Sunday, May 30, 2004

Two Essays on Search for Truth

Why Search? (Part II of II)
Covenant and Search in an Age of Responsibility. (Part I)

Why Search?

Part II (remix of several earlier attempts)

By John Taylor; 26 May, 2004

Socrates' famous teaching is that the examined life is not worth living. This implies that it is possible to live an unexamined life. Indeed it is much easier to substitute imitation for truth. Same thing in dieting, avoiding exercise and munching on sugary snacks instead of healthful, nutritious meals is for most of us the easy way. Socrates' point only was that such a life is of such low value that it is not worth it, it loses "life value." Similarly, the Baha'i teachings aim to improve life value by raising search for truth to the level of a universal principle, an imperative for every citizen of the world.

The past few days I have been asking, "Why Search?" Today I'll try imagining the ways that life would be more worthwhile if genuine search ever predominated over imitation. Specifically, I will ask: "What would happen if search for truth were fully understood as a principle?" and, "What would the world look like if everyone cast aside shoddy imitations and sought the truth?"

Some might say that our world would look just like it is, assuming that since Truth is infinite it makes no difference how close we may be, or how distant. This may be so but the experience of modern times with the spread of scientific investigation indicates that there are great consequences indeed. The spread of education and systematic investigation of spiritual as well as material conditions would, I think, be the revolution to end all revolutions.

All people of faith, however much they may disagree in specifics, have to assume that this is so. We all believe that the world would be a finer place if spiritual truths were valued and understood by all people. The Psalm sums it up, "... give me understanding and I shall live." (Ps 119:144) I think it is fair then to assume that the more widespread search becomes, be it material or spiritual, the more people will value one another and generally admire beauty and perfection, be it in nature or the built world.

I would therefore expect to see more beauty, and to see more people having full and free access to it. Places of beauty would take over; there would be more parks, nature trails, excursions to mountain panoramas and into the dark depths of the rain forest. Buildings would contain more meditation rooms and relaxation areas and display more art on the walls and statues in the foyer. The air would be fresher and the conversation more serious and animated. The world of work would be less driven and frenetic but more efficient, more fulfilling for both servants and those served. There would be fewer slums, less pollution, and more smiles on peoples' faces.

To me this is the simplest and most reliable indicator, the aspect of the face. When I first arrive in the city from the country the first thing I notice is how oppressed peoples' faces look. Everyone seems either to on his way away from some horrible crime or has just leaving the scene of a horrible tragedy. A columnist in that nearby city is now complaining that people are rightly complaining about a general decline in the quality of service; the person at the counter or carrying your bags is more surly, angry, intolerant and impolite than even a few years ago. This surely is a very bad sign.

I would also expect if search for truth predominated that the average person would look more beautiful. I am not speaking about just faces and bodies, though there is that too. The epitome of beauty is the young person. If you want to visit a place where everyone has Disneyland beauty and perfection you just have to visit any university campus. But that is an unfair choice since these places cut out the very young and the old. These scenes have what one member of our Baha'i community calls "McOneness." In a world where search predominated I would therefore expect beauty to last through all the ages of man. Most would have beautiful, perfect bodies appropriate to childhood, adulthood and old age. Perfection would not be confined to those in the prime of life.

Last summer I had the rare chance for the likes of me to frequent tourist areas. I was shocked to find that almost everyone there was fat, most being grossly obese. Here the human world was as ugly as the waddling pedestrians in the new animated video, "The Triplets of Belleville." This film's depiction of our epidemic of obesity unfortunately only slightly exaggerates the reality. The latest headline shares a startling new statistic: one in three premature deaths around the world can be traced to either being too fat or smoking.

Though most are not making the connection, this is surely a glaring sign that imitation is taking the place of truth seeking. The metaphor is so close that I find it one hard to distinguish from the other. How so? Recent studies show that fat cells take on a corrupt agenda of their own; greasy globules of fat actually function as an independent organ. They take over the body's pleasure centers and raise hunger to the top of its list of priorities. Heroin is now known to be less addictive than fat!

Now imitation does exactly the same thing in the world of the mind. The old fashioned word for this is idolatry, worship of false idols. People love this or that idea, cause or interest, but then it takes on its own agenda. It rises above all other points of view, even above the good of the human race itself. The means becomes the end. After that, every suggested cure becomes a self-propagating cancer.

This is why I think that the first step to a cure will be to investigate and regulate our lives according to what our bodies really need, in other words, reality. We increasingly do it for our pets, most of which look healthier and more content than their owners. We do it for new cars; warrantee plans assure that owners perform the proper maintenance of their vehicles at regular intervals. Why not for our own bodies and, most importantly, for our own souls?

What then would the world look like if we performed correct maintenance on our souls? To me the first outer sign that people value and apply search for truth as it merits would surely be that they smile and laugh. Proof of this is that children, whose physical needs are closely regulated by their parents, tend to laugh hundreds of times more often than adults. I believe that if throughout our lives we accepted the care and regular corrections that our Creator can offer, we would smile and laugh far more frequently than we do.

`Abdu'l-Baha seems to have been of this opinion. A loving smile is a major outer sign of successful search. He concluded His address to Green Acre (which was a center for free and eccentric thought at the time, not yet a Baha'i summer school) offered the following indicator that Baha'is have hit upon the truth of Baha'u'llah and are spreading it as they should.

"The Cause of Baha'u'llah has not yet appeared in this country. I desire that you be ready to sacrifice everything for each other, even life itself; then I will know that the Cause of Baha'u'llah has been established. I will pray for you that you may become the cause of upraising the lights of God. May everyone point to you and ask, Why are these people so happy? I want you to be happy in Green Acre, to laugh, smile and rejoice in order that others may be made happy by you. I will pray for you." (Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation, 218)

Covenant and Search in an Age of Responsibility. Part I

By John Taylor; 30 May, 2004

The inauguration of search for truth as law and principle marks the most fundamental step forward in the history of humanity; it is the logical extension of the Abrahamic religions’ establishment of love as a law.

Revolutions have always eaten their own children and fallen back into barbarism and violence because they were not based upon search by one and all. It is always the same story. Opponents and contenders on all sides dress in high ideals and fill the air with slogans like "power to the people" and "no peace without justice." But all is empty posturing as long as each and all are not responsible, as long as even one of us is left out of the duty to search for truth.

Even without universality, limited search for truth has already has given birth to science and high technology, which are based upon systematic investigation of this world. As search becomes universal it will be carried to our purpose as humans, that is, conscious, regular accountability to God will be systematic, regular and universal. Hence the scriptural prophesy of a promised "Kingdom of God." The Bab inaugurated this Age of Responsibility. He declared that all difficulties are removed by the mantra: "All are His servants and all abide by His bidding." It follows that the only solution is for one and all to give a better, more regular accounting of themselves to God.

Holy Writ's special terminology pictures those who serve God consciously as sitting on God's "right hand" and those who do not on the "left." In both, the highest human station is defined by service to the King, responsibility to God. Conscious or unconscious, right or left, day or night, many symbols point to this one reality of one equal human station. The Bab explains,

"God is sanctified from His servants and no direct relationship ever existeth between Him and any created thing, while ye have all arisen at His bidding. Verily He is your Lord and your God, your Master and your King. He ordaineth your movements at His behest throughout the day-time and in the night season." (Bab, Selections, 130)

The Bab pictured His Revelation as the "essence of Islam." In spite of its horrific corruption today, the Message of the Qu'ran was designed to inculcate certain lessons that are at the heart of a truly civilized life. Among these are daily prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, alms, and other expressions built into one's lifestyle of accountability towards God. Without this training, we will always have problems breaking through from theory to action in the search for truth.

For Westerners our normality suffers from a perverse, triumphal secularism that leaves God utterly outside the structure of our lives. Regular daily expression of godliness is banished from daily life, even among our most pious and devout. One result is a twisted understanding of the nature of right and equality.

Over past centuries in the West equality and rights are misunderstood because they were hacked off the hanks of religion like a steak off a carcass. Constitutions, laws and rights were formally written out and made accessible to rational analysis. However, from an organic point of view they are dead, broken and mutilated. They came out of the Baha'i hell, that is, an atmosphere of contention, conflict, rebellion and revolution. Their influence is stunted for this reason. Only an atmosphere of love, a feeling of their being made in the court of a Merciful Creator will make right right for all of us.

This bifurcation of right from its root accelerated in the 18th Century with the Declaration of the Rights of Man. An example is Article 15, which states,

"Society has the right to require of every public agent an account of his administration." (Declaration of the Rights of Man, Article #15)

This upholds what is not unreasonable, that the people should require public servants to be responsible to them, or rather to their trustees and representatives. Answerability is what service is about, after all, and a servant by definition works for and is answerable to someone else, though not necessarily the one being served.

The problem is that a certain hypocrisy enters in. What business does the public have requiring an accounting of public servants if they themselves are not called to give account of their actions? Every perfidy starts and ends in a self-betrayal like this; if anyone is left unaccountable power, absolute power, centralizes upon that fulcrum.

If I do not start by holding myself accountable, there is no avoiding it, I am a hypocrite. If I never give account of myself by what right can I even utter the word "justice?" Every time I cry for justice, or complain of someone doing wrong I am holding some public agent to account. By questioning their actions I am leaving myself open to the same question. This article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man therefore set up another tyranny. It laid the groundwork for the totalitarianism of the public.

True religion holds the self, its truth and actions accountable to God, including the inner, hidden and untouchable thoughts. When religion is left out only some are held responsible and others are not. This is true of every human movement. The communists started by defending the working class but ended by making it into an idol and tyrant. The democrats do the same for the majority, capitalists for the profiteer, and so forth. Leaving anybody unaccountable opens the floodgate of centralized, unlimited power. It starts in hypocrisy and taints all service, public or private, with the master-slave relationship born of absolute power.

Nature abhors a vacuum. If you choose to leave God out something else will rush into the center; without Deity our hearts construct idols. The lesson of this age is summed up by this verse of the Qu'ran, which asks us to be objective and scientific about our idols. The criterion has to be whether they work.

"(Who) is better? -- God or the false gods they associate (with Him)?" (Q27:59, Yusuf Ali)

The old order is being rolled up because it is imbalanced by its involvement in idols and their tyranny, slavery and hypocrisy. In all its forms, this order is disordered, it simply does not work.

"Say: Verily my Lord doth cast the (mantle of) Truth (over His servants),- He that has full knowledge of (all) that is hidden. Say: The Truth has arrived, and Falsehood neither creates anything new, nor restores anything." (Q34:48-9, Yusuf Ali)

The new order is based upon a renewed covenant of service of each and all to God, without a single exception. Only this way will the ills of over-centralized, unaccountable power be excluded. That is why the Guardian called the new world order an "Age of Responsibility."

I am not finished with this theme, but for now let us conclude: At the crux of the principle of search for truth is the requirement that every believer, no, really everybody without exception, give a regular accounting of himself before God. At this junction search combines with social expression, which becomes the oneness of humanity. This combined principle informs all other social principles and bring order, world order, to the otherwise unimaginable complexity of five billion souls interacting every minute of every day.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Aphorisms, Why Search?

More of Alex's Aphorisms, Plus a few of mine; 24 May, 2004

I can see now so I don't have to listen anymore!
"My braying is the only truth," said the donkey.
We accept bribery as proof of natural selection!
Slogan: "Nurture the past to defeat the future!"
Smart people don't work, they are retired.
Power and being hated comes in the same package.
Do you believe in reincarnation after love?
I hate rainbows, so I chase them.
Wishes for eyes, reality for hands, struggle for heart.
Maximalist: Struggle does not matter, only results!
Feeling stupid is the first step to becoming smart, and that is as far as we are ever going to get.
Follow the common rules and you go to a common grave.
Your dreams become truth if you can remember them.
Love and water are fundamental to life but only if they are clean and tasteless.
Respect for stupidity makes you smart.
I'm nostalgic for a past that never happened.

Addendum by JET: I am even worse, I get nostalgic for other peoples' past.

--from "Say So," by Alex Szatmary, revised by JET 24 May, 2004

Added Sayings by JET

This is saying number one. Blow your nose in the morning or pick it all day. Your choice.

The prophet says, "Ye have eyes but do not see." And the impure answer, "You see but you do not make eyes." The prophet answers: "Actually I do, just not in the way you mean."

Thales said there was no difference between life and death. "Why, then," said some one to him, "do not you die?" "Because," said he, "it does make no difference." (Thales, IX, in Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Translated by C. D. Yonge)

JET: "Well, what if I kill you," someone said to Thales. "Makes no difference." "Hows about torture you?" "No difference," came the reply. "There's something hanging out of your nose there." "Well, you got me there," came Thales embarrassed reply. See saying number one.

Why search?; 24 May, 2004 (rewrite of a 1996 essay)

'Abdu'l-Baha said that "there is nothing of greater importance to mankind than the investigation of truth." [Promulgation, 63] If we accept that this is so this hypothetical question takes on great importance: What would the world be like if search for truth were universally ignored?

They told a story in eighteenth century Japan of a master who began instructing a servant. He said, "I want you to go on an errand to so and so across town..." This servant was very prompt and obedient, so he cried out, "Yes sir!" and ran off. On his return his master was beside himself. "You did not wait to hear my message! What in heaven's name did you tell him, you fool?" The servant answered: "Well, fortunately he was not at home." (Blyth, Oriental Humor, 535-6) Suffice to say, if nobody sought truth, it would be better for us all if we were not at home.

Richard Landau, an old friend and one of the best Baha'i speakers I've ever heard, once gave a delightful and succinct summary of the principle of universal education. Think of it this way, he said. What would happen if the old stopped teaching the young? If that were suddenly to happen the human race would surely die out within a generation, he said. But I would take Rick's question even further. What makes the young want to learn from the old? What makes the old want to share? What makes both desire to take knowledge further and strive to improve on old ways? The answer to that surely rests in the first Baha'i principle, in our mysterious human desire to seek out hidden realities. If nobody wanted to investigate, that is, we would reject knowledge, refuse instruction and sink into barbarism. No doubt, the race would die out in far less than a whole generation.

Of course this is an extreme, hypothetical case. Most of the time you can sit back and rely on the fruits of others' search. The mind is a mirror, after all. You can read history and because you know what will happen you will have more insight into their lives and blunders than the greatest and wisest.

It is not only possible but quite easy to relax before the challenge of truth and just say, "Let's not and say we did?" Truth is hidden and invisible, after all, so nobody will scream and shout if you get by with a half hearted stab at it. You can just parrot the first truths you happen to overhear from others and people will respect your words just the same.

Both Socrates and `Abdu'l-Baha termed this "imitation." The Master pointed out that imitation is an inebriating wine that leads to slavery,

"For the imitator saith that such and such a man hath seen, such a man hath heard, and such a conscience hath discovered; in other words he dependeth upon the sight, the hearing and the conscience of others and hath no will of his own." [Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, p. 29]

What is wrong with not having a will of your own? It feels good, after all, to be part of a bigger anthill. But, as an imitator you will not only be weaker but dumber, because you will forget how to take ideas apart and put them back together. Worse, an imitator tends to forget what is good and what is bad. Aesop told a story to illustrate what happens next.

There once was a caterpillar who came upon a snake sunning itself upon a rock. The caterpillar was filled with awe at the beauty of this creature. When he compared its extended length with his own he was envious. He stretched and strained to make himself as long as the snake. Eventually he elongated himself so hard that he burst. (Aesop Without Morals, 268)

We are made for the truth, but for our own truth. The part of the soul that loves its truth, that is made for reality, feels discontented and unhappy without expression. That anger boils over into irrational, knee-jerk reactions, such as violence.

This is not to say that imitation is all bad. Indeed, ardent, strenuous search all the time would take the strength and endurance of a superman. And as every teacher knows, imitation is a useful shortcut, especially in the early stages of the learning process. You can learn a lot about art by looking at paintings and about sports by watching professionals play the game. But at some stage a student must make truth his or her own. This is painful and requires work and effort but it is absolutely essential. If learners were allowed to copy from their neighbors in an examination only a small elite would learn anything. As likely as not, their errors would proliferate through the class.

A world like ours where imitation is common is a dangerous, precarious place. With large numbers of imitators sinking into ignorance it is not difficult for small elites to cajole large numbers of people to hatred, to march to war and terror and make cannon fodder of us all. So in many ways a world that relies too much upon imitation is as badly off as one where nobody sought truth at all.

"It behooves us all to be lovers of truth. Let us seek her in every season and in every country, being careful never to attach ourselves to personalities." (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, 134)

Monday, May 24, 2004

Declaration of the Bab, Essay

Essay Written on the Declaration of the Bab

By John Taylor; 23 May, 2004

Last night Mullah Husayn discovered the hidden Imam and more than the Hidden Imam. He stumbled against a gate that swiveled open the first Unit of a whole new Era. Who was Mullah Husayn? Suffice to say, we believe that without his contribution, merit, discovery and eventual sacrifice there would have been no Baha'i Faith, just as there would have been no Christianity without Paul. Both were human but had a unique, pivotal role and station.

In the reckoning of time, our year starts in the solar advent of spring; spiritually it tees off with this great renewal, two declarations, one after the other, though the last came first and the first last. These two great annunciations -- "Now hear this. God is here. That is all." -- of the Baha'i Era take place in our year before the first four of its nineteen month year have passed. The Declaration of the Bab takes place 65 days after Naw Ruz, the year's Day One in the Baha'i or Badi' Calendar. Ridvan begins 31 days afterwards, thus leaving 22 days, a little more than one 19 day Badi' month, between the end of Ridvan, Baha'u'llah's Declaration, and the event we celebrate today, the Declaration of the Bab (the formula being 65-(31+12)).

In actual chronology, of course, the Bab's declaration took place first, almost two decades or in Badi' measure one Vahid before Ridvan. He declared, that is, nineteen years before the first Ridvan of 1863, in 1844 CE, or Year One BE. The two declarations are separated by the space of one 19 year Vahid (unit, or cycle of years) in the Badi system of reckoning, less that 22 days.

The two declarations, that is, pounded out the first divinely sanctioned way of reckoning years. In a similar way Genesis compresses all of creation, from prehistory to now, into the first of its units, the seven day week. The declaration of the Bab inaugurated the first year, and Ridvan gave the whole era a local habitation and a name, the Baha'i Era, BE. The Bab named each of the 19 years of the Vahid cycle, just as he named the weeks and the months, after divine virtues. Only one year of the Vahid has the same name as a month, Baha, year number nine, month number one. The name of year 19 of the Vahid is, logically enough, "Vahid." Our books translate Vahid as "unity," but I was assured by a scholar at the Institute for Persian Studies that "unit" is a more adequate translation. Either way, the divine virtue of Vahid seems to refer to God's ability to sum up all things into a single unit or unity, or whatever.

In that first, formative nineteen year Vahid (pronounced "V ah head," not to be confused with Vheed, Vahid, the learned disciple of the Bab) separating the two great declarations, we can expect that the sun of revelation rose in the sky and its force grew much stronger. One unit stronger, maybe. The Bab was the sun dipping over the horizon and Baha'u'llah was the sun, well, higher in the sky. Maybe after the half million years of the Baha'i Era have run their course somebody will be able to say exactly how much higher the sun rose during that first Vahid.

This waxing of force seems to be reflected in the stories of how the two holy occasions played out. The Declaration of the Bab, which we celebrated two hours and 11 minutes after sunset last night, seems characterized by mystery. Reading through the account of Mullah Husayn's fateful evening, one is struck by the strong element of suspense and resolution. It is as if the story of religion were one big mystery novel and that meeting on that street of Shiraz was the beginning of an answer. Even where they met is shrouded in mystery, since Dawnbreakers contradicts itself, as B-- remarked at our meeting last night. The text says they met in the street outside the gate of the city (p. 52) but the caption to a picture of a room in the Masjid-i-Ikhani says that they met there (p. 53). A further mystery: was she, of all the people that have been and are reading this history, the first person to notice that?

Wherever it was that they actually met, they soon returned, the Bab and the Babu'l-Bab, to the home of the Bab, thus setting up a guest-host relationship between them. This is an important relationship everywhere, but especially in Muslim lands; it actually supercedes the literally repulsive notions of ritual uncleanness prevalent among Muslims. No matter how filthy an infidel you are, you are still welcomed into a desert home and treated with great deference. As the Bab Himself points out, these strictures of hospitality saved Mullah Husayn at one point, when the guest presumed to test his Host. There is a mystery in that.

Another thing I noticed as we were reading through the story once again last night was that time for both the Gate and the Gate's Gate was regulated by the five Muslim obligatory prayers. The only reason Mullah Husayn remembered that the declaration took place at exactly 2 hours and eleven minutes after sunset was that they had performed the ablutions and evening obligatory prayer together at the required time, near sunset. Prayer and time regulated one another and made events memorable, even when the supreme revelation was turning time and calendration upside down and renewing it according to Badi', meaning an innovation, inspiration or what some Christians call a personal "dispensation."

But as I was saying, mystery and the resolution of a mystery were characteristic of this first declaration of our Era. Mullah Husayn was, according to the Covenant of God, the most qualified person in the world to find the solution to the puzzle of religion. For one thing, he was a Shiih or Twelver Muslim, a religion that emphasizes the aristocratic element of faith.

Imagine, if you will, how different Christianity would have been if Jesus had married and His descendents were known and walking among us. Yet Shiism is founded upon just that, the living and reproducing family of the Prophet, called Siyyids or "chiefs." Their most cherished belief, shared by Baha'is, is that the family of God's Prophet is by that very fact the most worthy and qualified group of aristocrats in the world. Who could ever be greater than the Messenger of God, or more privileged than a member of His family? Other aristocrats may have qualifications, but nothing like this. God Himself picked the Siyyids out. No human election or testing, or even luck, could ever top that merit! A government run by them would be the meritocracy of meritocracies.

In Islam, the Prophet, to make things even tougher, became the head of state during His own lifetime. It was no longer a matter of prestige for his family but royal power. His twelve lineal descendents are considered in Shiism to be the only truly legitimate successors to the leadership of Islam. Similarly, Britons regard the house of Windsor to be the only family from which legitimate kings can chosen. Yet this succession of spiritual kings called "Imams" ended in the twelfth of them, a once and future king whose demise was shrouded in mystery or "occultation." Shiihs look for the return of that Twelfth Imam in the same way Jews await the Messiah and Christians the return of Christ.

As I said, in a sense Mullah Husayn was the most qualified from the point of view of credentials. He was not only a Shiih, but the logical successor to the most recent and advanced school of Shiih Islam, Shaykhism, headed by Siyyid Kazim and Shaykh Ahmad before him. But instead of passing the ball to the learned Husayn, Kazim posed for him a quest, a holy mystery for him to solve. He offered a whole series of clues, many very specific. Mullah Husayn had to use all his spiritual savvy to find the answer on that street, or was it in that room of the Masjid? in the city of Shiraz. At the end of His quest was a Siyyid, the ultimate Aristocrat, a family member chosen again by God.

For Mullah Husayn his quest was no idle mystery tour excursion; it was a matter of life or death. It is evident from some of the asides in Nabil's account that like the Ancient Mariner, Mullah Husayn told the story of the encounter that night whenever he had the chance until the end of his days. He often stops his story to describe his own reactions. It was the heaviness of his burden, confided not to the Bab but silently in the obligatory prayer they were saying together, that initially prompted the process of Declaration in the first place.

"Whilst praying, I unburdened my soul, which was much oppressed, both by the mystery of this interview and the strain and stress of my search." (55-6)

The questioning and revelation of verses by the Bab that followed after his prayer lasted until just before he noted the time of the declaration. "I sat enraptured by the magic of His voice and the sweeping force of His revelation." (61) His hands were trembling and he was so moved that, as the Bab Himself remarked, he could not have walked the streets without being thought a madman. His story enflamed Babis he met personally and continues to light new torches every 22nd of May.

So when I say though that Mullah Husayn was the most qualified, I don't mean just by learning or background. I mean mostly his ardor, for the mark of his declaration was personal passion for the Key to God. At Ridvan we elect those who will undertake institutional measures to make us real believers.

"The members of the Spiritual Meeting must endeavor, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to make the souls real Baha'is." (Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, 411)

But at the Declaration of the Bab, we choose that part of ourselves that is elect, that will do that to the self. In this sense, earned merit confronts aristocratic merit, as it did when Husayn met Ali Muhammad, the Bab. This invisible election chooses the Aristos within, the feeling part of the soul; it flames out today in a spreading conflagration from person to person, from Mullah Husayn to all born in sincere belief.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Search for Truth

The Segue for Truth; Part One of Several

By John Taylor; 21 May, 2004

Dear Friends,

Yesterday I wrote some general material on Ruhi, "yet another Ruhi rant" as someone put it. According to my new policy, only new and original material went out over this Badi mailing list. I do not like clogging your mailboxes any more than necessary. So, on the blog I put up some additional material, including the first May 7 essay, Back to the Ruhi Future, in corrected form -- according to Murphy's Law, I find that no matter what a few spelling errors and other typos show their ugly face just after the final draft is out and onto the Badi list -- I also put on the blog a fuller version of the letter of the Master in question, some intelligent feedback to the BTTRF essay by reader Jimbo, yesterday's sequel essay, again, slightly corrected, and finally a thoughtful email response by reader Jean to essay number two.

Now that I am an experienced blogger all of four days I have learned that all a blog is a chronological website. It is just html or xml text, nothing more. even gives you the option of archiving older posts onto your personal website. Once I get my website back online, I will certainly do that, except that I will arrange the content topically rather than chronologically. At some stage in the process I want also to take the leap away from my usual plain text into multimedia, photos, sound, video, all incorporated into the essays. That is impossible with the Lyris server that runs the Badi list, but easy on the website. The Blog seems like the logical place for the transitional stage.

My health has held up for a whole week now, and I realize I am still writing the fluff that keeps me busy during attacks but is not good between them. I am capable of better than that, really I am. And it has been rainy too -- experience says I should be laid out completely. I will never understand this body.

So, I will have to assume that this clear patch will continue. The challenge I'll take on is what I call a principle run, a systematic run through the principles. I will start today with Search for truth. Again, only the new stuff will go into your mailbox, the blog will probably include some revised older essays and more extensive quotes from the Writings and elsewhere.

Search for Truth; 21 May, 2004

Part One of a Series on Search for Truth in the Writings of Baha'u'llah

This morning, going over the vast material I have collected over the years on the principle of search for truth my question was, where to start? This principle covers just about everything. Every thinker in history has spent most if not all of his or her time dealing with either search or truth, or both; that is what made them thinkers in the first place. The principle was even enshrined in a Latin saying, Quaere Verum, "Seek the Truth." The problem is that, like Pilot, the temptation is to throw up your hands and say, "What is truth?" Truth, for most of us most of the time, is something to live up to, finding it is the easy part.

After much agonizing, I concluded that the place to begin (and end) is with the Writings of Baha'u'llah and the Bab. Why? Here's my reasoning.

I should expect from these Writings nothing more nor less than what any student does of his or her teacher. No intelligent student imagines that her teacher is the first to think up these ideas. The expectation is only that this material is what that wise teacher has carefully considered and chosen as the most appropriate for right now and the tasks that the teacher knows from experience that we will be facing soon. The given lesson that the Bab and Baha'u'llah give us is, we believe, the most suitable for the particular challenges of this age.

While we are still on this all important question of what we expect from truth, our hopes and motives, what we are looking for from our quest, it occurs to me that the best place to start is with a prayer. Baha'u'llah wrote this petition for the seeker after truth:

"Establish us, then, upon the seats of truth in Thy presence, O Thou in Whose hands is the kingdom of all things! Thou art, verily, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the Most Merciful." (Prayers and Meditations, CLXXIX, 309-310)

The great, confusing discovery of the modern age is that truth is a diamond with many facets. The surface of each facet reflects a different, unique light from the one Source, but each of these phases or modalities seems to contradict all the others. Stand inside one and the others become invisible. Baha'u'llah's mystical writings, the Seven Valleys, the Four Valleys, the Javahir, are intended as compasses to guide our way through a maze that stymied even the Prophets of God.

"On this plane, neither the reign of reason is sufficient nor the authority of self. Hence, one of the Prophets of God hath asked: `O my Lord, how shall we reach unto Thee?' And the answer came, `Leave thyself behind, and then approach Me.'" (SVFV, 55)

Self is pretty close to the ultimate authority that we can possibly have, and reason is the "first gift of God to man," and yet both of them are inadequate! We have to leave them aside to seek and find the truth. In the Hidden Words, God again expresses this profound truth, this demand of truth that the seeker take a mystic leap of love and faith into the void.

"If thou lovest Me, turn away from thyself; and if thou seekest My pleasure, regard not thine own; that thou mayest die in Me and I may eternally live in thee." (AHW #7)

This might be called the golden Golden Rule, that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, but when you do unto God, you die. Then you live again but are wholly changed, holy, susceptible to the views and values of the Universal. Having gone through that you actually want to do what it takes to be one, unified. In a later tablet, Baha'u'llah points to the end result of masses of people refusing to take this solitary jump.

"Though the world is encompassed with misery and distress, yet no man hath paused to reflect what the cause or source of that may be. Whenever the True Counsellor uttered a word in admonishment, lo, they all denounced Him as a mover of mischief and rejected His claim. How bewildering, how confusing is such behavior! No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united. The evidences of discord and malice are apparent everywhere, though all were made for harmony and union." (Tablets, 163-164, Lawh-i-Maqsud)

Search as Anti-Politicizing Process; 22 May, 2004

Part Two of a Series on Search for Truth in the Writings of Baha'u'llah

By John Taylor; 22 May, 2004

Yesterday we observed a unified unity thesis running through Baha'u'llah's writings from beginning to end. It makes no hard distinction between being fair to ones self and being just in society. Failure in one mirrors the other. He sums it up in a Word of Wisdom,

"The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye." (Tablets, 157)

It holds that the ultimate sign of real seeking of truth is unity, which is the same as saying that one has learned to de-politicize one's world and words. Religion and politics are both under the same law, that of consultation, whose mindset is at the root of all that is both spiritual and scientific. Independent search for truth is basic to both methodologies and the following applies for those religious or scientific leaning:

"True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self." (Tablets, 156)

To fail to seek truth is to forget the true self, and that means neglecting the manifest fact that mind and soul are built for harmony and meant for union.

Early works like the Seven Valleys pick out a oneness in apparently diverse stages and incompatible perspectives of mind and soul. The many must ever be brought before the One. Variations of this theme continue through the Proclamation of the Kings. For example, in the Hidden Words, the 31st Arabic one advises every son of Being to,

"Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds."

Later, addressing the indolent Sultan of Turkey, He advises personal investigation rather than delegating to untrustworthy ministers. He then advises,

"Set before thine eyes God's unerring Balance and, as one standing in His Presence, weigh in that Balance thine actions every day, every moment of thy life. Bring thyself to account ere thou art summoned to a reckoning, on the Day when no man shall have strength to stand for fear of God, the Day when the hearts of the heedless ones shall be made to tremble." (Summons, 5,69, Suriy-i-Muluk, 208)

The same counsel in almost the same words for religious seekers and for a hopelessly depraved tyrant responsible for most of Baha'u'llah's years of suffering and banishment!

This refusal to draw distinctions common in other schools of thought continues through to the majestic pragmatism and world embracing concerns of later works, such as the Tablet of Wisdom, which advises the seeker to use unity as an indicator of independence of thought, to be "united in counsel, be one in thought." (Tablets, Lawh-i-Hikmat, 138) The Tablet to Maqsud holds that the misery and distress evident in current events is De Facto proof of a widespread refusal to reflect.

"How bewildering, how confusing is such behavior! No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united. The evidences of discord and malice are apparent everywhere, though all were made for harmony and union." (Tablets, 163-164)

Those who oppress and persecute others may seem to act in concert outwardly, but it is a facade. In the Tablet of Ahmad, for example, Baha'u'llah refuses to honor them with the word "unify," saying instead that they merely "combine to assist one another." The only thing that merits the word "unify" is genuine search and sincere adherence to truth, inside and out. Political revolutions, particularly the Iranian one, are historical demonstrations of how quickly such artificial conglomerations of wet sand fall apart from within as soon as they are dry.

Baha'u'llah's Writings, early, middle and late, share another presupposition about search and truth, that outer events reflect the inner reality, or lack thereof, as if in a mirror. This golden thread runs through into His ultimate work, the Will and Testament or Kitab-i-Ahd, as we shall see. For example, the burst of knowledge and communications characteristic of this age is an early outer sign of Baha'u'llah's spiritual impetus. Conversely, the ubiquitous war and bickering that fill the newspapers is public witness of private refusal to seek truth or sacrifice self for the Divine Beloved. The secret, inner betrayal of the self results in hatred and violence, either actively or by passively accepting them as inevitable. This insidious process is going on everywhere, at every level.

Baha'u'llah's great concern throughout is therefore both positive and destructive, to build what is true while breaking down all false and artificial barriers erected by finite human understanding. For instance, we petty mortals discover that meditation is valuable but instead of incorporating it into every phase of life, we specialize and shut the practice off into monasteries and solitary penance. The Law of Baha'u'llah therefore makes reflection an obligation for all but ends ritual, monasticism and ascetic practices.

At the same time, however, His Law upholds dichotomies that have a real basis. Most notable is the permanent separation of religion from politics -- as I just found out to my astonishment, the word "politics" does not even occur in the translated writings of Baha'u'llah. Still, Baha'u'llah undeniably affirms that there is some sort of division in the Kitab-i-Ahd. He states that the reason He suffered was for concord and an end to enmity, (Tablets, 219) and that royals serve the vital role of demonstrating hierarchical divine virtues, such as loftiness, on this earth.

"Kings are the manifestations of the power, and the daysprings of the might and riches, of God. Pray ye on their behalf. He hath invested them with the rulership of the earth and hath singled out the hearts of men as His Own domain." (TB 220-221)

There follows a categorical prohibition of any form of conflict or contention. Although the Ahd is undated, since it was His Will and Testament this is clearly intended to be His last word on the matter. We are free to be inwardly violent in taming the lower self (though since it is "His Own domain" the heart is surely meant ultimately to be peaceful as well), but any outer expressions of strife, even verbal ones, are now Verboten.

Though Baha'u'llah did not mention the word "politics," the Baha'i definition of the word was hardened by 'Abdu'l-Baha, the Center of the Covenant ordained in the Kitab-i-Ahd itself. His use of the word is close to what we in English refer to as "politicizing" an issue; that is, ejecting principle and reducing the discussion to contention and taking sides. This has nothing to do with the subject area covered by the discipline of political science, which of course is ruled the principle of harmony between science and religion. Whether a group is nominally political or not, even if it is religious, it is still "political" if its relations are marked by infighting and verbal clashes.

Proof of this is in the Master's use of the word "politico-religious" in reference to the relations among religions at a 1906 conference that initiated the Congress of Religions in Japan. Because each interfaith group came only in order to convert the others, He asseverated, they were by virtue of that fact merely political. He predicted that the impact of their work would be weak and ephemeral (Tablets, v3, 496) and seems to have considered Baha'i teaching activities as in another category completely, as the solution to politics, the way to end this atmosphere of proselytize.

To sum up, Baha'u'llah held with Jesus that lasting unity, like a castle's foundation of rock, bases itself upon God; other foundations are sand and lead to collapse. Other systems of thought hold that faith concerns are inherently sacred and essentially spiritual and private, while the body politic is profane, basically material and public. Baha'u'llah makes no such distinction, though He does draw a hard and fast line. For Him the sacred is only what aids us in attaining to the truth and the profane is what blocks us off from it, and nothing else. Politicization is a destructive process that results directly from ignoring the sacred. It is the mark of neglect of the characteristic human obligation to seek all that is true and right while rejecting everything wrong and false.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Back to the Ruhi Future, Parts One and Two, with reader reaction

Back to the Ruhi Future

First of a Series written while studying Ruhi Book Six

John Taylor; 7 May, 2004

"The sciences of today are bridges to reality; if then they lead not to reality, naught remains but fruitless illusion. By the one true God! If learning be not a means of access to Him, the Most Manifest, it is nothing but evident loss." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, 110)

That is today's daily reading and it seems an appropriate thought to introduce a new running theme, Ruhi Book Six, which we believers of Dunnville began on Tuesday to study. This will a long digression I know but I assure you that it leads to Ruhi.

As the quote says, science is a bridge and if you fall off it you might as well not have one. But frail humans are attached, we always take means as ends and only death reminds us what the end is all about. Language itself is a bridge. It is how we share our understanding of reality. If words trip us up we are better off with just silent meditation. Take William Shakespeare, for instance.

By some estimates Shakespeare is the greatest artist of any medium, ever, and he almost single-handedly constructed the English language in its modern form. Yet the fact is that his blessing to us native speakers is a mixed one. Turning him into an icon kills him. Teachers sadistically pound youths with his strange oaths and they never forget it. Even supposedly free creative professionals are chained by pedagoguery and feel they must perform his plays in the exact language in which they were written, in spite of the fact that they are changed beyond recognition from what they were.

For that reason paradoxically Shakespeare is more popular in other languages and cultures than he is here, simply because his speech was translated completely, so that it is actually possible in these languages to read him with pleasure. The plays work on stage direct, like the above "bridges of reality," not filtered through weird, vaguely comprehensible jargon. The works actually sound as when first performed, modern and natural, earthy yet sublime. When speakers of these languages learn English they find that Shakespeare's plays are not nearly as well known by the average person as in their "foreign" culture. We speakers of the language of Shakespeare have no idea!

There is even a trend in education to forbid studying Shakespearean plays as written words. Students are allowed only to perform them on stage, they never study the text. Since Shakespeare never actually saw the text in print, why put emphasis on it? While most teaching fads dismay me, this is one that I applaud. Now if only we had the guts to perform modern language translations... I think the best adaptations of Shakespeare in English are well camouflaged.

An example is the light, coming-of-age youth film, "Ten Things I Hate About You." Only safely out of the cinema do you realize how the writers cleverly captured the spirit of Shakespeare's comedies and his sense of poetry without ever turning off the unsuspecting audience, either by strange diction or even different cultural sensibilities. The only problem is that the young viewers never know they have been enjoying Shakespeare.

Now the point I want to make is that Baha'i native English speakers have a similar problem in approaching the Ruhi texts. For us what we read is not what a non-native speaker encounters. The anonymous person or persons who made up this course of study, clearly not native English speakers, came across the long out of print "Tablets of `Abdu'l-Baha" either in translation (unlikely) or in partly understood English. I too will never forget when I first came across these three volumes; its distant portrayal of the words of the Master came as a revelation to me.

I was only 17 years old and had flown to Alaska for a youth teaching program; upon arrival I found that for some reason they put off the training institute I had come to attend for a week or two. So for those blissful weeks I rummaged through Marion Johnson's basement Baha'i library. There were books there that I knew I would never come across again and I read furiously. The rarest bird of all was Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha, TAB, a compilation of early letters of the Master very close to what they must have looked as first read by their recipients. It was hastily translated, often using sloppy and ungrammatical prose. But in spite of its flaws, or because of them, this was such a thrilling read. It was the next thing to being there and witnessing first hand the reactions. These are the first authoritative communications to Westerners about what it is to be a Baha'i!

Unfortunately for me I found quickly that this truly was the land of the midnight sun. I'd be studying furiously late at night trying to cram all this rare wisdom of the Master into my head while I could, and outside the sun was still up. It seemed like daytime. A few more hours of study cannot hurt, I thought, not knowing how way into the night it really was. So for that brief time I walked about a sleep-deprived zombie but of course it was small price to pay for these wonderful insights into the genius of Abdu'l-Baha.

Now the South American author of Ruhi may find the obscure diction of TAB to be poetic, as it no doubt is in the original Persian, but nothing will ever convince a native speaker that this is anything but slapdash gobbledygook. As with Shakespeare, we can imagine what the words might mean but it is mostly speculation. Mostly the impression reflects the reality, that this just ungrammatical English. Our Ruhi coordinator told an anecdote that describes it perfectly. In one of his classes a persnickety English Literature teacher read one of these notorious paragraphs with perfect enunciation, every "doeth" and "verily" correctly elocuted and at the end declared, "What the hell did I just read?"

Here is an example from Book Six, which we covered last Tuesday. It is from the second volume of TAB, and we are asked to memorize it.

"But I hope that this meeting became as the wick of the lamp and the fire -- that as soon as it was touched it became ignited. I am expecting the results of this meeting, that I may see thee lighted as a candle and burning thyself as a moth with the fire of the love of God, weeping like unto the cloud by the greatness of love and attraction, laughing like unto the meadow and stirred into cheerfulness like unto the young tree by the wafting of the breeze of the Paradise of Abha!" (Abdul-Baha, Tablets of Abdul-Baha, Vol. 2, p. 473)

Tests are good for the soul, I suppose the authors reason. The fact that a native English speaker at best has only a bare approximation of the meaning will only increase the spiritual benefit. It is tough enough to memorize correct sentences, so this must be very heaven.

My only worry is what if somebody actually quotes this to a non-Baha'i? People already think we are weird, what will happen if they hear us say this from memory? Errors? I'm not a grammarian, but let me try to count the ways it goes wrong. Sentence one, error of tense, ambiguity. Sentence two, superfluous article, run-on sentence, badly mixed metaphors. A tree "stirred into cheerfulness"? Clouds weeping? I am weeping, and it is not by the breeze of Abha but tears for the virtue of literary excellence. Look at the original letter (it is all in Ocean) and you will find that they left out the salutation, "O My Beloved friend!" that at least hints at the spirit of the original.

Man, I try very hard but every Ruhi I attend I cannot keep my mouth shut. I take my turn and read my passage and if I stumble over it like a semi-literate I know right away where they got it. Every time I trip up over the diction I look forward into the bibliography for the reference and sure enough: TAB. I know I sound like a prig, a nitpicker and a stickler before my fellows but I cannot help it. They inevitably come all over me with objections like this one on Tuesday: "If it is so bad why did the institutions of the Faith approve it?" I don't know the answer to that, I honestly don't know.

What is surprising is that the translator is listed as E. G. Browne. What does that say to you? A great and famous scholar, well qualified to translate it, I know. Well, for one thing he also translated the book of Baha'u'llah that we now know as "Summons of the Lord of Hosts." We tend to forget today but this was the first major work of Baha'u'llah that was translated into English. Getting a hold of a copy was the main fruit of Browne's arduous trip into the heart of darkness in Persia. It was a groundbreaking accomplishment and the translators of the new authoritative version praise without reservation his technical diligence. But why was it left aside for a century by the believers and forgotten?

Why? Because Browne was one of those learned persons who, in the words of the quote I started off with, was in evident loss. Having met Mirza Yahya and sucked in by his venom, he had ambivalent feelings for Baha'u'llah and at times ill-disguised antipathy for the Cause. I have no doubt in my mind that he intentionally pumped up the "thee's" and "thou's" in order to make the Central Figures sound more distant across the cultural gap and even -- dare I say it -- to make it sound slightly ridiculous. By the time TAB came out Browne was far from friendly towards the Faith, if only because so many blamed his involvement in what he called "Babism" for messing up his career as a scholar. If Browne was a little hasty in his translations that did not matter much to those who had no other access to the Master.

Now, a century later, it does matter. The fact that Browne was in all probability intentionally mocking the credulous followers of the Master I find more than a little offensive. And worst of all, Ruhi carries it on, to the point where we actually memorize his travesty. We have alternatives, we have used them for over a century, indeed a large part of the life's work of the Guardian was meant to liberate us from such sloppy translations of holy Writ. That is why I get so all-fired riled when we take a huge step backwards and fail to make use of the literary resources we have.

Here is a fuller selection of the letter from Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v2, p. 473

O thou my beloved friend!

For a long time thou didst have the longing to visit the Blessed Spot and the yearning to meet this imprisoned one. Finally this gift became realized, but it was for one moment and as the dew to the rose-garden of the hearts. The destiny was such and the means were brought about in this way. I became sad and disappointed more than thyself. But I hope that this meeting became as the wick of the lamp and the firethat as soon as it was touched it became ignited. I am expecting the results of this meeting, that I may see thee lighted as a candle and burning thyself as a moth with the fire of the love of God, weeping like unto the cloud by the greatness of love and attraction, laughing like unto the meadow and stirred into cheerfulness like unto the young tree by the wafting of the breeze of the Paradise of ABHA!

All the believers in the East and in this Spot are expecting the receipt of letters from thee.

Feedback from Jimbo (with permission)

Hi John! In your article, Back to the Ruhi Future, I was not surprised that you don't enjoy the roller coaster ride of wild English, provided by the earlier translations of the Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Baha. I do believe they are in the process of eventually re-translating all of the Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Baha at the World Center. Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha was a magnificent step forward and a superb remedy to many of those earlier translations. And yes, there is quite a difference!

As far as the Ruhi books go, surely they will evolve as we, the people, make thoughtful suggestions to how they may be improved. There is no such thing as a perfect course, however we have to keep in mind the finer qualities of Ruhi, for example, its flexibility. I recently finished the sequence of Ruhi books available and now humbly qualify to be a facilitator for Ruhi study circles.

So all the while as I was going through these powerfully stimulating books and these soul-transforming study circles, I am thinking how I would present the spirit of this or that exercise. I have observed from all of my dozen or so Ruhi teacher-facilitators that they all have their own creative way of presenting the material. One thing I would do for a quotation like the one you mentioned in your article, is to ask the participants of the study circle to find or choose a similar quotation from say Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha and memorize that one if they so felt inspired.

Ruhi, to me, is a means, not a goal, so the rest really is up to the deepened Baha'i facilitator to fill in, keeping in mind all the while our Baha'i reality's true spirit and rock-solid principles. I know you will be a good facilitator. Learning and sharing can be real fun and really uplifting when we want it to be. The mind will eventually catch up to the spirit, and the spirit also needs to be mindful, as you so well pointed out. Enjoy.


More Precessions in the Ruhi Process

By John Taylor; 20 May, 2004

Beloved friends,

Our Dunnville end of the Haldimand Community -- it takes about an hour and a half to drive across our LSA's jurisdiction -- is launching into the Sixth Chapter of the Book of Ruhi (not to be confused with the Book of Ruth in the Bible), which is on teaching. We have an excellent animator, Tim-i-Wellandi, who is guiding us through with a firm but gentle hand. My strong reactions are purely to the material this time, not to the way it is being presented.

The newly updated and revised Canadian NSA's official website proudly announces,

"Canadians are meeting in small groups, or "study circles," joining thousands of others in more than 180 countries, applying spiritual principles to their lives and communities. This remarkable programme in adult and youth education is perhaps the most widespread single educational programme in the world."

Yes, my friends, Ruhi to you and me. I leave it to your lurid imagination to picture my reaction to that statement. Most widespread, eh? A mixed reaction, to say the least. One thing I have to admire is the way our national community has gone whole hog into the program. All the warnings the Guardian gave in the first part of "World Order of Baha'u'llah" about the administration being a means and not an end in itself, well, verily, they are being fulfilled now even as it was said of old.

As if to demonstrate something to myself, last year I asked permission to launch a poster and lecture campaign on a local university campus, most of the work to be done by myself; the LSA's answer? "Sorry, we are too busy with Ruhi." All the laboriously erected machinery of the Administrative Order is temporarily being set aside in favor of these circles. One thing you cannot do is accuse our present administrators of being timid or attached to their own structures!

As my readers well know, whenever I go through another Ruhi course I trip over errors in the given material and roll about on the ground as if covered in scorpions. When calm, I release steam by sharing the most egregious on this forum. Then I feel better. People ask, why not report them to the Ruhi authorities? Well, having to deal with the errors is stressful enough. I don't need the further tension of contacting the perps.

And again, I would not be taking this course if I did not think that on the whole it is right, noble and effective. In our area there are two outstanding teachers of the Faith, H--and A--, both bold, brash, spiritually charged women, both born within a few days of one another in 1925. To me, the whole Ruhi program might be called, "How to be like H-- and A---, in seven easy steps." I stand in awe at how these two old women, barely mobile, armed with almost no degrees or education but bolstered by their love for Baha'u'llah boldly contact people and attract them to the Cause where tough, well spoken, qualified, but socially gutless men like me quail in terror even at bringing up the word "religion."

Sometimes I speculate that maybe the authors of this course are like H and A, bold, successful teachers without book larnin'. If so, they drafted someone to write the introductions with enough diplomas stuffed into his mouth to reduce his communication to garbled mumbling. If you want a perfect example of how turgid speech can trip up meaning, read the introduction to any of the Ruhi Books. If you want to really understand what the courses are all about, go to this URL,

Aside from scads of useful supplementary material for Ruhi, this site contains a clear, incisive essay by one Ann O'Sullivan of Ireland called, "Dynamics of Learning in the Ruhi Institute Courses." She explains what Ruhi is about better than anything I've seen in Ruhi. I wish I had read it before I took Ruhi Book One, I might have been more serious about what it asks you to do. After incisively explaining the Ruhi method, she gives this example,

" ... a mother studying Book 1 gets information which she understands about reading the Writings; through meditation she gains the spiritual insight that this would be a good thing for her to do, so she does it (action); through her daily action she develops the skill, and this she passes on to her children. In taking this action of teaching the skill to her children, she gets more information, develops more understanding, gains deeper spiritual insights which is expressed in increased skill, a skill which she then passes on once more, and so on in an ongoing process of learning."

This is an interesting epistemological truth, and the Writings, and Ruhi in particular, work it for all it is worth -- and it is worth a lot, I am not denying it. The idea is this: Knowledge is not coinage that you can hoard. It is like electricity, you cannot hold it in your hand, it has to move from one mind to another and back again. If you relax and try to close the circuit with your mind, well you are only shocked and the knowledge itself short circuits and dies out too.

This is something I noticed at the peak of my reading years, years now long gone. At the time I tested myself and learned that no matter how impressive the book, you forget everything in it. A little sticks for a little while, days, weeks, but by the time six months have rolled by it is not even history. I tested other readers, better ones, smarter ones, and it was always the same. If the book is a novel, the names, the plot, all are gone. You are little better off than if you had not read the book at all.

I must say, this made me think twice about reading. Not that movies and television last any longer, they tend to be much worse, far less memorable than books. Ditto for conversation. The point is that you can learn for its own sake, for the pleasure of learning, but unless you apply it you are contributing little, even to yourself. This phenomenon is even more embarrassingly true of essays that I have written. If you have written the material yourself it sticks a little longer, but it fades just the same. Take this essay you are reading now. A few days from now if you and I were tested on the details you would be the expert on what it says, not me. It would be fresh in your mind. Even though it is the product of my mind, that matters nothing, it would be gone and useless, even to me.

Not that it all flees. You always forget things unless, unless that is, you are constantly using and relearning the essentials of the information in the book. That means teaching it. Hence the little bit of the Writings that we are supposed to read at night and in the morning.

Oh, by the way, I read in the news of a recent study that found a similar thing with caffeine. If you take several little shots over a long period, it keeps you awake better than one big injection all at once. The traditional strong coffee in the morning to jolt you awake does not work. Maybe that is the hidden benefit of Ruhi. Its secret is that it gives you little hits of learning and teaching in a feedback loop over a long period in a small group, which like several weak teas over several hours has a cumulative effect far stronger than any sporadic act of will or enthusiasm you could ever summon up on your own.

Faithful reader of the Badi list, Jean, responded on the same day with:

Hi John,

Ah, another Ruhi-Ambivalence rant. Let me skip to the part I liked best, your point that a little bit of the Writings at a time, habitually, is more useful than a huge dose once. It put me in mind of that famous passage beginning "Intone, o my servant..." which talks about the gradual, progressive effects of the Writings on the human heart.

I can tell you from experience that it works the same with piano playing, speaking a foreign language, cooking, elder care or thermodynamics - a concentrated dose of knowledge or experience can give you a boost up the learning curve but expertise of any sort, even of the heart, has to be topped up regularly. Paradoxically, one adds in to the store of knowledge or expertise by giving it away, as of course you pointed out. There is some fascinating kind of knowledge physics going on here that operates at odds with any law of conservation or finance - whatever you give away is kept and earns interest - whatever you keep, you lose. The whole principle must be connected to entropy - but I'm not sure how. Maybe if I ponder it a bit at a time... now would that be keeping, or giving away?

By the way, you and I are completely in agreement on the prose style of NSA's. They are free to use whatever style they like to communicate with the friends. Why then, if they can follow Abdu'l-Baha's style, do the communications of these elected bodies persist, month after month and year after year, in stilted and painful emulation of the turgidity, complexity and outstanding ponderosity of the translations and essays of the esteemed and learned appointee of the Center of the Covenant, the beloved Guardian?

Er, you knew I was doing that on purpose, didn't you? (grin) And over the last couple of years, the US NSA has lightened up a lot - or I've learnt to understand them a heckuva lot better.

Whoops, gotta go - thermodynamics final exam coming up in 15 minutes.

Keep writing, I look forward to the essays.

Best wishes, Jean

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


Fourth in the “Essay that Would Not Die” series

By John Taylor; 19 May, 2004

This series started off with the boring title, “Responsibility, Left, Right and Center,” then it morphed into the three essays that would not die, first to make it onto the new Badi Blog site. And here is the fourth. Without missing a step, we will start an ongoing book review of “The Seven Candles of Unity, The Story of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in Edinburgh,” by Anjam Khursheed. This is a truly exemplary book of its type, and I hope some Baha’i scholar in every city visited by the Master will be inspired to produce something just like it—indeed we ought to do it soon, before the hundredth anniversary of His voyages, less than a decade in the future.

What I like about this book is that Khursheed is not afraid to show facsimiles of original sources, photos of local landmarks of the capital of Scotland that the Master would have seen, photocopies of the publications that reported on His visit, and so forth. Unlike many academics, he does not translate the clear ideas of the Writings into stilted gobbledygook and call it Baha’i scholarship. His is a unique and refreshing visual approach to historiography that gives you a real feel not only for what locals encountered, but also for what it must have been like for the Master Himself.

For example, nobody took any pictures of the Master’s attendance at a demonstration of the new flying machine, but Khursheed supplies a picture of hayseed farmers staring upward in wonderment at one of the early Wright brothers’ contraptions lumbering overhead. Here is the caption,

“Aeroplanes were still a source of wonder and amazement in 1908, the year Bleriot flew the English Channel. ‘Abdu’l-Baha was given a special flying demonstration at Brooklands aviation grounds in 1911, which much delighted him.” (Seven Candles, 32)

What I don’t like about this book, and let it be a warning to those in other cities visited by the Master thinking of producing a publication along the same lines, is the color of the print. Call me a bigot or anti-diversifist or whatever, but I firmly believe that print in books should always be black, just as paper should always be white. Not reddish or green but black. Always. I bought this book over a year ago but have not got into it till now because I hate its sickly coloration, which unfortunately extends into the sepia photos and other illustrations. Fie upon them.

An extremely interesting incident took place right off, almost as soon as the Master had entered Edinburgh. The hosts gave Him a tour of the Outlook Tower, a fascinating construction at a strategic place devoted to research and education. This castle or tower is located on a hill in the middle of town and was devoted to museum displays and studies by one Sir Patrick Geddes, a pioneer of the much neglected science of town planning. My veteran readers will recall my notorious dream plan to turn a farmer’s silo into a library and observation post; I therefore almost fell out of my seat when I read the following,

“The visitor was next taken to the dome on the top floor where the ‘camera obscura’ (the darkroom) lies; images of the city and its surrounds which are viewed on the Prospect and Gallery balconies are projected down on to a large table top. A mirror at the top of the dome is adjusted to reflect down images in a direction chosen by the observer, the reflected light is then focussed through a large lens onto the table top. ‘Abdu’l-Baha was very impressed by the camera obscura and stated that it ‘exhibited the incorporation of science into life.’” (Candles, 73)

Lying astonished on the floor by my seat, a thousand thoughts ran through my mind. I have got to go to Edinburgh and see this tower! A camera (camera obscura were the original cameras) so large that you can walk around inside it? An image on a table of the city, like the original live webcam—how wonderful! And what did the Master mean by “incorporation of science into life”? Is that a vote for urban planning?

I think it is true that if the public had access in every city to such an impressive live display of their streets from above, well I have no doubt that they would never have allowed the sloppy street and housing designs of today, designs that allowed the automobile and trucks to become all-consuming monsters of pollution and urban blight. Having a live, easily accessible vision of what is happening around us and why, that certainly would incorporate science and reason into daily life.

I will get back to this city planning issue later. Now, back to the flying machines. My question is, could the demonstration of the Wright brothers airplane attended by the Master have influenced him in his use of the “two wings of a bird” thesis for the relationship between men and women, between science and religion? How early did he use the comparison? Is it in the Writings of Baha’u’llah and the Bab?

I have found similar comparisons of locomotion for equality and balance, using the two legs we use in walking, in writings as early as Plato. But as far as I know, the Master was among the first to favor the much more demanding analogy of flight as an example of the demands of moderation and equality. (And little wonder too, since as we have seen He was one of the first witnesses to the human triumph of the air, to practical uses of the former mystery of artificial flight) I have searched without success my supercharged version of the Ocean database for uses of the analogy of a bird and its balanced wings. Nothing in philosophy, ancient or modern, nor in poetry, or religions, ancient or modern.

The only exception that turned up was Islam, the culture that the Master in fact would have been most familiar with. The Qu’ran mentions birds and wings three times.

“And there is no animal that walks upon the earth nor a bird that flies with its two wings but (they are) genera like yourselves; We have not neglected anything in the Book, then to their Lord shall they be gathered.” (Qur’an 6:38, Shakir Ali, tr)

I’m not clear exactly what this means, but it seems to be referring to chirality, the fact that virtually all creatures, from molecules to plants to animals, have two symmetrical sides to their bodies, each a mirror image of the other. Or maybe it is saying that locomotion always operates on the same principle of two sides in balance, including “like yourselves,” meaning perhaps the principles of thought. Elsewhere the Qu’ran says,

“Do you not see that Allah is He Whom do glorify all those who are in the heavens and the earth, and the (very) birds with expanded wings? He knows the prayer of each one and its glorification, and Allah is Cognizant of what they do.” (Q24:41)

Seemingly a comparison of praise and prayer to flight, to that glorious moment when a bird no longer has to flap its wings, it just leaves them open and soars. In soaring flight air currents propel you forward, giving one of nature’s few free rides. Soaring would have been a common observation in the desert, since the Arabs pioneered the domestication of hawks and their uses in hunting.

I turned up more Islamic references and will come back to them later. Today though I do not want to lose the train of thought of the “Essays That Would Not Die,” which is concerned with the idea of a political “left wing” and “right wing,” and how it relates to the Master’s use of the metaphor of two wings of a bird.

Did the Master just watch the new airplane and think, “You know, men and women are like those wings. Science and religion are like that there flying machine.” Or did He think of the Qu’ran’s references to birds and their wings? He had read the Qu’ran, according to His own testimony. We cannot know what He thought, only that the sight delighted Him. Even today it is great to look up at the noisy things and realize how nicely humans imitate the discovery of flight that birds made (silently) so many millions of years ago.

Birds have to demonstrate a fine integrity in flight, a delicate balance in response to the very strict demands of aerodynamics. In the air, both wings must work together with unimaginable harmony, right down to the tiniest tip of a feather. Aeronautical engineers using supercomputers are challenged even today to fully understand how they nimbly stop, pick an insect out of the air and change direction completely. Even today, no manmade flying machine comes close to such abilities.

It amazes me that so few thinkers and poets outside the Islamic world noticed what the Qu’ran tweaked us to, and the Master expanded upon, that men and women, science and religion need to balance in perfect equality, like wings in flight. The Master was more discrete in political statements but clearly He saw the same need for perfect alignment in political science too. Leaders need to have the perfect discipline and synchronization of two bird wings if they are ever to attain to peace.

More on all this later.

The Essay After the Essay that Would not Die

The Essay after the Essay that Would Not Die

Part III of a series

By John Taylor; 17 May, 2004

The problem with getting healthy is that in my short respite from migraine attacks I start foolishly trying do justice to the wonderful material I write about, the Revelation of Baha'u'llah. And that only leads back into further failure, tension, and more seizures. So when I say my health has been better lately, really I mean to say that I have been more hectic, frazzled, frantic. I have been trying agonizingly over the past days to do justice to a question only half formed, writing backwards and downward, failing to find the problem, much less the answer, digging my own grave.

Yesterday I finished the essay that would not die. As fate would have it, it was the first essay posted on my new web log called the Badi Blog on the famous site that started the whole blogging movement,, at:

By refusing to die, yesterday's essay found itself in a sort of resurrection from the old Badi mailing list to a new life in a new medium, the web log, or blog.

For those who do not follow technology news, was the original web log site. It was purchased lately by Google, who have gone to a great deal of effort to make it even easier for the most brain dead to set up a blog. So simple did it become that I, even I, overcame my fears and tried it out. So far this most brain dead of them all is having no trouble with the blog. In fact, it looks like Assembly members could use blogs to do their own business, since that was the purpose of the first blog, to help along the internal information flow of a high tech company. Setting my blog going, I listed "Baha'i" as an interest; blogger linked me to the only other blogger with that interest, a fellow LSA member and disabled person living in Florida. You can check out his blog too there, if you want.

In the first essay of this series, now called the "Essay Before the Essay that Would Not Die," I imagined a future statesperson's dash, cockpit or HUD layout as featuring three main dials, one each for "justice," "trustworthiness," and "mercy." These three virtues were emphasized in the Writings of Baha'u'llah. I supposed then that these three capsulate the entire political spectrum, from left to center to right.

As it is now leaders and their platforms tend to swing entirely one way or the other, right or left, and stay there. The center cannot hold them. But when Baha'u'llah wrote Queen Victoria -- we often notice that she was the only woman but not so often that she was a constitutional monarch, the head of a democracy -- he gave the following advice to parliamentarians and legislators, both those under her sway and "in every land,"

"Take ye counsel together, and let your concern be only for that which profiteth mankind and bettereth the condition thereof, if ye be of them that scan heedfully." (Summons, 1,174, p. 90)

Note the "scan heedfully" part. The technology that culminates in the cockpit display, is that not just a hopped up tool for scanning the situation? That is what a leader is there to do, after all, scan a complex world and pick out what needs to be changed and what can be left aside. Baha'u'llah goes on, seeming to suggest the image to scan, not of a bird with two wings but a holistic human body.

"Regard the world as the human body which, though at its creation whole and perfect, hath been afflicted, through various causes, with grave disorders and maladies. Not for one day did it gain ease, nay its sickness waxed more severe, as it fell under the treatment of ignorant physicians, who gave full rein to their personal desires and have erred grievously. And if, at one time, through the care of an able physician, a member of that body was healed, the rest remained afflicted as before. Thus informeth you the All-Knowing, the All-Wise." (Id.)

This simple dictum has profound implications. It means that as a leader you are treating one patient, there is only one world, one humanity. So you cannot possibly apply a remedy to a leg or an arm, to a France or a Russia or a Canada, you are always dealing with one entity with one cure. There are no half measures, there are no big and important leaders and small and insignificant ones, we are all either leaders applying the remedy or we are, well, ignorant physicians clamoring for this or that harebrained scheme. You are either a doctor or you are not; you are either a Baha'i or you are not. Here, there is no middle ground, no right or left, here, you are either curing the patient or you are part of the problem.

A leader who leans right or left is restricting herself. I believe that one day everyone will be trained from an early age to avoid extremes, to be wise and moderate. Holding back is a sign of the strength of the center. Without restraint, the political fact becomes fractious and immature. Rather than picking sides, leadership will be seen as the art of making friends, of loving all in one, One in all. Left and right will be understood to be inside each of us, like the chirality of left and right brain in the body, like its symmetrical pair limbs on each side of the body.

If we show forth disunity, we prove how far we are from the One True God. Jalalu'Din Rumi wrote against our annoying tendencies towards duality, bifurcation, dichotomizing, lobotomizing,

"The attribute of man is to manifest God's signs.
Whatever is seen in man is the reflection of God,
Even as the reflection of the moon in water.
Say not two, know not two, call not on two!
Know the slave is obliterated in his lord!
So the lord is obliterated in God that created him."
(Mathnavi of Rumi, E.H. Whinfield tr., Vol 6)

A balance between left and right then would be an outer sign of successful application of the most basic spiritual principle, even as Jesus said, "the Kingdom of God is within (or among) you." Divine Oneness manifests itself in the unity we show within and among us. That is the sum and the worth of our faith and all our precious opinions.

Monday, May 17, 2004

The Essay Before the Essay that Would not Die

The Essay Before the Essay that Would not Die

In order to orient you to the previous post, here is the essay that preceded it on the Badi list. Posting a blog here is still not completely clear to me, so this is good practice.

Responsibility, Right, Left and Center

by John Taylor; 13 May, 2004

Just. Trustworthy. Merciful.

Three words you don't often see mentioned together talking about leaders. Especially now, judging by the scandals and atrocities sweeping the headlines over the last few days. Feuding and fighting, many seem in an unspoken competition as to who can show the direct opposites of just, trusty, merciful.

We are all responsible first to God, then to all humanity. These three perfections of justice, reliability and mercy sum up all our duties, and especially those of our leaders. They were how Baha'u'llah describes the members of His Houses of justice in the holiest book, the Kitab-i-Aqdas. Specifically, the Guardian writes,

"In it He formally ordains the institution of the House of Justice, defines its functions, fixes its revenues, and designates its members as the Men of Justice, the Deputies of God, the Trustees of the All-Merciful..." (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 214)

What a wonderful picture of the political spectrum, the right, center and left! On the right, justice, in the center the reliability of a trustee or deputy. On the left, the all-merciful.

The other day we discussed an article from "The Age" in Australia that described how managers are using real-time interactive displays to deal with the complex challenges facing modern organizations. This set me to imagining what the cockpit or dashboard computer display might look like for a future trustee of a House of Justice or Assembly. Let us start with the three virtues mentioned above.

On the right wing the dial or other graphic would somehow measure justice, the virtue of the right. How do you nail down conservative social values like that? Certainly the dial could display traditional measures, like levels of employment, industrial productivity, and other markers of independence. But also, since Baha'u'llah holds the purpose of justice to be unity, the "right" dial could measure factors of social cohesion, such as the stridency of political debate. Social scientists reliably determine such measures by searching for the frequency that certain words turn up in selected texts. Another essential to justice is education, which is measured by dropout rates and the richness of vocabulary used in consultation. Any measure of education levels would be essential for understanding a people's ability to uphold justice.

The center and largest dial would show levels of trust and lawfulness, again as measured by polls, statistics and other scientific meters. This dial must be at the center because moderation and dependability are needed by every citizen, not just the left and right.

Trust is by far the most important factor in the political arena in the same way that faith is in religion and integrity in science. Governments are slapdash about dependability at lower levels. For example, my father as a small businessman soon learned by observing his bankrupted competitors that a government contract is the kiss of death. Being big and impervious, government is notorious for either failing to pay or delaying payment until it is too late. This is a very bad sign, and such indicators should be prominent on the dial.

On the left hand of our leader's dashboard would be dials measuring mercy, liberality and imaginativeness, as shown by negative factors like suicide rates, as well as positive ones like artistry, levels of gift giving, the number of celebrations, holidays and recreational activity, the amount of charitable giving, indicators of kindness in speech and writing, the amount of intermixing among cultures, how much effort is made to communicate and avoid conflicts, and so forth.

An example of a possible "left" indicator might be this: we know that Baha'u'llah said that words are either fire or milk, that the learned must speak with the kindness and mercy of milk. Social science should take this seriously and make up measures of kind speech (such as the frequency that words indicating courtesy are used) and apply them to all who enter the public forum. Publicly, the measure would protect privacy, but on the dashboard of every public servant would be a dial showing his or her individual level of kind speech, alongside the average among his or her peers.

I firmly believe that interactive computer-mediated displays will turn out to be far more than a mere high tech gadget. They will prove to be the growing outer expression of a spiritual principle. They are how "open systems" will be implemented. At root, the basic idea for these graphics comes direct from the Word of the Lord of the Age.

The Writings of Baha'u'llah make taking oneself into account into a universal duty to be performed not sporadically but regularly. He set it up early, in the Hidden Words and, climactically, in His Tablet to the Sultan. Being rooted in the Hidden Words, the dashboard is not just for leaders, it is for all. Yet the fact that He gave that advice to take himself into account daily to the Sultan, the tyrant responsible for most of His exiles and banishment, indicates how important accountability, being "plugged into the source of all Being is for every statesperson.

The Essay that Would not Die

There follows the essay that would not die, the latest addition to the Badi Mailing List, which is now given new life by being extended to a blog.

The Essay That Would Not Die; On Leaders and their Dashboards; 17 May, 2004

My reveries on cockpit displays go on without end. In writing I can tell when I have not asked the right question. Strange things start to happen; instead of going forward I find myself writing backwards. I scrape out beginnings only and no ends. I scrabble in a gaping hole that feels more and more like a grave.

This morning I took a break from this Essay That Would Not Die and drove Silvie to Baha'i school. On the radio I heard a female classical singer doing a lovely rendition of Rummy's famous philosophy, which I paraphrase,

"There are things that you know and things you don't know but there are also things that you know you don't know. But worst of all are the things that you don't know that you don't know. Those are the ones that will rise up and bite you in the butt."

Was this what has been eating me, things that I don't know that I don't know? I guess the underlying question gnawing away at me is this: how did those events in the news last week, revelations of systematic torture in Iraq followed by that retaliatory beheading ... how did this come about? I am not talking details here, clues of a mystery story. I do not watch television news and my shock was probably more muted than most. My question is just: how did this truly awesome machine -- and let us not fool ourselves, it is not just military or technological, it is an administrative hegemony, the most efficient organizational grouping the world has seen, how did longstanding and systematic abuse ever manage to stay off their radar screens as long as it did?

What I mean is, I am no leader of men but if I were I'd be shaking in my boots. If something like that can escape the notice of the world's most efficient administrators for so long, how can anybody head any organization, large or small, without living in constant fear that somebody is knocking out the central pillars of their mission, one by one?

I've been looking at advances in technique for bosses, which are truly amazing. They order custom made displays to capsulate their area of responsibility and alert them to subtle changes in extremely complex situations. Made up by cutting edge software engineers, these "cockpits" or "dashboards" are designed to simplify abstruse statistics and other indicators into a clear array of customized meters and "idiot lights." Such heads up displays (HUD's) normally are shown on computer monitors, but they can also be projected on a wall or desk, directly onto the eyeball or onto the inside of eyeglasses. Someday, futurist predict, the managers in a workplace will be recognizable by their virtual reality goggles, just as we now know doctors and nurses in a hospital by their surgical scrubs.

Every light and meter is designed to alert them in time to some relevant factor, but the indicators also act as portals for interacting directly with the data, either by testing out simulated solutions or direct interaction with given parameters. Since each dashboard is different, specially tailored to that particular manager's interest and expertise, the cockpit should not reduce accountability or necessarily lessen room for personal style, since they all use the same underlying database available to anyone else in the company.

What might Kofi Annan's "dashboard" display look like? What might his HUD dashboard summary state about our world's sorry situation? The horror! Judging just by the shocking headlines of the past week, today's breed of leaders are sinking into feuding, revenge and mutual humiliation. Surely there must be idiot lights to warn against the "bickering syndrome," not unlike the so-called "China Syndrome," the expression for total meltdown in a nuclear facility. In the bickering syndrome the fault has to be everywhere, top to bottom, for neither leaders nor their underlings can have reliable compasses, or be reading them right.

The question that should surely be on everyone's mind is: Would the right HUD dashboards have warned of this emerging scandal before it broke into the press? Would more open accountability, the right display for every level linked to those of everyone else, would that have averted this crisis?

I did not find my answer to my version of this question until I just gave up. I was idly surfing the web looking for something else, alone in the dark, very late at night when I found myself browsing through the large number of pilgrim's notes on Baha'i Library dot com.

Eventually I came across the notes of some fellow, evidently an ordinary American believer, whose wife went to Haifa to cook. She got sick and they were delayed while she recovered. He ended up living my wildest dream, staying a week alone with the Guardian doing nothing else but listening to his personal views and perspectives. This happened just before Shoghi Effendi died, as it turned out.

The opinions he recorded reveal nothing we did not know but coming when they did they provided a perfect answer to my questions. It hit me like a runaway cement truck. How could I have been so blind? I will not spell it out for you; you can read the notes for yourself on that website, the world's largest online collection of works to do with the Baha'i Faith. It does no good to cite pilgrim's notes anyway.