The Unity Tablet
By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 27, 16 Masa'il 165 BE
We have been considering Baha'u'llah's Tablet of Unity, the Lawh-i-Ittihad. A literal, provisional translation of the whole text is available on Moojan Momen's personal website, and at:
In Momen's preface to the Tablet he summarizes the six types or "rutbahs" of unity that are discerned in this Tablet, unity of religion, words, ritual acts, station (or rank), wealth and souls. Unity of religion is unity among the believers themselves. The spread of this unity will make unnecessary excessive lawmaking and external, governmental interference in peoples' lives. The second rutbah is of words, meaning the public stance that Baha'is take, and the ability of individual believers to put this position into effect through good works.
The third rutbah is unity of ritual acts, where all believers pray exactly in the prescribed manner and thus avoid variance and disputation that fragmented the older faiths. The fourth rutbah is unity of station, whose prime concern is eliminating prejudicial arrogance. I will return to this rutbah. The fifth and sixth rutbahs, unity of souls and unity of wealth, Baha'u'llah considers together. When we go beyond voluntary sharing of property and actually prefer that of others to what is ours, then the unity of souls will be complete. Then, all will gather around the love and Word of God.
In this series I have concentrated on the fourth rutbah, unity of station, not only because of its inherent interest but also because it is the only one that has been officially translated, at least in part. Moojan Momen may not have been aware of the existence of the UHJ's partial translation. For purposes of comparison, here is the official translation of one sentence from the fourth rutbah, followed by Momen's more literal version.
Authorized: "And amongst the realms of unity is the unity of rank and station. It redoundeth to the exaltation of the Cause, glorifying it among all peoples. Ever since the seeking of preference and distinction came into play, the world hath been laid waste. It hath become desolate." (Unpublished Tablet, in Letter dated 27 Mar 1978, Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 376)
Momen's version: "Another type is the unity of rank or station. This results in the rising up of the Cause and its elevation among the peoples. But if ranking and preference of one over another comes into its midst, the world falls into ruin and desolation may be witnessed."
It can be seen more clearly in the latter that it is not preference and distinction in general that has historically laid the world waste but specifically the seeking of preference in the Cause of God. That former may well be the case, however, since presumably the lump is leavened according to the quality of leaven of the people's faith.
Baha'u'llah goes on, pointing out that the only way really to understand God's words is to see oneself and others on a level, as of one station. If believers were to take on this egalitarian identity they would have a vision of the world would make it into a paradise of Abha. On the other hand, the tendency to consider the self and what is close to it as inherently above others is a "mighty sin" that nullifies divine acceptance. This, Baha'u'llah says, is the core evil of the Ulama of Iran. It explains their drive to crush all who vary from their dogma, most especially the Cause of Baha'u'llah. The following passage has not been officially translated:
"If they had not considered themselves the most exalted and most accomplished of all beings, they would not have caused those wretched followers of theirs to curse and blaspheme against the Desire of the Worlds. All humanity is dismayed, nay the entire world is bewildered, at these false and neglectful souls. The fire of pride and vainglory has burnt them all, but they are not aware of it and do not understand. They have not drunk a drop of the ocean of knowledge and understanding. Woe unto them and unto what their tongues have uttered and unto what their hands have wrought on the day of retribution and on this day when the people have arisen for the Lord of the Worlds."
Baha'u'llah speaks of pride and vainglory "burning" these arrogant Ulama. It is a common insult in Persian is to accuse someone of having a "burnt father;" I would expect that Baha'u'llah is not merely flinging an insult but calling to mind the probable origin of the expression in such Biblical language as "pouring hot coals on someone's head," that is, following the moral imperative to refrain from retaliating and showing kindness to an angry or haughty opponent. By overlooking the fire of arrogance, a spiritually aware believer leaves these aggressors to burn in the flames of his "father" virtue of haughty ignorance. There is no need to oppose those who are full of themselves, since they will combust and fall apart by themselves.
Momen points out in his preface to this translation that three major issues are raised in the Lawh-i-Ittihad, one, unity as a value in itself, two, the question of station, rank and leadership in the Baha'i community, and three, covenant. As a whole they answer the crucial question: how do the Baha'is propose to get anything done if they are all equal? This apparent contradiction comes up in any egalitarian or libertarian system: if all are equal, who is to say what is to be done? And even if there is strong leadership, who is going to submit to it?
Unity as value offers a remedy to the problem of priorities. In practice values often cancel one another out. For example, freedom of speech, although affirmed as a basic right, can often go against equality and unity. Here, Baha'u'llah sets unity as the deciding "mother of all values."
The question of ranks relates to the removal of a professional clergy from the Cause of Baha'u'llah. The furious arrogance of the Ulama stands as an object lesson for posterity that a pure religion must expunge professionalism from its ranks. As long as a group is singled out it will come to regard the divine message as its own property, and this is intolerable. But the question remains, by what general principle will the Cause gain the strong leadership that unified action implies? Momen get around this by suggesting that the central principle of Covenant -- so important but clarified and solidified only in the last year or so of Baha'u'llah's ministry with the Revelation of the Ahd -- is there by implication.
"The third issue that is touched upon tangentially in this tablet is that of the Covenant. Although the tablet does not refer directly to the issue of the Covenant, we can see how Baha'u'llah's concern for unity would raise the question of what was to be the focal point of unity and loyalty in the new religion. Christianity was based around intellectual loyalty to theological and doctrinal formulations which were summarised in creeds. Islam was based around a more practical loyalty focussed on a way of life formulated around the Shari`ah. What was to be the basis of the unity of Baha'u'llah's religion?"
The unity of rank, then, was later resolved by Baha'u'llah's appointment of a successor who later called Himself Servant, Abdu'l-Baha, thus connecting the Revelation to the spiritual leadership ideal that "if any desire to be first he shall be last of all and servant of all." (Mark 9:35, KJV) A tie is also forged by the Covenant with the unity of ritual acts; prayer and devotionals are fundamentals of the lifestyle of faith, and the details of this were established during the Ministry of the Master. Momen says, "Baha'u'llah saw this (unity of ritual acts) as the way of achieving the last unity that he described in this tablet - the unity of souls."
Much more needs to be learned from this momentous tablet. If I were to choose what its most important thrust I would have to choose its implications for justice. Baha'u'llah says succinctly in the 6th "Leaf" of the Words of Paradise that, "The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men." (Tablets, 66-67) Let that be the topic of the next essay in this series...
By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 25, 14 Masa'il 165 BE
Last night was Christmas eve. The kids got it into their heads to establish an all-night "Santa Patrol" to catch the jolly guy in the act and persuade him to sign a pile of contracts and then invite him to a play that they had been writing and rehearsing all day for Christmas. I overheard them as they worked out one hour shifts and at one point nine-year-old Tomaso said to Silvie, "You do believe in Santa don't you?" My fourteen-year daughter replied, "Yes, but not in the way you believe in him."
Mom was off reading by herself, and I was in the study watching Tom Hanks in "Charlie Wilson's War." Every few minutes Tomaso would come in to give a report on his patrol. When midnight drew near I commented that maybe Santa will just decide not to come this year and instead just give their presents to some poor kid in the Third World. They were tired enough that this persuaded them without further argument, though Silvie protested weakly, "Yes, but there is only one world. There is no Third World. I caught Tata out on a blooper." I agreed that I had made a mistake, contradicting Baha'u'llah Himself, as I ushered them into their beds.
Sometimes when Tomaso cannot sleep and even Momka has failed to lull him off, I slip into his lower bunk and in pitch dark recite the Tablet of Ahmad. Sometimes one recital of the prayer is enough, but other times I have to say it twice and even thrice before the tedium puts him to sleep. This time I reclined in bed but was not moved to begin saying the prayer. The film I had just seen worried me. I just lay there stewing over the state of the world. The next year or so, some are saying, will the most important in history. Do we have a chance? It did not take long for Tomaso to drop off to sleep, but the worries continued...
Charlie Wilson was not the typical hero that Tom Hanks chooses to make a film about. Wilson was the playboy senator who took on the mission to get effective weapons into the hands of Afghani resistance fighters after the Soviet invasion. Wilson was a no-account pleasure seeker, womanizer and coke user with no record of success. That is why the Soviets underestimated him badly. When he saw the horrors the Soviets had done to helpless civilians he spent every minute for ten years advocating on their behalf. After the Soviets left, though, he failed to arouse any interest at all on the part of the American government in helping get the Afghanistan economy back onto its feet.
Which is why the ill results of the Afghanistan blunder remain to this day. The film begins and ends with Charlie Wilson receiving special recognition from the American "clandestine community." And the Monty Python crew thought they were making a joke when they called their reviews the "Secret Policeman's Ball" and, a few years later, "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball."
I find this horribly depressing. There is no support anywhere for a world government, which is the only real solution to the present problems. The only thing that can get people moving are violent causes, like arming the freedom fighters of Afghanistan, that only make things worse. Much worse. Where are the heroes and freedom fighters for a world commonwealth? Why is nobody arising to do the only thing that will get us out of this pickle?
What could Charlie Wilson have done to establish real peace? How about going and talking to the Soviets and Afghanis and talking them out of violence? Or if he had campaigned against war spending in his own government? Would any of that have worked? Maybe if he had the moral force of a Gandhi, or the verve of a Churchill. Probably he would have got nothing done. It all seems pointless. Peace is a lost cause. As Baha'u'llah wrote,
"Methinks ye are as dead, wrapped in the coverings of your own selves." (Summons, 231)
This relatively hopeful sentence lately appeared in the Financial Times of London:
"So, it seems, everything is in place. For the first time since homo sapiens began to doodle on cave walls, there is an argument, an opportunity and a means to make serious steps towards a world government."
Then it fizzles and the author buries himself in the same pessimistic vision of where we are really going that so discourages me.
"... making progress on global governance will be slow sledding. Even in the EU -- the heartland of law-based international government -- the idea remains unpopular. The EU has suffered a series of humiliating defeats in referendums, when plans for ever-closer union have been referred to the voters. In general, the Union has progressed fastest when far-reaching deals have been agreed by technocrats and politicians -- and then pushed through without direct reference to the voters. International governance tends to be effective only when it is anti-democratic." (Gideon Rachman, "And Now for a World Government," Dec 8, 2008, http://www.restoretherepublic.net/article/653/and-now-for-a-world-government>
The people can only support what they know, and they are unlikely to support world government as long as it has never been tried out. The people have blinders; they see only what is old, never what is new. When Abdu'l-Baha said that we have already suffered thousands of years of war, why not try peace? He was hitting the nail on the head. We cannot possibly hope for a democratic push to peace as long as peace is unknown and untried. Plato's parable of the ship's captain applies. Only an expert seaman can sail the ship through a storm. If they oust him from authority and start taking votes about what to do next in a storm, the whole ship is as good as doomed. That is what I feel, a complete sense of doom. Unless millions of people start making radical changes to their sense of identity, we are all in for it. As that article says,
"The world's most pressing political problems may indeed be international in nature, but the average citizen's political identity remains stubbornly local. Until somebody cracks this problem, that plan for world government may have to stay locked away in a safe at the UN."
The Skeleton Key
Piaget on Comenius
By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 24, 13 Masa'il 165 BE
Early in Jan Amos Comenius's life he wrote a parable of the relationship between the world and spirit which became a spiritual classic. It is called, "The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart" and is, according to Wikipedia, the best known of all older Czech literary works. The latest Czech edition came out in 2002 and sold out immediately. The story describes a pilgrim in search of the trade or profession that would most conduce to his happiness and that of others. He is sent a guide named Searchall or Ubiquitous and together they navigate the complex labyrinth of worldly understanding. I have a brief film version of the parable in a DVD biography of Comenius, and it is on my todo list to upload it onto YouTube. At any rate, in the end the searchers find that the paradise of the heart opens doors in the world below as well as the way to heaven.
In this essay series we have been discussing the distinction that Comenius makes between reform and universal reform.
Universal reform, or Panorthosia, is based upon the universal worldview of spirit that Comenius called Pansophia, or universal wisdom. In the eleventh chapter of the Panorthosia he asks, "What is the difference between Philosophy and Pansophy?" He then answers his own question:
"Surely it is that between the part and the whole; just as if one man who lived in a castle had separate keys for each of the rooms, and another had only a single key which opened them all." (para 22, p. 184)
This skeleton key of divine wisdom is different from all other "keys," all of which open just one room in the castle. Pansophia, universal wisdom, can open all doors in the rooms and dungeons of the labyrinth of the world. Abdu'l-Baha had a very similar understanding of the knowledge given to the Holy Manifestations,
"Thus, the divine Manifestations of God had a universal and all-inclusive conception. They endeavoured for the sake of everyone's life and engaged in the service of universal education. The area of their aims was not limited - nay, rather, it was wide and all-inclusive." (Selected Writings, 69)
Pansophia is universal because it divides wisdom into knowledge, volition and action -- or, as below, into the aims, means and methods of the science.
"So we have seen the Aim, and the Means, and the Methods of a new and truly Universal PHILOSOPHY, and it is an easy matter to state the conclusions to be drawn from all that I have said." Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 11, para 22, p. 184
Universal reform, based on universal wisdom, could without dislocation remove all of the narrowness, prejudice, hatred and confusion that afflict the tortuous dungeon of materialism. The modern educational reformer Jean Piaget held that pansophia was meant to become the first Everyman's philosophy. I will close with Piaget's tribute to Comenius,
Piaget on Comenius
"Not only was Comenius the first to conceive a full-scale science of education but, let it be repeated, he made it the very core of a pansophy which, in his thinking, was to constitute a general philosophic system."
"...he resumed a scheme for a work on the universal reform of human society by the following means: (a) unification of learning and its spread by an improved school system under the supervision of a kind of international academy; (b) political co-ordination through international institutions aimed at maintaining peace; (c) reconciliation of the Churches in a tolerant form of Christianity. The title of the work, General Consultation on the Reform of Human Affairs, shows that his idea was to submit a programme to those taking part in the great negotiations which had aroused and disappointed so many hopes during the seventeenth century.
"Comenius's international projects, therefore, cannot be divorced from his educational ideas or from his philosophy as a whole. Peaceful international organization and the sort of international ministry of education that the Collegium lucis was intended to be are not merely the outcome of the dreams with which a man whose tragic life had always prevented him from carrying out his educational intentions consoled himself.
"As we have seen in running through the stages of his life, Comenius constantly sought, with direct relation to his pansophic ideal, to lay the foundations for that co-operation which was at least as close to his heart as his ideal of teaching.
"He must, therefore, be regarded as a great forerunner of modern attempts at international collaboration in the field of education, science and culture. It was not incidentally or by accident that he conceived such ideas, fitting in fortuitously with certain modern achievements, but as a consequence of the general conception of his system, which fused nature, human activity and the educational process into a single whole."
Why Say the Obligatory Prayers? Plus, A note on Congregational Prayer
By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 23, 12 Masa'il 165 BE
"One who performeth neither good deeds nor acts of worship is like unto a tree which beareth no fruit, and an action which leaveth no trace. Whosoever experienceth the holy ecstasy of worship will refuse to barter such an act or any praise of God for all that existeth in the world. Fasting and obligatory prayer are as two wings to man's life. Blessed be the one who soareth with their aid in the heaven of the love of God, the Lord of all worlds." (IOPF, Section 1, no. 3)
I have been writing about debt and Comenius's meta-reform plan. While researching these I came across Plato's description of the nature of justice in the fourth book of the Republic:
"But in reality justice was ... concerned however, not with the outward man, but with the inward, which is the true self and concernment of man: for the just man does not permit the several elements within him to interfere with one another, or any of them to do the work of others, -- he sets in order his own inner life, and is his own master and his own law, and at peace with himself; and when he has bound together the three principles within him, which may be compared to the higher, lower, and middle notes of the scale, and the intermediate intervals..."
After performing the Long Obligatory prayer this morning I thought of this passage. It seems to explain why God ordained this prayer as obligatory. This is the only prayer that puts us through all three of the processes Plato mentions, knowing (the inner life), willing (being your own master) and acting (being at peace with oneself). All three are part of a harmony of inner with outer that we call justice.
The justice that comes out of the obligatory prayers is like a tuning fork. This sets them apart from other prayers. Even the verb we use to describe the Long and Medium Obligatory Prayers is different, we "say" other prayers, but these we do not just say, we "perform" them. In that sense, words combined with bodily motions, they set the tone for all parts of the soul, its faculty of reason, the will and the body.
When I perform the obligatory prayer in the morning, as I just did, my thoughts and emotions in that time act as a sort of tuning fork, not unlike the mixed up sound of the warm-up that an orchestra must go through before the symphony. My day is marked by an ineffable commingling of the three inner faculties, reason, will and deed. The day's events seem at times like a direct means of approach to my Creator, as Baha'u'llah promised that they would,
"And We have ordained obligatory prayer and fasting so that all may by these means draw nigh unto God, the Most Powerful, the Well-Beloved." (Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting (IOPF) Compilation, Section 1, no. 1)
Abdu'l-Baha, in talking about the longer obligatory prayers, emphasizes their effect on emotion and sensibility. He holds that this prayer gives a pleasure of an entirely higher order than anything else available to the human palate. "Every joy is earthly save this one, the sweetness of which is divine." (Sec. 2, No. 8) (`Abdu'l-Baha, IOPF Compilation, Sec. 2, No. 8) Say the prayer long enough, I guess, and spirituality starts to infuse your entire being.
"Through worship man becometh spiritual, his heart is attracted, and his soul and inner being attain such tenderness and exhilaration that the Obligatory Prayer instilleth new life in him." (Sec. 2, No. 7) (`Abdu'l-Baha, IOPF Compilation, Sec. 2, No. 7)
Read that enticing promise and you are reminded of a speaker at a TED conference (see: http://badiblog.blogspot.com/2008/12/sampling-luxuries.html), a journalist who wondered if the most expensive and sought after pleasures are worth the money you have to shell out in return for the refined experience that they supposedly offer. He got a magazine to sponsor him and he tried a ride in the world's most expensive sports car, he slept in a $60,000 bed, sampled truffles, the most legendary wine, and so forth. Most of these luxuries he judged unworthy of the money spent. Mostly, they rely upon snob appeal, the feeling that I am experiencing what only a few in the world can get their hands on.
It would have been interesting if after all that sampling of rare luxuries he had tried out what the Master proposes is the most exquisite pleasure of them all, the ecstasy of prayer. Imagine him getting down on his knees before God, raising his hands, putting hands on knees, making the moves and reciting the very words that God says to say... Would that have moved him more than Chateau l'Effite had (that is, not much) or the perfect control of the three million dollar roadster?
This act of devotion has many advantages over the priciest luxuries. Unlike them, it costs nothing. And it is hardly a sought-after commodity. The poorest shlub in the world in the ugliest slum of Mumbai or Haiti can perform it all he wants. In fact the Long Oblig has the reverse of snob appeal, if you are a Baha'i you have to do it, not once but every day.
Sure, you probably have to believe in order for the Long Oblig to work its full magic, and even if you do believe -- for me at least -- there is often no noticeable effect at all -- which is one reason they put at the front of most prayer books Baha'u'llah's "warning label," "though he may at first remain unaware of its effect..." But when the prayer does connect right away, you feel in your bones what the Psalm declares:
"The law of Yahweh is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of Yahweh is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of Yahweh are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of Yahweh is pure, enlightening the eyes." (Psalm 19:7-8, WEB)
Note on Congregational Prayer
There is a great deal of interesting discussion about all things Baha'i at the Baha'i Library discussion group. Somebody asked the following question about congregational prayer:
Dear Baha'i Friends, I was wondering why we do not pray in congregation? Why was it abolished?
Several responses were given, none of which in my opinion came near the mark in answering this question. The following by one Loren, however, stood out. It is the best answer that I have seen.
This is a good question, one for which there is probably not one correct answer. However, I have thought about this before, and can share with you some of my thoughts on the abolition of congregational prayer based on some of my experiences of them. I spent some time living in the Middle East, as well as many years studying Islam, and at one time, as part of my self-initiated Arabic and Islamic studies, I studied at an Islamic Invitation school, which was for general education of Muslims, as well as enrolling people in the faith through offering a systematic study of Islam, and Arabic (to read the Quran and pray properly). I learned and participated in the Islamic Salat on the occasions that I was at the school, when the afternoon prayer time came. I learned the proper manner of washing, what to do, what to say, and when. Other than the transitional Allah-u-Akbar that the Imam would say between the different positions, the only thing which could be heard was the nearly silent sound of lips mouthing word in Arabic.
I do not wish to suggest for a moment that those believers were not sincerely reciting their prayers. But it did make me realize at least one good reason why Baha'u'llah should abolish it. With the system of Imam lead prayer, it seems all too easy for the outward forms of the prayer (ablutions, positions, extra prayers, reverent appearances, etc.) to receive undo emphasis while the more important matters of intentions, inward attitudes, the actual words of the prayers, etc., can get lost altogether. In contrast, in my experiences as a Baha'i saying my obligatory prayers, I have never experienced even the potential for those distractions I experienced praying with Muslims. Don't get me wrong, praying with the Muslims was a precious experience for me, but I think Bahaullah has made our obligatory prayers much more personal and intimate.
On another note, I wanted to clear a common misconception that I often hear about the Baha'i obligatory prayers. I have heard it said by many Baha'is that we must be alone when we prayer our obligatory prayers. In fact, we do not have to be alone, but we have to say our prayers alone:
"As to the obligatory prayer: Each one must say his prayer alone by himself, and this is not conditional on a private place; that is, both at home and in the worshipping-place, which is a gathering-place, it is allowable for one to say his prayer; but each person must say his prayer by himself. But if they chant supplications together, in a good and effective voice, that is very good" (Lights of Guidance, 465).
In some ways I think this passage even sheds some light on your question. It seems God wants us to pray from our own hearts and lips and not merely shadow someone praying on our behalf. I think its important to understand that we not be alone to find a suitable place to pray. Im sure many of us prefer to be alone, but I can think of too many occasions where I may have missed a prayer on the excuse that I made to myself: there is no place to be alone before I knew any better. Being alone might be ideal, or, depending on your personality, essential, but it is nice to know it is not required. It makes it a little easier for us to comply in certain times and circumstances.
I hope you will not think I was just confessing my sins about missing some prayers! ;-)