Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #130 (English)

Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, California

May 22–25, 2015.

"He-She-It Is” (Huwa): The re-created Basmala in Babi-Baha’i Literary Commencements

by Stephen Lambden

“In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

“In the Name of God, the Inaccessible, the Most Holy”

بِسْمِ اللهِ الامنع الاقدس

“In the Name of God, the Glorious, the All-Glorious”

بِسْمِ اللهِ بهي الابهى

“The Greatest verse of the Qur’an is the basmala” (Ibn `Abbas relayed in al-Suyuti, al-Itqan, 91) “The Basmala is closer to the Greatest Name (al-ism al-a`zam) than the black of the eye is to its white” (words attributed to the 8th Imam `Ali al-Rida’ [c. 148/765- d. 203/818] as narrated in the `Uyun al-akhbar and the Tafsir al-`Ayyashi, etc).
Every sacred text has a deeply significant literary commencement. This often means a meaningful opening, sacred phrase, oath or text incorporating a Name or Names of God. Babi-Baha’i alwah (sacred Tablets) or Books and other expressions of wahy (divine inspiration) open in such ways though there is no always standard literary commencement. Various Islamic traditions have it that no qur’anic verse is of greater magnitude than the Basmala (which is cited above). This Arabic Islamic term indicates the five or so word, nineteen letter Arabic invocatory Qur’anic verse, “Bi-smi’llah al-Rahman al-Rahim” which is often translated, “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” Islamic tradition also views the basmala as the sacred Fatiḥa (“Opening”). This opens most Suras of the the Qur’an and, according to a prophetic tradition, all past Abrahamic sacred books such as the Torah and Gospels (al-Alusi, Tafsir 1:41 referring to al-Suyuti, Itqan etc). It is generally agreed among Islamic experts and western academics that the key roots of the basmala are to be found in Abrahamic (Jewish, Christian and related traditions), biblical or post-biblical literatures.

Over a more than 1,000 year period, hundreds if not thousands of learned Muslims have written commentaries on the opening basmala within the first Surah of the Qur’an and other places within this over 6,000 verses sacred text. The central figures of the Baha’i religion all commented on the Islamic Basmala and recreated it in new forms (see above) as a prefix to thousands of their sacred writings. The basmala was renewed in hundreds of different, creative ways in Babi-Baha’i Literatures both Arabic and in Persian and sometimes in a mixture of these two languages. The intimately related sometimes neo-Shi`i, Babi and Baha’i religions have an extensive sacred literature within which a post- or meta-Islamic basmala is of great moment. The Bab (1819-1850 CE) and Baha’-Allah (1817-1892 CE) frequently refashioned, recreated and reinterpreted this sacred literary commencement in line with their new post-Islamic theology, theophanology and addresses to a host of individual devotees.

In this summary paper dimensions of the evolving Babi-Baha’i basmala recreations and select related huwa (“Ipseity related” = “He-She-It is”) incipits, will be commented upon and analyzed from a number of vantage points. It will be seen that the Bab explicitly recreated the Islamic basmala on apophatic (“God beyond all”) lines and that Baha’-Allah further utilized it in new ways so as to underline his elevated claims and global religious outreach.


Islamic and Baha'i Interpretations of the tradition "He who knoweth himself knoweth his Lord"

by Faris Badii

The purpose of interpretation is to reveal the inner meaning of a verse of Quran or a tradition. Historically, various methods of interpretation have been utilized to arrive at the inner meaning and real purpose of the verses of Quran or traditions. These methods have resulted in significantly various outcomes and understandings. In this presentation, an overview of various methods of interpretation utilized by scholars is followed by specific focus on the well known tradition of “He who knoweth himself knoweth his Lord”. Our study shall include the Islamic interpretations as well as those found in the tablets revealed by Baha’u’llah.

Language of the Heart, The: From Dream Language towards Understanding the Language of the Heart

by Wolfgang Klebel

The Bahá'í Religion could justifiably be called the "Religion of the Heart."

Statistically for example in the Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh the heart is the most frequently used word after God. God 995, Heart 236, Revelation 229, Divine 142 and all other words, like Love, Faith, Hope, Justice, Unity (together with Oneness) Knowledge, Mankind are used less than 100 times.

The heart in the Bahá'í Writings is given a special meaning; concepts like the city of the heart and the citadel of the heart are emphasizing the importance of the heart. The heart is described as possessing sensory capacities. Bahá'u'lláh talks about the "eye of thine heart" (KI 90),"ear of his inmost heart" (SLH 86),"hearts have been sorely shaken" (PM 12) and the "wise and understanding heart" (ESW 65) and suggests that one "Ponder this in thine heart" (ESW 74).

These statements can be correlated with the findings of modern Neurocardiology, which describes the "little brain" of the heart, having perception, memory and decision making ability.

Recent work in the relatively new field of Neurocardiology has firmly established that the heart is a sensory organ and a sophisticated information encoding and processing center. Its circuitry enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the cranial brain.[1]
The question raised in this presentation is about the form and style of the language of the heart, in what way is this language different from our normal language and thinking as it is developed in the human brain. There are about 2,000 heart transplants made in the USA annually, giving us a stuffiest large number to study what is in the heart and how does the recipient of these transplants experience the new heart. There is evidence that dreams can be transplanted together with the heart from one person to another. The conclusion can be made that the language of the heart is similar than the language of dreams and that dreams can be stored in the heart.

Studying dream language, the following distinction needs to be made.

The logic that we miss in the dream work is the syntactical logic of speech - the syntactical logic that is essential for the framing and testing of propositions and reasoning from them. [2]
Consequently dreams express syntactical logic differently, for example causality is expressed in terms of contiguity, contradictions and conflicts are described by following pictures that are contradictory, as will be exemplified in the presentation.

Another conclusion is made by this author from seeing many patients with Post-traumatic Stress disorder that memories heavily loaded with emotions seem to be located in the heart and not in the brain, therefore they can be transplanted with the heart and are difficult to remove and will disturb the patient for a long time.

Other important conclusions are

  1. There is no awareness in the heart like it is in the brain.
  2. The heart's language becomes only aware in the brain (e.g., when dreams are remembered).
  3. The logical brain cannot adequately translate the language of the heart.
  4. The hearts decisions, when becoming aware, are always experienced with certitude.
  5. Their heart can perceive and know events that are far away in space or are in the future (this has q been scientifically proven).
  6. There is a connection between the hearts of people that are close, like siblings, friend, lovers and people who are physically close, even when they are physically separated.
  7. This explains Mass-phenomena where people in a group can be influenced through their hearts.
  8. The requirement of a pure heart to understand the Bahá'í Revelation indicates that only with a pure heart you understand the language of the heart.
  9. It seems that in every thinking process where the brain is used the heart is participating as well, as on the other hand; the heart's understanding has to be logically reasonable as well to be true.

This sheds some light at some fundamental truth about the heart revealed in the Bahá'í Writing:

The Báb has stated (provisional translation by Nader Saiedi)

Such conclusive truth hath been revealed through the gaze of the heart, and not that of intellect. For intellect conceives not save limited things.

Verily, bound by the realm of limitation, men are unable to gaze upon things simultaneously in their manifold aspects. This it is perplexing for them to comprehend that lofty station. No one can recognize the truth of the Middle Way between the two extreme poles except after attaining unto the gate of the heart and beholding the realities of the worlds, visible and unseen.

This seeing the truth of the Middle Way is described by Bahá'u'lláh as different from the relative logical understanding as the way to understand spiritual truth, often described as understanding the Unity in Diversity of reality and spiritual truth.
These statements are made in the sphere of that which is relative, because of the limitations of men. Otherwise, those personages who in a single step have passed over the world of the relative and the limited, and dwelt on the fair plane of the Absolute, and pitched their tent in the worlds of authority and command -- have burned away these relativities with a single spark, and blotted out these words with a drop of dew. And they swim in the sea of the spirit, and soar in the holy air of light. Then what life have words, on such a plane, that "first" and "last" or other than these be seen or mentioned! In this realm, the first is the last itself, and the last is but the first. (SVFV 27-28)
When Bahá'u'lláh reveals that the heart is the seat of the Revelation we need to consider that it is the human heart where this happens and we need to understand the language of the heart to understand the Revelation, we have to learn to think from reading the Writings of the Revelation.
Unlock, O people, the gates of the hearts of men with the keys of the remembrance of Him Who is the Remembrance of God and the Source of wisdom amongst you. He hath chosen out of the whole world the hearts of His servants, and made them each a seat for the revelation of His glory. (GWB 296)
Concluding it needs to be said that the faculty of reason, which is an endowment of the spiritual soul, uses different bodily instruments. i.e., the brain and the heart. They always need to work together, but they have different languages, so that spiritual truth has to be reasonable even in the logical linguistic sense, and the heart has to be pure in a moral sense, otherwise it will contaminate logical reason or even pervert it. Clearly we need both, a pure heart and clear mind to understand the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh.

    Notes:

  1. Rollin McCray, Ph.D. and Doc Childre, The Appreciative Heart, The Psychophysiology of Positive Emotions and Optimal Functioning, Published by the Institute of HeartMath, 14700 West Park Ave., Boulder Creek, California 95006, www.heartmath.org.

  2. Michael Robins, "Another Look at Dreaming: Disentangling Freud's Primary and Secondary Process Theories," in Journal of American Psychoanalytic Association, 2004, 52, pp.361-362
Click here to read this paper online.

Meaning, Essence, and Latency in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

by Farhad Sabetan

Concepts such as meaning, essence, inmost self, hidden and manifest, inner meaning, depth of understanding, etc. permeate Bahá’í Sacred Writings. For example, Bahá’u’lláh states: “The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves.” Such an apparently simple sentence examines, at once, notions of revelation, manifestation, hidden/appearance, and inmost self. This presentation explores the significance of these concepts and their inter-relationships, especially as they apply to process thinking, nihilism, and teleology. Specifically, in a world where notions such as meaning, sanctity, essence, and depth are questioned, avoided, or otherwise found irrelevant, it is demonstrated that it is precisely the absence of due attention to them that corresponds to distrust, bewilderment, aimlessness and apathy. On the contrary, attention to appearances, superficiality and liquidity of concepts characterize the post-modern society suffering from anarchy on the one hand and extremism on the other.

Memorials of the Faithful: An Introduction

by Faris Badii

Composed in Farsi by Abdu’l-Baha in 1915 and translated into English by Marzieh Gail, “Memorials of the Faithful” is an anthology of biographies of some early believers of the east. During those tumultuous years of WWI when people of the earth, ignorant of their savior, were contending with fire and death, and at a time when followers of Baha’u’llah, for the most part, were temporarily barred from beholding the beauty of its Center of Covenant, bounteous will of the Master graciously moved to immortalize the lives of over ninety God intoxicated men and women. In this presentation, we will consider a general overview of the book along with some select episodes from its contents.

Memorials of the Faithful: Promptings of the Spirit

by Hooper Dunbar

The occasion of the 100th anniversary of the publication of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s eulogies of a select number of early believers offers an appropriate opportunity, to consider, beyond the particulars of the lives and experiences of these friends, some of the verities and allusions set forth or implied by the Master in these accounts. In other words, exploring those spiritual truths and dimensions which bear directly today on the life and reality of the human soul and its spiritual hopes and aspirations. May we not presume this as a vital facet of His original intention. Exploring insights into the role of such themes as the love of God, of steadfastness, sacrifice and humble service to the Cause of God, are intended to enhance our prospects of dealing successfully with the current challenges of Baha’i life.

Nietzsche and the Baha’i Writings: An Introductory Exploration

by Ian Kluge

First appearances to the contrary, the Baha’i Writings and Nietzsche’s philosophy share a surprising number of features in common that allow Baha’is to re-vision Nietzsche from a new perspective. The basis of this re-visioning are the Aristotelian elements in the Writings which I have documented in a previous paper and similar elements underlying the works of Nietzsche who calls on man to “become what he is,” i.e. to actualize his potential to become an Uebermensch.* In other words, both the Writings and Nietzsche analyze reality in Aristotelian terms: actuality and potential; essence/substance and attribute; matter and form; essential and accidental as well as causality. Both have a dynamic understanding of reality and both see human life as a process towards a new and superior form of mankind, i.e. as a quest for greater actualization of our powers. Viewed from a Baha’i perspective, being “beyond good and evil” also takes on a new meaning. Interestingly enough, the Baha’i Writings offer a way to interpret the “will to power” in a way that resolves various contradictory understandings. They also agree on the need for ‘superior individuals’ – called ‘Manifestations’ by the Writings – to guide humankind. Of course, there are significant differences between the Writings and Nietzsche, the most obviously being Nietzsche’s sometimes hysterical tone in which he reaches rhetorical excesses that seem to lead his thinking into absurdity. One of these is the “eternal recurrence” which not only contradicts the whole tenor of his philosophy but also is negated by the second law of thermodynamics of which Nietzsche was aware.

    * I shall use the word Uebermensch because, as a native German speaker, I know there is no satisfactory or even adequate English translation of this word.
Click here to read this paper online.

Provisional Translation of the Persian Tablet of Aḥmad and a Review of Its Contents

by Foad Seddigh

The Persian Tablet of Aḥmad is one of the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed in Adrianople addressed to a person by the name Aḥmad who is a native of Káshán, a city in the Central Iran. It may not be regarded as a lengthy Tablet but it contains invaluable exhortations to its recipient, the people of the Bayan, as well as other people. The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith selected certain paragraphs from this Tablet perhaps based on the suitability of their contents and then translated them into English. Such translated paragraphs appear, in scattered form, in the body of the authorized and authentic translation of the Bahá’í Scriptures in English. Since, the original sources for most of the small passages translated by the Guardian are not readily available, the author made an effort to search and to identify the Persian counterpart for those paragraphs of this Tablet translated by the Guardian. These passages constitute almost half of the Table. Then, translated passages were placed together in the same order as that appearing in the original Tablet. However, such paragraphs did not form a continuous text and presented many gaps in between these paragraphs which were to be filled by the author of this paper through the process of translation. Such task posed a challenge arising from the fact that the author's translation of the new passages required to be compatible with and conform to the style of the translation of the Guardian both in terms of the selection of words, and poetic expressions and sentence structure.

The outcome of this endeavour were to be a wholesome translated text of the entire Tablet which would ensure that any reader of this Tablet could not distinguish between the styles of the two translations; otherwise such a reader would be confronted with two different styles of translation which would keep switching back and forth, an exercise which would ultimately defeat the purpose of the translation. Of course, this requirement is not unique to this translation alone and may be present in cases where a significant part of a Tablet is translated by the Guardian. The author is confident that such objectives are achieved in this case and the outcome of the translation is a text which exhibits smooth transition from one paragraph to another as anyone reads through the Tablet. In this paper the historical background for, and the circumstances which lead to, the revelation of this Tablet is reviewed and some of the concepts which characterise this Tablet are discussed.


Review and Content Analysis of Aflakiyyih, `Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablet of the Universe, A

by Habib Riazati

Abdu'l-Bahá in the "Lawh-i-Aflákiyyih" translated as "Tablet of the Universe” describes different aspects of what he refers to as "the holy realities" and the reality as "established in both the hidden and manifest worlds", The realities that "capable neither of being defined by limits nor contained within the compass of signs and allusions"; He moreover, describes how through "the power of attraction and propagation," the existence has become manifested and been "set in order" and each and every being has "became the recipients and the manifestations of "the Divine conditions and Eternal signs. Emerging from behind the veils". He furthermore explains how natural "evolution" takes place within the realm of "creation". Lastly Abdu'l-Bahá touches on the various descriptions of the Universe as explained by Ptolemy and Al-Farabi.
[The original Tablet in Arabic is published in Makátib-i 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Vol. 1, pages 13-32. There is also a provisional translation of this Tablet that can be found at bahai-library.com/abdulbaha_lawh_aflakiyyih.]

To Study and to Teach: Twin Duties in service to the Cause of God

by Hooper Dunbar

Drawing from numerous examples from the Holy Texts, Shoghi Effendi singles out these two major obligations as ever incumbent upon the believers with respect to the propagation of the Cause. The presentation will draw attention to some of these vital sources from the Holy Writings, as well as to other references in the Guardian’s own correspondence bearing on the topic. The extracts help explore the wide spectrum of preparation versus inspiration, an ongoing challenge to the sincere believer. Consideration of the acceptability of matching our preparations to our given capacity. The question of expanded capacity by grace itself as a dimension of preparation. Suggested approaches and steps in the study of the Writings. The role of learning aspects not necessarily needed in an initial presentation of the Faith.

Universal Masculine and Feminine, The

by Farzam Majd

    Why did God create man first? Because She wanted to start with something simple.

Just because something sounds funny, doesn't mean it is not true. But the concepts of masculinity and femininity are not just related to men and women. Rather men and women are particular instances of these concepts. This latter statement has many important implications, the most important of which is that men and women and their sex-based characteristics are not mere artifacts of biology, evolution, or need for procreation.

Masculinity and femininity are defined in terms of characteristics that are found in live creatures as well as inanimate objects. These concepts are defined in terms of modes of actions or reactions or how they manifest themselves. In particular, whether such actions or reactions are concentrated or distributed. The masculine characteristic is related to concentration or focus, while the feminine characteristic is related to diffusion or distribution. Concentration and diffusion are basic and complementary traits of any system or process.

Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha, expound, in several tablets on the station of women and their place in human affairs, and that men and women are "co-equal" and "complement" each other. Abdu'l-Baha also explains that men are distinct from women because of the forceful nature of both their bodies and minds. The "forceful nature" is closely related to the masculine characteristics as defined in this paper.

These characteristics are applied to men and women at various levels of detail including sub-cellular, cellular, physiological, anatomical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral. At each level, the masculine and feminine traits manifest themselves in a complementary fashion, sometimes distinctly and sometimes more subtly. These differences are purposeful, not arbitrary. As it turns out, the masculine characteristics also tend to make men simpler or more straightforward in terms of their behaviors and interactions, as indicated by the opening remark above.

It follows that men and women are complementary at fundamental levels and as such, both are capable to perform any function but in different manners and with different emphasis. Such complementation does not confer privilege or priority on either sex. It provides the specializations necessary for collaboration and achievement. It further follows that although men and women are not the same in characteristics, but they are equal in the rights to exercise their characteristics freely.