Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Few More Questions

"Free will or pre-destination?"  "What is the meaning of life?"  "Why are we here?"  I always wonder why these questions preoccupy people's minds.

One of my favorites in university was the absurd "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"  The answer, obviously, is "It depends on the size of the pin."

All right, that was another fairly lame joke, but seriously, why do we spend so much time on these questions?  As Baha'is we have such simple and straightforward answers to these "eternal" questions that they shouldn't bother us at all.

What did you say?  "Where?"

Hmm, well, I'm not sure.  That is an excellent question.  I think, overall, they are found in the context of the Writings.  If you find any specific quotes, please let me know.

For now, let's look at that first question: Free will or pre-destination?

A few years back, when I was at another youth conference (I seem to go to a lot of them now that I'm not a youth anymore), that question came up over lunch.   Now, I was the first speaker after lunch, and a friend of mine had just finished speaking before lunch.  As part of his talk, he rolled up a carpet on the floor to demonstrate some point or another.  So, during lunch, I snuck back into the room and modified it a bit.

After our break, we all went back into the room, and I began my talk by addressing this question, as it was asked by more than a few of the youth.

I began unrolling the carpet, and there, in the middle of the carpet they had just rolled up, was a piece of paper.  It appeared as if by magic, and said, "I am born".

"This carpet," I said, "is the carpet of my life.  Let's see what happens in it."

We continued to unroll it and read the few items that were there, each giving some detail of my life chronologically.  Then, all of a sudden, there were two pieces of paper.  One said "A" and the other "B".  I told them that this represented a crucial juction in my life, and I needed to make a decision.  "Which one should I do?"

They all shouted out "B".

I tossed away "A" and read "B".  It said, "Go to university".

We proceeded through the various papers on this carpet, making choices where needed, until I finally passed away ("Oops.  I died").

I then asked the real question: "Did I have free will in my life?"  They agreed that I did.

"Now, try and imagine this carpet from God's perspective.  God, as you know, is outside or above time.  He sees the entire carpet at once, from before it is created to after it falls to pieces.  He sees the decisions we make 'before' we make them, as we make them, and 'after'.  It is all at once, to Him.  So, did He know the decision we would make before we did?  Of course.  The past, present and future are all the same to Him.  This is what is meant by pre-destination.  It is also why prophecies are able to be made."

Having the carpet there to demonstrate the point made it very easy for them to see it.

This is something I have learned over the years: a physical object makes a point easier to grasp.  The Master often used this technique in His speeches.  Look through "Promulgation of Universal Peace" to see plenty of examples.

Now, the next two questions, "What is the meaning of life?" and "Why are we here?"

I believe that those are actually the same question, and not really meaningful outside the context of life itself.  Isn't the question actually, "What should we be doing with our time while we are here?"

Baha'u'llah says that we were created to "carry forward an ever-advancing civilization".  But what does this mean, and how does it apply to our daily life?

Heh, as if I have an answer to that.  Sheesh.

I don't know the answer to that one, but I can make a guess.

First, I think it implies that civilization is advancing, in the same way that "advancing the process of entry by troops" implies that it is already happening.  Second is that we should contribute to this process, and not be concerned if we feel our contribution is only to the "extent of a grain of mustard seed".  Every contribution helps.

I believe that it is like grains of sand on a beach.  Every grain lends its weight to the overall beach.  Although we may not notice if a single grain is missing, the beach is still that much less without it.

So what this means to me is that we need to work hard on developing our talents, and then put them into action.  If we don't use those talents, then what good are they?   It is like the Ruhi books: there are practices within them that assist us in learning what it is they are trying to teach us.  And these lessons can best be learned within the realm of practice.

It is sort of like Mark Twain, when he said, "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them".  Similarly, I think it can be said that the good person who does not serve humanity to its benefit has no moral advantage over the one who does not know better.

Hmm.  That doesn't quite sound right, but I think you know what I mean.

Again, why are we here?  To make the world a better place.

To best do this, we need to learn as much as we can about what we wish to try and accomplish, and then set about doing it.

Now I'm reminded of an excerpt from a poem by Hand of the Cause of God, George Townshend:

...I am a soldier in my King's Army; I have given up my will to Him, and my life is His to dispose of as He may please.

I know not what fate Thou designest for me, not what work Thou hast ordained for me, nor will I enquire nor seek to know. The task of the day suffices for me, and all the future is Thine.

Little by little Thou trainest me. Little by little Thou changest weakness to strength, doubt to faith, perplexity to understanding. When I am fit to bear the burden Thou wilt lay it on my shoulders. When I am prepared to take the field Thou wilt assign me a place in Thy army of Light. Now I have no other duty than to equip myself for Thy service.

With eagerness and patience, with hope and gratitude I bend to the task of the hour lest when Thy call to battle comes I be found unready.
This, to me, describes our purpose.  We must allow ourselves to be trained, so that when the duty is laid upon our shoulders, we are found strong enough to bear it.

Does this mean that we are to train until some task is ready for us to do?  No.  Again, I use the Ruhi books asan example.  We are called to do small tasks, the practices, which are part of the training itself, so that we can be ready to do the larger and more difficult tasks.

What are those larger tasks?  We don't know yet.

It's like walking along a dark path with a flashlight shining at your feet.  You only can see the next few steps immiediately in front of you.

For now, I'll continue to study, continue to write and continue to work with the intensive programs of growth in my community.  For, aftel all, Baha'u'llah told us to "be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in".  And what we need now is to further implement the institute process, establish these growth programs, and help establish this divine civilization that Baha'u'llah has come to bring.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Mead,
    You have a gift! Your example with the carpet regarding freewill vs fate was excellent...and you're so right...the use of props to set scenarios really illustrates the point and brings clarity to the seeker of questions.

    I too have pondered freewill, fate and destiny on many, many occasions in my life and although my conclusion was as you described...I could have saved myself years of spiritual turmoil if I'd have seen a visual demonstration to cement the point. LOL! And...I'm sure the lesson for me was/is patience...all will be revealed when the time is right! And so it was...and so it is now, as I read this post. Was I guided to read this back-post...quite possibly.