Thornton Chase, the First Western Baha'i, in his Study
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmete, Used With Permission

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What is the Meaning of the 70 Virgins in Paradise?

What is the meaning of the 70 virgins in Paradise?

In chapter 55 of the Qur'an (Surah 55 "The Merciful") there is a passage about beautiful virgins in Paradise known as "huris":
"Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Therein are those of modest gaze, whom neither man nor spirits will have touched before them. Which is it, of the favors of your Lord, that ye deny?"
The number of these virgins is not provided in the Qur'an, but Islamic holy Traditions - Hadith - state that there will be 70 or 72 of them, or that every man will have 70 wives.

In the Book of Certitude, Baha'u'llah explains that the Holy Books are written in two modes: One is clear and unveiled, and the other is "veiled and concealed" and according to Islamic tradition has 70 concealed meanings:
"It is evident unto thee that the Birds of Heaven and Doves of Eternity speak a twofold language. One language, the outward language, is devoid of allusions, is unconcealed and unveiled; that it may be a guiding lamp and a beaconing light whereby wayfarers may attain the heights of holiness, and seekers may advance into the realm of eternal reunion. Such are the unveiled traditions and the evident verses already mentioned. The other language is veiled and concealed. . . None apprehendeth the meaning of these utterances except them whose hearts are assured, whose souls have found favour with God, and whose minds are detached from all else but Him. In such utterances, the literal meaning, as generally understood by the people, is not what hath been intended. Thus it is recorded:  'Every knowledge hath seventy meanings, of which one only is known amongst the people. And when the Qá'im shall arise, He shall reveal unto men all that which remaineth.'"
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 254; compare Luke 8:9-10)
So here Baha'u'llah quotes a Muslim Tradition stating that the Word of God has 70 meanings. Earlier in this same Book, Baha'u'llah linked His explanations of the inner meanings enfolded within the Word of God, with the huris mentioned in the Qur'an:

"By God! however great Our desire to be brief, yet We feel We cannot restrain Our pen. Notwithstanding all that We have mentioned, how innumerable are the pearls which have remained unpierced in the shell of Our heart! How many the huris of inner meaning that are as yet concealed within the chambers of divine wisdom! None hath yet approached them; -- huris, 'whom no man nor spirit hath touched before.'"
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 70)
Therefore, it is my understanding that the 70 virgins in "Paradise" that are untouched by any man, are the 70 meanings in the Paradise of the Word of God not previously understood by any mind. Perhaps this is an example of Shoghi Effendi's statement that in the Book of Certitude Baha'u'llah unfolds the meaning of the "cryptic Muhammadan traditions" that have been misunderstood in the past.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Compilation From the Writings of Baha'u'llah and His Universal House of Justice on the Power of the Word of God

“Give ear unto the verses of God which He Who is the sacred Lote-Tree reciteth unto you. They are assuredly the infallible balance, established by God, the Lord of this world and the next. Through them the soul of man is caused to wing its flight towards the Dayspring of Revelation, and the heart of every true believer is suffused with light.” 
(Baha'u'llah, The Most Holy Book, paragraph 148, p. 73)

“It behoveth the friends in whatever land they be, to gather together in meetings, and therein to speak wisely and with eloquence, and to read the verses of God; for it is God's Words that kindle love's fire and set it ablaze.”
(Baha'u'llah, Compilation on Baha’i Meetings)

“The sanctified souls should ponder and meditate in their hearts regarding the methods of teaching. From the texts of the wondrous, heavenly Scriptures they should memorize phrases and passages bearing on various instances, so that in the course of their speech they may recite divine verses whenever the occasion demandeth it, inasmuch as these holy verses are the most potent elixir, the greatest and mightiest talisman. So potent is their influence that the hearer will have no cause for vacillation. I swear by My life! This Revelation is endowed with such a power that it will act as the lodestone for all nations and kindreds of the earth.” 
(Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 200)

“Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men. Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul. Thus have the mysteries of the Revelation of God been decreed by virtue of the Will of Him Who is the Source of power and wisdom.”
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah CXXXVI, p. 295)

“And likewise, He [the Bab] saith: ‘Better is it for thee to recite but one of the verses of Him Whom God shall make manifest than to set down the whole of the Bayan, for on that Day that one verse can save thee, whereas the entire Bayan cannot save thee.’" (Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 153)

“To read but one of the verses of My Revelation is better than to peruse the Scriptures of both the former and latter generations. This is the Utterance of the All-Merciful, would that ye had ears to hear! Say: This is the essence of knowledge, did ye but understand.” 
(Baha'u'llah, The Most Holy Book, paragraph 138, p. 68)

“Behold, how lofty is the station, and how consummate the virtue, of these verses which He hath declared to be His surest testimony, His infallible proof, the evidence of His all-subduing power, and a revelation of the potency of His will. He, the divine King, hath proclaimed the undisputed supremacy of the verses of His Book over all things that testify to His truth. For compared with all other proofs and tokens, the divinely-revealed verses shine as the sun, whilst all others are as stars. To the peoples of the world they are the abiding testimony, the incontrovertible proof, the shining light of the ideal King. Their excellence is unrivalled, their virtue nothing can surpass. They are the treasury of the divine pearls and the depository of the divine mysteries. They constitute the indissoluble Bond, the firm Cord, the Urvatu'l-Vuthqá, the inextinguishable Light. Through them floweth the river of divine knowledge, and gloweth the fire of His ancient and consummate wisdom. This is the fire which, in one and the same moment, kindleth the flame of love in the breasts of the faithful, and induceth the chill of heedlessness in the heart of the enemy.” (Baha'u'llah, The Book of Certitude, paragraph 226, page 205)

“The vitality of men's belief in God is dying out in every land; nothing short of His wholesome medicine can ever restore it. The corrosion of ungodliness is eating into the vitals of human society; what else but the Elixir of His potent Revelation can cleanse and revive it? Is it within human power, O Hakim, to effect in the constituent elements of any of the minute and indivisible particles of matter so complete a transformation as to transmute it into purest gold? Perplexing and difficult as this may appear, the still greater task of converting satanic strength into heavenly power is one that We have been empowered to accomplish. The Force capable of such a transformation transcendeth the potency of the Elixir itself. The Word of God, alone, can claim the distinction of being endowed with the capacity required for so great and far-reaching a change.”
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah XCIX, p. 199)

“The Word of God is the king of words and its pervasive influence is incalculable. It hath ever dominated and will continue to dominate the realm of being. The Great Being saith: The Word is the master key for the whole world, inasmuch as through its potency the doors of the hearts of men, which in reality are the doors of heaven, are unlocked.” 
(Baha'u'llah, The Tablet of Maqsud, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 173)

“On the other hand, consider the welding power of His Word. Observe, how those in whose midst the Satan of self had for years sown the seeds of malice and hate became so fused and blended through their allegiance to this wondrous and transcendent Revelation that it seemed as if they had sprung from the same loins. Such is the binding force of the Word of God, which uniteth the hearts of them that have renounced all else but Him, who have believed in His signs, and quaffed from the Hand of glory the Kawthar of God's holy grace. Furthermore, how numerous are those peoples of divers beliefs, of conflicting creeds, and opposing temperaments, who, through the reviving fragrance of the Divine springtime, breathing from the Ridvan of God, have been arrayed with the new robe of divine Unity, and have drunk from the cup of His singleness! This is the significance of the well-known words: ‘The wolf and the lamb shall feed together.’ [Isaiah 65:25]"
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, paragraph 118, p. 111)

“Where is the man of insight who will behold the Words of God with his own eyes and rid himself of the opinions and notions of the peoples of the earth? O servant! Warn thou the servants of God not to reject that which they do not comprehend. Say, implore God to open to your hearts the portals of true understanding that ye may be apprised of that of which no one is apprised. Verily, He is the Giver, the Forgiving, the Compassionate.”
(Baha’u’llah, Suriy-i-Vafa, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 188)

“. . . it is Our purpose, through the loving providence of God -- exalted be His glory -- and His surpassing mercy, to abolish, through the force of Our utterance, all disputes, war, and bloodshed, from the face of the earth.” 
(Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 33)

“Through the power of the words He hath uttered the whole of the human race can be illumined with the light of unity . . .” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah CXXXI, p. 286)

“Thus biddeth you the Lord of creation, the movement of Whose Pen hath revolutionized the soul of mankind.”
(Baha'u'llah, The Most Holy Book, paragraph 54, p. 39)

“Man is like unto a tree. . . The Water for these trees is the living water of the sacred Words uttered by the Beloved of the world.”
(Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 257)

“Should such a man ever succeed in influencing any one, this success should be attributed not to him, but rather to the influence of the words of God, as decreed by Him Who is the Almighty, the All-Wise. In the sight of God he is regarded as a lamp that imparteth its light, and yet is all the while being consumed within itself.” 
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah CXXVIII, p. 277)

“Meditate on this, that thou mayest drink in the waters of everlasting life which flow through the words of the Lord of all mankind . . .”
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah CLX, p. 337)

“These Essences of Detachment, these resplendent Realities are the channels of God's all-pervasive grace. Led by the light of unfailing guidance, and invested with supreme sovereignty, They are commissioned to use the inspiration of Their words, the effusions of Their infallible grace and the sanctifying breeze of Their Revelation for the cleansing of every longing heart and receptive spirit from the dross and dust of earthly cares and limitations. Then, and only then, will the Trust of God, latent in the reality of man, emerge, as resplendent as the rising Orb of Divine Revelation, from behind the veil of concealment, and implant the ensign of its revealed glory upon the summits of men's hearts.”
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah XXVII, p. 67)

“He Who is both the Beginning and the End, He Who is both Stillness and Motion, is now manifest before your eyes. Behold how, in this Day, the Beginning is reflected in the End, how out of Stillness Motion hath been engendered. This motion hath been generated by the potent energies which the words of the Almighty have released throughout the entire creation.” 
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah LXXXV, p. 168)

“Were any man to ponder in his heart that which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed and to taste of its sweetness, he would, of a certainty, find himself emptied and delivered from his own desires, and utterly subservient to the Will of the Almighty. Happy is the man that hath attained so high a station, and hath not deprived himself of so bountiful a grace.” 
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah CLXIV, p. 343)

“Happy is the man that pondereth in his heart that which hath been revealed in the Books of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Meditate upon this, O ye beloved of God, and let your ears be attentive unto His Word, so that ye may, by His grace and mercy, drink your fill from the crystal waters of constancy, and become as steadfast and immovable as the mountain in His Cause.”  (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah Section X, p. 12)

“Say: O friends! Drink your fill from this crystal stream that floweth through the heavenly grace of Him Who is the Lord of Names. Let others partake of its waters in My name, that the leaders of men in every land may fully recognize the purpose for which the Eternal Truth hath been revealed, and the reason for which they themselves have been created.” 
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah CIX, p. 215)

“The Pen of the Ancient King hath never ceased to remember the loved ones of God. At one time, rivers of mercy have streamed from His Pen, at another, through its movement, God's perspicuous Book hath been revealed. He is the One to Whom none can compare, Whose utterance mortal man can never rival. He it is Who from everlasting hath been established upon the seat of ascendancy and might, He from Whose lips have gone out counsels that can satisfy the needs of the whole of mankind, and admonitions that can profit them.” 
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah CXXXI, p. 286)

“My object is none other than the betterment of the world and the tranquillity of its peoples. The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded.”
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah CXXXI, p. 286)

“This showeth the significance of the Word as is affirmed in all the Scriptures, whether of former times or more recently. For it is through its potency and animating spirit that the people of the world have attained so eminent a position.”
(Baha'u'llah, Tablet of Maqsud, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 172)

“Every man of insight will, in this day, readily admit that the counsels which the Pen of this wronged One hath revealed constitute the supreme animating power for the advancement of the world and the exaltation of its peoples.”
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah XLIII, p. 93)

“. . . were men to abide by and observe the divine teachings, every trace of evil would be banished from the face of the earth.” 
(Baha'u'llah, Tablet of Maqsud, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 176)

“Inspire then my soul, O my God, with Thy wondrous remembrance, that I may glorify Thy name. Number me not with them who read Thy words and fail to find Thy hidden gift which, as decreed by Thee, is contained therein, and which quickeneth the souls of Thy creatures and the hearts of Thy servants.”
(Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah LVI, p. 83)

“Blessed is the man who hath detached himself from all else but Me, hath soared in the atmosphere of My love, hath gained admittance into My Kingdom, gazed upon My realms of glory, quaffed the living waters of My bounty, hath drunk his fill from the heavenly river of My loving providence, acquainted himself with My Cause, apprehended that which I concealed within the treasury of My Words, and hath shone forth from the horizon of divine knowledge engaged in My praise and glorification. Verily, he is of Me. Upon him rest My mercy, My loving-kindness, My bounty and My glory.”
(Baha'u'llah, “The Most Holy Tablet: Tablet to the Christians,” Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 17)

"Purify, O my God, the hearts of Thy creatures with the power of Thy sovereignty and might, that Thy words may sink deep into them."(Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah CXVI, p. 197)

“Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God is endowed with such potency as can instill new life into every human frame, if ye be of them that comprehend this truth. . . Every single letter proceeding out of the mouth of God is indeed a mother letter, and every word uttered by Him Who is the Well Spring of Divine Revelation is a mother word, and His Tablet a Mother Tablet. Well is it with them that apprehend this truth.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah LXXIV, pp. 141-142)

“Were any man to taste the sweetness of the words which the lips of the All-Merciful have willed to utter, he would, though the treasures of the earth be in his possession, renounce them one and all, that he might vindicate the truth of even one of His commandments, shining above the Dayspring of His bountiful care and loving-kindness.” 
(Baha'u'llah, The Most Holy Book, Paragraph 3, p. 20)


“Let the friends immerse themselves in this ocean, let them organize regular study classes for its constant consideration, and as reinforcement to their effort, let them remember conscientiously the requirements of daily prayer and reading of the Word of God enjoined upon all Bahá'ís by Bahá'u'lláh.” (Messages from The Universal House of Justice 1963 - 1986 paragraph 42.24, p. 107)

“Now is the time when every follower of Bahá'u'lláh must cling fast to the Covenant of God, resist every temptation to become embroiled in the conflicts of the world, and remember that he is the holder of a precious trust, the Message of God which, alone, can banish injustice from the world and cure the ills afflicting the body and spirit of man. We are the bearers of the Word of God in this day and, however dark the immediate horizons, we must go forward rejoicing in the knowledge that the work we are privileged to perform is God's work and will bring to birth a world whose splendour will outshine our brightest visions and surpass our highest hopes.”
(Messages from The Universal House of Justice 1963 - 1986 paragraph 221.15, p. 406)

“It is the conviction of the House of Justice that the powers of heaven and earth will, as repeatedly asserted in the attached extracts, [Compilation on the Power of Divine Assistance] mysteriously and unfailingly assist all those who will arise with love, dedication, and trust in their hearts to teach the Cause, to promote the Word of God, to deliver its healing message to receptive souls, and to serve its vital interests.”
(Messages from The Universal House of Justice 1963 - 1986 paragraph 294.2, p. 504)

"Central to the pattern of action evolving in a cluster is the individual and collective transformation effected through the agency of the Word of God. From the beginning of the sequence of courses, a participant encounters Baha'u'llah's Revelation in considering such weighty themes as worship, service to humanity, the life of the soul, and the education of children and youth.  As a person cultivates the habit of study and deep reflection upon the Creative Word, this process of transformation reveals itself in an ability to express one's understanding of profound concepts and to explore spiritual reality in conversations of significance.  These capacities are visible not only in the elevated discussions that increasingly characterize interactions within the community, but in the ongoing conversations that reach well beyond--not least between the Baha'i youth and their peers--extending to include parents whose daughters and sons are benefiting from the community's programmes of education. Through exchanges of this kind, consciousness of spiritual forces is raised, apparent dichotomies yield to unexpected insights, a sense of unity and common calling is fortified, confidence that a better world can be created is strengthened, and a commitment to action becomes manifest.  Such distinctive conversations gradually attract ever-larger numbers to take part in a range of community activities.  Themes of faith and certitude surface naturally, prompted by the receptivity and experiences of those involved.  What is clear, then, is that as the institute process in a cluster gains momentum, the act of teaching comes to assume greater prominence in the lives of the friends."

(The Universal House of Justice, 29 December 2015 Message to the Conference of Continental Boards of Counsellors, page 4)

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Relativity of Religious Truth

From time to time people say that the Baha'i Faith teaches that "all truth is relative."  I would like to address this, and see what the Baha'i Writings actually say on the subject. Let's begin here, with Shoghi Effendi's enunciation in 1947 of the basic teachings of the Baha'i Faith, to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine:

"The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh, the followers of His Faith firmly believe, is that Religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the non-essential aspects of their doctrines and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society."
(Shoghi Effendi, Summary Statement - 1947, Special UN Committee on Palestine)

We will return to this passage, but first please observe that he writes that *religious* truth is relative. What religious truth? We can determine what Shoghi Effendi means, by looking at two of the passages where he uses this term. 

First, while writing of the Baha'i House of Worship, Shoghi Effendi writes:

"To them will the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar symbolize the fundamental verity underlying the Bahá'í Faith, that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is not final but progressive."  (Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Administration, p. 185)

In what sense does the Baha'i House of worship symbolize that religious truth is relative? Can it mean that the House of Worship symbolizes that truth is relative to each person, to each person's education, each person's perspective? How does the Baha'i House of Worship symbolize so ambiguous a principle?  Please call to mind that we are looking for a principle that is "the fundamental verity underlying the Baha'i Faith."

It will help us to find Shoghi Effendi's meaning of the term if we continue to read his sentence:

"To them will the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar symbolize the fundamental verity underlying the Bahá'í Faith, that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is not final but progressive."

Is not the second phrase a restatement of the first? Is it not clear that when he writes that the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar symbolizes that truth is relative, that Divine Revelation is progressive, he is speaking of this? Is it not clear from looking at the symbols of Progressive Revelation on this edifice - seen here the Star of David, the Cross of Jesus Christ, the Crescent of Islam -  that this is what he means?

We see his intent again in Shoghi Effendi's statement that this principle is found in Baha'u'llah's greatest doctrinal work, the book of Certitude:

"Within a compass of two hundred pages it [the Book of Certitude] proclaims unequivocally the existence and oneness of a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty; asserts the relativity of religious truth and the continuity of Divine Revelation..." (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 139)

If we search the two hundred pages of the Book of Certitude do we find anywhere that truth is relative to the individual person, to his or her understanding or opinion, or that "all truth is relative"?  Or rather, do we find the unfoldment of Progressive Revelation, the fundamental principle of the greater revelation of divine truth by each successive Manifestation of God?

We see this yet again, how Shoghi Effendi uses "the relativity of religious truth" as a synonym for Progressive Revelation in another of his great letters:

"Repudiating the claim of any religion to be the final revelation of God to man, disclaiming finality for His own Revelation, Bahá'u'lláh inculcates the basic principle of the relativity of religious truth, the continuity of Divine Revelation, the progressiveness of religious experience."  (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 108)

Each of those - the relativity of religious truth, the continuity of Divine Revelation, the progressiveness of religious experience - is restating the same principle: Progressive Revelation.

Rather than inferring our own particular view of the term "relativity of religious truth" into the Guardian's phrase, and call it a Baha'i teaching, it is rather for us to see how he uses the term, to be faithful to his intent, and to neither narrow nor broaden his meaning - but to squarely address it.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

All Things Made New

In the Book of Revelation in the Holy Bible it says:
"And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new."

This is in many of the Holy Books - that the creation will pass away, that the world will end, that there will be a new creation, and a new heaven and a new earth, that God was alone with none to worship Him, and that God will come to the earth. What do these things mean?

These are explained in the Sacred Texts of the Baha'i Faith.  The references to God being alone and God coming to the earth, refer to the Manifestation of God, not to the Deity; and the references to the creation ending and a new creation refer to human beings, to human souls, not to dirt and to the planets and the stars. One of the signs of the Prophethood of Baha'u'llah, is that He can convincingly explain the meaning of passages in the Scriptures that have remained mysterious for millennia. One of these mysterious expressions is that God was alone, and that He brought the creation into being so that He might be made known.  I remember as a child in Catholic school, one of the priests explained that God was lonely, and so He created man so that He wouldn't be lonely. Even though I was a child, this didn't make sense.  Baha'u'llah's explanation does.  He has explained that this concept of God being “alone” refers not to the Deity, but to the Manifestation of God in the world:

As to those sayings, attributed to the Prophets of old, such as, "In the beginning was God; there was no creature to know Him," and "The Lord was alone; with no one to adore Him," the meaning of these and similar sayings is clear and evident...Every discerning eye will readily perceive that the Lord is now manifest, yet there is none to recognize His glory.… Consider the hour at which the supreme Manifestation of God revealeth Himself unto men. Ere that hour cometh, the Ancient Being, Who is still unknown of men and hath not as yet given utterance to the Word of God, is Himself the All-Knower in a world devoid of any man that hath known Him. He is indeed the Creator without a creation. For at the very moment preceding His Revelation, each and every created thing shall be made to yield up its soul to God. This is indeed the Day of which it hath been written: "Whose shall be the Kingdom this Day?" And none can be found ready to answer!
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 150)

That is, before the Manifestation of God is recognized, He is "alone" with no one to know Him.  And another aspect of this is the "death" of everyone - that everyone "yields up his soul" when the new Manifestation speaks.

As is explained in the Bible, a person being “dead” means that he is not a believer.  So great is the difference between life lived as a believer and life lived without the divine revelation, that the comparison to “life” and “death” is most apropos.  And when the new Manifestation of God comes to the world and begins His mission, from that point there are no believers.  All of the believers in the past Manifestations of God are deemed to be “dead,” to have "expired" and "yielded up their souls."  And during this time period, after all the believers in the former Dispensations have yielded up their souls and there are as yet no new believers, as no one has yet recognized the new Manifestation of God – during that time, the Manifestation of God is alone; and in this sense, “God was alone with none to know Him.”

This time of great spiritual tumult, when the new creation is brought into being, is symbolically presented in this marvelous passage depicting the divine tumult that accompanies every new Manifestation of God, every new utterance of the new Word of God in every age:

"I testify that no sooner had the First Word proceeded, through the potency of Thy will and purpose, out of His mouth, and the First Call gone forth from His lips than the whole creation was revolutionized, and all that are in the heavens and all that are on earth were stirred to the depths. Through that Word the realities of all created things were shaken, were divided, separated, scattered, combined and reunited, disclosing, in both the contingent world and the heavenly kingdom, entities of a new creation, and revealing, in the unseen realms, the signs and tokens of Thy unity and oneness. Through that Call Thou didst announce unto all Thy servants the advent of Thy most great Revelation and the appearance of Thy most perfect Cause." 
(Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah, p. 295)

In this Tablet, in which Baha'u'llah describes His own public declaration in 1863, Baha'u'llah writes:

“Canst thou discover any one but Me, O Pen, in this Day? What hath become of the creation and the manifestations thereof? What of the names and their kingdom? Whither are gone all created things, whether seen or unseen? What of the hidden secrets of the universe and its revelations? Lo, the entire creation hath passed away! Nothing remaineth except My Face, the Ever-Abiding, the Resplendent, the All-Glorious. This is the Day whereon naught can be seen except the splendors of the Light that shineth from the face of Thy Lord, the Gracious, the Most Bountiful. Verily, We have caused every soul to expire by virtue of Our irresistible and all-subduing sovereignty. We have, then, called into being a new creation, as a  token of Our grace unto men. I am, verily, the All-Bountiful, the Ancient of Days.”
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, XIV p. 29)

Likewise the Bab wrote of the "new creation" on p. 172 of Selections from the Writings of the Bab.

And the "new creation" is the new community of believers.  The former things have passed away, and each of the Manifestations of God "makes all things new" - until the appearance of the next Manifestation of God, about every thousand years.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Baha'i View of the Fear of God

In His Book "Epistle to the Son of the Wolf," Baha'u'llah writes:
In the treasuries of the knowledge of God there lieth concealed a knowledge which, when applied, will largely, though not wholly, eliminate fear. This knowledge, however, should be taught from childhood, as it will greatly aid in its elimination. Whatever decreaseth fear increaseth courage. Should the Will of God assist Us, there would flow out from the Pen of the Divine Expounder a lengthy exposition of that which hath been mentioned, and there would be revealed, in the field of arts and sciences, what would renew the world and the nations. A word hath, likewise, been written down and recorded by the Pen of the Most High in the Crimson Book which is capable of fully disclosing that force which is hid in men, nay of redoubling its potency. We implore God—exalted and glorified be He—to graciously assist His servants to do that which is pleasing and acceptable unto Him.
So important is this trait, the fear of God, that in His Will and Testament, when Abdu'l-Baha sets forth the requirements for the Guardian of the Faith, for the members of the Universal House of Justice, and for the Hands of the Cause of God - among these requirements is that they must possess the fear of God. (Pages 12, 13 and 14)

Abdu'l-Baha also writes that mothers must teach their children the fear of God:

"Therefore is it incumbent upon the mothers to rear their little ones even as a gardener tendeth his young plants. Let them strive by day and by night to establish within their children faith and certitude, the fear of God, the love of the Beloved . . . "
Perhaps teaching the fear of God from childhood, is what Baha'u'llah says will remove fear. Shoghi Effendi clarified:

"In explaining the fear of God to children, there is no objection to teaching it as 'Abdu'l-Bahá so often taught everything, in the form of parables. Also the child should be made to understand that we don't fear God because He is cruel, but we fear Him because He is just, and, if we do wrong and deserve to be punished, then in His justice He may see fit to punish us. We must both love God and fear Him." (From a letter dated 15 February 1957 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi; from the Compilation on Child Education)
Now, as to that specific verse from the Supreme Pen quoted at the top of this posting, Shoghi Effendi wrote two letters through his secretary stating that we do not know for sure what Baha'u'llah was referring to: "Unfortunately it would seem that the knowledge 'which could largely eliminate fear' has not been disclosed or identified by Bahá'u'lláh; so we do not know what it is'. (From a letter dated 5 January 1948, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 249) "You have asked the exact meaning of the term 'Fear of God' mentioned in Bahá'í Sacred Writings; it often means awe, but has also other connotations such as reverence, terror and fear. "We have no way of knowing what science Bahá'u'lláh meant when He said it would largely eliminate fear; as no further mention of it was ever made in the teachings, the Guardian cannot identify anything with this statement. To do so would depart from his function as interpreter of the teachings; he cannot reveal anything apart from the given teachings." (Lights of Guidance, p. 236 # 789)

So the first letter from him says that this knowledge was either not disclosed, or was disclosed but not identified - so he could not tell us what the Manifestation was referring to. So we do not know if this knowledge is among His Writings, but unidentified; or if it remains hidden in His knowledge for a future Manifestation to reveal. It is interesting to me that the Master says to teach the fear of God to the children; maybe that means that this is the knowledge Baha'u'llah says should be "taught from childhood." But we cannot know for sure; and maybe Baha'u'llah is referring to something entirely new and unknown to us.

Looking at Badi's face, in both of the pictures of him with his executioners, 1, 2, he shows no fear whatsoever. In the first of those pictures he almost looks careless of the fact that the men surrounding him are about to inflict upon him unbelievable tortures. And Baha'u'llah spoke of the time he spent with Badi, preparing him, "We took a handful of dust; mixed it with the waters of might and power, and breathed into it the spirit of assurance." I have always wondered if Baha'u'llah gave Badi certain knowledge that freed him from this world, freed him from concern over pain - and if this might be that hidden knowledge He refers to in the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf - knowledge still unknown and unrevealed to the rest of us.

On the other hand, the Writings do say that if a person fears God, He will fear nothing else. Baha'u'llah wrote to the kings of the earth in the Suriy-i-Muluk:

Know ye that I am afraid of none except God. In none but Him have I placed My trust; to none will I cleave but Him, and wish for naught except the thing He hath wished for Me. This, indeed, is My heart's desire, did ye but know it. I have offered up My soul and My body as a sacrifice for God, the Lord of all worlds. Whoso hath known God shall know none but Him, and he that feareth God shall be afraid of no one except Him, though the powers of the whole earth rise up and be arrayed against him.
So, maybe, on the other hand, He did reveal this knowledge to all of us, and it is the fear of God which eliminates fear. He wrote, in the Tablet of Four Valleys, quoting an Arabic saying:

"Verily, the wayfarer who journeyeth unto God, unto the Crimson Pillar in the snow-white path, will never reach unto his heavenly goal unless he abandoneth all that men possess: 'And if he feareth not God, God will make him to fear all things; whereas all things fear him who feareth God.'"
In one of my favorite of Baha'u'llah's prayers, He refers to God as the One Who "changeth fear into calm:"

I give praise to Thee, O my God, that Thou hast awakened me out of my sleep, and brought me forth after my disappearance, and raised me up from my slumber. I have wakened this morning with my face set toward the splendors of the Day-Star of Thy Revelation, through Which the heavens of Thy power and Thy majesty have been illumined, acknowledging Thy signs, believing in Thy Book, and holding fast unto Thy Cord.

I beseech Thee, by the potency of Thy will and the compelling power of Thy purpose, to make of what Thou didst reveal unto me in my sleep the surest foundation for the mansions of Thy love that are within the hearts of Thy loved ones, and the best instrument for the revelation of the tokens of Thy grace and Thy loving-kindness.
Do Thou ordain for me through Thy most exalted Pen, O my Lord, the good of this world and of the next. I testify that within Thy grasp are held the reins of all things. Thou changest them as Thou pleasest. No God is there save Thee, the Strong, the Faithful.

Thou art He Who changeth through His bidding abasement into glory, and weakness into strength, and powerlessness into might, and fear into calm, and doubt into certainty. No God is there but Thee, the Mighty, the Beneficent.

Thou disappointest no one who hath sought Thee, nor dost Thou keep back from Thee any one who hath desired Thee. Ordain Thou for me what becometh the heaven of Thy generosity, and the ocean of Thy bounty. Thou art, verily, the Almighty, the Most Powerful.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Rejoicing in Gods Will

Recently I received permission from Mr. Ali Nakhjavani to post this statement he made:

"Although what you expected did not materialize, we are assured in our Writings that we do not know what 'profiteth' us and what 'harmeth' us. It seems to me that God is interested to see what our reaction will be to setbacks and reverses.
    "He loves us and would not like us to complain and groan. The rock bottom minimum of winning some of His good-pleasure is for us to submit and surrender.  A higher degree would be for us to be contented and radiantly acquiescent, and yet a still higher state is for us to offer him our praise and gratitude.
      "Do we stop there?  No!  Our Teachings tell us that there is yet another higher state.  We have to compose ourselves, look into our lives, discover and count our blessings, and realize that we have been already granted gifts far beyond our deserts.  We then wholeheartedly, in the words of the Long Obligatory Prayer, and as we stand shame-facedly in His presence, we cry out: 'I blush to lift up my face to Thee, and my longing hands are ashamed to stretch forth toward the heaven of Thy bounty.'” 

I think Mr. Nakhjavani's observations on the ways of life are profound.  

Following are some Baha'i prayers containing the phrases Mr. Nakhjavani mentions.

O God, my God! My back is bowed by the burden of my sins, and my heedlessness hath destroyed me. Whenever I ponder my evil doings and Thy benevolence, my heart melteth within me, and my blood boileth in my veins. By Thy Beauty, O Thou the Desire of the world! I blush to lift up my face to Thee, and my longing hands are ashamed to stretch forth toward the heaven of Thy bounty. Thou seest, O my God, how my tears prevent me from remembering Thee and from extolling Thy virtues, O Thou the Lord of the Throne on high and of earth below! I implore Thee by the signs of Thy Kingdom and the mysteries of Thy Dominion to do with Thy loved ones as becometh Thy bounty, O Lord of all being, and is worthy of Thy grace, O King of the seen and the unseen!
(Baha'u'llah, The Long Obligatory Prayer, Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah, p. 322)

I bear witness at this moment, O my God, to my helplessness and Thy sovereignty, my feebleness and Thy power. I know not that which profiteth me or harmeth me; Thou art, verily, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
(From a prayer by Baha'u'llah, Baha'i Prayers, p. 143)

I am but a wretched creature, O my Lord, and Thou art the All-Possessing, the Most High; and I am all weakness, and Thou art the Almighty, and the Supreme Ordainer in both the beginning and the end. Withhold not from me the fragrances of Thy Revelation, and shatter not my hopes in the outpourings which have been sent down out of the heaven of Thy gifts. Ordain Thou for me, O my God, the good of this world and the world to come, and grant me what will profit me in every world of Thy worlds, for I know not what will help or harm me. Thou, in truth, art the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
(Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah, p. 256)

This also reminds me of Baha'u'llah's verse,

O My servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 329)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Homosexuality, The Baha'i Faith, and Science

(This posting is in response to a friend's question.)

You have pointed out that the Baha’i Faith teaches that science and religion agree, and that science today has said that homosexuality is normal – how can the Faith forbid it?

Let’s look at what the Master actually said.  Abdu’l-Baha said that if science and religion are not in agreement, either science is not yet “true science,” or the religious teaching is “superstition”:

“The third principle or teaching of Bahá'u'lláh is the oneness of religion and science. Any religious belief which is not conformable with scientific proof and investigation is superstition, for true science is reason and reality, and religion is essentially reality and pure reason; therefore, the two must correspond. Religious teaching which is at variance with science and reason is human invention and imagination unworthy of acceptance, for the antithesis and opposite of knowledge is superstition born of the ignorance of man. If we say religion is opposed to science, we lack knowledge of either true science or true religion, for both are founded upon the premises and conclusions of reason, and both must bear its test.” (Abdu'l-Baha, 7 May 1912, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 107)

And yet one of the laws of our Faith – the prohibition, in the Most Holy Book, of homosexual acts and same-sex marriage - appears to be in conflict with the science of today. But Abdu’l-Baha never says that the words revealed by the Manifestations of God must be superstition if they don’t agree with science. He says that “religious beliefs” which are outcomes of people’s “imagination” and conflict with science are superstitious. For example:

“Among other principles of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings was the harmony of science and religion. Religion must stand the analysis of reason. It must agree with scientific fact and proof so that science will sanction religion and religion fortify science. Both are indissolubly welded and joined in reality. If statements and teachings of religion are found to be unreasonable and contrary to science, they are outcomes of superstition and imagination. Innumerable  doctrines and beliefs of this character have arisen in the past ages. Consider the superstitions and mythology of the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians; all were contrary to religion and science. It is now evident that the beliefs of these nations were superstitions, but in those times they held to them most tenaciously. For example, one of the many Egyptian idols was to those people an authenticated miracle, whereas in reality it was a piece of stone. As science could not sanction the miraculous origin and nature of a piece of rock, the belief in it must have been superstition. It is now evident that it was superstition.” (Abdu'l-Baha, 9 June 1912, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 175)

So the first point is that it is my view that Abdu’l-Baha never intended that any teaching of Baha’u’llah would ever, ever, be declared to be superstition.  The whole ministry of the Master and the Guardian upholds every verse from Baha’u’llah. Can you ever imagine the Master or the Guardian or the House saying “This divine verse in such-and-such a tablet is imagination, and we are declaring these words of Baha’u’llah to be false.”  Of course, such a thing never has, and never will happen.

A recent example will be very helpful. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu'l-Baha has commented on evolution. Some Baha'is have assumed that this meant a kind of "parallel evolution." A statement approved by the House of Justice has said this understanding is incorrect:

"A notable case in point is the treatment of the subject of the evolution of species, which is taken up explicitly in Part 4, and which must be understood in light of several Bahá’í teachings, especially the principle of the harmony of science and religion. Religious belief should not contradict science and reason. A certain reading of some of the passages found in Chapters 46–51 may lead some believers to personal conclusions that contradict modern science. Yet the Universal House of Justice has explained that Bahá’ís strive to reconcile their understanding of the statements of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with established scientific perspectives, and therefore it is not necessary to conclude that these passages describe conceptions rejected by science, for example, a kind of “parallel” evolution that proposes a separate line of biological evolution for the human species parallel to the animal kingdom since the beginning of life on earth....His essential argument, then, is not directed towards scientific findings but towards the materialist assertions that are built upon them. For Bahá’ís, the science of evolution is accepted, but the conclusion that humanity is merely an accidental branch of the animal kingdom—with all its attendant social implications—is not."
("Some Answered Questions" Foreword, some discussion omitted)

Since this appears in a volume of Baha'i literature published at the Baha'i World Center, this may be taken as an important policy statement about the Baha'i teaching on science and religion.

What's the difference? If a Baha'i view of evolution should give way to science, why shouldn't a Baha'i view of same-sex relations? One difference is that the prohibition on same-sex relations is an explicit teaching of the Faith, clarified by the interpretations of Shoghi Effendi. On the other hand, the notion of parallel evolution is an *understanding* of the Baha'i teachings - not a teaching itself. Please note that the statement above on science and religion is that "
personal conclusions" should not contradict modern science," that Bahá’ís strive to reconcile "their understanding" with "established scientific perspectives." So we can expect that our understandings of the Baha'i teachings will continue to be modified by "established scientific perspective."
When there is a conflict between Baha’u’llah and a scientific authority, here is an example of how the Guardian resolves it. The subject is transmutation of elements. Baha’u’llah states that every element can be transmuted into Gold – a physical symbol in the outer world, of the spiritual transformation of humanity:

"Considering that a century ago, nobody knew the nature of matter, and couldn't split any kind of atom, it should not surprise the scientist that 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that copper can be transmuted into gold. There may come a time, for all we know, when the mass of many atoms can be changed by scientists. We have no way of proving, or disproving at present the statement of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Just because we cannot demonstrate a contention in the Bahá'í Teachings, does not mean the contention is not true. The same holds true of the statement of Bahá'u'lláh in the Íqán, regarding transmutation of copper into gold after seventy years, under certain conditions. We as Bahá'ís must assume that, as He had access to all knowledge, He was referring to a definite physical condition which theoretically might exist. Because we don't know what this condition is in scientific terms, does not refute Bahá'u'lláh's statement at all. . . The principle of Faith is to accept anything the Manifestation of God says, once you have accepted Him as being the Manifestation. That is really the crux of the whole matter. It is a question of confidence." (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, March 14, 1955, Lights of Guidance, p. 478, #1580)

When people’s beliefs are in conflict with science, their beliefs must give way to science. However, when the Manifestation of God’s statements conflict with science, science must give way to the Revelation.
Here is another example.  Abdu’l-Baha gives the example of a statement in divine Revelation which took a thousand years for science to recognize:

“…Muhammad appeared in the desert of Hijaz in the Arabian Peninsula, which was a desolate, sterile wilderness, sandy and uninhabited. Some parts, like Mecca and Medina, are extremely hot; the people are nomads with the manners and customs of the dwellers in the desert, and are entirely destitute of education and science.  .  .  In such a country, and amidst such barbarous tribes, an illiterate Man produced a book in which, in a perfect and eloquent style, He explained the divine attributes and  perfections, the prophethood of the Messengers of God, the divine laws, and some scientific facts.
         “Thus, you know that before the observations of modern times -- that is to say, during the first centuries and down to the fifteenth century of the Christian era -- all the mathematicians of the world agreed that the earth was the center of the universe, and that the sun moved. The famous astronomer who was the protagonist of the new theory discovered the movement of the earth and the immobility of the sun.[Copernicus] Until his time all the astronomers and philosophers of the world followed the Ptolemaic system, and whoever said anything against it was considered ignorant. Though Pythagoras, and Plato during the latter part of his life, adopted the theory that the annual movement of the sun around the zodiac does not proceed from the sun, but rather from the movement of the earth around the sun, this theory had been entirely forgotten, and the Ptolemaic system was accepted by all mathematicians. But there are some verses revealed in the Qur'án contrary to the theory of the Ptolemaic system. One of them is "The sun moves in a fixed place," which shows the fixity of the sun, and its movement around an axis.[ Cf. Qur'án 36:37] Again, in another verse, "And each star moves in its own heaven."[ Cf. Qur'án 36:38.] Thus is explained the movement of the sun, of the moon, of the earth, and of other bodies. When the Qur'án appeared, all the mathematicians ridiculed these statements and attributed the theory to ignorance. Even the doctors of Islam, when they saw that these verses were contrary to the accepted Ptolemaic system, were obliged to explain them away.
        “It was not until after the fifteenth century of the Christian era, nearly nine hundred years after Muhammad, that a famous astronomer made new observations and important discoveries by the aid of the telescope, which he had invented. [Galileo] The rotation of the earth, the fixity of the sun, and also its movement around an axis, were discovered. It became evident that the verses of the Qur'án agreed with existing facts, and that the Ptolemaic system was imaginary.
      “In short, many Oriental peoples have been reared for thirteen centuries under the shadow of the religion of Muhammad. During the Middle Ages, while Europe was in the lowest depths of barbarism, the Arab peoples were superior to the other nations of the earth in learning, in the arts, mathematics, civilization, government and other sciences. The Enlightener and Educator of these Arab tribes, and the Founder of the civilization and perfections of humanity among these different races, was an illiterate Man, Muhammad.” (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, Chapter 7, pp. 22-24)

And this, it is my personal understanding, is the situation with the law prohibiting same-sex sexual relations and marriage.  Science has yet to catch up with Baha’u’llah. It will, eventually. Shoghi Effendi reportedly told a pilgrim, after recounting this same point about astronomy, that if, as was the case with astronomers catching  up with what Muhammad had revealed about astronomy in the Text, it takes a thousand years for science to uphold Baha'u'llah's laws, we will cling to them for that thousand years. I don’t know where that pilgrim note is now; and it’s just a pilgrim note.  But the point is that the Baha’i Writings do not say that if science has a different understanding of reality than religion does, then the revelation must give way. In fact, if the revelation itself, and not our understanding of it, is directly in conflict with science, it is science which will change in the long run.

The Universal House of Justice wrote a letter about sexual matters including homosexuality to a Baha'i
doctor assisting people with sexual problems. In the course of this letter to a Baha'i educated in, and working in the field of science, the House of Justice wrote about how revelation changes a Baha'is understanding of science:

"In all this we have been speaking about the attitude that Bahá’ís should have towards the law of Bahá’u’lláh. You, however, as a doctor working mainly as a counsellor in family and sexual problems, will mostly be concerned with advising non-Bahá’ís, who do not accept, and see no reason to follow, the laws of Bahá’u’lláh. You are already a qualified practitioner in your field, and no doubt you give advice on the basis of what you have learned from study and experience―a whole fabric of concepts about the human mind, its growth, development and proper functioning, which you have learned and evolved, without reference to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. Now, as a Bahá’í, you know that what Bahá’u’lláh teaches about the purpose of human life, the nature of the human being and the proper conduct of human lives, is divinely revealed and therefore true. However, it will inevitably take time for you not only to study the Bahá’í teachings so that you clearly understand them, but also to work out how they modify your professional concepts. This is, of course, not an unusual predicament for a scientist. How often in the course of research is a factor discovered which requires a revolution in thinking over a wide field of human endeavor. You must be guided in each case by your own professional knowledge and judgement as illuminated by your growing knowledge of the Bahá’í teachings; undoubtedly you will find that your own understanding of the human problems dealt with in your work will change and develop and you will see new and improved ways of helping the people who come to you."
("Obeying the Law of God in One's Personal Life," a letter from the Universal House of Justice dated 6 February 1973 addressed to all National Spiritual Assemblies; "Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, paragraph 126.10)