Monday, October 19, 2009

Tablet of Ahmad, a verbal analysis

The Tablet of Ahmad. One of my favorite pieces from the Writings of Baha'u'llah. Whole volumes have been written on this one Text alone, including Learn Well This Tablet, which, if you haven't read it, should be high on your list.

I have said it to my son, Shoghi, most every night for the past few years and, when he was only 3-years old, he shocked me. I was asked to say a prayer at some gathering and asked him which one I should say. He said, "King." "King?" "King." He then proceeded to recite the first quarter of the Tablet by heart, just to make sure I knew which prayer he wanted.

But what is it about this particular Tablet? Why are we all so attracted to it? Why is it that when I recall a tour of the archives in the Temple in Wilmette, the original of this Tablet is what stands out most in my memory?

At this point, I could tell you all about Ahmad and his receipt of the Tablet, or some of the exhortations in it, or some of the salient points in the Tablet, but you could read all that here, instead. Why repeat what others have already written?

Instead I want to direct your attention to some of the verbs in the opening paragraph (or, more precisely, the one after the introductory praise of God). They are highlit for your attention, and not part of the original, as I'm sure you know.

Lo, the Nightingale of Paradise singeth upon the twigs of the Tree of Eternity, with holy and sweet melodies, proclaiming to the sincere ones the glad tidings of the nearness of God, calling the believers in the Divine Unity to the court of the Presence of the Generous One, informing the severed ones of the message which hath been revealed by God, the King, the Glorious, the Peerless, guiding the lovers to the seat of sanctity and to this resplendent Beauty.

When I was a student, lo those many years ago, one of my English teachers had an annoying habit of over-analyzing every text. I can still recall the many hours of lecturing in one class where he spoke of nothing but the first line in Hamlet: "Who's there?" He showed how it set up the entire text of the play through the simple act of questioning one's identity. On and on he went. I was actually surprised that I hadn't starved to death due to not eating for so obviously long a time. The lack of water, though, should've gotten to me first.

But that simple skill of analysis has proven useful.

Take a look those verbs: proclaiming, calling, informing and guiding. When you "proclaim", you announce publicly over a great distance. When you "call", you are crying out in a loud voice, and summoning one to be nearer. Once they are nearer, you can then "inform", or impart certain knowledge. When you "guide", it is even nearer, within one's heart. When you are guiding someone you are assisting them, helping them reach an unfamiliar destination. You are showing them the interesting points on their journey, or even providing spiritual advice.

With each of these verbs, Baha'u'llah is drawing us nearer to Him, until we are so near that we can receive His spiritual advice. At the same time, we are also shown some very interesting points about the world.

Now take a look at the text. You will, of course, notice that there are three times in which the Blessed Beauty calls upon Ahmad by name: "O Ahmad! Bear thou witness...", "O Ahmad! Forget not My bounties..." and "Learn well this Tablet, O Ahmad." These points can serve to divide the text into four easily memorable parts.

In that first section, the one that ends with "Verily He is the Tree of Life that bringeth forth the fruits of God, the Exalted, the Powerful, the Great", we find it reads as a proclamation. "LO!" We practically jump at the intensity of that single word, shouted out from a mountain top. Our attention is immediately drawn to the One Who cries out that syllable. It is no murmur. It is a sound that commands notice. From there, our attention is shifted to "the Nightingale of Paradise" who is singing "upon the twigs of the Tree of Eternity". And what is he singing about? We are told that he is proclaiming, calling, informing and guiding, each to a specific group (perhaps more on those groups in another post).

In that opening section, the legal proclamation of authority is given, officially and formally. "...This is that Most Great Beauty... through Whom truth shall be distinguished from error... He is the Tree of Life..." It cannot be any clearer.

We then move into the second part of this mighty Tablet. This is the section that begins with "O Ahmad!" and concludes with "...combine to assist one another." When taken on its own, it reads quite nicely as a call. In this section, we are called to "bear... witness that verily He is God". We are also called upon to acknowledge the Bab and move into conformity with His commands. Obedience is enjoined upon us all.

But then comes an interesting reminder: "Thus doth the Nightingale utter His call unto you from this prison." It is His only job, "to deliver this clear message". We are given leave to "turn aside from this counsel" or "choose the path to (our) Lord". The choice is ours, as it always has been.

He then concludes with a test by which we can gauge the Message of God.

Now we turn to section three, beginning again with "O Ahmad", and concluding with "all eternity to all eternity".

This entire section is filled with information. "Forget not My bounties..." "Remember My days..." "Be thou so steadfast..." Be as "a flame of fire", a river of eternal-life. If you are surrounded by troubles, He tells you what to do: "Rely upon God..." We are also informed of the state of the world, "the people are wandering in the paths of delusion". The world is filled with superstition, which is preventing many from being able to see God. We need to be aware of this, or else we will be overcome by afflictions, beset by depression, overwhelmed by the mighty task before us. In short, we are told not to worry, but to continue on and persevere.

Finally, in the last section, Ahmad is given very personal guidance. By extension, we are, too. "Learn well this tablet... Chant it during thy days..." We are shown some simple actions we can do in our lives, and promised certain rewards for each action.

These rewards, it should be noted, are not of the payment variety. They are more of the exercise type. If we exercise, we know the reward will be strong muscles and better health. Similarly, if we "read this Tablet with absolute sincerity", then we know that our perception will become more acute, our soul stronger, our state of being more healthy. God will, in fact, through these bounties, "dispel (our) sadness, solve (our) difficulties and remove (our) afflictions."

This is, of course, only one small facet of this Tablet, focusing on only a single aspect of a single paragraph. There are many more things that can be said, some of which are published elsewhere. Perhaps I'll add more to this growing body of literature on this Tablet, but for now, I'll just read others.

Looking back over this, maybe I should've called it a "verbose analysis".

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