Thursday, December 22, 2016

Detachment from Heaven, Part 1... or Exit by Troops

"No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth."

I have long wondered about this quote, found at the very beginning of the Kitab-i-Iqan. Given my background of studying English literature at university, the first sentence in any book always seems to me to be the very essence of the book itself. Whether it is the question of "Who's there" in Hamlet, and how this is a question that runs through all the main characters throughout the play, or "rage" being the very first word in the Iliad showing the theme that runs strong within it, as opposed to "man" being the first word in the Odyssey, opening lines are always important to me. And with this line, Baha'u'llah establishes detachment as a primary concept in part one of that book.

While it is possible to talk about many other aspects of this sentence, such as how the word "shores" is plural, or how He doesn't say whether we are in the wilds of a jungle looking for the ocean, or lost at sea looking for the shore, we will focus on detachment.

Oh, and not just detachment in a general sense, but specifically on detachment "from all that is in heaven". I mean, I sort of understand the thing about being detached from everything on earth, and how being detached is not the same as abandoning everything, but rather not allowing it to come between you and the truth. I get that. Really I do. (I won't say I'm good at it, but I get it.)

But heaven? Alright. That I don't get.

Of course that doesn't mean that I'm not willing to think about it out loud here. So what can it mean?

Well, I'm reminded of that quote from 'Abdu'l -Baha in which He says "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." This, as you know, talks about an ulterior motive, saying the prayer because you hope to get into heaven, or because you fear being overly toasty in the next world of God. Neither of those are pure. They may not be bad reasons, but they are not pure.

This then leads me to another quote, this time from Baha'u'llah, in which He is talking about the "true seeker". He says that the true seeker "must so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth."

Ok. That's a bit more interesting, and a bit closer the point here, I think. (And remember, this is all about what I think, not what is true. It is just my personal opinion, and nothing official.) So, from what I understand, when seeking truth, we have to look at something in a truly detached way. If we have an attachment of love then we may inadvertently accept something that is false out of love for the person who said it. Good point. I can see that. And, of course, the opposite is true, too. I may deny something just because I don't like the person who said it. (Well, I can see me doing that, but not you, dear Reader.)

So this talks about people on one level, I think. It also talks about where we hear something, like in our church, or in school. We might love our Faith and hear what actually turns out to be a false interpretation of something, but blindly accept it, thinking that our doing so somehow shows our love for the Faith.

Again, it seems to me that this talks about looking at information dispassionately, not allowing our emotions about the source to interfere with the information itself.

A tangental example that comes to mind is music. There are many composers whose music I love, even though I disagree with them ideologically. Take Wagner, for example. His music is impressive, even if he was quite racist in his views. It would be a great loss to me if I dismissed his music on this basis alone. And I think it would be quite silly, too. Of course, it may impact whether I choose to buy a CD from a living musician that I would prefer not to support financially, but that's about it.

Anyways, this seems to be all about being detached from those things on the earth. None of this is "heaven", per se.

So, if that's true, then what does it mean to be detached from all that is in heaven?

What just went through my mind was that we need to detach ourselves from our community, detach ourselves from our own understanding of the Writings, and detach ourselves from our own past. In fact, this is something that Baha'u'llah goes on at length about later in that same book.

And for that, I have lots of personal examples.

Over the years, I have seen many people enter and leave the Baha'i community, and I ask them all the same question: "Why". One of my favourite questions is how someone got where they are on their particular path in life. And you know what? I have learned to truly appreciate why it is that different people enter the community, and why others have chosen to leave.

Oh, wait a second. What do I mean by appreciating the reasons people have chosen to leave the Faith? Well, simple, really. People have their own reasons for doing things, and we shouldn't judge them for it. After all, if they choose to leave the Baha'i community, we can actually learn a lot about ourselves if we find out their reasons. By the same token, we can also learn a lot if we discover some of the reasons why people are attracted to the Faith, whether or not they accept it.

So what are some of the reasons for people leaving? The most common one that I have seen is disillusionment with members of the community. In fact, I can even be a bit more specific. It tends to be that the friends within the community don't appear to take their concerns seriously. For example, when asking about hell, many of us will dismissively say we don't believe in hell, and imply that anyone who does is a bozo, despite the many references to hell in the Writings. (The question is not whether we believe in it or not, for we do recognize the existence of hell and even of Satan, but rather a question of what their nature is.) Or perhaps the question may be why there are no women on the Universal House of Justice. Instead of exploring the question in depth, some people dismiss it saying, "The Master says that the reason will become more evident than the sun at noon." And while this may be true, it surely isn't evident yet, and is worth exploring with those who ask. Some people leave because they see how some Baha'is treat homosexuals, or because of all the "boring meetings" we have. It doesn't really matter, for their reasons are their own, and should be respected. And if we detach ourselves from any outcomes, we will discover that we can learn a lot about ourselves from how others react to us.

In short, we can look at our expectations of the community we live in, and whether or not it lives up to our expectations. (It usually doesn't, but that's ok, for we don't live up to the expectations of those in our community either.) We must be detached from this, and strive to improve ourselves and come to a better understanding of how to apply the Writings in our community.

This, to me, is another example of being detached "from all that is in heaven".

I have been amazed at how our understanding of the Writings has evolved over the years to become more and more centred on community, and am certain that our understanding will continue to grow and evolve in the years to come. I am not a Baha'i because of the community, or where the community is today, but because of the Writings of Baha'u'llah and where I see the community, as well as the world, will be in 100 years.

But all of this, important as it is, still skirts the question I still have: What does it mean to be detached from all that is heaven?

I think I'll look at that a bit more tomorrow.


  1. I recently learned to read a Persian language prayer from Abdul-Baha (I am an Iranian American with poor reading skills). Anyway, this prayer whose translation in English I haven't found yet, is all about asking God to help the person reciting it to recognize truth. The most gorgeous phrase in the prayer is "Let us be followers of the Sun of Reality, whatever horizon it emerges from" (as I understand the original).

    If you ever wonder as to the destiny and purpose of the Baha'i Cause in the age we live in, consider the fact that this Faith asks us to be open-minded -- in fact, to actively PRAY for open-mindedness -- and seek the truth with passion, in an age of fake news, group think, and rampant self-righteousness. All people can learn something from this, Baha'i or otherwise, because more than ever, all of us have a duty to treat the concept of truth with the highest form of reverence.

    1. Thank you, Eamon. That has to be one of the most beautiful concepts I have read in a long time. And it was so beautifully shared, too. Thank you.