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“Night Walk” Photograph copyright Frank Winters a Canon G9 image

Night Walk

Luke 17:20, 21:

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, the kingdom cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here, or lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

In the Baha’i writings the thirteenth Hidden Word says:

“O Son of Spirit!

I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal:

“The highest revelation is that God is in every man.”

And in his essay Nature he recounts a transcendental experience:

“Standing on the bare ground,–my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,–all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God”

I believe that these passages refer to the same truth. That God is within each of us and that by turning within we may find God.

The quote from Baha’ullah is particularly interesting. Taken as a whole it seems to recount humankind’s evolution and self invention through Nature and the acquisition of knowledge. Nature is the clay of love. The essence of knowledge refers to the source of mankind’s mental growth and spiritual evolution as well as the process of discovery through science and intuition.

The Lord’s prayer says “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…” Baha’is believe this refers to the time when Baha’ullah came to fulfill the prophecy. Many Christians believe this refers to a future time when Christ will return in the glory of the father and bring about the kingdom of God on earth.

But the kingdom of God is within you says Jesus. Baha’ullah says find Me within you. Emerson says he and all of us are the part and parcel of God.

That’s enough for me. The good news is that the kingdom can come for us in the here and now as can eternity, just as our daily bread comes. However, the kingdom is in the future for most of us because we have not achieved what Buddha called nirvana. But his views will wait for another time!

I am pleased to have reached this conclusion after thinking about these and other passages for months if not years. While I am open to finding a different meaning to them I find this understanding clear and helpful. Meditation will now be easier, I think.

A primary difficulty for me in accepting the Baha’i faith as the basis for belief is in the concept of the Covenant which says that God will send messengers every thousand years or so and humankind will accept and follow them. Baha’i believe that no direct contact with God is possible. All knowledge from God must come through a Manifestation, they believe — because that’s what Baha’ullah taught even though he also wrote the thirteenth Hidden Word.

Many Baha’is over the years have told me that they respect or are fond of Emerson yet he taught just the opposite from this fundamental (and somewhat fundamentalist) Baha’i belief. I think this is because Baha’i beliefs are inconsistent internally. Look at them or interpret them one way and they are aligned, for example, with Emerson. Take another look and they are not. But I imagine this is true of organized religion generally. (Of course I am not nearly knowledgeable enough to know if this is true.)

I’m interested in knowing what others think about this. What did Jesus mean? Are the passages above saying the same or similar things, or not? Do you feel that the Kingdom of God could possible be within you?


Gates

“The Gates” by Cristo in New York’s Central Park

Baha’ullah, like many religious leaders claimed to be infallible. What he meant by this is subject to debate but most people believe it means he could not make mistakes. Sen McGill, noted Baha’i scholar, wrote this about infallibility in an email to me:

“When a man has new ideas, you have to follow him when he defines his own terms. What did “evolution” mean before Darwin got hold of it?”

I told him that I struggle to understand what is new in Baha’i re: infallibility. The Christ of the gospels said something similar — “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father save through me” or words to that effect. And of course the Catholic church has had infallible Popes guiding their religion for centuries.

Darwin spent his life collecting, synthesizing, and explaining evolution which is based on evidence. Baha’ullah’s concept of infallibility uses a well known word to express something which Sen claims is quite different from the accepted definition. The notion of infallibility has been used for centuries to control people. If Bahai has a new concept of infallibility it once again got lost in translation.

In the same email discussion, Sen wrote this:

“Prophecy, in the biblical and Baha’i sense, is not about predicting
the future, but about pronouncing the will and judgment of God. A
really successful prophet is a failure at forecasting, because he
warns people where they are heading and gets them to change their
ways, in time.”

I wrote:

Sorry but I disagree. Prophecy is about many things. Predicting when the return will occur, when the next manifestation will show up, when the Most Great Peace will happen. Sometimes its a warning as in the old testament, sometimes its about predicting the future. The calamity that Bahaullah predicted is certainly of the kind you refer to. But this has given the Faith a cult like ethos when Bahaullah intended no such thing.

In the Iqan (The Book of Certitude) Baha’ullah writes at length about the return of the prophet and the return of the people who renounce him. He tells us to ponder why this keeps occurring. I have done so and have concluded that the religions of the Abraham and his successors while an important part of our history are inherently flawed. The once a millennium appearance of a messenger from God who speaks in metaphor and congers up beings that don’t exist and miracles that never happened leaves us to fend for ourselves while trying to find answers in scripture when we should be working out solutions for ourselves.

Scripture is no more true than poetry and poetry is often quite true. But with poetry we need to pick out the good and true from the bad and false. With scripture we are told its all true and then we spend our energies trying to see how that can possibly be.

Religion is often calcified truth. What we need now (and always needed I think) is the ability to draw on all available sources of inspiration, love and power to help us solve problems in the here and now.

Religion is one of those sources but heaven help you if its your only one!


Christian Science Center at Night

Photo: The Christian Science Center at Night — sorry I don’t have any photos of Bahai temples (all the photos on my blog are mine –just a habit I like to keep) But Abdul Baha really liked Christian Science — I’ll blog about that someday soon — so its ok.

I just received an email message from a Baha’i scholar — Sen McGlinn. He is very learned — a graduate student of religion who has written a book entitled “Church and State: A Postmodern Theology” that postulates that Bahaullah meant for church and state to be seaparate. He was kicked out of the Bahai Faith as thanks for his efforts, but that’s another story.

Here is what he wrote:

On 23 Oct 2007 at 19:24, Frank Winters wrote:

“Now — when a writer —  or Manifestation for that matter — uses the
term Most Great Infallibility, doesn’t that imply degrees? Most great,
somewhat great just plain great, not quite great and so on?”
Sen replies:

That’s exactly what Baha’u’llah says. Not just several degrees, but
also several different kinds:

Know thou that the term ‘Infallibility’ hath numerous meanings and
divers stations. In one sense it is applicable to the One Whom God
hath made immune from error. Similarly it is applied to every soul
whom God hath guarded against sin, transgression, rebellion, impiety,
disbelief and the like. However, the Most Great Infallibility is
confined to the One Whose station is immeasurably exalted beyond
ordinances or prohibitions …
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 108)

Sen

Here is my reply:

“Hi Sen,

Thanks.

The choice of the word infallible has to be unfortunate. If one leaves out the word and thinks about what Baha’ullah says then it is about being on the right path, I think. What might be a better word?

I tried inerrant but that means pretty much the same thing yet is has for me a connotation  of travel to a goal so maybe its closer. Protected from getting off the path — is there a word for that? Steadfast?

‘Sigh’ — its another test. This is my primary argument with God: why all the tests? People need help not @#$% tests. Plain, clear language not flowery prose that could at times mean anything! Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King — better leaders than Baha’ullah or so it seems.

In the days when salvation was about individuals, tests made more sense. Now its the existence of the species that is at stake. Why test all of us in this way?

I’ll tell you why — the entity we call God is not only unknowable it is unthinking in the way we think. Logic has no place there. And God must be indifferent to the question of future human existence. As Baha’ullah says nothing we do has any effect on God whatsoever.

And …. wouldn’t it be great if, as Baha’ullah said, the books really were opened? Religion is still mumbo-jumbo to most people, even in the Baha’i era — if there is such a thing as that.

Cheers,
Frank”

Well that’s the latest.

I’d like to get some comments on these posts — a number of people have been reading my first post about Baha’ullah — ‘seekers?’ Baha’is? Speak up — what do you think? I will not be hurt or offended if you say you are offended — just don’t tell me to shut up because after all its a free world, isn’t it?

Peace,

Frank


Provincetown Dawn

(Photo title: Provincetown Dawn © Frank Winters)

Baha’is believe Baha’ullah was and is infallible. John Hatcher, a well-know Baha’i writes about another infallible body — The Baha’i Universal House of Justice — in the October 16th edition of American Baha’i.

** Note: Baha’ullah was the Prophet/Founder of the Baha’i Faith **

Here’s my post on the subject submitted to the Baha’i discussion group Talisman9 (I am suspicious of any claims to infallibility but Most Great always gets my attention.)

John Hatcher’s Commentary in The American Bahai

I have been told that Mr. Hatcher is an intelligent man. I have not
read anything by him until now but judging from his article that
appears in the October 16th edition of The American Baha’i “Letters
from God to our generation” he writes clearly and well.

But there is what I see as a glaring break down in logic in the
article that calls his thinking into question.

He writes:

“Infallibility does not admit degrees. That is, a statement or advice
is either infallible or not. Thus in this dispensation, only
Baha’ullah as a Manifestation partakes of the “Most Great
Infallibility”; only he is inherently infallible. The infallibility of
guidance from Abdul-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of
Justice is conferred and derives from Baha’ullah.”

He then makes a case for following the UHJ as if they were sending the
world infallible letters from God.

Now — when a writer — or Manifestation for that matter — uses the
term Most Great Infallibility, doesn’t that imply degrees? Most great,
somewhat great just plain great, not quite great and so on?

I think Hatcher’s advice to the Baha’is is good as long as you want to
be in a Faith that brooks no discussion or difference of opinion about
the important questions in life. But his apparently oxymoronic logical
structure seems a direct result of the twisted logic one needs in
order to accept all of Baha’i as it is articulated officially today.

What do others think? Have I missed the point? Am I confused? Or what?

Thanks,
Frank


Gandhi

(Photo of Gandhi statue in New York’s Union Square)

Faith is defined in many ways but Gandhi put it this way:

“Faith is putting your foot on the first rung of a ladder when you don’t know where it leads.”

I think belief requires more evidence. It requires knowledge, whereas faith results from the sum of many things — emotion, experience, gut feel, desire, hope — adding up to a decision to put your foot on that rung of that particular ladder.

Belief is somewhere between knowledge and faith. Yet Abdul Baha (son of Baha’ullah, founder of the Baha’i faith) said that

“Faith is conscious knowledge.”

Knowledge to belief to Faith? Does it work that way? Or must faith be a leap?

I think we require all three to live a happy, useful life. Some people focus on one or another. Intellectuals want knowledge so they can formulate beliefs. Religious people tend to have faith — sometimes for reasons they can’t articulate. Many of us have weakly defined beliefs that may inform decisions such as who to vote for but often beliefs, by themselves don’t result in action.

If you believe in God do you act as if you had faith in God? Do you really trust in God? You know God — the creator of heaven and earth who we can’t see, never meet and who seems indifferent to human suffering. Or do you define God differently? Do you have knowledge of God if you believe in God? If so how have you achieved this?

(To help answer this question, I recommend Tolstoy’s book “The Kingdom of God is Within You.” It will test your understanding of belief and faith in God.)

The longer I live the more I have faith in people. Emerson wrote that God was an Over-Soul — near as I can tell this is a collective made up of the souls of all people. To me this is another way of saying that man created God, but not as a fiction.

I am starting to believe this but don’t yet have faith in it because I don’t have enough knowledge.

Know what I mean?


New York Skyline 1987

Is it stupidity or is depravity our enemy?

No, I think our deep seated enemy is our own stupidity. Our lack of ability to think clearly in the face of a world that is so much more complex than ever before because now we are forced to live together.

Today belief systems and ways of life that hold martyrdom as one of the highest achievements no longer effect just the followers — they effect us all. Just as belief systems that completely outlaw sex tend toward human extinction, beliefs that include a love of martyrdom lead to death and depravity. Those who follow them may not necessarily be stupid but they tend to behave in a less than intelligent manner. A hallmark of intelligence in a species is the ability to adopt to changes for the purpose of survival. As a species we are not doing that very well these days.

Intentional death and suffering in the form or war or terror — in today’s world — are always the result of poor choices and brutal thinking. When we do it and when Islamic extremists do it.

Our shock and awe in Iraq was a terrorist tactic in retaliation for terror that was brought about by people other than the Iraqis. The terrorists that attacked us on 9/11 did so (as far as we know) in the name of God. That’s not just gosh awful and murderous, its absurd and stupid behavior. But so is our behavior in Iraq.

At the start of the war we used ‘shock and awe’ to stun the Iraqi nation and bring it to its knees. Can anyone tell me that this was not terror?

Governance and daily life is more complicated now than ever in history. We must evolve — become a more thoughtful, kind and intelligent species or we will cease to exist.

And to those who might tell me about the coming of God in some shape or form — The World Order of Baha’ullah and the rapture included — save your ink. It will not work. In fact that line of thought will lead as it always has to more martyrs and more death in the name of God.

As Christ is reported to have said: “The Kingdom Of God is within you.” If it exists or has a chance of existing it must be found within the human heart, which modern brain science is finding is a function of the brain.

Look now into your heart. If you do not live a thoughtful life, if you do not measure your impact on earth everyday, you are contributing to the stupidity of the human race. It is stupidity that will get us at last, and soon unless we wise up.


Clouds

I have long admired a song lyric by Van Morrision:

I Forgot That Love Existed
I forgot that love existed troubled in my mind.
Heartache after heartache, worried all the time.
I forgot that love existed
Then I saw the light
Everyone around me make everything alright.
Oh, oh Socrates and Plato they
Praised it to the skies.
Anyone who’s ever loved
Everyone who’s ever tried.

If my heart could do my thinking
And my head begin to feel
I would look upon the world anew
And know what’s truly real

Simple but effective methinks.

I just heard about Joseph Chilton Pearce who writes books like “The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Pearce believes that the brain is assisted by the heart in its function. That one of the centers of brain activity is the heart. I haven’t read the book but will. Thanks to Brian Taraz of the Talisman9 Bahai discussion group for letting us know about Pearce and his book.

I have felt the power of a heart full of the Holy Spirit — years ago
I was hugged by Mr. Khadem, a Bahai Holy Man (I was 18 or 19 at the time) when we ran into each other unexpectedly — I was friendly with his sons over a summer at Greenacre Bahai school so he was glad to see me.

When he hugged me I felt a very powerful charge of energy — like an electric shock w/o the pain. The surge of energy felt like it came from his heart.

Marzieh Gail, a Baha writer and also a very devout Baha’i person used to speak about the power of love. She would open her arms and face someone and say ‘feel it?’ And the other person would feel a jolt of something strong yet gentle.

But I have wondered about the meaning of this power. I attended a meeting a number of years ago and the speaker was a self absorbed self proclaimed motivational type that I didn’t respect. He was selling himself as a problem solver in a manner much like snake oil salesmen of legend. But…..I felt the same power from 20 feet away.

So… I think this is what Baha’ullah, the prophet of the Bahai Faith, refers to when we he says we have access to a power that if turned to good intentions is good — bad intentions — is bad. Its just that — another human capability that we can use. But this one is apparently just being discovered by science.

I think this power of the heart is one of the most misused of them all. Demagogue’s and evangelists use it as do prophets and true healers. It means we need to be careful. If we let our heart do our thinking we need to keep an eye on ourselves and check any decisions made in that state — with our brain/mind.

Some thinkers are saying that there is no mind — only brain and the other systems that support it — heart and metabolism, breath and circulation. But the ‘only’ here is missing the point. Brain, heart, body, experience etc, etc, — these make up the mind/soul. That’s clear to me anyway. The question then is not does the soul exist — of course it does — its the human spirit that differentiates us from the animals who share the animal spirit with us. For me the only meaningful question re: the soul is — is the soul immortal.

I think the only answer that makes any sense is something between ‘I don’t know’ and ‘maybe.’ We know we are alive now in this moment; we don’t know what the next moment will bring. Do we?


Dandelion

Is faith a belief in something inexplicable? Or a conviction based on knowledge?

The Bahai writings call faith ‘conscious knowledge’ followed up with goodly deeds. How such knowledge gets into ones consciousness is an important question. The Bahai teachings do involve acceptance of some things as fact that can’t be easily proven. Like most religions Bahai has its dogma. But not quite on the level of, say Christianity that usually (depending on the sect) requires belief in the miracles of virgin birth and resurrection, for starters. In Bahai the dogma that stands out for me is the requirement to believe that the Faith’s founder — Bahaullah — was the perfect mirror of all the perfections of God, that he was infallible, was always in touch with God and that meeting him was the same as meeting God. Quite a bit of faith/knowledge is required to have this much faith.

So whether it’s resurrection or infallibility, faith for most people requires a ‘leap.’

But must Faith always involve a leap? Emerson wrote that he believed in miracles because he could move his arm. To him everyday living was a miracle. Emerson didn’t believe in the miracles of the Bible but did think that every breath was a miracle — he had faith in life.

Religion usually requires faith of it believers. In fact belief in religion is synonymous with faith in most respects.

I’ve been learning about the Unitarian/Universalism religion and so far have learned that while the followers of this religion may have differing views from each other, many believe as Emerson did that the true miracles are the ones that occur each day in everyone’s life.

I think this is a helpful idea — one worth meditating on. It proves itself everyday and doesn’t cause anyone to suspend rational thinking. Yet its transcendent and uplifting.

The book that Reverend Cindy (of Westford’s First Parish Church) loaned me to read — “A Chosen Faith” by John Buehrens and Forrest Church — refers to Pascal’s wager regarding religion. Its a wager I’ve thought a lot about. Its mentioned in the Bahai writings (without referencing Pascal if I remember correctly) that I was brought up reading — and the idea has been stuck inside me for 50 years now.

Pascal said — look — why not believe in God and a life after death — be one of the faithful. If you are wrong when you die you’ve lost nothing — you simply turn to dust like everyone else. But if you are correct you reap the rewards of the faithful.

Who wouldn’t accept a bet where you have nothing to lose and everything to gain — just by professing a little faith.

The rub here is that this doesn’t seem to be how faith works. Professing belief and really having faith must be too different things. Rather that hedging one’s bets why not start with the miracle of the present moment and work from there?

Joseph Campbell said years ago that “eternity has nothing to do with time.” And I think faith has nothing to do with leaps or hedging one’s bets. I think it has much more to do with the quality of our moment in time.

What do you think faith is? I’d love to hear from you on the subject!

P.S. I forgot to mention something I feel is important — Gandhi described faith as putting one’s foot on the first rung of a ladder when you don’t know where it is leading. It seems to me that this definition of faith applies to faith of many kinds — and to the human condition — most of us travel on a journey unsure of where it is leading. Is that true of you?


Trail Marker

Photo: Trail Marker

Many times I ask myself “so — what is the meaning of life?”

This puts me in good company because many of the great thinkers believe that the question of meaning or purpose is the most important one. But its also a question that makes people wince and cringe. Isn’t it pretentious? Aren’t we just trying to impress when we pose this question? In my case – no — I’m really interested. What about you?

Some religions teach that the meaning of life, in part, is to know and love God (Catholic, Bahai). In fact Bahai’s are taught that God is the “unknowable essence” so to them the meaning of life is to know the unknowable.

Many great people believe that service to humanity is the purpose of existence. Emerson taught that each of us is part of what he called the Over-Soul. It is our job, he implied, to be a member in good standing of the Over-Soul.

Emerson also wrote that everything in Nature is a reflection of a truth that is more substantial than the physical reality of Nature itself. Thoreau was most at peace and at home in Nature, preferably by himself. Bahaullah, the founder of the Bahai faith, taught that the physical world is a reflection of what he called “the world of reality.” True meaning lies in that world, not this physical one.

Maybe the question “what is the meaning of life’ is too big and clumsy. A more managable one might be “where is meaning in life?” Does Nature provide inspiration and lead to some kind of meaning or is it just there? Or is it in people and our relationship with them that we should seek inspiration?

Where is meaning in your life? Do you think in such abstract terms? Do you think it is helpful to do so? Or is asking such a lofty question just thinking too much? Or is not asking it living ‘the unexamined life?’

What do you think?

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