Friday, December 23, 2016

Detachment from Heaven, Part 2

"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."

Time to think about this one again, dear Reader. As you may have noticed from the previous post, my intention is to better understand this detachment "from all that is in heaven", but my focus earlier seemed to be all around yet more aspects of things that are of earth, such as the community and the like.

It seems that a better understanding of this aspect of the phrase requires a better understanding of how Baha'u'llah uses the term "heaven" in His Writings.

The first thing that comes to my mind is found later in the same book as the quote above, the Kitab-i-Iqan. He says, "in every instance, He hath given the term 'heaven' a special meaning". Well, doesn't that just make it easy? Every instance, eh? According to Ocean, that means 129 meanings in the Kitab-i-Iqan, 40 more in Gems of Divine Mysteries, 127 in The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, and you get the general idea.

Where to start?

You know, before I begin, I should probably apologize for my approach here. I'm kind of going with the stream of consciousness thing here, or perhaps stream of unconsciousness may be more appropriate. I get an idea, type it down, look it up, think about it, meditate a bit, type up my thoughts, and seem to be going in circles. I mean, this isn't a scholarly thesis or anything, but just a bit of taste of my own personal exploration of this vast ocean. Who knows, though, it may just work in the end. I guess we'll find out.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Where to begin?

Well, given what I see here, with so many possible meanings, it might help to begin to categorize the various references. For example, some are literal, such as in the quote, "they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven..." Others seem to refer to an elevated station, as in the quotes, "the heaven of the grace of God," or "the heaven of the bounty of God". Still other times it appears as a symbol of the source of Revelation, as in "the Maid of Heaven".

Interesting as these are, none of these seem to be applicable in the context of this quote.

No, what seems to be the most consistent context, and relevant here, is when it is used as a contrast, such as "heaven and earth".

But now, as I look at this quote again, "all that is in heaven and on earth", I am reminded of another quote, this time from the Book of Revelation. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away..."

What does that mean? "The first heaven and the first earth were passed away"? Hmmm. Well, Baha'u'llah said that "through the rise of these Luminaries of God the world is made new", and even 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "the new heaven and the new earth are come."

Ok. Now I feel like some things are beginning to come together. How does this sound?

I think I may have been distracted by looking at "heaven" on its own. Perhaps I should focus, instead, on "true understanding".

Time for the stream of consciousness stuff again.

So much of the Kitab-i-Iqan in part 1 deals with re-examining what we already know. At no point does He tell us to forget what we know, but rather to look at it again. "Consider the past..." "Ponder for a moment, and reflect..." Over and over again throughout that book He tells us to do this. In fact, He helps us in this regard, pointing out what we already know, but in a slightly different way than we are usually aware of it. My favorite example of this is when He talks about Noah. Here I go with a seeming tangent, but please bear with me. It's how my mind works, and I think it may lead us somewhere useful. (If not, sorry.)

In paragraph 7 of this book, He recounts the following;
Among the Prophets was Noah. For nine hundred and fifty years He prayerfully exhorted His people and summoned them to the haven of security and peace. None, however, heeded His call. Each day they inflicted on His blessed person such pain and suffering that no one believed He could survive. How frequently they denied Him, how malevolently they hinted their suspicion against Him! Thus it hath been revealed: "And as often as a company of His people passed by Him, they derided Him. To them He said: 'Though ye scoff at us now, we will scoff at you hereafter even as ye scoff at us. In the end ye shall know.'" Long afterward, He several times promised victory to His companions and fixed the hour thereof. But when the hour struck, the divine promise was not fulfilled. This caused a few among the small number of His followers to turn away from Him, and to this testify the records of the best-known books. These you must certainly have perused; if not, undoubtedly you will. Finally, as stated in books and traditions, there remained with Him only forty or seventy-two of His followers. At last from the depth of His being He cried aloud: "Lord! Leave not upon the land a single dweller from among the unbelievers."
A couple things stand out here to me. First, if I were talking about Noah I would undoubtedly talk about the flood and the ark. But I notice that Baha'u'llah doesn't. It seems that He is not concerned with what makes each Manifestation unique, but rather what They all have in common. Second, He leaves an ambiguity for us, when He mentions that Noah had "forty or seventy-two of His followers". These numbers come from two different sources, and it seems as if He is not concerned which is historically accurate. In fact, it truly does not matter. So rather than alienating one or another of the groups of people who insist on one of those numbers, He merely states that both are recorded. He does not allow us to get distracted by trivialities.

Why is this important? Because Baha'u'llah is giving us a new vision of Noah, in the context of some of the other Manifestations. If we become distracted by trivial details, then we put up a barrier between ourselves and this new vision that He is trying to impart.

It occurs to me that He is doing the same thing with everything else.

The old idea of heaven was a kingdom of clouds and angels, somewhere above the clouds, with God sitting on His throne. Baha'u'llah's conception of heaven, in this regard, is often cited as "nearness to God".

Was the old vision wrong? No, not really. I mean, sure, it wasn't physically accurate, but it was a good metaphor. Above the clouds we are not beset by the tempestuous storms. We can more clearly see the sun, since the clouds do not get in the way. We are, in a sense, closer to God. It was a good metaphor for the time, and still has its uses.

No matter how we understand anything, our understanding is necessarily limited. We are human. We can always get a better, clearer, more complete understanding of anything. This is, in fact, the basis of science and scientific research. We are always pushing the boundaries of what we know, pressing those borders further into the recesses of the darkness of obscurity, trying to get a clearer understanding of the world around us.

To better accomplish this in the realms of the spiritual, we must allow Baha'u'llah to shape our vision.

The old idea of heaven was useful, but limited. Our own understanding of anything is necessarily limited. But the vision offered to us by Baha'u'llah can help us see more, if we but allow Him to share His vision with us. After all, it's up to us. He has already shared it. We just need to be open to seeing it, and not allowing our limited understanding to stand in the way. Then, and only then, can we better appreciate the "shores of the ocean of true understanding".

If I allow my limited understanding of heaven to stand as a barrier between me and this new idea, then I am only limiting myself.

Baha'u'llah came to share this new vision with us. "Then was the door of the Kingdom", said 'Abdu'l-Baha, "set wide and the light of a new heaven on earth revealed unto seeing eyes."

Now it seems to me that the reason I was having trouble with my initial question was that my question was the wrong one. It's not the question of heaven that I should struggle with, but rather that of "true understanding".

Being "detached from all that is in heaven and on earth" seems to me to refer more to my own understanding of these concepts. By recognizing that these ideas can represent far more than I have ever dreamed opens up new vistas for me on this beach upon which we stand, at the edge of that "ocean of true understanding". It helps me realize that there are many more beaches, many more perspectives, many more areas for exploration than I could ever conceive. Living at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, I realize that "the shores of the ocean of the Pacific" could refer to the beach near my home in Victoria, BC, Canada, or it could refer to a small inlet on the western shores of Mexico. It might mean a stretch of rocks on the edge of Japan, or a volcanic beach of black sand at the growing outskirts of Hawai'i. It could be somewhere in New Zealand or Australia, Papua New Guinea or Tuvalu. It could be in the arctic, the antarctic, along the equator, somewhere in the tropic of cancer or the tropic of capricorn. The shores of the ocean of the Pacific are vast, but nowhere near as vast as "shores of the ocean of true understanding".

As much as I long to explore the Pacific, I am far more keen to explore this other ocean.

And thanks go to my son, Shoghi, who walked this beach with me every step of the way, encouraging me, correcting me, and pointing out some beautiful ideas that I had overlooked.

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