Taking the Metaphors in the Bahá'í Writings to Heart

By Keyvan Geula

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #67
Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, California, USA
May 25–29, 2006
(see list of papers from #67)

Next presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #72
Louhelen Bahá'í School: Davison, Michigan, USA
October 6–9, 2006
(see list of papers from #72)

    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."

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