Friday, June 4, 2010

Recognition and Obedience

A number of years ago, well before I ever took any of the Ruhi Books, I had been invited to give monthly sermons at a local church. This initial invitation has led me on to a lot of service in the interfaith arena. As such, there have been many things I have tried over the years to become closer and closer to those dear friends from other faith paths in the same arena of service. (Hmm. I think arena may be the right term here, as sometimes it does feel that there are battle lines being drawn by some of them, but this is not the norm, for sure.)

One thing that I had done, just as a matter of curiosity, was to give a friend of mine who is a minister the first five paragraphs of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, and ask his opinion. I didn't tell him where they were from, but I can only guess that he presumed they were Baha'i literature. His response was what I would call very encouraging. He said that it summed up what he had been trying to say for years and was one of the most profound pieces of writing he had ever seen.

I was reminded of this yesterday when some friends and I were studying Ruhi Book 4 and came to the section, right near the end of the book, where we are encouraged to memorize those same paragraphs. This morning, I thought it might be interesting to look at the first one, at the very least, and see where it goes from  there.

"The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration."
The first thing that really struck me about this paragraph, especially when giving it to a minister, was that Baha'u'llah does not specify recognition of His own Station here. He specifically says, "recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation." The minister, quite understandably, understood this to be a reference to Jesus. And I had to ask myself, isn't it? After all, we are to beware to not "make any distinction between any of the Manifestations of His Cause, or to discriminate against the signs that have accompanied and proclaimed their Revelation." He even goes on in the same passage (Gleanings number 24), to warn us, "Whoso maketh the slightest possible difference between their persons, their words, their messages, their acts and manners, hath indeed disbelieved in God, hath repudiated His signs, and betrayed the Cause of His Messengers."

Quite the stern warning that, and one that really made me think when I first read it.

But this is not to say that we should be lackadaisical about it, nor help people understand the true station of Baha'u'llah. No, quite the contrary. We need to be intimately concerned about this, for if someone only recognizes a single Messenger, then they are missing out on the greater scope and beauty (as well as magnificence and awesomeness) of the full panoply of multiple Messengers. (It's not often I link to the dictionary, but I really like the use of this word.)

It does, however, say to me (and this is only my own opinion, after all) that recognition of any of the Messengers is a good thing.

My job, as a Baha'i, I think is to help ensure that someone's understanding of their faith is in line with what Baha'u'llah says and teaches. If a Christian, for example, believes that his faith tells him to hate Muslims, then I know that they have obviously misunderstood something. Baha'u'llah has helped me to see this. Now that I know what I am looking at, I can help them find those passages and teachings in their own faith that will help them see it, too.

Either way, all this is an aside. This paragraph from the Most Holy Book (that is what Kitab-i-Aqdas means) tells us that recognition is the first duty, but it certainly not our only one. The second duty, which is twin to it, is obedience.

I think this just makes sense. I mean, come on. If you recognize Someone as a Messenger of God, you have to be pretty silly to not do what They advise. It's like calling in an expert in a field for advice and then not listening to them. Why hire them in the first place?

I think that is part of why Baha'i laws are only binding upon Baha'is. We recognize Baha'u'llah authority and expertise, so to speak.

When we recognize that Source of authority, we have "attained unto all good". But if we haven't, and yet we do good deeds, why are we deprived? Come to think of it, what are we deprived of? I have heard many Baha'is say that if we don't recognize Baha'u'llah, all our good deeds are worth nothing, but I do not believe this is true. It isn't what Baha'u'llah says here, that's for sure. What He says is that we are deprived of "all good", which I don't hink is the same as "any good" or "some good".

Could we truly believe that Mother Teresa, for example, has earned no reward for her amazing deeds on this world? That would be ludicrous, and even unjust.

Time for a stated aside - A dear friend of mine had worked with Mother Teresa in India and mentioned to her, at one point, that she was a Baha'i. Mother Teresa responded in a similar manner as Gandhi. She said, "I, too, am a Baha'i. And I'm a Muslim, and a Buddhist and a Hindu." It seems to me that she really had a good understanding of that passage, Gleanings 24.

But let's get back to that first paragraph again. Recognition and obedience. How can we claim to recognize a Messenger of God if we are not willing to obey Them? Would we not be saying that we know better? Pretty absurd. And how about if we are obedient, but don't recognize? This gets to a point that is mentioned over and over in the Kitab-i-Iqan: while obedience is good, blind obedience is what led to the persecution of the various Messengers throughout history.

In another sense, Christians have shown themselves over the years to be very concerned about recognition, that first duty. How often have we heard the refrain, "All you have to do is recognize Jesus"? I would venture to say that they really understand the importance of recognition.

Muslims, on the other hand, really seem to understand the value of obedience. In my many dealings with Muslims, and all the time that I have heard various Muslim scholars speak, obedience is stressed quite highly. They speak quite passionately about the importance of obligatory prayer, or zakat, or any of the other pillars of Islam. They genuinely seem to get the importance of obedience.

Baha'u'llah, He is often wont to do, brings about unity by telling us the twin nature of these two duties.

In this recent Ridvan message, the Universal House of Justice wrote many times about the importance of respecting people of other paths. You don't need to be Baha'i to help build a new civilization, nor to draw inspiration from the Writings. It can help, but is not necessary.

Recognizing the oneness of religion, and having the overarching perspective that Baha'u'llah gives us, can greatly aid us in bringing about unity between the different faith paths, but we must be consistent and sincere in this, as well as humble.

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