‘This Endless Universe, Has Neither Beginning Nor End’

Ouroboros and rose device of Barthélemy Aneaue

‘Abdu’l Baha taught that the universe has no beginning or end. This is because a creator is never without a creation and also because existence cannot arise from absolute non-existence.

‘Know that it is one of the most abstruse spiritual truths that the world of existence—that is to say, this endless universe—has no beginning. We have already explained that the names and attributes of the Divinity themselves require the existence of beings. Although this subject has been explained in detail, we will speak of it again briefly. Know that an educator without pupils cannot be imagined; a monarch without subjects could not exist; a master without scholars cannot be appointed; a creator without a creature is impossible; a provider without those provided for cannot be conceived; for all the divine names and attributes demand the existence of beings. If we could imagine a time when no beings existed, this imagination would be the denial of the Divinity of God. Moreover, absolute nonexistence cannot become existence. If the beings were absolutely nonexistent, existence would not have come into being. Therefore, as the Essence of Unity (that is, the existence of God) is everlasting and eternal—that is to say, it has neither beginning nor end—it is certain that this world of existence, this endless universe, has neither beginning nor end. Yes, it may be that one of the parts of the universe, one of the globes, for example, may come into existence, or may be disintegrated, but the other endless globes are still existing; the universe would not be disordered nor destroyed. On the contrary, existence is eternal and perpetual…’

http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/SAQ/saq-47.html

‘The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’

‘The Temptation and Fall of Eve’ by William Blake

‘Abdu’l Baha explicated the allegory of the Garden of Eden in the following way (acknowledging the existence of many other symbolic meanings)

‘The tree of good and evil signifies the human world; for the spiritual and divine world is purely good and absolutely luminous, but in the human world light and darkness, good and evil, exist as opposite conditions. The meaning of the serpent is attachment to the human world. This attachment of the spirit to the human world led the soul and spirit of Adam from the world of freedom to the world of bondage and caused Him to turn from the Kingdom of Unity to the human world. When the soul and spirit of Adam entered the human world, He came out from the paradise of freedom and fell into the world of bondage. From the height of purity and absolute goodness, He entered into the world of good and evil. The tree of life is the highest degree of the world of existence: the position of the Word of God, and the supreme Manifestation. Therefore, that position has been preserved; and, at the appearance of the most noble supreme Manifestation, it became apparent and clear. For the position of Adam, with regard to the appearance and manifestation of the divine perfections, was in the embryonic condition; the position of Christ was the condition of maturity and the age of reason; and the rising of the Greatest Luminary was the condition of the perfection of the essence and of the qualities. This is why in the supreme Paradise the tree of life is the expression for the center of absolutely pure sanctity—that is to say, of the divine supreme Manifestation’.

‘Some Answered Questions’

‘The Two Kinds of Light’

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’ uses the metaphor of two kinds of light to elucidate the relationship of the intellect to God in a way I find most informative.

‘…There are two kinds of light. There is the visible light of the sun, by whose aid we can discern the beauties of the world around us—without this we could see nothing. Nevertheless, though it is the function of this light to make things visible to us, it cannot give us the power to see them or to understand what their various charms may be, for this light has no intelligence, no consciousness. It is the light of the intellect which gives us knowledge and understanding, and without this light the physical eyes would be useless. This light of the intellect is the highest light that exists, for it is born of the Light Divine. The light of the intellect enables us to understand and realize all that exists, but it is only the Divine Light that can give us sight for the invisible things, and which enables us to see truths that will only be visible to the world thousands of years hence. It was the Divine Light which enabled the prophets to see two thousand years in advance what was going to take place and today we see the realization of their vision. Thus it is this Light which we must strive to seek, for it is greater than any other. It was by this Light that Moses was enabled to see and comprehend the Divine Appearance, and to hear the Heavenly Voice which spoke to him from the Burning Bush. It is of this Light Muhammad is speaking when he says, ‘Alláh is the light of the Heavens, and of the Earth’. Seek with all your hearts this Heavenly Light, so that you may be enabled to understand the realities, that you may know the secret things of God, that the hidden ways may be made plain before your eyes. This light may be likened unto a mirror, and as a mirror reflects all that is before it, so this Light shows to the eyes of our spirits all that exists in God’s Kingdom and causes the realities of things to be made visible. By the help of this effulgent Light all the spiritual interpretation of the Holy Writings has been made plain, the hidden things of God’s Universe have become manifest, and we have been enabled to comprehend the Divine purposes for man. I pray that God in His mercy may illumine your hearts and souls with His glorious Light, then shall each one of you shine as a radiant star in the dark places of the world‘.

‘Paris Talks’

What is the Secret of the Elephant Tower?

An illustration by Stephen E. Fabian for ‘The Tower of the Elephant’ by Robert E.Howard

I find ‘The Tower of the Elephant’ (1933) to be the most spiritual of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. There is a quality to the narrative which brings to mind the allegorical tales of the Sufis. The story concerns Conan’s attempts to steal a legendary jewel from the tower of an evil sorcerer and is replete with beautiful imagery of the night sky and a nocturnal garden guarded by silent lions.

‘The secret of the Elephant Tower?’ he exclaimed. ‘Why, any fool knows that Yara the priest dwells there with the great jewel men call the Elephant’s Heart, that is the secret of his magic.’

Conan enters the tower as a thief but does not steal the jewel as the idol from which he is about to take the gem reveals itself to be an imprisoned elephant-headed demi-god.

‘This then, was the reason for the name, the Tower of the Elephant, for the head of the thing was much like that of the beasts described by the Shemitish wanderer. This was Yara’s god; where then should the gem be, but concealed in the idol, since the stone was called the Elephant’s Heart? As Conan came forward, his eyes fixed on the motionless idol, the eyes of the thing opened suddenly! The Cimmerian froze in his tracks. It was no image–it was a living thing, and he was trapped in its chamber‘!

Struck by pity Conan liberates the demi-god in an act of sacrifice which frees Yag-kosha from the material world to take revenge upon Yara the priest who has tormented him for so long.

‘Uncertainly Conan approached, and Yag-kosha, or Yogah, as if sensing his uncertainty, indicated where he should strike. Conan set his teeth and drove the sword deep. Blood streamed over the blade and his hand, and the monster started convulsively, then lay back quite still. Sure that life had fled, at least life as he understood it, Conan set to work on his grisly task and quickly brought forth something that he felt must be the strange being’s heart, though it differed curiously from any he had ever seen. Holding the pulsing organ over the blazing jewel, he pressed it with both hands, and a rain of blood fell on the stone. To his surprise, it did not run off, but soaked into the gem, as water is absorbed by a sponge… Now Yara was no bigger than a child; now like an infant he sprawled on the table, still grasping the jewel. And now the sorcerer suddenly realized his fate, and he sprang up, releasing the gem. But still he dwindled, and Conan saw a tiny, pygmy figure rushing wildly about the ebony table-top, waving tiny arms and shrieking in a voice that was like the squeak of an insect‘.

Does Yag-kosha represent the tortured artist imprisoned by a philistine society? Or is the elephant-headed godling in the tower a symbol of the human soul enchained by matter? Given Robert E. Howard’s tragic end is Yag-kosha a metaphor for the writer’s own tortured psyche? What is the secret of elephant tower? The tale ends on an enigmatic note as the barbarian strides away against the backdrop of the elephant tower shattering like a mirror or glass.

‘Into the waving green gardens came the Cimmerian, and as the dawn wind blew upon him with the cool fragrance of luxuriant growths, he started like a man waking from a dream. He turned back uncertainly, to stare at the cryptic tower he had just left. Was he bewitched and enchanted? Had he dreamed all that had seemed to have passed? As he looked he saw the gleaming tower sway against the crimson dawn, its jewel-crusted rim sparkling in the growing light, and crash into shining shards‘.