpretation of this is that despite the dreams of the Baha'i administration to create a worldwide theocracy, they're not going to be able to in this Day because of things like the Internet and the seperation of church and state being embedied in the Western democracies. Whereas before, the religious administrations were able to completely control discourse and kill dissenters, those who stand up to the administration today aren't silenced or literally killed for their actions. So there won't be a complete night in this Day. And who knows what that'll mean. From here, I reckon we just might be breaking new ground. Perhaps the half-light will be not as dim as before.
I know it's a sign of maturity that rulers will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to rule. But is there a promise that such an eventuality will take place? I doubt it. That's an outcome humanity must choose; Baha'u'llah can't force it on us. As the Hidden Word suggests, we need to choose rulers with spiritual insight, so that they will not be corrupted by power. They need to know for sure that power is in the midst of powerlessness. That's the transcendent perception that's required, IMV.
X I like the idea of the half-light being a symbol of the human condition. I go for that interpretation myself. However, it doesn't seem to be what Shoghi Effendi meant when he used the term. To quote him again:
"Into such a period we are now steadily and irresistibly moving. Amidst the shadows which are increasingly gathering about us we can faintly discern the glimmerings of Baha'u'llah's unearthly sovereignty appearing fitfully on the horizon of history. To us, the "generation of the half-light," living at a time which may be designated as the period of the incubation of the World Commonwealth envisaged by Baha'u'llah, has been assigned a task whose high privilege we can never sufficiently appreciate, and the arduousness of which we can as yet but dimly recognize..." (Shoghi Effendi: World Order of Baha'u'llah, Pages: 168-169)
Although he was no doubt aware of the mystical interpretions of sacred texts, he didn't seem to use them, I guess because he was talking to the West. It's interesting, because he seems to suggest that there is a golden age ahead, in the very sense that you deny (a utopia). And I agree with you. I think this utopian vision often drawn by the Guardian helped push the Baha'is off into the realm of an historical determinism as regards their glorious future. It's unfortunate because I can't imagine that the Guardian meant to plant this idea of a guaranteed glory to come, without the parallel existential struggle that you refer to.
It's funny you should say that about existential struggle, because I was saying to a friend in a private email just this morning that 'beauty' is the perfect shining in the sincere struggle of the imperfect. I can see this clear enough when I look at others, but from a subjective perspective, I get deeply frustrated at seeing my own limitations and inability to transcend them (quickly enough to satisfy me, anyway!). It's hard to see the beauty of one's own struggle - it comes over as only pain sometimes.
On another other level of existential stuggle, I believe the Baha'i liberals were scattered spiritually by the Talisman 1995 crackdown, and that this reaction was greatly contributed to by utopian visions of the future of the Baha'i community. The smart response is to devise creative ways respond to this all-to-human scenario, which is what is gradually happening. To my mind, it is important to unite spiritually and support and love one another - not separate, isolate, lose faith and give up!
X I agree with X about the goal of humanity being in its highest specimens. It's like humanity is a tree and those noble souls are the fruits that it bears.
I also share X's scepticism about humanity as a whole not necessarily becoming more enlightened, for on one level, humanity in general seems to always privilege the material over the spiritual. However, clearly there has been material progress and this has benefitted humanity as a whole and will continue to do so, and also the power shifts that X refers to are also signs of progress IMV.
Here's a couple of interesting quotes from Baha'u'llah, which I downloaded off Juan's site, that I think relate to all this:
"The figurative world and the physical world are both pure nonexistence, but they appear in the garb of being. The first is the grief of the wayfarers and the second is the test of those who have attained. Therefore, it is necesary that a supreme effort be made, so that the compassionate spirit might overcome these two spiritual obstacles by the power of the All-Praised." (8:29)
Notice that Baha'u'llah says that those who have attained - like humanity's noble souls - are tested by the physical world. I would say that one of those tests is the insistence of humanity to cling to the physical world as if it is real, to deny the manifestations, and to pursue material power. Also, such people oppress the spiritually inclined. So, the tragic aspect of human nature surely is the terrible affliction. As regards attaining to compassion and thereby transcending attachment to both worlds, I think this compassion is demonstrated when we serve the Cause. Despite all the tragedy involved, we are still asked to serve in a bid to improve the lot of those who choose it. This service is the goal and the key to transcending all attachment.
The other interesting quote is this: "Not every heart is capable of acting as a repository for divine love. For not every soul is 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. Blessed be the All-Merciful, who is endued with grace and beneficence. Not everyone who has 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." (8:33) (Both passages from 'Abdu'l-Hamid Ishraq-Khavari, ed., Ma'idih-yi Asmani (The Heavenly Repast), Tehran, Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1972, vol 8. Found at http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jrcole/bhfrag.htm#20)
I suggest that this passage confirms the theory that the progress/fruit of humanity is manifested in its noble souls. The catch is that those noble souls have to proof their worthiness by pouring their all into service - transmute the lead into gold using the elixir of their transformed spirits.
X The House of Justice has a closed mind on the issue. It has decided that there *never* will be women on the House and does not tolerate any discussion on the matter. This was proved when Michael McKenny wrote twice to them about it and, for his efforts, the House declared him no longer a Baha'i. There are lots of exceptionally good arguments for why women should be able to be members of the House of Justice. It's just a question of researching and getting your head around them, if you are really interested. But one thing is certain, the House of Justice isn't listening to them. It would argue that the matter is scripturally determined. However, it is a matter of *law* whether women can be members of the House of Justice, for it is given to the House and not the Guardian or even Abdul-Baha to legislate on matters not clear in the Book. And the House, to my mind, brings the Faith into disrepute every second it sits on its hands over the matter.
I cite below the passages from the writings of Baha'u'llah. As you will see, nowhere does he actually say women cannot sit as members of the House. In every single instance, he merely refers to the members as men: "The men of the House..." This can easily be seen as a function of the cultural context in which he spoke. To prove this, here is another passage in which it is clear that the way Baha'u'llah has expressed himself has been determined by culture:
"Know thou and be well assured that from the first day whereon the voice of the Most Sublime Pen was raised betwixt earth and heaven We offered up Our souls, and Our bodies, and Our sons, and Our possessions in the path of God, the Exalted, the Great..." Epistle, p84-85
Now, does this mean that Baha'u'llah would not offer up his daughters or wives? No, of course he would. He says "sons" because they were the ones who were considered important culturally to his audience. Similarly, these references to the "men of the House" can be seen in this light. In other places he states categorically that women are as men, and this is a spiritual truth embodied in the Word or Logos, and therefore in the reality of our creation.
"Know thou, 0 handmaid, that in the sight of Baha, women are accounted the same as men, and God hath created all humankind in his own image, and after His own likeness. That is, men and women alike are the revelers of His names and attributes, and from the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference between them...."
This cannot be overridden by the mere mention in passing of "men of the House", for as we have seen in other discussions, we look to the Manifestion's SELF first as proof of what's what, and look only last to the written text. Embodied in the manifestation is the reality of the equality of the sexes, and the text of the Aqdas needs to be seen in the light of this.
Interestingly, X came up with an argument for looking at the texts in a cultural way, in this case, the texts relating to the inheritance laws. He said:
So how about we do the same with "men of the House" passages, and say that what Baha'u'llah was really doing was simply setting down requirements of what "members" of the House of Justice were to do. And if we need to know who "men" are, then we need look no further than the Reality embodied in the Self of the Manifestation, in the Word or Logos, that women and men are the same.
You know, in a tablet called "Gems of the Mysteries", Baha'u'llah lists a series of valleys in a very similar way to that in the Seven Valleys. The second-to-last valley is the "City of Eternal Life"; it approximates to the Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness. Baha'u'llah says that a person is this valley "seeth no distinction, either for himself or for any other soul" and describes the realm as the one where the sun is always at high noon. Well, my feeling is that if the Baha'is voted into power people who had mystical insight, then they would see the sun at high noon and there would be no question to them that women should serve as members of the House of Justice. Prophecy fulfilled.
At 04:58 PM 4/5/99 -0700, you wrote:
X The fact that we have so little people exhibiting belief in the power that this quote suggests is available to us is to me an indication that people feel disempowered. And I believe that the way we push the Martha Roots and so forth as if they were gods is not helpful. People need to be empowered and it is only by means of getting them in touch with the Baha'u'llah *inside* that they will excel even their own wildest dreams of what's possible. I can see that you are feeling very fired up and believe anything is possible. Well I agree with you. But think about what got you to that place in your heart. It was a process of being *freed* from all the baloney that believers are drowned in now - freed from the claws of an administration that kills spirit. To my mind, this process is the crucial one.
Well, what the quote tells me is that if we do found a new religion, the point of it is to kill dogma - forever, and not to create a whole set of new dogmas. It means being tolerant of people's opinions and beliefs, and it should prevent the kind of situation where someone who does express themselves is threatened with being labelled a covenant breaker or simply 'not a Baha'i'. If there are no dogmas, how come Juan or Michael McKenny cannot be members of the community? They both believe in Baha'u'llah, so they are 'of Baha'. What is it that makes them not qualify?
I think X has a really important point here. While we may think that the exclusion is justified on the basis of a whole lot of complex interpretations of scriptural texts, the outside world is only going to see a blatant contradiction. And as news of that contradiction spreads, our credibility is going to plunge. And I would say when or if that happens, it'll be by the grace of God, because Baha'u'llah will be purging his glorious Cause of the stain of being accused of perpetrating a terrible injustice. Common sense will prevail as time goes by, and the longer the House refuses to look again at this issue, the worse will be the nightmare awaiting it.
Below are some words of common sense on this issue, from another list.
>I have a pet theory that many people subustitute the word *god* for eternal
X, I like your theory, and I'll bet it has legs. The Baha'i community is such a fabulous example of people thinking that God is just an extension of themselves. Baha'is teach the Faith to non-Baha'is and to 'misguided' Baha'i liberals such as myself, by talking *at* them. No real consultation, just 'read my lips'. I can think of only a couple of famous Baha'is that I met who knew what to do with their ears. So the 'Cause' to them is something that they create constantly with all this babble and, usually, extreme busyness, and you are shut out of it unless you play along and stop listening to yourself too.
X I have forwarded to you directly a handful of messages that I have written on this subject.
As you know, there was an historic debate on Talisman I on this issue, which is neatly summarised in the last chapter in Juan's book: Modernity and the Millenium. A must read.
I have already forwarded to Talisman the letter the House has written on this. If you have not kept it, I will resend it to you.
When it comes right down to it, this issue is about how we interpret the writings. X neatly summed up the issue in this message he wrote a year or so back:
At the moment, the House claims its hands are tied and that it is not interpreting; but it is. It's *impossible* to read a text and get meaning out of it and not be interpreting it. That's why it's a good idea to get clued up about how to interpret texts properly. You can see from Sen's explanation that the House has gone for the option of reading the writings backwards through time, which is why the House's position hangs ultimately on what the Guardian's secretary wrote. Remember: we have *no* writings whatsoever in the Guardian's hand on this matter. Nothing has been dug up. Just think about the ridiculous end that this path of interpretation takes us. That an issue that is prima facie a total reversal of Baha'i principle boils down to something a secretary wrote! If the Guardian had imagined the circumstances we are in now, surely he would have investigated it deeply and penned something himself on the matter. Remember also that the House of Justice has the power when legislating to disregard an interpretation of the Guardian. It is clear from the following passage that the Guardian envisaged such a situation occuring:
"He [the Guardian]cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Baha'u'llah's revealed utterances." (World Order p150)
The other option for interpreting the writings is the way to approach this matter. You can see in Juan's book that this is the approach he takes. We gotta look at what Baha'u'llah said first, cos no-one can make more of that than what's there. And if it's not there at all or not clear, then the House can legislate accordingly.
This is a heartening response X! If we're down to practicalities now, then the arguments of theory must be starting to stack up well. Off the top of my head, I don't see why the House can't change its mind. It can say it's got new information, or something. Certainly the scholarship on this issue has gone through the roof since Talisman, mostly due to Juan's efforts and insights, and there are plenty of new arguments that were not in the Service of Women paper.
X: X's argument captures the reason for my response on this issue. I think you can't focus just on the House - as you have said often, the House is us. And spiritually, I think you are right. It is not that I am sitting around not doing anything about this issue right now, it's that I feel that what's needed is education. As X right pointed out, most Baha'is don't think about this issue. Education would get them thinking about it again, which requires overcoming fear, get them examining the issues again, get them looking at the new arguments and basically develop in the community what we should have had all along - a civil society where matters such as this one can be thrown around in open public debate such as you see on TV all the time. Any course on public law will teach you that it is in this kind of milieu that good citizens and just society are created. The Baha'i community needs a civil society. And increasingly, it's what the Internet will bring. As I have repeatedly said, look at Talisman. What we have here would have been unthinkable five years ago. This needs to spread, so that there is a change in the community's thinking. This kind of thing, I think, is a necessary compliment to the process of actually approaching the House on a matter.
>ps Regarding the McKinney issue, if I am not wrong an ABM suggested the
I remember that the ABM was very supportive of Michael's efforts to communicate with the House.
And now for something completely different. A love letter.
You know how the Guardian says we haven't yet learned to use each other for support like we ought to? Well, I was thinking that on Talisman we share a lot of ideas and a lot of fire, but very little, if any, heartfelt sorrow and grief. So, I'm going to be the first to share with you my grief. It's not just happiness and fire that unites, but also the dissolving of self in the snow of sorrow. The relationship between the believer and the Beloved is a passionate love affair, and I think it helps to hear about how others suffer with regard to their distance from God. Baha'u'llah shared his sufferings on this level with us, and I draw strength from his openess about them. For me, the one thing that demonstrates his unsurpassed courage was that, despite being surrounded with cruelty beyond imagination, he never developed that hard crust of bitterness and isolation around his heart, which is the instinctive response to injustice and the pain of loving. This is one of the ways I see him weeping his life away. He is just like the Imam Husayn, who stood up over and over again and took more and more spears in his chest.
I have been feeling very down these last couple of days. Last night, I was able to sort of focus my despair somewhat and I wrote a prayer to Baha'u'llah. I have never written a prayer before, but it was a good idea and I think it helped. I was also overwhelmed with an impression of how important all you guys are to me. You are my spiritual family, and when it comes right down to it - and it did yesterday - you seemed to be the only thing left in my life that was real. Not that Baha'u'llah wasn't real, but my community seemed to be the real extension of Him. It made me think if this quote from Baha'u'llah:
"Whoever is content with God, his lord, will be content with his servants, who have believed in him and his signs on the day whereon all who are in the heavens and the earth have swooned. For a servant's satisfaction with God cannot be demonstrated save by his satisfaction with the friends of God, who have detached themselves from everything but God and depended on him."
-- Baha'u'llah, from the City of Radiant Acquiesence
This ignores the fact that the House can legislate as it pleases, despite what the Guardian says. It is the House that has been given the power to legislate, not the Guardian. I don't imagine for a second that the Guardian, when he had those letters written, thought that they would be used to bind the world for the rest of the dispensation. The issue was academic at the time the letters were written. They indicate his take on the issue, given the information he had to hand, that's all. I suspect he imagined the matter would come up when the House was actually formed, at which time there would be a Guardian (maybe himself) sitting as a member of the House of Justice (which he is) and consulting on the matter and then coming up with a decision together. It's not a matter of the Guardian calling the shots and then his determination being frozen for all time. I don't believe he claimed this sort of power.
>Moreover, the fact that they stated that this could not be changed in the
Anything's possible, if you believe in it. Think not that the hand of God is chained up. You may well be right, and the House never changes its mind. But I'm not going to stop believing just cos things look hopeless at this stage. The best of causes always look hopeless at the beginning. That's when martyrs and visionaries are made. It's the stuff of life, from what I can see. If the House never moves on this issue, then they're the ones who will end up justifying it to Baha'u'llah.
Anyway, it seems to me untenable that the current House can bind future Houses. This is a fundamental principle in law - the current Parliament cannot bind future Parliaments. If the current House could do that, it could write all law for all time and then pack up and go home. On the contrary, it is clear that Baha'u'llah really wanted change and flexibility.
As for infallibility, this is only an issue if you believe that "infallible" means "inerrant". And there is no evidence whatsoever in the writings that inerrancy was meant to apply to the House. I append below the arguments for this. If "infallibility" means some kind of mixture of "sinlessness" and "legitimate sphere of authority", then there is no shame in changing in mid-stream. I thought humility was supposed to be highly prized! Dear God, how did we ever get into the situation where flexibility is damned by rigidity?
If you were able to, I'd be interested in hearing about 'life after the community'. (I am assuming you resigned only from the community, and not from Baha'u'llah. But I don't know.) Where did you 'travel' after you left and where do you see yourself now?
For my part, I never experienced that sense of betrayal. Perhaps that was because when I declared, I was a mess and my experience was of being saved from death, rather than of entering a 'contract' as such, where I had investigated and consciously thought through what I was getting into. So when I found out that there were no women on the House, it didn't register as an issue until my life stabilised and I got a tertiary education.
At that stage, although the Faith was not staking up on issues like infallibility, my emotional attachment was still my primary experience of the Faith. It had taken me literally from hell to peace. But, increasingly, the Faith was turning into its own hell, as I encountered power politics and denial in the community. The usually story, people thinking that the Cause runs on human power, not on faith in God's power. This got so bad that I was an inactive Baha'i when I joined Talisman I at the end of 1994.
Between then and now, I have discovered the mystical heart of the Faith, as well as much good scholarship that has shed light on all the questions I had buried back then. In discovering the mystical heart of the Faith, I have discovered (and this was crucial to me) that at that level, the Cause is not sexist. God is not a man, and nor is Baha'u'llah. Whatever sexism we introduce into the Faith for whatever reason is at the level of multiplicity. The Cause is not sexist (or anything else bad for anyone) at its Essence. This is my primary experience now, and if it comes to a show down between that Essence and the community, the Essence will win.
I'm with X. I think Talisman creates change by freeing people from the constraints that the community imposes; principally, fear. I think fear is the biggest hindrance to the development of the community. Fear of what? Fear of the covenant, as embodied by its institutions, mainly. And that manifests itself in various fundamental ways in people's insides. People are so conditioned by the fear that they have forgotten how to ask questions or even have an opinion on matters, except within a narrowly defined realm of what's acceptable. For example, there is very little consultation at our feast, and I feel sure that this would be the case all over. Why? Because instinctively, people know they can't have an opinion without feeling they're maybe causing disunity or, often, they feel that the institutions run the show anyway and so they just look to the institutions to tell them what to do and what to think. Many don't think there is any more to religion than this anyway.
The fear impacts terribly on Baha'i scholarship. With large chunks of people's reasoning faculties switched out when they enter the "Baha'i" realm in their insides, this keeps people from pushing the frontiers in scholarship forward. (So you'll get, for example, lawyers pushing human rights in courts, and then abusing them in the community, and not thinking twice about it.) I experienced this liberation for myself. I remember after being submerged in Talisman messages for a couple of years, I started to let my mind use what I had learned in creative ways and started to discover what it was like to actually think freely and not keep in the back of my mind the predefined boundaries that I realised had been placed in my head through socialisation.
In 1995, I watched the Talisman discussion on infallibility and women on the House unfold. It took place over a period of about a month. First of all, what was known about the issues and relevant information, historical and legal, was posted. Then the participants began playing with it. And many theories and counter arguments and so forth were thrown around. There was enormous excitement and energy. Steve and I would download 50 or so messages, twice a day. We talked constantly about it. In the middle of it, we had to go to summer school. So about half an hour before we left, we downloaded the last lot of messages, printed them all out and I read them aloud in the car for a couple of hours. We would literally race each other to the computer each morning. I had a jingle I used to sing about Eudora, cos it brought us so much joy. Everyone was captivated. Posters would complain that their lives were falling apart cos they spent all their time on Talisman. The big draw card was the fact that the best minds in the Baha'i world were thrashing out issues that had never, really, been consulted on before in the community. Some expressed the hope that the discussions would be useful to the House, inasmuch as the world's scholars were all there together and could be of use. But instead of it being seen as a positive forum, it was seen as a threat, and those who eloquently expressed views that the House did not share were contacted personally by Steve Birkland and threatened with an encounter with the covenant.
I think all this shows the fear, and the excitement of liberation and its effects. It also shows that Talisman has lived up to its name. Talisman is a talisman. Talisman as it stands now could not have been possible without the most great purge of 1996. Interestingly, people on Talisman now say much more controversial things than the participants did back in 1995. But no one takes any notice anymore, because the current backdrop is, as X said, live and let live, and basically, once people get used to free discussion, they become desensitised to hearing opinions contrary to their own and simply forget how opinions could be viewed as a covenantal threat.
So, to my mind, it is a process akin to this by which Talisman effects change in the community. It is the similar to the "consciousness-raising" decolonisation process that took place in the early days of the feminist movement, where small groups of women got together to discuss the silent and invisible effects of patriarchy. To me, it is the meaning of "teaching" - the purpose being to free the soul, so that it can rise up and claim an intimate relationship with its Beloved.
But X How do you *know* that the letter does not refer to you? Because you have the right opinions on things? Because you look in your heart and find no malice? Because you look in your mind and find no campaign? Then join the rest of us, X, we *all* feel that way. Really!
How would you feel if I came out and used this letter against you, like you are so self-righteously doing to others? I reckon I can put together a cogent argument for why the letter might apply to you. You posted the Ridvan message on Talisman in direct contravention of the guidance of the House that the letter was to be kept from public distribution until after the convention. These instructions were publically announced on Baha'i Discuss, and there was some very angry protection-type people saying some pretty mean things about those distributing the message. Is this the ill-fated message the House is referring to? How do you know it isn't?
This letter gives Baha'is the amunition to point the gun at their neighbour. Honestly, X. Examine your conscience. Where you do you get the right to point the finger?
About this future Baha'i state idea, in keeping with the principle of the independent investigation of truth, we need to view what the House says in light of what Baha'u'llah says. It's fundamental to always go back to what Baha'u'llah says. It's from there that we can gauge the principles to apply to any given issue.
That's the problem with Baha'is. They take what the House says and think it is what Baha'u'llah says. This, of course, is based on the assumption that the "infallibility" of the House relates to all the House says, instead of, as Shoghi Effendi explains, its legislation only. Now the idea of a future Baha'i state has nothing whatsoever to do with legislation. Therefore the issue of infallibility does not arise with regard to this issue. In light of that, I suggest we interpret what the House says in light of the conclusions arrived at by Baha'u'llah.
What does the House say?
It's not clear what this means. The unity of spiritual and civil authority could be anything. It could be a unity in the sense of two different entities co-operating, or it could be a merger. The House is roundly denouncing the concept of the 'separation of church and state'. Again, it's not clear how they understand that concept. Perhaps by it they mean the opposite of the unity they previously mention, in which case, a "separation" of the two institutions could mean that the two institutions do not co-operate. Alternatively, they could mean that a "separation" is a Western nonsense that will precede a righteous merger. In light of the principle I will outline next, I believe that the House must be talking on a spiritual level only, and not assuming the merger of the two institutions.
What does Baha'u'llah say?
X has done extensive reseach on this one and discussed it in his message "Baha'i Commonwealth", which he posted to H-Baha'i. As I understand it, he argues that Baha'u'llah interpreted the word "sovereignty" to have two meanings, one that related to earthly power and one that related to spiritual power. In essence, Baha'u'llah kept spiritual power for Himself and gave earthly power to the kings and rulers. X's explanation of the two sovereignties is below. You can see that Baha'u'llah is saying He doesn't want earthly power because it is not God's way to take on that kind of power. All manifestations have been shorn of earthly power by God so that the people can be tested in faith. This tactic that God uses does not change. To my mind, of what benefit to God are things earthly, when when God owns everything anyway? So, He lets the fools take earthly power, and think they have mastered something. In reality, it is not that the Manifestations are shorn of power, but that the fools are shorn of vision.
>1) The doctrine of the two sovereignties in the Kitab-i
Here's another couple of quotes that X cites to support this 'dual sovereignty' reading:
To my mind, it is fundamental that we approach each issue by *first* looking at what Baha'u'llah says on the matter. Baha'u'llah has the authority to override what anyone else says because he is the most recent Manifestation of God, endowed with the Most Great Infallibility, which he shares with no other person and no institution. It is also significant if what he says is in the Most Holy Book, because as we know, no one has the right to overrule any rule or principle in it.
The House of Justice has the right to legislate on what is not in the Most Holy Book or what is not clear there. Now, this issue about the separation of church and state *is* covered by Baha'u'llah in the Most Holy Book. I will quote X again. You will note that Baha'u'llah reiterates here in the Most Holy Book that he does not want to "lay hold on your kingdoms. Our mission is to sieze and possess the hearts of men":
"In the Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh recognizes and exalts the institution of human government, in the forms of monarchy, democracy and republican government, and enjoins all people to obey "those who wield authority". Given the importance attached to this book, no alteration to these principles is conceivable. Those who have suggested that the Bahá'í recognition of the rights of temporal government and the duty of obedience to it is no more than the tactical response of a powerless community have not taken this into account. Bahá'u'lláh announces himself to the kings in apocalyptic terms and in prophetic denunciation, using messianic political titles ('the desire of the nations' and 'the King of kings'), so that the reader has no doubt that this is the Qá'im speaking. But he combines this with a forthright renunciation of any claim to earthly sovereignty:
He Who is the sovereign Lord of all is come ... from the heart of Zion there cometh the cry: "The promise is fulfilled" ... Ye are but vassals, O kings of the earth! He Who is the King of Kings hath appeared, ... Arise, and serve Him Who is the Desire of all nations, Who hath created you through a word from Him, and ordained you to be, for all time, the emblems of His sovereignty. ... By the righteousness of God! It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms. Our mission is to seize and possess the hearts of men. ... To this testifieth the Kingdom of Names, could ye but comprehend it. ... Forsake your palaces, and haste ye to gain admittance into His Kingdom. This, indeed, will profit you both in this world and in the next. (Aqdas, extracts from paras 78 to 83)
... For now it should be noted that Bahá'u'lláh refers to the kings as the emblems of God's sovereignty, "for all time'. It follows that the phrase "forsake your palaces" does not mean 'give up your thrones'. Moreover the following paragraph praises "the king who will arise to aid My Cause in My kingdom", which clearly envisions kings exercising power into the future. All are commanded to aid such a king "to unlock the cities with the keys of My Name," that is, to use words and persuasion to extend the influence of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings. The implication (explicated elsewhere) is that force and pressure are not to be used."
[extract from Sen McGlinn: "A theology of the state from the Baha'i teachings" http://bahai-library.org/unpubl.articles/church.html]
Alison again: I think this is clear. What's more, there are many other passages from Baha'u'llah that support the clear meaning of this text. So we don't have an apparent contradiction in what Baha'u'llah says on this matter. And no person or institution can override him on this - it's in the Aqdas.
The statement from the Guardian's secretary contradicts what Baha'u'llah says in the Aqdas *and* what the Guardian says in the World Order of Baha'u'llah, that the Bahá'ís must *never* "allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries" [The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 66]. Added to this, the Research Dept itself admits it can't find anything in the writings about a merger. It therefore ought to be considered an anomaly.
X entertainingly writes:
X, I think you must be reading different scriptures to me. Either that or this really shows up how people with different points of view see different things in what they read. I must hand it to you, Ian. You had me in stitches over this one.
The water of life: Here's a quote from Baha'u'llah's Commentary on the Disconnected Letters that indicates that we *all* get a share of the water of life. The water of life is a metaphor Baha'u'llah uses to refer to the stuff of life, if you like. In this passage, Baha'u'llah focusses on how the water of life was hidden in the Divine Names.
" Praise be to God who created the letters in the worlds of the Divine Cloud beyond the pavilions of holiness in the lofty heights of the elevated realm then gave them to drink from the goblet of eternal subsistence as ordained in the Tablets of the Decree.  This that He might bring life to the inmost hearts of those who are nigh unto God in the heavenly world of realization.  He then clothed the letters in a black robe in accordance with His eternal decree in the realm of the divine Command above the Crimson Domes according to His divine foreknowledge that He might conceal the Water of Life in the shadows of the worlds of [Divine] Names nigh unto the Lote-Tree of the Extremity."
There is also this quote from the Tablet of the Maiden, in which Baha'u'llah describes how he 'saw' the water of life in the Maiden's beauty. Presumably, She manifested all the Divine Names and Baha'u'llah could see, using his spiritual eyes, the water of life in her in that She manifested those Names. You'll notice how the water of life "flows through the realities of beings"; in other words, it is the living reality that is responsible for turning nothing into something. (The quote from the Disconnected Letters commentary explains metaphorically how God did this using the Disconnected Letters.)
"Exalted be God, Her creator, for what He caused Me to see in Her. Then blessed be God, Her fashioner, for the manifestation of might that I witnessed in Her beauty, and the modalities of power that I saw in Her splendor. At one time, I perceived Her as the sweet water of life, delicious and flowing through the realities of beings and the dark recesses of contingent things. I grew certain that the entirety of being survived by virtue of Her eternity, and continued to exist because of Her perpetuity."
So on this basis, I don't think God dished out the water of life to some and not others. On this basis, if someone was deprived of the water of life, they wouldn't exist at all, by virtue of the fact that they would not be sustained by any one of the Names of God, in which is hidden the secret of existence.
The Choice Sealed Wine: Now here's a laugh for you, X. Why does Baha'u'llah use wine metaphors? What tradition is he speaking in? Right, Islamic mysticism. And in that tradition, there are zillions of references to wine and being drunk and how wonderful drunken revelry is. Now here's the trick question: what are they drunk on? Love! Shock! You reckon you got some of that wine, eh?
Now, why did the Sufis use wine metaphors? It was the best way they could think of to describe their inebriation in their love for God. But the references to drinking wine and being drunk were also shocking to their traditional co-religionists, who the Sufis thought were a big laugh. Those boring old die-hards took their law and their reason and their logic so damn seriously... "How can feeble reason encompass the Qur'an?" In fact, in terms of shock value, I reckon you could easily use the word "drugs" instead of "wine" today and maybe get something of the effect the Sufis were having. And who takes drugs.... hippies!
So it's not a question of who gets the water and who gets the wine. We all get the water, and those who are mad enough to do so get drunk on the wine (stoned on the drugs).
Me: I think there are lots of things operating here. Like I'm not sure just how much a fundamentalist mindset would affect how a passage was translated. That's a complex issue. But scholars can tell us if they think something is misleading. Also, now that multiple translations are coming out, I think things are improving. There are lots of translations available now, over and above the official ones. I have found that this helps me to learn more about who Baha'u'llah is. The mystical tablets are fundamentally important for me, but there is M&M, which tells us lots about Baha'u'llah too. So with this new trend, we are getting lots of different kinds of writings, which helps with the issue of addressing all levels of spirituality.
There is also the way we read the passages. I think to a large extent this is within our power. We can learn for ourselves what we think Baha'u'llah means by learning about the traditions he wrote in and by meditating in our hearts and doing all the things Baha'u'llah recommends. I don't think the fundamental mind set of the AO can actually 'change' the illumined levels of the Revelation given to us by Baha'u'llah. It's like the metaphor of the lamp, if you cover the lamp and hide its light, does it stop giving off light? I think our job is to keep our eye on the light and not see the veils others want to put up to obscruct it. This is why I go on about not letting others tell me who Baha'u'llah is.
You said: I believe identifying these core issues gives sight to the possibilities of correcting the blockages. I do not subscribe to the idea of teaching the troops to make the change....because, as things stand, the troops become controlled by the prevailing mind set before they are in a position to really deliver the necessary changes and often submit to lower levels of spiritual development in the name of "believing in Baha'u'llah.
Me: I agree completely. And this is why I think Talisman is so vitally important. It offers believers the opportunity to be free of the imposing interpretations within the community so that they can find their own interpretations within their hearts, minds and souls. For, as I understand Baha'u'llah, he asks each of us to look him in the face. That means we personally do the looking, and we don't let others do the looking for us.
I agree entirely that the required understanding is not usually the illumined one. But I disagree that the majority do not have access to unofficial translations. Many of them are up on the net, and I know that translations will be published in the near future outside of the Baha'i publishers. The trend is towards freeing up the translations and increasing people's access to them. Anyone on the net now can access them. The fact that they chose not to is not my business. Baha'u'llah will steer people where they want to go. If they are interested in expanding their experience of Baha, there are places to go. This is the important thing.
Please don't get me wrong, I am not saying that I condone the AO's attempt to control that access to the writings. I am simply looking at the positive things that are happening. And part of the reason I am doing that is because I think those who feel strongly about these issues can best respond by contributing to that positive process. For example, if you think the majority don't know about the availability of the unofficial translations, you might consider telling people about them, or printing them out and handing them around.
> The first thing that might be effected is the distribution
Absolutely. And to answer X's question about documentary evidence of AO control, I quote the following letter from the House re Juan's translation of the Tablet of the Maiden. I just want to say though, that as far as I can determine, X's position as regards the House is the same as Ian's: anything the House does and everything it says is of God, by definition. This means that, although I think I am citing evidence for the House attempting to control unofficial translations, I know that X will not be convinced in the least by it. No evidence would convince him because he has already decided the case, and all cases for that matter, in advance. I also want to say that this is just one piece of evidence of AO control of translations and other information it holds. I have read accounts by even the most moderate Baha'is complaining about how they don't get access to materials held in Haifa. But I'll stick to citing a case that affected me personally.
When I read the following letter from the House, I was devastated. Torn to pieces. Few could possibly imagine the significance that the Tablet of the Maiden has for me spiritually. It lies at the heart of my relationship with Baha'u'llah. It is by no means overstating the case to say that this tablet and the fact that it has been translated into English so that I might read it are both crucial reasons for my still being a Baha'i, and are both definitely the reasons I experience the most exquisite intimacy with Baha'u'llah. For someone - and I don't care who they think they are - to come along and try to prise me away from that tablet, attempting to convince me that I should be wary of it in any way at all is like telling me that I should rip my heart out least it one day betray me. And who was telling me this? The House of Justice! The very institution whose members should be standing up to honour and defend with their lives the love I bear for this piece of revelation. Instead, what do I read? Warnings casting doubt on Juan's ability as a translator, provoking fear and putting people off reading one of the most astonishing tablets written and one of the best for finding the real personality of Baha'u'llah. I swear that if the people who wrote this letter knew what was in my heart they would shrivel up with shame knowing the extent of the cruelty they inflicted upon me.
I post the letter here, along with Juan's reply. Both letters are up on Jonah's site. There is another letter from the Secretariat sent a year later to another believer that says almost exactly the same thing, but the last paragraph is not included. These letters also bear on the issue of translations in general.
We were talking the other day about focussing on Baha'u'llah and not the community. I have only been able to start doing this since I formed a personal relationship with Baha'u'llah in a really intimate and immediate and ongoing way. It's like I can feel him inside me all the time. He turns my world into magic, in the same way that a person's world is transformed when they are in love. I know other people don't experience this personal thing, but it's what works for me. And Baha'u'llah's mystical writings, like the Tablet of the Maiden, have been a crucial part of that process for me. So if someone tells me that perhaps I oughta not read them, they are, in effect, suggesting I sever the chord of existence.
The first thing that really hit me about the Tablet of the Maiden was the nature of the conversation between Baha'u'llah and the Maiden. How many couples talk like that to each other? To me, the conversation is like a paradigm for how God talks to God - how the feminine attributes of God and the masculine attributes of God converse. And we are made in the image of God, so we participate in that conversation. I think that once we hear the tone and emotion behind that dialogue then we can learn how to 'be' in ourselves. To my mind, the more we are able to achieve this, the more we are able to look Baha'u'llah in the eye. Of course, this isn't easy. Who has the courage to let a lover look us in the eye in such an intimate moment? It takes real submission and supreme courage. Developing these qualities at this level is, I believe, the source of courage.
So, I agree with X that the letter from the Secretariat is horribly condescending. The assumption is that if we come from the West we are incapable of coming to the deeply spiritual states the tablet takes us to. So what should we do about this? Frighten them off! What about, let's help educate the believers in how to read mystical tablets so that each one might to the extent of their capacity realise a deep personal bond with Baha'u'llah and raise up a community of courageous warriors such as the Babis were? The letter says that this is not the time for such mystical pursuits. I'm sorry, but I reckon they've read the community wrong here. From what I can determine, the believers are desperate for a personal look at Baha'u'llah and will devour this stuff if encouraged to. And, in the end, will devour this stuff even if threatened not to.
My understanding of the list rules is that there was to be no "egregious" flaming, which indicated to me that you were tolerant of at least some flaming. This seems to contradict what you have said above. Would you please clarify this for me?
1. No member of the email@example.com list may egregiously flame other members of the list; nor may members say or strongly imply that their interlocutor is in contravention of the covenant; nor may members call other subscribers 'covenant breakers' or Sohrabists or Avarih-ists or other synonyms for 'wretched heretic'. (Since this is a sort of flame, it actually comes under the first phrase in #1 but often needs to be spelled out).
I have considered your messages and it seems to me the crucial point you are wanting to make is that there are disinctions between human beings as regards their spirituality. Your inclination to read distinctions between water and wine in the writings is an effort to produce evidence about the various grades of human being. Hence your oft-mentioned references to hierarchies and pyramids, orders and so forth.
Now, it is my feeling that not only does this misrepresent Baha'u'llah's intent, but it has a very unfortunate reaction in people because once you start talking about hierarchies, everyone starts saying to themselves - "I don't want to be on the bottom of the pile, thank you very much, and who on earth does he think he is getting in on top of me!" So it seems to me, that if God is just, then there needs to be a way of looking at this that strikes people as eminently fair. So here's my take on it.
Baha'u'llah tells us that in every single created thing there is a "sign" of God's names and attributes. And we know that this sign in humans has the potential to reflect all the names and attributes. This sign is like the flame in the candle, if you look at a candle that is not lit, you would not see the flame unless you had developed the spiritual eyes to do so. The thing about this sign, then, is that we all have it and all have the capacity to be lit like the candle, and as we know it's the Manifestation that has the power to do the lighting.
As Baha'u'llah points out time and time again, it is due to our own efforts whether the candle is lit and we partake of the benefits (wine and so forth) that he has to offer. He tells us that the Divine Cup Bearer is offering Her cup to us all, whether we drink is up to us. That is the way of love.
Now, I don't see a hierarchy in this. God has not given to some and withheld from some. God has placed the capacity to recognise and love Her in each of us, and the rest is up to us. Do we recognise Her and fall in love with Her, or do we scoff at Her advances in pride and suspicion? I agree that the more we drink with healthy relish, the better will be the wine. But this should give us reason to drink even more, rather than look around at others and start making determinations as to whether they are drinking water or wine. Who cares? If you are inebriated, will you be able to concentrate on what others are doing?
Baha'u'llah tells us not to focus on the size of the receptacle. The important thing is that each of us drinks until our own receptacle is overflowing. When we do this, we realise the purpose of our creation. And this is cause for celebration and glory.
Best wishes Alison
My feeling is that we haven't yet woken up to the fact that our personal lives are spiritual. That's why we have these things called "feast" and they're supposed to nourish the soul, but they come out as committee meetings.
One feminist slogan is "the personal is political", meaning that what goes on in families is not just between couples, but is of concern to society - for example, the fight against the abuse of women and children was fought on issues about where society could legitimately involve itself. Well, as a Baha'i feminist, I propose the slogan, "the personal is spiritual". And we have tablets like the Tablet of the Maiden to prove it. Baha'u'llah was a Baha'i feminist. Why? Because he took his deeply personal spiritual self and made it public. I believe the extent to which he did this is easily lost on us, but it's important to get a handle on it. Just imagine: you are in a situation of total danger, you don't know whether you will live to see the next day, the people around you are jealous of you to the point where you do not know who you can trust, you own brother has even sneaked poison into your food, you don't know what will happen to you even in the next moment. Now, if you were in that situation, would you be writing like this?
21. "Thou art My breast's desire, My soul's sole hope, My spirit's master and My light, My heart. 22. And after My hard journey, let's unite, be intimates after My pain apart."
I don't necessarily think it's OK to ask anyone directly about their sexuality. However, in general, I think we err too much the other way. So much so that the Faith suffers terribly for it.
>ceremony, as did an ARE lady who spoke on behalf of the other's
This seems to say that a relationship of spiritual soul mates is not possible between a man and a woman. I disagree. I accept that there may be something special about what two men can experience together, but I don't accept that it is impossible for a man and a woman to experience that dimension of love also.
I think the spiritual bond they refer to transcends all physical considerations including gender, therefore it can exist between any two people of any gender. However, I accept that socialisation and so forth affects the likelihood of these bonds manifesting themselves in the various combinations of people. Hence the thinking that they can be experienced only between men.
I am no scientist. These are conclusions I have come to through personal experience.
I think Juan sheds light on this issue in his commentary on the April 7 letter. I quote the relevant passage below. Juan is surmising that the House thinks he sees Baha'u'llah as an enlightened moral philosopher because he sees Baha'u'llah as an historical person. From what I can determine, the House's implication is that if one is willing to see the human dimension of the Manifestation, and not the divine dimension to the exclusion of all else, then that person is not a believer. However, Juan shows how Baha'u'llah argued that the human dimension of the Manifestation is a "cloud", therefore Baha'u'llah himself was not in the business of hiding his humanity. On the contrary, God uses it to test our faith.
As to whether the Persian mentality is shooting us in the foot, I don't know any more about it than what's in the article by Denis Maceoin. But you can see from the quote below that Juan seems to think there is a "difference in discourse about religion" between Iranians and Westerners.
>>I disagree. I accept that there may be
Well, I think that because women and men have been socialised differently, they have different things to offer a relationship. So in a same sex relationship, of two men or two women, each person will experience something of themselves reflected back at them, which they wouldn't experience in a relationship of a man and a woman. So, for example, if men are educated and women not, then men will be bored by their relationships with women for they will not have the stimulation of an educated person reflected back at them. Similarly, if women are very empathetic, this ingredient will be lacking for the woman from her husband. And so, same sex relationships have their strengths. But there is no reason why we can't, and I think it is the smart thing to do, acquire the qualities in the opposite sex so that our relationships are more fulfilling.
The strong tradition of homosexuality down through the ages indicates to me that there is something special that these men experience that is really worth having. And I want it.
X I don't really have a problem with much of what you say. I see how you are reading the texts. I just don't read them with the same eyes. This doesn't mean I disagree with you, but rather that I privilege different aspects and nuances than you do. I do not believe the writings can be encompassed by reason. From what I can determine, this is where you can manageably deal with it. And it is for this reason that hierarchies loom large in your mind and yet do not for me.
To my mind, the revelation is a love story and all scripture can be interpreted in terms of the relationship between Baha'u'llah and the Maiden. Just remember that every time Baha'u'llah says "Say:" he is being told by the Maiden to say it.
Yes, I am married. No, I am not looking to fall in love with a woman and no, I am not seeking a lesbian relationship. I am very definitely heterosexual. Yes, I did once fall in love with a woman when I was a teenager. She had many male characteristics and my image of her was of half man, half woman. It was the male part of her that attracted me. In my family, I had a very close relationship with my mother and my sister, so I think of women as sisters. I have never related to women as lovers. I'll let you know if I ever meet one that gets me going.
It's men that particularly interest me. I know about women, I am one. But I have not been socialised as a male, so there's a whole dimension there that I'm keen to experience. And one fruitful line of enquiry is to explore what it is that men love in men. Also, I think there must be something odd in me because I have always been supremely conscious of the way men see women. Instinctively I can feel, to some extent, what's behind their gaze. So, from this, I can gain an impression of how it is to 'see' like a male. And I can see the sense in it - and the nonsense. None of this is 100 percent, though, 'cos I react as a woman to it all as well. Anyway, I try to develop in me the bits that I think are useful. The result has been that 90 percent of my friends are men.
X quoting Birkland:
Hey X, When Birkland asked John to clarify what he was saying, what did John say? Do you know? Have you researched John's answer as much as Birkland's 'innocent' questions? Birkland makes all sorts of assumptions about what John believes, does John deny them? What is John's understanding about what he is saying?
Why is the whole world in an uproar over this? If Birkland and the House *listened* to what John answered, all their fears would be put to rest! Why don't they just take his word for it? Why can't he be allowed to interpret for himself what he meant? Why is it so important that the whole Baha'i world believe what the House thinks John was saying?
We sit around here debating endlessly what Baha'u'llah means by this and that. If he were alive today, we would ask him to clarify and listen to the answer. Why not give John, who is alive, the same respect? Isn't it common sense to gauge the person's meaning from what they themselves say they mean by it?
If John was allowed to speak for himself and was *believed*, all this controversy would immediately cease.
X said: I think the major point is to examine the statements in the posts IN LIGHT OF BAHA'U'LLAH's OWN TEXTS, and those of the Master and the Guardian. When we find a pattern of what seems to be consistent promulgation of viewpoints *within the Bahai community itself* that are consistently at direct variance with the fundamental verities of the Faith as clearly stated by Baha'u'llah, the Master, and the Guardian, then it makes pefect sense to inquire as to how these opinions stand in relationship to the Revealed Word, and exactly why the person is continually advancing these opinions within the community of believers.
Alison replies: But X, no person or institution has the right to judge anyone's statements as 'at variance with the fundamental verities' and back this with threats! Not you, not a counsellor, not even the House. That's what having no interpreter means.
Can't you see how patronising and invasive your position is? Who do you think you are going around making assessments about other people's beliefs? If I want your opinion about my beliefs I'll ask for it. You think you are trying to "protect" me? Well, I don't want you to "protect" me. I want you and the rest of the "Protection" people to just get off my case. Stop snooping into my e-mail messages here on Talisman, and find some worthy occupation to focus on.
X There's also this one:
28. O SON OF SPIRIT! Know thou of a truth: He that biddeth men be just and himself committeth iniquity is not of Me, even though he bear My name. (Baha'u'llah: Arabic Hidden Words, Page: 28)
It's not competing quotes that's going to sort all this out. We're nowhere if we're at the level of throwing quotes at each other. Certainly not where Baha'u'llah wanted us to be.
This situation has nothing to do with scripture. What Baha'u'llah said was tossed aside long ago. The simple fact is that the House doesn't like people disagreeing with it in public. It is programmed culturally to see every public statement made in disagreement of it as sedition. It hates anyone who does this; we can all feel this in our hearts, which is why we are unwilling to say much, even here on Talisman, which the House has made plain it monitors.
Given this, it suits the House for everyone to believe that it has papal infallibility because it keeps the believers quiet, even though this belief is not supported by scripture. And it writes April 7-type letters to signal to believers what happens to those who promote interpretations it doesn't like. And it attempts to discredit those who have offended it, by telling the whole Baha'i world that those people have seditious motives. Who would dare to believe otherwise? You X, are just a pawn in a game. Your (and others') willingness to cut out your reasoning faculties and judge others allows this situation to continue.
But the House is going to used to public opinion, because it is not going to go away and it is a legitimate *Baha'i* check on the House's power - with the Guardianship gone, perhaps the only one. And when this happens, we'll stop discussing infallibility like we do today. It just won't be an issue - we'll all discuss House decisions in the same way we currently discuss court decisions and not even think about it.
X, even if I was to parody your position, I couldn't produce anything more ridiculous.
At 09:12 AM 25/6/99 -0700, you wrote:
It seems to me that we are dealing here with an odd sort of system. You have said on Talisman that you have been chatting to Ghadirian about our concerns re the April 7 letter. And you have assured us that you represented our opinions fairly. Now, don't get me wrong here, but why did you do this? Who are you to do this? Did we on Talisman consult and choose you to represent our views to a counsellor? If these counsellors want to know what we think, why don't they approach Juan and ask him if they can subscribe to Talisman to discuss the matter with us? Why doesn't Hooper come on; he's keen to know what we're discussing?
The reason they don't is because this would be open consultation! And we can't have that because the system doesn't function that way. Things get 'sorted out' by wheeling and dealing behind the scenes. Somehow, you've managed to acquire a position in the system and have some say and influence. So you are wheeling and dealing for us and have assumed that we would like you to do so. And we're all terribly grateful because, hey, we're faced with threats to our community membership for our honest views, but have no real say in the system. And what we do say to defend ourselves is misinterpreted and disbelieved.
While I share your positive outlook over the long term, I do not share your perspective on how it's going to be achieved. Going outside the system has been the one course of action that has created significant and lasting change. Bottom line for me is that we are free here on Talisman to say things that back in 1996 Talismanians were not free to say. Why? OK, obviously administrators have shifted their position, as you point out, but the reason they have done that is because a few people went public about the way they were threatened and interrogated by the administration. They have created a public awareness of what actually happens behind the scenes. They have exposed the injustice and created a situation where others have that option too, rather than being silent and isolated. Administrators are going to think twice about threatening people if they know that going public is a real option for believers.
What believers want and have every right to expect is to belong to a community that respects their consciences and spiritual principles. The April 7 letter, along with the other letters in the compilation it accompanies, make it impossible for thinking people to both be Baha'is and maintain Baha'i principle. This is a fundamental violation of their Faith. As we can see from the recent resignations on Talisman, believers are placed in an impossible moral position - and are resigning as a result, precisely because they are Baha'is and good, right-thinking people.
These fundamental betrayals need to be voiced openly. Wheeling and dealing is buying into a dishonest, manipulative system that demands that believers negotiate to save their hide and the administration's face. It always leads to a morally compromised outcome. Those who stand on principle have nothing to hide and are better off rejecting such overtures and forcing the debate into the open.