Wednesday, May 15, 2013


"...(R)eading," says Baha'u'llah, in the Kitab-i-Iqan, "without understanding, is of no abiding profit unto man."

I ran across that line yesterday while reading, and probably not understanding, this Book. Now, to put it into a context, for the actual sentence begins with the word "Otherwise", Baha'u'llah is writing, once again, about those who have read the Qur'an and used it to justify their attacks on others. This, of course, applies to anyone who uses their understanding of Holy Text to justify their own selfish or capricious desires, whether it is to attack those who disagree, or their own more base desires, such as lust or greed.

And, of course, this is only my own opinion, and nothing official. If you want something official, go to

But back to my own thoughts on this.

This quote also occurs just after Baha'u'llah quoting another tradition, "'Whoso sayeth 'why' or 'wherefore' hath spoken blasphemy!'"

As you can imagine, I read that last quote and kind of sat up straight in my chair. "What", I wondered? "Why?" And then immediately wondered if I had thought a blasphemy. But then I recalled the Bab saying that it was forbidden to ask He Whom God Shall Make Manifest any question, and that Baha'u'llah had rescinded that. He, Himself, gave us permission to ask questions.

Then, as I meditated on that statement, the one above about why and wherefore, something occurred to me. There are many ways to ask "Why". The most common is probably to question something, as in questioning the validity of it. "Stop stepping on my foot." "Why? What are you going to do about it?"

But that was not what I was asking. I wanted to understand the reason for it. "Don't drink alcohol. It is forbidden." "Why? I'm sure there is a good reason, and I would like to get a better understanding of it, rather than merely following out of obedience." Of course, following a trusted source out of obedience is good, too, but it is far better to have a deeper understanding when we can.

Now maybe my examples aren't up to my usual standard, but I think you get the idea. "Why" can be a dare, or it can be an earnest seeking. I think Baha'u'llah was warning us about the former, but not telling us to squelch the latter.

Anyways, back to that first quote. "Reading without understanding..."

My son, as well as others, has often asked me if he should pray when his heart just isn't in it. I have always said yes, he should, for I believe that a prayer uttered hen we least feel like it will still help us get back on an even keel. When I am depressed, I really don't feel like praying, but that is when I need it the most. And when I say my prayers at those times, almost resenting my saying of them, I can still tell in retrospect that they had a very positive effect.

So I translate this.

Wouldn't reading the Holy Word, even without understanding what you're reading, be of some benefit? Even a tiny bit? Or is it really of no profit at all?

But wait. Baha'u'llah didn't say it was of no profit. He said it was of no abiding profit.

Why the qualifier? What does abiding mean, in this context? It means lasting, or enduring. In other words, if we read something without understanding it, it may profit us in the short term, but not in the long.

And that makes sense to me. When I was just learning another language, I didn't understand what the other person was saying, and so I can't recall it. But when I understood them, I remembered.

When I first began going to firesides, I didn't understand what the speaker was talking about, and that is why I can't recall a single thing that was said. But the woman who taught me the faith kept it all relevant to me. I understood what she meant. It had meaning. And that is what I recall.

Perhaps this is another reason why it is so important to truly listen to the seeker when they ask questions, or share their insights. We can better address them where they are, share with them some of the Writings that is within their understanding.

But if we read the Writings without understanding them, then we will forget. Eventually. For sure.

Another take on it is on a deeper level. The Writings are spiritually uplifting, fundamentally mystical, although practical. They have the capacity to raise our spirit, and elevate us beyond the mundane. We can read them superficially, taking, for example, the Kitab-i-Aqdas, as a mere code of laws to be followed no matter what, generally out of fear of punishment. But we all know that it is not "a mere code of laws." Baha'u'llah tells us that it is "the choice Wine".

And what is the effect of this "choice Wine"? It is heady. Intoxicating, and yet not toxic. It brings us beyond our senses.

When we immerse ourselves in the ocean of His Words we find ourselves carried beyond what we thought possible. We almost reel at the impact they have on us. This is one of the signs of immersion in them.

This is when our heart understands, even if our mind takes a while to catch up.

This is what happened when I read that initial quote. I felt as if I were at sea. I knew something was changing. I recognized that vertigo of being lifted to too great a height.

And I knew my mind needed to catch up.

Hence the writing of this.

And now, although I feel I could still write more, I need to drive my wife to work.

Slam. Back on the shore, once again.

No comments:

Post a Comment