Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Beautiful Words

Last night my son and I were talking about the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Book of Certitude. It was his 13th birthday and for some reason, we found ourselves talking about this marvelous book. There was something he asked about, I can't recall what it was, but I found myself talking about the wonder of the Guardian's translation.

Now, you have to understand, my son is bi-lingual. I am most definitely not, unless you count my ability to speak the native language of Jibr, Jibberish. He is fluent in both French and English, so he knows quite a bit about translation, even at the tender (read: awesome) age of 13. At least, he knows quite a bit more than I do about the difficulties involved in going between two languages.

Anyways, he asked me some question, and I found myself going to the bookshelf to get both the Kitab-i-Iqan that we know and love, and a copy of The Book of Ighan, an earlier translation of the same work. From there, we decided to compare the two translations.

What did we find? Well, here goes.

From The Book of Ighan:
The following chapter explains that verily the servants (of God) shall never attain to the shore of the Sea of Knowledge except by complete severance from all that is in the heavens and earth.
Sanctify yourselves O people of the earth, that perchance ye may attain to the station which God hath ordained for you and enter the tabernacle which God hath elevated in the Heaven of the Beyan.
From The Book of Certitude:
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. Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you and enter thus the tabernacle which, according to the dispensations of Providence, hath been raised in the firmament of the Bayan.
To start, he said that the while the first translation was good, as far as he knew, the second one was beautiful. I thought that was a good observation, and a good beginning.

The next thing we noticed was that the first translation seemed to be looking forward, explaining what we were going to see in the following pages. This, incidentally, was reinforced with the very next sentence, which began "The essence of this chapter is..." Again, it was looking forward to see where we were going.

Shoghi Effendi, however, translated that first paragraph as a passage unto itself. When you look at it in the book, it is in a different type-face, removed from the rest of the text like an introductory quote, or something. This difference is further demonstrated by the next sentence which starts "The essence of these words is this..." It's looking backwards. It draws our attention back to these opening words, further emphasizing their importance. And if you've ever read my blog on the Kitab-i-Iqan, you'll know how often throughout the text my friend and I refer back to this opening paragraph, seeing in it numerous clues as to how we should approach the rest of the text. This slight emphasis of the Guardian's has, for me at least, proven crucial to my reading of the whole text.

The next thing we noticed was the word "shore", or "shores". In the first translation it's singular, while it is plural in the second. This may not seem significant at first, but upon reflection the singular implies that there is only one correct perspective. It seems to say that there is a single shore that we are all trying to reach. The plural accommodates numerous perspectives. You and I, dear Reader, may both be on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and yet still be continents away from each other. We are still seeing the same body of water, just different parts of it. By translating this word as a plural, Shoghi Effendi is helping us see a greater breadth to this concept than we might have otherwise gotten.

And this leads us to the next difference. In the first translation, it is the Sea of Knowledge, while the second is the Ocean of True Understanding. A sea, as you know, is a lot smaller than an ocean, so once again the Guardian is expanding our vision. But it not just knowledge, this body of water, it is true understanding. This is important when you think about the difference between knowing something, like e=mc2, and truly understanding it. Understanding, especially true understanding, is far deeper than merely knowing.

This continues on to another difference, being severed from the world and being detached from it. When you are severed from something, there is no direct connection. There is a complete separation, a division. It implies that we are to have no connection whatsoever with the world around us. Shoghi Effendi, instead, chose to use the more unifying word "detached". In this context, it implies that there is a connection, but that you are objective about it. This distinction is crucial throughout Part 1, as we are regularly told to "consider the past" and reflect on what we already know and accept. We should, however, not be so attached to our perspective or interpretation that we close ourselves off to any other way of seeing. If there is any overarching theme in the first half of this book, I would say that this is it. Don't throw away all that you have learned in your life, both your knowledge and your experience, but instead use it while still keeping an open mind. God and history have led us to where we are today, and the lessons we can learn from the past are too numerous to count. And one of these great lessons is that we will always know more tomorrow than we do today, so never close yourself off to learning.

This leads us on to the next sentence, beginning with "sanctify". In the first case we are to sanctify ourselves, but Shoghi Effendi focuses us on sanctifying our souls. In the first case, it may be the body that we cleanse, or perhaps our mind, but in the second, it is particularly our souls with which we should be concerned. There is so much that can be said about this, but I am sure you already know it, dear Reader.

In the first translation, God has ordained for us a particular station. It is as if there is a command from on high that we must follow. It reads like a commandment. The second, in which God has destined for us this same station, it is something to which we are being led. The difference here, subtle as it is, is the same as being pushed from behind as opposed to drawn forward. In both cases we end up at the same point, but the second one is so much more in line with Baha'u'llah's teachings.

Finally, in both cases we are entering a tabernacle, the sacred tent containing the Holy of Holies. In the first case, though, it has been "elevated in the Heaven of the Beyan", while in the Guardian's translation it has "been raised in the firmament of the Bayan". What's the difference? Well, heaven, in most cases would be seen as a place. You can just picture this beautiful garden in which a big tent is raised. Nice as this is, it's not quite the best picture to convey what He is referring to. The Guardian chose to use the word "firmament", which is a bit different. It is the dome of the sky. It conveys a grandeur to the Bayan that heaven, on its own, does not. The former is a place that seems to be distant from here, while the latter covers and embraces all that we see. It is very intimately interconnected with this world, while at the same time being part of this otherworld, too.

In all cases, the Guardian continually broadened our vision with his choice of words, and reinforced an interconnectedness with everything around us, encouraging us, through his choice of terms, to be "intimately concerned" with what is going on in the world. Concerned, but still detached.

My son and I had no idea just how profoundly different Shoghi Effendi's translation would be, but upon reflection we both have a far deeper appreciation for his consummate skill as both a translator and an interpreter.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Even More on that Fourth Valley

As you may know, dear Reader, my wife and I have been studying The Four Valleys for a little while now. We use the time that our son, who just turned 13 today, is at his junior youth spiritual empowerment group to study. After all, it is a good way to put the time to use. We've noticed a number of other families using the time to go grocery shopping, or other such things, but we feel it is far more important to spend our time in a similar study to what he is doing. That's just us.

Anyways, The Four Valleys.

We're coming to the end of our little study of this slender volume, just finishing up a look at the fourth valley.

To recap, the book begins with a customary berating of the recipient, "You never write. You never phone. Your mother and I have been so worried." Or something like that. But Baha'u'llah doesn't leave it at the level of the trivial, of course not. He makes it very relevant. When I read it from the perspective of God writing humanity, it makes so much more sense. "Have I ever abandoned you? So why have you abandoned Me?" He says that He understands that the recipient is heading off to go teaching. And He ends this introduction with a very telling statement: "Those who progress in mystic wayfaring are of four kinds." As I've mentioned before, He is not referring to all people, just those that actually make progress in this journey.

From there, He describes these four types fairly briefly, describing the highest form of each type. The first makes progress by examining the self, the second through reason, and the third through love. And it is worth repeating: He doesn't describe the limitations inherent in each of these three paths, but describes the highest form of each one. And by doing so, we can recognize the way in which an individual learns, which path they will resonate with, which in turn means we can then be more effective as a teacher.

But what about the fourth type? This is the path that unites the other three. Now, this is not how He describes it. He talks about Messenger of God, the Manifestation. He describes that soul that wields "divine authority in the court of rapture with utter gladness", "they who issue their commands, and they send down gifts according to each mans deserving."

He says that this is "the realm of full awareness, of utter self-effacement", and that "love is no pathway to this region". In other words, as far as I can tell, He is saying that the limitations of the other three valleys become a barrier to this one. Full awareness? When you have full awareness, you have no need for reason, for all becomes obvious. Utter self-effacement? There is no place for the self here. And even love cannot lead you to this realm. So while it unites the previous three valleys in one way, it is also sanctified above each of them, when looking at it from the highest ideal.

The very beginning of this valley is also interesting, for He reminds us that "He doth what He willeth". Why is this so crucial? Well, and this is just my personal opinion, it reminds us of the importance of being detached from our own preconceptions. If we understand the prophecies of old, for example, to mean one thing, but they are fulfilled in another way, then our preconception becomes a barrier to recognition. Baha'u'llah spends almost the entirety of Part 1 of the Kitab-i-Iqan on this very theme. This idea is so important that it really cannot be overestimated. It reminds us that the position of the Manifestation is so profound that we cannot attach anything to it from our own perspective.

To get a better understanding of this, Marielle and I talked about our own love for each other. I could love her because of her physical beauty, but then when she gets old, she may lose some of that beauty, It's hard to believe, I know, but it is possible. And if that were the basis of my love, then I would no longer love her.

Or suppose I loved Jesus because He rose from the dead. If that were the case, then I would not love Muhammad, because this does not apply to Him.

No. I love Marielle because of the virtues she shows. The more she reflects these attributes of her Creator, the more I love her. And the same with Jesus. I love the Light He shines forth, which is why I also love Muhammad, as well as all the other Manifestations.

Recognizing the absolute authority of the Manifestations means being detached from any of the reasons I may think are the cause of my love. It doesn't mean not having these reasons, just not being attached to them to the point where they may be a barrier to any of the other Manifestations. But this seems impossible to me. I mean I can strive for that, but I sense in the very core of my being that I will always be attached to some aspect of the Messenger I follow. Perhaps this is why He refers to it as "a bottomless sea which none shall ever fathom".

It is also important to recognize that this view flies in the face of "authority". Those leaders of society, of religions, all have their views. They defend those views, which are completely enmeshed with their egos, literally to the death. This is, perhaps, why He says "were he to reveal but its faintest trace, they would assuredly nail him to the cross".

But if someone were to appear who really was seeking, with that true sense of detachment, then Baha'u'llah would without any hesitation share this. No fear would ever stop the true teacher.

In fact, if someone were to appear who was ready to listen with an open heart, then Baha'u'llah would even speak in Persian, if necessary, for the true lover can communicate their love in any language. Oh, and this little couplet here, see the Fourth Valley for details, confused Marielle for a moment. What is this about language? Well, look at Catholicism. They thought for centuries that you could only truly communicate spiritual ideals through Latin. In Islam, they thought the same with Arabic. But Baha'u'llah is tossing this aside. You can communicate in any language you want, even though some may say otherwise.

He is willing to be fully exposed to these attacks, if necessary, like an open oyster. "See, our hearts come open like shells, when He raineth grace like pearls". Just imagine how exposed an oyster is when its shell is fully open.

So ready is He to accept persecution for God's sake that He would even reward His persecutors, if it were allowed. (As you can see, I'm basically following the verses in the book next to me.)

Oh, this is such a rich Valley. There is so much in here, if we take the time to really explore it. With such beautiful poetical phrases He gives us just a glimpse of the realm of the Manifestations, luring us forward in our own spiritual development, trying to get us to reach beyond our own limitations and strive to become something more.

And don't forget, it isn't that we are barred from this Valley. We aren't. We can still reach God through it, but just at a lower level than the Manifestations. Baha'u'llah, in each of these valleys, is giving us the highest ideal in each of them, and here, in this fourth valley, that highest ideal is the path of the Manifestation. They use awareness of the self, reason and love, but are not limited by any of them. And we, too, can do the same.

This fourth valley is but another path to walk on our way to try and reach an understanding of our Creator. It is the fourth path we can walk as we "progress in mystic wayfaring". And when we use all three faculties together, self-awareness, reason and love, our path will likely be far more effective. We will likely travel a greater distance in our search for the Beloved.

As He says at the end there, "Obey Me and I shall make thee like unto Myself". "Seek fellowship with none until thou hast found Me, and whenever thou shalt long for Me, thou shalt find Me close to thee."