‘The Spiritual Teacher Is The First To Follow His Own Teaching’

Plato: The Phaedo: The Death of Socrates

‘Abdu’l Baha taught that ‘Spiritual Philosophers’ are to be distinguished from ‘mere philosophers’ by the extent to which they practice their ideals.

‘Some men and women glory in their exalted thoughts, but if these thoughts never reach the plane of action they remain useless: the power of thought is dependent on its manifestation in deeds. A philosopher’s thought may, however, in the world of progress and evolution, translate itself into the actions of other people, even when they themselves are unable or unwilling to show forth their grand ideals in their own lives. To this class the majority of philosophers belong, their teachings being high above their actions. This is the difference between philosophers who are Spiritual Teachers, and those who are mere philosophers: the Spiritual Teacher is the first to follow His own teaching; He brings down into the world of action His spiritual conceptions and ideals. His Divine thoughts are made manifest to the world. His thought is Himself, from which He is inseparable. When we find a philosopher emphasizing the importance and grandeur of justice, and then encouraging a rapacious monarch in his oppression and tyranny, we quickly realize that he belongs to the first class: for he thinks heavenly thoughts and does not practice the corresponding heavenly virtues.This state is impossible with Spiritual Philosophers, for they ever express their high and noble thoughts in actions’.

Paris Talks

‘The Mirror Of The Entire Creation’

Water Lilies by Monet

Bahá’u’lláh describes the universe as a mirror reflecting the image of God.

“Regard thou the one true God as One Who is apart from, and immeasurably exalted above, all created things. The whole universe reflecteth His glory, while He is Himself independent of, and transcendeth His creatures. This is the true meaning of Divine unity. He Who is the Eternal Truth is the one Power Who exerciseth undisputed sovereignty over the world of being, Whose image is reflected in the mirror of the entire creation. All existence is dependent upon Him, and from Him is derived the source of the sustenance of all things. This is what is meant by Divine unity; this is its fundamental principle”.

Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

‘We Are Lovers of Illumination And Not Of Lamps And Candles’

According to ‘Abdu’l Baha we should recognise the light of spirituality from what ever source it shines.

“We must recognize the sun no matter from what dawning-point it may shine forth, be it Mosaic, Abrahamic or any personal point of orientation whatever, for we are lovers of sunlight and not of orientation. We are lovers of illumination and not of lamps and candles. We are seekers for water no matter from what rock it may gush forth. We are in need of fruit in whatsoever orchard it may be ripened. We long for rain it matters not which cloud pours it down. We must not be fettered. If we renounce these fetters we shall agree, for all are seekers of reality. The counterfeit or imitation of true religion has adulterated human belief and the foundations have been lost sight of. The variance of these imitations has produced enmity and strife, war and bloodshed. Now the glorious and brilliant twentieth century has dawned and the divine bounty is radiating universally. The Sun of Truth is shining forth in intense enkindlement. This is verily the century when these imitations must be forsaken, superstitions abandoned and God alone worshiped. We must look at the reality of the prophets and their teachings in order that we may agree”.

Foundations of World Unity

How can the contingent conceive the Reality of the absolute?

The chain of being, from Charles Bonnet, Œuvres d’histoire naturelle et de philosophie, 1779-83

‘Abdu’l Baha taught that the limited human intellect can know of the existence of God but cannot comprehend the Divine essence.

‘Now concerning the Essence of Divinity: in truth it is on no account determined by anything apart from its own nature, and can in no wise be comprehended. For whatsoever can be conceived by man is a reality that hath limitations and is not unlimited; it is circumscribed, not all-embracing. It can be comprehended by man, and is controlled by him. Similarly it is certain that all human conceptions are contingent, not absolute; that they have a mental existence, not a material one. Moreover, differentiation of stages in the contingent world is an obstacle to understanding. How then can the contingent conceive the Reality of the absolute? As previously mentioned, differentiation of stages in the contingent plane is an obstacle to understanding. Minerals, plants and animals are bereft of the mental faculties of man that discover the realities of all things, but man himself comprehendeth all the stages beneath him. Every superior stage comprehendeth that which is inferior and discovereth the reality thereof, but the inferior one is unaware of that which is superior and cannot comprehend it. Thus man cannot grasp the Essence of Divinity, but can, by his reasoning power, by observation, by his intuitive faculties and the revealing power of his faith, believe in God, discover the bounties of His Grace. He becometh certain that though the Divine Essence is unseen of the eye, and the existence of the Deity is intangible, yet conclusive spiritual proofs assert the existence of that unseen Reality. The Divine Essence as it is in itself is however beyond all description’.

Tablet to August Forel

The Nine Walkers And The Nine Worthies

One of the major themes of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is that of unity and division. The forces of Mordor spend most of their time quarrelling amongst themselves; such as in the episode of the Tower of Cirith Ungol where the Orc garrison fall upon each other in a dispute between two opposed factions.

“Sam strode forward. Sting glittered blue in his hand. The courtyard lay in deep shadow, but he could see that the pavement was strewn with bodies. Right at his feet were two orc-archers with knives sticking in their backs. Beyond lay many more shapes; some singly as they had been hewn down or shot; others in pairs, still grappling one another, dead in the very throes of stabbing, throttling, biting. The stones were slippery with dark blood.”

It is striking that the forces of Sauron seem unified only by their hatred of good and the mesmeric influence of the One Ring which draws them to Mordor-

‘One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie’.

On the contrary it is ultimately the unity of the forces of good which defeats Sauron, built on the foundations of the company of the Ring- brought together by choice unlike the forces of Mordor enslaved by the One Ring.

‘The Company of the Ring shall be Nine; and the Nine Walkers shall be set against the Nine Riders that are evil. With you and your faithful servant, Gandalf will go; for this shall be his great task, and maybe the end of his labours.’ ‘For the rest, they shall represent the other Free Peoples of the World: Elves, Dwarves, and Men.”

(As a Bahá’í I find Tolkien’s emphasis on the importance of unity very moving. The founder of the the Bahá’í Faith Bahá’u’lláh wrote “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth”).

The ‘Nine Walkers’ themselves represent a unity in diversity very reminiscent of the ‘Nine Worthies’ of Medieval romance. The ‘Nine Worthies’ were a recurring motif in Medieval art representing universal heroic values. In the manner of the Company of the Ring they were a diverse group comprising Pagans (Hector, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar) Old Testament Jews (Joshua, David Judas, Maccabeus) and Christian Knights (King Arthur, Charlemagne, Godfrey of Bouillon).

(All quotations from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by J RR Tolkien, Harper Collins 1994 edition)

‘The Bounty Of The Sun Continues’

‘Abdu’l Baha contrasted the imperishable nature of the human spirit with that of the human body which is formed through the agency of the animal spirit and is subject to dissolution.

‘The human spirit may be likened to the bounty of the sun shining on a mirror. The body of man, which is composed from the elements, is combined and mingled in the most perfect form; it is the most solid construction, the noblest combination, the most perfect existence. It grows and develops through the animal spirit. This perfected body can be compared to a mirror, and the human spirit to the sun. Nevertheless, if the mirror breaks, the bounty of the sun continues; and if the mirror is destroyed or ceases to exist, no harm will happen to the bounty of the sun, which is everlasting’.

Some Answered Questions