Friday, June 29, 2012

Direct Teaching

"What is", she said, quite sincerely, "direct teaching?"

Oh, that is such a great question, I thought.

Direct teaching. It is a phrase that we see over and over again, but how many of can actually define it? I know that I sure can't. At least, I couldn't define it to my friend.

I recalled the phrase from Ruhi Book 6 (unit 2, section 15), in which the Guardian says that we "must use the direct or indirect method", but could't recall much more than that. Oh, and I also remembered a message from the International Teaching Centre in which they point out that when the level of enrolments has stalled in areas with intensive programs of growth, what is missing is the direct, collective teaching.

But that still doesn't answer the question, what is "direct teaching"?

Well, now we can say, "Here. Watch this video." Of course, this video has vbeen around for a little while, but it is still a good one.

So, what is "direct teaching"? Shoghi Effendi describes it as an "open and bold assertion of the fundamental verities of the Cause", as opposed to a more cautious approach, which is also necessary and wise, at times. He goes to say that we should "consider the degree of his hearer's receptivity, and decide for himself the suitability of either the direct or indirect method of teaching..." In other words, it ain't always appropriate.

Sometimes the indirect method is exactly what we need. It completely depends on the person with whom we are talking, and not a thing to do with ourselves. When the Teaching Centre says that collective and direct teaching is missing in those areas where enrollments have stalled does not mean that we should only use the direct method, just that we are not using it enough.

Teaching directly means that we are assuming an open, decisive, and challenging, but not confrontational, tone. It means that we know the individual well enough to understand that they are open to hearing such an assertion without it somehow being an impediment to their connection with Baha'u'llah. This understanding can take moments to achieve, or much longer, depending upon the circumstances. I have met some people where, after just a few moments, I knew I could be more direct when talking about my own beliefs. There were others with whom I wasn't sure for quite some time.

We only need to look at 'Abdu'l-Baha to see the importance of this. To some He spoke very clearly and openly about Baha'u'llah. To other He unfolded Baha'u'llah's station more gradually, slowly "disclosing to the eyes of an unbelieving world the implications of a Truth which, by its own challenging nature, it is so difficult for it to comprehend and embrace."

Shoghi Effendi says it so well when describing what the master would do. "It was He, our beloved 'Abdu'l-Bahá, our true and shining Exemplar, who with infinite tact and patience, whether in His public utterances or in private converse, adapted the presentation of the fundamentals of the Cause to the varying capacities and the spiritual receptiveness of His hearers. He never hesitated, however, to tear the veil asunder and reveal to the spiritually ripened those challenging verities that set forth in its true light the relationship of this Supreme Revelation with the Dispensations of the past. Unashamed and unafraid when challenged to assert in its entirety the stupendous claim of Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'ís, whether laboring as individuals or functioning as an organized community, feel certain that in the face of the apathy, the gross materialism, and the superficiality of society today, a progressive disclosure of the magnitude of the claim of Bahá'u'lláh would constitute the most effective means for the attainment of the end so greatly desired by even the staunchest and most zealous advocate of the Faith."

This all comes to a head for me, in my own life, and in the way in which I share the Faith, when I think about a particular friend of mine. He said, and said it so well, "The more whacko the sect, the greater their claim."

So, when we come across and say "Baha'u'llah is the return of Christ" right off the bat, we appear to fall into that position. Liken this to how late it was in the Ministry of the Bab, Baha'u'llah or even Jesus before They announced Their Station.

Look at how late it was before Jesus asked Peter "Who do you say I am?" The Bab fulfilled the proofs for Mulla Husayn before He made His claim. Baha'u'llah sent back to the Babis the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Hidden Words, the Seven Valleys, the Four Valleys, and many other Works before He made His claim.

Why would I think that I can openly proclaim Baha'u'llah's station right off the bat for just anyone. Nah. I need to think about it, pray about it, and really be aware of the other person before making that decision. And I need to be completely open to the possibility of teaching directly and not let my own fears get in the way, or else I'll never do it.

And finally, dear Reader, when I am open to it, the obviousness of using the direct method comes up far more often then I ever would have thought. (Now, I wonder, did I answer that lady's question at the beginning of this article?)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Know Yourself

"The first Taraz (Ornament) and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. Having attained the stage of fulfilment and reached his maturity, man standeth in need of wealth, and such wealth as he acquireth through crafts or professions is commendable and praiseworthy in the estimation of men of wisdom, and especially in the eyes of servants who dedicate themselves to the education of the world and to the edification of its peoples. They are, in truth, cup-bearers of the life-giving water of knowledge and guides unto the ideal way. They direct the peoples of the world to the straight path and acquaint them with that which is conducive to human upliftment and exaltation. The straight path is the one which guideth man to the dayspring of perception and to the dawning-place of true understanding and leadeth him to that which will redound to glory, honour and greatness.

We cherish the hope that through the loving-kindness of the All-Wise, the All-Knowing, obscuring dust may be dispelled and the power of perception enhanced, that the people may discover the purpose for which they have been called into being. In this Day whatsoever serveth to reduce blindness and to increase vision is worthy of consideration. This vision acteth as the agent and guide for true knowledge. Indeed in the estimation of men of wisdom keenness of understanding is due to keenness of vision. The people of Baha must under all circumstances observe that which is meet and seemly and exhort the people accordingly."

It's been a while since I've written anything here, and I was really stuck with trying to decide what to write. No clue. None. Total blank. A clean slate. An absolute absence of anything.

So I figured I'd just grab the first thing that popped up in the Writings.

I've been re-reading Tablets of Baha'u'llah for the past few nights, before going to bed, and one passage stuck out for me. The one that is above.

Why? No idea.

But it occurred to me that with this idea I have of everything in the Writings being there for a reason, and nothing being random, it might be interesting to look at the order of those lists Baha'u'llah places in that book. You know what I mean: the lists of Ornaments, Effulgences, Glad Tidings, and so on. And for some reason, I decided to start on Ornaments, even though it is the second Tablet with a list in the book.

Anyways. Where to start? Well, what is an ornament? It's an accessory used to beautify something. In this case, I think it would beautify the soul, the spirit, or the character of the person. But it is not an essential part of whatever it beautifies. It's kind of like a necklace on a person. They have to choose to put it on in order to benefit from its beauty.

Here, the first ornament we should put on is that of knowing our self. Of course, it's not just enough to know our self, but we should also know what affects us, what raises us up and what tears us down, what leads to our betterment and what leads to our abasement. (Yes, I know, it's the abasement astairs that aleads me adown there. Thanks, Chico.) (That last was a reference to Marxism.)

You see, it's not enough to just know our self, if we don't know how different things affect us. Otherwise we are nothing more than a leaf that is tossed around by the world around us.

We have to make a conscious effort to better ourselves, and that requires both knowledge and will.

Now it is interesting that Baha'u'llah ties this in to our need for a career. I think there is a profound wisdom in this, for it not only prevents us from being dependent upon others, and encourages us to contribute to the betterment of society, but it also adds to our sense of self-worth. I was never so miserable as when I was looking for work and couldn't find it. I felt lost, and, in a sense, worthless.

He seems to recognize that most of us begin to work out of a need for money, to pay the rent and get food, but then elevates this basic need to a spiritual level for us. We shouldn't merely work any job for money. We should be discriminating. We should strive to earn our keep through a craft or a profession, for that is how we will best be able to contribute to the world. This is not to say that those jobs like collecting the garbage are not worthy, but that they are good in a different way. They are a necessary service and are worthy in that field. And some of my friends who are in service industries like that use the money they earn in order to have the time to pursue their hobbies, which generally include a craft or art. Interesting, that.

The other thing that really stands out for me is the importance here on "perception", or that faculty of apprehending things by the senses or the mind. I can only presume that Baha'u'llah is, once again, speaking of the importance of seeing the world for our self, or as He says in the Hidden Words, "see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor".

I could go on and on here, but really, it just seems so obvious and important.

I do wonder, though, about this obscuring dust. It seems to me that the media to which we subject ourselves is often like that dust. When we watch those news shows, or read those newspapers, that are so obviously biased, then the information we take in, by which we can try to make sense of the world and understand it, is also biased. With faulty input our reasoning will end up being faulty, too. (Unless we're really lucky.) (Faulty reasoning can find truth from faulty information.) (Wow. That seems profound to me, but I'm sure I'm mistaken.)

But really, as He says towards the end there, "keenness of understanding is due to keenness of vision". In order to have clear vision, we must be able to see clearly, which may sound circular, but is still important to say. We also have to be looking at something worthy of looking at. Being able to see a pile of garbage clearly is not as rewarding as seeing a beautiful painting clearly, unless you're into trying to recycle the garbage, but you know what I mean.

And finally, it is interesting to me to remember that this is all an ornament that we must put on and wear. But you know, not all ornaments go with all things. I'm a jeweler / artist, and there are many times when I see someone wearing a necklace that just doesn't go with their outfit. The outfit may be nice, and the necklace beautiful, but together, they just don't work. This ornament that Baha'u'llah describes seems to me to have to go well with the actions we do. I'm reminded, for some reason, of those people who know the Bible or the Qu'ran, for example, so well, and yet preach hatred of those who believe or live differently. To me, that action seems to invalidate anything else they may do or say. Yes, it's good to study either of those great sacred Texts, and they are conducive to the betterment of the individual and the world, but our actions must also be in accord with the loving standard set forth in the guidance within them.

Anyways, that's just a few quick thoughts on that one passage. Hopefully I'll be able to write a bit more regularly than I have been.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

An Appreciation

Someone just sent me this wonderful video, and I highly commend it to all Baha'is. It is a wonderful statement about the Baha'i Faith from the perspective of an agnostic atheist. He ends with "The love and support that Baha'i followers show for another person's right to disagree will reward you more than convincing someone to agree with you."

Thank you so much, mike, for taking the time to record this. Your sincerity will surely carry you far in your life.

Oh, and my wife is in the Canadian Forces, currently serving in Victoria, and the need for diversity in the Chaplaincy that you have noticed is desperately true. They do well with this in Canada, but we all can always do more.

Thanks again.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Make My Prayer a Fire

In one of Baha'u'llah's prayers, I ask God to "make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils which have shut me out from Thy beauty". I have often wondered what this means, at least in terms that are practical to my daily life.

It seems to me, and this is, of course, just my own opinion, that these veils are what prevent us from seeing and appreciating those good things we have in our life. What they are, I can't quite explain, but it seems like they might be things like the way we perceive the world around us. Do we see the flaws in everything, or their beneficial qualities? Do we focus on the positive, or only on the negative? In other words, do we see the glass as half-full or half-empty? Or do we just see the glass for what it is?

It seems like this might all be tied into why it is that we pray. I don't mean the spiritual benefits, or the fact that it is a law in the Baha'i Faith. No. I mean, what is it that prompts us to pray in the first place, regardless of our faith?

We can simplistically say that there are three reasons or types of prayer. The first is when we are asking for something. This, to me, seems to be the main reason that most of us pray. We either pray for that promotion at work, or for healing for that person who is so dear to our heart. We are, in short, begging for something, pleading that we get whatever it is that we desire, whether it is good or bad for us.

The second type of prayer would be those prayers of thanks. We can be thanking God for that same promotion, the healing of that aforementioned friend, or perhaps we can just be grateful for all those good things that we have in our life.

I remember a friend of mine who was dying. I was praying for her health. She, however, was saying thanks for all those minutes that she was able to share the Faith with other people throughout the day. It always seemed to me that her prayer was of a higher nature than my own. Oh, and it's not that mine was bad, or wrong, just that hers was... I don't know, more pure.

The third type of prayer is the praise of God. We are not asking for anything. We are not expressing our gratitude for those gifts in our life. We are just expressing our awe and amazement at God and His creation. This, to me, is the highest form of prayer. It is as 'Abdu'l-Baha is reported to have said: "In the highest prayer, men pray only for the love of God, not because they fear Him or Hell, or hope for bounty or heaven." And this is good.

But what about those times when we need to express our dismay, our frustration, our pain? What about those times when we just need to vent? Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not. After all, sometimes we need to clean out the wound before it can heal.

Let's look at the Fire Tablet, as a beautiful example of this.

We can, if we wish, break it down into four parts. The first part is His lament, beginning at the beginning and continuing until the line, "This Youth is lonely in a desolate land: Where is the rain of Thy heavenly grace, O Bestower of the worlds?"

The second part is the response. It is the Divine, having heard Baha'u'llah's woes and giving Him, or us, a new perspective on it. It begins with, "O Supreme Pen, We have heard Thy most sweet call in the eternal realm", and continues on through, "Dost Thou wail, or shall I wail? Rather shall I weep at the fewness of Thy champions, O Thou Who hast caused the wailing of the worlds."

The third part is Baha'u'llah's reply to this. It is, in its entirety, "Verily, I have heard Thy Call, O All-Glorious Beloved; and now is the face of Bahá flaming with the heat of tribulation and with the fire of Thy shining word, and He hath risen up in faithfulness at the place of sacrifice, looking toward Thy pleasure, O Ordainer of the worlds."

The fourth is the rest of the Tablet: "O ‘Alí-Akbar, thank thy Lord for this Tablet whence thou canst breathe the fragrance of My meekness, and know what hath beset Us in the path of God, the Adored of all the worlds. Should all the servants read and ponder this, there shall be kindled in their veins a fire that shall set aflame the worlds."

In terms of what it means to me, and how I apply this in my own life, I think the first is the venting. It is where I express my pain and my anguish. Of course, by reading of Baha'u'llah's pain and anguish, my own seems smaller. It is not that it is any less real, nor any less painful, just smaller in comparison.

It is the first step that I often have to take in my road towards healing.

But it doesn't stop there.

The second step is to listen. It is to give ear to that new perspective, to see a purpose to the suffering. Without that, the pain becomes meaningless, and the suffering that much worse.

It is at this point that I often think of those Baha'is from Egypt back in the 1920s. They were told by the government that their marriage was not valid because they were Baha'i. Can you imagine their anguish? Oh how they must have suffered. I cannot even begin to think what I would go through if that were to happen to Marielle and me. But then came the new perspective of their trials as seen through the eyes of the Guardian. He proclaimed the judgement of the court in their case throughout the world in quotes such as this: "in Egypt where the Muslim religious courts have formally testified to the independent character of the Faith". Their suffering became infused with a meaning that had deep ramifications on the rest of the Baha'is throughout the world. It was the first time that the independent station of the Baha'i Faith was formally recognized by a court of law. How those friends must have fallen to their knees in gratitude at having been made the instrument of such a pronouncement.

It may not have made their pain any less, but it infused it with a joy that defies comprehension.

And that leads me into the third step where we are to rise to that noble station of radiant acquiescence. Baha'u'llah describes His face as still being red, both with the tribulations He is facing, as well as the power of the holy Word, but He nevertheless rises up in faithfulness and looks to God's pleasure. What a noble example.

It is also worth noting where that phrase, "radiant acquiescence" occurs in the Writings. "The confirmations of the Spirit come", says 'Abdu'l-Baha, "to that man or woman who accepts his life with radiant acquiescence." And again, "Thus whosoever is willing to offer Huququ'lláh", says Baha'u'llah, "spontaneously and in a spirit of radiant acquiescence it would be graciously accepted." Two very profound uses of that phrase.

But this is still not the end. There is a fourth part to that Tablet. It reminds me that if I study Baha'u'llah's life and the trials He face, my own certitude of Faith will be more firm, as promised in the Book of Certitude. "Moreover," it says in that 'book of unsurpassed pre-eminence among the writings of the Author of the Bahá'í Revelation', "the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God." And through this, somehow, it will kindle in my own "veins a fire that shall set aflame the worlds".

And maybe this will help me see a bit more of God's beauty around me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tolerance and Respect

Recently, on FaceBook, there have been some interesting comments by friends that have gotten me thinking about how we view those whose beliefs are different from our own. I have seen atheists slamming anyone who professes a religion. Christians are attacking those who stand up for gay rights. And lest you think that I am only seeing this in "others", I have even seen Baha'is criticizing the Dalai Lama for espousing reincarnation, not to mention his appreciation of the friendly attitude that someone like George Bush had. In the last instance, the Dalai Lama was careful  to say that he thought the former president was a very friendly man, but that he disagreed with some of his policies, which I think is a fine example of looking at someone's good qualities, instead of the bad. It is, in my opinion, someone living according to the example of 'Abdu'l-Baha far more closely than I have ever done.

It's all fine and good to talk about free speech, or believing that all religions come from God, or that all people have the right to live according to their beliefs, but the question is what do we do when their beliefs seem to be in direct contradiction to our own? How we treat those who believe differently, especially when they are a minority, is the touchstone by which we can judge the sincerity of that intention.

Some would say that tolerance is what is needed. I have often said that tolerance is one of the most damning things I can imagine, for if my wife merely tolerated me, that would be a fine example of a living hell. But nevertheless, I have to admit that it is an important step to take when that tolerance is not there. While respect for the other may be the ideal, that is sometimes too large a leap for some to take, and tolerance may be a good beginning.

So where does all this come from?

Well, let's look a moment at history. For millennia, those in charge have often tried to force others to their particular perspective. And please note that I use the word "force". This is quite different from those few who have tried to educate others to a more coherent way of thinking. This forcing is indicative of a regime that is insecure in its power and feels threatened by any who espouses a different view than their own. We can look at the ancient Greeks who killed Socrates, or the Romans who tried to force their idols into the Jewish Temples. We can turn to modern-day Iran with its oppression of its religious minorities, or the United States with those Christians who feel threatened by the lifestyle choices of others. These examples are by no means comprehensive, for we can turn to just about any group in power at some point in history and find similar examples.

While I agree that it is inappropriate to pass laws that coerce others into living according to beliefs that are not their own, as with some of the laws currently being passed in the States regarding gay rights or science education, it is just as inappropriate to deride those who do that forcing, either through name-calling, mocking, or any other form of intellectual bullying. After all, what these people who are passing these laws are doing is exposing one of the inherent flaws in modern democracy: it allows the coercion of the entire community to live according to moral strictures of the majority. In other words, it is democracy in action. This does call to mind the importance of setting limits upon this democracy, or at least modifying the way in which it is practiced, which is far beyond my scope here.

But again, this sort of majority bullying has been going for a very long time, is found in virtually every culture, and has been done by nearly every religion or governing body. Some have suggested that Buddhism is the exception, but I am sad to have to point out that it is not. You only need to look at the history of the Bon-Po, or the back and forth persecutions between the Hindus and Buddhists in India. The whole concept of a Buddhist warrior may sound like a contradiction to us, and it is, just as the concept of a Christian warrior is also an oxymoron, and yet we still have the example of the Knight's Templar, and the Crusades, so there you go.

This is not to say that any of the different faiths are wrong, or bad, but just that they have all suffered under fundamentalist corruption at some point. To try and deny this would be a denial of history. It is, as the Universal House of Justice says so well, "a distortion of the human spirit".

Getting back to the main point, though, let's look again at what our response should be, according to our Faith, regardless of which Faith we espouse.

“To be attached to a certain view", it says in the Sutta Nipata of Buddhism, "and to look down upon other views as inferior-this the wise men call a fetter.” In the Qur'an, it says, "There is no compulsion in religion", and again, "Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe? No soul can believe, except by the Will of God."

We find the same thing in the Hindu Srimad Bhagavatam: "Truth has many aspects. Infinite truth has infinite expressions. Though the sages speak in diverse ways, they express one and the same Truth.`Ignorant is he who says, “What I say and know is true; others are wrong.” It is because of this attitude of the ignorant that there have been doubts and misunderstandings about God. This attitude [is what] causes dispute among men. But all doubts vanish when one gains self-control and attains tranquility by realizing the heart of Truth. Thereupon dispute, too, is at an end."

In that same Book, we also find a saying that we could well imagine seeing in the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha: "Like the bee, gathering honey from different flowers, the wise man accepts the essence of different scriptures and sees only the good in all religions."

"All the doctrines are right", it says in the Jainist Books, "in their own respective spheres-but if they encroach upon the province of other doctrines and try to refute their views, they are wrong."

In the Jewish Talmud, we are reminded that Jewish people are to "support the poor of the heathen along with the poor of Israel, visit the sick of the heathen along with the sick of Israel, and bury the [dead] poor of the heathen along with the dead of Israel, in the interests of peace."

And just in case we think that it is not found in the Christian Scriptures, there is that great story from the Book of Acts that reminds Christians to argue for "toleration of unconventional sects and opinions". This is the story, of course, where the Rabbi argued in defense of the Christians, asking the Council to " let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

This theme is found in every religion, in all the sacred Books, and in the teachings of all the great Teachers.

An example of how we can do this can also be found throughout the teachings and Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha. He showed the greatest love and respect for all who crossed His path, and continually praised people for their understanding of the world. He never told anyone they were wrong, instead offering them an alternative view to consider. One of my favorite examples of this can be found when He responded to a question about reincarnation. He was not talking to someone who believed in reincarnation, and so His response is perhaps more straightforward than it would have been had He been talking to someone who did. But still, He began His response by saying, "The object of what we are about to say is to explain the reality -- not to deride the beliefs of other people; it is only to explain the facts; that is all. We do not oppose anyone's ideas, nor do we approve of criticism."

And that, to me, is the essence of how our attitude should be.

First, we should never deride the beliefs of others. They are, after all, their beliefs, and are, as such, very dear to their heart, and we must be so careful to never offend a heart.

Second, we should look at the facts, and not our interpretation of these facts. This is what He does when talking about reincarnation. He does not talk about interpretation, but the fact of the different understandings of what is meant by that term. Once He explains these, then He can address them, one at a time, with His interpretation to one who is seeking to understand the Baha'i belief in these matters.

Third, we should not oppose anyone's ideas. Opposition is always, and I do mean always, that first step towards war. We can seek to clarify, especially when we don't understand how someone gets from A to B, or we can offer another perspective on how to understand those facts, but those do not have to be in opposition.

Finally, we should never criticize, especially when it comes to matters of faith.

This is not easy, and will surely require much practice, especially from one such as myself, but I can think of no matter more important at this time. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the fate of the world depends on how we understand this issue, for things are coming to a boiling point around this, and our own carelessness in how we treat the beliefs of others could easily be that tipping point.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Hidden Love

The most difficult part about writing a blog like this is the time. Amidst all the stuff that has to be done, and all the things I want to do, and all the things I hope to do, it has become a challenge to write as often as I would prefer. But today is a rainy, gloomy day and even though we received a notice telling us to cut the grass, I don't think that's feasible today. Besides, it's one of the shorter lawns on the block, so I'm not sure why we received this silly notice, but that's neither here nor there. I'll cut it as soon as it's dry enough.

The next most difficult thing is to figure out what, amongst all the incredible gems contained within the Writings, to write about.

When nothing in particular leaps out at me, that's when I grab a random book off the shelf and turn to a fairly random passage.

Today I have returned to the Kitab-i-Aqdas, that Most Holy Book, that "Charter of the future world civilization", and began to read. I have already written about the first five paragraphs a number of times (twice) (two is a number), and how they can be given to anyone and they will apply it for themselves, in their own faith context. (I still think it's really cool how Baha'u'llah doesn't mention Himself in those paragraphs, and we just infer it. It gives people the freedom to infer the Messenger that they follow.)

Aside - Sorry about this, but I'll be right back. I just realized that I'm quite hungry. I think I'll go make myself a sandwich. (Peanut butter, blended with pumpkin seed butter and maple syrup. Mmmm.) (And I also added some cinnamon and carob powder.) (I hate it when people try to pretend carob powder is a substitute for cocoa. It isn't. But it's great as it is.)

Ok. I'm back. Sandwich and all.

Where was I? Oh yes, the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

After those opening paragraphs in which He defines our duty, He then goes on to the next most important thing: prayer. Paragraphs 6 through 14 are all, basically, about prayer. (Fasting, too, but it's referred to as "prayer and fasting".)

Oh, and paragraph 7, which may not seem quite related, appears, to my limited vision, as a reminder that our goals and desires are not the highest and most desirable things. A child may desire to eat candy all the time, but it is up to the parent to say "no". When we pray for something, and the answer comes back as a "no", that's ok. This paragraph is also a reminder to me (my own opinion, remember) that our job is to follow these laws that we have accepted in our life. We may not always feel like saying our Obligatory Prayer, but we should still do it, for we recognize Baha'u'llah's authority as followers of His Faith. (If you are not a member of the Baha'i community, that's ok. You are not bound by these laws, but can still follow them if you wish.)

Paragraphs 16 through 18 are also about prayer and fasting.

But what about paragraph 15? I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader, because this one stumps me. (Fortunately they have a long note in the back about it, so I can use that to help guide my thoughts about this one.)

Here it is:
Say: God hath made My hidden love the key to the Treasure; would that ye might perceive it! But for the key, the Treasure would to all eternity have remained concealed; would that ye might believe it! Say: This is the Source of Revelation, the Dawning-place of Splendour, Whose brightness hath illumined the horizons of the world. Would that ye might understand! This is, verily, that fixed Decree through which every irrevocable decree hath been established.
For myself, I am going to try and remember that this is in the midst of all those paragraphs about prayer and fasting. What that has to do with anything, I have no idea. I only hope that it'll make a bit more sense as I think about it.

To start, as it says in the notes, there is that old tradition, "I was a Hidden Treasure. I wished to be made known, and thus I called creation into being in order that I might be known."

From there, this calls to mind that prayer that begins:
Lauded be Thy name, O Lord my God! I testify that Thou wast a hidden Treasure wrapped within Thine immemorial Being and an impenetrable Mystery enshrined in Thine own Essence. Wishing to reveal Thyself, Thou didst call into being the Greater and the Lesser Worlds, and didst choose Man above all Thy creatures, and didst make Him a sign of both of these worlds, O Thou Who art our Lord, the Most Compassionate!
Thou didst raise Him up to occupy Thy throne before all the people of Thy creation. Thou didst enable Him to unravel Thy mysteries, and to shine with the lights of Thine inspiration and Thy Revelation, and to manifest Thy names and Thine attributes. Through Him Thou didst adorn the preamble of the book of Thy creation, O Thou Who art the Ruler of the universe Thou hast fashioned!
This obviously seems to be referring to the Manifestation, what with the capitalization and the unraveling of the mysteries and stuff.

But here, God is that hidden Treasure, and He created lots of stuff in order to reveal Himself, presumably through the Manifestations, as that is the only way we can really know anything about God.

This also ties in nicely with that Hidden Word, "O Son of Man! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee.
Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life." It gives us an intimation of the purpose of creation, as well as an idea of the purpose of our own life.

The Universal House of Justice also cites a passage from 'Abdu'l-Baha in the notes:
O wayfarer in the path of the Beloved! Know thou that the main purpose of this holy tradition is to make mention of the stages of God's concealment and manifestation within the Embodiments of Truth, They who are the Dawning-places of His All-Glorious Being. For example, before the flame of the undying Fire is lit and manifest, it existeth by itself within itself in the hidden identity of the universal Manifestations, and this is the stage of the "Hidden Treasure". And when the blessed Tree is kindled by itself within itself, and that Divine Fire burneth by its essence within its essence, this is the stage of "I wished to be made known". And when it shineth forth from the Horizon of the universe with infinite Divine Names and Attributes upon the contingent and placeless worlds, this constituteth the emergence of a new and wondrous creation which correspondeth to the stage of "Thus I called creation into being". And when the sanctified souls rend asunder the veils of all earthly attachments and worldly conditions, and hasten to the stage of gazing on the beauty of the Divine Presence and are honoured by recognizing the Manifestation and are able to witness the splendour of God's Most Great Sign in their hearts, then will the purpose of creation, which is the knowledge of Him Who is the Eternal Truth, become manifest.

What, pray tell, does all this have to do with prayer, and how does this paragraph from the Aqdas affect my life? I'm still not sure.

Perhaps it is a reminder of where this Book comes from, and just how important it is to be aware of the spiritual dimension of my own life. After all, prayer is the first thing Baha'u'llah talks about in this "Most Holy Book", so maybe, just maybe, I need to pay more attention to it. And then, perhaps, this attitude of prayer will help me in realizing the purpose of my life, how to live, how to live well, and how to be happy. (Not to mention how to be a source of joy to others.)

Baha'u'llah's hidden love is the key to finding that Treasure, which is God. Without the assistance of the Messengers, we would have no direct way of knowing our Creator, much as a chair can never know the carpenter that made it. But through Baha'u'llah we know that God loves us, and that's why we were created. Now we just have to rise to be worthy of that love, and we can best do that by being loving and compassionate people, striving to follow not only the letter of the Law, but the spirit behind it.

I still don't feel like I have a handle on this paragraph, but I'm not sure what else to write right now. Perhaps I'll leave it be and come back to it later.

How about you? What does this paragraph mean to you?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Non-Answers and Annoying Terms

There are some words that just drive me up a wall. Well, actually, it's not the words themselves as much as the way we tend to use them. "Peruse" is one example, especially when we use it to mean something like "to read quickly or carelessly", when it actually means the exact opposite: "to read with great thoroughness and attention to detail". I mean, come on. When Baha'u'llah says, "Peruse thou the Kitáb-i-Íqán...", do we really think He means for us to read it quickly and with little attention?

But that's just one example.

We seem to be filled with examples, like "How was that presentation last night?" "It was successful." It's almost as bad as "Your talk was good."

Those are what I call non-answers. They sound great, but they give very little useful information.

Let's look at that first one: "successful". It means that you have achieved success in an endeavour, that you have succeeded in doing something you set out to do. So what does it mean to succeed? It means that you have achieved the desired result or goal.

"How was your presentation?" "It was a success." In other words, I set out to give a presentation and succeeded in doing so. The fact that only 1 person showed up, and they fell asleep does not impact the success of this endeavour. I gave the talk.

You see, the impact of the success wholly depends upon the goal you set out to accomplish. If your goal was either unclear, or very low, then "success" may not be all that great.

There is, of course, another problem with it: If you don't succeed, then presumably you fail, and this success / failure paradigm is not all that useful. More on this particular theme can be found in a previous article I wrote about learning to learn, so I won't go into it here.

Instead, I'd like to give a little example of what I'm talking about.

The other night I went to this wonderful presentation on human rights which used the Baha'is in Iran as a case study. It was thought provoking and insightful.

It also had a number of people who attended.


Right there!

Of course it had a number of people who attended. What else could it have? (Well, if you're Roman it could have a letter of people attending, but I digress.) That number may have been 2, or even 3, and you would never know. That was a tidbit of useless non-information.

Anyways, the number in this case was very interesting. The program was scheduled to begin at 7 (it actually started at 7:02, so that was pretty good), and at that time there were 42 people who were present. They were the ones who heard the beginning of the main presentation. 42.

I know. I counted.

By 7:45, when the whole presentation was almost over, that number had risen to 76.

Again, I know. I counted.

Now you might think it useful to know that 76 attended, and it is. It is wonderful information. Far more useful than "a number of people".

It is also useful to know when these people showed up.

When I wrote to one of the organizers, praising his efforts, and encouraging the committee to do a similar event next year, I wrote the following about these numbers: "...nearly half of (the attendees) were late, some significantly so. This can either mean that the program began too early for people to get there on time, either due to having to eat dinner at home, or traffic conditions, or some other unavoidable delays, or that people in this community just show up late. For next year this can mean either considering starting later, or having an "opening act" so that those who are late won't miss the "main act". Whichever way is decided, this should be noted, and observed next year. If, for example, they decide to try starting at 7:30 in another venue, and a large number are still late, then the actual start time may be irrelevant."

You see? This, to me, is more useful than just saying, "Oh, your event was successful." Instead, it looks at some data and draws some reasonable conclusions from it upon which we can act. (At least the organizers of the event can act on it.) It also doesn't presume that the first conclusion is correct, nor the only possible conclusion.

I also remember a time a few years back when I was asked to give a report on a conference I hadn't attended. Not one to give up so easily I decided to interview some people I knew who had gone. When asked how the conference was, every one of them said, "Oh, it was good."


Upon interviewing them some more, asking what they had learned, or what they recalled, I discovered that all they remembered were the two artistic presentations.

On a whim, I decided to begin interviewing many people I knew who had attended conferences over the years, and in nearly every case it was the only the arts that they remembered. Interesting, non? It sure changed the way I presented at future conferences.

You see, dear Reader, there are certain answers that we tend to give to questions (myself most definitely included) that don't really give any information. And I, for one, have to wonder what we are missing when we don't take the time to delve deeper.

That's it. I set out to write a little bit about this issue, and I have done so. I guess I was successful.