Coming to Terms with Faith and God (P.V)

See part 1, here.
See part 2, here.
See part 3, here.
See part 4, here.

I wrote this next section at the same time as Part IV. It was a struggle trying to determine how to set up the sequence of the arguments as much of what I’ll say below could easily be weaved into the previous post. Alas, this is the approach I’ve decided to go with. Also, I feel it is necessary to emphasize again that I do not regard the arguments presented in this series as definitive or final. I do, however, believe that since Revelation makes ontological claims about the existence of a Necessary Being, stages of creative action, and Divine realities we must presuppose that these “Truths” have both a relative character (e.g. relative to our minds, relative to history, relative to place and culture), and an absolute character. Just as we presuppose that Nature has a relative and absolute character when we go about studying it. If we believed that Nature was only relative, then there would be no need to mind the differences between scientific theories – all opinions would be equally true. In the same spirit, I’m presupposing that if Revelation has any epistemic validity then it should be possible to discern an unifying structure underlying the Holy Word.

Likewise he is constantly urging them [the Bahá’ís] to really study the Bahá’í teachings more deeply. One may liken Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to a sphere; there are points poles apart, and in between the thoughts and doctrines that unite them. We believe in balance in all things; we believe in moderation in all things […]

Shoghi Effendi, 5 July 1949 letter to an individual believer.

If the Word reveals the Truth of some Divine reality, then our interpretations of the Word can’t be equally true. Some should be more precise than others (though none would ever be perfect). Therefore, the reason I have committed to the arguments presented thus far is not only because regard them as the most compelling, but also because I find them to be well-supported by Revelation.

Now let us begin Part V:

In the context of revelation, it seems we are being asked to “recognize” the Godhead, i.e., the Manifestation, not God Itself.

Inasmuch as the recognition of the Eternal and Unseen Essence hath been impossible […], He, therefore, hath enjoined all, from the beginning that hath no beginning to the end that hath no end, to recognize the Sun of Truth, Who is the Mirror of His Essence and the Primal Will, Who is the Throne of His Manifestation. He hath accepted the recognition of that Sun of Truth as the recognition of His own Reality […]

The Bab, Panj Sha’n as cited in Saiedi, Gate of the Heart, p. 184-185.

Furthermore, this “recognition” seems to be the root principle, the primary verity from which is born the spirit of faith:

Religious principles have various degrees and stations. The root of all principles and the cornerstone of all foundations hath ever been, and shall remain, the recognition of God. And these days are indeed the vernal season of the recognition of the All-Merciful. Whatsoever proceedeth in this day from the Repository of His Cause and the Manifestation of His Self is, in truth, the fundamental principle unto which all must bear allegiance.

Baha’u’llah, Tabernacle of Unity.

In the above passage, Baha’u’llah establishes the the recognition of God as the “root of all principles and the cornerstone of all foundations.” In the same text He goes on to provide an example, “attending the mosque is secondary with respect to the recognition of God, for the former is dependent upon and conditioned by the latter.”

Indeed, the relationship between our primary duty to recognize and our secondary duty to observe laws is made explicit in the opening lines of the Kitab-i-Aqdas:

The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation… It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.

The meaning that is typically gathered from this passage is that recognition and obedience are inseparable; however, there is a complimentary meaning that seems to be more precise: the duty to “observe every ordinance” of the Manifestation is conditional upon reaching the “most sublime station,” which is the “recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation.” That is, the first duty precedes the second AND the two are inseparable. Once we accept the testimony of the Manifestation and recognize the truth of His being, we are bound by an inseparable duty to observe every ordinance revealed by the Manifestation:

The most important thing is to establish the validity of God’s universal Manifestation; once His claim proveth true, then whatsoever He may choose to say is right and correct.

‘Abdu’l-Baha

In a sense, the secondary verities (the laws and ordinances) can be regarded as expressions of this primary verity (i.e., recognition of the Manifestation). Although a simplistic comparison, this is akin to a child doing housework as an expression of love for his/her parents. Any parent will understand that although housework is expected, when love is absent, that housework is little more than an unwelcome chore.

The following passage from the Kitab-i-Aqdas beautifully illustrates how one should approach the secondary verities. In it, we see that a lover who “hath inhaled the divine fragrance” and who “hath drunk the choice wine of fairness from the hands of My bountiful favor” will come to “circle around My commandments,” not for fear of punishment or wrath, but “for the love of My beauty:

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!

Though essential, recognition also seems to be paradoxical. Although the Writings state that true recognition can only be achieved through the “gaze of the heart, and not that of intellect” (The Bab, Tablet to Mirza Sa’id as cited in Saiedi, Gate of the Heart, p. 65), and that only through the Revelation can such recognition be achieved, i.e., “verily there is no path to recognition save through recognition of these counsels,” this approach is predicated upon the condition of the seekers heart:

“First, thou must, before all else, purify thy heart from any rule that thou hast acquired from thy divines and learned ones […].”

The Bab, Tafsir-i-Hadith-i-Man ‘Arafa Nafsah faqad ‘Arafa Rabba
as cited in Saiedi, Gate of the Heart, p. 62-63

The paradox lies in the near futility of attempting to purify the heart from the rule of acquired knowledge, and that the intensity of the Revelation effectively conceals the Manifestation from being recognized, “Yea, the intensity of His revelation hath covered Him, and the fullness of His shining forth hath hidden Him” [source]. Yet, Baha’u’llah emphatically states that:

[…] the highest and most excelling grace bestowed upon men is the grace of “attaining unto the Presence of God” and of His recognition, which has been promised unto all people. […] No theme hath been more emphatically asserted in the holy scriptures [than “attainment unto the Divine Presence”].

The apparent resolution to this paradox is that recognition is to be regarded as a process rather than an end state. The soul is, in a sense, on a continuum towards recognition and the journey is beset with ebbs and flows. What is being asked of us by the Manifestation is that we set out on the journey, to yearn for and toil after God, and then to obey the ordinances set out in revelation pertaining to the purification of the heart:

[…] they that tread the path of faith, they that thirst for the wine of certitude, must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly—their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth. They should put their trust in God, and, holding fast unto Him, follow in His way. Then will they be made worthy of the effulgent glories of the sun of divine knowledge and understanding, and become the recipients of a grace that is infinite and unseen […]

Baha’u’llah, Kitab-i-Iqan.

This purification, when performed by one yearning after Him, calibrates or “dilates” the heart in such a way that it becomes readied and unhindered, so that the spirit of faith can descend and establish itself. Again, what is expected seems not to be a pure-heart achieved, but a pure-heart desired:

Say: by reason of your remembering Him Whom God shall make manifest and by extolling His name, God will cause your hearts to be dilated with joy, and do ye not wish your hearts to be in such a blissful state? Indeed the hearts of them that truly believe in Him Whom God shall make manifest are vaster than the expanse of heaven and earth and whatever is between them. God hath left no hindrance in their hearts, were it but the size of a mustard seed. He will cheer their hearts, their spirits, their souls and their bodies and their days of prosperity or adversity, through the exaltation of the name of Him Who is the supreme Testimony of God and the promotion of the Word of Him Who is the Dayspring of the glory of their Creator.

Verily, these are souls who take delight in the remembrance of God, Who dilates their hearts through the effulgence of the light of knowledge and wisdom. They seek naught but God and are oft engaged in giving praise unto Him. They desire naught except whatever He desireth and stand ready to do His bidding. Their hearts are mirrors reflecting whatsoever He Whom God shall make manifest willeth.

The Bab, Source

To be continued…

5 thoughts on “Coming to Terms with Faith and God (P.V)

  1. I found the following two statements particularly stimulating. Firstly that “the intensity of the Revelation effectively conceals the Manifestation from being recognized, “Yea, the intensity of His revelation hath covered Him, and the fullness of His shining forth hath hidden Him” [source].” I don’t really understand that. I’ll give it some thought. The opposite is more true for me. The shrill, trumpet sound of the Prophet shatters our complacency, and blazes through the weeds and the dense forest a path beautiful to walk. The call is so deep and wide, the claim so huge, the Writings so penetrating, the Example so inspiring that the Messenger and His Message vibrate with awe inspiring intensity – making the choice of following relatively easy. Is is that, or return to a half sleep in the half light.

    I also found this a very helpful insight. “Again, what is expected seems not to be a pure-heart achieved, but a pure-heart desired”. Focusing on achievement creates pressure, may summon the ego and also ultimately disappoints, since our hopes and perhaps expectations often far exceed our capacity. Whereas, we do have control, at least to some extent, is over the process of purifying our heart. The paradox is that the more we desire a pure heart, the more we can achieve. I really like this distinction, thank you. It makes one’s spiritual practise easier.

    Keep t/Thinking and keep w/Writing dear chap!

    1. Without getting into too much detail, your second paragraph somewhat answers the first paragraph. This might have gotten lost in the nebula of writing, but the concealment of the Manifestation seems to occur as a test of sorts. First, the Manifestation is concealed to those who seek Him through human standards of knowledge. Second, the “brightness” of the Revelation can conceal it by “blinding” the eyes. Again, this seems to be metaphorical, indicating that the Manifestation can’t be known or approached by human standards of knowledge. The first section of the Iqan is rife with statements to this effect. The self-concealment of the Manifestation is one of the ways in which the “pure hearted” are distinguished from the “unfaithful.” As I mentioned earlier, if the glory of the Manifestation were apparent to everyone in a way that was unquestionable and that could be even verified through human standards, then the purity of ones faith would never be tested. I’ve named this the “touchstone effect” and it’s one of the most explicit concepts in Revelation (all revelation).

      your second paragraph actually helps to clarify the first. The reason you might not see the Manifestation as “concealed” is because you approach Him with the Heart. The Heart here is not to be confused with an emotional orientation. The writings of both the Bab and Baha’u’llah make it rather obvious that the “heart” is a higher order of spiritual consciousness that is gained through certain prescribed acts such as prayer, meditation, worship, submission to the Will, fasting, etc. These acts “dilate” the heart, if you will, allowing the Divine Will to “descend” into it (again, all metaphorical language to compensate the limits of our understanding). This is the essence of the “spirit of faith,” dying unto ourselves and being born through Him.

      Recognition seems to be, then, a sort of alignment of the spiritual consciousness of Man with the Divine Will, officiated by the Manifestation.

      and to be very honest, i don’t quite understand any of it…intellectually, i see the beauty in the whole narrative, and it’s quite consistent, coherent, and powerful in the Writings. In the sense that, once you see this underlying order and logic to the metaphysics revealed by the Manifestation, you start to see it everywhere. and it becomes clear why the Manifestation takes certain positions on things, rather than appealing to our expected norms and such.

      but the whole experience of Faith is one that is rather foreign to me…the way I see it, this is all just as fascinating as Tolkien’s fictional universe, or Harry Potter. In the same way that the internal consistency and potency of those fictional texts does not make them True, is the way i currently regard the Revelation.

      but therein lies the problem that’s I must eventually get to in this series…the nature of Revelation is that it is inherently a touchstone, separating the true hearts from the unfaithful. I can never “know” by human standards whether the Revelation is true or not. It is on me to “have Faith” and to take that leap, as Kierkegaard would put it. for some, this comes quite naturally. The Writings often allude to various spiritual stations. It seems to be my lot to struggle through this or something…

      1. In one sense we never know the truth, certainly not the absolute truth, and if we do experience the feeling of certitude, or a profound state of repose in oneness, it’s not for long and we may soon forget how we got there and wonder if we in fact did get anywhere, or where was it we got to! Yet, beneath the surface of our consciousness, a clarity does grow, one to which we have become accustomed and no longer feel surprised by.

        What I love about Revelation are the tools, concepts and maps it gives — ones which we might not otherwise find, or find the hard way. Faith, prayer, reflection, soul, purity, sacrifice, emptying, eternal life, oneness etc. are all realities, though we have to struggle to understand them and how they work and how and fit together. We might get glimpses of these concepts on our own, but they are likely to be fragmentary and for lack of deeper insight troubling or perhaps trifling.

        To me, Revelation is someone extraordinarily brilliant revealing in just enough detail an order and a path which I would not have seen and which I would not have been able to follow, yet which “leads men aright”. The true test is in the impact of using these tools, and I think that’s empirically testable. In that sense, rather than experiencing Revelation as a fictional framework, I experience it as science, albeit something like a spiritual primitive playing with tools which he doesn’t quite know how to use so well. [No, you can’t use Spiritual Primitives as the name of your new rock and roll band. I am claiming it!]. Even the contemplation of mystery, or the attempt to worship when it seems fruitless, is having a tangible, describable impact on one. Revelation can perhaps be, at some times, likened to a pebble which gets into the clam’s shell and burnishes it to a pearl. Something which gets under the carapace of ego and rubs it down.

        In the end, a community focused on love, inclusion, consultation, kindness and service is a good place to be, and probably unreproducible by other means, even as the most worldly anti-religious philosophers have acknowledged. Not that we, to any significant extent, reflect the vision of what we aspire towards, but even a small percent increase in wellbeing is tangible and the heart bows down in gratitude to the source of its instruction.

        Nice talking to you like this, interactively. Don’t let this new type of communication be exhausting to you. It’s probably more fun to get together one day and talk in depth. Still, I do enjoy this.

        Thanks again for trying to tease apart the veils…
        m

  2. I just did my 95 recitations, and it struck me that this decree somehow fits into our discussion, but maybe this is a case of my intuition running riot. Both the action involved and the expected results of repeating a few words 95x a day can certainly appear fairy-tale like. Why do we do it? How do we do it? What is the result? Yet, in my experience certainly, it has a profound impact, fulfilling Baha’u’llah’s promise to bring “reassurance and serenity”. Interesting to me, perhaps the recitation is effective precisely because so little is given in answering the three questions above. The practitioner is left free to figure out his relationship to the practise, other than adhering to the call to turn the “heart to God”, giving it the flexibility I assume is needed to benefit the endless variety of human natures. In doing it regularly, one builds in a break, a connection with the repose of the body and breath, a devotional practise and the transcendence of words and letters. And, of course, the more one practises and becomes familiar with this vehicle, the better it gets.

    In other words, it is testable and empirical, as is the following statement.

    “Fasting and obligatory prayer are as two wings to man’s life. Blessed be the one who soareth with their aid in the heaven of the love of God, the Lord of all worlds.”

    Nevertheless, the fact we may find certain concepts ludicrous or mind-boggling, or the exercises bothersome or difficult for whatever reason, remain relevant points for discussion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s