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

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 prohibition 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.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pleasing God And Being Well-Pleased With God

One of the wonderful challenges God gives us in this life is to learn to submit to His Will, and to do so joyfully -- to learn to be content with His Will.

There is a lovely incident recorded by the great Baha'i author and translator, Marzieh Gail, about pleasing God, and being pleased with God. In her book Arches of the Years she writes about the time during her childhood when she wrote a letter to Abdu'l-Baha: 

Before He came to Washington, Marzieh had written Him, in block letters, penciled, undoubtedly an adult holding her fist. Her message went, 'Dear Abdul-Baha, I love you. I hope you will come to see us.' And He had written a line in Persian on it, turning it into a Tablet, and signed it, and sent it back:
'O God, make her who is pleasing to God (Marzieh), well-pleased with God (Razieh). Insha'llah I shall see her.' (The words pleased with and pleasing to God are from the Qur'án, 89:28.) With Him, there was room for every one, no matter how heavy His own work load, or how weary His body, no matter how small the person was, or how unnoticed by the world.

The lovely verse from the Qur'an is from the Surih of the Daybreak:

Return to thy Lord, pleased, and pleasing him:
Enter thou among my servants,
And enter thou my Paradise.

“Pleased” is razieh, and “pleasing Him” is marzieh.

There are various ways in the Writings of Baha'u'llah in which Shoghi Effendi has translated marzieh – pleasing to God, and razieh – pleased with God. It is very revealing. The first passage will have been memorized by anyone who has embarked on the Ruhi study classes. Baha'u'llah is here quoted on page 25 of The Advent of Divine Justice:

The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly [marzieh] conduct.

Shoghi Effendi's translation of this beautiful word is not bound by dictionary translations. His lyrical pen translates marzieh in these beautiful ways:

The fruits of the tree of man have ever been and are goodly deeds and a praiseworthy [marzieh] character.
(Baha'u'llah, p. 26, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf)

This people need no weapons of destruction, inasmuch as they have girded themselves to reconstruct the world. Their hosts are the hosts of goodly deeds, and their arms the arms of upright [marzieh] conduct.
(Baha'u'llah, p. 74, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf)

...those souls who are well assured, pleased [razieh], and pleasing unto God [marzieh]...
(Baha'u'llah, p. 121, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf)

This can best be achieved through pure and holy deeds, through a virtuous life and a goodly [marzieh] behavior.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah XLII, p. 94)

O friends! Help ye the one true God, exalted be His glory, by your goodly deeds, by such conduct and character as shall be acceptable in His sight [marzieh].
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah CXXVI, p. 272)

His object is to array every man with the mantle of a saintly [marzieh] character, and to adorn him with the ornament of holy and goodly deeds.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah CXXVIII, p. 299)

Say: O people of God! That which can ensure the victory of Him Who is the Eternal Truth, His hosts and helpers on earth, have been set down in the sacred Books and Scriptures, and are as clear and manifest as the sun. These hosts are such righteous deeds, such conduct and character, as are acceptable in His sight [marzieh].
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah CXXXI, p. 287)

It is challenging to attain, not only to God being pleased with us; but to razieh—being pleased with that which God chooses to bestow on us. These beautiful passages from Baha'u'llah's Writings express razieh:

I render thanks unto Thee, and My Spirit is grateful for whatsoever hath befallen me in the path of Thy good-pleasure. I am well pleased [razieh] with that which Thou didst ordain for Me, and welcome, however calamitous, the pains and sorrows I am made to suffer.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah XXXIX, p. 89)

Ask not of Me that which We desire not for thee, then be content [razieh] with what We have ordained for thy sake, for this is that which profiteth thee, if therewith thou dost content thyself. (Arabic Hidden Words 18)

Seek a martyr's death in My path, content [razieh] with My pleasure and thankful for that which I ordain, that thou mayest repose with Me beneath the canopy of majesty behind the tabernacle of glory.

(Arabic Hidden Words 45)

At one time I found Myself on the heights of mountains; at another in the depths of the prison of Ta (Tihran), in chains and fetters. By the righteousness of God! I was at all times thankful unto Him, uttering His praise, engaged in remembering Him, directed towards Him, satisfied with His pleasure [razieh], and lowly and submissive before Him.
(Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 79)

Perish that lover who discerneth between the pleasant and the poisonous in his love for his beloved! Be thou satisfied [razieh] with what God hath destined for thee. He, verily, ruleth over thee as He willeth and pleaseth.
(Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah VIII, p. 11)

I beg of Thee, O my God, by Thy most exalted Word which Thou hast ordained as the Divine Elixir unto all who are in Thy realm, the Elixir through whose potency the crude metal of human life hath been transmuted into purest gold, O Thou in Whose hands are both the visible and invisible kingdoms, to ordain that my choice be conformed to Thy choice and my wish to Thy wish, that I may be entirely content [razieh] with that which Thou didst desire, and be wholly satisfied with what Thou didst destine for me by Thy bounteousness and favor. (Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah XXXVIII, p. 54)

I implore Thee, O Thou Who art inscrutable to all except Thee, and can be comprehended through naught else save Thyself, by the wrongs which He Who is the Day-Spring of Thy Cause hath suffered at the hands of the ignoble among Thy creatures, and by what hath befallen Him in Thy path, to grant that I may, at all times, be wholly dissolved in Thee [razieh], and fix my gaze upon the horizon of Thy will and be steadfast in Thy love.
(Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah CXXXV, p. 223)

I implore Thee, O my Lord, by Thy name the splendors of which have encompassed the earth and the heavens, to enable me so to surrender my will [razieh] to what Thou hast decreed in Thy Tablets, that I may cease to discover within me any desire except what Thou didst desire through the power of Thy sovereignty, and any will save what Thou didst destine for me by Thy will.
(Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah CL, p. 241)

~ ~ ~

Razieh is also transliterated as Ráḍíyih, as shown in this authorized translation of a tablet by Baha'u'llah prepared under the supervision of the Universal House of Justice after Marzieh Gail wrote the above section:

He is God, Glorified be He, Grandeur and Might are His!
    On the morning of the blessed Friday we proceeded from the Mansion and entered the Garden. Every tree uttered a word, and every leaf sang a melody. The trees proclaimed: 'Behold the evidences of God's Mercy' and the twin streams recited in the eloquent tongue the sacred verse 'From us all things were made alive'. Glorified be God! Mysteries were voiced by them, which provoked wonderment. Methought: in which school were they educated, and from whose presence had they acquired their learning? Yea! This Wronged One knoweth and He saith: 'From God, the All-Encompassing, the Self-Subsistent.'
Upon Our being seated, Ráḍíyih, upon her be My glory, attained Our presence on thy behalf, laid the table of God's bounty and in thy name extended hospitality to all present. In truth, all that which stimulateth the appetite and pleaseth the eye was offered, and indeed that which delighteth the ear could also be heard as the leaves were stirred by the Will of God, and from this movement a refreshing voice was raised, as if uttering a blissful call inviting the absent to this Feast. God's power and the perfection of His handiwork could enjoyably be seen in the blossoms, the fruits, the trees, the leaves and the streams. Praised be God who hath thus confirmed thee and her.
In brief, all in the Garden were recipients of the choicest bountiesand in the end expressed their thanksgiving unto their Lord. O that allGod's beloved would have been present on this day!
We beseech God, exalted be He, to cause to descend upon thee at every moment, a blessing and a mercy and a measure of divine grace from His presence. He is the Forgiving, the All-Glorious.
We send greetings to His loved ones, and supplicate for each one of them that which is worthy of mention and is acceptable in His presence. Peace be upon thee, and upon God's sincere servants. Praise be to Him, the Lord of all mankind.

Ráḍíyih, who is mentioned in this Tablet, was a sister of Munirih Khanum, the wife of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The dinner was given on behalf of her husband who was not present at the time. He was her cousin Siyyid 'Ali...

(Cited in Adib Taherzadeh, "The Revelation of Baha'u'llah" Volume IV, p. 14)

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Significance of the "Ayyam-i-Ha" - the Intercalary Days

The Ayyam-i-Ha -- What are these "Days of the Letter Ha"?

The letter Ha, or H, is one of the first two letters of Bahá'u'll
áh's Name, promised in the Holy Books - for example, in the 35th chapter of the Book of Isaiah, and in the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation.  It is one of the characters in the Baha'i ringstone symbol.  The central portion of the ringstone symbol is a series of four interlocking lines linked to four somewhat oval shapes.  These four ovals are the Arabic letter H, or "Ha", and the four lines are each the Arabic letter B.

ahá'u'lláh identifies His name with these two letters in the closing words of the Book of Certitude: "Revealed by the 'Bá' and the 'Há'." (1)

In one of His tablets
Bahá'u'lláh states that the Arabic letter "Ba" looks like a lock of hair

and that the letter "Ha" looks like a rosebud

and He mentions the beauty of these two letters when they are linked together, stating that a spirit flows through these letters of His Name like the vibration of a flute.  (2) 

Some of the Baha'i holy days are joyful days - such as celebrating the birth or the declaration of the Manifestations of God; some are somber, such as commemorating Their ascension from this world. Some of the holy days commemorate the Manifestations of God, one of them commemorates the Covenant. The Ayyam-i-Ha celebrate the Essence of God, and they are joyful days.

The Hand of the Cause Zikrullah Khadem explains in one of his essays the significance of the letter B.  He points out that the Book of Genesis begins with the Hebrew letter B, and that every one of the 114 Surahs of the Qur'an begins with the letter B. (3)

In some of His Writings
Bahá'u'lláh comments on the letter "B", for example, in the second paragraph of the Tablet of Ishraqat (4)

In like manner, the Bab and
Bahá'u'lláh also comment on the significance of the letter "H" or "Ha".  In the Surih of the Temple, Bahá'u'lláh writes of this Arabic letter "Ha" that it symbolizes the Essence of God:
"O First Letter of this Temple, betokening the Essence of Divinity! We have made thee the treasury of My Will and the repository of My Purpose unto all who are in the kingdoms of revelation and creation. This is but a token of the grace of Him Who is the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting." (5)  

We see here that
Bahá'u'lláh Himself explains that the letter "Ha" signifies "the Essence of Divinity."

Bahá'u'lláh designated the days preceding the Fast as "the manifestations of the letter 'Ha'." (6) As further explained in the Notes to the Most Holy Book:

"Known as the Ayyam-i-Ha, (the Days of Ha), the Intercalary Days have the distinction of being associated with "the letter Ha". . . The letter "Ha" has been given several spiritual meanings in the Holy Writings, among which is as a symbol of the Essence of God. (7)

Likewise, the Bab revealed a tablet interpreting the significance of the letter "Ha", and
Bahá'u'lláh quotes a verse from this tablet in the Book of Certitude:
"Likewise, in His interpretation of the letter 'Ha,' He craved martyrdom, saying: 'Methinks I heard a Voice calling in my inmost being: "Do thou sacrifice the thing which Thou lovest most in the path of God, even as Husayn, peace be upon him, hath offered up his life for My sake."'" (8)

The "Ayyam-i-Ha" are days to be spent in praise of God, in rejoicing, the giving of gifts, and acts of charity. 
Bahá'u'lláh directs His loved ones "with joy and exultation to hail and glorify their Lord, to sing His praise and magnify His Name" during them:
“Let the days in excess of the months be placed before the month of fasting. We have ordained that these, amid all nights and days, shall be the manifestations of the letter Ha, and thus they have not been bounded by the limits of the year and its months. It behoveth the people of Baha, throughout these days, to provide good cheer for themselves, their kindred and, beyond them, the poor and needy, and with joy and exultation to hail and glorify their Lord, to sing His praise and magnify His Name; and when they end -- these days of giving that precede the season of restraint -- let them enter upon the Fast.” (9)

As one of the Baha'i friends has written:

"Bahá’u'lláh has designated the intercalary days 'amid all the nights and days' as manifestations of the letter 'Ha'–that is, as Days of the Divine Essence. These extra days stand apart from the ordinary cycle of weeks and months and the human measure of time. They are not 'bounded by the limits of the year and its months' – just as the infinite reality of the divine Essence of God is unbounded and cannot be captured or comprehended within the cycle of time or any other human measurement.

"Thus Ayyám-i-Há can be thought of as days outside of time, days that symbolize eternity, infinity, and the mystery and unknowable Essence of God Himself. Contemplation during these days of the timeless mystery of the Essence of God provides us the 'joy and exultation' with which to 'sing His praise and magnify His Name.'" (10)

(1) (The Book of Certitude, p. 257, paragraph 288)
(3) Zikrullah Khadem, the Itinerant Hand of the Cause of God, p. 303
(4)(Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 101)
(5)(Baha'u'llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, paragraph 1.37, p. 20; see also p. 237, footnote 3)
(6)(The Most Holy Book, p. 25, paragraph 16)
(7) (The Most Holy Book, p. 178, Note 28)
(8)(Baha'u'llah, The Book of Certitude, p. 231, paragraph 259)
(9) (The Most Holy Book, p. 25, paragraph 16)