Some Answered Questions


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1 You have asked about strikes. Great difficulties have arisen and will continue to arise from this issue. The origin of these difficulties is twofold: One is the excessive greed and rapacity of the factory owners, and the other is the gratuitous demands, the greed, and the intransigence of the workers. One must therefore seek to address both.

2 Now, the root cause of these difficulties lies in the law of nature that governs present-day civilization, for it results in a handful of people accumulating vast fortunes that far exceed their needs, while the greater number remain naked, destitute, and helpless. This is at once contrary to justice, to humanity, and to fairness; it is the very height of inequity and runs counter to the good-pleasure of the All-Merciful.

3 This disparity is confined to the human race: Among other creatures, that is, among the animals, a certain kind of justice and equality prevails. Thus there is equality within a shepherd’s flock, or within a herd of deer in the wilderness, or among the songbirds that dwell in the mountains, plains, and orchards. The animals of every species enjoy a measure of equality and do not differ greatly from one another in their means of existence, and thus they live in perfect peace and joy.

4 It is quite otherwise with the human race, where the greatest oppression and injustice are to be found. Thus you can observe, on the one hand, a single person who has amassed a fortune, made an entire country his personal colony, acquired immense wealth, and secured an unceasing flow of gains and profits, and, on the other, a hundred thousand helpless souls—weak, powerless, and wanting even a mouthful of bread. There is neither equality here nor benevolence. Observe how, as a result, general peace and happiness have become so wanting, and the welfare of humanity so undermined, that the lives of a vast multitude have been rendered fruitless! For all the wealth, power, commerce, and industry are concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, while all others toil under the burden of endless hardships and difficulties, are bereft of advantages and benefits, and remain deprived of comfort and peace. One must therefore enact such laws and regulations as will moderate the excessive fortunes of the few and meet the basic needs of the myriad millions of the poor, that a degree of moderation may be achieved.

5 However, absolute equality is just as untenable, for complete equality in wealth, power, commerce, agriculture, and industry would result in chaos and disorder, disrupt livelihoods, provoke universal discontent, and undermine the orderly conduct of the affairs of the community. For unjustified equality is also fraught with peril. It is preferable, then, that some measure of moderation be achieved, and by moderation is meant the enactment of such laws and regulations as would prevent the unwarranted concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and satisfy the essential needs of the many. For instance, the factory owners reap a fortune every day, but the wage the poor workers are paid cannot even meet their daily needs: This is most unfair, and assuredly no just man can accept it. Therefore, laws and regulations should be enacted which would grant the workers both a daily wage and a share in a fourth or fifth of the profits of the factory in accordance with its means, or which would have the workers equitably share in some other way in the profits with the owners. For the capital and the management come from the latter and the toil and labour from the former. The workers could either be granted a wage that adequately meets their daily needs, as well as a right to a share in the revenues of the factory when they are injured, incapacitated, or unable to work, or else a wage could be set that allows the workers to both satisfy their daily needs and save a little for times of weakness and incapacity.

6 If matters were so arranged, neither would the factory owners amass each day a fortune which is absolutely of no use to them—for should one’s fortune increase beyond measure, one would come under a most heavy burden, become subject to exceeding hardships and troubles, and find the administration of such an excessive fortune to be most difficult and to exhaust one’s natural powers—nor would the workers endure such toil and hardship as to become incapacitated and to fall victim, at the end of their lives, to the direst need.

7 It is therefore clearly established that the appropriation of excessive wealth by a few individuals, notwithstanding the needs of the masses, is unfair and unjust, and that, conversely, absolute equality would also disrupt the existence, welfare, comfort, peace, and orderly life of the human race. Such being the case, the best course is therefore to seek moderation, which is for the wealthy to recognize the advantages of moderation in the acquisition of profits and to show regard for the welfare of the poor and the needy, that is, to fix a daily wage for the workers and also to allot them a share of the total profits of the factory.

8 In brief, insofar as the mutual rights of the factory owners and the workers are concerned, laws must be enacted that would enable the former to make reasonable profits and the latter to be provided with their present necessities and their future needs, so that if they become incapacitated, grow old, or die and leave behind small children, they or their children will not be overcome by dire poverty but will receive a modest pension from the revenues of the factory itself.

9 For their part, the workers should not make excessive demands, be recalcitrant, ask for more than they deserve, or go on strike. They should obey and comply and make no demands for exorbitant wages. Rather, the mutual and equitable rights of both parties should be officially fixed and established according to the laws of justice and compassion, and any party that violates them should be condemned after a fair hearing and be subject to a definitive verdict enforced by the executive branch, so that all affairs may be appropriately ordered and all problems adequately resolved.

10 The intervention of the government and the courts in the problems arising between owners and workers is fully warranted, since these are not such particular matters as are ordinary transactions between two individuals, which do not concern the public and in which the government should have no right to interfere. For problems between owners and workers, though they may appear to be a private matter, are detrimental to the common good, since the commercial, industrial, and agricultural affairs, and even the general business of the nation, are all intimately linked together: An impairment to one is a loss to all. And since the problems between owners and workers are detrimental to the common good, the government and the courts have therefore the right to intervene.

11 Even in the case of differences that arise between two individuals with regard to particular rights, a third party, namely the government, is needed to resolve the dispute. How, then, can the problem of strikes, which entirely disrupt the country—whether they arise from the inordinate demands of the workers or the excessive greed of the factory owners—remain neglected?

12 Gracious God! How can one see one’s fellow men hungry, destitute, and deprived, and yet live in peace and comfort in one’s splendid mansion? How can one see others in the greatest need and yet take delight in one’s fortune? That is why it has been decreed in the divine religions that the wealthy should offer up each year a portion of their wealth for the sustenance of the poor and the assistance of the needy. This is one of the foundations of the religion of God and is an injunction binding upon all. And since in this regard one is not outwardly compelled or obliged by the government, but rather aids the poor at the prompting of one’s own heart and in a spirit of joy and radiance, such a deed is most commendable, approved, and pleasing.

13 This is the meaning of the righteous deeds mentioned in the heavenly Books and Scriptures.

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The Reality of the World of Being

1 The sophists hold that all existence is illusory, indeed, that each and every being is an absolute illusion that has no existence whatsoever—in other words, that the existence of created things is like a mirage, or like the reflection of an image in water or in a mirror, which is merely an appearance devoid of any basis, foundation, or ascertainable reality.

2 This notion is false, for although the existence of things is an illusion compared to the existence of God, yet in the contingent world it is established, proven, and undeniable. For example, the existence of the mineral is non-existence compared to that of man—since man’s body becomes mineral when he physically dies—but the mineral indeed exists within the mineral realm. It is therefore clear that dust is non-existent or has an illusory existence compared to that of man, but that within the mineral realm it exists.

3 In like manner, the existence of created things is sheer illusion and utter non-existence compared to that of God and consists in a mere appearance, like an image seen in a mirror. But although this image is an illusion, its source and reality is the person reflected, whose image has appeared in the mirror. Briefly, the reflection is an illusion compared to that which is reflected. It is therefore evident that although created things have no existence compared to that of God, being instead like a mirage or an image reflected in a mirror, yet in their own degree they exist.

4 That is why Christ referred to those who were heedless of God and denied His truth as dead, even though to outward seeming they were alive; for in relation to the faithful they were indeed dead, blind, deaf, and dumb. That is what Christ meant when He said, “let the dead bury their dead”.155

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Pre-existence and Origination

1 Question: How many kinds of pre-existence and origination are there?

2 Answer: Certain sages and philosophers hold that there are two kinds of pre-existence—essential and temporal—and that there are likewise two kinds of origination—essential and temporal.

3 Essential pre-existence is an existence which is not preceded by a cause; essential origination is preceded by a cause. Temporal pre-existence has no beginning; temporal origination has both a beginning and an end. For the existence of each and every thing depends upon four causes: the efficient cause, the material cause, the formal cause, and the final cause.156 So this chair has a creator who is a carpenter, a matter which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is to serve as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially originated, for it is preceded by, and its existence is conditioned upon, a cause. This is called essential or intrinsic origination.

4 The world of existence, in relation to its Creator, is intrinsically originated. For example, this house, in relation to its builder, is intrinsically originated. Likewise, since the body depends upon and is sustained by the spirit, it is, in relation to the spirit, essentially originated. Conversely, the spirit can dispense with the body and is therefore essentially pre-existent in relation to the body. Although the rays are always inseparable from the sun, the sun is pre-existent and the rays are originated; for the existence of the rays depends upon that of the sun, but the converse does not hold true: The sun is the bestower of grace and the rays are the grace itself.

5 The second consideration is that existence and non-existence are both relative. If it be said that a certain thing was brought forth from non-existence, the intent is not absolute non-existence; rather, it is meant that the former condition was non-existence in relation to the present one. For absolute non-existence cannot become existence, as it lacks the very capacity to exist. Man exists, and the mineral likewise exists, but the existence of the mineral is non-existence in relation to that of man; for when the body of man is destroyed, it becomes dust and mineral, and when dust progresses into the human world, and that inanimate body of matter becomes living, man comes into existence. Though the dust—the mineral—enjoys existence in its own station, yet in relation to man it is non-existence. Our meaning is that both exist, but the existence of dust and mineral, in relation to man, is non-existence, for when man dies he becomes dust and mineral.

6 Therefore, although the contingent world exists, in relation to the existence of God it is non-existence and nothingness. Man and dust both exist, but how great the difference between the existence of the mineral and that of man! The one in relation to the other is non-existence. Likewise, the existence of creation is non-existence in relation to that of God. Thus, even though the universe has existence, in relation to God it is non-existence.

7 Thus it is clear and evident that although created things exist, in relation to God and to His Word they are non-existent. This is the firstness and the lastness of the Word of God, Who says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega”, for He is both the source of grace and its ultimate goal. The Creator has ever had a creation, and the rays have ever emanated and shone forth from the Sun of Truth; for a lightless sun would be impenetrable darkness. The names and attributes of God require the existence of things, and no cessation in the outpouring of God’s ancient grace can ever be contemplated, for this would be contrary to the divine perfections.

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1 Question: What is to be said about reincarnation, which is a belief upheld by the followers of certain religions?

2 Answer: Our purpose in what we are about to say is to express the truth and not to denigrate the beliefs of others: It is merely to explain the facts of the matter and nothing more. Otherwise, we are neither inclined to dispute anyone’s deeply held beliefs, nor do we sanction such conduct.

3 Know, then, that the reincarnationists are of two kinds. The first do not believe in spiritual rewards and punishments in the next world. They hold instead that man receives his punishment or recompense through reincarnation and return to this world; they regard heaven and hell to be confined to this material realm, and they do not believe in the world beyond. This group is itself divided in two: One division holds that, as a severe punishment, man may at times assume an animal form in returning to this world, and that after enduring this painful torment he proceeds from the animal realm into the human world, and this they call transmigration. The other division holds that man returns to the same human world whence he departed, and that the rewards and punishments of the former life are experienced in his return, and this they call reincarnation. Neither of these divisions believes in a world beyond this one.

4 The second group of reincarnationists believe in the next world and see reincarnation as the means of becoming perfect, in that man gradually acquires perfections by departing from and returning again to this world until he attains to the very heart of perfection. That is, man is composed of matter and energy: In the beginning, or in the first cycle, the matter is imperfect, but upon returning repeatedly to this world it progresses and acquires refinement and subtlety until it becomes like a polished mirror; and then the energy, which consists in the spirit, is fully realized therein with all its perfections.

5 Such is a brief account of the beliefs of the reincarnationists and transmigrationists. Were we to enter into the details, much time would be lost—this summary will suffice. Such persons have no rational proofs or arguments for their belief, which is based on mere conjecture and circumstantial inference and not on conclusive proofs. It is proofs that one must demand from the reincarnationists and not inference, conjecture, and presentiment.

6 But you have asked me for proofs and arguments of the impossibility of reincarnation, and we must therefore explain the reasons for its impossibility. The first proof is that the outward is the expression of the inward: The earthly realm is the mirror of the heavenly Kingdom, and the material world is in accordance with the spiritual world. Now observe that in the sensible world the divine appearances are not repeated, for no created thing can be identical with another in every way. The sign of Divine Unity is present and visible in all things. If all the granaries of the world were filled with grain, you would be hard-pressed to find two grains that are absolutely identical and indistinguishable in every respect: Some difference or distinction is bound to remain between them. Now, as the proof of the Divine Unity exists within all things, and the oneness and singleness of God is visible in the realities of all beings, the recurrence of the same divine appearance is in no wise possible. Therefore reincarnation, which is the repeated manifestation in this world of the same spirit with its former essence and conditions, would be the selfsame appearance and is thus impossible. And since the recurrence of the same divine appearance is impossible for material beings, the repeated assumption of the same station, whether on the arc of descent or on the arc of ascent, is likewise impossible for spiritual beings, for the material world corresponds to the spiritual world.

7 With respect to the species, however, return and recurrence are plainly visible in material realities; that is, the trees which in years past bore leaves, blossoms, and fruit will in the years to come bear the same leaves, blossoms, and fruit. This is called recurrence of species. Were anyone to object that the leaf, the blossom, and the fruit have decomposed, have descended from the vegetable to the mineral world, and have returned again to the former, and that there has thus been a recurrence, we would reply that the blossom, the leaf, and the fruit of last year were decomposed, and their component elements were disintegrated and dispersed. It is not that the same particles of last year’s leaf and fruit that had decomposed have recombined and returned, but that the essence of the species has returned through the combination of new elements. Likewise, the human body is fully disintegrated after the decomposition and dispersion of its constituent parts. Were this body to return from the mineral or vegetable world, it would not comprise the selfsame constituents as the former person, for its elements were decomposed, disintegrated, and dispersed in space. Afterwards other elemental constituents were combined and another body was formed. And while it may be the case that certain constituents of the former body entered into the composition of the latter, those constituents have not been exactly and completely conserved, without any addition or diminution, so as to be composed again and to give rise through their composition and combination to another individual. One cannot deduce, then, that this body has returned with all its constituent parts, that the former individual has become the latter, and hence that a recurrence has taken place—that the very same spirit, like the body, has returned and that after death its essence has regained this world.

8 And were we to claim that reincarnation is intended to bring about perfection, so that matter might gain in purity and refinement and that the light of the spirit might appear therein with the utmost perfection, this too would be mere imagination. For even if we granted such an assumption, the renewal of an object’s existence cannot bring about the transformation of its essence. For the substance of imperfection, by returning, will not become the reality of perfection; total darkness will not become a source of light; abject weakness will not become power and strength; and an earthly essence will not become a heavenly reality. However often it may return, the infernal tree157 will never bring forth a sweet fruit, nor will the good tree bear a bitter one. It is thus clear that recurrence and return to the material world are not the means of attaining perfection, and that this supposition rests on no proof or evidence; it is merely a conjecture. No, the attainment of perfection is in reality dependent upon the grace of God.

9 The Theosophists believe that man will return time and again on the arc of ascent until he reaches the Supreme Centre, where matter becomes as a spotless mirror, the light of the spirit shines forth in the plenitude of its power, and essential perfection is attained. However, those who have thoroughly investigated the questions of divinity know of a certainty that the material worlds terminate at the end of the arc of descent; that the station of man lies at the end of the arc of descent and the beginning of the arc of ascent, which is opposite the Supreme Centre; and that from the beginning to the end of the arc of ascent the degrees of progress are of a spiritual nature. The arc of descent is called that of “bringing forth” and the arc of ascent that of “creating anew”. The arc of descent ends in material realities and the arc of ascent in spiritual realities. The point of the compass in describing a circle does not reverse its motion, for this would be contrary to the natural movement and the divine order and would disrupt the regularity of the circle.

10 Moreover, this material world is not of such worth or advantage that one who has been freed from its cage should seek once again to be caught in its snare. No: By God’s eternal grace the true capacity and receptivity of the human reality is made clear and manifest through traversing the degrees of existence and not through recurrence and return. When the shell is opened but once, it is made plain and clear whether it conceals a shining pearl or worthless matter. When a plant has grown but once, it puts forth either flowers or thorns: It need not grow again. Apart from this, advancing and moving through the worlds in a direct line and according to the natural order is the cause of existence, and moving against the natural order and arrangement of things is the cause of extinction. The return of the spirit after death is incompatible with the natural movement and contrary to the divine order.

11 Thus it is in no wise possible to attain existence through returning: It is as if man, after being freed from the world of the womb, were to return to it. Consider how unfounded the conceptions of the reincarnationists and transmigrationists are! They conceive of the body as a vessel and the spirit as its contents, like water and cup, with the water being emptied from one cup and poured into another. This is indeed a childish notion: They do not reflect deeply enough to realize that the spirit is an entirely incorporeal thing, that it does not enter or exit, and that, at most, it is connected with the body as the sun is with the mirror. If the spirit could indeed traverse all the degrees and attain to essential perfection by repeatedly returning to the material world, then it would have been better if God had prolonged the life of the spirit in this material world in order for it to acquire virtues and perfections, and hence there would be no need for it to taste of the cup of death and enter this life a second time.

12 This idea has its origin in the fact that certain reincarnationists imagine existence to be confined to this fleeting world, and deny the other worlds of God, whereas in reality the latter are infinite. If the worlds of God were to culminate in this material world, then all creation would be in vain and existence itself would be a childish game. For the ultimate result of this endless universe, the most noble reality of man, would go hither and thither for a few days in this ephemeral abode and receive his rewards and punishments. In the end, all would attain perfection, the creation of God with its infinite beings would be completed and consummated, and thus the divinity of the Lord and the names and attributes of God would cease to have any effect and influence upon the spiritual beings which now exist. “Far from the glory of thy Lord, the All-Glorious, be that which His creatures affirm of Him!”158

13 The limited minds of the philosophers of old, such as Ptolemy and others, held that the realm of life and existence was confined to this terrestrial globe, and imagined that this infinite space was contained within the nine celestial spheres, all of which were void and empty. Witness how limited were their thoughts and how deficient their reasoning! The reincarnationists likewise imagine the spiritual worlds to be confined to those realms that the human mind can conceive. Some of them, such as the Druze and the Nuṣayrís, even imagine existence to be confined to this material world. What an ignorant supposition this is! For in this universe of God’s, which appears in the utmost perfection, beauty, and grandeur, the luminous bodies of the material universe are infinite. Pause to infer, then, how infinite and unbounded the spiritual realms of God, which are the very foundation, must be! “Take ye good heed, O people of insight!”159

14 But let us return to our original theme. In the Holy Books and Sacred Scriptures there is mention of a “return”, but the ignorant have failed to grasp its meanings and have imagined it to refer to reincarnation. For what the Prophets of God meant by “return” is not the return of the essence but of the attributes; it is not the return of the Manifestation Himself but of His perfections. In the Gospel it is said that John the son of Zacharias is Elijah. By these words is not meant the return of the rational soul and personality of Elijah in the body of John, but rather that the perfections and attributes of Elijah became plain and manifest in him.160

15 A lamp was lit in this room last night: When another lamp is lit tonight, we say that the light of last night is shining again. When the water that had ceased to flow from a fountain flows a second time, we say that it is the same water flowing once again, or we say that this light is the same as the former light. Likewise, last spring flowers and sweet-scented herbs bloomed and delicious fruits were produced; next year we say that those delicious fruits and those blossoms, flowers, and sweet herbs have returned. It is not that the very same constituents of last year’s flowers, after decomposing, have recombined and returned. No, the meaning is that the same freshness and delicacy, the same pleasing fragrance and wondrous colour that characterized last year’s flowers are to be exactly found in the flowers of this year. Briefly, the point is the resemblance and similarity between the former and the latter flowers. This is the “return” which is mentioned in the heavenly Scriptures. It is fully explained by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Íqán: Refer to it, that you may be informed of the truth of the divine mysteries. Upon you be greetings and praise.

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The Unity of Existence

1 Question: What is the nature of the “unity of existence” propounded by the Theosophists and the Sufis, and what in reality do they intend by it?161 Is this belief true or not?

2 Answer: Know that the idea of the unity of existence is ancient and is not restricted to the Theosophists and the Sufis alone. Indeed, it was espoused by some of the Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle, who said: “The uncompounded Reality is all things, but it is not any single one of them.”162 “Uncompounded” stands here in contrast to “composed”—that is to say, that solitary Reality, which is sanctified and exalted above composition and division, has resolved itself into countless forms. Thus, real Existence is all things, but it is not any single one of them.

3 The proponents of the unity of existence hold that real Existence is even as the sea, and that all created things are like unto its waves. These waves, which signify the created things, are the countless forms which that real Existence assumes. Hence, that sanctified Reality is the pre-existent sea, and the countless forms of created things are its originated waves.

4 Likewise, they compare this to the One and the infinite numbers, in that the former has manifested itself in the degrees of the latter, for numbers are the repetition of the One. Thus two is the repetition of one, and so on with the other numbers.

5 Among the proofs they adduce is this: All created things are the objects of the divine knowledge, and no knowledge can be realized without objects of knowledge, since knowledge pertains to something that exists, not to that which is non-existent. Indeed, how can utter non-existence attain specification and individuation in the mirror of knowledge? It follows that the realities of all created things, which are the objects of the knowledge of the Most High, had an intelligible existence, for they were the forms of the divine knowledge, and that they are pre-existent, for the divine knowledge is pre-existent. As long as the knowledge is pre-existent, so must be its objects. And the specifications and individuations of created things, which are the objects of the pre-existent knowledge of the divine Essence, are identical to the divine knowledge itself. The reason for this is that the reality, the knowledge, and the objects of the knowledge of the divine Being must be realized in a state of absolute unity. Otherwise, the divine Essence would become the seat of multiple phenomena, and a plurality of pre-existences would become necessary, which is absurd.

6 Thus, they reason, it is established that the objects of knowledge are identical with the knowledge itself, and that the knowledge is in turn identical with the Essence, which is to say that the knower, the knowledge, and the objects of knowledge are one single reality. Any other conception would necessarily lead to a plurality of pre-existences and to an infinite regress, and indeed to countless pre-existences. And since the individuations and specifications of created things in the knowledge of God were identical to, and completely indistinguishable from, His Essence, true unity prevailed and all the objects of knowledge were comprised and incorporated, in an uncompounded and undivided manner, in the reality of the divine Essence. In other words they were, in an uncompounded and undivided manner, the objects of the knowledge of the Most High and identical with His Essence. And through the manifestational appearance of God, these individuations and specifications, which had an intelligible existence—that is, which were the forms of the divine knowledge—found actual existence in the external world, and thus that real Existence became resolved into countless forms. Such is the basis of their argument.

7 The Theosophists and the Sufis comprise two groups. One group consists of the generality, who believe in the unity of existence out of sheer imitation and who have not grasped the true intent of the teachings of their renowned leaders. For the generality of the Sufis understand by “Existence” that common existence which is conceived by the mind and intellect of man, that is, which man can comprehend.

8 This common existence, however, is only one accident among others that enter upon the realities of created things, while the essences of beings are the substance. This accidental existence, which is dependent upon things in the same way that the properties of things are dependent upon them, is but one accident among many.

9 Now, the substance is undoubtedly superior to the accident, for the substance is primary and the accident secondary; the substance subsists through itself while the accident subsists through something else—that is, it needs a substance through which it can subsist.

10 In this case, God would be secondary to and in need of His creation, and the creation could dispense entirely with Him.

11 To illustrate further, whenever individual elements combine in accordance with the universal divine order, a certain being comes into the world of existence. That is, when certain elements are combined, a vegetable existence is produced; when others are combined, an animal existence is produced; when yet others combine, other things come into being. In each case, the existence of things is a consequence of their realities. How then could such an existence, which is an accident among others and which requires a substance through which it can subsist, be essentially pre-existent and the Begetter of all things?

12 But the truly learned among the Theosophists and Sufis have concluded, after deep consideration of this matter, that there are two kinds of existence. One kind is this common existence which is conceived by the mind of man. This existence is originated and is an accident among others, whereas the realities of things are the substances. But what is meant by unity of existence is not this commonly perceived existence, but that real Existence which is sanctified and exalted above all expression, an Existence through which all things are realized. This Existence is one; it is that One through which all things—such as matter, energy, and that common existence which is conceived by the human mind—have come to exist. This is the truth behind what the Theosophists and the Sufis believe.

13 In brief, the Prophets and the philosophers are in agreement on one point, namely, that the cause through which all things are realized is but one. The difference is that the Prophets teach that God’s knowledge does not require the existence of created things, whereas the knowledge of the creatures requires the existence of objects of knowledge. If the divine knowledge stood in need of aught else, then it would be like the knowledge of the creatures and not that of God; for the Pre-existent is incommensurate with the originated and the originated is opposite to the Pre-existent. That which we affirm for creation to be among the requirements of origination we deny in God; for to be sanctified and exalted above all imperfections is one of the characteristics of the Necessary Being.

14 For instance, in the originated we see ignorance; in the Pre-existent we affirm knowledge. In the originated we see weakness; in the Pre-existent we affirm power. In the originated we see poverty; in the Pre-existent we affirm wealth. Hence the originated is the source of all imperfections, and the Pre-existent is the sum of all perfections. And since the knowledge of the originated is in need of objects of knowledge, the knowledge of the Pre-existent must be independent of their existence. It follows that the specifications and individuations of created things, which are the objects of the divine knowledge, are not pre-existent. Moreover, the attributes of divine perfection are not so yielding to the exertions of the human mind as to enable us to determine whether the divine knowledge is in need of objects or not.

15 Briefly, that which was mentioned earlier is the foremost proof of the Sufis, and if we were to mention all of their arguments and respond to them, it would take a very long time. However, what was said represents the most decisive proof and the clearest argument that the learned among the Sufis and the Theosophists have advanced.

16 The real Existence through which all things are realized, that is, the reality of the divine Essence through which all things have come to exist, is acknowledged by all. The difference resides in the fact that the Sufis maintain that the realities of all things are the manifestation of the One, whereas the Prophets say that they emanate therefrom. And great indeed is the difference between manifestation and emanation. Appearance through manifestation means that a single thing becomes manifest in infinite forms. For example, when the seed, which is a single thing endowed with the perfections of the vegetable kingdom, manifests itself, it becomes resolved into the infinite forms of the branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit. This is called manifestational appearance, whereas in appearance through emanation the One remains transcendent in the heights of its sanctity, but the existence of the creatures is obtained from it through emanation, not manifestation. It can be compared to the sun: The rays emanate from it and shine forth upon all things, but the sun remains transcendent in the heights of its sanctity. It does not descend; it does not resolve itself into the form of the rays; it does not appear in the identity of things through specification and individuation: The Pre-existent does not become the originated; absolute wealth does not fall captive to poverty; unqualified perfection is not transformed into utter imperfection.

17 In summary, the Sufis speak only of God and creation, and believe that God has resolved Himself into, and manifested Himself through, the infinite forms of His creation, even as the sea which appears in the infinite forms of its waves. These originated and imperfect waves are identical to the pre-existent Sea, which is the sum of all the divine perfections. The Prophets, however, hold that there are the world of God, the world of the Kingdom, and the world of creation: three things. The first emanation is the outpouring grace of the Kingdom, which has emanated from God and has appeared in the realities of all things, even as the rays emanating from the sun are reflected in all things. And that grace—the rays—appears in infinite forms in the realities of all things, and is specified and individuated according to their capacity, receptivity, and essence. But the assertion of the Sufis would require that absolute wealth descend into poverty, that the Pre-existent be confined to originated forms, and that the very quintessence of power be reflected in the mirror of powerlessness and be subjected to the inherent limitations of the contingent world. And this is a self-evident error, for we observe that the reality of man, who is the noblest of all creatures, cannot descend to the reality of the animal; that the essence of the animal, which is endowed with the power of sensation, does not abase itself to the degree of the plant; and that the reality of the plant, which is the power of growth, does not degrade itself to the reality of the mineral.

18 In brief, superior realities do not descend or abase themselves to the degree of inferior realities. How, then, could the universal Reality of God, which transcends all descriptions and attributes, resolve itself, notwithstanding its absolute sanctity and holiness, into the forms and realities of the contingent world, which are the very source of imperfections? This is pure fantasy and untenable conjecture. On the contrary, that Essence of sanctity is the sum of all divine and lordly perfections, and all creatures receive illumination from His emanational appearance and partake of the lights of His celestial perfection and beauty, in the same way that all earthly creatures acquire the grace of light from the rays of the sun, without any descent or abasement of the latter into the recipient realities of these earthly beings.

19 After dinner, and considering the lateness of the hour, there is no time to explain further.

– 83 –

The Four Criteria of Comprehension

1 There are only four accepted criteria of comprehension, that is, four criteria whereby the realities of things are understood.

2 The first criterion is that of the senses; that is, all that the eye, the ear, the taste, the smell, and the touch perceive is called “sensible”. At present all the European philosophers hold this to be the most perfect criterion. They claim that the greatest of all criteria is that of the senses, and they regard it as sacrosanct. And yet the criterion of the senses is defective, as it can err. For example, the greatest of the senses is the power of vision. The vision, however, sees a mirage as water and reckons images reflected in mirrors as real and existing; it sees large bodies as small, perceives a whirling point as a circle, imagines the earth to be stationary and the sun to be in motion, and is subject to many other errors of a similar nature. One cannot therefore rely implicitly upon it.

3 The second criterion is that of the intellect, which was the principal criterion of comprehension for those pillars of wisdom, the ancient philosophers. They deduced things through the power of the mind and relied on rational arguments: All their arguments are based upon reason. But despite this, they diverged greatly in their opinions. They would even change their own views: For twenty years they would deduce the existence of something through rational arguments, and then afterwards they would disprove the same, again through rational arguments. Even Plato at first proved through rational arguments the immobility of the earth and the movement of the sun, and then subsequently established, again through rational arguments, the centrality of the sun and the movement of the earth. Then the Ptolemaic theory became widespread, and Plato’s theory was entirely forgotten until a modern astronomer revived it. Thus have the mathematicians disagreed among themselves, even though they all relied on rational arguments.

4 Likewise, at one time they would establish a thing by rational arguments and disprove it at another, again by rational arguments. So a philosopher would firmly uphold a view for a time and adduce a range of proofs and arguments to support it, and afterwards he would change his mind and contradict his former position by rational arguments.

5 It is therefore evident that the criterion of reason is imperfect, as proven by the disagreements existing between the ancient philosophers as well as by their want of consistency and their propensity to change their own views. For if the criterion of intellect were perfect, all should have been united in their thoughts and agreed in their opinions.

6 The third criterion is that of tradition, that is, the text of the Sacred Scriptures, when it is said, “God said thus in the Torah”, or “God said thus in the Gospel.” This criterion is not perfect either, because the traditions must be understood by the mind. As the mind itself is liable to error, how can it be said that it will attain to perfect truth and not err in comprehending and inferring the meaning of the traditions? For it is subject to error and cannot lead to certitude. This is the criterion of the leaders of religion. What they comprehend from the text of the Book, however, is that which their minds can understand and not necessarily the truth of the matter; for the mind is like a balance, and the meanings contained in the texts are like the objects to be weighed. If the balance is untrue, how can the weight be ascertained?

7 Know, therefore, that what the people possess and believe to be true is liable to error. For if in proving or disproving a thing a proof drawn from the evidence of the senses is advanced, this criterion is clearly imperfect; if a rational proof is adduced, the same holds true; and likewise if a traditional proof is given. Thus it is clear that man does not possess any criterion of knowledge that can be relied upon.

8 But the grace of the Holy Spirit is the true criterion regarding which there is no doubt or uncertainty. That grace consists in the confirmations of the Holy Spirit which are vouchsafed to man and through which certitude is attained.

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Good Deeds and Their Spiritual Prerequisites

1 Question: Those who do good works, who are well-wishers of all mankind, who have a praiseworthy character, who show forth love and kindness to all people, who care for the poor, and who work for universal peace—what need do they have of the divine teachings, with which they believe they can well afford to dispense? What is the condition of such people?

2 Answer: Know that such ways, words, and deeds are to be lauded and approved, and they redound to the glory of the human world. But these actions alone are not sufficient: They are a body of the greatest beauty, but without a spirit. No, that which leads to everlasting life, eternal honour, universal enlightenment, and true success and salvation is, first and foremost, the knowledge of God. It is clear that this knowledge takes precedence over every other knowledge and constitutes the greatest virtue of the human world. For the understanding of the reality of things confers a material advantage in the realm of being and brings about the progress of outward civilization, but the knowledge of God is the cause of spiritual progress and attraction, true vision and insight, the exaltation of humanity, the appearance of divine civilization, the rectification of morals, and the illumination of the conscience.

3 Second comes the love of God. The light of this love is kindled, through the knowledge of God, in the lamp of the heart, and its spreading rays illumine the world and bestow upon man the life of the Kingdom. And in truth the fruit of human existence is the love of God, which is the spirit of life and grace everlasting. Were it not for the love of God, the contingent world would be plunged in darkness. Were it not for the love of God, the hearts of men would be bereft of life and deprived of the stirrings of conscience. Were it not for the love of God, the perfections of the human world would entirely vanish. Were it not for the love of God, no real connection could exist between human hearts. Were it not for the love of God, spiritual union would be lost. Were it not for the love of God, the light of the oneness of mankind would be extinguished. Were it not for the love of God, the East and the West would not embrace as two lovers. Were it not for the love of God, discord and division would not be transmuted into fellowship. Were it not for the love of God, estrangement would not give way to unity. Were it not for the love of God, the stranger would not become the friend. Indeed, love in the human world is a ray of the love of God and a reflection of the grace of His bounty.

4 It is clear that human realities differ one from another, that opinions and perceptions vary, and that this divergence of thoughts, opinions, understandings, and sentiments among individuals is an essential requirement. For differences of degree in creation are among the essential requirements of existence, which is resolved into countless forms. We stand therefore in need of a universal power which can prevail over the thoughts, opinions, and sentiments of all, which can annul these divisions and bring all souls under the sway of the principle of the oneness of humanity. And it is clear and evident that the greatest power in the human world is the love of God. It gathers divers peoples under the shade of the tabernacle of oneness and fosters the greatest love and fellowship among hostile and contending peoples and nations.

5 Observe how numerous were the divers nations, races, clans, and tribes who, after the advent of Christ, gathered through the power of the love of God under the shadow of His Word. Consider how the differences and divisions of a thousand years were entirely abolished, how the delusion of the superiority of race and nation was dispelled, how the unity of souls and sentiments was attained, and how all became Christians in truth and in spirit.

6 The third virtue of humanity is goodly intention, which is the foundation of all good deeds. Some seekers after truth have held intention to be superior to action, for a goodly intention is absolute light and is entirely sanctified from the least trace of malice, scheming, or deception. Now, one can perform an action which appears to be righteous but which is in reality prompted by self-interest. For example, a butcher raises a sheep and guards its safety, but this good deed of the butcher is motivated by the hope of profit, and the end result of all this care will be the slaughter of the poor sheep. How many are the goodly and righteous deeds that are in reality prompted by self-interest! But the pure intention is sanctified above such faults.

7 Briefly, good deeds become perfect and complete only after the knowledge of God has been acquired, the love of God has been manifested, and spiritual attractions and goodly motives have been attained. Otherwise, though good deeds be praiseworthy, if they do not spring from the knowledge of God, from the love of God, and from a sincere intention, they will be imperfect. For example, human existence must encompass all perfections in order to be complete. The power of sight is highly prized and precious, but it must be aided by that of hearing; the hearing is highly prized, but it must be aided by the power of speech; the power of speech is highly prized, but it must be aided by that of reason; and so on with the other powers, organs, and members of man. When all these powers, senses, parts, and organs are combined together, perfection is attained.

8 In the world today we meet with souls who sincerely desire the good of all people, who do all that lies in their power to assist the poor and succour the oppressed, and who are devoted to universal peace and well-being. Yet, however perfect they may be from this perspective, they remain deprived of the knowledge and the love of God and, as such, are imperfect.

9 Galen the physician wrote in his commentary on Plato’s treatise on the art of governance that religious beliefs exert a profound influence on true civilization, the proof being as follows: Most people cannot grasp a sequence of logical arguments, and stand therefore in need of symbolic allusions heralding the rewards and punishments of the next world. The sign of this is that we see today a people called Christians who believe in the rewards and punishments of the next world and who show forth goodly deeds that are like those of a true philosopher. Thus we all plainly see that they have no fear of death and that they are, by virtue of their ardent yearning for justice and equity, to be regarded as though they were true philosophers.163

10 Now observe closely how great the sincerity, the self-abnegation, the spiritual emotions, the pure intentions, and the good deeds of the Christian believers must have been for Galen—a philosopher and physician who was not himself a Christian—to attest to the morals and the perfections of these people and call them true philosophers. Such virtues and qualities cannot be attained through good deeds alone. If virtue only meant that some good be obtained and bestowed, then why do we not praise this burning lamp which lights the room, even though its light is without a doubt a good thing? The sun nurtures all earthly things and fosters their growth and development by its heat and light—what greater good is there than this? Nonetheless, since this good does not flow from goodly motives and from the love and knowledge of God, it does not impress in the least. But when someone offers a cup of water to another, he is shown appreciation and gratitude. An unthinking person might say, “This sun which gives light to the world and manifests this great bounty must surely be praised and glorified. For why should we praise a man for such a modest gift and not yield thanks to the sun?” But if we were to gaze with the eye of truth, we would see that the modest gift bestowed by this person stems from the stirrings of conscience and is therefore praiseworthy, whereas the light and heat of the sun are not due to this and thus are not worthy of our praise and gratitude. In like manner, while those who perform good deeds are to be lauded, if these deeds do not flow from the knowledge and love of God they are assuredly imperfect.

11 Aside from this, if you consider the matter with fairness you will see that these good deeds of the non-believers also have their origin in the divine teachings. That is, the Prophets of old exhorted men to perform them, explained their advantages, and expounded their positive effects; these teachings then spread among mankind, successively reaching the non-believing souls and inclining their hearts towards these perfections; and when they found these actions to be laudable and to bring about joy and happiness among men, they too conformed to them. Thus these actions also arise from the divine teachings. But to see this, a measure of fair-mindedness is called for and not dispute and controversy.

12 Praise be to God, you have visited Persia and have witnessed the loving-kindness which, through the sanctified breezes of Bahá’u’lláh, Persians have come to show forth to all humanity. Formerly, if they chanced upon a follower of another religion, they would set upon him, display the utmost enmity, hatred, and malice, and even regard him as impure. They would burn the Gospel and the Torah and would wash their hands if they had been soiled by touching these Books. But now, most of them recite and interpret, as required by the occasion, from the contents of these two Books in their assemblies and gatherings, and expound and elucidate their inner meanings and mysteries. They show kindness to their enemies and treat bloodthirsty wolves with tender care, as they would the gazelles of the meadows of God’s love. You have seen their conduct and character, and you have heard of the morals which the Persians had in former times. Can this transformation of morals and this rectification of speech and conduct be brought about other than through the love of God? No, by God! If we undertook to spread such morals and manners merely by means of knowledge and learning, a thousand years would pass and still they would not have been achieved among the masses.

13 In this day, thanks to the love of God, this has been achieved with the greatest ease. Take heed, then, O ye of understanding heart!

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