The Baha'i Principles qua Baha'i
By John Taylor; 2008 Sep 23, 15 Izzat, 165 BE
Part I, The Spiritual Principles
I am about to plunge into a heavy reworking of my life-long study of the Baha'i principles in the light of the signal contribution of Jan Amos Comenius. Before I do so, however, I will briefly go over the principles in the light of their distinctive role as pillars of the Baha'i Faith. I am also preparing a website on the principles and a series of short YouTube videos on this theme.
About the Principles generally
The Baha'i principles, qua Baha'i, started when Baha'u'llah wrote the Kings, according to Abdu'l-Baha,
"Fifty years ago Baha'u'llah wrote epistles to the kings and rulers of the world, in which the teachings and principles revealed by him were embodied and set forth. These epistles were printed in India forty years ago and spread broadcast." (Promulgation, 295)
This does not mean that the principles were not discernable in earlier Writings of Baha'u'llah. Many, as the Master Himself pointed out, were laid out in the Hidden Words, perhaps for the first time. The concepts of the oneness and relativity of religion are worked out in detail in the Kitab-i-Iqan, which came just before the Ridvan announcement in 1863. Abdu'l-Baha appears to mean only that the principles were announced virtually at the same time that the word "Baha'i" was introduced to the world, and that they cannot be separated from the single organic unity we know of as the Baha'i Faith.
The Master, in His Secret of Divine Civilization, commissioned a year or two after the revelation of the Aqdas, stated that,
"The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilisation, is human happiness..." (SDC 60)
This explains why the Guardian, in God Passes By, calls the principles the "comity of Baha'u'llah." A comity is an arrangement where science, religion and government unite with a single aim: the good and happiness of all. Any exclusion at all, any division into parts, falls short of comity. That is why nationalist politics, dividing humanity into citizens and aliens, is obsessed with competitive division. Only a comity can apply principle, and only principle can sustain world order. Baha'u'llah was very emphatic on this point, that His goal was not self glorification but the good and unity of the entire human world.
"My object is none other than the betterment of the world and the tranquillity of its peoples. The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded." (Gl 286)
My challenge, one that I hope my study of Comenius will help with, is to expound upon these central spiritual principles in a way that will include not only non-Baha'is, but even non-believers. Inclusivity is of the essence of principle. Somehow I believe that an image or model may help make the abstractions of principle universally comprehensible.
The principles have been pictured in many ways, as branches of a tree, in the Bible as twelve precious stones taken from surrounding mountains, as the variant colors of the spectrum of light, and so forth. The image I want to use throughout these videos on principle is a circular arrangement that returns to me persistently in recent years. I have rigged up a round tabletop with a Lazy Suzan turntable castor in the center in order to demonstrate it. On the spinning, slightly raised central level I will place the spiritual principles, of which I have discerned four (if you can think of other spiritual principles, do let me know). On the lower, fixed level I will place representations of the social principles, search, oneness, etc.
Today, let us concentrate on an overview of the principles of the Spirit. Here are the four spiritual principles that vivify, inhabit and illumine the sunlit uplands of the human mind and spirit,
Oneness of God
Power of the Holy Spirit
In my little videos somehow I would like to convey the ineffable, transcendent, holographic quality of the spiritual principles, as opposed to the static, reified qualities of the social principles inhabiting the plane below.
So, on this upper, inner circle I would ideally place a black hole. I would do it, too -- if only such a thing were possible without destroying the earth and much of the solar system. Failing that, I will place a globe, or a beach ball, or one of those omni-reflecting silver balls that they used to place in Victorian gardens.
Alternatively, I could place there a model of a Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, or maybe several models of each of the continental temples. At Louhelen they have in their library a model of the Wilmette temple enclosed in a glass bottle. That would be perfect.
The temple, with its dome and nine sides symbolically represents many of the ethereal qualities of the spiritual principles. As the Master pointed out at the start of the second public talk He ever gave, this world is a reflection of the world of spirit. Since there are nine, more or less, major Baha'i social principles, having a nine sided temple on the inner, upper level would convey the overarching other-dimensionality of Spirit over mind.
Part One: Spiritual Principles
The spiritual principles are huge, completely impossible to hold or even touch with our tiny, finite minds. They are still but moving, everywhere but nowhere, complex beyond comprehension, yet at the same time almost too simple to realize deep down in our gut. They give life to the social principles, but it seems at times impossible to say which applies more or less to any given social principle. This is just why I have placed them on a spinning turntable jutting out into a third dimension, each principle equal to the other. The first spiritual principle is:
Oneness of God
The Oneness of God is the identification of God not with man but with what the atheist philosopher called Ubermensch, or Superman. As Baha'is grow in faith we in turn reflect this Mind in our self, our own loves and struggles. This principle was expounded in very personal terms by the Baha'i Superman, which we term the "Manifestation of God."
"The Great Being saith: The Tongue of Wisdom proclaimeth: He that hath Me not is bereft of all things. Turn ye away from all that is on earth and seek none else but Me. I am the Sun of Wisdom and the Ocean of Knowledge. I cheer the faint and revive the dead. I am the guiding Light that illumineth the way. I am the royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty. I unfold the drooping wings of every broken bird and start it on its flight." (Tablets, 169)
This personal relationship at the core of principle distinguishes principle from ideology or the cold, necessary, inflexible abstractions of mathematical formulae. No, we hold to oneness out of a relationship with a Man who lived a life on earth, confronted history, suffering, weakness, ignorance and evil. His triumph inspires us and offers us strength to win our own spiritual victories.
This is an ethereal spiritual principle, but it becomes a religious principle as we unite with others in carrying out the social principles of oneness of religion, oneness of humanity, and so forth. Thus the personal becomes the social.
Power of the Holy Spirit
The Oneness of God, however intimately we may relate to it personally, is nothing but an idea, a vain feeling, an idle passion, if it is not carried out into action. To do that, we need power, what Baha'u'llah calls confirmations of the Holy Spirit. These confirmations come from constant relationship, as with a parent, sibling or friend. Hence the salutation in the following summary of this principle,
"O friend of mine! The Word of God is the king of words and its pervasive influence is incalculable. It hath ever dominated and will continue to dominate the realm of being. The Great Being saith: The Word is the master key for the whole world, inasmuch as through its potency the doors of the hearts of men, which in reality are the doors of heaven, are unlocked." (Tablets, 173)
The principle of divine power is the mother principle of all power because it deals with language. Old sayings like "the pen is mightier than the sword," and "a word to the wise is sufficient," teach that as long as we hold to the power of speech, there is no need for force or violence. This is a divine force. Conflicts can be worked out peacefully if we pray, consult and apply the result of consultation.
The Manifestation of God is the Word, the genetic code in every order we live by, personally and socially. As the Tablet of Ahmad puts it, He it is "through Whom ... the wisdom of every command shall be tested." Thus the chief way we know the Manifestation is through His Word, by constant study of the Writings. Hence language Baha'u'llah calls the "master key" to the power of spirit that informs all things.
"The light of men is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 66-7, Kalimat-i-Firdousiyyih, 6th leaf)
Covenant is justice as expressed in our relationship with Almighty God. As with every relationship, for every action there is a reaction, implicit rules and obligations are set up by every interaction with God. When he and I become friends we agree to a contract of reciprocity, a covenant. Our creator sets it going by the very fact that we were created; the more we depend upon Him, the more we thrive, the greater our debt, the more actively we apply the contract. We pay our debt by participating to the extent of our ability in the principles of unity.
Love is the first teaching of all the Divine Teachers. The great Teacher whose main message was love taught that "strait is the gate and narrow the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it," (Matt 7:14) meaning that just as we enter and leave this life alone, so we must seek truth alone, and express it according to our own lights and that of none other. Baha'u'llah adds that the prime expression of this love is the primal love, love in, through and for God,
"For every one of you his paramount duty is to choose for himself that on which no other may infringe and none usurp from him. Such a thing -- and to this the Almighty is My witness -- is the love of God, could ye but perceive it." (Gleanings, p. 261)
The axial social principle of search for truth, along with that of justice, are rare in that they are spiritual as well as social principles. As such, they apply not only to a special area of expertise, but they make all the other principles into principles. For example, economics is mere selfishness, tinkering and money grubbing unless it is adjusted by the comity of individuals struggling towards God.