Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ask: Does it help?

It's been a long time since I've written anything in detail about my spiritual life, because I've been going through some changes. One of the obstacles that I'm confronting in trying to hang on to what is good in the Writings of Baha'u'llah and let go of the rest is that so much in the Faith is over-laden with emotional baggage for me. With the light comes the shadow, and the shadow is a damned distraction. Right now, all my friends are in a tizzy about Peter Khan's latest pronouncement -- something that at one time would have had me blogging in outrage and disgust.

With all respect and affection to my online Baha'i friends, I've come to regard that stuff a waste of time. The administration of any religion is a worldly activity, and enmeshed in wordly considerations, and we were foolish to expect it to be any different. Either promoting or criticizing the latest plan from Haifa is irrelevant to anyone's spiritual growth -- which is the whole point of being religious in the first place.

I was reading the first page of the Kitab-i-Iqan the other day -- that's the passage that sort of hit me square between the eyes when I was first investigating the Faith. Baha'u'llah there insists that all that is worldly, and the sayings of religious authorities need to be cast aside by the seeker -- and that seems to me as true now as the day I first read it.

For me, the question "Do you believe that Baha'u'llah is the Manifestation of God for this Day?" had become rather like the question "Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?" A denial would be completely false, but an affirmation isn't right either, because these are, very simply, the wrong questions. In fact, don't ask me anything about belief, because I don't think belief is all that important. It's just an egoistic construct that, because of human weakness, we seem to need. "I belong to this; I am called by this name; we are really important." And notice, I said "we" -- I'm not immune; I understand it. But I also understand that this need caused me a great deal of heartache. And, in the end, that kind of identification just bolsters up the self.

A better question would be "Do you love Baha'u'llah?", and there, I could give you an unqualified "Yes". Not a day goes by that I don't read his Writings; it's a part of my spiritual practice that I couldn't do without.

But the question I ask myself most often is "Does it help me on the Path, or doesn't it?" And, if it doesn't help, I should be trying to detach myself from it.

17 comments:

kaweah said...

I love this, Karen. To me, this says cut to the spiritual chase.

You don't have to endorse Baha'u'llah as though you hold the rubber stamp of God Himself. Just engage your soul.

I don't see why you have to agree with or appreciate everything Baha'u'llah says to love him. Indeed, by allowing yourself to simply love him, IMHO you are chiseling away the stone of idolatry that many people have encased him in.

Perhaps these words are too harsh for your liking, but please accept them as a sincere expression of appreciation.

Mavaddat said...

Hi Karen, I was wondering if I could ask you about Peter Khan's lecture. I read about 2/3 of it (I skimmed the rest) and couldn't find anything that was particularly new or interesting. That is, it all seemed to have been said before. What did you (or your friends) find especially objectionable about it? Just wondering!

Regarding the topic at hand, I find it difficult to believe that anyone not personally acquainted with Bahá'u'lláh could really love him in any meaningful sense. It seems to me what people mean by such locutions is that they admire his ideas (or the stories about him) to a greater or lesser degree, but certainly not that they love him. For example, can we imagine any of the people who claim to love him choosing to have Bahá'u'lláh instead of a spouse, good friend, or family member as a companion on some long journey? I doubt it. I suspect there is a deeply psychological, human impediment to being able to love a person we have never met before. Personally, I think it better to hold off on such language out of respect for the real love that people have for one another. That is surely a more admirable and immediate human concern. But that's just my opinion.

Cheers,
Mavaddat

Polychrysos said...

Mavaddat,

As the first person to post something about PK's comments on Bahaisonline, perhaps I can shed some light on this. For my money, the one truly appalling passage comes near the end where PK says that the solution to the difficult questions he describes is to obey whatever the House decrees "without reservation."

I can see why Karen thinks it's useless to argue with PK or anyone else on the House. But I also think that if she takes a minute to read my latest piece, she'll discover that I provide one reason which doesn't have anything to do with the very valid points that she makes. Karen's right that it's not going to achieve anything to argue with these people: but I don't think she's considered what we can learn from analyzing their attitudes. I'm pretty busy these days, but I took the time to write about PK because his latest rant is instructive.

As I wrote in my piece, I think that PK's speech shows us religion at its worst. And that's instructive whatever your position. If you believe religion always ends badly, you can take it as an illustration of that point. And if you still think it's possible for religion to be a force for good, PK provides a valuable example of what religion *shouldn't* be. In my piece, which is very short, I highlight two things that make his speech so bad. And I make the point at the end that a good religion should do just the opposite of this. I argue that PK encourages us to evade moral responsibility and to deny the limitations of the human condition. And so I conclude that a good religion is one that leads us to embrace our personal accountability and to accept our human limitations without seeking to escape or transcend them. And I think that's a worthwhile moral to draw. If you or Karen wants to read it, the link is below.

http://snipurl.com/ojv8e

Please accept my best wishes -- I really like your posts.

Brendan

kaweah said...

Mavaddat,

You make a good point about not watering down the word "love" by using it on people one has never personally met, and I personally agree with using caution when claiming to love such an overused idol.

Still, I'm not sure it's fair to the word to limit it to personal relationships with people that one could just as soon kill as embrace. Does one devalue the word by loving animals? Inanimate objects? A home?

Love is a double-edged sword. It is often marked by staying power or intensity, but it is not always good, right? Can't "love" kill?

It's a troubling word.

Anyhow, yeah, read further down into the PK talk. I think you'll notice the monstrosity of it, but in PK's defense it's nothing Baha'u'llah himself wouldn't have said.

Karen said...

Dear Brendan,

You have written a thoughtful essay, one which I do not at all disagree. But just lately I've been feeling like the Baha'i Faith continues to be a shackle round my leg, in spite of leaving it long ago. I feel like that for me to stay engaged with the silly pronouncements of Peter Khan is to allow him interfere with my spiritual life, and he is not worth that. If I'm still arguing with the Baha'i administration, even if only in my head, then I'm not free of it.

This is, of course, only a statement of where I'm at -- I would not presume to tell you what to do. Your points are good and valid ones.

Karen said...

Dear Dan,

I actually scaled back on the harshness of my original draft, so I can't very well blame you for that impulse. Thanks!

Love, Karen

Karen said...

Dear Mavaddat,

Well, people speak of loving God or other spiritual figures as a matter of course. It is a sincere feeling, whether it "makes sense" or not. "Admire" is not quite right -- less emotional, more intellectual, even more selective. I can admire a person's talent while not necessarily approving of their lifestyle, for example.

The people in my life that I love play different roles -- husband, children, friends. Baha'u'llah plays his own unique role in my life, adding something that is important to me.

Love, Karen

Polychrysos said...

Karen,

I understand where you're coming from: you say you're only talking about yourself and your own spiritual condition. And if you said that in your post, I probably wouldn't have commented. But you seemed to say something different. And since I always like a good debate, I couldn't resist jumping in.

Because while you say that you were only making a statement of where you're at personally, your post went further. I read an invitation, in the language you used, to discuss this as being about more than your own state of mind. For example, you say that "it would be foolish" to expect the Baha'i administration to behave any differently than it does. That's not just a statement about how you're feeling. It's an invitation, to anyone who thinks that perhaps religious leaders could be expected to behave better, to make their case.

Or then you say this. "Either promoting or criticizing the latest plan from Haifa is irrelevant to anyone's spiritual growth." Once more, I don't mind, but this is another case where you're not confining the discussion to your own spiritual state. You're suggesting, as you have every right to, that it's not going to help me or anyone else to continue to criticize people like Peter Khan. I'm glad you said this, since it gave me the chance to explain why I think differently. But I don't see why you're arguing now that your post was concerned only with your own state of being. Frankly, it would be much less interesting if it was. It's because you were talking about the spiritual growth of others as well as your own, that I responded to your post. It's because you posed the question "ask: does it help?" that I tried to answer.

Brendan

Karen said...

Dear Brendan,

I'm sorry -- in fact, I thought about putting this piece on my private blog instead of here.

I think we're talking about two levels of spiritual engagement. From the point of view of community, then pointing out the harm in what Peter Khan is saying is a positive good. But from the perspective of my own spiritual growth i.e being in a state of peace with myself, other people, and with God, then that sort of activity doesn't contribute -- and in fact, detracts from what I want to do. I should see all human beings with the eye of compassion, but thinking about that speech of his mostly just makes me want to refer to him by an unflattering epithet.

You did more than an epithet, of course -- you wrote an intelligent piece. But if I had chosen that same route, it would have come from that gut "What a dickhead!" reaction, just refined and polished -- and I'm starting to see that as a bad thing in myself.

Does that make sense?

Polychrysos said...

Karen,

I don't see why you're apologizing. I certainly welcomed the opportunity to discuss this. And I can certainly see what you're saying here. You're saying that it doesn't help to get mad at someone over the things they've said. You suggesting that what I'm doing might be different -- analyzing PK's fraudulent appeal the way one might analyze a deceptive infomercial. But I agree that anger of the sort you're talking about really isn't too productive. I'm glad to hear you're learning to avoid it.

Brendan

Mavaddat said...

In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 77, Bahá’u’lláh writes, "Blessed is the man that hath acknowledged his belief in God and in His signs, and recognized that ‘He shall not be asked of His doings’. Such a recognition hath been made by God the ornament of every belief and its very foundation. Upon it must depend the acceptance of every goodly deed. Fasten your eyes upon it, that haply the whisperings of the rebellious may not cause you to slip."

In the Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 169, Bahá’u’lláh writes, "He accomplisheth whatsoever He willeth, and doeth all that He desireth. “Whoso sayeth ‘why’ or ‘wherefore’ hath spoken blasphemy!” Were these people to shake off the slumber of negligence and realize that which their hands have wrought, they would surely perish, and would of their own accord cast themselves into fire — their end and real abode. Have they not heard that which He hath revealed: “He shall not be asked of His doings?” (Qur’án 21:23). In the light of these utterances, how can man be so bold as to question Him, and busy himself with idle sayings?"

And in Rahíq-i-Makhtúm vol. I, pp. 302-4 (also, Bahá'í News 426, September 1966, p. 2, and "Wellspring of Guidance" pp. 84-6), 'Abdu'l-Bahá says, "Let it not be imagined that the House of Justice will take any decision according to its own concepts and opinions. God forbid! The Supreme House of Justice will take decisions and establish laws through the inspiration and confirmation of the Holy Spirit, because it is in the safekeeping and under the shelter and protection of the Ancient Beauty, and obedience to its decisions is a bounden and essential duty and an absolute obligation, and there is no escape for anyone."

In other words, the unquestioning obedience that Peter Khan demands, and which you and Brendan seem to so abhor, is an integral and irremovable part of this religion that you also claim to love. With all due respect, I have always had trouble seeing the consistency in that.

Eric Stetson said...

Hi Karen,

Thanks for your excellent blog entry. Like you, I've come to a place where I can honestly say I love Baha'u'llah and many of his teachings, but do not believe it matters at all whether or not he was a "Manifestation of God" -- in fact I don't even think that concept has any truth content in a literal sense; I think it is a metaphor or archetypal way of discussing religious history and the people who founded great religions, nothing more.

The whole notion that God requires us to regard religion as an either-or binary affirmation that "yes this whole corpus of writings and everything its author said and did is infallibly divine" or else reject the writings and author entirely is, in my opinion, absurd and immature. I find myself drawn back to the Baha'i tradition after having rejected it completely and becoming a Christian, because now I can see and admit to myself that it contains much value, just as Christianity contains much value -- while I have come to realize that neither Christianity nor Baha'ism nor any other religion should be accepted as "the gospel truth" with all the baggage that contains. I am a Universalist who draws strength and ideas from all the great spiritual traditions, including Christianity and including Baha'i and various others.

I expect that many Baha'is and former Baha'is will gradually coalesce toward the middle ground where you and I find ourselves. I sometimes describe it as "half Baha'i."

Peace and blessings on your journey,
Eric

Larry Rowe said...

Howdy Mavaddat and all,

The inability to see this consistency is the same as the inability to see the many direct contradictions that exist in many Baha'i writings , teachings, and religious practices. Contradictions such as these:

Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished.

(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 95)

Although Baha'u'llah spoke these words he, Abdu'l-Baha', Shoghi Effendi, as well as today the Universal House of Justice were/are all avid shunners and all advocated/advocate the shunning of certain persons, their families, their children.

When it no longer becomes possible to ignore such direct contradictions a person is forced to face down the cognitive dissonance that comes with the realization that their intellectual integrity has been compromised and that acceptance of and involvement in such direct contradictions has compromised their spiritual wellness as well.

Coming around to the reality that not all of Baha'u'llah's revelation/words can be viewed equally and that not all of it is revealed truth can be most difficult. For me pesonally still finding such writings as Baha'u'llah's Mathnavi moving while at the same time facing the many contradictions that exist in his and Abdu'l-Baha's teachings was at first confounding, confusing.

At the very first I thought there must be something wrong with me. It became so difficult that I had to remove myself from the Baha'i community and actually put all my Baha'i writings in a cooler and stick it in the crawl space, lol!

Slowly I began to be able to read the writings again and to begin to sort what was important, revealing, about those writings from what was unimportant, obscuring.

The laudable teachings in the Baha'i writings are worthy of putting into practice. Teachings such as the oneness of humanity, the equality of women with men, the independent search for truth. Those Baha'i writings, teachings, and religious practices which are directly in contradiction to those laudable teachings are unworthy to put into practice and need to be left behind where all such obsolete religious practices belong, in humanities past.

The inability of the present Haifan Baha'i community to actually live by the teaching of the full equality of women with men is a clear example of where blind adherence to a religious doctrine has interfered with putting into practice the truth that women are fully equal with men.

When such religious doctrines and practices begin to interfere with living the life, with putting laudable concepts into practice instead of just giving them lip service, the validity and wisdom of such religious doctrines/practices must be questioned. That is, if a person wishes to embrace intellectual integrity and to reject the cognitive dissonance that comes from compromising the truth.

Cheers

Larry Rowe

Anonymous said...

PK is lost in the illusions and comfort zone of absolutism. Bahai culture is in a state of polluted memetic rot, and as such, opportunists like PK and other AO/fundies find fertile ground for their hideous, dysfunctional aspirations.

The bahai "mainstream" is no longer a force for the advance of "civilization", it is a cesspool of paradigm regression, conformism, and pointless bureaucratic reinvention. It is a magnet for cr*p beliefs/ideas.

Karen is right that exploring other paths to spiritual healing/growth is the best strategy for many people (Iwould suggest "integral transformative practice" as one path). She talks about "love" in the correct "spiritual" terms - the devotional perspective based on "love" (bhakti, divine feminine) is one of the most authentic forms of realization.

Brendan is right that those that are concerned about the possibility of social change and justice requires a vigorous critique of the current dysfunctionality that is bahai culture (and corresponding
"learning opportunity" for how to effect change/evolution/development).

Mavaddat is right that bahai theology contains the evil scriptural seeds of shiia absolutism and rigid orthodoxy.

Eric S. is correct in stating that the myth structure that bahai theology is premised on is limited, and contains only partial truths.

The thing that is stunning is how a bunch of rag-tag bahai dissident bloggers are so correct in their views and understanding of the human condition, and how WRONG and EVIL bahai bureaucrats like PK are.

If someone could find and post the quote from abdul-baha about how if it no longer is the cause of unity, it would be betterr to get rid of religion, that might be pertinent.

adeu amics,
E. Pierce
Sacramento

Larry Rowe said...

Howdy E.P. and all,

Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth, give birth to spirituality, and bring life and light to each heart. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion. All the holy prophets were as doctors to the soul; they gave prescriptions for the healing of mankind; thus any remedy that causes disease does not come from the great and supreme Physician.

(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 130)

I used the above quote to context my personal letter of resignation from the Haifan Baha'i Faith.

There is another quote from Abdu'l-Baha' which points out that there is a difference between the superstructures/superannuated traditions of religion and the original intention for religion:

Thus religion which was destined to become the cause of friendship has become the cause of enmity. Religion, which was meant to be sweet honey, is changed into bitter poison. Religion, the function of which was to illumine humanity, has become the factor of obscuration and gloom. Religion, which was to confer the consciousness of everlasting life, has become the fiendish instrument of death. As long as these superstitions are in the hands and these nets of dissimulation and hypocrisy in the fingers, religion will be the most harmful agency on this planet. These superannuated traditions, which are inherited unto the present day, must be abandoned, and thus free from past superstitions we must investigate the original intention. The basis on which they have fabricated the superstructures will be seen to be one, and that one, absolute reality; and as reality is indivisible, complete unity and amity will be instituted and the true religion of God will become unveiled in all its beauty and sublimity in the assemblage of the world.

(Abdu'l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 161)

It is ironic that the "original intention" of, the purpose for, religion is not the religious traditions that are left in the wake. Unfortunately it seems that the leaders of religion are compelled to make the same error: mistaking the superstructures of religion as the actual purpose for religion, when in fact the true purpose is the revelation of those laudable teachings that so often become secondary, so often become only serviced by lips, because they conflict with the exclusionary setting up of a religious orthodoxy.

Cheers

Larry Rowe

Mavaddat said...

Larry, I admire your honesty and cogent thinking. I'd love to buy ya' a beer or coffee sometime if you live in Vancouver, BC!

Larry Rowe said...

Howdy Mavaddat,

Thanks for your kind comments.

I don't live in Vancouver but used to live in Burnaby about twenty years ago.

We were in Vancouver for a few days this summer on a trip to pick up our son Devon from summer camp out in Squamish. He got a lip piercing down on Granvile and my wife and I went to the market and admired all the fresh fish and produce. Boy I miss that!

Cheers

Lar