‘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

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‘Dwellers In The City Of Eternity’

I am struck by Bahá’u’lláh’s use of city metaphors to describe spiritual states, or planes of existence in the following verses from the ‘The Hidden Words’

‘O YE THAT PRIDE YOURSELVES ON MORTAL RICHES! Know ye in truth that wealth is a mighty barrier between the seeker and his desire, the lover and his beloved. The rich, but for a few, shall in no wise attain the court of His presence nor enter the city of content and resignation. Well is it then with him, who, being rich, is not hindered by his riches from the eternal kingdom, nor deprived by them of imperishable dominion. By the Most Great Name! The splendor of such a wealthy man shall illuminate the dwellers of heaven even as the sun enlightens the people of the earth’!

‘O MY FRIENDS! Call ye to mind that covenant ye have entered into with Me upon Mount Paran, situate within the hallowed precincts of Zaman. I have taken to witness the concourse on high and the dwellers in the city of eternity, yet now none do I find faithful unto the covenant. Of a certainty pride and rebellion have effaced it from the hearts, in such wise that no trace thereof remaineth. Yet knowing this, I waited and disclosed it not’.

O SON OF MY HANDMAID! Quaff from the tongue of the merciful the stream of divine mystery, and behold from the dayspring of divine utterance the unveiled splendor of the daystar of wisdom. Sow the seeds of My divine wisdom in the pure soil of the heart, and water them with the waters of certitude, that the hyacinths of knowledge and wisdom may spring up fresh and green from the holy city of the heart.

‘O COMRADES! The gates that open on the Placeless stand wide and the habitation of the loved one is adorned with the lovers’ blood, yet all but a few remain bereft of this celestial city, and even of these few, none but the smallest handful hath been found with a pure heart and sanctified spirit’.

‘O DWELLERS IN THE CITY OF LOVE! Mortal blasts have beset the everlasting candle, and the beauty of the celestial Youth is veiled in the darkness of dust. The chief of the monarchs of love is wronged by the people of tyranny and the dove of holiness lies prisoned in the talons of owls. The dwellers in the pavilion of glory and the celestial concourse bewail and lament, while ye repose in the realm of negligence, and esteem yourselves as of the true friends. How vain are your imaginings’!

‘O YE THAT ARE FOOLISH, YET HAVE A NAME TO BE WISE! Wherefore do ye wear the guise of shepherds, when inwardly ye have become wolves, intent upon My flock? Ye are even as the star, which riseth ere the dawn, and which, though it seem radiant and luminous, leadeth the wayfarers of My city astray into the paths of perdition’.

Source: The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh

‘The Sun And The Moon’

I find Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings on the meaning of celestial imagery in the Qur’án very illuminating.

“And now, concerning His words—“The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give light, and the stars shall fall from heaven.” By the terms “sun” and “moon,” mentioned in the writings of the Prophets of God, is not meant solely the sun and moon of the visible universe. Nay rather, manifold are the meanings they have intended for these terms”.

“The term “suns” hath many a time been applied in the writings of the “immaculate Souls” unto the Prophets of God, those luminous Emblems of Detachment. Among those writings are the following words recorded in the “Prayer of Nudbih”: “Whither are gone the resplendent Suns? Whereunto have departed those shining Moons and sparkling Stars?” Thus, it hath become evident that the terms “sun,” “moon,” and “stars” primarily signify the Prophets of God, the saints, and their companions, those Luminaries, the light of Whose knowledge hath shed illumination upon the worlds of the visible and the invisible”.

“In another sense, by the terms ‘sun’, ‘moon’, and ‘stars’ are meant such laws and teachings as have been established and proclaimed in every Dispensation, such as the laws of prayer and fasting. These have, according to the law of the Qur’án, been regarded, when the beauty of the Prophet Muḥammad had passed beyond the veil, as the most fundamental and binding laws of His dispensation. To this testify the texts of the traditions and chronicles, which, on account of their being widely known, need not be referred to here. Nay rather, in every Dispensation the law concerning prayer hath been emphasized and universally enforced. To this testify the recorded traditions ascribed to the lights that have emanated from the Day-star of Truth, the essence of the Prophet Muḥammad”.

“Muḥammad, the Seal of the Prophets, and the most distinguished of God’s chosen Ones, hath likened the Dispensation of the Qur’án unto heaven, by reason of its loftiness, its paramount influence, its majesty, and the fact that it comprehendeth all religions. And as the sun and moon constitute the brightest and most prominent luminaries in the heavens, similarly in the heaven of the religion of God two shining orbs have been ordained—fasting and prayer. ‘Islám is heaven; fasting is its sun, prayer, its moon.’”

“This is the purpose underlying the symbolic words of the Manifestations of God. Consequently, the application of the terms “sun” and “moon” to the things already mentioned hath been demonstrated and justified by the text of the sacred verses and the recorded traditions. Hence, it is clear and manifest that by the words “the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven” is intended the waywardness of the divines, and the annulment of laws firmly established by divine Revelation, all of which, in symbolic language, have been foreshadowed by the Manifestation of God”.

 The Kitáb-i-Íqán

‘To Know Thee And To Worship Thee’

I sometimes think prayer is a simple reminder of our relationship with the One from whom our plural existence has emanated.  So each day between the hours of noon and sunset (apart from when I forget..). I recite this short prayer revealed by Bahá’u’lláh for this purpose.

I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.

Short Obligatory Prayer

‘A Difference Of Opinion’

I think we have a tendency to personalise differences of opinion and ignore the fundamental humanity that unites us all.  The advice of `Abdu’l-Bahá seems particularly wise in this regard-

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.

Paris Talks

The Fundamental Purpose Of Religion

I love this definition of the purpose of religion from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh – to bring us together- not to be used as an excuse for division…

The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity

The Tabernacle Of Unity 2.34

‘Backbiting Quencheth The Light Of The Heart’

Gossip and backbiting are often thought of as pretty low down the scale of social ills but I think this view underestimates the real spiritual damage caused by this activity. In its minor form it causes hurt and division and in its extreme form it can destroy reputations and lives. I think these are some of the reasons that Bahá’u’lláh teaches us in his writings that the seeker of God

…should also regard backbiting as grievous error, and keep himself aloof from its dominion, inasmuch as backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul. He should be content with little, and be freed from all inordinate desire. He should treasure the companionship of those that have renounced the world, and regard avoidance of boastful and worldly people a precious benefit.

The Kitab-i-Iqan, Pages 161-200: gr214

One of the notable aspects of this teaching is how it highlights the spiritual damage done to those who backbite not just to those who are its victims.

Bahá’u’lláh also describes how denigrating others is often used as a way of avoiding dealing with our own shortcomings.

O SON OF BEING! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.

O SON OF MAN! Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.

The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh

‘Be Not The Slave Of Your Moods But Their Master’

Be not the slave of your moods, but their master. But if you are so angry, so depressed and so sore that your spirit cannot find deliverance and peace even in prayer, then quickly go and give some pleasure to someone lowly or sorrowful, or to a guilty or innocent sufferer! Sacrifice yourself, your talent, your time, your rest to another, to one who has to bear a heavier load than you – and your unhappy mood will dissolve into a blessed, contented submission to God.

Sorry people- I had thought that this was a quote by ‘Abdul Baha- just found out that it cannot be reliably attributed to him- but it still seems very good advice….

‘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’

‘We belong To Thy Garden Of Roses’

I think this is one of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s most beautiful prayers with it’s theme of spiritual revival and invocation of divine protection. I particularly like the garden imagery and the references to ‘reviving breath’ and ‘spiritual springtime’.

O Peerless Lord! Be Thou a shelter for this poor child and a kind and forgiving Master unto this erring and unhappy soul. O Lord! Though we are but worthless plants, yet we belong to Thy garden of roses. Though saplings without leaves and blossoms, yet we are a part of Thine orchard. Nurture this plant then through the outpourings of the clouds of Thy tender mercy and quicken and refresh this sapling through the reviving breath of Thy spiritual springtime. Suffer him to become heedful, discerning and noble, and grant that he may attain eternal life and abide in Thy Kingdom for evermore.

—‘Abdu’l-Bahá

‘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)

‘With Fire We Test The Gold’

I recently came across a wise quotation attributed to the author Henry Fielding (1707 – 1754) which says

Make money your god and it will plague you like the devil.

It sometimes appears that what is merely a useful fiction to facilitate the exchange of goods and services has become a false god demanding worship from us all. Despite living in a world of fiat currencies which only have value in our collective imagination we seem surprisingly ready to dismiss human virtues as abstractions. I am reminded of a section from the ‘Hidden Words’ which says

.. with fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants.

(If we haven’t passed the test yet perhaps we are at least studying hard as searching on Google delivered only 837,000,000 results for ‘money’ whereas ‘love’ delivered 1,610,000,000..).

‘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

‘The Bird Seeketh Its Nest’

O SON OF SPIRIT! The bird seeketh its nest; the nightingale the charm of the rose; whilst those birds, the hearts of men, content with transient dust, have strayed far from their eternal nest, and with eyes turned towards the slough of heedlessness are bereft of the glory of the divine presence. Alas! How strange and pitiful; for a mere cupful, they have turned away from the billowing seas of the Most High, and remained far from the most effulgent horizon.

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

Eve As Symbol Of The Human Soul

 
I have always admired ‘Abdu’l Baha for his appreciation of the symbolic nature of religious language. A good example is his exegesis of the biblical story of Adam and Eve- 
Question.—What is the truth of the story of Adam, and His eating of the fruit of the tree? 

…We must reflect a little: if the literal meaning of this story were attributed to a wise man, certainly all would logically deny that this arrangement, this invention, could have emanated from an intelligent being. Therefore, this story of Adam and Eve who ate from the tree, and their expulsion from Paradise, must be thought of simply as a symbol. It contains divine mysteries and universal meanings, and it is capable of marvelous explanations. Only those who are initiated into mysteries, and those who are near the Court of the All-Powerful, are aware of these secrets. Hence these verses of the Bible have numerous meanings. 

We will explain one of them, and we will say: Adam signifies the heavenly spirit of Adam, and Eve His human soul. For in some passages in the Holy Books where women are mentioned, they represent the soul of man. 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.  

 
Significantly Eve is not the temptress of the literalist story and is rather a symbol of the human soul. Of course as ‘Abdu’l Baha says
these verses of the Bible have numerous meanings.