20 June, 2004
I continue my investigation of the independent investigation of truth, piling digression upon digression, my every effort pushing me further from where I want to go. This time around it is a real mystery tour; I have no idea where this is leading. This morning I stumbled on a new thing that changes a lot of old things. I learned that if you want to get the pure message on the principles you only have to go to bahaiprinciples dot com.
This site is chary about revealing who is running it but it appears to be legit. We know that when a Russian porn monger appropriated "Bahaiwomen dot com" Baha'i institutions sued and shut them down, so we have to assume that this bahaiprinciples site is run by believers. For example, the site has under search for truth the full text of the Master's presentation in Paris Talks on independent search for truth, along with some pictures from, not surprisingly, bahaipictures dot com. Unfortunately the photos are not thematic or related to the text in any way. Nonetheless, they are nice shots of the holy places, many of which I've never seen. It is at this URL:
Now I know many of my readers must be getting sick of my harping on about the Kitab-i-Iqan and its importance to this principle. But lest there be any doubt about the fact that it is the base text for the principles, you can read a compact, readable and very convincing study of the Kitab-i-Iqan at:
Here I learned that Baha'u'llah Himself called the Kitab-i-Iqan the lord of books, that it inspired George Townshend to write his series of studies of the Christian message, including "Heart of the Gospel," and that that this great book inspired the Guardian to make the following statements about it, all of which are footnoted in this lovely little study,
"The significance of the Iqan, he states, lies in the fact that it "is the most important book wherein Baha'u'llah explains the basic beliefs of the Faith", and "contains the basic tenets of Faith" and "the very essence of the Teachings, and because of its clarity and relative simplicity can greatly appeal to every thoughtful reader". In it "the entire religious philosophy of the Cause is clearly sketched and every thoughtful student of religion cannot but be interested in it", and it "explains the attitude of the Cause to the Prophets of God and their mission in the history of society," describes "the mystic unity of God and His Manifestations" and "deepens the knowledge of the reader by acquainting him with some of the basic theological problems of the Faith. It is therefore indispensable for every student of the Movement". It is "Baha'u'llah's masterful exposition of the one unifying truth underlying all the Revelations of the past," and can lead the reader to "obtain a clear insight into the old scriptures and appreciate the true mission of the Bab and Baha'u'llah."
In other words, the KA is not only a summary of the essence of what was obscure before in religion, it is also an apology for it; that is, it does for mysticism what in science is called a popularization or popular science, a work that makes obscure mathematical truths palatable and understandable to the general reader. Even the most involved, specialized scientist recognizes that such works, while derivative, are crucial to public support and the furtherance of the funding of scientific investigation.
Similarly, the mystic is no longer someone who goes off and meditates alone, the principles set out in the KI act as a net to catch the mystic personality and lump them together with practical people, including scientists. The KI is the glue for all the principles because it persuades the scientist to welcome the mystic and persuades the public to join in with both in the same systematic application of the principles. It also sets out to accomplish the toughest challenge of all in the current world, uniting quarrelling religious groups. As the Guardian says,
"Well may it be claimed that of all the books revealed by the Author of the Baha'i Revelation, this Book alone, by sweeping away the age-long barriers that have so insurmountably separated the great religions of the world, has laid down a broad and unassailable foundation for the complete and permanent reconciliation of their followers." (God Passes By, 139, cited in the above paper)
Once the institutions of religion come together, they can support mystics, scientists, artists and others in a united, popular, public application of the social principles.
As my steadfast readers well know, my deep conviction is that principle is all about walking in the footsteps of a Master who, "walked the mystic path with practical feet." While casting about for an understanding of the philosophic and mystic aspects of search for truth, I have at the same time been centrally concerned with practical measures to express each and all of the principles. These public lifestyle controls I used to call "nursery gardens" but lately have been calling "open systems." These would be software portals run by scholars operating behind the scenes, as Linus Torvalds does the Linux operating system; that is, they would incorporate changes into a public, open set of standards sometimes called "copyleft." Under copyleft, changes and improvements are not secret or proprietary, users are legally bound to share them openly with the world community.
In the search for truth the mystic path trodden by practical feet aspect of the principle is summed up in a saying quoted to me by my psychologist in college, Bruno, who told me:
"If you are having mental problems, concentrate on the physical; if you are having physical problems, concentrate on the mental."
That is, if you had a Baha'i principles website that did more than just present a talk from Paris Talks, what would it set out to do? Clearly, it would be a reflective place designed to assist people to make that kind of turnaround. If they are bogged down in material problems, to seek out the spiritual solution at the root; if they are getting too isolated in their prayer and meditation, to seek out practical measures.
Which brings me to a progress report on my own search for practical aids in the search for truth. Several weeks ago there was a spate of articles around the world reporting the positive results of a long term gerontological study of humans confirming one of the major findings of 20th century science, that rats kept in a state of semi-starvation live longer, healthier, more energetic lives. I have steadfastly ignored health fads but this, it seemed to me, seemed to be a genuine advance in our knowledge of the requirements of the human diet. I Googled the articles and eventually found the source, an article in the Washington Times reporting on a specially designed low calorie diet devised by the doctor of the biosphere project, Roy L. Walford. I was anxious to try this diet right away but the low calorie diet website, dedicated to Walford, warned against doing it without consulting the several books he has written, and your doctor.
So I ordered the fellow's work by inter-library loan and on Friday I received "The Anti-Aging Plan," by him and his daughter, Lisa Walford. I have been devouring this book the first half of which is an explanation of the diet, the second half consisting of recipes made up with a computer diet planner based on the specially designed high nutrition, low calorie diet based on the findings of this gerontologist.
The way he markets his findings, as a way of living longer, does not seem appealing to the likes of me. I am not anxious to spend any more time than I must in this veil of tears. I am mostly intrigued by the prospect of more energy. When you see on television those famous energetic, calorie starved mice running around their cages and compare them with their sated controls, the difference is glaring. It seems unavoidable that the only way I'm ever going to accomplish what I have before me is to become the reverse of what I have always been, soporific, sluggish, and sleepy most of the time.
Every biography I read seems not only to confirm this but to mock me in my lassitude. They endlessly repeat this quality in describing the great person in question. Without exception, including the Master, they always have this one common factor, they lived their prodigious life full of energy, drive, vitality, perseverance, moxie. Whatever synonym you want to choose, it adds up to the same thing, the only way to have more life in your life, to get anything accomplished is to be energetic, to have a superabundance the demeanor that the first Hidden Word calls a "pure, kindly and radiant heart."
Now I am going to have a lot to say about this diet if I have the guts to go onto it -- though according to Walford if you eat the food he recommends their high bulk, low calorie quality actually lowers one's appetite; one does not long have that hungry look in one's eyes. But before I do, I want to report in detail on what I have found out about the Lawh-i-Tibb, the Tablet in which Baha'u'llah actually starts off by advocating "in the absence of physicians" just such a diet. He says,
"Say: O People! Eat not except after having hungered, and drink not after retiring to sleep (al-huju`)."
This is from a provisional translation that first came out in 1991 and was until quite recently unavailable. After quite a lot of surfing, however, I eventually came across a recently revised version put on the web by some academic publisher. Refreshingly, they include the Arabic in both the original chicken scratches and in transliteration throughout the text. You can read it for yourself at:
The first half of this truly astonishing Tablet is concerned with diet, and some statements would serve as nice summations of what Walford says at length in his part of the "anti-aging plan," citing study after study confirming that, in Baha'u'llah's words, "He whose eating hath been excessive, his malady will be heightened." The second half of the Tablet morphs into a love letter, an analysis of why and how to teach the Cause, and -- in my admittedly biased eyes -- an advocacy of "open systems:" "Thus it is binding and necessary that all may protect themselves and their brethren for the sake of the Cause of God."
I have exceeded my paragraph limit for today's essay, so tomorrow hopefully assisted by confirmations of the Spirit we will continue this investigation.
Some comments on parts of the Lawh-i-Tibb
21 June, 2004
I have no medical qualifications (except as a victim or bare survivor of the medical system, or lack thereof) but I cannot let the release of a revised Tablet of Medicine go by without comment. Having just read Dr. Roy L. Walford's "Anti-Aging Plan," I will intersperse references to his findings about the long term benefits of reduced calorie diets as well. As you know, the Guardian warned that one would not only need a medical background but also training in the particular, ancient school of medicine that the recipient of the Tablet had in order to understand this tablet. Nonetheless, parts seem clear enough even to the general reader.
"Do not avoid medical treatment (al-`ilaj) when thou hast need of it but abandon it when thy constitution hath been restored (istiqamat)."
Istiqlal, of course, is Friday in the Badi' Calendar, the day of the divine virtue of Independence. So Baha'u'llah starts by suggesting a physical sort of independence of the body from constant medical attention.
Case in point: Viagra. I read that the makers were surprised at its instant acceptance, for lack of sexual drive is not a "sickness" and the ethics of prescribing it were by no means clear. The trend has continued, and "male enhancement" drugs are widely advertised, making what five years ago would have seemed an absurdly frivolous reason for taking a drug seem a normal choice. "Makeover" reality shows are rapidly making plastic surgery for mere unprettiness seem the norm; as always, a few profit and the public suffers.
Another recent study found that streams and lakes are now showing high levels of tylenol, caffeine and other "normal" drugs that people take as a matter of course; levels are already high enough in many places to threaten wildlife. We have got to get the monkey off our back if only for the sake of the environment! Another study found that youths are popping non-prescription drugs like candies for minor stress, the sort of problem that lifestyle can and should absorb. Medical researchers were astonished to find how much they were taking and the youths were surprised to learn that non-prescription drugs can harm or even kill you. Obviously, this is another price we pay for dropping religion; prayer, reflection and fasting are drug free ways of alleviating stress. This, along with education, especially "training in hardship," proper exercise, holidays, strong family ties, all that can and should solve problems before drugs, prescription or not, even come into the picture.
"Do not commence a meal except after full digestion [of the previous meal] and swallow not save after the completion of chewing."
A bad habit I have fallen into over the years and cannot get out of now without conscious effort, constant attention. You turn your mouth into an assembly line by filling it before you've swallowed the previous bite. It is efficient, expedient and you don't even realize it is bad for the alembic or chemical retort we call a stomach.
Worse, you eat at all hours, whenever food is available. Youths sometimes go out and gorge themselves on pizza at 1 AM and end up in the Emerg, not realizing that it can kill you. Businesspersons in a hurry eat too fast, do not sit down to eat and then are surprised when they get irritable bowel syndrome, which afflicts a surprisingly large percentage of the population. As Walford points out, our collective diet is getting worse with every decade. Only lately is the fast food industry realizing that this slide is not in their interest either. The changes they are suggesting are so inadequate it is laughable.
The needed lifestyle adjustments have to be taught early and carefully regulated throughout life. This is a direct concern of the open system reforms I have in mind. For example, it would be easy to make a diet card like an ATM machine card that you would swipe whenever you eat at a restaurant. Doing that would be step towards keeping the full record of food intake that we need. It would allow a breakdown of the amount of bulk and calories we are taking in and the balance of our diets. As Walford points out, when we eat "empty calories" like candies and sugar the appetite is increased, the stomach is empty and we want to snack more. This initiates a vicious circle. On the other hand, good nutrition reduces appetite by filling the stomach with high bulk, low calorie food. Monitoring this aspect of diet would be a good first step towards ending a slippage that is all the more dangerous when we do not realize it is starting.
"Treat an illness firstly with nutrients [or foods, aliments, aghdhiya) and proceed not [immediately] unto medications (adwiyat)."
Baha'u'llah is giving advice to a physician here but we are all doctors to our own body and medical advice is increasing important to our whole culture. Now we have the image that medicine is all about doctoring, needles, drugs and high-tech procedures. No, those are last resorts, extreme measures for exceptional cases. Normal bodies respond to diet adjustment first. By ignoring diet medicine has been overwhelmed by extreme illnesses that become common. Doctors are so busy cleaning up they have no time to educate or monitor health when the problems are minor. Like me chewing improperly and too fast, they rush to clean up after the results of their leaving us in collective ignorance and total lack of body management. Only recently are medical educators reluctantly even recognizing the primary importance of diet in health.
"If that which thou desire results from elemental nutrients (al-mufradat) refrain from the compound treatments (al-murakkabat)."
I don't claim understand this specifically but it hints at something important. Like maybe, don't spend billions researching new drugs and virtually no funds on fundamental, commonsense lifestyle corrections. This is Occam's Razor: a simple solution trumps a complex, involved one. It is not only a philosophical principle it applies to medicine through the divine virtue of wisdom.
"Abandon medication (al-dawa') when thou art healthy but take hold of it when thou hast need thereof."
This statement by the Manifestation of God is so important because it is addressed to a member of the medical profession, but in this sentence at least it addresses the possessor of a body as DIY'er. It prescribes to both individual and prescriber a limit to prescriptions. Medication is a temporary measure, not part of normal lifestyle. This ends a sad, self-destructive misunderstanding of the nature of cure, one that has led to an epidemic of obesity, among other things.
Right now we do not even have a name for a doctor who treats people's bodies before they get sick; preventative medicine is generally regarded as an oxymoron, not really medicine at all. This new definition of cure places it in the center of a normal lifestyle with intervention by means of medication a rare exception. A good model for a medicine built along these lines would be how we already deal with mental health, with psychologists treating healthy minds and psychiatrists for the severe, delusional, worst cases. The ratio between doctors of preventive medicine and the number of interventional doctors should be a rough indicator of the overall health of a region.
"Commence first with the light food (al-raqiq) before moving on to the heavier one (al-ghaliz) and with the liquid before the solid."
In Walford's terms, the advice would be to start with a small salad, low calorie high bulk, which takes away the appetite for the main meal. You eat less while feeling just as sated.
"When you would commence eating, begin by mentioning My Most Glorious Name (al-abha) and finish it with the Name of Thy Lord, the Possessor of the Throne above and of the earth below."
The Guardian said that saying grace is not a Baha'i tradition, but this sounds awfully close to it. Food may not be a sacrament but if you do this it will be a sort of physical act of worship. Perhaps we are not to take saying the Greatest Name here literally or we can say it silently to ourselves without making a social thing of it. Note the mention of God as "Possessor of the Throne," an echo of the last statement in the Long Obligatory Prayer. We possess the food, or the long prayer, but the real owner is the One above.
"Eat a little in the morning for this is as a lamp to the body."
Also confirmed by recent studies. Exercise in the morning takes off more weight than at any other time. Food first thing adjusts blood sugar and other rates to optimum levels, as well as reducing appetite for the rest of the day. From a spiritual point of view, this may also be an allusion to the Book of Matthew, which uses the same comparison of the body to a lamp.
"For where your treasure is, your heart will be there also. The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon. Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious for your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will put on. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothing? See the birds of the sky, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of much more value than they?" (Matt 6:21-6, WEB)
This is not only a prescription against a society of unhealthy livers who are at the same time hypochondriacs, it also prescribes a policy of placing the spiritual cure first, the love of God. If we feel content in that we have attained the purpose of health, even if the body is falling apart.
"Counter disease by utilizing established means (bi'l-asbab). This utterance is the decisive command in this discourse."
Established means being, I think, the general consensus of opinion in the scientific as well as religious community of experts. With the World Wide Web this community will in the long run become more vital and effective in influencing health. Established means also applies to the system of gaining credentials and extending rewards and punishments, which open systems is centrally concerned with broadening.
Baha'u'llah begins the next section of the Tablet by alluding to the contentment that a single "light of the body" would promote.
"Most necessary to thy well-being is contentment (al-qana`at) under all circumstances for through it will the soul be saved from sloth and ill-being."
We think of modern life as hurried and frenetic, but most of us are getting fat, the outward sign of sloth. Something is definitely missing here! Through all circumstances may mean that we should not just pay attention to our physical diet but our media diet as well. In conversation with other netizens I have noticed that people who watch the news in the morning very often complain of being distressed and depressed throughout the day. We know not what we do. I will never forget watching the film Goodfellas, a fairly innocuous black comedy but because I watched it first thing in the morning I was shocked and trembling for days afterwards, as if I had seen a shock-horror film. The morning is the light of the day, as Bahaullah says, and we have to be especially careful of what we expose ourselves to at that time. Ideally, wed all stroll down a lovely tree lined lane to the Mashriqul-Adhkar where we would chant the praises of God. Failing that, we especially have to watch ourselves.
I've run out of time and space, so let us both think about this, you and me, in the time we have until tomorrow. So in the meantime, take it easy, be content, let your spirit shake hands with your body.
More Comments on Parts of the Lawh-i-Tibb
Part II of II
22 June, 2004
A reading of the entire Tablet to a Doctor gives this impression. Baha'u'llah is the doctor of humanity, so when He talks to a doctor the first part of the Tablet naturally deals with the nature of the doctor's prescriptions for bodies. Then He turns to the believers and talks about His prescription for us, the Manifestation as doctor of the world. This prescription, we know, is to prescribe ourselves, to teach the Cause, administer a spiritual cure to the planet. He plays on the two punning meanings of Hikmat, wisdom, one being systematic application of knowledge, and the other wisdom with the connotation of silence, refraining from rocking the boat. There has to be a balance between both types of wisdom, we need to be outspoken but not to such an extent that we will be wiped out by the evil-eyed -- chillingly, a possibility that He seriously entertains.
He comments on the terrible oppression and persecution of the believers -- the recipient of this tablet lived in Yazd, a center of fanaticism, which has had more than its share of martyrdoms in the history of the Faith. He particularly dwells upon our natural tendency, as lovers of Baha'u'llah, to dwell upon his own sufferings. Do not sink in morbid penitence, Baha'u'llah says but love in a healthy way. He then ends the Tablet with,
"Great is the blessedness of him who leads another soul to the Immortal Faith of God and guides him to life everlasting. This is an act of supreme importance in the presence of thy Lord, the Mighty, the Most Exalted. May the Spirit be upon thee! And may the Glory be upon thee also!"
We, unfortunately, do not value this as much as God does. His ways are not our ways. This all-important prescription of teaching we, lousy patients that we are, have failed to follow through on. (Just as studies have found that a large percentage of patients, even when drugs are free, do not even bother to fill their prescriptions, and when they do, they forget to administer them, and when they administer them, they do not do it correctly) How do we know that we are not doing it right? Simple, by the smallness of our numbers; if we were applying the supreme remedy the world would be crowding to be cured as well. Thus the penultimate pronouncement of the Lawh-i-Tibb,
"If the beloved of God had performed that which they were commanded, the majority of the people of the world at this time would have been adorned with the garment of faith."
Look at silly old me, I cannot even go through this tablet in the right order, I am going backwards. So let us jump back to where I left off. Baha'u'llah continues the doctor's Tablet here by laying the ground of what is now called holistic medicine, treating the whole patient, not just the malfunctioning part or parts of the body.
"Eschew anxiety (al-hamma) and depression (al-ghamm) for through both of these will transpire a darksome affliction (bala' adham)."
How to avoid stress? By wisdom -- the Arabic word for doctor is Hakim, literally meaning "wise." Medicine is rule of wisdom, knowledge systematically applied. The best things in life reduce stress by focusing, narrowing choices and, paradoxically, broadening opportunity. You go for one God and love Him forever. You choose one lover, marry, and abide in the fruits of that union. You pick one career, one mission, one thing, and if it is fruitful a variety of good, fulfilling rewards will come out of that self restriction.
What cause calm and anxiety? What give rise to depression or contentment? That is what the doctor has to ask herself on behalf of the patient in each examination. Generally speaking, the causes rest in having a multitude of choices and conflicting values. In diet, the enemy is eating whatever is cheapest or most convenient instead of what is best. In teaching the faith, it is concentrating on how the writings will help this person with her particular concerns -- which may be why we are told to memorize a wide variety of pertinent quotes from Baha'u'llah's words.
Baha'u'llah then goes on to the emotional grounds of illness, the morbid degradation of love into something perverse, harmful and abusive.
Say: `Envy (al-hasad) consumeth the body and rage (or anger, wrath, al-ghayz) burneth the liver: avoid these two as ye would a fierce lion (al-asad).'
Advertisements do the reverse of this they try to stir up envy in order to persuade us to buy the solution offered by that product. Writers, especially journalists, try their best to stir up anger in order to attract interest in whatever solution they have in mind. Since the fall of Communism many in East and West have bought into a Muslim fundamentalist versus the rest of the world mentality, again, stirring up both envy and anger on all sides. Baha'u'llah is telling us to avoid this agitation because that way of thinking acts like a wild beast, it takes on a life of its own and destroys all who come across its path.
The importance of Baha'u'llah's statement here seems to be that avoiding the sources of anxiety and depression are not idle philosophical desiderata but the central concern of medicine. And later on in the Tibb -- lest anybody downgrade medical concerns -- He places this discipline at the forefront of all others, it is the definitive, formative discipline of civilized life.
"Say: `The science of healing is the most noble of all the sciences'. Verily, it is the greatest instrument given by God, the Quickener of mouldering bones, for the preservation of the bodies of peoples. God hath given it precedence over all sciences and branches of wisdom."
So, along with teachers, medicine comes first. Like the faculty of reason itself, this is the first gift of God to us all. May we all hold on to this cure and improve it together. There are several more major issues in this tablet but let this suffice for now. Tomorrow we'll get back to search for truth.