Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Look at "Creation from the Intellect"

Back to the Writings.

I feel like it has been way too long since I've really explored a single text. So why not right now? My wife is sitting at her computer, arranging some music for the band (she's a musician in the Canadian military, in case I've never mentioned it before), and I've just finished working on a chain-mail piece for my son's Halloween costume (a glow-in-the-dark scale-mail mask) (ultra cool).

Now what? Well, I'll walk over to the bookshelf, grab a random book by Bahau'u'llah, turn to a random page, grab a passage and see what turns up. (I'll be right back.)

(Thanks for waiting. Now I'm going to grab something to munch on while I write. I won't be long. I promise.)

Ok. I'm back. Thanks.

I grabbed The Tabernacle of Unity, which I have to admit surprised me. I would have expected something like Gleanings, along with a nice familiar traditional quote to dissect. No such luck.

What I got was paragraph 2.51. But to better understand it, I needed to go back a bit and find the context. After all, this tablet is to Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, responding to Manikchi Sahib's complaint that Baha'u'llah didn't answer his questions in the first tablet. In this second tablet Baha'u''llah inserts Manikchi Sahib's original questions and then shows how He answered each and every one of them with characteristic conciseness and brilliance. And so, in order to better explore this paragraph, I feel I should go back a bit and begin with the question.

A further question that he hath asked: “The Hindus assert that God fashioned the Intellect in the form of a man named Brahma, Who came into this world and was the cause of its progress and development, and that all Hindus are His descendants. The followers of Zoroaster say: ’God, through the agency of the Primal Intellect, created a man whose name is Mahábád and who is our ancestor.’ They believe the modes of creation to be six in number. Two were mentioned above; the others are creation from water, earth, fire, and from bears and monkeys. The Hindus and Zoroastrians both say that they are begotten of the Intellect, and thus do not admit others into their folds. Are these assertions true or not? That wise Master is requested to indicate that which he deemeth appropriate.”
The entire creation hath been called into being through the Will of God, magnified be His glory, and peerless Adam hath been fashioned through the agency of His all-compelling Word, a Word which is the source, the wellspring, the repository, and the dawning-place of the intellect. From it all creation hath proceeded, and it is the channel of God’s primal grace. None can grasp the reality of the origin of creation save God, exalted be His glory, Whose knowledge embraceth all things both before and after they come into being. Creation hath neither beginning nor end, and none hath ever unravelled its mystery. Its knowledge hath ever been, and shall remain, hidden and preserved with those Who are the Repositories of divine knowledge.
The world of existence is contingent, inasmuch as it is preceded by a cause, while essential preexistence hath ever been, and shall remain, confined to God, magnified be His glory. This statement is being made lest one be inclined to conclude from the earlier assertion, namely that creation hath no beginning and no end, that it is preexistent. True and essential preexistence is exclusively reserved to God, while the preexistence of the world is secondary and relative. All that hath been inferred about firstness, lastness and such hath in truth been derived from the sayings of the Prophets, Apostles, and Chosen Ones of God.
As to the “realm of subtle entities”16 which is often referred to, it pertaineth to the Revelation of the Prophets, and aught else is mere superstition and idle fancy. At the time of the Revelation all men are equal in rank. By reason, however, of their acceptance or rejection, rise or fall, motion or stillness, recognition or denial, they come to differ thereafter. For instance, the one true God, magnified be His glory, speaking through the intermediary of His Manifestation, doth ask: “Am I not your Lord?” Every soul that answereth “Yea, verily!” is accounted among the most distinguished of all men in the sight of God. Our meaning is that ere the Word of God is delivered, all men are deemed equal in rank and their station is one and the same. It is only thereafter that differences appear, as thou hast no doubt observed.
It is clearly established from that which hath been mentioned that none may ever justifiably claim: “We are begotten of the Intellect, while all others stem from another origin.” The truth that shineth bright and resplendent as the sun is this, that all have been created through the operation of the Divine Will and have proceeded from the same source, that all are from Him and that unto Him they shall all return. This is the meaning of that blessed verse in the Qur’án which hath issued from the Pen of the All-Merciful: “Verily, we are God’s, and to Him shall we return”. 17
As is clear and evident to thee, the answer to all of the questions mentioned above was embodied in but one of the passages revealed by the Pen of the Most High. Blessed are they who, freed from worldly matters and sanctified from idle fancies and vain imaginings, traverse the meads of divine knowledge and discern in all things the tokens of His glory.

I am so grateful to reference.bahai.org for this. It makes life so much easier when studying the Writings.

To begin, the question. Manikchi Sahib is basically asking "Which creation story is correct?" Well, really, how can He answer that? No matter what He says it will be both incomplete and offend some. It is like earlier in the book when He is asked which of four schools of thought is correct. The short answer is none of them, but that "the second standeth closer to righteousness... One can, however, provide a justification for the tenets of the other schools..." In the end, through His wisdom, He replied, "Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements." In other words, who really cares? What difference does it make in your daily life?

Here, he is asking are the claims of the Hindus and Zoroastrians correct? If He were to simply say "No", then virtually all Hindus and Zoroastrians would feel insulted. And yet all knowledge comes from God through the Manifestations, so it is likely that their claims are true in that regard. When you re-read the question in light of that, then we can readily see that there is a truth within their teachings.

The problem, though, is that they become exclusive in their assertions. "We're right and all others are wrong." He corrects that. He reminds us clearly, in paragraph 2.51, that we have all been created from "the Intellect", for we are all created by the same God. At no time should the story of our creation become divisive. "Know ye not", He asks us to consider in the Hidden Words, "why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other."

In paragraph 2.48, He reminds us of the essential mystery of creation, further emphasizing in the next paragraph that there is a difference between the creation of the universe and the other realms of existence. This whole thing about firstness and lastness, preexistence and so on, falls into insignificance when we consider what we know of the visible universe and the Big Bang. Time itself came into being with that Bang. And so to talk about anything "before" that is actually kind of silly. The very word "before" presupposes the concept of time and a chronological order to things. We have seen back to the beginning of time, and know that anything "before" that is pure mystery.

What we believe about anything before that moment is, in a very real sense, irrelevant. "Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements." What we believe has no impact on our daily life.

What matters, He seems to say, is not what we believe about scientific reality, although it should be in accord with what we observe, but what really matters is how we respond to the divine Manifestation.

Now, looking at 2.51, which is where this all began for me, it is also a reminder to be free from the ego. No matter what our field of study, no matter what our expertise, we can never claim to have a knowledge that others are deprived of. People who study religion have one view of the world. And in a sense, their view is correct. "One can, however, provide a justification for the tenets of the other schools..."

As long as we do not claim exclusivity, somehow thinking that only our particular perspective is the "correct" one, then we can respect the views of others, and others can respect ours. If we, for some odd reason, believe that only our definitions are relevant, then we become exclusive, denying a greater understanding of the world around us. When we accept other perspectives, we can readily accommodate the ideas of both scientific creation with the Big Bang, or even the String theory, along side the above stories of the Hindu and Zoroastrian creation, as well as the creation myth from Genesis (either 1 or 2), for we see the beauty and truth within the poetry of each. And that leads to not only a greater sense of unity, but also a broader and more beautiful understanding of the world.

As for me, I personally like the idea of "creation... from bears and monkeys."

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