Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Heartgate; In which I get axed by the Bab

By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 21, 5 'Ilm 165 BE

"Gate of the Heart, Understanding the Writings of the Bab," Nader Saiedi, Wilfred Laurier University Press, Waterloo, ON, 1988

Nader Saiedi starts this study of the Bab's voluminous, abstruse body of work by pointing out how badly misunderstood it is. No Western intellectual has grasped it adequately. He demonstrates this by citing disdainful words taken from the likes of E.G. Browne and more recent orientalist scholars. It seems that virtually all non-native speakers of Arabic and Persian who have tried to delve into it have not only misapprehended but also misprized the Bab's work.

The Bab Himself denies the accusation of inconsistency, saying that His varying statements are the result of speaking to different audiences with different levels of understanding. I had a dream about this yesterday, on the day of the Birth of the Bab. Here is how I described on the day.


I woke this morning of the day of the Holy Day very aware that it is the birthday of the Bab, my favorite Holy Day. I wanted to do something special for the occasion. Unfortunately, I was too tired and, as often happens, after an hour of wakefulness had no choice but to go back to sleep.
In a light sleep, I dreamed that I was working with a couple of other researchers on a project for the Bab, sorting through some documents, doing clerical work on His Word. It was very abstruse and I could not grasp the essence of what we were doing. The boss was the Bab, Who was unseen in the dream because He was behind the camera. The content of the dream, that is, was what He saw. He asked me to do something extra difficult and I said I just did not get it. I complained that this work made studying Kant's Critique of Pure Reason seem clear, simple and easy by comparison. Without using words, He made it clear that if I did not do it I would be fired. I could not grasp what He wanted and did not do the job for that reason. So, I was fired. But events followed on as before, I kept working and cooperating with the other two exactly as before. We had the same atmosphere of concerned service to the Bab.

Then, I woke up from the dream briefly and wondered how I could be fired and keep on working. What kind of a boss does that? It seemed perfectly natural in the dream. Only when I was awake did this seem contradictory. Then I dropped off again and dreamed some more. When I awoke again, I thought I had an answer. I knew that I must spend this Holy Day going over my notes and trying to understand the Writings of the Bab...


One thing I came across in my Birth of the Bab study session on Saiedi's Gate of the Heart yesterday was this gem, from the Bab's commentary on the Surih of Abundance: "The greatest achievement of the servant is to elevate all objects to their supreme station of detachment and unity." (quoted in Saiedi, Gate of the Heart, p. 52) Maybe that is what the dream meant by "firing" me. My job is to tear things out of their worldly context and then unite them with their place in the world of the spirit. Or, maybe it was just a matter of giving me two weeks’ notice before I left the job, I do not know.

Another mistake that superficial readers of the Bab's work make, Saiedi says, is to assume that His long commentaries on the Qu'ran and the Hadith means that He is a derivative thinker, that in effect the Bab was nothing more than a name dropper. He spends several pages dealing with this -- at the end of this essay I have excerpted at length an example, the Bab's commentary on the Surih of the Cow in the Qu'ran, followed by Saiedi's explication of the Bab's interpretation. Suffice to say for now, the idea of Fu'ad or "heart" is wrapped up in His hermeneutics.

Readers of Saiedi's earlier study of the Writings of Baha'u'llah will recall that "heart" is also one of the major themes of Baha'u'llah's opus as well. One reason why the Bab in my dream may have fired me was that whenever I see Fu'ad I think of a rather worldly Persian guy by that name who once I knew, as well as a ditty from a beer commercial that went, "Ya gotta have heart! Miles and miles of just heart." This disqualifies me from getting at the heart of one of the most important themes of Holy Writ.

Another blooper that Saiedi counters is the tendency to misapprehend the nature of the Bab's station as the "point of the Bayan." The point of the divine Point is that His Person acts as a fulcrum or axis for the primal Will of God. Primal Will, as I understand it, splits into four phases or modes, according to the four causes in nature. Thus, under a topic heading called "The Logic of the Typology" Saiedi writes,

"The categories represented by this typology of the modes of revelation can be seen as the logical expressions of the central theological principle informing the writings of the Bab: the concept of the Point, a term referring to the Primal Will of God. The Primal Will is manifested in the world by the Prophet or divine Messenger, Who is the nexus between the Divinity and the created world. `The Point' thus refers to the Bab Himself. ... briefly, the Primal Will is the Word of God, the Logos, through which the creation of all things takes place. The four modes of revelation are logical reflections of the structure of the Point or Primal Will: thus they are the four modes of the creative Word of God. In order to understand this subtle concept, we need to look at the Bab's description of the ontological reality and structure of the Point." (Gate of the Heart, pp. 45-46)

Saiedi then offers a new provisional translation of a long passage from the Persian Bayan (3:16), part of which says:
"And within the inmost reality of all things there hath been, and will forever continue to be, a sign from God through which the unity of the Lord is celebrated. This sign, however, is a reflection of His Will present within it, through which naught is seen but God. However, within the Will, that supreme Sign is the Will Itself, the Supreme Mirror of God, which hath never referred, nor will it ever refer, to aught but God.... He is the possessor of two signs, that of God and that of creation, and through the latter he worshippeth God and boweth in adoration before Him. In like manner, all things adore their Beloved through the sign of Creation, though it hath never reached, nor will it ever reach, beyond its own sign from God, which is present within it and pointeth unto Him." (Saiedi, Gate of the Heart, 46)

One thing I learned from this discussion is that the word "sign" here, meaning what is called in Greek the Logos or Word, is at least sometimes a translation of the Arabic "Ayat," usually meaning "verse," "sign" or "mirror." Thus when we explain the Manifestation by comparing Him to the Sun, or to rays from the sun, or a mirror turned to the sun, we are referring to something built into the very words of the Arabic language that the Bab used.

The above selection from the Persian Bayan comes very close to a passage from the Writings of Baha'u'llah that persuaded me that no ordinary human could have written it; that is, the passage that made me into a Baha'i. In any case, Saiedi explains that the Bab uses the Abjad system to explain how God as Will, Word and Act unite in seven stages of creative action.

"He (the Bab) turns the question of these forms into an analysis of deep spiritual meanings. He states that the forms of the triangle and the square represent the seven stages of divine creative Action. The triangle represents the first three stages and thus symbolizes the Imam 'Ali, whose name consists of three Arabic letters. The square, representing the next four stages, refers to Muhammad, whose name has four letters. The name of the Bab ('Ali-Muhammad) is the unity of both forms, uniting the stations of 'Ali and Muhammad. These are the stations of vicegerency and prophethood, and at the same time they represent the stations of divinity and prophethood because 'Ali is a name of God (the Most Exalted) as well as the name of the vicegerent of Muhammad. (Gate of the Heart, pp. 55-56)

Abdu'l-Baha (whose only early worldly education, according to His own testimony, consisted of memorizing passages from the Writings of the Bab) later devised the ring stone symbol, which depicts these three, four and seven aspects of divinity, Godhead, Word, Revelation and Creation, in a manner that is readily understandable to the most casual observer. I cannot help but think that the Master's depiction in the ring stone symbol of the Greatest Name is a fulfilment of the whole idea of the Word become Ayat, or mirror. It speaks with visual as well as verbal clarity to all who look upon it. The Manifestation then, is a sort of pictographic of the divine Word, rather more than the wholly symbolic script in our languages. As an example, take the following new provisional translation of the Bab's words provided in this book,

"These divine verses are the Word of the Will Himself, which is naught but the Word of God. For the Essence of Eternity hath always been, and will continue forever to be, beyond any change. But speaking the Word pertaineth to the station of divine creation and generation. Inasmuch as naught is seen in the Will but God, therefore this Word is attributed unto God, for none but God is capable of producing its like. Those who have been, or will ever be, in the presence of This Tree recognize that these words proceed from His pure primordial nature, and that speaking in such a mode is easier and closer to Him than speaking in the mode of prayers, sermons, rational arguments, or the Persian modes. For this is the language of His Inmost Reality which referreth unto naught but God alone. It is for that reason that the divine verses are called the Words (ayat) of God and praised as the divine Logos." (Saiedi, Gate of the Heart, 48)

I think Heraclitus understood this. We fail to treat Logos as something of an entirely different order, and this hobbles us. "Of those whose discourse I have heard, none arrives at the realization that wisdom is set apart from all else." (Heraclitus fr. 108) It does not matter what we believe, be we religious or atheistic, if we do not treat wisdom as it deserves we will never develop the quality of the soul that leads to belief and spiritual growth.


As promised, here is a sample of Saiedi's explanation of the Bab's interpretation of a hadith of an Imam mentioned in his commentary on one of the longest chapters in the Qur’an.

The Bab's Interpretation of a Chapter of the Qur’an, The Cow
from Saiedi, Gate of the Heart, pp. 50-52

One of the most explicit expositions of the end purpose of the interpretive act can be found in the Bab's Commentary on the Surih of the Cow:

"Elevate the alphabetical letters of that divine verse unto the sublime station of the manifestation of their heart.... Verily that ascent is the spirit of the Elixir of true knowledge, so that the servant may advance all that is motionless unto the lofty station of vibrant motion, and make manifest the Causes of his existence within the stage of the effect, and reveal the fruit of the Final Cause in the rank and station of the receptive phenomena. That is the true meaning of the words of Imam Rida', peace be upon Him, that verily those endued with understanding cannot know that which is there, except through that which is here."

To interpret something is to uncover its true meaning. The text that is to be interpreted consists of signs, specifically words, appearing as combinations of the letters of the alphabet. The supreme task of interpretation, the Bab explains in this passage, is to elevate these alphabetical signs (which constitute the text) to the highest level of their own reality, the station at which they reveal their true essential nature, or "heart."

The concept of "heart" (fu'ad) is one of the most important principles in the writings of the Bab. The station of the heart is the highest stage of a created being's existential reality. It is the reflection of divine revelation itself within the inmost reality of things.

To interpret the words, therefore, is in essence to transform them into mirrors of divine reality. A true interpretive act finds in the words, alphabetical phenomena, and signs of the text nothing but the expression of divine attributes. In this sense the text and all reality becomes a testimony to the unity of God, a praise of the divine names, and an affirmation of the divine creative Action.

Finding the "thing in itself" in the realm of the "appearances" (in Kantian terms), manifesting the infinite kingdom of the heart in the finite phenomenal realm of the world, and beholding the world as reflecting nothing but the proofs of the sovereignty of God, thus constitutes the ultimate hermeneutical principle of the Bab.

The Bab's interpretation of the Tradition of Imam Rida' in the above passage concisely describes the central role of symbolism in this interpretive process, for the spiritual world ("that which is there") can only be known metaphorically through the symbolism of the phenomenal world ("that which is here").

To engage in the act of interpreting the text at the level of the heart, in terms of its supreme Origin, seeing the reflection of the divine mirrored every atom of creation, is to transform the phenomenal realm into its ultimate spiritual reality. The interpretation of a text is simultaneously an act of self-interpretation and self-transformation: through the act of interpretation, the reader spiritualizes the self as well as the world. This transformative act takes place through the symbol of the elixir. The term elixir, of course, alludes to the symbolism of alchemy, which, as Jung has argued, was not merely concerned with changing base metal into gold; more significantly, the physical process was a complex, arcane symbolic system representing stages of the mystical transformation of the self.

After saying that the alphabetical letters must be elevated to the station of the revelation of their heart, the Bab describes the spirit of this true hermeneutics as the uplifting, by the "servant," of "all that is motionless unto the lofty station of vibrant motion," and making manifest "the Causes of his existence within the stage of the effect."

The Bab likens this transformative-interpretive consciousness to the "spirit of the Elixir of true knowledge," as the supreme agent that transforms potentialities into actualities, the catalyst for the beautification and elevation of being. The true Elixir, therefore, is a form of spiritual orientation in which the receptive becomes active and the motionless becomes vibrant.
For the Bab these terms imply distinctive meanings. The Essence of God itself is sanctified above any description of motion or repose. Such notions, there, can pertain only to the creation. The Action of the divine Primal Will, which is the First Creation, is the vibrant and moving Final Cause of phenomenal reality, and it is the Primal Will that brings into existence the reality of all things.

Although the world has the appearance of an independent material reality, in and of itself it is only a shadow and a motionless non-existence.
The task of true hermeneutics is to cause a fundamental transformation in the phenomenal realm: to elevate the phenomena to station of the heart is to uncover the signs of divine revelation that are enshrined within the reality of those phenomena, and to connect that which is motionless to its true inner reality of vibrant spiritual motion. This transformation is accomplished within the consciousness of the interpreter.

These same vibrant and moving realities are more explicitly described, in the same passage, as the Causes of the very existence of the human interpreter as well. The ultimate Cause of these Causes is the Primal Will, or the Point, sometimes referred to as the "Tree of Truth" or the "Sun of Truth." The Primal Will is also the essence of the Prophets or Manifestations of God. The Will becomes the Cause of reality through its manifestation in the process of divine creative Action, which consists of seven stages. These stages of creation, then, are the specific sequential Causes of reality, which set reality into the vibrant motion of life.


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