Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Search as Self Doctoring

Search for Truth, Research Progress Report

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.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Blogged Down in my Search for Truth

I have not posted on the Badi’ blog for the past couple of weeks but the Badi’ mailing list remains active. Here are the posts that I have not put on the blog yet. I thought I would get away from the principle of Search for Truth and go on to the other dozen or so Baha’i principle but there still is no end in sight. I have started our Haldimand LSA’s website and should soon have a Badi’ site going as well where I will archive the essays permanently.
-John Taylor, 18 June, 2004

Search for Truth; Personal Observations and a Memorization

By John Taylor

8 June, 2004

I have a passion for order built into my psychological makeup; I enjoy sorting information more than almost any activity. A few years ago I took an interest in woodworking but ended up spending all my shop time cutting out articles about woodworking, sorting and arranging them. Having no idea of the basic skills of working with wood, I did what I know how to do, sort. So instead of wooden constructions I ended up producing only a filing cabinet full of carefully organized and indexed files full of plans and how-to articles.

This inclination seems to run in the family; my aunt Marguerite worked many decades as personal secretary to the CEO of Brown and Boggs. I hear that she had the whole company's operations carefully laid out on multi-colored 3X5 cards; the temps who came into her office during her times off were bedazzled by her recondite, utterly idiosyncratic and non-standard filing system. When she retired from that job she took on her church's archives. By the time she was done with their records she had more than a photo album, there was a detailed history of the parish.

Sadly, not long after she finished St. Alban's Anglican Church on Cope Street in Hamilton was closed down by the local Bishop for lack of parishioners. That Bishop is not one of her favorite people, and if you want to hear all the excruciating details, just give Aunty a call. I cannot wait to hear what she has to say about the headline yesterday, that this or a new bishop's statements about homosexuality provoked other Anglican churches around the world to consider booting the Canadian church out of the fold.

Anyway, in order to give a special bounty to an obsessively ordering fellow like me providence gave the gift of migraine, the ultimate randomizer of thoughts and plans. An attack by nature destroys order in your life for days and weeks afterwards. After an attack I feel arrived on an entirely new planet; I cannot remember what I was doing and when I do returning to the same thing as before is strangely distasteful, like wallowing in one's old excreta.

To cling to a semblance of order, I hit upon my lifelong study, the Baha'i principles. After being blown away from one principle I can always return to another while my revulsion for the former wears off. And besides, I believe they are the best solution to the broader randomization that afflicts the world. Principle is the successor to ideology, the way we can order a united world without the "migraine" of contention and fighting. Principle as a methodology will end the chickenwithitsheadcutoffedness that is dragging down the entire Old World Disorder.

On one of my visitations to "p24," my category for the principles as an overall system, before the post-attack revulsion drove me off I managed to select a few memorizations for each principle. There are three quotes, I noticed this morning, under search for truth.

Let us go through at least one of those three today in the hopes that I will actually succeed in memorizing them -- by the way, a few months ago I wrote in detail about the "intone O my servant" quote at the front of the prayer book. Doing that actually helped me memorize the whole passage and now I can rhyme it off like a trooper. This is definitely one of those "if I can do it you certainly can" things, since a severe migraine attack causes brain damage and I know that if anybody ever opened up my skull they would find the most horrible brown mush imaginable. Ugly as it must look it cannot be all bad since somewhere among those nullified neurons are inscribed some holy words.

The first quote for search for truth that I set aside for memorizing sometime is a parable from Luke 18:1-8, in the NIV translation. It emphasizes the need for steadfastness and persistence. The importance of this in search for truth we have seen in previous essays. Whenever I read this story of Jesus I am reminded of Hand of the Cause John Robarts. I anxiously await his biography, for his whole life and teaching was a vivid demonstration of how this parable applies in modern times. Anyway, here is the text.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said:

`In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea,

`Grant me justice against my adversary.'

For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself,

`Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'

And the Lord said,

`Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly, However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?'

Here is why I picked this quote. I noticed right away that Jesus could have saved Himself the trouble of sharing a full length story just by quoting a proverb like, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease," or whatever the equivalent was in Roman times. It is the last line that gives a hint as to why a full length parable is needed. Will He find faith on earth? Answer: Not a chance.

If there is any doubt that this is the answer to His closing rhetorical question, check out the Kitab-i-Iqan. It confirms that no matter how long you attend this school or how high your marks may be, you will never get your graduation papers. You will always be like that widow, shut off from what you want, from what you even think you deserve. God is so high and mighty that everything that comes of Him is a grace and even the suggestion that we deserve anything is presumptuous. In this school, nobody automatically goes on to the next grade. The most learned Rabbis did not accept Jesus. They flunked out. Nobodies like Peter and Paul did. They were raised and chosen, undeservedly, by grace.

Humanity always rejects divinity. Human run religion, the selfish judge, is disinclined to offer justice for its own sake or from love or for the purpose of justice, unity. But even he responds to persistent appeals, if only to get the appellant off his back. Public opinion can move the most indolent and corrupt institutions in the right direction if it continues unabated. Unfortunately, sometimes it moves in contradictory directions, as in my Aunt's Church and its wavering on homosexuality.

The spiritual principle then is that the only real pre-requisite for advancing, for recognizing God, is persistence in prayer. By coming back and coming back to the unfair judge the widow recognized that there was no other recourse. Implicitly the widow accepted his sole and absolute authority. She sacrificed her time and all else for his reconsidered judgment. That made him take the right decision, in spite of his unworthiness.

The onus was on the disciples first. Jesus told the parable to them, not to the multitude. Nor is it any different for Baha'is. As John Robarts taught, bull headedness in supplication is even more necessary for the Baha'i teacher. We are not exempt, in fact we are the center of the whirlpool; the only way to succeed in teaching is by praying until the breeze of the Holy Spirit starts blowing hearts and events in the direction we beg it to take us.

Out of chaos, order.

Gabby and Bea Meet the Love Guru

9 June, 2004

Yesterday after thinking long and hard about the parable of the persistent widow I decided to try out its advice to storm the gates of heaven with prayer. I begged the Lord as fervently and selflessly as I could for the honor of teaching the Faith. Eventually I found myself browsing through the bookshelves of the Dunnville library. A chair had been placed on a wall directly across from the self-help section. I sat there glowingly in that air conditioned building, looking idly over the book titles, sopping away drying sweat, utterly relieved to be out of that horrible, oppressive, migraine-inducing heat.

Sitting there, I wondered about the wisdom stashed away in those dozens and dozens of books. My brother devours advice from self-help gurus but until now I have avoided that, thinking, `why trample on his territory?' As my strength returned I wondered more vigorously about the sage counsel laid out there. This advice comes from such a wide variety of sources. Some are products of professional counselors and others are by clubs and organizations. Almost all have to be good, according to the Master, Who said in Edinburgh,

"Every movement which promotes unity and harmony in the world is good, and everything which creates discord and discontent is bad." (Baha'i Scriptures, 340)

Since this sort of advice promotes personal harmony and tends to reduce discontent, it has to be valuable. In fact it is surely more valuable than a room packed with gold. Why aren't crowds rushing to filch them as they would a treasure trove of jewels and gold baubles? For one thing, I realized, books hide their value away well. Even the most avid, ambitious advice seeker could not access anywhere near all of this information without investing a great deal of time and effort; even then it would be no small job to pick out of the mass of data exactly what is useful for here and now.

Self-help would lend itself nicely to what during the Internet boom came to be called portals, adaptable homepages with live feeds to news, weather and all sorts of other dynamic information. Companies knew that if they could host a popular portal they would be in on the ground floor. They rushed there as if in a gold rush and cared nothing if they offered the service for free. They well knew that future advertising space in a portal that millions consult many times daily would be invaluable.

Lately I have been subscribing to one such portal offered by Yahoo; whatever its value for me, my nine-year-old daughter Silvie now wants to see today's Garfield cartoon strip on the computer whenever she remembers. So a little visit to try out a portal is now going to be a permanent thing. In that way are born all rituals, habits and traditions. Is there a portal or database making self-help advice freely accessible to the public, in the way that the program Ocean is making the Writings accessible to Baha'is?

Surely if the right self-help advice were built into a personalized Internet portal it would be a more effective tool than a thousand books, for its guidance would come at the exact time it is required. The open system "dashboard displays" that I have been envisioning over the past year would shape our whole world by means of virtual reality goggles worn all day long. In effect this would make authors obsoletes, for the real writers in that age would be software engineers who design these dashboards. I decided that is just what I have praying for. I am begging God to end my profession, to make of me a dinosaur. "O God, put me out of work."

The Master tells a story of when Baha'u'llah was traveling and a sharpshooter joined them for the day. At the time it was great sport here in North America to shoot buffalo for target practice, and in that part of the world I guess they shot birds. This fellow was such a good marksman that he could pick off a bird on the wing, something that I can tell you is ordinarily impossible -- I say that from long experience with a pellet gun and .22 rifle as an adolescent. A scattershot shotgun yes, but not a single shooter. Anyway Baha'u'llah said to the guy, don't shoot those birds. The guy ignored that and, the Master tells us, though he continued to take pot shots for the rest of the day, he did not hit a single bird. From deadeye dick to five hundred misses in a row. The Master continues,

"On our return trip we saw a crane. It was very large. This bird rises very slowly from the ground but once in the air it flies very rapidly. When Haji Mohammed Taki saw this crane, he became elated, because he thought he could show his skill here. The bird had just risen from the ground, when he fired the first shot and missed. He fired four more times without success. By this time the bird was high in the air, and he thought now he would surely bring it to the ground and again fired two shots and missed. Because he disobeyed BAHA'O'LLAH, he did not succeed and not a single bullet found its mark." (Star of the West, Volume 5, March 1917 to June, 1919)

I guess I tell this story now because perhaps it answers my persistent prayer that day. If Baha'u'llah is saying from His throne to do something it will happen. If He wants us to make structures for injecting self-help wisdom with open systems portals, it will come about. He will transform the Public Thing, morph it into the Private Thing and back again, just as He willeth. There will be no stopping it.

Before I left the library I picked out a pile of tomes from the section before me. I skimmed over a couple of Andrew Carnegie's works and a "habit changing planner" put out by psychologists -- what a perfect thing to incorporate in a program or PDA! After a while I narrowed it down to one self-help tome, Chicken Soup for the Soul, which I checked out and took home. This is a collection of inspiring stories collected by professional inspirers. The first part consists of stories on love and our visceral need for expressing it in hugs. I shed as many tears as the next fellow over these stories but I want to stress to all my readers here and now that I AM NOT A HUGGER. Do not, I repeat, do not hug me if you see me, no matter what you may glean from what I am about to say.

I decided to read through the stories in Chicken Soup intensely that evening, sleep on it, and then tell some fictionalized stories based on them to Silvie Gabrielle Taylor (or rather, Silvie Gabby and Bea--rielle Taylor) the next morning. These are reasonably true stories -- though you can see that their inspiration level has been pumped up through retelling and their connection to real events is stretched and tenuous. But having a basis in truth makes them more edifying than most of the stolen booty I loot for Gabby and Bea stories. So to prepare the ground before she went to sleep I announced that she could expect the next morning some new Gabby and Bea stories. Mistake. She had to have one right away and for her own reasons she further stipulated that it involve Gabby and Bea eating grapes. So here was my first story based on only the first couple of stories in Chicken Soup.

One day Gabby and Bea were foraging through the woods when they broke out into a clearing. There laid out before them was a vast vineyard, brimming with ripe grapes of red and yellow as far as the eye could see. Gabby declared,

"Yuck, no meat here."

Bea persuaded him to give grapes a chance, saying,

"Foxes are vegetarians during the whole berry season, Gabby, you wolves should try it too."

After a while both were feeding happily away. Then along came a farmer. He was a hunchback, covered in manure, and very ugly. He shot his gun in the air.

"These are my grapes," he shouted.

As they ran off he roundly cursed all the wolves and foxes in the world. His speech was even uglier than his face. Gabby and Bea escaped clean away but they felt troubled that a small meal should have stained the reputation of all their kind. They decided to seek counsel. They asked the caterpillars and the butterflies and the dragonflies and the answer was always the same.

"Go to yon mount and ask the sage sitting cross-legged on the summit. She is known as the Love Guru and will assuredly give you your answer."

So they journeyed to the top. Without waiting for them to tell her the problem, she said to them,

"Take these paper hearts. Go out into the forest and give them out to every creature you meet in exchange for a hug. When you have given them all out, come back here."

The fox and wolf traveled far in the wood and gave out hugs and hearts to snakes and bears and animals of all kinds. Once they saw the farmer on a pathway with his gun and they hid it a bush until he was out of sight. They returned to the mount and said they had given out all the hearts.

"Are you certain? Look into your bag,"

Gabby and Bea looked in and saw that they had somehow left one heart in their sack.

"Go, my friends, and seek out the farmer who rightfully owns that heart."

Without a word they went away and after a long journey they knocked on the farmer's door. He opened it and began shooting at them. He missed. He tried again. Another miss. He checked to see if there were blanks or bullets in the firearm, but it looked normal. After several more misses, Bea said to him in her familiar nasal drawl,

"Ew, excuse me. Would you like to have a paper heart in exchange for a hug?"

"No way, you vermin, you robbed my field. You are grape stealers."

"Ew, please sir, new, we are not. We did not know it was your field. We meant no harm. We ate only a few. And besides, we are part of nature and nature gave you that field in the first place. To make it up to you we can tell all our animal friends not to take your grapes. Please sir, accept this heart in exchange for a hug."

The farmer was taken aback and accepted the hug from both wolf and fox. He opened up the paper heart and inside were the words,

"Give me to the one you love the most. I will bless your love and make it eternal."

It had a strange picture of an Easter Egg by the inscribed words. The farmer laughed and said,

"The one I love will not accept this. She will not look at my ugly face, or listen to a word I say. She is the most beautiful woman in all the land. She wants a husband who is as clean and handsome as she is beautiful. I love her with every atom of my being, but there is nothing I can do."

Gabby said,

"Then you must come with us and find out the answer from the love guru atop Hug Mountain."

The hunchbacked Igor went with them to the summit of Hug Mountain. The guru gave the farmer a bunch of grapes. The farmer objected that these were surely his grapes, stolen once more. No, eat these grapes, they are not from yours but food of the gods out of love's Elysian Fields. Afterwards you will sleep; you will dream a dream. Then go straight to your true love and tell her what passed in your vision.

The farmer later came and presented his paper heart to that most beautiful creature in the village. She did not move or touch it. She was so repulsed that she could not raise her eyes. Summoning up his courage he told her his dream and as she listened she remembered long before dreaming that very dream.

"I dreamed that out of all the world God creates each creature separate and apart but some souls are created together, as two yolks in one egg. They come apart before birth but even if they live lives on opposite ends of the earth they will remain until the end of time as one being, truly happy only in the good of the other. The Lord pointed out my soul mate to me and said to brace myself. When she is born she will be an ugly humpback.

"I begged Him to give the hunch to me, to suck all the beauty from my side to her end of the egg. He refused. The time was coming for us to separate. If we waited too long, we could never bear a moment of separation and would not be born into a world of apartness. I pleaded and begged until finally the Lord relented, for time was short. Every atom of beauty went over to you and I was born with a hunched up back and shoulder."

She looked at the heart, opened it, and there was a drawing of the very egg where they had come into being. She knew that it all was true and when she looked up she saw only love and beauty in not only in the farmer's face and body, but in all men.

They married and bore four blessed children. Gabby and Bea took the children on a hike every Easter up Hug Mountain. There they learned from the love guru songs of love. The kids enjoyed singing and playing music to the animals every nineteen days at the animal feast. The animals never stole another grape but at feast time the four piled grapes outside each corner of the vineyard's fence for all to eat as they listened to their music.

They say that those who eat of their grapes and listen very carefully to the words of their songs will dream dreams that tell the secret of love, the love that touches all God's creatures with something of the love of two soul mates.

Send-out for 10 June, 2004

by John Taylor

Contents: Essay: Need to Know Sayings and proverbs of Alex Comments on the Relativity of Responsibility Article about Brandee

Need to Know

Historically, revolutions come after injustice builds to where there is an urgent, uncontrollable crisis. This violent, compelling shock prompts us to rethink basic habits. Changes happen quickly but inevitably are dragged into the clash of reform and reaction. A material solution becomes the problem; fighting and conflict instead of problem solving become the dominant habits. Reform must work on one and all or not at all. It is not for individuals or the collectivity but for both at once. Without adjusting habit and elevating daily lifestyle, we leave out all hope for real, significant change.

In order to reverse the bad habits of revolution and counter-revolution characteristic of the Old World Disorder all must learn the search for truth as a principle. That means concentrating mind and heart on how to make up entire lifestyle mechanisms, to build stronger, more positive and harmonious habits. The secret: default on righteousness, make it harder to fail than succeed by plugging in to the power of habit.

I am sorry about what I have to say next. I have put this off for several days because I find perorations on health problems boring and disgusting. I swear that I would not inflict you with it, dear reader, were it not "need to know." I just have to show that I am not merely theorizing when I talk about openness. It is literally a question of life and death for me. A vicious circle is closing like a noose and will kill me if I cannot maintain a healthful, active routine. Okay, not in a day or a week but it is a matter of life and death just the same.

Yesterday as I was writing the Gabby and Bea story my ankle swelled up and now I can hardly walk. This spontaneous sprain happens periodically, unpredictably. In less than a minute I can go from completely mobile to able only to crawl from place to place on the floor. I carry a cane around and feel the fool but I know I'd look the worse fool if I were suddenly prostrated at a meeting and had to crawl home.

I also suffer from arthritis -- migrainers are prone to inflammatory problems. These make physical activity involving joint motions painful; there is no physical activity without joint motions, is there? To avoid pain I moved less. With less motion the muscles around the joints got weaker, pain was accentuated and a vicious circle circled my lifestyle like a noose. As with migraine when I didn't know the causes, the more I tried to relieve the symptoms the more I fed the underlying problem.

Now it is made worse by obesity that crept up over two decades until now I am well into the red on my doctor's BMI chart, body mass index. The excess weight makes it harder on the joints. The most annoying result is that I can no longer run. When Silvie was a toddler I could chase her but to my horror when Thomas learned to run I could not catch him. I waddle along in a run-like manner but running is long gone. I wish I could remember my last run; it was a marker that I did not note. I mourn that day anyway.

My understanding of principle reached the point last summer where I knew I would have to either betray its central idea, the "openness" model, or work intensely on ungimping my lifestyle. It seems hopeless when I think too directly. I am easily daunted.

Fortunately last fall my doctor suggested an herb from Africa called "devil's claw root extract." It relieved joint pain enough to start back into an exercise routine. Foolishly, I wanted to get back my ability to run. So I did the worst thing for joints, jogging. It is not in my nature not to try to test my limits. In a couple of days the knees hit back with a knockout punch, just when I had worked my waddling up to one and half circuits of the track. That combined with carrying Thomas on my shoulders on long walks, blew the knees to last year and I've suspended daily exercises while I recover again.

How can I not be aware that I am not alone? Daily headlines confirm the urgency of lifestyle change on a global level. Among people my age so many are in worse lifestyle fixes. Though I am aware that noting my progress here will embarrass me if I fail, if I succeed in reversing this insidious mortification of lifestyle maybe I'll inspire others to try too. I guess I am inspired by the example of Brandee, as you will be too when you read the last part of this mailout.

Here are the last revised sayings of my friend Alex, which I have been including periodically.

from SAY SO by: Alex Szatmary

Everybody makes mistakes, but sometimes it happens that we do the right thing.

Life is like chess, we always make the same mistakes over and over again.

A collection of failures is called: "Experience".

"No rules!" That is the first law of nature.

Originality is doing what everybody does, only with a twist.

Hiding ignorance is the first sign of adulthood.

Are you really smart if you are using smart peoples ideas?

Admitting a mistake does not repair the damage.

Everybody loves me ...I'm a slave to everybody.

There are no rules until you don't accept them.

Who believes you, if you are not you?

There are two kinds of people, those who don't know how to think and those who are lazy to think.

If you don't have a life you live in virtual reality.

Behind great savings is always an odour of laziness.

Comments on the Relativity of Responsibility

I have been writing about responsibility lately. The topic has been hitting the news, so I will note the highlights that impress.

Donald Rumsfeld, answering revelations of shameful and illegal behavior under his watch at the US Defense department is quoted as saying, "I take full responsibility." This shows that if you get high enough on the totem pole the rules change. Down below, shouldering blame means unpleasant things like spending the rest of your life in jail; higher up, it becomes a glowing feeling of maturity and manliness, you are "taking responsibility" for making a show of resolve that you will maybe see to it that somebody else takes the blame by going to jail like he deserves. You did it yourself, the burden is on your back and nobody else's. You, my son, are a man.

Then there is George Tenet, resigning from the head of the CIA after a series of the worst failures in intelligence gathering history. He is quoted as saying, apparently without intentional irony, "Our record is not without flaws... We are not perfect, but one of our best kept secrets is that we are very, very, very good." So, they are making goodness and competence classified secrets! I could spend days exploring the implications of his statement but being a bottom of the totem pole fellow I would probably end up spending the rest of my life in jail for revealing the many layers of classified information built into his words.

Article about Brandee

Here is an article that appeared in Tuesday's Hamilton newspaper, The Spectator, about a local Baha'i youth who was killed in a car accident a few years ago. Her uncle is Gord Naylor, member of the NSA of Canada and one of my spiritual parents; he spoke at J&N's fireside the night I declared. The article does not mention that she was a Baha'i, but she was.

Grimsby's butterflies flutter for a special person

By Kelly Putter, Tuesday, 8 June, 2004

Six thousand paper butterflies blanketed picturesque Grimsby yesterday morning, encouraging the town's residents to remember Brandee Eliott by doing something good that day.

It's too early to tell if the town was swept by random acts of kindness. But one thing is sure: the legacy of the 17-year-old Good Samaritan, killed six years ago in a car crash near her Grimsby home, continues to inspire.

So much so, in fact, that it spurred a Grade 12 student to stop suffering the blows of her abusive boyfriend and to finally seek counseling. A mother decided it was time to bury the hatchet after a long estrangement. A husband, who hadn't bought his wife a gift in six years, bought her a bouquet of flowers.

June 7 is Good Citizenship Day in Grimsby and these are the stories Nancy Elliot, Brandee's mother, hears in the days and weeks that follow. Brandee would have been 21 yesterday.

"We're hoping to inspire everybody in the community to do one small thing," said Elliott, who was up most of Sunday night helping 46 teens distribute the multi-coloured butterflies to 80 percent of Grimsby's homes.

"Brandee's whole thing was you don't have to be an adult to make a difference."

At Grimsby Secondary School, where Brandee was an honour roll student, prefect and tutor, her spirit of generosity and kindness lives on with the teachers and staff who knew her and with those who didn't.

"I've had students do random acts of kindness, who rise to the occasion and maybe it has been directly inspired by Brandee."

The morning announcements asked students to remember Brandee and to do a good deed in honour of Good Citizenship Day, said GSS secretary Pam Hrstic.

"I thought it was really neat that they put those butterflies on people's lawns," she added.

The 30 member Brandee Elliott Foundation aims to celebrate youth through community service -- something Brandee immersed herself in. Humanitarian and environmental causes were especially near and dear.

The foundation offers financial aid and scholarships to people and programs that champion youth and education.

Businesses, classrooms and a graduating student at each of Grimsby's 13 grade schools will be recognized later this month with awards and small bursaries.

Elliott plans to include Lincoln schools next year and wants to encourage parents and their children to attend the foundation's meetings.

The butterflies that asked Grimsby residents to "please do one good deed" yesterday were chosen because butterflies always gravitated to Brandee.

"I think she'd be pretty pleased," said Elliott of the project.

"Like her, the butterflies are pretty and inspirational, serene and soft. Even after six years, you have a hole in your heart. I can't bear the thought of people forgetting Brandee."

Tough Loving Our Children

11 June, 2004

Raising and teaching children is important. You know it, I know it. I spend my every spare moment involved in it; I feel that as a disabled person I have to make up for my physical weakness, poverty and other failings by spending much more time with my kids than the average father just to try to make up and catch up with what healthy parents provide. Something big like children's education has got to be like a large building that you frequent often. You get used to seeing it from one point of view but then one day you go off and get lost in surrounding streets and suddenly come upon it from an unforeseen direction. That is when you see it in a new and unexpected way.

So it was when, driving the almost one hour trip to Hamilton for a medical test I listened to part of an interview on CBC Radio with the French Canadian author of the novel, "The Story of Pi" (his name escapes me). They discussed how people come upon religion. Some find faith as children; these understand God in a way that makes use of children's potent powers of imagination. Others, like that author (and myself) reject it in their youth and come to religion as adults. These tend to have a more intellectual, theoretical understanding, and are more forgiving of bad experiences they may have had with religion in their youth. This writer, being Catholic, said that he considered this to be the greatest failing of the Church in modern times, its utter inability to seize and keep the imaginations of children. I then remembered the House of Justice's recent emphasis on children's classes and resolved to try to take the issue of teaching faith to children more seriously in my own writing. Hence this essay.

Yes, this is a much bigger issue than I had imagined. I guess this time when I glimpsed the big building of children's classes it was from much further back and that enabled me to see how high it towers over all the issues and problems that surround it. This is not just an issue that concerns the Catholic Church or the Baha'i Faith, it is a survival issue for the human race. It is every bit as important as cleaning up the environment or maintaining our physical well being. Indeed, when you think of how important faith is to happiness, having an educated imagination for youth is more central and important than any physical problem.

You don't need to be a prophet to predict the result of failure: If the next generation cannot imagine God, how will they understand Him as adults? And if too many of us do not imagine or understand God, we are surely in for an Israeli-Palestinian conflict writ large, endless squabbling on a world scale, utter impotence to agree upon real solutions to anything. The enemy will be everywhere, and idea or event will set us off into disaster, like suicide bombers walking among us.

So, what can I add to this uber-issue? My one hope for a contribution to the world generally is my suggestion of extending "open systems" from computer operating systems to the general planning and ordering of the public thing. So my best bet is to start thinking about how to integrate the education of children into Open Systems reform.

A good jumping off point is the "hardship" mentioned in this paragraph from the Writings of the Master,

"While the children are yet in their infancy feed them from the breast of heavenly grace, foster them in the cradle of all excellence, rear them in the embrace of bounty. Give them the advantage of every useful kind of knowledge. Let them share in every new and rare and wondrous craft and art. Bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, 129)

Of course the Master is not suggesting hardship alone here, he is proposing that we take several new directions at once, including making research in children's education an area of heavy investment, rather in the way that today there is hot and fevered development of rockets, "smart" bombs, auto-piloted drones, and so forth. He is suggesting we go beyond giving children grounding in basics like the three 'R's or bare career training, that we give them a mission in life that will benefit the world.

But still, He does suggest inuring them to tough challenges and hard times. A deprived childhood can be the greatest thing you can "give," or rather take away from a child. You will read the proof of this in the biography of just about any prominent person who was raised during the Great Depression. Their struggles and trials during youth gave that generation amazing qualities of perseverance, parsimony, seriousness and dedication. Our world no doubt owes its present prosperity and advances in high technology to that generation, sadly now dying out.

Of course the hardship we encounter through hard times and economic recession is dumb and brutal and probably breaks a thousand for every two or three that it makes. That is why the Master suggests that we systematically and carefully introduce the difficulty into children's lives. The object should be a spiritual one. And what does spiritual mean? Surely that we do it out of love for them, for a higher love, as inculcated by the holy words,

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15, KJV)

This is expanded upon in the 50th and 51st Arabic Hidden Words,

"If adversity befall thee not in My path, how canst thou walk in the ways of them that are content with My pleasure? If trials afflict thee not in thy longing to meet Me, how wilt thou attain the light in thy love for My beauty? (50)

"My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy. Hasten thereunto that thou mayest become an eternal light and an immortal spirit. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it." (51)

An interesting article called, "Accustom Children to hardship," points out that the House of Justice has continued on this theme in more recent guidance on children's education (the article appeared in the New Zealand Baha'i News, September/October 2000, and I came across it in the Hamilton Baha'i Newsletter) In a letter of March, 1997 written to Persian believers, the House wrote,

"The friends in Iran have successfully put these ordinances to work and learned through experience that one of the immediate results of this endeavor is to empower their precious children at an early age to confront difficulties in school, on the street, and in the marketplace and to show forth heroism, thereby preserving their integrity and safeguarding the reputation of the Faith. The friends in other parts of the world should do likewise. For, should the children be deprived of a spiritual foundation, their protection from the onslaught of destructive temptations will be compromised." (Letters, 1997 Mar, BAHA 154 - From Persian, To Iranian Believers)

The newsletter article that I mentioned makes a valiant attempt to answer the more specific question, "What constitutes hardship? Although the answer it gives is too general for my liking, I think it is worth noting,

"Hardship is any experience that requires strength and toughness of character to endure. Enduring hardship calls forth strength of will. Hardship is any task or situation for which there is no easy way out, no soft alternative. Hardships are those experiences that require and call forth the virtues of perseverance, of persistence, of determination, of resignation to duty, of steadfastness and sometimes may even involve elements of courage. It follows that hardship necessarily involves, to a greater or lesser degree, sacrifice of one's comfort and of one's time."

A few years after the above mention of hardship, the House of Justice continued the theme in a Ridvan message to the world. I like the way they hint at the many implications that this principle has not only for children and their teachers but for the whole community of believers.

"Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. They bear the seeds of the character of future society which is largely shaped by what the adults constituting the community do or fail to do with respect to children. They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity. An all-embracing love of children, the manner of treating them, the quality of the attention shown them, the spirit of adult behaviour toward them -- these are all among the vital aspects of the requisite attitude. Love demands discipline, the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or leave them entirely to their own devices. An atmosphere needs to be maintained in which children feel that they belong to the community and share in its purpose. They must lovingly but insistently be guided to live up to Baha'i standards, to study and teach the Cause in ways that are suited to their circumstances." (Ridvan Messages, Ridvan 157, 2000, p. 9, para 26)

To sum up. The implication of the sort of tough love being recommended is this: the toughest part is on us, for ours is the challenge of tempering a whole generation of young minds in hardship. How in the world can we capture their hearts and mostly their imaginations, in the glories of tough love for God?

Athletics and the Principles of Perfection

14 June, 2004

This is a lightly revised version of an essay originally written in Kamal, 157 BE -- Y2K -- for that Badi month. Here is the summary I put up for it, the second of two essays, on the now defunct Badi website on Geocities.

"The Master's perfect example was to go through the twelve Baha'i principles one by one, a method that covers every important sphere of modern life. Here I try this out on perfection using a thought experiment imagining what conditions would allow a perfect athlete to develop."

I guess I am revisiting this essay now because I am preparing the Badi' site for a rebirth, possibly on a new server. This essay also prefigured a principle run and the emphasis that I now envision for open systems on physical as well as spiritual education.

A word of warning: this will be longer than usual. Back then I wrote my essays less frequently and more at length; it took a week or more to produce them and they covered more ground.

Kamal is the high point of summer, there is no month more summery than Kamal. Perfection is the highest attainment possible. It is a point beyond which there is nothing further, like standing on the South Pole and asking which way is south. To even picture it strains the loftiest imagination. But the very effort gives new perspective; it breaks away the artificial mental borders that block us up. The high panorama of Kamal shows all that we could achieve if only we set our goals higher.

In our last essay we argued that there can be a sort of perfection in our world as well as in God's. Here, perfection is service and service is perfection; God "serves" our imperfect, relative perfection and we serve His. What results is truly the best of all possible worlds. Whenever we try to imagine a better universe than this one, the boundaries fall away leaving only astonishment.

We cited Leibniz's principle of perfection, that the universe takes in the smallest imperfection in order to effect the maximum perfection. We used the example of the human genome project, which began as a way to find a cure to certain tragic illnesses that are caused by flaws in the genetic code. These "mistakes" in our genetic foundations ruined lives and devastated entire family trees. However, without them the cipher of the human genome would have been either impossible to decode or, more to the point, we would have seen no reason to try to decode it. The human genome project now promises to end not just hereditary illnesses but all disease for all time. Leibniz would have said, "Maximum good for minimum imperfection."

In the long run love and service between God's static Perfection and our dynamic imperfection maximizes knowledge and minimizes the disease and suffering that uncover new knowledge. This amplification we call principle. Principle is doing more with less, what Buckminster Fuller called "mini-max," minimum use of resources for maximum results. While we have seen spectacular results from mini-max in the material spheres of science and technology, principle remains ignored in its most important applications.

Spiritual principle, all for One and One for all, is our best hope for righting the present dislocation between materiality and spirituality. Moral principle, or virtue, is the shortest path to "mini-maxing" our perfection in mind, body and soul. While prayer and meditation are fundamental to this new methodology, physical education plays a surprisingly important role too.

For example, athletics promote a strong imagination as well as a strong body. Anyone who has done sports will find it much easier to imagine a perfect player than a perfect prayer or meditater. A perfect sportsperson has attributes that you can see and examine. Let us try then to imagine what would be needed to produce a perfect athlete. But first let us fully understand what principle is from the point of view of Kamal.

In every age the essential servitude of God reveals itself in a Being. This perfect Manifestation manifests the revealed aspect of divine perfection. The service of this Perfect Teacher is to teach us by word and example how and what to serve. The Manifestation for this age, Baha'u'llah, revealed a book and a Cause that lead the way to human completion and maturity. His Son, 'Abdu'l-Baha, the perfect exemplar of today's ideal follower of Baha'u'llah, distilled these teachings into a dozen or so principles. Each of these phenomenal social and spiritual principles points out a mini-max for this age. It is the shortest way up one side of a mountain at whose summit rests the highest perfection possible for this age, the unity of humankind.

The first principle, search for truth, is most intimate with our imperfections on a personal level. This principle gives privacy to perfect self, a mission to seek out more truth and a forum in which to display discoveries. Since the highest perfections and most profound truths are spiritual in nature, this means that search is largely a process of inner purification. 'Abdu'l-Baha said that,

"The eyes of the blind cannot behold the rays of the sun; only pure eyes with sound and perfect sight can receive them. Green and living trees can absorb the bounty of the sun; dead roots and withered branches are destroyed by it. Therefore, man must seek capacity and develop readiness. As long as he lacks susceptibility to divine influences, he is incapable of reflecting the light and assimilating its benefits." (Promulgation, 148)

The first sign that we are ready and able to tackle the search for truth is desire. To see how important a part of perfection longing is, let us imagine a perfect player of a sport, say soccer. She has the most natural ability, the best training and experience possible. But then let us suppose that she does not wish to play the game. For some reason she does not care, refuses to work and has no heart for the contest. In that case all her perfect skills and ability would count for nothing. She would just stand by and watch the other team score goal after goal. Or, she might just stay home and watch television.

In everything success demands firm pride in oneself, desire for excellence for its own sake and a strong will to win. This desire, like all other virtues, is a reflection of a perfection of God. While His Perfection does not admit change, in a sense God is full of desire, will and ardor. God is love, and love without desire is mere affection. As the 19 Badi day and month virtues teach, His virtues include Will (Mashiyyat), the impulse that prompted Him to create the universe, and the virtue of Questions (Masa'il), the method God uses to search out and prove His hidden truths and mysteries. These especially are driven by desire.

God's love gives birth to the next principle, the oneness of humanity. God is One, and we are the image of God. The human race has to reflects God's oneness, or it would be reflecting the multiplicity of the universe, not Him. Perfection, 'Abdu'l-Baha stressed, is the first result of unity with the whole, and unity is the result of perfection,

"The source of perfect unity and love in the world of existence is the bond and oneness of reality. When the divine and fundamental reality enters human hearts and lives, it conserves and protects all states and conditions of mankind, establishing that intrinsic oneness of the world of humanity which can only come into being through the efficacy of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is like unto the life in the human body, which blends all differences of parts and members in unity and agreement." (Promulgation, 321)

Thus, God's Desire or Spirit vivifies the body of humanity but Oneness is the perfect set of rules that guides its actions and holds everything together. Let us again imagine the dream athlete.

Let us say that she retains her wonderful talent and now also has the desire; she has the will to win and stick it through. But let us say, assuming she is playing the world's most popular game, that she refuses to conform to the rules of soccer. She grabs the ball and carries it in her arms; she goes offside and assaults any player that gets in her way. We know that in a matter of minutes she would be expelled. No matter that she is perfect. She would be forbidden to continue. If she were allowed to continue, it would be even worse. The other players would also be free to break the regulations. In a brief time, the game would become a free-for-all. There would be no way to say whether any team had won or whether any player did better than any other.

This example gives a hint at the Pandora's Box that would be opened if we refused to accept human oneness and equality. Without fundamental oneness only confusion would reign in our universe. To accept many gods would set up many truths, many sets of contradictory rules and there would be no possible basis for standards or commonality. In games as in life, obedience to a single set of rules is the basis of the order from which perfection grows.

This sets the stage for the next principle, Oneness of Religion. Through the ages people have come up with many ways of worshipping God. Yet His oneness placed heavy demands upon the followers of these religious systems. One God, once understood, delights in diversity but He has one overall desire for acceptance of His just rule of love and service.

The result is a principle called "religion for benefit," the law that the "Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath." If any religious ritual or belief begins to obstruct unity it is doing more harm than good. It deserves the same treatment a scientist gives to a hypothesis proven wrong: to be cast aside and forgotten. Religion for Benefit is only one of several principles of religious oneness but I pick it out because it applies to sports as much as to religion.

We have seen that our hypothetical perfect athlete would not be perfect without technical ability, desire or conformity to the rules of her sport. Yet most people would agree that she would be imperfect if she became too good, if her commitment to excellence in her sport worked against the overall purpose of sport in general. Even in ancient times the Greeks observed that the participants in the original Olympic games were becoming overly muscled and specialized. They were no longer symbols of bodily perfection but were beginning to look like grotesque mockeries of the human form. The Greek ideal was of an all-round sportsman, a "sound mind in a sound body;" the Olympic games began by promoting the ideal and ended by killing it.

Modern sports, perverted by modern science, have taken this trend much further. In many sports, such as weightlifting and running, since the early Nineteen Eighties there has not been a single Olympic world record untainted by suspicions of drug tampering. Now the winner is not the best athlete but the one backed by the best covert druggist. The real competition is the unethical scientist who can devise pills that will improve performance while remaining undetected by the sport's regulatory checks. Needless to say, chemical tampering with the body is not only unethical but destroys the natural bodily balance. It introduces health risks that mean an early death for many of these pathetically driven competitors.

This situation means that all athletes, not just our ideal one, are faced with the choice of losing or popping pills along with the others. Perfection in the overall ideals of sport will be inconceivable unless and until we either invent new sports or change the rules of present ones to somehow reward moderation and a balanced lifestyle. The same difficult choice faces religious people whose beliefs stand in the way of the benefits that faith is meant to provide. If a dogma or conviction destroys love and unity with one's fellowman, we are all better off just dropping it before it destroys all chance of love and unity.

This naturally leads into the next principle, harmony between science and religion. 'Abdu'l-Baha Himself related this principle to perfection:

"Only by improving spiritually as well as materially can we make any real progress, and become perfect beings. It was in order to bring this spiritual life and light into the world that all the great Teachers have appeared." (Paris Talks, 63)

'Abdu'l-Baha taught that moderation gives the best of both worlds, that the spirit balances the material, and vice versa. In fact, a perfect body (science) without spirit (religion) would be a corpse. On the other hand, an ardent spirit requires physical means in order to express itself in this world. Their balance and closeness, 'Abdu'l-Baha said, is what defines a living body politic.

Material virtues are like unto a perfect body, but this body is in need of the spirit. No matter how handsome and perfect the body may be, if it is deprived of the spirit and its animus, it is dead. But when that same body is affiliated with the spirit and expressing life, perfection and virtue become realized in it. Deprived of the Holy Spirit and its bounties, man is spiritually dead. [Promulgation, p. 303]

Experience has proven that balance, "affiliation" with the spirit, leads to full potential in every activity, not just in science and religion.

A perfect athlete always harmonizes physical skill and mental qualities. As the "Russian school" of chess proved, contestants even in the apparently totally intellectual arena of chess always benefit from a rounded training routine. Russian chess players still dominate the world by, among other things, careful physical training, including a strict dietary regime and rigorous physical exercise.

This sort of training is easy to duplicate, however, and the advantage tends to be short lived in most sports. That is why in every sport, from tennis to weight lifting, coaches repeatedly stress this point to young athletes: once you reach the world class level, physical abilities and skills tend to be pretty much equal. It is mental qualities like determination that make the difference between winning and losing.

An important principle of perfection, or more precisely the principle of eliminating imperfection, is that which 'Abdu'l-Baha called the Elimination of Prejudice. If we imagine our perfect athlete again, as long as she is human she will always need to visit the bathroom and take a shower after the game. A perfect body must eliminate as well as ingest. The harder and better she plays the more necessary is purification. The Baha'i principle of elimination of prejudice similarly dispels errors that creep into everyone's search for perfection, unity and truth.

If principle resembles competitive sport at all, it is here. The opposition to all principle are imitation, ignorance and prejudice. The enemy is us, my opponent is in my self. Baha'u'llah pointed out the nature of the opponent and how to win,

"Arise, O people, and, by the power of God's might, resolve to gain the victory over your own selves, that haply the whole earth may be freed and sanctified from its servitude to the gods of its idle fancies - gods that have inflicted such loss upon, and are responsible for the misery of, their wretched worshipers. These idols form the obstacle that impedeth man in his efforts to advance in the path of perfection." (Gleanings, 93)

Divine perfection is complete, unchanging. For us, His creatures though perfection is in adaptation. Change is the watchword and that implies conscious recognition of our incompletion. No matter how much we strive if we imagine our discovery is absolute truth or that the accomplishment makes us better than others, our search has turned up an idol rather than truth. "Perfection," the Taoist saying goes, "is an imperfection." (WLR #102, p. 45) A truly perfect human has a provisional, humble attitude because she recognizes that we are not and never will be complete. To imagine perfection as possible for a second would deny faith. It would negate love and arrogate to oneself the Absolute perfection of the Deity.

The next principles are economic. There are several sub-principles here, sometimes summarized in one as "Spiritual Solution to the Economic Problem." They includes the obligation to work, work is worship, economic equity and voluntary sharing. All work from the axiom that the rules of economics are derived from our spiritual purpose. Let us again imagine the perfect athlete.

A perfect athlete has the most prowess in her particular sport. All the rules of her sport are work together and are meant to make her skill shine. I am a former judoka and remember a particular rule in Judo that illustrates this. It disallowed any points for a player who picks up his opponent by main force and throws him down on his back. A true Judo throw must be done with the skills that the sport inculcates. This rule allows the more skilled judoka to win out over a stronger one.

Such a rule is not unique to Judo. In every sport most if not all rules are designed to keep extraneous factors out and assure that only those with a particular set of skills will prosper. Hockey rules are designed to weed out all but the best hockey players. Basketball rules assure that the most skilled group of basketball players will win out, not the tallest, the richest, the meanest or even the strongest.

In the same way principle asserts that the rules of economics should be designed to allow every person to attain her full potential, both spiritually and materially. The rules of the economic game are ways of promoting love, unity, justice, charity, creativity and spirituality. Whatever encourages immoderation or injustice should be disallowed; no one solution, no single income level or economic class or type of worker should be permitted to dominate unfairly over others. Thus the object of economic relations is ethical, to train participants to make money as a spiritual as well as a material exercise. Such education in our perfection as full participants in the economy will in itself bring about stable prosperity and ultimately a divine civilization.

The principles that come next each establish rules of equity in an important sphere of human life. The principle called Promotion of Education places educational values first and works to eliminate unfair disadvantages due to ignorance, lack of schooling, attainability, wealth, and so forth. The principle of Universal Language rules out unjust and unnecessary linguistic advantages between peoples and cultures. The principle of Equality of the Sexes keeps gender barriers from degrading the broader interests of all people, not women exclusively.

So necessary are such rules of equity and so common is the analogy with sports that the saying "a level playing field" has become clichi. The more fair the contest and the tougher the opposition the greater the glory. The closer our consummate athlete approaches perfection the greater is her dependence upon equity. If her opponents had unfair disadvantages like improper equipment or having to wear heavy weights she would surely be the first to protest. For one thing, her powers and perfections matched against anything but the best opposition available would quickly decline.

Unfortunately, what is obvious in sports still is commonly misunderstood in all the areas that the Baha'i principles cover. Understanding and applying principle would level the playing field in education, language and gender. Iniquity and unfair obstacles to human progress would soon dissipate.

While I have belabored this analogy with sports it does break down after a point, which is no doubt why 'Abdu'l-Baha did not use it Himself. Sports analogies are as often misapplied as not. Human oneness is such that the watchword of our relations has to be harmony and unity, not the competitive struggle of a contact sport. For example, when explaining equality between the sexes 'Abdu'l-Baha compared progress to the intimate cooperation that exists between the organs of a single body, not that between bodies clashing or teams competing.

"In a perfect human body it is not possible for one organ to be complete and another defective. In the great body of human society it is impossible to establish unity and coordination if one part is considered perfect and the other imperfect. When the perfect functions of both parts are in operation, harmony will prevail. God has created man and woman equal as to faculties. He has made no distinction between them." (Promulgation, p. 233)

The warmth, courtesy and cordiality that exist between the sexes is the great symbol and indicator of spiritual understanding. As we learn to strengthen equity and equality between the sexes we will also eliminate competitive attitudes in all spheres of life. Tolerance for aggression among nations is the cause of war and eliminating that tolerance must level the playing field of world peace. So, the final principle in most listings of 'Abdu'l-Baha is just that, Universal Peace.

Here perfection is uniformity. It is oneness in essentials and diversity and freedom in non-essentials. Here the competitive model of most sports is not only harmful but suicidal. Weapons now are so destructive that nations can no longer afford to permit a thought of struggle or competition. Even indirect strife through economic, cyber-war, biological or chemical measures would have frighteningly devastating consequences.

The most apt sports analogy for peace is a direct contrast of the almost incredible perfection of sports organizations with the sorry state of international institutions. These bodies, who protect the world from multiplying dangers and conflicts that threaten us all are sadly under-funded and ignored by the press. No taxes go directly to them, they must go begging for approval from lower level institutions. If the World Health Organization, for example, were run with the same levels of financial backing, talent and efficient organization, all under the close scrutiny of millions of fans, that benefit the average professional football team there would be no more problems of disease, hunger or deprivation.

The perfection of elite athletes and the organizations that nurture them is the direct result of support by millions of former players, supporters, spectators and couch potatoes. This is a serious imbalance in all our lifestyles, a fundamental imperfection of the entire human race. Noam Chomsky suggested an experiment that backs this up. Just tune in, he says, to a typical post game phone-in radio broadcast. Here, fans who would not bother to put a coherent sentence together about philosophy or have the confidence to say anything at all about the most basic political or religious truth manage passionately and eloquently to put forth reasoned positions on complex technical issues. They will construct elaborate, cogent arguments as to why their favorite team's coach should have done this or player A should have done such and such to player B. So much passion and concern about a contest that will be forgotten by the start of the next game!

Chomsky sees sinister motives in a ruling class that allows a large percentage of the population to be caught up in trivial diversions like sports. He has a point. Certainly if you bring up the need for a strong world government to anybody at all it is usually met with the yawning dismissal, "Oh, that might leave us open to a tyranny on a world level." Yet apathy and non-involvement cause authoritarianism in the first place. Their very lack of interest makes this a self-fulfilling prophesy. It will remain such as long as the masses are more concerned with simulations than the real thing, as long as they are obsessed with sports and distracted from decisions that make a real difference to our destiny.

From the beginning sports were designed to serve practical ends beyond exercise and entertainment. They are essential aids for the survival of the culture that fosters them. Children love to play and simulate reality and what they simulate becomes the reality of adult life. Sports take advantage of child psychology for training potential soldiers in the skills that current weapons of war require. In the time of knights in armor sports like fencing, archery and jousting were encouraged. Maritime nations in the era of triremes encouraged swimming and rowing.

What body of skills, then, is most needed today? Surely those that promote the twelve principles just listed. In my opinion the twelve principles and the nineteen Badi months would be an excellent framework to organize a balanced training program involving a series of standard games and sports done one after the other, like the triathlon or decathlon. This would be balanced by a scientific program of regulated diet and exercise, as well as courses and mental puzzles to develop the intellect.

What we need most in this age is universal participation, which is at base a spiritual principle, a perfection of God. Universal participation by young and old, fat and thin in sports could be encouraged by competing according to capitation -- improvements of the whole population count in a given area, rather than the performance of some elite minority of professional athletes that they hire. Handicapping systems can be devised, as in golf, to place all participants on an equal footing and encourage them to single out areas that need improvement.

We have seen that the overall goal of principle is do more with less. Such a training program would do this by maximizing human perfection, increasing life span and minimizing and spreading out, though not eliminating, suffering and struggle. It has been known for over fifty years that rats fed a minimal amount of calories are more alert and live one third longer. More recent studies indicate that the same would be true for humans if only we could summon up the self-sacrifice to avoid all indulgence.

Society could afford massive expenditure for such a program, since the insurance and other economic benefits of adding twenty or thirty productive years to the life span of the average worker would be prodigious. This alone would more than pay back a heavy investment in universal, open sports. Whether the average individual can summon up the determination and courage of an elite athlete is another consideration. I believe that the Baha'i principles and Badi virtues offer reasonable grounds for hope that she can, that every world citizen can make the best of themselves in the best of all possible worlds.

Search for Truth; The Hard Part (Part One)

15 June, 2004

Baha'u'llah assures us that we owe all the wonders of creativity, of art and science to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. As a Baha'i, then, you get used to giving Jesus credit for much more of a real revolutionary impulse than his own followers, who tend to be preoccupied with a mere psychological lift, "Jeysus Saaaved me!" This pumping up any second-rate inspirational speaker can do in his sleep and its thrill passes quicker than a one-night stand. I was pleased, therefore, to read what Hamilton Spectator columnist and retired Anglican Priest, Richard Berryman wrote in a recent article called, "Advances in medicine and science are rooted in Jesus's words." He says that Jesus was hinting at modern advances in science when he said,

"In very truth I tell you, he who has faith in me will do what I am doing, indeed, he will do greater things than I do." (John 1:50)

As background he points out that the Greek word the Bible uses for miracle is "Semeion," which means literally "sign." The great scholar of the Faith, Mirza Abu'l-Fazl gives much attention to this meaning of the Arabic equivalent of Semeion, "Aya," or sign. It has a prominent place in the Qu'ran and Baha'i scriptures, and Fazl traces it assiduously in his "Miracles and Metaphors." The Shiih title, Ayatollah, for example, might fancifully be translated by, "miracle guy" or "sign holder."

Anyway, all the miracles verging on magic that Jesus performed were meant as signs of what a human being can do when she becomes the image of God, when we learn to be wholly at one with His purpose. A sign is just an indication of an inner spiritual state. In the same way, the invention of flight was an outer sign of a great deal of research into the nature of motion and physical law. Whatever the sign, it is an indication of the wonders that a frail human performs backed up by the confirmations of Spirit. Barryman points out that, as Jesus predicted above and `Abdu'l-Baha often repeated in His public talks, much greater miracles are routine in modern medicine, science and space research. Berryman finishes up by declaring about the above saying of Jesus, "we are now, perhaps for only the first time in history, finally able to see the potential of the possibilities of that promise."

I thought of Barryman's thesis when I read in the latest Science News the headline, "Fatherless Mice Created in Lab." Their summary does not mention the virgin birth of Jesus, but it seems that even that central miracle of Christianity is being reproduced by modern science. Here is Science News's summary of the article, along with their subscription URL,

"Men--who needs them? The sentiment has been voiced by countless lovelorn women, but from a reproductive standpoint, we mammals need males a great deal. Many plants and lower animals, such as insects and reptiles, can reproduce asexually using only maternal DNA through a process termed parthenogenesis. This mechanism does not occur naturally in mammals, and researchers have long been unable to induce it in the laboratory. Now scientists report having created the first fatherless mice, one of which has survived to adulthood and given birth to her own young."

The frequent mention of miraculous virgin births throughout history, especially in religious history, seems to indicate that parthenogenesis is not wholly unknown on the human level. And now we can actually reproduce it. It is quite possible that virgin birth occurs spontaneously and randomly in any large population of mammals and humans, and it has not been recognized because it is near on impossible to document.

Certainly, this particular rare event has been taken in many cultures and traditions as a semiotic, or sign of divine favor. The fact that the Parthenon, a monument to the virgin goddess Athena, was placed at the center of the Athenian empire shows that a miraculous birth involving a virgin was a common belief even in Pagan religions --Athena's birth by breaking out of the head of Zeus would actually be easier to document than a virgin birth from a female. Only with the Kitab-i-Iqan (as far as I know) was the real meaning of Jesus' controversial birth made clear, that it was yet another test of human sincerity chosen specifically by God to illustrate just that, that God sends the Manifestation down in human form as a way of weighing the worth of our understanding of Him.

Now I have called this series "the hard part" because I think the hardest part of every solution to every problem is the principle we have been dealing with, search for truth. A sign or miracle is the way or trick that the divine spirit gives the human spirit to solve a given problem. Once you know it, things are forever different.

In chess this is called a "combination," a series of forced moves that brings you to a better position; whole books have been written about the ethereal power and beauty of combinations. There are similar inspired moments in music, in mathematics, indeed in any area where pure beauty leads the way forward. I think a sign or miracle is something like that, a sort of combination leading to a better world. And generally speaking, the harder the problem the more beautiful and elegant its solution has got to be.

So what are the hardest problems? The solutions to them surely would be the most wonderful possible miracles and signs of the power of spirit. The penultimate paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas suggests two problems the resolutions of which will be the sign of the maturity of the human race. These are the language barrier and (a footnote explains) the long-sought elixir, the ability to transmute elements from one metal to another.

For now I have only one observation about the language challenge. When Abdu'l-Baha visited Edinburgh His first address was to Esperantists and it did not mention anything substantive about the Baha'i Faith. He talked only about the language problem, to such an extent that even non-Baha'is complained in print that He did not provide details about Baha'i. We speakers of the Language of Imperialism ignore this but certainly it is a fact that the language barrier is the greatest structural injustice in the world, disenfranchising billions and keeping them permanently from even a hope of access to prosperity and education. Any agreement upon a solution to this problem would be a miracle of huge proportions.

I'll conclude with a brief glance at the problem of transmutation of elements. First off, the ability to easily change copper to gold would be of huge benefit to the world economy, and not for the obvious reason that gold is rare and valuable -- and it is rare, by the way, all the gold ever mined is only enough to cover a football field to about two feet deep. The gold standard in finance was abandoned well over a century ago, and of course once gold became common its rarity and therefore price would plummet. We are already seeing this happen in the diamond market now that perfect diamonds can be easily manufactured. The De Boor cartel of South Africa is struggling and before ten years is out I predict they will be dead meat.

No, cheap gold would be most valuable because it would give a huge boost to the already booming electronics industry, the heart of the Internet Age. Gold is nature's best conductor of electricity, much better than copper, the second best of commonly available conductors. It is also non-corrosive and would not only be the prettiest covering for exposed objects, it would be impervious to the elements. Along with sprayed diamond coatings, future gilded buildings will not degrade for centuries and millennia. Gold is also the most reflective metal known (hence the gold flecked visors of astronauts' space suits) and would therefore be valuable in cutting edge laser and quantum computing applications.

So if science ever learned economically to transmute copper to gold Baha'u'llah is no doubt correct, it would be one of the greatest sign or miracles characterizing human maturity.

But His statement in the Kitab-i-Aqdas may also be commentary upon a major theme and prophesy in the Qu'ran, the 43rd Surih of which is even called "Ornaments of Gold." This Surih points to several spiritual meanings of gold as symbol. For one thing, the rarity of gold restricts us mostly to ornamental uses (this being before computer motherboards were flecked with gold junctions). Similarly, the many high and divine virtues we tend to pay lip service to but rarely use in our practical, worldly life. Thus the Qu'ran says,

"But for fear that all mankind would have become a single people of unbelievers, verily we would certainly have given to those who believe not in the God of Mercy roofs of silver to their houses, and silver stairs to ascend by; And doors of silver to their houses, and couches of silver to recline on; And ornaments of gold: for all these are merely the good things of the present life; but the next life doth thy Lord reserve for those who fear Him." (Q43, Rodwell tr)

True gold, then, is approval of God in the life to come. The Manifestation of God comes adorned only with this kind of gold, and the worldly always note their lack of the outer gold. The Surih goes on to point out that Moses was rejected because he had no gold ornaments, unlike the mighty Egyptian royalty to whom God sent him.

"And Firon proclaimed amongst his people: O my people! is not the kingdom of Egypt mine? And these rivers flow beneath me; do you not then see? Nay! I am better than this fellow, who is contemptible, and who can hardly speak distinctly: But why have not bracelets of gold been put upon him, or why have there not come with him angels as companions?" (Q43:51-3, Shakir Ali, tr.)

Now this use of symbol is in the Bible too but it has a special emphasis in the Qu'ran. Gold is explicitly pictured as characteristic of paradise.

"Gardens of perpetuity, they shall enter therein; they shall be made to wear therein bracelets of gold and pearls, and their dress therein shall be silk." (Q35:33, Shakir) "Upon them shall be garments of fine green silk and thick silk interwoven with gold, and they shall be adorned with bracelets of silver, and their Lord shall make them drink a pure drink." (76:21)

Gold is the royal metal, the symbol of power. The inhabitants of heaven, being united with the will of God, will have a freedom beyond the dreams of this world, a world where free wills clash and contradict one another.

"Enter ye and your wives into Paradise, delighted. Dishes and bowls of gold shall go round unto them: there shall they enjoy whatever their souls desire, and whatever their eyes delight in; and therein shall ye abide for ever. This is Paradise, which ye have received as your heritage in recompense for your works." (Q43:70)

As a result of this special emphasis in their holy book in Islamic lands the transmutation of elements seems to have been taken from the beginning as a real possibility and a goal of science. Not coincidentally, only in the Middle Ages after contact was opened up with Islam did alchemy become a popular pursuit in Europe. The science of chemistry was born out of alchemy's failure but that does not mean that its dream will always be out of reach. I will trace the roots of this greatest and hardest challenge in Islam and the Writings of Baha'u'llah further in the next essay.

The Hardest Thing II

16 June, 2004

The Master says that if there is love there is always time and nothing's too much hassle; just to prove it to you, dear reader, I have actually done active research this morning. I am continuing to look into what Baha'u'llah calls the hardest thing, the mark of our collective coming of age, the discovery of a way to transmute the elements. I looked up "alchemy" in my CD-ROM Encyclopedia Britannica and it defines it as a,

"form of speculative thought that, among other aims, tried to transform base metals such as lead or copper into silver or gold and to discover a cure for disease and a way of extending life."

The elixir of life, then, is not to be confused with the elixir of the elements, both of which were originally part of astrology, it seems. The above definition of alchemy as a "form of speculative thought" was evidently cause for protest from some scientifically inclined persons, since the on-line version of the Britannica now defines alchemy as a, "pseudoscience focused on the attempt to change base metals into gold." From the point of view of the history of science, alchemy is important as one of many symptoms of a new-found faith in progress, a belief that the imperfect can be made better through knowledge, study and experimentation. "Ancient alchemists believed that, under the correct astrological conditions, lead could be perfected into gold." Gold was deemed to be "better" because is more "perfect" than lead or other "base" elements.

The Columbia Desk Encyclopedia informs us that, "Alchemical apparatus included the alembic (or ambix) for distillation and the kerotakis for sublimation." It does not mention that Alembic comes from the Arabic, "Al-Inbiq," for "still," yet another indication of the importance of Islam in the development of early science. The great scholar Al-Gebr collected ancient alchemical knowledge together along with its mathematics (hence, Algebra, named for him). Al-Gebr adapted the term "Inbiq" from the Greek word for "cup," since the device uses a gourd shaped globe in which to collect the fumes emanating from another, lower container together into another liquid -- hence the apparent transmutation or purification, as for example potato peelings are distilled into "pure" whiskey.

Plunging into Ocean with this word between my teeth I surfaced with some pearls in hand, for this device, the alembic, is actually mentioned more than once in Baha'i literature. Howard Colby Ives in his classic story of encountering the Master uses the word in attempting to understand the role of reason in His concept of authority and His definition of a Baha'i.

"That is to say the modern religious thinker's definitions of authority conform in every respect to the scientists own definitions. Nothing is accepted until passed through the alembic of mans reason. The only difference lies in the fact that the Baha'i (which term simply connotes a true seeker after Light and who loves the Light from whatever Lamp it shines) extends the limits of his search for truth to include not only the resources of the senses but the equally, if not superior, important spheres of the emotions, the ideals, the aspirations and longings of the human soul and spirit." (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, 173)

Ruhiyyih Khanum uses the term in an elegant description of the sort of genius her husband, Shoghi Effendi, showed when he distilled many elements into one universal Faith,

"The Guardian had fused in the alembic of his creative mind all the elements of the Faith of Baha'u'llah into one great indivisible whole; he had created an organized community of His followers which was the receptacle of His teachings, His laws and His Administrative Order; the teachings of the twin Manifestations of God and the Perfect Exemplar had been woven into a shining cloak that would clothe and protect man for a thousand years, a cloak on which the fingers of Shoghi Effendi had picked out the patterns, knitted the seams, fashioned the brilliant protective clasps of his interpretations of the Sacred Texts, never to be sundered, never to be torn away until that day when a new Law-giver comes to the world and once again wraps His creature man in yet another divine garment." (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, 436)

In earlier writing, the Mathnavi mentions this early still as well, applying it to how if you put the elixir into it would do just what Baha'u'llah describes in the Kitab-i-Iqan, change copper into gold. Similarly, the will interacts with divine Will and is changed into something far more perfect,

"Nor say that outside the alembic twas mere copper, And becomes gold inside, when mixed with elixir. In you freewill and compulsion are vain fancies, But in them they are the light of Almighty power." (Mathnavi of Rumi, E.H. Whinfield tr., Vol 1)

Early alchemists used obscure terms and astrological signs to record yet conceal what they learned in their quest for the Philosopher's Stone, or elixir, or magistery, an imaginary substance that could somehow transmute non-noble metals into gold, or make the aged young again. The Columbia Encyclopedia continues,

"Alchemy, strongly tinged with magic, reached the Arabs (perhaps in the 8th cent.) and remained for several centuries under Muslim influence; in the 12th cent. it reached parts of Europe through translations of Arabic writings (the early Greek treatises were not known in Europe in the Middle Ages). Arab alchemy was preserved especially in the works of Geber, and the earlier Greek alchemy in those of Zosimus and others. The alchemical writings of the Middle Ages continued to be couched in symbolic and cryptic language."

Interestingly, though most people think of alchemy as the precursor of chemistry it turns out that this is doubtful. The article in the Britannica suggests that the techniques of chemistry owe most to early medical researchers. "During the crucial period of Arabic and early Latin alchemy, it appears that innovation owed more to nascent medical chemistry than to alchemy." Only in the broadest sense is alchemy the precursor of chemistry, since it represents, "attempts to discover the relationship of man to the cosmos and to exploit that relationship to his benefit. The first of these objectives may be called scientific, the second technological." As the obscure, superstition laden language of alchemy entered into the alembic of reason and broader experience, modern understanding of chemistry was born.

We now know that transmutation of the elements does occur naturally. If you could wait around long enough any element will naturally degrade into other elements. Sometimes it happens quickly enough to be noticeable. Coal becomes diamond, uranium degrades into lead. Of course if you want to look at the most obvious example, just look up at any time during the day. The sun is one huge generator of energy that transmutes hydrogen and helium into whatever it transmutes -- my small high school science is being strained beyond the limit here, but you get the idea. Hydrogen and helium are not base elements, but the process is the same. It is something to bear in mind when reading the many references in the Writings to the "sun of reality," the "sun of understanding," and so forth.

The most obvious use of the elixir made practical as yet is atomic fission. It could be said that Marie Curie was the first successful alchemist in that she discovered how to exploit naturally occurring transmutation of the heavier elements that is going on in radium. Her contact with these volatile substances transmuted the elements of her body and made her a martyr of science as well. Her sacrifice advanced our understanding how to manipulate elements and eventually find the Philosopher's Stone. Managing the waste from atomic energy source depends upon the transmutation of actinides, which "eliminates their long-term radioactive hazard while producing a shorter-term radioactive hazard instead." When and if atomic fusion becomes practical, this danger of self-transmuting wastes would be eliminated by reproducing the natural fusion that is always going on in the sun. Needless to say, this alone would fulfill Baha'u'llah's prediction that transmutation marks the maturity of the human race. Fusion power would give virtually unlimited energy, and the main barrier to changing one element to another right now is not that we do not know how to do it, it is just that it takes huge amounts of energy. The following describes exactly how it would be done.

"Transmutation of elements can be achieved artificially by the bombardment of elements with high-speed particles by means of such machines as the cyclotron (see particle accelerator). Both artificial and natural transmutations involve changing the number of protons in the atomic nucleus. The transuranium elements are created in this manner. When a nucleus is bombarded with neutrons from an atomic pile or nuclear reactor, some of the neutrons will be absorbed, resulting in an unstable nucleus. The nucleus then becomes more stable by converting one of its neutrons into a proton by beta decay, becoming a nucleus of the next heavier element in the process."

Besides the particle accelerators and cyclotrons, another example of a tools that applies the elixir-like process that killed Marie Curie is the controlled process of chemotherapy. Still, the hope for a shortcut lives on. The excellent on-line encyclopedia, "Wiki," adds that there are many modern successors to the fraudulent tricksters who discredited alchemy,

"Transmutation of chemical elements occurs through nuclear reactions. In alchemy, it is believed that such transformations can be accomplished in table-top experiments, but this is not accepted science. Some researchers say they have found evidence of transmutation of elements in biological processes (see Kervran). Some (Yasuhiro Iwamura) have reported transmutation via the transport of deuterium gas through a palladium wall into vacuum. Others have reported cold fusion in electrolytic cells."

In "Hardest Thing III" I will pick up on some other uses of the elixir in Rumi's poetry as a metaphor for the transmutation of the base soul into a golden spirit, the result of contact with the elixir of God's Word. This literary background constitutes another valid way to understand the background of Baha'u'llah's otherwise rather puzzling references to the elixir.

The Hardest Thing, III

18 June, 2004

"Love endures hardships at the hands of the Beloved.
Through love, bitter things seem sweet,
Through love, bits of copper are made gold."
(Mathnavi of Rumi, Vol 2, E.H. Whinfield tr.)

Through the insertion of genetic code, normally promiscuous male field voles are made monogamous. At least according to research being reported in the news over the past few days. If that transformation is not love, what is? Now if you happen to be a playboy vole and have trouble forming permanent relationships you can have a genome adjustment in the name of love.

Love is the true alchemy. To believe in love is to accept that it changes the lovers' nature, and does it without artificial means. It comes from above, from the One in whose hands is our genetic destiny.

O Baha'u'llah, in the 1980's I had a waking vision of Thy Cause marching forward like the Israelites across the wilderness. Like them, Baha'is carried an Ark of the Covenant and there before us was the high banner of "Ya Baha'ul-Abha." I saw the structure of the Hidden Words, Arabic and Persian, as twin serpents winding around a pole. Merely looking at these cured the ills of heart and society, as happened of old.

"And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." (Numbers 21:6-9)

This image of a winding snake seemed then to be a prophesy of how the twin helix of the genetic code was found by science to be the key to all life, the very structure of every cell and a possible cure of all the ills that afflict us. And in the realm of spirit, so it is with the Hidden Words. The helix of the Hidden Words are the cure to the spiritual serpents that bite us.

What are those serpents? Backbiting, mostly. The tongue is a poisonous serpent sent out by the self to destroy love and unity. No human means can counteract it, for it is the perfect crime, it cannot be exposed and punished the way that outward violence can.

"For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind, but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." (James 3:7-8, KJV)

In my association with my fellow believers I have come to feel the little slights and cuts we make against one another as just that, painful snakebites that poison faith. I cringe when it happens, for there is no protection. It hurts. Without a divine cure to our own sniping, Baha'is die, lose heart and break apart. The Israelites did not get their cure from Moses until they saw how infighting was idolatry, a slight not against one another or themselves but God. They asked for a cure and got it only after recognizing they were sinning against Yahweh, and against Moses.

Now, Baha'u'llah has given us closer view of that snake on a pole that cures, the Hidden Words, our map of the trip from search for truth to oneness of humanity (AHW68). The helix here is a formerly secret code that tells exactly where gossip fits on the totem pole, at AHW29, "Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee," which then brands it as a form of hypocrisy: "and say not that which thou doest not." Then proceed farther up the helix to what Rumi spoke of at the beginning of this essay, love as sacrifice, that is AHW48, "The sign of love is fortitude under My decree and patience under my trials." Then proceed a few more steps up the genetic code and you get to the "perfect" metal, gold, that is, the spiritual implications of economics. AHW56, "Thou thinkest thyself rich in its possession, and I recognize thy wealth in thy sanctity therefrom." The end of both the Arabic and Persian curative serpents is in the strange combination of practical work, writing, working, with the ethereal result of purification, utter spirit. This was prophesied too.

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:14-15, KJV)

The only proof of love is sacrifice, loss, pain, for its purification is the only way around the thousand ways of disbelieving and betraying love that slip off the unguarded tongue. The cross is the symbol of sacrifice, how the new covenant abides in love and spirit. After the cross we do not hold up the image of a snake on the pole -- David long before had had the brass standard of Moses destroyed, for by then it had become an idol as much as the golden calf. Now our cure comes as we read the Hidden Words and write the curative serpent's symbolism on the self with "ink of light" on the "tablet of the spirit." (AHW71)

When I hit upon this image for the structure of the Hidden Words way back then, the Internet as we know it was just forming. I placed hope for implementation of its curative standard in what I called "nursery gardens," which I imagined as a systematic, controlled use of communication technologies for combined spiritual and practical advancement. I imagined, for example, "plugged in meetings," that would connect a meeting consulting together with other meetings going on at the same time around the world, as well as the collective knowledge of humanity -- that was long before ignoramuses could win trivia contests just by typing questions into Google!

Each of the Baha'i principles would have a specially designed nursery garden, a school or database, to train visitors in its lessons. Elimination of prejudice, for example, would have a huge criticism database to subject false ideas to scrutiny. This was actually not my idea. A refutation "nursery garden" was proposed by Francis Bacon and to some extent carried out in the study of strategies for counteracting popular superstitions by Sir Thomas Browne. Yesterday surfing the net I came across a project in Belgium that, unbeknownst to me, was forming at the same time in the Late Eighties called "Principia Cybernetica." In many ways this project for uniting all knowledge is a philosophical expression of what I was conceiving in Baha'i terms. I will be actively investigating how to integrate my studies of the principles with this ambitious website.

Tomorrow I pray that I will be able to get back to the hardest thing. It is hard, I know, hard to write, hard to read, but we've gotta steel ourselves.