Sunday, August 17, 2008

2 Research Reports

By John Taylor; 2008 Aug 17, 17 Kamal, 165 BE

The Three Onenesses; a lesson

Imagine a chicken, a pile of straw and a cow. Which two of these go together? According to a recent editorial in the New York Times about Oriental collectivism and Western individualism, this simple choice was given in the form of a test to Westerners and Orientals. It was found consistently that Americans grouped the chicken and the cow together, and Chinese put the cow and the pile of hay together. The Easterners reasoned that cows eat hay, so they should go together; in other words, Westerners think categorically and Orientals functionally.

Just after I read that I gave this test to my nine-year-old son, Tomas. His answer was, "Well, my answer would be the cow and the chicken, but really I would like to put all three of them together, since all are found on a farm." I am blessed by having several Chinese student pilots as friends and I am looking forward to finding how they answer the test when I see them next.

Meantime, here is another test. Think of all the friends and other relationships that you have ever had in your whole life. How would you boil them all down? Would you group them categorically or functionally, or both? If you had to divide them into only three types of relation, what would you choose? How can you simply and concisely sum up, every person you have ever contacted, like the chicken, hay and cow test? How would you do it?

I'm reading the new volume of Jan Amos Comenius's Panorthosia that arrived in our mailbox a few days ago. Early on in this work of genius, Comenius offers a perfect, succinct and definitive answer to this question.

There are, he says, and can only be three kinds of relationship. We can either relate to ourselves, or we can relate to other people, or we can meet our God. That is it. Three and three only. Eureka! It was before me all this time and I did not see it. Here are the three onenesses. Oneness of self, or search for reality, the oneness of humanity and the oneness of God. They fit together in function as well as form. I have been studying the principles for decades, and I had never connected them in that way. How stupid I really am. I have been lost and deluded by my categorical bias, and typical Westerner, I failed to see the functional relations among the three onenesses.

My nine-year-old did not miss this. He wanted to group all three, the chicken, the hay and the cow in one group, farming objects. The oneness of all three oneness is the "pan" in panorthosia, the universality or oneness behind the multiplicity in this world. I can now see that Baha'u'llah did not miss this either, blind though I was to His wisdom. In his famous "fundamental" statement he says that God's purpose is to "safeguard the interests" (relationship with self), "promote the unity" (relations between human and human) and to "foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men" (God is love).

Research Report (written a few days later)

Yesterday I was in the Dunnville library looking for another work by this author when I started reading H.G. Wells 1923 novel "Men Like Gods," mostly because it was on the shelves and "World Brain" was not. It is a remarkable story about an alternate universe or dimension where the inhabitants, rather than fighting and competing, got it right and created a paradise.

These people, known as Utopians, communicate silently, rather in the way that the Master suggested we do in His London talk to the Quakers (published at the end of Paris Talks). That is, they communicate by means of silent thought transferance rather than clumsily articulating everything in words. Not being dependent upon sounds, they communicate with the surprised visitors, who simply drove there in their cars, hitting some kind of inter-demensional portal on a stretch of road within sight of Windsor Castle.

What a great idea! Reflective communication. Our primitive sound and symbol based tongues engender a thousand traps and pitfalls with every word; I really think that if we all sharpened our meditation skills we would not need to open our mouths as much as we do. We could be just like the Utopians in Wells' story. Last night I got as far as this passage, where religion is introduced; the Twentieth Century visitors, including a bored father named Mr. Barnstaple and a religious thinker, Father Amerton, are telepathically being introduced to utopian history and philosophy of the Utopians by one of their leading lights, Urthred. They had had an era of contention like ours, which they called the Age of Confusion,


from: Men Like Gods, Section 5

"What happened, Mr. Barnstaple gathered, was a deliberate change in Utopian thought. A growing number of people were coming to understand that amidst the powerful and easily released forces that science and organization had brought within reach of man, the old conception of social life in the state, as a limited and legalized struggle of men and women to get the better of one another, was becoming too dangerous to endure, just as the increased dreadfulness of modern weapons was making the separate sovereignty of nations too dangerous to endure. There had to be new ideas and new conventions of human association if history was not to end in disaster and collapse.

"All societies were based on the limitation by laws and taboos and treaties of the primordial fierce combativeness of the ancestral man-ape; that ancient spirit of self-assertion had now to undergo new restrictions commensurate with the new powers and dangers of the race. The idea of competition to possess, as the ruling idea of intercourse, was, like some ill-controlled furnace, threatening to consume the machine it had formerly driven. The idea of creative service had to replace it. To that idea the human mind and will had to be turned if social life was to be saved. Propositions that had seemed, in former ages, to be inspired and exalted idealism began now to be recognized not simply as sober psychological truth but as practical and urgently necessary truth. In explaining this Urthred expressed himself in a manner that recalled to Mr. Barnstaple's mind certain very familiar phrases; he seemed to be saying that whosoever would save his life should lose it, and that whosoever would give his life should thereby gain the whole world.

"Father Amerton's thoughts, it seemed, were also responding in the same manner. For he suddenly interrupted with: "But what you are saying is a quotation!" Urthred admitted that he had a quotation in mind, a passage from the teachings of a man of great poetic power who had lived long ago in the days of spoken words. He would have proceeded, but Father Amerton was too excited to let him do so. "But who was this teacher?" he asked. "Where did he live? How was he born? How did he die?"

(H.G. Wells, Men Like Gods (1923)


I cannot wait to get back to the story. I am aware that, like most utopian novels, this soon enough will probably turn into a dystopian fantasy. Still, I must say that I wholly identify with Mr. Barnsthorpe in this story; my life resembles his in that it is boring, he is an optimist working for pessimists, and his frustrated optimism revolves around hope, hope for a better future, for utopia.

I continue going through the Pansophia, the masterwork of Jan Amos Comenius. Also, I looked at the traces on the Web of the reaction to its publication a decade ago by leading thinkers. It was muted, to say the least. One reviewer of the book recommended H.G. Wells "World Brain" proposal as following in the tradition of the Pansophia. But I do not see it. A world encyclopedia is a step in the right direction, but it is far from enough. We have the internet today, our schools are getting to the point where every student has a computer linked to the World Wide Web, and still we are infinitely far from the world reform based on a universal, common education that Comenius planned out for us.

In what way are we coming together over what we learn?

No, it is clearer to me with every passing day that the Pansophia is one of the most important books ever written. It is the final piece in my jigsaw puzzle, the book about the Baha'i principles that has stumped me for decades. This plan for universal reform is the only way to keep the utopia of increased knowledge from sinking into yet another dystopia. The Pansophia is our only real hope to take order out of chaos, as the Utopians did in the passage above.

The only question for me, is where to start? It will take me at least another month to fully scan and absorb the two volumes of the Pansophia. What then can I write on in the meantime? Then I hit upon Chapter 21, Comenius's discussion of how to reform the family. As the head of an extended family and large household, he had ample experience with familial reform. That chapter surely is small enough to absorb and start an essay series going. In the past I looked at Kant's outline of a world constitution, and more recently on the Badi' list we looked at the idea of a constitution for the workplace. It would be perfectly natural to continue on with the idea of a family constitution, using Comenius's proposal as a reference. Plus, as a parent and homeowner, I can treat this as a hands-on project to see what works and what is, well, utopian.

Let me finish today with a passage from the end of the previous chapter, which is on personal reform, or in our terminology the principle of unfettered investigation of reality. Comenius points out quite sensibly that "the key to general happiness is to be born again and reformed in the likeness of God." Only such personal reform by each individual can accomplish this, the foundation of all reform,


"Happy is the man who succeeds in reforming himself with God's help, thereby becoming the image of God in the truest sense, representing the Maker of man and the universe like a living mirror, closely resembling Him and accepting Him. For everything that dominates other mortals is now under his control even the very limbs of his body, which otherwise lead to mischief, vice and disorder, but in his case they perform their functions in sacred silence, since his eyes are trained not to see what they should not see, his ears not to hear what they should not hear, his tongue not to speak what should not be uttered, his throat not to swallow what should not be digested, his heart not to covet what should not be coveted, and his mind not to permit thoughts that should not be thought; but on the other hand, he does his best to let God's will be done in and through him personally on earth, as it is done in and through the angels in heaven. Nothing could be more blessed than such a man, since he no longer knows any inward discontent, and God has filled him with an intimate sense of His grace, and the holy angels willingly attend him as one who has now been admitted into their fellowship, and see that no evil befalls him, and promote his interests with glad applause.

"Apart from this way of returning unto and into one's individual self and unto and into God, there is no possible hope of salvation, no peace, and no happiness. If anyone who has failed to reform himself should seek salvation from any external source, be will not find it, but will be exhausted by his search, and being exhausted be will groan, and groaning be will lament, and lamenting he will despair, and despairing be will perish, since light is only to be found in light, peace in peace, and all things in one.

"Therefore no matter who you are, you must reform yourself according to God's good pleasure and with His help, so that angels and pious men are able, as it were, to read on your forehead the inscription: 'HERE IS A SPLENDID IMAGE OF GOD.' (Panorthosia, Chapter 20, paragraphs 22-24, p. 28)

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