Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Perspicocity

There is a wonderful book called "These Perspicuous Verses" by Robert McLaughlin, which looks at, well, those "perspicuous verses" so cited by Baha'u'llah. Clever title, no?

Well, regardless of the obviousness of the title, I love the book. Like someone else I know, he takes a long and careful look at a single verse (only listed as plural in the title because this particular verse occurs at least 3 times in the Writings. It is cited in the Tablet of Ishraqat, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, and one other time that is not known. We only know that it occurred earlier because in those two instances He says that He is quoting an earlier letter.) This slender book is basically 3 pages of introduction, 4 pages of text, and 77 pages of notes. I love it. 11 times the number of notes compared to the rest of the book combined. I'm not even going to try to do anything comparable here, as you can just read his book and relish in that. Instead I'm just going to give my own meager thoughts on it, especially those thoughts that are not found in McLaughlin's book.

When I first read the passage, I had wondered why Baha'u'llah referred to it as obvious, or easily seen. Then I discovered that that is "conspicuous", not "perspicuous", which means "clearly expressed" or "easily understood".

So what is this curious verse that occurs multiple times in the Writings, a verse so important that He feels He needs to repeat it for us, as if to make sure that we don't miss it? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader. It is as follows, and let me warn you ahead of time: it's a long one. If you're anything like me, you'll probably read the beginning of it and then skip to the commentary. Of course, then you'll go back and read it again, for the commentary is fairly useless without the text itself. But then again, you're probably more spiritual than I am and will read the whole text, go and find the source, and read that, study it, and then see how shallow my own little two cents worth is. Anyways, enough of that. Here is the text, bolded in the middle of what I regard as the three sections of the piece, merely to make it easier for one as slow to learn as myself:
O thou who hast set thy face towards the splendors of My Countenance! Vague fancies have encompassed the dwellers of the earth and debarred them from turning towards the Horizon of Certitude, and its brightness, and its manifestations and its lights. Vain imaginings have withheld them from Him Who is the Self-Subsisting. They speak as prompted by their own caprices, and understand not. Among them are those who have said: 'Have the verses been sent down?' Say: 'Yea, by Him Who is the Lord of the heavens!' 'Hath the Hour come?' 'Nay, more; it hath passed, by Him Who is the Revealer of clear tokens! Verily, the Inevitable is come, and He, the True One, hath appeared with proof and testimony. The Plain is disclosed, and mankind is sore vexed and fearful. Earthquakes have broken loose, and the tribes have lamented, for fear of God, the Lord of Strength, the All-Compelling.' Say: 'The stunning trumpet blast hath been loudly raised, and the Day is God's, the One, the Unconstrained.' 'Hath the Catastrophe come to pass?' Say: 'Yea, by the Lord of Lords!' 'Is the Resurrection come?' 'Nay, more; He Who is the Self-Subsisting hath appeared with the Kingdom of His signs.' 'Seest thou men laid low?' 'Yea, by my Lord, the Exalted, the Most High!' 'Have the tree-stumps been uprooted?' 'Yea, more; the mountains have been scattered in dust; by Him the Lord of attributes!' They say: 'Where is Paradise, and where is Hell?' Say: 'The one is reunion with Me; the other thine own self, O thou who dost associate a partner with God and doubtest.' They say: 'We see not the Balance.' Say: 'Surely, by my Lord, the God of Mercy! None can see it except such as are endued with insight.' 'Have the stars fallen?' Say: 'Yea, when He Who is the Self-Subsisting dwelt in the Land of Mystery (Adrianople). Take heed, ye who are endued with discernment!' All the signs appeared when We drew forth the Hand of Power from the bosom of majesty and might. Verily, the Crier hath cried out, when the promised time came, and they that have recognized the splendors of Sinai have swooned away in the wilderness of hesitation, before the awful majesty of thy Lord, the Lord of creation. The trumpet asketh: 'Hath the Bugle been sounded?' Say: 'Yea, by the King of Revelation!, when He mounted the throne of His Name, the All-Merciful.' Darkness hath been chased away by the dawning-light of the mercy of thy Lord, the Source of all light. The breeze of the All-Merciful hath wafted, and the souls have been quickened in the tombs of their bodies. Thus hath the decree been fulfilled by God, the Mighty, the Beneficent. They that have gone astray have said: 'When were the heavens cleft asunder?' Say: 'While ye lay in the graves of waywardness and error.' Among the heedless is he who rubbeth his eyes, and looketh to the right and to the left. Say: 'Blinded art thou. No refuge hast thou to flee to.' And among them is he who saith: 'Have men been gathered together?' Say: 'Yea, by my Lord!, whilst thou didst lie in the cradle of idle fancies.' And among them is he who saith: 'Hath the Book been sent down through the power of the true Faith?' Say: 'The true Faith itself is astounded. Fear ye, O ye men of understanding heart!' And among them is he who saith: 'Have I been assembled with others, blind?' Say: 'Yea, by Him that rideth upon the clouds!' Paradise is decked with mystic roses, and hell hath been made to blaze with the fire of the impious. Say: 'The light hath shone forth from the horizon of Revelation, and the whole earth hath been illumined at the coming of Him Who is the Lord of the Day of the Covenant!' The doubters have perished, whilst he that turned, guided by the light of assurance, unto the Dayspring of Certitude hath prospered. Blessed art thou, who hast fixed thy gaze upon Me, for this Tablet which hath been sent down for thee -- a Tablet which causeth the souls of men to soar. Commit it to memory, and recite it. By My life! It is a door to the mercy of thy Lord. Well is it with him that reciteth it at eventide and at dawn. We, verily, hear thy praise of this Cause, through which the mountain of knowledge was crushed, and men's feet have slipped. My glory be upon thee and upon whomsoever hath turned unto the Almighty, the All-Bounteous. The Tablet is ended, but the theme is unexhausted. Be patient, for thy Lord is patient.
You know, there is nothing like a Manifestation of God saying, "Come on, this is easy. How much simpler do you want it?" to make me feel like an idiot. I, for one, do not find this "easily understood".

Now it may just be me, but it seems that this paragraph can be split up into a few simpler sections, as I just did with the bolding.

The first section is an introductory part that seems to say, "The people are ignorant". The middle looks to me like a section referring to the books of the past, in which the various objections to the Faith are raised and countered. The final section seems to me to be advice. Is that an overly simplistic look at this piece? Of course, but I'm a fairly simplistic sort of guy. If I can't make it simple, I don't really feel like I get it. (Not that you ever really "get" the Writings, but you know what I mean.) Oh, and yes, I understand the words, but there is far more to the Writings than just the Words. There is the spirit of them, and that is what I often have a hard time catching, so to speak.


So, in those first few sentences, Baha'u'llah is obviously addressing someone who has accepted Him and talking about those who have not. He specifically talks about those "vague fancies" and "vain imaginings" that some people have, many of which are probably addressed in the middle section. He also speaks of the nature of these people to be easily distracted.
 
Aside - I'm sure it's just me, but it seems that every time I am asked about the Faith, those asking just seem to flit from one idea to another. "What about this? How about that? What does Baha'i teach about this subject?" This has only made me appreciate more the wisdom of the presentation in Ruhi Book 6, as well as those in Book 2. It is a common point we can keep returning to, helping ensure that we are not totally distracted by their questions, important as they are.
 
The middle section is, I think, a fair sampling of some of those questions, and some possible responses. I would love to look at it more closely and examine not the history of questions, but the order of them. While Baha'u'llah may be lamenting the capriciousness of those who do not understand, He is never capricious. I am convinced that there is a reason to the order of those questions He posits, and we only need to explore to discover a wisdom hidden within them.
 
But not now. It is far too long a passage, and I truly do not want to bore you with a posting that just goes on and on.
 
Instead I want to look a bit at the third part of this passage.
 
Baha'u'llah, here, makes the simple observation that "the doubters have perished". Obviously this is not a literal statement regarding their life here on this planet (although it is by now concerning those of whom He was speaking at the time), but probably refers to the spiritual effect of their lives. I would venture to guess that it is in the same vein as when Jesus says "Let the dead bury the dead." (And I don't think He's making an early reference to zombies, cool as that may be.) (You know, though, that would go right in line with the way that some people in the 1800s described Christianity when they first encountered the overly zealous missionaries. They said it was a cult in which people drank the blood and ate the flesh of the dead in their ceremonies. Hmm. Must be getting on Halloween for me to mention that.)
 
Then, after a few more praises for the one who was in receipt of this Tablet, He gives a command. Oh, and please don't forget, this is only my personal take on it, and nothing official. You see, Baha'u'llah says, "Commit it to memory, and recite it." To my way of reading, He doesn't say, "Oh, it would be a good idea if you..." or "Well, you may want to... if you feel like it." No. To me, He says "Do it. Memorize it. Recite it." Why? Well, first, it is a door to the mercy of God, not to mention that the Bab says "every breast which committeth His Words to memory, God shall cause, if it were that of a believer, to be filled with His love". (And we can all note that I have spectacularly failed in this particular command. I, most definitely, do not have this particular perspicuous verse memorized. Perhaps I should get to work on it.)

I also note, for myself, that Baha'u'llah is a bit more particular. He doesn't just say, "Recite it." He clarifies this a bit and says, "Well is it with him that reciteth it at eventide and at dawn.". As I'm sure you know, I'm going to ask "Why?"

Why? (You're pretty clever, dear Reader, or maybe I'm just a bit predictable by now.)

Why does Baha'u'llah put in that little bit? And why in that order? Why not reverse it and say "at dawn and at eventide"? That would round out the day, wouldn't it?

I think it is to help us use those words as a bracket for our sleep, end caps for our dreams. It is almost as if He is saying that those should be the last Words we contemplate before heading off to la-la land (sleep, not California), and the first ones we recall upon waking. From here I could talk about the importance of dreams, as described by 'Abdu'l-Baha in Some Answered Questions, but you can look that up yourself.

No, to me the various phrases contained in the bulk of this quote are the type would evoke very powerful dreams, because of the imagery contained within them. I am sure that if I were to follow Baha'u'llah's instruction in this paragraph, my life would certainly be the better for it.

Fortunately, this piece ends with a reference to the patience of God, and I see this as a reminder that I must be patient with myself, too.

Maybe I'll look at the middle part of this quote in the next day or two. Until then, be patient with me, "for thy Lord is Patient."

2 comments:

  1. Note: My loving wife just pointed out to me that "perspicocity" is a word in French (but spelled a touch differently). Oh well, I guess I didn't make it up, as I thought I had.

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  2. A very interesting discussion about a very thought provoking piece of writing. The idea of going to sleep with this writing or revelation in mind is a good suggestion.
    thank you

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