Sunday, December 07, 2008

Three Thoughts About Love

Amour in Paris, Xanthippe in Athens, plus Jalalu'Din Rumi
By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 07, 14 Qawl 165 BE

   In our daily study class the kids and I just finished Paris Talks, one of my favourite books of all time. It is simple yet profound, perfect for those frequent times through the years when I need inspiration desperately but my mental faculties are severely impaired by chains of migraine attacks. The Master leaves throughout little statements that seem innocuous at first -- I call them grenades of profundity -- but whose full meaning only hits you afterwards.

Paris Talks is truly a work of genius, distinctive among the other products of Abdu'l-Baha's mind. It is a collective proto-deepening worthy of the creative spirit of Paris and France, a culture I long ago fell in love with, in spite of its materialistic strain. In America, the Master was overwhelmed with interest and publicity, but at least in His first visit to Paris the response from the press seems to have been chilly; most of the talks in Paris Talks were given to small gatherings of Baha'is. The welcome was warmer in His second visit over a year later, but by then the strain of the voyages was telling, His health was worse and the need to convalesce prevented giving many addresses to large gatherings. Nonetheless, he did give enough to fill a volume, entitled "Divine Philosophy." Why this book, which could be called "Paris Talks II, the Sequel," remains out of print and unavailable except in digital form is a mystery that I have never been able to fathom. What I have read of the digital version while sitting at the computer seems as wonderful as anything else the Master said.

Loving the book so much, I long ago lost track of how many times I have read it. This has its disadvantages. My favourite book can hold no more surprises for me. This is why it was refreshing to read it with the kids, who see everything with new eyes. Silvie in particular was instructive in her reaction.

When Silvie has problems with something she does not hide it. In spite of her shyness before strangers, she is very much in my face about issues of faith. Every day for the past several weeks I have had to deal with two sore points from every possible angle: one, the lack of women on the Universal House of Justice and, two, the lack of eternal souls for animals. I have tried every possible angle and explanation without success. When she is reading a text and disagrees with it, she slows and then stops.

So it happened that we were, as always, taking turns reading the talk about love where Abdu'l-Baha goes through the four kinds of love, love of God for God, of God for man, of man for God and man for man, and then we came across the following, which provoked a marked reaction. As she read aloud, she first slowed, then did a dead stop mid-sentence. Many more stops followed, each with a long discussion. Here are the paragraphs that provoked her surprise and consternation about what love is.

"But the love which sometimes exists between friends is not (true) love, because it is subject to transmutation; this is merely fascination. As the breeze blows, the slender trees yield. If the wind is in the East the tree leans to the West, and if the wind turns to the West the tree leans to the East. This kind of love is originated by the accidental conditions of life. This is not love, it is merely acquaintanceship; it is subject to change.
"Today you will see two souls apparently in close friendship; tomorrow all this may be changed. Yesterday they were ready to die for one another, today they shun one another's society! This is not love; it is the yielding of the hearts to the accidents of life. When that which has caused this 'love' to exist passes, the love passes also; this is not in reality love." (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 181)

This was shocking for her, and I can see why it might be. It goes against everything that we are taught about love, what little is taught. It is not that she argued against it in the way she argues about exclusion of women from the UHJ or animals from heaven. But clearly, this came as a shock. The Master is quite incontrovertible about this. He continues:

"Love is only of the four kinds that I have explained. (a) The love of God towards the identity of God. Christ has said God is Love. (b) The love of God for His children -- for His servants. (c) The love of man for God and (d) the love of man for man. These four kinds of love originate from God. These are rays from the Sun of Reality; these are the Breathings of the Holy Spirit; these are the Signs of the Reality."

Love is not love, then, unless God is somewhere in the equation. We are used to Paul's assertion (I thought it was Paul, but Abdu'l-Baha says that it came from Jesus) that "God is love," but here the Master asserts the obverse: what is not God is not love." Surprising indeed.

In my other reading, this time of Xenophon's Banquet or Symposium, I came across another surprising thing about love. Like Silvie, I did a double take as I read. What happens is that early on in the banquet Antisthenes makes some negative comments to Socrates about his wife, Xanthippe (the name "Xanthippe" means "yellow horse," by the way, and Socrates is clearly punning on her aristocratic name in his response). Judging by the age of their three children when he died, Xanthippe must have been about 40 years younger than Socrates, who was 70 years old himself. ( Antisthenes confronts Socrates, remarking that Xanthippe is the hardest woman to get along with of all the women in the world. Why was he, the wisest man in the world, so foolish as to marry such a problem personality? Socrates replies that her difficult qualities were exactly why he chose her as his wife.

"I follow the example of the rider who wishes to become an expert horseman: `None of your soft-mouthed, docile animals for me,' he says; `the horse for me to own must show some spirit' in the belief, no doubt, if he can manage such an animal, it will be easy enough to deal with every other horse besides. And that is just my case. I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else." (Symposium 17-19)

Most readers take this as innocuous banter, or perhaps evidence that Xanthippe was a shrew. I suddenly realized that this should instead be taken as highly significant and indeed central to Socrates' philosophy. One does not marry in old age and have three children lightly. This man was not called by the oracle the "wisest of men" for nothing. He chose her because she was difficult.

Think about it.

Socrates chose Xanthippe for the same reason that God chose the Jews to receive a string of Prophets. Socrates loved her for the same reason God picked out the Iranians to be the cultural "bride" for His Twin Manifestations. Not because they were the nicest and most malleable cultures but because they were the orneriest pains in the butt, the toughest, most fanatical and spirited of all nations.

Jalalu'Din Rumi also wrote about this theme in the sixth story in the Mathnavi. This story Abdu'l-Baha repeated -- so it is important for that reason alone. It is about a slave called Luqman the Sage, reputedly Aesop, or perhaps the nephew of Job. I will finish with this, since I think that Rumi's poetic commentary is important too, especially since it leads to an important analogy -- the two symettrical, balanced wings of a bird in flight -- that Abdu'l-Baha used to describe both men and women and science and faith. That is what love leads to after much suffering and pain, the total symettry of God in love with God Himself.

(Luqman's Master examines him and discovers his Acuteness.)
Luqman the Sage, though "gifted with wisdom by God," was a slave. His master, however, discovered his worth, and became extremely attached to him, so that he never received any delicacy without giving Luqman a share of it. One day, having received a watermelon, he gave Luqman the best part of it, and Luqman devoured it with such apparent relish that his master was tempted to taste it. To his surprise he found it very bitter, and asked Luqman why he had not told him of this. Luqman replied that it was not for him, who lived on his master's bounty, to complain if he now and then received disagreeable things at his hands. Thus, though to outward appearance a slave, Luqman showed himself to be a lord.
Love endures hardships at the hands of the Beloved.
Through love bitter things seem sweet,
Through love bits of copper are made gold.
Through love dregs taste like pure wine,
Through love pains are as healing balms.
Through love thorns become roses,
And through love vinegar becomes sweet wine.
Through love the stake becomes a throne,
Through love reverse of fortune seems good fortune.
Through love a prison seems a rose bower,
Without love a grate full of ashes seems a garden.
Through love burning fire is pleasing light,
Through love the Devil becomes a Houri.
Through love hard stones become soft as butter,
Without love soft wax becomes hard iron.
Through love grief is as joy,
Through love Ghouls turn into angels.
Through love stings are as honey,
Through love lions are harmless as mice.
Through love sickness is health,
Through love wrath is as mercy.
Through love the dead rise to life,
Through love the king becomes a slave.
Even when an evil befalls you, have due regard;
Regard well him who does you this ill turn.
The sight which regards the ebb and flow of good and ill
Opens a passage for you from misfortune to happiness.
Thence you see the one state moves you into the other,
One opposite state generating its opposite in exchange.
So long as you experience not fears after joys,
How can you look for pleasures after disgusts?
While ye fear the doom of the angel on the left hand,
Men hope for the bliss of the angel on the right.
May you gain two wings!
A fowl with only one wing
Is impotent to fly, O well-intentioned one!
-- Mathnavi of Rumi, E.H. Whinfield tr.

John Taylor



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Okay dad, think about this:

1 Q) If God loves all things, then why shouldn't animals go to heaven? A) They DO have eternal souls!!!

2)Women are just as strong and smart and spirited as men, so why shouldn't they be in the highest category of leaders? It's wasting so much of their potential.


3) What you said didn't make sense; joy and love are in harmony, they are both good!!!

a tip: write about Christianity or environmentalism or vegetarianism next (or Bender! 8D)

Now good day, my dear chum...p! haha, I'm joking! Bye dad. :D