‘truth is neither the child of nature nor of man’

“If the mind is merely a reflection of nature, then man is not simply the student, but the production of nature, he is just what nature makes him. On the other hand, if nature is but an induction of thought, it is nothing more than what we make it, a phantom we are at liberty to annihilate…I believe that truth is neither the child of nature nor of man. Truth exists by itself, but it is found in me as well as in nature…”

~ Victor Cousin “The Philosophy of the Beautiful”

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‘The Donkey is the Greatest Scientist and the Cow an Accomplished Naturalist’

‘Abdu’l-Bahá was famed for his sense of humour and I find his observation on the folly of materialism both amusing and insightful.

…all their thoughts are directed to material things; day and night they are devoted to the attractions of this world, without aspiration beyond the life that is vanishing and mortal. In schools and temples of learning knowledge of the sciences acquired is based upon material observations only; there is no realization of Divinity in their methods and conclusions—all have reference to the world of matter. They are not interested in attaining knowledge of the mysteries of God or understanding the secrets of the heavenly Kingdom; what they acquire is based altogether upon visible and tangible evidences. Beyond these evidences they are without susceptibilities; they have no idea of the world of inner significances and are utterly out of touch with God, considering this an indication of reasonable attitude and philosophical judgement whereof they are self-sufficient and proud. As a matter of fact, this supposed excellence is possessed in its superlative degree by the animals. The animals are without knowledge of God; so to speak, they are deniers of Divinity and understand nothing of the Kingdom and its heavenly mysteries. As deniers of the Kingdom, they are utterly ignorant of spiritual things and uninformed of the supernatural world. Therefore, if it be a perfection and virtue to be without knowledge of God and His Kingdom, the animals have attained the highest degree of excellence and proficiency. Then the donkey is the greatest scientist and the cow an accomplished naturalist, for they have obtained what they know without schooling and years of laborious study in colleges, trusting implicitly to the evidence of the senses and relying solely upon intuitive virtues. The cow, for instance, is a lover of the visible and a believer in the tangible, contented and happy when pasture is plenty, perfectly serene, a blissful exponent of the transcendental school of philosophy. Such is the status of the material philosophers, who glory in sharing the condition of the cow, imagining themselves in a lofty station.

Source: The Promulgation of Universal Peace

Apollonius of Tyana in Bahá’u’lláh’s ‘Tablet of Wisdom’

Illustration depicting Alexander the Great and the seven philosophers (Aristotle, Apollonius of Tyana, Socrates, Plato, Thales, Porphyry, and Hermes). From p.729 of MS Browne 1434, the Khamsa of Nizami (Persian, 1540). This scene comes from the fifth part of the Khamsa, ‘The Book of Alexander’.

I am intrigued by Bahá’u’lláh’s appreciation of the life and works of Bálinus in the Lawh-i-Hikmat (Tablet of Wisdom). Bálinus (or Apollonius of Tyana) was a first century A.D. Neopythagorean philosopher and familiar figure in classical Islamic thought.

I will also mention for thee the invocation voiced by Bálinus who was familiar with the theories put forward by the Father of Philosophy regarding the mysteries of creation as given in his chrysolite tablets, that everyone may be fully assured of the things We have elucidated for thee in this manifest Tablet, which, if pressed with the hand of fairness and knowledge, will yield the spirit of life for the quickening of all created things. Great is the blessedness of him who swimmeth in this ocean and celebrateth the praise of his Lord, the Gracious, the Best-Beloved. Indeed the breezes of divine revelation are diffused from the verses of thy Lord in such wise that no one can dispute its truth, except those who are bereft of hearing, of vision, of understanding and of every human faculty. Verily thy Lord beareth witness unto this, yet the people understand not.

This man hath said: ‘I am Bálinus, the wise one, the performer of wonders, the producer of talismans.’ He surpassed everyone else in the diffusion of arts and sciences and soared unto the loftiest heights of humility and supplication. Give ear unto that which he hath said, entreating the All-Possessing, the Most Exalted: ‘I stand in the presence of my Lord, extolling His gifts and bounties and praising Him with that wherewith He praiseth His Own Self, that I may become a source of blessing and guidance unto such men as acknowledge my words.’ And further he saith: ‘O Lord! Thou art God and no God is there but Thee. Thou art the Creator and no creator is there except Thee. Assist me by Thy grace and strengthen me. My heart is seized with alarm, my limbs tremble, I have lost my reason and my mind hath failed me. Bestow upon me strength and enable my tongue to speak forth with wisdom.’ And still further he saith: ‘Thou art in truth the Knowing, the Wise, the Powerful, the Compassionate.’ It was this man of wisdom who became informed of the mysteries of creation and discerned the subtleties which lie enshrined in the Hermetic writings.

LAWḤ-I-HIKMAT (Tablet of Wisdom)

(According to the footnotes of the  U.S.  Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1988 edition when referring to the Greek philosophers Bahá’u’lláh quotes verbatim from the works of historians as Abu’l-Fatḥ-i-Sháhristání (1076–1153 A.D.) and Imádu’d-Dín Abu’l-Fidá (1273–1331 A.D.)

The ‘Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’ describes the historical Apollonius of Tyana in the following terms-

Our most detailed account of a Neopythagorean living a life inspired by Pythagoras is Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana. Apollonius was active in the second half of the first century CE and died in 97; Philostratus’ life, which was written over a century later at the request of the empress Julia Domna and completed after her death in 217 CE, is more novel than sober biography. Some have even wondered if Apollonius’ Pythagoreanism is largely the creation of Philostratus, but there is evidence that Apollonius wrote a life of Pythagoras used by Iamblichus (VP 254) and Porphyry (Burkert 1972, 100), and the fragment of his treatise On Sacrifices has clear connections to Neopythagorean philosophy (Kahn 2001, 143–145). According to Philostratus, Apollonius identified his wisdom as that of Pythagoras, who taught him the proper way to worship the gods, to wear linen rather than wool, to wear his hair long, and to eat no animal food (I 32).

Like Pythagoras, Apollonius journeys to consult the wise men of the east and learns from the Brahmins in India that the doctrine of transmigration, which Apollonius inherited from Pythagoras, originated in India and was handed on to the Egyptians from whom Pythagoras derived it (III 19). Philostratus (I 2) emphasizes that Apollonius was not a magician, thus trying to free him from the more disreputable connotations of Pythagorean practices associated with figures such as Anaxilaus and Vatinius (see above). Nonetheless, Philostratus’ life does recount a number of Apollonius’ miracles, such as the raising of a girl from the dead (IV 45).

These miracles made Apollonius into a pagan counterpart to Christ. The emperor Alexander Severus (222–235 CE) worshipped Apollonius alongside Christ, Abraham and Orpheus (Hist. Aug., Vita Alex. Sev. 29.2)’.

Huffman, Carl, “Pythagoreanism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/pythagoreanism/>.

‘This Is An Existence Which Knoweth No Decay’

Ouroboros

The Lawh-i-Hikmat (Tablet of Wisdom) by Bahá’u’lláh includes some fascinating teachings about the nature of existence. My personal understanding of the teachings is as follows-

  • God and creation have always existed and will always exist but the exact nature of the relationship is a mystery to human intelligence-

As regards thine assertions about the beginning of creation, this is a matter on which conceptions vary by reason of the divergences in men’s thoughts and opinions. Wert thou to assert that it hath ever existed and shall continue to exist, it would be true; or wert thou to affirm the same concept as is mentioned in the sacred Scriptures, no doubt would there be about it, for it hath been revealed by God, the Lord of the worlds. Indeed He was a hidden treasure. This is a station that can never be described nor even alluded to. And in the station of ‘I did wish to make Myself known’, God was, and His creation had ever existed beneath His shelter from the beginning that hath no beginning, apart from its being preceded by a Firstness which cannot be regarded as firstness and originated by a Cause inscrutable even unto all men of learning.

  • The Word or Command of God transcends all physical form-

Know thou, moreover, that the Word of God—exalted be His glory—is higher and far superior to that which the senses can perceive, for it is sanctified from any property or substance. It transcendeth the limitations of known elements and is exalted above all the essential and recognized substances. It became manifest without any syllable or sound and is none but the Command of God which pervadeth all created things. It hath never been withheld from the world of being. It is God’s all-pervasive grace, from which all grace doth emanate. It is an entity far removed above all that hath been and shall be.

  • Creation is being ‘being renewed and regenerated at all times’-

Every thing must needs have an origin and every building a builder. Verily, the Word of God is the Cause which hath preceded the contingent world—a world which is adorned with the splendours of the Ancient of Days, yet is being renewed and regenerated at all times. Immeasurably exalted is the God of Wisdom Who hath raised this sublime structure.

  • Observation of creation will reveal what God has ‘inscribed therein’-

Look at the world and ponder a while upon it. It unveileth the book of its own self before thine eyes and revealeth that which the Pen of thy Lord, the Fashioner, the All-Informed, hath inscribed therein. It will acquaint thee with that which is within it and upon it and will give thee such clear explanations as to make thee independent of every eloquent expounder.

  • The diversity of the causes of the natural world are are ‘signs for men of discernment’ as they reveal something of the will of God-

Say: Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise. Were anyone to affirm that it is the Will of God as manifested in the world of being, no one should question this assertion. It is endowed with a power whose reality men of learning fail to grasp. Indeed a man of insight can perceive naught therein save the effulgent splendour of Our Name, the Creator. Say: This is an existence which knoweth no decay, and Nature itself is lost in bewilderment before its revelations, its compelling evidences and its effulgent glory which have encompassed the universe.

  • To worship the creation and to reject the creator shows a lack of ‘knowledge and wisdom’-

those who have rejected God and firmly cling to Nature as it is in itself are, verily, bereft of knowledge and wisdom. They are truly of them that are far astray. They have failed to attain the lofty summit and have fallen short of the ultimate purpose; therefore their eyes were shut and their thoughts differed, while the leaders among them have believed in God and in His invincible sovereignty. Unto this beareth witness thy Lord, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.

Preferences And Principles

It seems to me that we live in a materialist society that encourages us to exercise subjective choice as consumers but discourages us from having objective ideals and values as human beings. Advertisers use consumer preference to promote the illusion of liberty whereas in reality the choice is merely between buying the same model in different colours.

The New Zealand educationalist John  Heenan wrote that

Preferences and principles are opposites. Preferences are subjective while principles are objective. Values, that are preferences, are something “to have,” but values that are principles, are something “to be.”

We may not always live up to our ideals but I believe it is by trying to apply our guiding principles in everyday life that we are ennobled and our lives are given meaning.  It is one of the reasons that I am grateful to have been touched by the teachings of Baha’u’llah at an early age.

Baha’u’llah teaches that there is one God who has revealed His will through progressive revelation by his Divine Messengers. The common objective of these Divine Messengers is to promote the spiritual and social development of the human race. Humanity has reached such a stage of development that it’s unification in one peaceful world community is now possible. In order to promote this peaceful world community Baha’u’llah enunciated principles that include

  • That humankind is one family
  • That the religions have one common divine source
  • That true religion is consistent with reason and the quest for scientific understanding
  • That extremes of poverty and wealth should be avoided
  • That universal education should be made available to all-an education both spiritual and material in character
  • That all forms of prejudice should be left behind
  • That the sexes are equal, ‘the wings of a single bird’
  • That a world commonwealth of nations should be created, founded on principles of peace and justice

‘Spirit Is The Lamp’

'Glad Day' By William Blake

I was reading `Abdu’l-Bahá’s explanation of the nature of the soul and found the following passages most enlightening.

From the moment the soul leaves the body and arrives in the Heavenly World, its evolution is spiritual, and that evolution is: The approaching unto God.

In the physical creation, evolution is from one degree of perfection to another. The mineral passes with its mineral perfections to the vegetable; the vegetable, with its perfections, passes to the animal world, and so on to that of humanity. This world is full of seeming contradictions; in each of these kingdoms (mineral, vegetable and animal) life exists in its degree; though when compared to the life in a man, the earth appears to be dead, yet she, too, lives and has a life of her own. In this world things live and die, and live again in other forms of life, but in the world of the spirit it is quite otherwise.

The soul does not evolve from degree to degree as a law—it only evolves nearer to God, by the Mercy and Bounty of God.

The soul is not a combination of elements, it is not composed of many atoms, it is of one indivisible substance and therefore eternal. It is entirely out of the order of the physical creation; it is immortal! In the world of spirit there is no retrogression. The world of mortality is a world of contradictions, of opposites; motion being compulsory everything must either go forward or retreat. In the realm of spirit there is no retreat possible, all movement is bound to be towards a perfect state. ‘Progress’ is the expression of spirit in the world of matter. The intelligence of man, his reasoning powers, his knowledge, his scientific achievements, all these being manifestations of the spirit, partake of the inevitable law of spiritual progress and are, therefore, of necessity, immortal.

‘Paris Talks’

Question.—What is the difference between the mind, spirit and soul?

Answer.—It has been before explained that spirit is universally divided into five categories: the vegetable spirit, the animal spirit, the human spirit, the spirit of faith, and the Holy Spirit.

The vegetable spirit is the power of growth which is brought about in the seed through the influence of other existences.

The animal spirit is the power of all the senses, which is realized from the composition and mingling of elements; when this composition decomposes, the power also perishes and becomes annihilated. It may be likened to this lamp: when the oil, wick and fire are combined, it is lighted; and when this combination is dissolved—that is to say, when the combined parts are separated from one another—the lamp also is extinguished.

The human spirit which distinguishes man from the animal is the rational soul, and these two names—the human spirit and the rational soul—designate one thing. This spirit, which in the terminology of the philosophers is the rational soul, embraces all beings, and as far as human ability permits discovers the realities of things and becomes cognizant of their peculiarities and effects, and of the qualities and properties of beings.

But the human spirit, unless assisted by the spirit of faith, does not become acquainted with the divine secrets and the heavenly realities. It is like a mirror which, although clear, polished and brilliant, is still in need of light. Until a ray of the sun reflects upon it, it cannot discover the heavenly secrets.

But the mind is the power of the human spirit. Spirit is the lamp; mind is the light which shines from the lamp. Spirit is the tree, and the mind is the fruit. Mind is the perfection of the spirit and is its essential quality, as the sun’s rays are the essential necessity of the sun. This explanation, though short, is complete; therefore, reflect upon it, and if God wills, you may become acquainted with the details.

‘Some Answered Questions’

‘The Last Sleep Of Arthur In Avalon’

'The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon' (detail) by Edward Burne-Jones

I find the return of King Arthur to be one of the most poignant of British legends.  Apparently this tale of the King slumbering beneath the earth to awake in time of Albion’s peril was first related in the Twelfth Century work ‘Otia Imperialia’ by Gervase of Tilbury. It was a tale enthusiastically taken up by British folklorists in the Nineteenth Century along with the poets and thinkers of Romanticism, Medievalism, and the Gothic Revival.

At the same time as this resurgence of interest in the Arthurian legend in the West, in Iran in 1844 the Báb revealed his status as the’ Mahdi’ or ‘Guided One’ prophesised in the Qur’an- a prophecy often conflated with the return of the ‘Hidden Imam of Shia eschatology.  I see the Báb and his followers as practicing an almost Arthurian chivalric code when faced by the tyrannical forces ruling Iran at that time. Bábi history is replete with martial imagery such as the unfurling of the black banner of the Mahdi in the Iranian province of Khorrassan and the chivalry of the Báb’s faithful follower Mulla Husayn Bushrui, his first disciple or ‘Letter of the Living’.

The Báb was cruelly martyred in Tabriz in 1850 but not before prophesising the return yet again of mankind’s eternal spiritual hero

‘Beginnings And Endings’

 

The Roman God Janus

In the current cold weather I wonder about the spiritual appropriateness of starting a new year in the depths of winter rather than springtime. The first month of the year January has it’s origins in the Roman calendar and is named after two-headed Janus the god of beginnings and endings. Even in Roman times January was not always the first month of  the year. The legendary King Numa Pompilius, is attributed with adding the months of January and February in order to create a standard lunar year. (Apparently in the previously used Roman calendar the first month of the year was March until it was changed in about 450 BC).  In more recent times the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin on the 25th March was New Year’s Day until 1752. Personally I favour the Spring Equinox and the festival of Naw-Rúz as marking the true turning point of the year…

‘Aslan And Universalism’

When I first read the ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ as a young boy I must confess that I did not read them as allegory- being childishly ignorant of the author’s intent. ( According to C.S. Lewis “The whole Narnian story is about Christ..).’  Instead I enjoyed the series as simple stories of fantasy and adventure.

During a pre-release interview for the film version of ‘The Voyage Of the Dawn Treader’ Liam Neeson, who voices Aslan caused something of a stir when he said that Aslan does represent a Christ-like figure but also symbolises for him Muhammad, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries.

As a Baha’i I certainly share Neeson’s sentiments. I remember when watching ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ a few years ago how taken I was by Aslan as a representation of the universal self- sacrificing spiritual teacher- reminding me of Bahá’u’lláh in chains in the Shah’s dungeon or the crucifixion of Christ on Calvary. (This is of course a recurring motif in classical religions- for example the sacrifice and rebirth of Osiris). I was also struck by the image of winter being rolled back by a spiritual spring-time – a common theme in the writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá who wrote

Just as the surface of the material world becomes dark and dreary, the soil dormant, the trees naked and bare and no beauty or freshness remain to cheer the darkness and desolation, so the winter of the spiritual cycle witnesses the death and disappearance of divine growth and extinction of the light and love of God. But again the cycle begins and a new springtime appears. In it the former springtime has returned, the world is resuscitated, illumined and attains spirituality; religion is renewed and reorganized, hearts are turned to God, the summons of God is heard and life is again bestowed upon man.

‘The Beauty Of The Rose’

I have always loved the rose- which is of course a traditional symbol of beauty and  love. It has also been the flower of choice of many a poet including W.B Yeats who amongst other devices used  the rose as a symbol of his personal muse and poetry in general. See for example the following line from ‘To The Rose Upon The Rood Of  Time’

‘RED Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!
Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways…’

Apparently in classical times the rose was sacred to a number of goddesses including Aphrodite and Isis. It is also a symbol of love and beauty in Persian poetry and the writings of the Sufis. I am struck by the amount of rose imagery in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh (who for some time assumed the guise of a dervish on the banks of the Tigris).  My favourite example is this from the ’The Hidden Words’

‘O FRIEND! In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love, and from the nightingale of affection and desire loosen not thy hold. Treasure the companionship of the righteous and eschew all fellowship with the ungodly‘.

Bahá’u’lláh also uses the rose as a symbol of spiritual enlightenment referring to ‘the rose-garden of knowledge’ and the ‘rose-garden of My wisdom’. He also exhorts the reader to

‘…soar upward from the clay of self and dwell in the rose bower of the heart’

The rose symbolising spiritual enlightenment is also contrasted with clay as a symbol of materialism

‘O MY CHILDREN! I fear lest, bereft of the melody of the dove of heaven, ye will sink back to the shades of utter loss, and, never having gazed upon the beauty of the rose, return to water and clay‘.

Bahá’u’lláh also appears to use the rose as a symbol of the arrival of a new spiritual era-

‘Hear Me, ye mortal birds! In the Rose Garden of changeless splendour a Flower hath begun to bloom, compared to which every other flower is but a thorn’

(All quotations taken from the Bahá’í Reference Library)

‘The Green And Goodly Tree’

The tree of life is a recurring motif in many traditions.  For example in Norse mythology, the universe-spanning tree Yggdrasil connects the nine worlds of Norse cosmology.

‘Three roots there are | that three ways run

‘Neath the ash-tree Yggdrasil;

‘Neath the first lives Hel, | ‘neath the second the frost-giants,

‘Neath the last are the lands of men’.

Source: The Ballad Of Grimnir

The Book of Genesis refers to a tree planted by God in the Garden of Eden the fruit of which confers immortality. Along with the tree of life grows the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

‘Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.

Genesis 2:8-17 New International Version (NIV)

‘Trees of Life’ are also important symbols in modern paganism-

‘The trees are cosmic maps of the Otherworlds our ancestors recognised. They are also called Trees of Life – all life, not just human. The more familiar “wheel of the year” showing the elements and compass points is a flat diagram of earth. World trees must be thought of in 3-D. The tree is a living cosmic axis with its roots in the Underworld, linking with the trunk on the soil of our Earth and its branches in the air of the Otherworld of spirit’.

Source: http://www.whitedragon.org.uk/articles/ygg.htm

I am personally struck by the amount of tree imagery in the writings of Baha’u’llah.  Some examples of this imagery include the appearance of the tree as symbols of spiritual renewal, wisdom, the unity of mankind and the relationship of God and his Manifestation. For example-

‘Cast into the fire the tree that hath rot and dried up, and abide under the shadow of the green and goodly Tree, and partake of the fruit thereof.’

‘When the channel of the human soul is cleansed of all worldly and impeding attachments, it will unfailingly perceive the breath of the Beloved across immeasurable distances, and will, led by its perfume, attain and enter the City of Certitude. Therein he will discern the wonders of His ancient Wisdom, and will perceive all the hidden teachings from the rustling leaves of the Tree that flourisheth in that City’.

‘Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship’.

‘All comparisons and likenesses fail to do justice to the Tree of Thy Revelation, and every way is barred to the comprehension of the Manifestation of Thy Self and the Day Spring of Thy Beauty.… these Birds of the celestial Throne are all sent down from the heaven of the Will of God, and as they all arise to proclaim His irresistible Faith, they, therefore, are regarded as one soul and the same person. For they all drink from the one Cup of the love of God, and all partake of the fruit of the same Tree of Oneness’.

Source: Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah



‘Eldritch Tales’

I am currently reading the collected stories of H.P.Lovecraft. They are wonderfully imagined tales of cosmic horror ripping through the thin veil of reality. When one goes beyond the entertainment however, I feel a certain sadness that  the stories reveal a kind of existential horror of the material world on the part of the author – the descriptions of slimy-orificed creatures replete with Freudian suggestion. There is also a kind of anti-Platonist motif in Lovecraft’s work with the universe of Cthulu falling as a dark shadow on the mundane world. The protagonists of Lovecraft’s stories often appear rendered spiritually helpless by their own materialism. In contrast Abdu’l-Bahá teaches that we have both a lower self and a higher self capable of reflecting the light of God. We are in this wonderful material world  but not limited to it.

In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men.

‘The Sun And The Mirror’

I find Plotinus’ writings on the nature of God and the universe to be most intriguing. He taught that the universe emanated from a transcendent God (the One) unaffected or undiminished by Creation. Plotinus used the analogy of the rays of the sun or a reflection in a mirror to describe this relationship.

This Neo-Platonist concept of the universe emanating from God is reminiscent of the contemporary scientific theory of the ‘Big Bang’ with the universe exploding outwards from a single point. Where Plotinus differs is that current scientific theory suggests creation ex nihilo- a point of view that Plotinus disagreed with.

It is striking that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá uses similar Neo-Platonist arguments and imagery in ‘Some Answered Questions’ saying that

..there is the world of God, the world of the Kingdom, and the world of Creation: three things. The first emanation from God is the bounty of the Kingdom, which emanates and is reflected in the reality of the creatures, like the light which emanates from the sun..

‘Conscience And The Spirit’

The founder of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania Ferenc Dávid (1510 – 15 November 1579) is quoted as saying

There is no greater mindlessness and absurdity than to force conscience and the spirit with external power, when only their creator has authority for them.

These words seem particularly apt when applied to the situation of the Baha’is in Iran who are being cruelly persecuted for their beliefs. What is the point in using physical power to force outward conformity when ultimately it is a spiritual matter between an individual’s conscience and God?

‘Quantifying The Unquantifiable’

I have just read an interesting post at Christopher Schwartz’s Weblog -which if I have understood correctly-argues that a transcendent God cannot be understood by observing His creation- which limits the role of scientific method in the debate about the existence of God as well as the use of the ‘argument from design’ by theologians. Schwartz says in his post ‘Quantum Religion’ that

..One friend, call him Spinoza, says that the spiritual and material are but two sides of the same substance; another friend, call him Descartes, says that the two are cleaved apart — the everlasting alongside the contingent.  The first says to the second: you forget that the spiritual is also created, and so, however different it may be from the material, it must necessarily be just another dimension of the given cosmos.  To this the second replies: perhaps you’re correct, but then you risk rendering quantifiable the unquantifiable.

These are very important distinctions to make theologically and conceptually, especially if we are determined to avoid the heresy of Intelligent Design.  If we search too hard for fingerprints of the craftsman, we risk not only doing injustice to the activity of science, but to the activity of religion as well.  Indeed, a question the Intelligent Design movement is afraid to countenance is whether ultimately religion must speak of an impossible kingdom beyond the horizon of evidence, lest it cease being about faith and become an ideology no better than Material Dialecticism…

I would agree that God is ‘unknowable in His essence’ in the sense that a God who can be fully understood by His creation is not God in the sense of being beyond all creation. Having said this I think the evidence of order in the universe is a convincing argument for a creator or at the very least a structure to reality- which amounts in my opinion to pretty much the same thing (Even if we take the sceptics view that the structure is only imposed by human perception, that very structure in itself suggests a created order..).  Therefore I am not hostile to the ‘argument from design’ although I would agree that in its naive form it can present a rather mechanistic view of God’s role in the universe.

In the context of the relationship between science and religion I certainly agree it is a fruitless task to try and prove the existence of a transcendent God by analysing His creation, as for me God has a greater existence in the ‘world of ideas’ than the ‘material world’. (Having said this I do not believe God has a merely subjective existence in the human imagination but rather that the world of ideas is perhaps that spiritual realm distinct from the material realm in which such a divine being exists. (Though I appreciate the counter argument that says that this apparently non-material world of ‘mind’ is part of the ‘material universe’ of human brain activity and also the argument that a transcendent God is beyond even this ‘world of ideas’…). In the words of Bahá’u’lláh

To every discerning and illuminated heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery..

‘The Pastures Of Desire And Passion’

I have just read an interesting quotation by the Greek philosopher Epictetus who said “Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one’s desires, but by the removal of desire.” Epictetus was born in Phrygia around 55 AD- though he spent much of his life in Greece after his banishment there by the Roman Emperor Domitian. Although born into slavery he studied philosophy and rose to prominence in the Stoic school. He taught that philosophy is not just an academic pursuit but is a spiritual path. Put another way he believed that it is not sufficient to merely understand what is good- the true philosopher must also put his ideals into practice. As a rational being the individual has a responsibility to care for all human kind. Epictetus explained human suffering as arising from a futile attempt to control external events whilst abandoning control of our personal desires and actions. Happiness is to be found in calm acceptance of what we cannot control and doing what is within our control to promote the greater good. This emphasis on detachment in the name of a greater good brings to mind a quotation from ‘The Hidden Words’

ALAS! ALAS! O LOVERS OF WORLDLY DESIRE! Even as the swiftness of lightning ye have passed by the Beloved One, and have set your hearts on satanic fancies. Ye bow the knee before your vain imagining, and call it truth. Ye turn your eyes towards the thorn, and name it a flower. Not a pure breath have ye breathed, nor hath the breeze of detachment been wafted from the meadows of your hearts. Ye have cast to the winds the loving counsels of the Beloved and have effaced them utterly from the tablet of your hearts, and even as the beasts of the field, ye move and have your being within the pastures of desire and passion.

Bahá’u’lláh

Ayyám-i-Há -The Intercalary Days

I am posting this beautiful prayer to mark the beginning of the Ayyám-i-Há (the Days of Há, Intercalary days) in the Baha’i calendar.

My God, my Fire and my Light! The days which Thou hast named the Ayyám-i-Há (the Days of Há, Intercalary days) in Thy Book have begun, O Thou Who art the King of names, and the fast which Thy most exalted Pen hath enjoined unto all who are in the kingdom of Thy creation to observe is approaching. I entreat Thee, O my Lord, by these days and by all such as have during that period clung to the cord of Thy commandments, and laid hold on the handle of Thy precepts, to grant that unto every soul may be assigned a place within the precincts of Thy court, and a seat at the revelation of the splendors of the light of Thy countenance. 

These, O my Lord, are Thy servants whom no corrupt inclination hath kept back from what Thou didst send down in Thy Book. They have bowed themselves before Thy Cause, and received Thy Book with such resolve as is born of Thee, and observed what Thou hadst prescribed unto them, and chosen to follow that which had been sent down by Thee. 

Thou seest, O my Lord, how they have recognized and confessed whatsoever Thou hast revealed in Thy Scriptures. Give them to drink, O my Lord, from the hands of Thy graciousness the waters of Thine eternity. Write down, then, for them the recompense ordained for him that hath immersed himself in the ocean of Thy presence, and attained unto the choice wine of Thy meeting. 

I implore Thee, O Thou the King of kings and the Pitier of the downtrodden, to ordain for them the good of this world and of the world to come. Write down for them, moreover, what none of Thy creatures hath discovered, and number them with those who have circled round Thee, and who move about Thy throne in every world of Thy worlds.  

Thou, truly, art the Almighty, the All-Knowing, the All-Informed. 

Bahá’u’lláh

‘For The Sake Of Love And Union’

For many years I have been active in the interfaith movement, promoting  religious tolerance and celebrating religious diversity. It occurred to me recently that the Baha’i Faith is the only major religion of which I am aware whose founder was explicit in exhorting his followers to take part in such activities. From a Baha’i perspective all the divinely revealed religions are one religion- which Baha’u’llah referred to as ‘The Changless Faith of God.’ As a means of promoting religious unity Bahá’u’lláh calls on His followers to “consort with the people of all religions with joy and gladness” Furthermore Baha’u’llah wrote- ‘O ye people of the world! The Religion of God is for the sake of love and union; make it not the cause of enmity and conflict. … ‘ As a Baha’i I have an obligation to put these ideals into practice, therefore interfaith activity is not an ‘optional extra’ but is rather a core part of my faith.