Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Hundred Martyrs

Don't worry, I'm not thinking of becoming a martyr, or of helping anyone else become one. I was just reading the Tablet of Ahmad, and talking with a friend about it, when the subject came up. In this Tablet, as you know, "God hath ordained for the one who chants it, the reward of a hundred martyrs and a service in both worlds." Naturally, I asked my friend what this means, as I really have very little clue about it.

His response made me think. He said that he thought it meant that your reward was to serve, like the martyrs.

I pointed out that there seemed to be two rewards, as far I could tell. The second is the service in both worlds that my friend spoke of, but the first is "the reward of a hundred martyrs". It says that you get that reward and the service. The word "and" implies two different things.

Whereas I can understand the idea of service, I don't think I know what the first reward is.

It seems that it can be a few different things, depending upon how you interpret the phrase. For example, it can mean that you receive a hundred martyrs, kind of like receiving a hundred coins, except a bit more useful. If you can imagine the spirit of a martyr coming to your aid while you are teaching, helping draw someone's attention to you or aiding you in saying the right thing for that person at the right moment, then you can begin to imagine how incredible it would be to have a hundred of those souls helping you out. Even someone like me would have a chance at doing something decent with that kind of help.

Another interpretation would be to imagine the reward that a martyr receives in the next world, and then multiplying it by a hundred.

However we understand that phrase, it is awesome when we begin to think about it.

But then my friend and I got to talking about what a martyr is. He was a bit concerned about this, as his understanding of martyrdom came from the mass media in which terrorists of various sorts call themselves martyrs because they die for one cause or another.

"These people are not martyrs", I said.

"They're not?" He seemed very interested. "Then what are they?"

I said that they didn't fit the definition of a martyr, who is killed for their belief rather than renouncing his or her religion. A true martyr doesn't kill someone else for their beliefs, while willing to die in the process. The motive action is done by someone else, not themselves. If they are the instigator, killing themself and others, then first and foremost they are a suicide, not to mention a murderer. They may be many other things, too, depending upon how coarse your command of the language is, but martyr would not be one of the words I would use.

This is where the conversation ended, but as I said, it got me thinking. Assuming that Baha'u'llah may be intending to say that our reward is akin to that of the martyrs, what do the Writings say their reward is for suffering martyrdom?

'Abdu'l-Baha says, "Until a being setteth his foot in the plane of sacrifice, he is bereft of every favour and grace; and this plane of sacrifice is the realm of dying to the self, that the radiance of the living God may then shine forth. The martyr's field is the place of detachment from self, that the anthems of eternity may be upraised... once ye have reached such heights of servitude, ye will find, gathered within your shadow, all created things. This is boundless grace; this is the highest sovereignty; this is the life that dieth not."

To put it in a different perspective, He says, "To consider that after the death of the body the spirit perishes is like imagining that a bird in a cage will be destroyed if the cage is broken, though the bird has nothing to fear from the destruction of the cage. Our body is like the cage, and the spirit is like the bird... Its feelings will be even more powerful (when released from the cage), its perceptions greater, and its happiness increased. In truth, from hell it reaches a paradise of delights because for the thankful birds there is no paradise greater than freedom from the cage."

Perhaps this gives us some glimpse as to why the martyrs were not fearful about their own demise. They obviously understood the freedom that death could offer.

Baha'u'llah, in The Hidden Words, says that those who suffer martyrdom will "repose with Me beneath the canopy of majesty behind the tabernacle of glory" and "become the manifestation of My command and the revealer of My light in the highest paradise". (Whatever that means, cool as it sounds.)

If He intends, instead, that we receive the assistance of a hundred martyrs' souls in our work, either by giving others the heebie-jeebies or helping us find the right thing to say or do, then fantastic. We could use all the help we can get.

Perhaps it is like receiving some of the "Concourse on high" who come to our aid. After all, we are told that they aid and reinforce us like "a great fighting host", and that He has "entrusted (our) triumph to the armies of the Concourse on high". Interestingly enough, 'Abdul-Baha also says, "only the listening ear can hear the singing of the Concourse on high", and that they magnify and exalt the name of those who are favoured by God. Over and over this mighty force is described as both great spiritual warriors and impressive singers. It almost sounds like an amazing choir of Valkyries, one that would impress even Wagner.

Whichever way we interpret it, this reward is surely worth the few moments it takes to chant this great Tablet. Pardon me, now, but I have a bit of chanting to do.

Hopefully I'll be able to hear some good music while I do it.

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