Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #72 (English)

Louhelen Bahá'í School: Davison, Michigan USA

October 6–9, 2006.

Theme: "Bahá'í Belief System: Conceptual Analysis and Practical Applications"


Baha'i Writings and Buddhism: An Ontological Rapprochement

by Ian Kluge

Bahá'u'lláh teaches the essential oneness of all religions revealed by divinely sent Manifestations, one of Whom is the Buddha. This paper seeks to provide detailed illustrations of these teachings by showing that two different and apparently incompatible religions - the Bahá'í Faith and Buddhism - share fundamental ontological principles. In other words, implicitly and/or explicitly, their analyses of reality and what it means 'to be' are, outward appearances notwithstanding, largely compatible. This means that the Bahá'í Writings converge with and can accommodate the major areas of ontological concern in the various forms of Buddhism: anicca (impermanence), dharma, dependent origination, anatman (no-self), causality, emptiness, non-theism, nirvana and samsara and the nature of the Buddha. The paper provides copious references to the Bahá'í Writings, Buddhist sutras, and works by well-established scholars and writers about Buddhism.

Click here to read this paper online.

Baron Rosen's archives in the Russian Academy of Sciences

by Youli Ioannesyan

Baron V. R. Rosen after his death left behind a vast collection of unpublished materials which among other things are of extreme value for the study of the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths as well as for research on the Bábí and Bahá'í studies in Europe especially for those interested in having an historical perspective. These materials are preserved in the Archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, Russia. They comprise Rosen's correspondence with A. G. Tumanski, E. G. Browne (the larger part of the collection), Y. Batyushkov, academic Oldenburg, V. I. Ignatyev, Sebastyan Vuarot, I. Kheyrullah.

Of special importance are manuscripts (and copies of manuscripts), official reports of Russian diplomats from Persia on the Bábís and reports from Adrianople on the Bábís residing there at the same time when Bahá'u'lláh was exiled in Adrianople.

It would be relevant to say a few words about the key figures featuring in the given collection of materials.

Baron Victor Romanovich Rosen was an academic, professor of Arabic, founder of the Russian Geographical Society, and the translator of several Bahá'í Writings into Russian. He prepared for publication in the original Arabic and Persian a volume of Epistles by Bahá'u'lláh and left profound descriptions of many Bábí and Bahá'í manuscripts which now belong to the manuscript collection of the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Rosen also properly identified some important Epistles such as the Suriy-i-Muluk (The Surih of the Kings) as revealed by Bahá'u'lláh. He encouraged his students A. G. Tumanski and others to collect and study materials related to the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths.

Also Published in Persian.

Click here to read this paper online.

Birth and Early Development of Spiritual Assemblies in North America: A Study in the Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha

by Robert Stockman

The development of spiritual assemblies in North America started in 1899, just a few years after the same process was initiated in Iran. The early American Bahá'ís based their organization on four sources: (1) the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, which was available in crude English translation by 1900; (2) Tablets from `Abdu'l-Bahá; (3) organizational principles that were standard in American culture; and (4) advise from Persian teachers, some of whom probably represented oral instructions from `Abdu'l-Bahá. `Abdu'l-Bahá's policy in the period up to 1912 appears to have been highly flexible, giving the Americans broad leeway on such matters as sizes of governing bodies, the frequency of their election, and the way they were elected and organized. As a result, they drew on and creatively combined the other three sources of guidance, and elements of their synthesis eventually found their way into the administrative order shaped by Shoghi Effendi. `Abdu'l-Bahá's several dozen Tablets to Americans, because they are easily accessible, and are usually dated, provide extensive information about His approach to organization in this period.

"Dispensation of Baha'u'llah" in the Light of Prevailing Conditions

by Sima Quddusi

From 1926-1936, the beloved Guardian addressed seven messages to the Bahá'ís of the West. These messages have been compiled and published under the title of "The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh." One of these letters is named 'The Dispensation of Baha'u'llah'. It was written 72 years ago addressing the Bahá'ís of the West and is our main focus for this session.

In this epistle regarded as his will and testament, the beloved Guardian says: "My chief concern at this challenging period of Bahá'í history is rather to call the attention of those who are destined to be the champion builders of the Administrative Order of Bahá'u'lláh to certain fundamental verities the elucidation of which must tremendously assist them in the effective prosecution of their mighty enterprise."

Although in this letter the Guardian mainly focuses on the interpretation of the fundamental verities of the Faith, it remains an important living document containing guidance that will remain relevant throughout the Bahá'í Dispensation. In the concluding pages of this epistle the Guardian correlates the happenings and events within and without the Faith as a necessary supplement for the rise and establishment of Bahá'u'lláh's World Order: "Might we not look upon the momentous happenings which, in the course of the past twenty years, have so deeply agitated every continent of the earth, as ominous signs simultaneously proclaiming the agonies of a disintegrating civilization and the birth-pangs of that World Order — that Ark of human salvation — that must needs arise upon its ruins?"

In this presentation we briefly touch on the historical background of that challenging period of the Faith during a 20-year period from 1914-1934, and then concentrate on the ongoing processes of integration and disintegration to which Shoghi Effendi refers: "How striking, how edifying the contrast between the process of slow and steady consolidation that characterizes the growth of [the Bahá'í Administration's] infant strength and the devastating onrush of the forces of disintegration that are assailing the outworn institutions, both religious and secular, of present-day society!" We end by outlining the duties of the people of Bahá in the spiritual organization of the world.


From the Surat al-mulk to the Surat al-muluk, Part 1: Kingship and Religious Authority in Two Babi-Bahai Texts

by S. Quinn

See also Part 2 and Part 3.

The opening chapter of the Bab's Qayyum al-asma' (early 1844), one of his earliest writings, is known as the Surat al-mulk, or the Surah of the Dominion. In this weighty text, the Bab addresses kings in general, the reigning Persian Qajar monarch Muhammad Shah specifically, and Muhammad Shah's vizier, Hajji Mirza Aqasi. The Bab outlines in the expectations that he has from the kings of the world. He calls on them to render his cause victorious, and to come to his assistance in various ways, both through military means and through the diffusion of his writings.

Approximately twenty-three years after the Bab wrote the Qayyum al-asma, in Sept./Oct. 1867, Baha'u'llah authored the Surat al-muluk, or Surah of the kings. Like the Bab, Baha'u'llah similarly addressed the kings of the world, and made specific demands on them. Since Baha'u'llah himself alludes to the Qayyum al-asma in this Tablet, and since both texts address kings, this pair of writings are especially suitable for a comparative analysis. The purpose of this paper will be to compare and contrast the Surat al-mulk and the Surat al-muluk. Among the questions that the paper will attempt to address are the following: What are the similarities and differences between the two texts in terms of notions of kingship expressed therein? What is the relationship between the authors-revealers of these writings and kings? To what extent does historical context help explain the differences? How do the tables compare in terms of structure, literary style, and other textual features? The paper will close with some tentative conclusions about kingship and religious authority.
Click here to read this paper online.

Grandeur of Islam and the Magnificence of the Qur'an, The: The Bab's Dala'il-i Sab`ah (Seven Proofs and the Baha'u'llah's Kitab-i iqan (Book of Certitude)

by Stephen Lambden

With the now widespread negative attitudes towards the Islamic religion and its founder Prophet Muhammad (d. 632 CE), it is fitting that Bahá'ís remind themselves of the grandeur of Islam and the magnificence of the Qur'án. They have the duty of proclaiming the truth of Islam and its Prophet communicator of the Arabic Qur'án. Bábí-Bahá'í sacred writings celebrate the greatness of Islam and the exalted position of Muhammad -- may the peace and blessings of God be upon him and his family! Both the Báb (d. 1850 CE) and Bahá'u'lláh (d. 1892 CE), the 19th century founders of two recent, closely religions were born Muslims in an Islamic society. They spoke Persian, a key language of Islamic civilization, and wrote thousands of scriptural verses in Arabic, the language of the Qur'án and most important Islamic language. In this presentation key Islamic dimensions of the Dalā'il-i Sab`ah (Seven Proofs) of the Báb and of the Kitáb-i Íqán (Book of Certitude) of Bahá'u'lláh will be highlighted and analyzed. The nature and history of certain of the Qur'ánic verses and Islamic traditions cited in these works will be sketched as will aspects of the often non-literal, hermeneutical orientation of their exegesis. Both the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh claimed to communicate deeper dimensions of Islamic truth and history.

Presence of the Heroic in the Writings of Shoghi Effendi and Nabil, The

by Jack McLean

In his main historical works, God Passes By and The Promised Day Is Come, and unlike detached, "objective" academic histories, Shoghi Effendi made strong moral judgments of the characters he portrayed. Those who opposed the Bahá'í Faith and persecuted its founders are strongly condemned. Kings, prime ministers, courtiers, state officials and clerics are often his villains. On the other hand, the Báb and His early followers, the Letters of the Living (Hurúf-i-Hayy), His "apostolic order," who lived in the first and second periods of the early Bahá'í Era (1844-1892), are depicted as extraordinary divine heroes and heroines.

To capture the early days of the Bábí-Bahá'í Faith, Shoghi Effendi closely followed the history of the ardent apostle of Bahá'u'lláh, poet-historian Nabíl—i-A'zam. It was Nabíl who first treated the religion's early figures as divine heroes and heroines. Like Nabíl, Shoghi Effendi wove into the historical record strong dramatic, literary, moral and theological elements.

Postmodernity's deep scepticism has all but rejected the heroic as an outmoded, quaint, even discredited model of human behaviour. Ours is the age of the anti-hero. However, the heroic remains key to Shoghi Effendi's and Nabíl's historical and spiritual vision, and will long remain associated with the Heroic Age of the Bahá'í Faith (1844-1821), and to students of early Bahá'í history and sacred literature. But heroism is also central to Shoghi Effendi's understanding of contemporary Bahá'í spirituality with its precepts of struggle, striving and sacrifice. This understanding of spirituality as another order of heroism, while it demands a different form of practice, connects present day Bahá'í spirituality to that of the Bahá'í Faith's spiritual ancestors.

This paper explores the heroic motif or character-type through a theological and literary framework that compares and contrasts Shoghi Effendi's and Nabíl's concept of the heroic to Thomas Carlyle's concept of the prophet as hero and to selected features of the nineteenth century's morally ambiguous romantic hero. In Shoghi Effendi's and Nabíl's portrayals of the history of the Báb, and the Letters of the Living, the normally incompatible elements of myth (sacred story), and historical realism converge.
Click here to read this paper online.

Some Aspects of the Shi`i-Shaykhí Universe and of the Persian and Arabic Writings of Sayyid Kázim al-Husayní al-Rashtí

by Stephen Lambden

"Within the bosom of Islam (sadr al-islám) many were submerged in the ocean of idle fancies and vain imaginings. Subsequent to the Seal of the Prophets (khátam-i anbiyá') [= Muhammad] and to the purified [Twelver] Imams (a'imih-yi táhirín) two souls attained unto the reality of Truth (bi-haqq) and were embellished with the ornament of awareness (bi-taráz-i agáhí), the late Shaykh [Ahmad al-Ahsá'í] and Sayyid [Kázim Rashtí] upon the both of them be the Glory of God, the All-Glorious (bahá' Alláh al-abhá')... We [= Baha'u'llah] took refuge with these two [Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kázim] and heard from these twain what hath not been realized by any except God, the Knowing, the Discerning..." (Tablet cited in Ma'idih 4:134-5)

As the above extract from an important Tablet of Bahá'u'lláh (d. Acre, 1892, the founder of the Baha'i religion) indicates, the Persian born Sayyid Kázim al-Husayní al-Rashtí (d. 1243/1843) was a figure of the greatest importance. His many Arabic and Persian writings, however, remain almost completely unknown, untranslated and unstudied by modern Baha'is. Sayyid Kázim was the most important and learned among the thousands of Persian followers of the Arab-born Shaykh Ahmad ibn Zayn al-Dín al-Ahsá'í (d. Medina, 1826), the founder of al-Shaykhiyya, the Shaykhí ("Shaykh [Ahmad] centered") school of Shí`í Islam who was referred to by Bahá'u'lláh in his Lawh-i Qiná' (Tablet of the Veil) as "the most glorious, most gracious Shaykh who was manifested as the very Lamp of Knowledge (siráj al-`ilm) throughout all the worlds". Shaykh Ahmad and his successor Sayyid Kázim are regarded by Bahá'ís as two spiritually luminous figures within the history of Islam and two heralds of the Babi-Baha'i religions.

Before he commenced his prophetic mission in mid 1844 CE Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazí, the Báb, for several months occasionally attended the learned discourses of the second Shaykhí leader Sayyid Kazim Rashti in Iraq. In his very early Risála fi'l-suluk (Treatise on the Pathway to God) the Báb refers to Sayyid Kázim in the following manner, "Thus wrote my Lord (sayyidí), my firm support (mu`tammadí) and My teacher (mu`allimí), al-Hajji Sayyid Kázim Rashtí, may God extend his specified eternality".

In his Persian Dalá'il-i Sab`ah (Seven Proofs) the Báb not only refers to the learned of the Shaykhiyya -- the Shaykh Ahmad followers -- after Shaykh Ahmad but also to the Siyyidiyya after Sayyid Kázim.!

In this paper something of the position of Sayyid Kázim Rashtí within Middle Eastern society and Persian Qajar Shi`ism will be presented as will the nature of his elevated position celebrated within the Babi-Baha'i sacred scriptural writings. Something of the range and nature of his many writings will be presented with special reference to his Tafsir Ayat al-Kursí (Commentary on the Throne Verse, Q. 2:254), Dalíl al-Mutahayyirín ("The Proof regarding Matters Perplexing"), Sharh al-Qasída al-Lámiyya (Commentary on the Ode rhyming in the letter "L") and Sharh al-Kutba al-Tutunjiyya ("Commentary upon Sermon of the Gulf").

Super Babies: The Prophets of God

by Taeed Quddusi

Details of the early lives of the Messengers of God are sparse at best. Nevertheless, a common thread in religious scripture seems to be that the Divine Physicians showed remarkable talents even as young children. At the same time, we have many accounts where an admittedly talented but otherwise 'regular' person is suddenly 'chosen' to become a mediator between God and man. Moses heard the voice of God through the burning bush and learned of His Mission to lead the Jews to freedom. While being baptized, Jesus saw the Holy Ghost come down in the form of a dove, and the heaven was opened and the voice of God came out. On Mt. Hírah, the angel Gabriel appeared to the illiterate Muhammad and told Him to recite. Bahá'u'lláh was "but a man like unto others" asleep on His couch, when the Holy Spirit in the form of a maiden appeared to Him in the Siyáh-Chál and taught Him the knowledge of all that hath been. This apparent paradox between the childhoods of the Prophets and the dramatic episodes where They received Their respective Revelations will be reconciled in light of the coming of age of mankind, an idea that "constitutes the central core of the Bahá'í Teachings, and is the most distinguishing feature of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh." References made by the prophets "to Paradise, to hell fire, to future reward and punishment" will also be explored in the same vein.


Tabernacle of Unity: A Book Review

by Bijan Bayzaee

The purpose of this presentation is to familiarize the audience with the background and contents of a collection of five Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh that is being recently translated and published by the Universal House of justice, entitled The Tabernacle of Unity. The sub-title indicates that this book consists of "Bahá'u'lláh's Response to Mánikchí Sáhib", plus three other Tablets.

It is hoped that this presentation would entice the audience to study these five Tablets in the light of the specific title that the Bahá'í World Center has chosen for this collection. These five tablets were revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in response to the questions raised by certain Zoroastrians in Persia and India, that "are presented ... for the first time in full authorized translations..." (Introduction, P. i)

These Tablets contain specific questions asked of Bahá'u'lláh to which He has given specific answers. Bahá'u'lláh's intention to reveal these Tablets in a language that is predominantly in pure Persian -- rather than a mixture of Arabic and Persian words which is the ordinary style in Persian literature and in the majority of the revealed Writings of Bahá'u'lláh -- makes them quite outstanding. These and other similar Tablets in pure Persian number to at least twenty eight.

The choice of the title -- The Tabernacle of Unity -- by the Universal House of justice will also be addressed in this presentation, as well as the sections of these tablets that were translated and published by the beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, well over sixty years ago.

Taking the Metaphors in the Bahá'í Writings to Heart

by Keyvan Geula

The presentation will examine the significance and the role of metaphors, stories, parables and art in human transformation and happiness from a religious as well as scientific and psychotherapeutic perspective. References from the Bahá'í Writings will be used in an experiential exercise to deepen one's understanding and integration of the role of metaphor, its emotional, and transformational charge in the process of spiritual connection and transformation. 'Abdu'l-Bahá teaches us that 'For every thing, however, God has created a sign and symbol, and has established standards and tests by which it may be known. ...Divine Things are too deep to be expressed by common words. The heavenly teachings are expressed in parable in order to be understood and preserved for ages to come. When the spiritually-minded dive deeply into the ocean of their meaning they bring to the surface the pearls of their significance. There is no greater pleasure than to study God's Word with a spiritual mind.' On the other hand scientists in the filed of psychotherapy and human behavior attest that 'The logic of emotional mind is associative; it takes elements that symbolize a reality, or trigger a memory of it, to be the same as that reality. This is why similes, metaphors, and images speak directly to the emotional mind, as do the arts -- novels, films, poetry, song, theatre, opera. Science acknowledges the power of metaphors and parables in relation to the transforming powers of religion and religious teachings.

Science suggests that great spiritual teachers, like Buddha and Jesus, have touched their disciples' hearts by speaking in the language of emotions, teaching in parables, fables, and stories and that religious and ritual makes little sense from the rational point of view; and it is couched in the vernacular of the heart. What something reminds us of can be far more important than what it "is." The emotional brain is highly attuned to symbolic meanings and to ...the messages of metaphor, story, myth, the arts. The power of Metaphor, parables and stories is in enabling the mind to transcend normal dualistic modes of thought. Right and wrong, black and white, lion and lamb will be able to fuse into a one single reality. The powers of metaphor enable the mind to reach past itself for solution and the search ushers the seeker to enlightenment. Enlightenment being a quality of the soul is available to all human beings and teachings of the religion of God a most powerful tool to achieve it.

Symbols are powerful because they are numinous in that they evoke an emotional response, a sense of awe and inspiration, in us. Psychotherapy identifies three basic modes of "knowing" the rational, the empirical and metaphorical and acknowledges that both rational thinking process and empirical sensory process may be expanded and even superseded by the metaphorical mode. 'Abdu'l-Bahá explains that "The sense of sight in man is a physical virtue; but insight, the power of inner perception, is ideal in its nature." He outlines the process of transformation which must ultimately lead to behavioral and character change. He refers to this process as "The centering of the spiritual consciousness on the prophets of God" and says "Therefore you should study the spiritual Teachings, and receive the water of Life from the Holy Utterances. Then by translating these ideals into action, your entire character will be changed, and your mind will not only find peace, but your entire being will find joy and enthusiasm."