Sunday, December 29, 2013


"I can't do this book", she said regarding Ruhi Book 1, "in Hungarian. I don't like the translation." I refrained from agreeing with her and saying that I can't do it Hungarian either. But to be fair, Magyar, or Hungarian, was her mother tongue, and we had been going through Book 1 together to help her get a better understanding of the words she was having difficulty with. This comment arose when I asked her about the Hungarian translation she had with her.

"That's interesting", I replied, "for my wife said the same thing about the French translation." Marielle and I have talked about the Ruhi books a lot, and she often points out some significant problems with the French translation to me. As I am not fluent in French, I can't speak from experience, but only what I've heard from others.

But this lady was saying the same thing about the Hungarian translation. Why, I wondered, was I regularly hearing this? And why was the English seemingly ok, when it was a translation, too?

"Can you show me an example", I asked her, "of a line where you don't like the translation?"

She turned to the quotes in the section about backbiting, which is interesting because this is exactly where Marielle turned to when I asked her the same thing.

"Here", she said, pointing to a quote. "How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me."

Interesting, again, for this is the same quote that Marielle had a problem with.

"I don't like the word they used here for 'accursed'. It's too strong a word." She said that this word implied a very strong condemnation, a kicking out of someone, shunning them. It implied a very horrid form of damnation that she couldn't reconcile with the gentle teachings of the Faith.

"Well," I said, "it's a strong word in English, too. Sometimes I think it's a far stronger word than many of us realize. And you're right. It might be too strong. Let's see, shall we?"

And so we began to look at it.

"What would it look like if you were under a curse?" I asked the question, not really knowing where it would go, but it sure seemed like a reasonable place to begin.

What we came up with were things like lots of little stuff would go wrong in your life. You'd lose your keys. You might slip and fall. Someone might take your wallet, or you might get into a small accident while driving. Then we began to come up with some more nasty stuff, more like the curses out of the fairy tales of old. You might get a bad disease. Your family might get killed. In general, there would be mayhem and suffering. Not a fun time at all.

"Ok. Well, let's go back to the quote for a minute", I suggested, thinking this might not be getting us all that far. "There's another interesting word in there. 'Busy'. it seems to imply that we're not just mentioning the faults of others. We're busying ourselves with them. We are spending an undue amount of time focused on them." I wasn't really sure where I was going with this, but it just felt right. "Imagine that there was someone sitting right there", I said pointing to chair near us, "and all they did was point out our faults. How would you feel?"

We both agreed that we would be uncomfortable with that.

Then we agreed that they wouldn't be near the top of our list for people to invite over for dinner, nor for a party. In fact, we really wouldn't want to hang out with them at all. We would, in a sense, shun them, because we really wouldn't feel comfortable being around them.

They, through their own actions, would be, in a sense, placing themselves under a curse.

"And how do you think they would feel, inside?"

"Pretty awful. They would probably stew in their anger and even become sick from it."

As she said that last bit, it seemed that the light went on. Truly, busying yourself with the faults of others would be just like being under a curse.

Maybe it wasn't such a bad word to choose after all.

ADDENDUM - I just read this article to my wife, and she pointed out something very interesting to me. The problem, at least in the French translation, is not the word "accursed", but the word "of". Baha'u'llah says that whoever acts in this way is accursed of God. Does that mean that God places the curse upon them, or that they curse themselves and are therefore separating themselves from God? It seems to me that this is unclear in the English.

In the French, at least, there is no ambiguity. It is God who is doing the cursing.

Now the question remains, which is it in the original?

And the problem remains about accepting this Writing that shows God as being an angry retaliator. So, while I may have found a way for me to accept this in the English, due to its ambiguity, there is still a very real issue for some of the friends in sharing this in another language.


  1. Yes, those words are strong in any language.
    But I have a different kind of problem with Ruhi and translation practice in Russia. Ruhi book asks to memorize five prayers. It is hard but doable. The problem is that they have a habit to issue a new official translation of Baha’i prayer book every 3-5 years in Russia! I just can’t make myself to memorize a prayer knowing that soon I have to do it again with the different translation of the same prayer!

    1. Oh that would just drive me up a wall! I'm curious, though. Do those new translations override the older ones? I know that there are some English translations that are fairly new, but neither they, nor the older ones, are considered "official". They are just variations.

    2. Well, I guess they are just variations here too. At least I’ve never heard that it was “illegal” to recite a prayer in one of its old versions. I used the word ‘official’ meaning that the translation was officially approved by NSA and published by it. So one may learn any version of a prayer while doing Ruhi book.
      Then comes a question what the point to have a new translation if all are going to use old one? Besides, I think it is not that kind of diversity in our unity we are striving for. Maybe it is just my perception but when somebody recites a prayer in a meeting it takes me off any meditative state of mind because I start trying to guess what version is s/he going to read and then mentally stumble over each word that is differ from what I had memorized.