Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Everything in Creation

This week I want to tell a story about the Bab.

Well, it's not really a story about His life, but more a story of us. You see, dear Reader, I've noticed that when we talk about Him, we often talk about Him as the "John the Baptist of the Baha'i Faith". At the holy day celebrations that center on Him, for example, we often hear the same few stories and how He prepared us for the coming of Baha'u'llah.

All right. Well, this is true. He did.

But dear Reader, that's like saying, "Jesus? Christmas, Easter, and He said He would return." Yes, that's all true, but it doesn't even begin to cover the full import of what He did.

I mean come on. He was a Messenger of God, for His sake.

Regarding the Bab, it was said that “Knowledge is twenty and seven letters. All that the Prophets have revealed are two letters thereof. No man thus far hath known more than these two letters. But when the Qá’im shall arise, He will cause the remaining twenty and five letters to be made manifest.”

Ok, check this. Everything, all human knowledge up until 1843 consisted of only a couple of letters. The Bab comes and reveals more than 12 times that knowledge, and what do we say? "He said Baha'u'llah's coming."

Hmmmm.

So this week, for my story about the Bab and the early Babi's, I want to share just a single line, seven words, from the Pen of the Bab. And remember, this is a Manifestation of God we're talking about. Those seven words? Well, let's see.

I was reading Gate of the Heart, by Nader Saiedi, when I ran across this line, so if you're looking for it in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, you won't find it there. (You're welcome.)

The line? Oh, yeah. Here it is:
Everything in creation hath its own heaven.

I feel like it should be bolded, sparkling, in a special colour, and maybe even flashing. It is so amazing in its depth and profundity that I feel I should write it again.

Everything in creation hath its own heaven.

I mean, think about it.

Ok, I can hear you say, but everything?

Well, He says "everything".

But, like, everything everything?

Yes, everything everything.

Even my shoe?

Even your shoe.

How?

Ah, that's the question, isn't it? You see, dear Reader, I think the Bab is making a very profound point with these seven seemingly simple words, a point that has the power and capacity to change our very lives.

To help put this into a perspective, namely mine, and that's nothing official, as you well know, when I look through Baha'u'llah's teachings, I find that heaven is described as the fulfillment of potential. I'm not sure of an exact quote that says this, but I infer it from a lot of different references.

Anyways, if heaven is the fulfillment of potential, and everything in creation "hath its own heaven", then when we help something find and fulfill its greatest potential, it will be in its own heaven.

The plastic bag that we get when we go shopping has the potential to carry something. When it is actually doing that, it is fulfilling its potential. It finds itself in its own heaven.

However, and here's the rub, when we have carried our groceries home and casually toss that bag in the garbage, it no longer is fulfilling that potential. We are, in effect, telling it that it is useless, it's garbage. And that, if you care to anthropomorphize, would feel like hell.

Perhaps that is why garbage can be so toxic.

It is always the waste products, the by-products, those parts of a process that are not "useful", that are so damaging.

But when we look at that bag and find another use for it, either through repurposing, reusing, or recycling, we are helping it fulfill a new potential. We are, in effect, carrying it to its new heaven.

For a long time sand was considered one of the most useless things on the planet. Its coming together in the form a desert was considered absolutely ruinous. Still is by most people. But when we extract the silicon from the sand, we can produce the wonders of computers. Today we have found a myriad of uses for that most useless of all things, even to the point where it is one of the most widely stolen natural resources on the planet. Check it out, if you don't believe me. It's tragic, but true.

One of the things we missed when we spoke of "Easter, Christmas, and He would return" was Christ's promise of "Thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven". Perhaps this recognition of fulfilling potential is part of that promise.

Imagine a world in which we found a use for everything, every object, every person. A world in which nothing was wasted or thrown away. A world in which nothing and no one was tossed aside as useless. Wouldn't this be a heaven on earth?

I say that this line can be life-changing because when we really pause to consider it, it can change our very behaviour.

Ever since I read that line, "Everything in creation hath its own heaven", I have thought about it almost continually. When I am about to toss something in the garbage, I find myself asking if it can be put to another use. I ask if there is some hidden potential for that object that I am missing. I actually find myself reluctant to throw anything away, not in the sense of wanting to hoard stuff, but in the sense of being more fully conscious of recycling it, if possible.

In fact, this has now shaped my shopping habits, too. I find myself unwilling to buy pretty much anything that I know will result in me having to throw something away, even, or especially, the packaging.

To be clear, though, it is not a manic thing, nor is it fanatical. It is a simple awareness that is shaping my life and my buying habits. The effect it has had on me is much like the effect the law of the Right of God has had. (You can click on that link, if you want, to see what I mean.)

Instead of buying pre-made food, for example, which will result in a lot of waste, I consciously choose to buy ingredients that I can prepare myself, which produces not only better quality food for my family, but also far less waste.

Instead of buying the cheapest products possible, I find the ones that are of a better quality, ensuring the livelihood of those who are producing them. I prefer to buy from local artisans for a bit more money than to buy cheap stuff that will last a short time and need to be replaced sooner. It means that budgeting is far more important now, but as I said, it results in a better quality of life for both myself and those that I support through my purchases.

This, to me, is a teaching that is worthy of a Messenger from God. This, to me, is a message that was worth bringing to us. And while it is true that He foretold the coming of Baha'u'llah, the Bab also taught so much more.

Everything, and yes, I do mean everything, truly does have its own heaven. And when we strive to help all around us fulfill their highest potential, we will find ourselves standing amidst that heaven, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Single Ray of Light

Ahh, Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi. What a fascinating life he led.

As you know, dear Reader, I'm trying to write a story a week in remembrance of the upcoming 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab. And in doing so, I am hoping to not only share some of my favorite stories, but show how they are relevant to us at this time in human history. In other words, what can we learn from them that is applicable today?

Well, Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi, as you may recall, had that marvelous beverage with both his teacher, Siyyid Kazim, and a strange Youth.

It was only a few days later that he found himself back at Siyyid Kazim's lecture when he noticed that same Youth enter the room, quietly, humbly. He sat down as Siyyid Kazim continued his discourse, completely focused on the talk.

But as soon as Siyyid Kazim noticed Him, he suddenly fell silent.

As you can imagine, this puzzled some of the students. I mean, just imagine that you are at a university lecture listening to your amazing teacher. This is probably one of your favorite teachers, even though you don't quite understand all that he is saying, And then, suddenly, out of the blue, he just stops talking. Possibly in the middle of a sentence.

Can't you just imagine the reaction? "Professor", you might hear someone ask, "are you ok?"

Well, that's exactly what happened. Some of the students encouraged him to continue his talk.

But Siyyid Kazim merely asked, "What more shall I say? ...The Truth is more manifest than the ray of light that has fallen upon that lap." And with that, he indicated a ray of sunlight was illuminating the lap of that same Youth.

Shaykh Hasan was very puzzled by this.

At that moment, though, one of the students asked Siyyid Kazim why he wouldn't just tell them Who the promised One was, if it was so obvious. Now, he probably didn't say with any sort of rudeness. He was likely very humble and sincere in his tone, but even then, Siyyid Kazim merely pointed to his own throat, indicating that were he to do so, they would both be put to death.

This confused Shaykh Hasan even more.

He himself had heard Siyyid Kazim lament the perversity of his generation, saying that even were he to point to the promised One and say, "He indeed is the Beloved, the Desire of your hearts and mine", they would still fail to recognize Him. And there, in that very room, Shaykh Hasan had seen him point to that ray of light that had fallen on that lap, and none understood his meaning. Even Shaykh Hasan didn't understand it at that time. He was convinced that the young Siyyid, for that Youth was wearing the turban indicating His descent from the Prophet Muhammad, could never be the promised One. But he was certain that a mystery lay concealed in the person of that Youth.

Later on, Shaykh Hasan tried to approach the Bab and understand that mystery, but every time he did, he found he was unable to do so. Instead, he watched Him. When the Bab would go to the shrine of the Imam Husayn, Shaykh Hasan would watch. He saw the depth of love with which the Bab prayed, witnessed the tears that fell from His eyes, and heard those words of devotion and praise that surpassed even the Qur'an in power and beauty. How many times did he hear the Bab utter those words, "O God, my God, my Beloved, my heart's Desire"?

But all he could learn about Him was that He was a merchant from Shiraz. He knew that His uncles were admirers of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim, but that was about it.

When the Bab eventually went to Najaf, on His way back to Shiraz, Shayh Hasan was haunted by His memory.

It is no wonder that when he heard the Call from Shiraz, that he immediately became a Babi.

So what does this have to do with us today?

Well, as usual, I'm not really sure, but I have my own thoughts on it.

Today, what with computers and the internet, we expect things to happen immediately. If we have a question, we just type it into our phone and, bam, we have an answer.

But this doesn't happen with the deep questions, the important things in life. This is mostly good only for trivia.

Shaykh Hasan had to wrestle with his questions for months, possibly even a couple of years. And even that is not too long a time.

A second point, for me, is that we often overlook the completely obvious. Or, to be more fair, we often laugh at others who overlook the obvious. This story is blindingly evident to us, we who have the luxury of hindsight. But would I have recognized the Bab at that moment? Would I even have recalled such an event a few years later? Probably not. So, for me, the fact that Shaykh Hasan recognized the Bab later, and still put it together with this story, is little short of a miracle.

A third point has to do with the previous story, the one with the silver cup. There is a level of trust there that I find admirable. Drinking from this cup was forbidden, but when Siyyid Kazim was offered it by the hand of the Bab Himself, he understood that "He doeth as He willeth". Anything that the Bab offered him was, by its very nature, allowed.

Shaykh Hasan, however, didn't recognize the Bab at that time. Why did he drink from a forbidden vessel? Because he trusted his teacher. This was not a blind trust, though. Siyyid Kazim had earned the trust of his student, and this is something that I think we often overlook. We have learned, in our modern age, to question authority, but we often fail to discern when that trust is warranted. Shaykh Hasan gives us a good example of knowing when to trust.

Today, we seem to have forgotten patience in our search for Truth, and we have also forgotten to take the time needed to come to understanding. In addition to this, it seems that we often forget to allow others that same time that is needed for them to arrive at their own understanding, too. Many people in society laugh when they see someone trusting someone else, and that, too, is a sad thing that we need to learn to overcome. Patience, compassion, discernment, trust: these are only some of the virtues I see in these stories of Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi.

But how about you, dear Reader? What truths do you glean from these last couple of stories?

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Cup of Pure Beverage

I'm hoping to write one story a week over this next year, dear Reader, to lead up to the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab. Of course, part of this exercise is not only to share these inspiring stories, but to also talk a little bit about how they are relevant to our lives today.

You will notice, of course, that some names will come up over and over again. This is not just because we are dealing with a limited number of people, but also because they are the ones that inspire me the most.

One of these souls who inspires me is Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi.

When he was a student of Siyyid Kazim, that great forerunner of the Bab, a number of interesting things happened to him.

As you probably know, most of Siyyid Kazim's teachings revolved around the coming of the Promised One, and this great promise attracted many seekers. Shaykh Hasan was one of them.

He was very aware of the imminent arrival of the Promised One, and given all that Siyyid Kazim had taught regarding how difficult it would be during His days, Shaykh Hasan was extremely concerned that he might not be considered worthy to recognize Him. He spent many nights unable to fall asleep, so great was his concern.

One morning, around the hour of dawn, he was awakened by one of Siyyid Kazim's close attendants. They went to the great Siyyid's home, and found him fully dressed and ready to leave.

"A highly esteemed and distinguished Person has arrived", he said, "and I feel it incumbent upon us both to visit Him." As you can imagine, this was most unusual, but Shaykh Hasan readily agreed to join him.

They walked through the streets of Karbila and soon found themselves at the home of a young Hashemite, a descendant of Muhammad. He was standing by the door, wearing His tell-tale green turban, which spoke of His ancestry, as if expecting them. Of course, this was before cell phones or even telephones, so it was extremely odd for anyone to be expecting them like that, especially at such an early hour of the day. The Youth, though, welcomed them with an expression of both humility and kindness which Shaykh Hasan was unable to later describe, except to say that it made a very deep impression upon him. The Youth approached them and lovingly embraced Siyyid Kazim. Shaykh Hasan later said that he was also struck by the contrast between the loving greeting of the Youth and the profound reverence of his teacher. Speechless, and with bowed head, Siyyid Kazim quietly received all the expressions of esteem and affection with which the Youth greeted him.

They went inside the home and were shown to a room decorated with flowers and scented with perfume. They were so overpowered with a sense of delight that Shaykh Hasan later said that they were unaware of what seats they actually used.

In the centre of the room they noticed a silver cup, the use of which was forbidden to the followers of Islam. The Youth filled the cup to overflowing and handed it to Siyyid Kazim, while quoting the Qur'an, saying, "A drink of pure beverage shall their Lord give them." Siyyid Kazim, without the least hesitation, took the cup in both hands and drank.

The cup was then handed to Shaykh Hasan, who also drank.

Soon after that, they were shown back to the door of the home, and they left.

That was all that occurred on that memorable occasion, but it made a lasting impression on Shaykh Hasan.

Before I talk about how this story is relevant to us today, I will share another story of Shaykh Hasan next week.

In the meantime, if there is relevance in this story to you, I would love to read about it in the comments below.

Monday, November 12, 2018

We Make Our Plans...

As many of you know, this is the year leading up to the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab. Just a few days ago was His 199th birthday, and I thought for this upcoming celebration to try to publish one story a week about either His life or that of one of His early followers. Of course, to me, the importance of a story is not just its entertainment value, but its relevance to our lives today. And so, with each of these stories, I will talk a little bit about how I see them as relevant to us today.

To start, I would like to share one of my favorite simple stories. It's not a complex one, and in fact, I'm going to tell it even more simply by leaving out many of the names, which could be confusing to some of my readers.

This story is one of Sulayman Khan.

Sulayman Khan was an interesting man. His father was an attendant of Muhammad Shah, the ruler of Persia for a number of years. He, himself, was destined for a life at court, but this court life held no interest for him. He was far more interested in the things of the spirit. And so, at a fairly young age, he left Persia and settled in Karbila in Iraq, to be in the shadow of the Shrine of the Imam Husayn, the great martyred leader of the Shia Muslims.

While Sulayman Khan was living in Karbila, he became attracted to the teachings of Siyyid Kazim, one of the two forerunners of the Babi Faith, as well as the Baha'i Faith. Many people speak of the Bab as the "John the Baptist" of the Baha'i Faith, but this is really not quite correct. The Bab was a Messenger of God in His own right. It was actually Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim who more accurately fit that role.

Well, Sulayman Khan was attracted to these teachings, and when he later heard about the advent of the Bab, he became a follower of the Bab almost immediately.

A few years later he had the incredible bounty of actually meeting the Bab while He was incarcerated in the prison in the castle of Chihriq.

A little while later, when he was in Tehran, he heard about the Bab's trial in Tabriz, and decided to try and rescue Him from His oppressors. As he knew many people in Tabriz, he thought that he might have a chance at rescuing his Beloved.

As fate would have it, though, he arrived one day too late. The Bab had been executed, with one of His followers, just a day earlier.

Now if it was me, I would have been completely downcast, shattered. My grief would likely have known no bounds, and I would have turned around in despair.

But not Sulayman Khan.

He knew that the Mullas had decided to throw their bodies on the edge of the moat outside the town, with soldiers on guard to prevent the Babis from retrieving the precious remains and give them a proper burial. The hope was that wild animals would devour the bodies, thus proving that the Bab was not a holy man at all.

Sulayman Khan, a day late, changed his plans and decided to try to rescue the bodies himself. He had decided to try a surprise-attack on the guards that evening, and carry away the bodies. He went to his long-time friend, the mayor of the city, and told him of his plans. The mayor, though, had a better idea. He told Sulayman Khan that he knew someone who might actually be able to secret away the bodies in a much safer and more reliable manner.

And so, that evening, the mayor and Sulayman Khan hired this other man to try and steal away the bodies, which, as you may know, was actually successful.

Sulayman Khan took the remains to a silk factory in Milan, in Persia, not Italy, and had them enshrouded and concealed in a wooden casket. From there, they were moved from location to location until such a time as they were able to make their way to the Holy Land and be interred on Mount Carmel.

It is because of the dedication of Sulayman Khan that today we have the incredible bounty of being able to visit the Shrine of the Bab when we go on Pilgrimage.

So, besides visiting the Shrine, what does this have to do with us today? Well, quite simply, it seems to me a great story to show what can happen when we are flexible in our plans. No matter how great our plans may be, things don't always go our way. But quite often God has greater plans for us, if only we're open to them.

But what relevance does this story hold for you, dear Reader? Please post your comments below. Thanks.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Obligatory Prayer - Kitab-i-Aqdas paragraphs 6 - 14

As I'm sure you know by now, my wife and I have been studying the Kitab-i-Aqdas this year. It's been very fruitful, deeply enlightening.

We find that reading a paragraph at a time, with an eye towards different sections of the book, has made this a lot easier than we first thought. As we mentioned in the previous post, we view the first five paragraphs as an introduction, an assistance to our re-framing our perception of the world in order to better approach this book.

This next section goes from paragraph 6 right through 14, or 15, depending. Depending on what? I'm glad you asked. Depending on how you assign paragraph 15, which is something of a bridge between this section and the next.

Throughout many of His works, Baha'u'llah gives us these bridging paragraphs possibly to allow us the time to reflect on what He has just said. Paragraph 7, you will note, is also in this vein. These 9 paragraphs all revolve around the dynamics of prayer, in a general sense, except for number 7. This one is something of a reminder of His station, and the importance of obedience. You will likely note that He reminds of this throughout this volume.

But before I go into any of this further, let me put the paragraphs in here. This is just as a convenience for you, so you can see what I'm referencing, dear Reader. Personally, though, I skip it here, and have a copy of the book next to me so I can follow along as I read. I find that much easier.

6. We have enjoined obligatory prayer upon you, with nine rak‘ahs, to be offered at noon and in the morning and the evening unto God, the Revealer of Verses. We have relieved you of a greater number, as a command in the Book of God. He, verily, is the Ordainer, the Omnipotent, the Unrestrained. When ye desire to perform this prayer, turn ye towards the Court of My Most Holy Presence, this Hallowed Spot that God hath made the Center round which circle the Concourse on high, and which He hath decreed to be the Point of Adoration for the denizens of the Cities of Eternity, and the Source of Command unto all that are in heaven and on earth; and when the Sun of Truth and Utterance shall set, turn your faces towards the Spot that We have ordained for you. He, verily, is Almighty and Omniscient.
7. Everything that is hath come to be through His irresistible decree. Whenever My laws appear like the sun in the heaven of Mine utterance, they must be faithfully obeyed by all, though My decree be such as to cause the heaven of every religion to be cleft asunder. He doeth what He pleaseth. He chooseth, and none may question His choice. Whatsoever He, the Well-Beloved, ordaineth, the same is, verily, beloved. To this He Who is the Lord of all creation beareth Me witness. Whoso hath inhaled the sweet fragrance of the All-Merciful, and recognized the Source of this utterance, will welcome with his own eyes the shafts of the enemy, that he may establish the truth of the laws of God amongst men. Well is it with him that hath turned thereunto, and apprehended the meaning of His decisive decree.
8. We have set forth the details of obligatory prayer in another Tablet. Blessed is he who observeth that whereunto he hath been bidden by Him Who ruleth over all mankind. In the Prayer for the Dead six specific passages have been sent down by God, the Revealer of Verses. Let one who is able to read recite that which hath been revealed to precede these passages; and as for him who is unable, God hath relieved him of this requirement. He, of a truth, is the Mighty, the Pardoner.
9. Hair doth not invalidate your prayer, nor aught from which the spirit hath departed, such as bones and the like. Ye are free to wear the fur of the sable as ye would that of the beaver, the squirrel, and other animals; the prohibition of its use hath stemmed, not from the Qur’án, but from the misconceptions of the divines. He, verily, is the All-Glorious, the All-Knowing.
10. We have commanded you to pray and fast from the beginning of maturity; this is ordained by God, your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers. He hath exempted from this those who are weak from illness or age, as a bounty from His Presence, and He is the Forgiving, the Generous. God hath granted you leave to prostrate yourselves on any surface that is clean, for We have removed in this regard the limitation that had been laid down in the Book; God, indeed, hath knowledge of that whereof ye know naught. Let him that findeth no water for ablution repeat five times the words “In the Name of God, the Most Pure, the Most Pure,” and then proceed to his devotions. Such is the command of the Lord of all worlds. In regions where the days and nights grow long, let times of prayer be gauged by clocks and other instruments that mark the passage of the hours. He, verily, is the Expounder, the Wise.
11. We have absolved you from the requirement of performing the Prayer of the Signs. On the appearance of fearful natural events call ye to mind the might and majesty of your Lord, He Who heareth and seeth all, and say “Dominion is God’s, the Lord of the seen and the unseen, the Lord of creation.”
12. It hath been ordained that obligatory prayer is to be performed by each of you individually. Save in the Prayer for the Dead, the practice of congregational prayer hath been annulled. He, of a truth, is the Ordainer, the All-Wise.
13. God hath exempted women who are in their courses from obligatory prayer and fasting. Let them, instead, after performance of their ablutions, give praise unto God, repeating ninety-five times between the noon of one day and the next “Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendor and Beauty.” Thus hath it been decreed in the Book, if ye be of them that comprehend.
14. When traveling, if ye should stop and rest in some safe spot, perform ye—men and women alike—a single prostration in place of each unsaid Obligatory Prayer, and while prostrating say “Glorified be God, the Lord of Might and Majesty, of Grace and Bounty.” Whoso is unable to do this, let him say only “Glorified be God”; this shall assuredly suffice him. He is, of a truth, the all-sufficing, the ever-abiding, the forgiving, compassionate God. Upon completing your prostrations, seat yourselves cross-legged—men and women alike—and eighteen times repeat “Glorified be God, the Lord of the kingdoms of earth and heaven.” Thus doth the Lord make plain the ways of truth and guidance, ways that lead to one way, which is this Straight Path. Render thanks unto God for this most gracious favor; offer praise unto Him for this bounty that hath encompassed the heavens and the earth; extol Him for this mercy that hath pervaded all creation.

Well, now that we have that done, you can see this theme very clearly. Of course, as you noticed, it overlaps with fasting, which is the next theme He addresses, in paragraph 16. But more on that later.

For now, let's look at paragraph 6. He's essentially telling  us what it is we need to say, even though He doesn't actually give us the words here. He also tells us when to say them, as well as where to face.

But why doesn't He give us the actual prayer here? Why was it revealed in a separate place, which, incidentally, was stolen by Mirza Muhammad-Ali, the arch Covenant-breaker, after Baha'u'llah's passing?

There may be a very good reason for it. Actually, since I can come up with one good reason, He probably has many thousands.

I would venture to guess that Baha'u'llah is merciful. I mean, that's not really a guess, is it? He is the All-Merciful. We know that. And here, it seems to me that He is allowing us to come to terms with what He is telling us.

A few years earlier, one of the Babis was leading a prayer and had added some words to the traditional prayer, as commanded by the Bab. The people freaked out. I mean, they literally went all violent and everything. You see, we love our prayers, and whenever anyone messes around with them, well, watch out. Personally, I think this is a visceral reaction, a reflex, even, and Baha'u'llah knows it. He knows this about us, and expects it. Of course, this is just my own personal opinion, but it makes sense to me. Anyways, here He is warning us that He is going to change the words. We don't have them yet, but we have the warning that change is coming.

And this leads us to paragraph 7. Don't forget, He seems to be saying, He doeth what He willeth. This change is a good thing, and when we understand it, we'll defend it to the death. Oh, our death, not someone else's.

Just like that last sentence in paragraph 5, when we are told to meditate, here it seems that we are given a full paragraph to reflect on this idea.

Anyways, this led my wife and I to an interesting train of thought, which I'll share here, as this is the point in our conversation that we had it.

The Obligatory Prayers from Baha'u'llah are quite different than any obligatory prayers we have seen in other faiths. All three of them seem to say the same thing, namely reminding us of our position in creation. So why is it that these are obligated of us? Why not any of the other prayers?

Quite simply, because we think they are true, as in the sense of absolute Truth, capitalized and all. Even if we don't believe them, even if we are an atheist or are just  saying them as a test, they are still true. This is the difference between truthfulness and honesty. The truth is the truth, no matter what we believe. Honesty is merely what we believe, whether or not it is true. And truthfulness, we are told, "is the foundation of all human virtues". Perhaps that is why I have suggested to my friends that they try saying these Obligatory Prayers every day, whether or not they agree with them. Many of them have,  and nearly all come back and said that yes, it did make a difference in their lives.

Oh, and I'm sure you noticed that it is in paragraph 8 that we are told where to find the words we are to say.

By the way, there is an interesting caveat in that paragraph regarding the Prayer for the Dead. He specifies that there are six verses that are repeated, and says that whoever can read should read the passages that precede them. If we can't read, He offers us, then presumably we can just recite the six verses the requisite number of times. I find this interesting because it is such a blessing to us, a true mercy in our time of grief. Prior to this, the prayers for the dead were to be read by ordained priests, as far as I am aware. But here, in the Baha'i Faith we don't have ordained clergy. So who is to bless the dead? Presumably we are. Ok, I can hear some people saying, but what if I can't read? Surely we can remember the six verses, six simple lines. And of course, we can probably count to 19, even if we're missing a finger. This, for many, I am sure, is a great blessing. They can now lay their own departed loved ones to rest, even if they are unable to read.

By the way, it is also worth noting that He still hasn't given us the words we are to say. It is as if He is doing all He can to assist us in curtailing that reaction I mentioned earlier. Truly, He is merciful.

On to paragraph 9. As I just mentioned, we don't have to be ordained ministers to say these prayers. We are all able to say them. And here, in this paragraph, He goes further. Many of those things that were thought might nullify our prayers in previous faiths? Nope. It's all poppycock. Such things as hair, fur, bones, and so on, do not invalidate our progress.

While we may think that this is merely correcting a minor misconception from Islam, or Judaism, I think it goes quite a bit further than that. This validates many Indigenous traditions around the world. All of a sudden those sacred objects that are so valued by people all over the globe are now justified. If something helps us remember our Creator, then it is good. If we find value in using a bird's wing to blow the smoke from the burning sage across our brow, this is fine. We are allowed to do it. No longer can Indigenous peoples be told not to use their own traditional items. Again, what a blessing and mercy.

By the way, as we read this paragraph, we were kind of curious about two of the animals mentioned. I mean, we had no problem with the sable, but my wife was wondering if there were beavers in Europe. After all, we live in Canada, and are well aware that there are many animals here that are not in Europe. Was the beaver one of them? Nope. There were plenty of beavers all over Europe and Asia. They almost went extinct around 1900, but, through various efforts, were saved.

Now, this connection to Canada, the beaver being one of our national icons, led me to think of another famous Canadian icon: the moose. And what comes next? The squirrel.

Moose and squirrel.

Every time I read this passage I think of Boris Badanov now: "Moose and sqvirrel? Excellent. Now ve can use their fur, Natasha."

Anyways, this brings us to paragraph 10, in which He tells us some of the boundaries for this Obligatory Prayer, as well as fasting. He tells us our  obligation to use it begins upon reaching maturity, but exempts us due to weakness from illness or age. He reminds us to prostrate ourselves on a clean surface, because cleanliness is a good thing, right? And He also gives provisions for those living in arid climes, or near the polar regions, demonstrating His global vision. Again, such mercy.

In paragraph 11 He removes the mandatory prayer for natural phenomenon. We no longer need to say this prayer when we encounter "fearful natural events". Why? Perhaps because He is helping us move past any superstition surrounding these events. While we may still be "frightened" during an earthquake, we understand they don't come from gay marriages, or anything else that we, as a society, may have done. We have an awareness of plate tectonics, and know why they really occur. By understanding their true nature, we can take more effective action against, say, the development of stronger  hurricanes due to climate change.

Another point here is that this remembrance of God during these times is a reminder that we are only here a short time. God is the one in charge.

On to paragraph 12. Remember what I said earlier about no priests? Well that applies here, too. Congregational prayer, contrary to some people's belief, does not refer to praying in a group setting. It refers to someone saying the prayers for you. In many previous religions it was only the ordained clergy who were able to say effective prayers. If you wanted your prayers to go to God, they were the ones who had the direct line connection. Here Baha'u'llah seems to be saying, "Do it yourself." You can't delegate someone else to pray on your behalf. It just won't work.

Paragraph 13 is also interesting. This one is specifically, and only, for women. And I really loved what my wife shared about it. First, it's not an exemption in the way that we normally think of it. In fact, it takes her longer to to the 95 repetitions than it does to say her normal Obligatory Prayers.

But what is it that she is to say? "Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendour and Beauty". During the time of the month when she "feels like crap" and "feels especially ugly", she is to focus on splendour and beauty. And not only is she to focus on it, she is given a mantra to use during that time. Again, it takes time. During this difficult time of the month for her, she is to make sure that she takes aside 20 - 30 minutes every day and say a mantra focused on beauty.

How often do women, especially mothers, take that kind of time to look after their spiritual needs? How often are they allowed? Here it is guaranteed. This is really powerful, and especially important.

Finally, paragraph 14, which is all about traveling. I find it interesting how He shows us a form of equality here, with the repeated phrase, "men and women alike". This is not just for the men, but for everyone. And look at what it is we are to do. If we miss an Obligatory Prayer, we are to prostrate ourselves in a safe place and recite one verse for each missed prayer, or if we can't prostrate ourselves, recite another verse. Ok. Cool. Then, once we've done that, we are to sit cross-legged and repeat another verse 18 times.

Wait. Cross-legged? Don't some people consider that inappropriate for a woman? Well, evidently it's ok. Presumably everyone will be wearing appropriate clothing for travel, and so this should be acceptable.

To me, this is another subtle reminder to not try and stifle women.

But what, my wife asked me, if she is in her courses? Then you look at the previous paragraph. Even while traveling, it is probably not all that difficult to find a little bit of time to say that mantra when you are resting at the end of the day. So this should be ok.

In the end, this whole section on Obligatory Prayer seems to me to be just blessing upon blessing, and mercy upon mercy.

But one last question: Why is this the very first thing He talks about? Simple, I think. It's all about our connection to God. Everything else comes from that. Recognize and obey. Understand the true nature of these laws, and their reasons. And then work on that connection with your Creator.


Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Wine of Astonishment: Kitab-i-Aqdas paragraphs 3 - 5

O ye peoples of the world! Know assuredly that My commandments are the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures. Thus hath it been sent down from the heaven of the Will of your Lord, the Lord of Revelation. Were any man to taste the sweetness of the words which the lips of the All-Merciful have willed to utter, he would, though the treasures of the earth be in his possession, renounce them one and all, that he might vindicate the truth of even one of His commandments, shining above the Dayspring of His bountiful care and loving-kindness.
This, dear Reader, is the third of 5 paragraphs that, in my own way of thinking, provides the introduction to the Kitab-i-Aqdas. The other 2 are down below. Now this may not be how others see these paragraphs, as an introduction, and that's fine. For me, though, they set the stage for how we are to approach this monumental work. In the first paragraph we are told that we need to recognize the Manifestation of God, and that this recognition will, naturally, lead to obedience to Their laws. In the second paragraph we are told that if we look at these laws we will readily recognize them as the best means for order and security in the world.

Here we see the natural result of this, namely that we will understand that these laws demonstrate God's "loving providence" and "mercy".

This, by the way, is really a radical new way of looking at laws. Most people see them as a restriction, but here He is telling us that we can look at them in a totally different way.

Every law, at least in the sense of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, has a purpose, a logic, a reason. We may not understand the reason for some of them, but if we do for only a single one then we will give up everything to show it. And each of these laws, when we understand the reason and rationale behind it, will lead us to God.

Paragraph 4 and 5 give us further insight into the nature of these laws, and the most effective way to view them.
Say: From My laws the sweet-smelling savor of My garment can be smelled, and by their aid the standards of Victory will be planted upon the highest peaks. The Tongue of My power hath, from the heaven of My omnipotent glory, addressed to My creation these words: “Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.” Happy is the lover that hath inhaled the divine fragrance of his Best-Beloved from these words, laden with the perfume of a grace which no tongue can describe. By My life! He who hath drunk the choice wine of fairness from the hands of My bountiful favor will circle around My commandments that shine above the Dayspring of My creation.
Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power. To this beareth witness that which the Pen of Revelation hath revealed. Meditate upon this, O men of insight!

Here we can see that we are mindful of these various laws not because we are fearful of any sort of punishment, but because we see astonishing wisdom behind them. We see their beauty. We understand a little bit of their effect upon the world and truly yearn for that effect to take hold.

As we read these paragraphs we cannot help but be struck by their poetic beauty, and their imagery. We notice that these laws are the lamps that light the way. They are the keys that unlock the mysteries of the universe. And we see the continual references to our various senses.

Again, one cannot help but be struck by the overt references to wine-tasting, from the smelling of the cork to the careful tasting of the wine, before becoming heady with its effect. In fact, there is also the reference to Muhammad here, and the clarification of His station as the Seal of the Prophets. We are reminded in that fifth paragraph that the purpose of the seal on the wine is to allow it to age. And then, for the wine to fulfill its purpose, namely to be enjoyed, we must open that seal. But this is no mere alcoholic beverage that will leave us feeling giddy for a moment and hungover the next morning. No, this is the "choice wine of fairness". Similarly, this is not merely a simple code of laws, with a few commandments and a list of punishments for their violation. This book is far, far more.

In these opening paragraphs it seems to me that we are being guided not to merely learn to recite a few of its passages, but rather to rise to the station of understanding. As we do so, as we explore the mysteries within this text, as we strive to understand the wisdom behind each of these injunctions, unravel the meanings behind each of these allusions and allegories, we will find ourselves overwhelmed. We will come away feeling as if we are drunk as we find ourselves carried to heights far beyond what we ever dreamed. We will discover that we will not be content with merely knowing these laws in our head, but will yearn to feel them in our heart.

We will discover, as we walk this path, as we continue on this journey, that the more we love Baha'u'llah, the more we will yearn to follow His laws. And the more that we follow His laws, the more our love for Him will grow. We truly will "circle around (His) commandments".

And if we want, we can see a scientific analogy at work here. It is like a simple generator spinning between two magnets. The more it spins, the more energy is created. As we spin between the love and the obedience, we will feel our own powers increase, much as the early dawn-breakers did.

There are so many layers at work here, from the wine to the lover to the Covenant, the garment, the tongue, and on and on, that I cannot help but get tangled as I try to describe them. This is one of the joys of sacred Text, and but one of the meanings of its impenetrable depths.

Finally, one last little thing: "Meditate upon this..." As a friend and I have been studying the Kitab-i-Iqan over the past 18 years, we have noticed that every single time Baha'u'llah uses the words "meditate", "ponder", "reflect", or any other synonyms of those, He is very serious. They are a clue to us that He has just given us something new, an idea or concept contrary to what we are generally taught, and that further progress is dependent upon our understanding this new idea.

When my wife and I got to this point, we still had about 30 minutes left before we had to pick up our son. Rather than continuing on and reading the next paragraph, we decided to pause here and meditate upon what we had learned. We decided to use the intervening week to allow these new ideas to settle in our hearts before taking another step.

So, dear Reader, we may be way off base in some of what we have found, but it all feels so right. This isn't merely a book of laws, because we are not expected to treat it as such. We are now at that point of maturity where we are expected to be able to go beyond mere obedience and achieve actual understanding. And that, we are certain, will lead us all in directions we have never dreamed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Rising Seas: Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 2

They whom God hath endued with insight will readily recognize that the precepts laid down by God constitute the highest means for the maintenance of order in the world and the security of its peoples. He that turneth away from them is accounted among the abject and foolish. We, verily, have commanded you to refuse the dictates of your evil passions and corrupt desires, and not to transgress the bounds which the Pen of the Most High hath fixed, for these are the breath of life unto all created things. The seas of Divine wisdom and Divine utterance have risen under the breath of the breeze of the All-Merciful. Hasten to drink your fill, O men of understanding! They that have violated the Covenant of God by breaking His commandments, and have turned back on their heels, these have erred grievously in the sight of God, the All-Possessing, the Most High.

As I'm sure you know, dear Reader, this is the second paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

In the first paragraph, we noticed that our first duty is recognition, and that from this recognition comes the genuine desire to be obedient. After all, it says that it "behooveth everyone who reacheth this most sublime station... to observe every ordinance" of Him. So, presumably, if you haven't recognized, then this doesn't apply to you.

Here, though, in paragraph 2, He moves us forward a bit. In that first paragraph we seem to obey just because we recognize, and that's ok. After all, if we truly understand that Baha'u'llah has been sent by Almighty God, and is the "one Whose presence ‘He Who conversed with God’ (Moses) hath longed to attain, the beauty of Whose countenance ‘God’s Well-beloved’ (Muḥammad) had yearned to behold, through the potency of Whose love the ‘Spirit of God’ (Jesus) ascended to heaven, for Whose sake the ‘Primal Point’ (the Báb) offered up His life", then of course we will obey what He says.

But now He goes further. We don't just obey blindly. We obey because we understand that all of His laws and ordinances are the best, if not only, way for us to maintain order in the world and see to the security of all peoples. Of course, when we look at these laws it just makes sense. Mind you, He hasn't told us what these laws are yet. For many of us, at this point in the book, we are still thinking about the laws of the past, and that's ok. "Don't kill"? I can see how that would lead to greater security. "Don't lie"? Makes sense to me.

These precepts, or general rules, that Baha'u'llah has brought will also lead us forward as a human race. We are seeing this so much more clearly today than we ever have in the past. With all that is going on in the world, the very idea of the "oneness of humanity", and its implications on security, is becoming ever more crystal clear.

And anyone who thinks otherwise, of course we would think them "abject and foolish".

But, again, Baha'u'llah does not stop there. He reminds us that this will not be easy.

"Refuse... evil passions and corrupt desires..." Even if we recognize, we're still tempted by these desires. We're hardwired for them, genetically. Nobody denies this. The more we learn about our development as a species, the more we recognize this. Our sexual desires, our aggressive behaviours: these used to be needed for our very survival. Way back when, it was these habits that allowed us to survive and thrive in a very harsh world.

But they are not all that we were hardwired for. We are also hardwired to gather in groups. As we look back throughout known history, we can see this very clearly. We gathered in family clans, for example, back in the Tanakh, or the Old Testament. We moved forward and gathered in cities, in the Gospel. We continued to move forward and developed the concept of the nation in the Qur'an. Today we are moving even further and beginning to understand the concept of a global community. The more we learn about ourselves, the more we see that our hardwiring is not the simplistic set of base behaviours that the psycho-sociologists would have had us believe a hundred years ago. We are far more complex than that. We now know that we have a choice as to which of our genetic behaviours we wish to follow. For years, even millennia, we have followed our base desires. Now we can more consciously choose to follow our desire for community, instead.

Another thing that stands out in this paragraph for me is the use of the analogy of the wind and the sea: "The seas of Divine wisdom and Divine utterance have risen under the breath of the breeze of the All-Merciful."

It's a very interesting analogy.

When, I have to wonder, do the seas rise? Well, they usually rise and fall under the influence of the moon, But that's not what He says here. Today, He tells us, they are rising due to the breeze.

Ok. When do the seas rise due to a wind? During a storm. And not just during any storm, but due to a particularly violent storm.

And yet Baha'u'llah has referred to this wind as a "breeze", and it's not just any breeze, but the "breeze of the All-Merciful". Strange.

Why would this be?

For an answer, I had to turn to Shoghi Effendi in the very beginning of the World Order of Baha'u'llah letters. You see, Baha'u'llah also references those who have "violated the Covenant of God", and this reminded me of the Covenant-breakers. So naturally my thoughts turned to the World Order letters, in which Shoghi Effendi is offering his comments to explain why the ones who were violating the Covenant at that tie were mistaken. He is answering their complaints. And despite the consternation that the National Assembly must have felt at that time, he says to them, and to us, "We should feel truly thankful for such futile attempts to undermine our beloved Faith..."

These tests and trials, which seem like such a storm to us are, in fact, a blessing. It is these very attacks, these storms, that are designed to "fortify our faith, to clarify our vision, and to deepen our understanding of the essentials of His Divine Revelation."

This also reminds me of what Baha'u'llah said in the Kitab-i-Iqan. He said, "the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God." Without those tests and trials, without those denials, we would not have this ability to firm up our faith, so to speak.

It really is quite fascinating to dive deeply into this work with my wife. We have read this book so many times, and these paragraphs in particular even more, but still, studying it with her has opened up so many new vistas. We are only beginning to appreciate the richness of this Most Holy Book.