A Synthesis of my Spiritual Journey, Thus Far

It’s been eight years since my self-imposed exile from the Baha’i community. Four years since my resignation from the Faith. My reasons were multifarious, the parting was painful, and the path to recovery has been turbulent. 

I needed to recover because a sickness had permeated my entire being: a severe case of self-importance, triggered by a dogmatic ideology and zealous approach to advancing Baha’i-inspired initiatives, and aggravated by a rapidly atrophying connection to the Manifestation.

I was no longer a Baha’i because it was apparent to me that I no longer recognized Baha’u’llah. In fact, I’m not too sure if I ever had. I came to the realization that the Manifestation was never really part of my spiritual consciousness. I adopted a disenchanted view of religion, if you will, where the Manifestation was reduced to the role of an accomplished author: a great thinker who penned the canon that inspired the pedagogy of our contemporary framework for action. A distant figure who hardly figured in the current scheme.

As the Manifestation receded from my field of vision, I could no longer justify my involvement in the Cause. As I saw it, if social economic development, community building, and social justice were our primary objectives, then there seemed to be plenty of opportunity for achieving these ends outside the Baha’i Faith. Moreover, I wouldn’t have to be weighed down by the vestiges of humanity’s anachronistic belief systems. I could advance civilization and fight for justice without the baggage of spiritual obligations, grand narratives, divine promises, and covenants. So I opted for a life of unbridled action.

Despite this realization, I couldn’t simply walk away. I wasn’t ready to refuse Baha’u’llah or the claims of the Manifestations on a whim! Something about those claims compelled me to consider them with due seriousness and to respond thoughtfully (something I was not able to do as a member of the community). If there is truth to these claims, I thought to myself, then the risk of rejecting them is far too great. I was willing to put some work into it. After all, the Writings state that some are meant to toil and struggle moreso than others along the spiritual path.

“[T]he uttermost limit of the realm of effort and striving,” Baha’u’llah proclaimed, is for some to suffer through “spiritual struggle and physical toil” and to “ascend from the lower reaches of ‘no God is there’ to the lofty boweres of ‘but God’”. In this way, He says, one can “flee from the shadow of negation to abide in the limitless realm of affirmation, and abandon the privation of a transient existence for the bountiful assemblage of reunion.”

For the first time in my life (as I was born into a Baha’i family with a spiritual lineage dating back to the Babis), I had slipped on the broken sandals of the determined seeker. I abandoned my Ruhi Books for the unadulterated verses of the Bab and Baha’u’llah. Clearly, I was not counted among those who, “without receiving the least intimation of ‘no God is there’, pass beyond the highest horizon of ‘but God’…” So I would toil, and until I could declare with certainty, “I believe”, those words would never again leave my lips. 

“For he who loves God without faith reflects on himself, while the person who loves God in faith reflects on God.”

Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling.

It has been eight years, and I have yet to re-join the ranks of the Beloved or to partake of that intoxicating cup of True Faith. However, I have gleaned some insights that I wish to share. Most of this I’ve already covered in previous posts, but here I wish to bring it all together with a few added elements. I recommend that you read through my series titled, “Coming to Terms with Faith and God,” which I’ve listed below, for further elaboration of some of the concepts I’ll be covering in the current piece.

See part 1, here.
See part 2, here.
See part 3, here.
See part 4, here.
See part 5, here. 
See part 6, here.

My central thesis has to do with the nature of our encounter with the Manifestation, and is captured in the story of Mullah Husayn and his initial meeting with the Bab. 

The details of this magical encounter can be found in Nabil’s Narrative, a.k.a., The Dawnbreakers. Here I wish to share some of the subtleties, which I only recently came to appreciate. 

Unlike Quddus who, upon seeing the Bab for the first time famously said to Mullah Husayn, “Why seek you to hide Him from me? I can recognise Him by His gait. I confidently testify that none besides Him, whether in the East or in the West, can claim to be the Truth. None other can manifest the power and majesty that radiate from His holy person…”, Mullah Husayn struggled at first to accept the truth of the Bab’s station.

I could very well be wrong, but I believe that the indicators bequeathed to Mullah Husayn by Siyyid Kazim to verify “the distinguishing features of the promised One” could have been found in a number of Siyyids in Shiraz at the time (except perhaps “innate knowledge” – though that would have been difficult to verify at this initial encounter). The signs were as follows:

  • Pure lineage.
  • Illustrious descent.
  • Seed of Fáṭimih.
  • More than 20 and less than 30.
  • Endowed with innate knowledge.
  • Medium height.
  • Abstains from smoking.
  • Free from bodily deficiency.

After Mullah Husayn had finished enumerating these criteria, the Bab declared: “Behold, all these signs are manifest in Me!” Mullah Husayn, seemingly unconvinced, then goes on to pontificate before the Manifestation (emphasis my own): 

He whose advent we await is a Man of unsurpassed holiness, and the Cause He is to reveal, a Cause of tremendous power. Many and diverse are the requirements which He who claims to be its visible embodiment must needs fulfil. How often has Siyyid Káẓim referred to the vastness of the knowledge of the promised One! How often did he say: ‘My own knowledge is but a drop compared with that with which He has been endowed. All my attainments are but a speck of dust in the face of the immensity of His knowledge. Nay, immeasurable is the difference!’

This declaration demonstrates that Mullah Husayn was not entirely satisfied with the fact that the Bab met Siyyid Kazim’s criteria. In effect, he was challenging the Bab to demonstrate, beyond a doubt, the truth of His claim. At this point, Mullah Husayn seemed to experience a sense of his own folly, “I found myself seized with fear and remorse,” and “I bitterly reproved myself, and resolved at that moment to alter my attitude and to soften my tone.” Despite this, he continued to hold the conviction that the Bab should “substantiate” His claim. 

Mullah Husayn then challenged the Bab to satisfy two further standards in order to, “ascertain the truth of whosoever might claim to be the promised Qá’im.” The first, to unravel the mysterious allusions made in a treatise composed by Mullah Husayn, “bearing upon the abstruse and hidden teachings propounded by Shaykh Aḥmad and Siyyid Káẓim.” An astounding challenge given that Mullah Husayn is effectively declaring his own treatise as a valid measure for verifying the claim of the Manifestation. The second, after the Bab sufficiently satisfied Mullah Husayn’s first hurdle, He would be required to “reveal, without the least hesitation or reflection, a commentary on the Súrih of Joseph, in a style and language entirely different from the prevailing standards of the time”.

Regard how Mullah Husayn — like any rational human might be expected to do — thought that it was appropriate to subject the Manifestation to an interrogation of sorts. As if the truth of the Manifestation’s claim was conditional upon His ability to satisfy Mullah Husayn’s battery of questions.

At this point, the Bab invites Mullah Husayn to again, “Observe attentively. Might not the Person intended by Siyyid Kazim be none other than I?” The Bab seems to be suggesting here that Mullah Husayn had everything he needed to recognize the truth. Yet, Mullah Husayn is dogged in his mission.

The Bab indulges the first of Mullah Husayn’s standards, performing well beyond expectations. However, before proceeding to stupefy His interrogator by revealing (unasked) the commentary on the Súrih of Joseph, the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’, He delivered this clear warning to Jinab-i Babu’l-Bab (as Mullah Husayn later came to be known):

Had you not been My guest … your position would indeed have been a grievous one. The all-encompassing grace of God has saved you. It is for God to test His servants, and not for His servants to judge Him in accordance with their deficient standards. Were I to fail to resolve your perplexities, could the Reality that shines within Me be regarded as powerless, or My knowledge be accused as faulty? Nay, by the righteousness of God! it behoves, in this day, the peoples and nations of both the East and the West to hasten to this threshold, and here seek to obtain the reviving grace of the Merciful. Whoso hesitates will indeed be in grievous loss. Do not the peoples of the earth testify that the fundamental purpose of their creation is the knowledge and adoration of God? It behoves them to arise, as earnestly and spontaneously as you have arisen, and to seek with determination and constancy their promised Beloved. 

The power dynamic had shifted (if we were to entertain for a moment that Mullah Husayn ever had power in this situation). The interrogator, Mullah Husayn, became subdued and “…enraptured by the magic of His voice and the sweeping force of His revelation.” The battery of tests were no longer of importance because the power of the Bab’s testimony was sufficient proof, in and of itself.

To my point. Through my journey thus far, I’ve learned that there are various sorts of claims bound by different standards of proof (e.g., journalistic, legal, scientific, mathematical, philosophical). Each of these types of claims have particular sorts of content (e.g., scientific claims have empirical content), which determine the appropriate “test” that will verify truth from falsehood with increasingly greater degrees of precision. 

Humans tend to prefer claims with empirical content as these can be verified through human experience (e.g., experimentation and observation to verify scientific claims). Perhaps we prefer these because we have a certain degree of control over these sorts of claims, which gives us confidence. Therefore, we are less likely to be blindsided or taken advantage of by charlatans and others who seek advantage by capitalizing on ignorance.

But what sort of claim is Revelation? Revelation includes no empirical content. That is, it cannot be verified through any measure of human experience — at least not in a way that makes its truth undeniable to all. Sure, there are some empirical standards that can be applied, e.g., the transformative power of the sacred word, the internal coherence of revelatory texts, the character and life of the Manifestation, the self-sacrifice and devotion of believers. However, all of these can be contested and successfully challenged by any committed skeptic.

Indeed, as I’ve argued in previous posts, though these standards and proofs are sufficient to inspire belief in some or to validate beliefs in others, in and of themselves they are inadequate to empirically prove the truth of the Manifestation.. 

Verily, I find no proof for His existence and His unity save His own self.

The Bab, Tablet to Mirza Sa’id.

Hence the folly of Mullah Husayn during his initial encounter with the Bab. In retrospect, this story seems to have been written as an allegory to convey a deeper truth. Namely, the testimony of the Manifestation is its own proof. The modern empiricist or skeptic might scoff at this, but upon further inspection you’ll realize that, logically, it can be no other way. As Baha’u’llah explains in the Kitab-i-Iqan:

Were the prophecies recorded in the Gospel to be literally fulfilled; were Jesus, Son of Mary, accompanied by angels, to descend from the visible heaven upon the clouds; who would dare to disbelieve, who would dare to reject the truth, and wax disdainful?

The Manifestation’s claim must be concealed from human standards of verification, otherwise there would be no condition for Faith. For there to be True Faith — the type where one feels resigned to a testimonial claim — there must be no means of verifying its veracity. For if you could verify the veracity of the Manifestation’s claim, you would no longer have faith – you would have reasons.

Sacred scriptures provide a metaphysical explanation for this apparent conundrum: Revelation is a touchstone of faithfulness, “[…] because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed….” (Jesus Christ, Book of John, The Bible). The essential function of the Holy Word, the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), is to “separate the wheat from the chaff”; to know the faithful from the infidels; to discern true belief from falsehood. 

‘Verily Our Word is abstruse, bewilderingly abstruse.’ In another instance, it is said: ‘Our Cause is sorely trying, highly perplexing; none can bear it except a favorite of heaven, or an inspired Prophet, or he whose faith God hath tested.’ […] when the divine Touchstone appeared, they have shown themselves to be naught but dross.

Baha’u’llah, the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

What good is it to know this? I’ve asked myself. One might think that being aware of this spiritual truth would itself inspire some measure of faith. On the contrary, it’s won me little more than ammunition for my next argument with the poor soul who dares to say that, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The claim of the Manifestation is indeed extraordinary, and His being is all the extraordinary evidence you’re ever going to get.

Besides that, all I really get out of this knowledge is a reason to wager, like Pascal. A gamble guised in the robe of faith.

Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées.

True Faith has not yet found resonance within me. I’m disillusioned, but yearning. How do I acquire the faith of Mullah Husayn through toil, since I’ve failed to recognize the self-evident truth of the Manifestation like Quddus?

Of course, I’m aware that Mullah Husayn was transformed by the grace of God. On the one hand, he had the benefit of a personal encounter with the Primal Point, the Bab. On the other hand, he was also intended to perform a key role in the Divine Narrative. Therefore, evaluating my experience against his is a ridiculous false comparison.

Still, there is an element of that encounter in Shiraz, which may inform my journey towards the recognition of the Manifestation. Recall that Mullah Husayn exclaimed how he was “enraptured by the magic of His voice and the sweeping force of His revelation.” In a sense, Mullah Husayn’s heart was subdued by the Will of God. The proverbial “heart” plays a central role in the language of spirituality. The path towards God is often described by mystics, prophets, and divine luminaries as the journey of the heart.

To Love is to reach God.
Never will a Lover’s chest
feel any sorrow.
Never will a Lover’s robe
be touched by mortals.
Never will a Lover’s body
be found buried in the earth.
To Love is to reach God.

Rumi, as translated by Shahram Shiva.

The same enduring message is conveyed in all the sacred texts, i.e., the journey towards God occurs through the gate of the heart. This wisdom is extended further through teachings that exhort us to “dilate” our hearts, to calibrate our inner reality in order that the Divine Will may descend into and occupy our entire being. I think this is what is meant when we are asked to “die in God.”

Rain down, then, upon us, O my God, that which beseemeth Thy grace and befitteth Thy bounty. Enable us, then, O my God, to live in remembrance of Thee and to die in love of Thee…

Baha’u’llah

It makes sense. Expanding the surface area of our proverbial transcendent heart allows us to reflect the Will of God with greater potency and radiance. 

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

The means by which we can achieve this “dilation of the heart” is revealed through the many prescriptions and ordinances found in sacred texts. Are we not repeatedly advised to pray, meditate, immerse ourselves in the Divine Verses, and to purify our hearts? Does not Baha’u’llah begin the Iqan with these words:

[T]hey 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.

And does not Shoghi Effendi reaffirm this truth in the following passage?

For the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling which unites Man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be brought about and maintained by means of meditation and prayer. And this is the reason why Bahá’u’lláh has so much stressed the importance of worship. It is not sufficient for a believer merely to accept and observe the teachings. He should, in addition, cultivate the sense of spirituality which he can acquire chiefly by means of prayer. The Bahá’í Faith, like all other Divine Religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character. Its chief goal is the development of the individual and society, through the acquisition of spiritual virtues and powers. It is the soul of man which has first to be fed. And this spiritual nourishment prayer can best provide.

Unfortunately, one of the prevalent tendencies with the contemporary Baha’i practice is the secularization of the above passage to give canonical legitimacy to a “twofold moral purpose.” What I mean by secularization here is that the acquisition of spiritual virtues and powers is sometimes treated independently of recognition of the Manifestation. However, Baha’u’llah makes it clear in the first paragraph of the Aqdas that the two cannot be separated:

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. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed.

In elucidating the meaning of these words, ‘Abdu’l-Baha states the following in Some Answered Questions (section 65):

[T]he foundation of success and salvation is the recognition of God, and that good deeds, which are the fruit of faith, derive from this recognition. When this recognition is not attained, man remains veiled from God and, as he is veiled, his good works fail to achieve their full and desired effect.”

The Writings also place additional restrictions on this act of recognition. Namely, that True Faith and True Knowledge are derived from recognizing the Manifestation of the age in which one lives.

True knowledge, therefore, is the knowledge of God, and this is none other than the recognition of His Manifestation in each Dispensation.

The Bab

To return to my thesis: It seems to me that the journey of the soul is propelled by a yearning to ready the heart for the descent of the Beloved. The ultimate aim isn’t outward knowledge (Ilm-i-zaaheri) — like the sort we hope to achieve through the scientific process, which is burdened by the ambiguity of endless doubt — rather, the aim of this journey is certitude (iqan) in our faith in the divine reality of the Manifestation of our age (i.e., recognition or Irfan, which is a mystical or Divine knowledge). 

And it seems to me that this recognition, or Irfan, is only the threshold of the journey. The path before the faithful is riddled with tests proportionate to the capacity of the believer. Life then becomes a mission to prove one’s steadfastness and constancy in faith as we hasten unto Him, “With faces beaming with joy.”

True Faith requires a resonant encounter between the heart and the Manifestation. It’s time for me to abandon this self-stultifying path of reasons.

7 Comments

  1. This looks meaty, and since I have huge respect for your search, I will be paying this the attention it deserves. You can be sure that whatever you write will find resonance with any reasonable person. By reasonable person, I probably mean someone who can resonate as a normal person does with the normal range of human emotion; the normal range being much vaster and freakier than what we often consciously realize…until it hits us.

  2. ‘The sickness of self-importance’ – now that’s a subject worthy of discussion! We are all so afflicted by it. The fact we are aware shows me how life is lived on a spectrum. We are strong and weak, blind and aware, yearning and rejecting. Are your expectations too high? Isn’t it said in the BF that self-love is kneaded into the very clay of man. “it is impossible for a human being to turn aside from his own selfish advantages and sacrifice his own good for the good of the community except through true religious faith. For self-love is kneaded into the very clay of man, and it is not possible that, without any hope of a substantial reward, he should neglect his own present material good. That individual, however, who puts his faith in God and believes in the words of God—because he is promised and certain of a plentiful reward in the next life, and because worldly benefits as compared to the abiding joy and glory of future planes of existence are nothing to him—will for the sake of God abandon his own peace and profit and will freely consecrate his heart and soul to the common good.”
    – ‘Abdu’l-Baha (‘The Secret of Divine Civilization’) The bar is not that high…

    “I came to the realization that the Manifestation was never really part of my spiritual consciousness.” I find that hard to believe…

    “if social economic development, community building, and social justice were our primary objectives, then there seemed to be plenty of opportunity for achieving these ends outside the Baha’i Faith.” Wouldn’t you agree that inner illumination, serenity, love and virtue and the like are our primary objectives which is reflected in changes in society.

    “Something about those claims compelled me to consider them with due seriousness and to respond thoughtfully (something I was not able to do as a member of the community).” I find this interesting and problematic.

    “abandoned my Ruhi Books for the unadulterated verses of the Bab and Baha’u’llah.” Don’t worry, you won’t be punished.

    “the nature of our encounter with the Manifestation” As your testimony here indicates, this is a rare and multi-faceted experience.

    The details of this magical encounter can be found in Nabil’s Narrative, a.k.a., The Dawnbreakers. Here I wish to share some of the subtleties, which I only recently came to appreciate.

    So the instructions given to Mullah Husayn re how to recognize the Báb were quite general. In any case, Quddus recognizes the Báb by His gait whereas Mullah Husayn struggled to recognize Him. Vahid also struggled to recognize Him. The latter two needed the Báb to substantiate His claim. Each of these three great souls had unique talents and roles. Just as you do…

    Are you consciously or subconsciously saying that your measuring the truth of the Manifestation is arousing a sense of folly and potential shame within you? Do you wish to be a Quddus, but find yourself to be a dogged Mullah Husayn, using his own treatise to measure? Can we agree that it is OK to question the Manifestation? Baha’u’llah specifically provides for the right in the Aqdas, as you know. What is important earnestness, determination and constancy in search. Our ability to comprehend is not a given. The Báb, although supernatural in His knowledge and powers, notes the possibility that He might fail to resolve MH’s perplexities. Yet, at the end of the day, we have the power to recognize. It may take a long time or little. It may be done in this world or the next.

    I am not sure what you mean by “Revelation includes no empirical content.” Baha’u’llah in the quote above says that His Revelation can be recognized. Not in its entirety we can safely assume, and not in the same way necessarily by everyone.

    The Manifestation Himself is not His only proof. The Ancient Beauty writes: “Say: The first and foremost testimony establishing His truth is His own Self. Next to this testimony is His Revelation. For whoso faileth to recognize either the one or the other He hath established the words He hath revealed as proof of His reality and truth. This is, verily, an evidence of His tender mercy unto men. He hath endowed every soul with the capacity to recognize the signs of God. How could He, otherwise, have fulfilled His testimony unto men, if ye be of them that ponder His Cause in their hearts. He will never deal unjustly with any one, neither will He task a soul beyond its power. He, verily, is the Compassionate, the All-Merciful.”

    Each soul must pass through different tests, different valleys, must overcome different challenges. This is our reality.

    Yes, a committed sceptic can challenge the content of Revelation. But will the sceptic always be successful? Certainly some people will recognize the Revelation and be relatively immune to such challenges. Thus the goal of His Self, His Revelation and His Words are all possible, to degree.

    But, yes, each soul will have different needs or a different approach to recognition.

    I don’t know what this means “the testimony of the Manifestation is its own proof.”

    “The Manifestation’s claim must be concealed from human standards of verification, otherwise there would be no condition for Faith.” I think that the claim is concealed from the lowest standards of verification, but not from all human standards. Quddus recognized the Manifestation right away, and others recognized Baha’u’llah before His declaration but He told them to not say anything, the time had not yet arrived. Maybe this is where we differ. As time marches on, as humanity’s consciousness is leavened, as the New Jerusalem indeed does rise up evident within the community of believers (may it be so!), the power of the Manifestation – His Self, Revelation and Words does become evident to everyone. Everyone will declare himself as believer. “When the victory arriveth, every man shall profess himself as believer and shall hasten to the shelter of God’s Faith. Happy are they who in the days of world-encompassing trials have stood fast in the Cause and refused to swerve from its truth.” “Grieve thou not over the slow advance of the Bahá’í Cause in that land. This is but the early dawn.”

    “if you could verify the veracity of the Manifestation’s claim, you would no longer have faith – you would have reasons.”I am not sure about the difference between resonance and reason. These are different elements of the same one consciousness. I feel resonance, and I note that resonance in the presence of Revelation. Now I have a reason as well for entering the presence.

    I think your good thinking work revolves to some extent on what justifies faith.Doesn’t the first quote above indicate that true religious faith can also be linked to the motivation of receiving a great reward. Pascal was not wrong.

    The reasons for faith are many, and what is important for you should be what is Emad’s criteria. For example, some people after studying the Revelation come to believe that only a divine author could have created something so perfect. Others read the Words and feel no man could have written these. And some recognize Him by His gait.

    “Our Cause is sorely trying, highly perplexing; none can bear it except a favorite of heaven, or an inspired Prophet, or he whose faith God hath tested.” You can be thankful for these tests of your faith.

    You could say true faith has not yet found resonance in you. But might that not be because you have not found yet reasons? You have attempted to find reasons but the sceptic in you has found the fly each time. Is the sceptic right or have you been too vulnerable to his suggestions? Perhaps though it is true you have not found reason enough, in which case the search can not but continue because a soul like you searches for the truth. You are a man of reason, as well as spirit and resonance. I just don’t want you to belittle one for the other. You know that some people when seeing mathematical equations may experience the beauty of the universe. I hope you find both reason and resonance, but either one is acceptance without the other. One can and does also lead to the other. So we start where we start. We may start with the heart or the head. Both are wonderful.

    Mullah Husayn was transformed by the grace of God but each one of us also has that opportunity and indeed challenge. I think you can evaluate your experience against his. He searched, he encountered, he doubted, he questioned and he eventually saw something deeper than he could at the beginning.

    I support the fury of your search!

    If you are sick of reason, then be a lover! Be full of faith! “On this plane, the self is not rejected but beloved; it is well-pleasing and not to be shunned. Although at the beginning, this plane is the realm of conflict, yet it endeth in attainment to the throne of splendor….This station hath many signs, unnumbered proofs. Hence it is said: “Hereafter We will show them Our signs in the regions of the earth, and in themselves, until it become manifest unto them that it is the truth,” and that there is no God save Him.” “…the grammarian stood lost in his reasonings, which were as words that are written on water. The knower called out to him, “Why dost thou not follow?” The grammarian answered, “O Brother, I dare not advance. I must needs go back again.” Then the knower cried, “Forget what thou didst read in the books of Síbávayh and Qawlavayh, of Ibn-i-Hajíb and Ibn-i-Málik, and cross the water.”

    Now you are on a quest for resonance. May you forget everything all the dull things which burden you and overcomplicate your life. “One must, then, read the book of his own self, rather than some treatise on rhetoric. Wherefore He hath said, “Read thy Book: There needeth none but thyself to make out an account against thee this day.”

    Love brother,
    m

  3. Whew! Maury, that was thoughtful and thorough. Thank you for your attention. I think a conversation is warranted in order to unpack some of these ideas further. I’ll try to be brief in responding to some of the more salient themes in your reply.

    I think there is an important point that I’ve failed to address in my writing, but you seem to have caught onto. The idea that there are many paths to recognizing the Manifestation, such as how ‘Abdu’l-Baha talks about many paths to Truth in Paris Talks:

    “All are seeking truth, and there are many roads leading thereto. Truth has many aspects, but it remains always and forever one. Do not allow difference of opinion, or diversity of thought to separate you from your fellow-men, or to be the cause of dispute, hatred and strife in your hearts. Rather, search diligently for the truth and make all men your friends.”

    I acknowledge this fact and should be more careful to articulate that I’m not dismissing the paths that others take. However, I think the crux of my struggle is around this idea that you offered, “The reasons for faith are many, and what is important for you should be what is Emad’s criteria.”

    I think that, if I understand you correctly, I would have to disagree with this statement in a sense. The Baha’i Writings clearly outline two principles when it comes to the meaning and interpretation of Revelation. Specifically, that there are “plentitudes of meaning” and a “hierarchy of meaning.” These concepts are covered extensively in Nader Saiedi’s “Gate of the Heart”, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Briefly, though there are many ways of knowing and many approaches to recognition, metaphysically there are also greater and lesser stations and degrees. This concept is relayed in passages such as this one from the Bab:

    “However, in this Day, radiant acquiescence, in all its forms, is confirmed for the one who is content with the revelation of verses by God, without the slightest desire for any other proof besides them. Were any man to be adorned with all spiritual virtues in utmost contentment in all the worlds, and yet assert in this Day that his heart is not utterly satisfied with the revelation of verses in the absence of witnessing miracles, then all his acquiescence would be brought to naught in the Book of God, and no other mode of resignation would be of any profit to him.”

    Another source that I find quite useful in this regard is the recently translated “From the Letter Ba’ to the Letter Ha'” by Baha’u’llah. I highly recommend that you reflect and meditate on this beautiful Tablet. In it, Baha’u’llah says the following:

    “But since all do not possess the same degree of spiritual understanding, certain statements will inevitably be made, and there shall arise, as a consequence, as many differing opinions as there are human minds, and as many divergent beliefs as there are created things. This is certain and settled, and can in no wise be averted. Now, it is clear that some are virtuous, others are sinful, and still others are rebellious. One must call the people to love and faithfulness, to zeal and contentment, that the sinful may be admonished and the ranks of the virtuous may swell.”

    The point being that though there are plenitudes of meanings and stations, there is also a hierarchy. The struggle for the fervent seeker, I think, is that once you become aware that something you think or believe is “inferior” or “lower” than a “higher” form then you are, in a sense, obliged before God to abandon the lower form. Sure, I could have faith because it’s a better wager (such as Pascal), but I also know that this is inferior to being “content with the revelation of verses by God.” I could be convinced by some miracle, but this would be inferior to being satisfied with the revealed word.

    “For verily thou wouldst attain the summit of excellence in divine knowledge when thou yearnest for naught but God, and fearest naught but thy transgression. Shouldst thou act according to this lofty path, thou verily wouldst abide in security.” – The Bab

    I don’t think this is a matter of me being too hard on myself. Rather, I feel it’s my spiritual obligation to aspire towards the highest realm of Divine Knowledge that I can access. When I declare my faith, it must be unquestionable to myself because as Baha’u’llah states in the Iqan (citing the Quran): “Do men think when they say ‘We believe’ they shall be let alone and not be put to proof?”

    1. Thank you so much for replying. It is always wonderful to discuss and share, and hopefully go deeper. I can’t be sure you are not just being polite and that whatever I wrote was mainly a waste of time, but nevertheless I happily look forward to a conversation in the near future…

      I agree that looking from the point of view of the Manifestation downwards, the standards of measurement are one way. Meanwhile, the unconvinced seeker looking upwards naturally will only have his or her own criteria for recognition. Once we become believers, we would want to adopt the standards of Revelation as our own. Even if we didn’t feel it, resonate with it, still we would have recognized Who has wisdom and authority and who is captured unwittingly in ignorance and we make efforts.

      Even so, for believer and seeker alike, we are told every soul has its “unique aspiration” and that we are to see through our “own eyes and not through the eyes of others”. So at least during much of our traversing the valleys, until we become empty of self perhaps, our subjectivity is considered something valuable and relevant.

      The idea of resonance, at least as I understand it, links to the mysterious realm of subjectivity. How do you describe resonance?

      Thus, Emad’s and anyone else’s criteria are, I feel, very important. A close connection with what we really feel and think, our human right to that and indeed its importance for our emotional and intellectual health, is really vital. We may, in the light of logic or faith, voluntarily surrender these personal criteria. But, standing alone in the universe, what else do we have but what we feel and think and aspire towards? It’s good to stand there in our own unique heaven and/or hell and know, existentially, we are this. We may become something different, but we have a certain starting point.

      Of course, the unpacking of our subjectivity is a major arrow of personal transformation as we come to realize the burden of family or origin, the history of our ancestors and the conditions of our culture.

      O the beauty of pure resonance, when whatever disrupts and distracts consciousness disappears, and we have a sense of oneness with all; radiant acquiescence? This is a different thread but worthy of discussion: what in our subjectivity, our resonance is truly personal and desirable? What experiences radiant acquiescence?

      I have always loved the term “radiant acquiescence” but only knew of its use by the Blessed Beauty. How wonderful to see it here also mentioned by the Gate, the Great Announcement, The Trumpet Blast. No doubt, this passage has many meanings. It is hard not to agree that if our heart is not “utterly satisfied with the…verses”, we will forego at least some degree of radiant acquiescence. How could it be otherwise?

      All of which is to say, we are faced with our miserable limitations, most acutely standing in the presence of God. Those limitations are a fact of life. I have come to accept the existence of my ignorance, falsity, egotism etc. which makes me all the more thankful when I am blessed with those golden moments of faith, transcendence and seeming perfection. We bear this cross of living with the opposites. Our brokenness would make us seek and find wholeness. Thus are we encouraged to

      “Do all ye can to become wholly weary of self, and bind yourselves to that
      Countenance of Splendours; and once ye have reached such heights of servitude,
      ye will find, gathered within your shadow, all created things. This is boundless grace;
      this is the highest sovereignty; this is the life that dieth not. All else save this is at the last
      but manifest perdition and great loss.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

      So, to sum up. Yes, I agree there is a hierarchy. But, we can only start at the level where we truly find ourselves, journey in the condition we are in, and make decisions which work for us. As we ascend, we will voluntarily give up the lower for the higher. Yet, the path is not linear and not one way only. Vigilance with regard to the signposts of the path, the laws, are valuable here. Otherwise we may experience the gravitational pull to “the centre of self” and the “density of the love of self”. We are told “the only power that is capable of delivering man from this captivity, is the power of the breaths of the Holy Spirit.” – Abdu’l-Bahá

      Are you not perhaps too hard on your self? The Ancient Beauty said: “Let them act with moderation and not impose hardship upon themselves. We would like them both to enjoy a life that is well-pleasing.” Part of the burden you carry may well be the search for ‘reasons’. Choosing the path of resonance sounds wonderful. Not that we can ever abandon reason, in this day and age or any other. But, perhaps that is what the world is crying for, as well as our individual souls.

      “Still others, without having perused a single letter of the kingdom of names or acquired the faintest intimation from the realm of attributes, which pertaineth to this world, dawn above the invisible horizon of eternity and return again thereunto. A hundred thousand seas of glory surge in their luminous hearts, and yet to outward seeming their lips are parched; a myriad rivers of holiness stream within their breasts, and yet no trace thereof is to be seen; the books of God’s consummate wisdom are recorded upon the tablets of their hearts, and yet they breathe not a word thereof in the world of appearances. They dwell in the Egypt of certitude and journey in the lands of resignation. They are intoxicated with the beauty, and entranced by the glory, of Him Who is the All-Glorious. Heart to heart they whisper hidden secrets; soul to soul they unfold abstruse matters.” (Bahá)

      Perhaps it is true that, unwittingly, in ignorance, we are all too hard on ourselves. We follow well trod paths which are fruitless. I remember having a huge spiritual experience and understanding for the first time what the “All-Abiding” means. I was raised to to compete, to analyze, to push and to penetrate. I could neither understand spiritually what the “Abiding One” meant, and I could certainly not feel it. At that great moment, I felt it for the first time. An abidingness full of love and compassion and the longing hopes for our happiness, yet utterly passive and acquiescent. A right brained experience, this quiescent fullness?

      “it is the Mother of all things…Its outer fringe is all that we shall see….we call them
      the Mystery… We should blunt our sharp points, and unravel the complications of
      things; we should attemper our brightness, and bring ourselves into
      agreement with the obscurity of others. How pure and still the Tao
      is, as if it would ever so continue!”

      May you continue to aspire towards the highest realm of Divine Knowledge even as you, and I, learn to laugh at ourselves, being reminded “Ye shall be hindered from loving Me and souls shall be perturbed as they make mention of Me. For minds cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me.” May we be aware of the frailty of our minds, our shortcomings, our inability to trap the phoenix and know everything. May we come to God acknowledging our but meagre morsels of faith and knowledge and will and action, and being resigned, nay happy that we will be put to the test, yet stating our deepest wish is to be in alignment. We are but wanderers, longing for the fragrance of the zephyr blowing from the bowers of divine unity.

      Sorry to subject you to this.

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