Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Unsearchable Wisdom of God

Regarding Dreams in the Baha’i Faith

Part 1

“Now there are many wisdoms to ponder in the dream...”
(Baha'u'llah, Seven Valleys, pp. 32-33)

Many of us spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping. Contemporary research indicates that everyone dreams while sleeping, whether those dreams are remembered or not
. [1][2][3] There is scientific and popular interest in dreams: dream research is being conducted in sleep laboratories while dream study groups, workshops and seminars are taking place in conferences and homes. An ongoing stream of publications, both on the internet and the printed page, attests to the public’s abiding fascination with the subject. This survey will look at some of the accounts and specific statements on the subject of dreams made in the Writings and texts of the Baha’i Faith.

Exhortations to Ponder
Baha'u'llah, in His Writings, repeatedly exhorts the reader to ponder the dream state. He stated point blank:
Consider thy state when asleep. Verily, I say, this phenomenon is the most mysterious of the signs of God amongst men, were they to ponder it in their hearts.
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, LXXIX, p. 152)

Further, He said:

Consider how strange is the mystery of the world that appeareth to thee in thy dream. Ponder in thine heart upon the unsearchable wisdom of God, and meditate on its manifold revelations...

(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, LXXXII, p. 162)

Dreams are a focus of discourse in the Valley of Wonderment of Baha'u’llah’s mystical treatise The Seven Valleys, which includes these words:
One of the created phenomena is the dream. Behold how many secrets are deposited therein, how many wisdoms treasured up, how many worlds concealed.
(Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 32)

Referring to the outer world and the world of sleep, Baha'u'llah urged:

Consider the difference between these two worlds and the mysteries which they conceal, that thou mayest attain to divine confirmations and heavenly discoveries and enter the regions of holiness.

(Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 33)

These are among the summarizing insights that Baha’u’llah shared as to the place of dreams in understanding the realms of existence:
Moreover, thou hast asked about the dream state. It is a world distinguished among the divine worlds that expresseth and indicateth infinite conditions. [i] For example, it is proof of a world without beginning and end or first and last, inasmuch as something is seen in a dream and after a period of years the same event is observed in this world. From one perspective, if it be said that it is the intermediate world of similitudes[ii]* resembling the Kingdom,[iii] which some regard as the world of similitudes located between the world of Dominion[iv] and this mortal world,[v] this is correct. In short, shouldst thou ponder deeply upon this state, thou wilt comprehend innumerable subjects.
…O questioner, man is the supreme compendium and the most perfect talisman; he is the compendium which containeth a similitude of whatever hath been created in the heavens and the earth. When the soul is released from transitory restrictions and terrestrial states, it will traverse all the stages, and the greater its freedom, [vi] the stronger, more steadfast, and true will be its flight.

[i] (umūrāt); [ii] (‘ālam-i mithāl)*; [iii] (malakūt); [iv] (jabarūt); [v] (nāsūt); [vi] (farāgha)
(From a Tablet of Baha’u’llah, Layālī al-Hikmat, vol. 2, p. 65–66 in Amr va Khalq, vol. 1, compiled by Fadil-i-Mazindarani, Tihran 1954-55. Provisional translation by Keven Brown.)
*Among its other designations, ālam-i mithāl has also been translated into English as the “world of archetypal images.” (See Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd Edition.)

One of Baha'u'llah's prayers includes these words:

I give praise to Thee, O my God, that Thou hast awakened me out of my sleep, and brought me forth after my disappearance, and raised me up from my slumber. I have wakened this morning with my face set toward the splendors of the Day-Star of Thy Revelation...

I beseech Thee, by the potency of Thy will and the compelling power of Thy purpose, to make of what Thou didst reveal unto me in my sleep the surest foundation for the mansions of Thy love that are within the hearts of Thy loved ones, and the best instrument for the revelation of the tokens of Thy grace and Thy loving-kindness.

(Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah, CLVI, p. 248) [Emphasis added.]

"One night in a dream..."

Dreams have played a major role in Baha’i history. A mystic dream is associated with the inception of the Baha’i Era, as this account relates:
In one of His writings revealed in the year '60 A.H., [1844] the Bab declares the following: "The spirit of prayer which animates My soul is the direct consequence of a dream which I had in the year before the declaration of My Mission. In My vision I saw the head of the Imam Husayn, the Siyyidu'sh-Shuhada', which was hanging upon a tree. Drops of blood dripped profusely from His lacerated throat. With feelings of unsurpassed delight, I approached that tree and, stretching forth My hands, gathered a few drops of that sacred blood, and drank them devoutly. When I awoke, I felt that the Spirit of God had permeated and taken possession of My soul. My heart was thrilled with the joy of His Divine presence, and the mysteries of His Revelation were unfolded before My eyes in all their glory.

(The Dawn-Breakers, Nabil's Narrative, p. 253) [Emphasis added.]

This highly significant dream was also recounted in another place by the Bab:
Know that the revelation of all these verses and prayers, and these divine sciences, is because of a dream in which I witnessed the holy head of the Prince of Martyrs [Husayn], upon him be peace, detached from his holy body, together with the heads of other companions. I drank seven handfuls of his blood with the greatest love, and it is now the blessing of the blood of that holy one which hath illuminated my heart with such indisputable verses and prayers. Lauded be God who caused me to drink from the blood of His proof and made him the essence of my heart. Thus hath He sent down the affliction (al-balá’) according to His decree. Verily, we are God’s and unto Him do we return. Let those who act conform to His law.
(The Bab in Sahífiy-i-Usúl va Furú’, Amr va Khalq, Vol. 1, compiled by Fadil-i-Mazindarani, Tihran 1954-55. Provisional translation by Keven Brown.) [Emphasis added.]

This dream is correlated by Shoghi Effendi with Baha'u'llah's first intimations of His mission (see below), and with
…the soul-shaking experience of Moses when confronted by the Burning Bush in the wilderness of Sinai; of Zoroaster when awakened to His mission by a succession of seven visions; of Jesus when coming out of the waters of the Jordan He saw the heavens opened and the Holy Ghost descend like a dove and light upon Him; of Muhammad when in the Cave of Hira, outside of the holy city of Mecca, the voice of Gabriel bade Him "cry in the name of Thy Lord..." [The Bab] …awoke to find Himself the chosen recipient of the outpouring grace of the Almighty.

(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 93)

After giving an account of the Declaration of the Bab to Mulla Husayn, the first Letter of the Living, Shoghi Effendi went on to relate:
Not until forty days had elapsed, however, did the enrollment of the seventeen remaining Letters of the Living commence. Gradually, spontaneously, some in sleep, others while awake, some through fasting and prayer, others through dreams and visions, they discovered the Object of their quest, and were enlisted under the banner of the new-born Faith.
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 7) [Emphasis added.]

Moreover, Shoghi Effendi quoted recollections from Baha'u'llah of His imprisonment in the Black Pit of Tihran:
"One night in a dream," He Himself, calling to mind, in the evening of His life, the first stirrings of God's Revelation within His soul, has written, "these exalted words were heard on every side: 'Verily, We shall render Thee victorious by Thyself and by Thy pen. Grieve Thou not for that which hath befallen Thee, neither be Thou afraid, for Thou art in safety. Ere long will God raise up the treasures of the earth­­—men who will aid Thee through Thyself and through Thy Name, wherewith God hath revived the hearts of such as have recognized Him.'" In another passage He describes, briefly and graphically, the impact of the onrushing force of the Divine Summons upon His entire being—an experience vividly recalling the vision of God that caused Moses to fall in a swoon, and the voice of Gabriel which plunged Muhammad into such consternation that, hurrying to the shelter of His home, He bade His wife, Khadijih, envelop Him in His mantle. "During the days I lay in the prison of Tihran," are His own memorable words, "though the galling weight of the chains and the stench-filled air allowed Me but little sleep, still in those infrequent moments of slumber I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain. Every limb of My body would, as a result, be set afire. At such moments My tongue recited what no man could bear to hear."

(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 101) [Emphasis added.] (See also Baha'u'llah, The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 21-22)

The Guardian unmistakably affirmed that Baha'u'llah received this seminal Revelation in a dream:
His imprisonment lasted for a period of no less than four months, in the middle of which the "year nine" (1269) [A.H., which was 1852 C.E.] …was ushered in, endowing with undreamt-of potentialities the whole world...
Now that He had been invested, in consequence of that potent dream, with the power and sovereign authority associated with His Divine mission...
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 104) [Emphasis added.]

There are many fascinating accounts of dreams and their association with events and important figures in the evolution of the Baha’i Faith. [5]

Signs of Another Life

Baha'u'llah made statements as to the greater significances of dreaming:
God, the Exalted, hath placed these signs in men, to the end that philosophers may not deny the mysteries of the life beyond nor belittle that which hath been promised them.

(Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 33)

...Luqman, [Aesop] who had drunk from the wellspring of wisdom and tasted of the waters of mercy, in proving to his son Nathan the planes of resurrection and death, advanced the dream as an evidence and an example.

(Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, pp. 34-35)
In like manner, this world [the “dream state”] denoteth the place of gathering and resurrection after death, for as Luqmān [Aesop] hath said to his son: ‘If thou art able to sleep, thou art able to die; and if thou art able to waken after sleep, thou art able to rise after death.’ Just as death is a reality, so is the world of the dream; and just as there is waking after sleep, there is rising after death.
(From a Tablet of Baha’u’llah, Layālī al-Hikmat, vol. 2, pp. 65–66 in Amr va Khalq, vol. 1, compiled by Fadil-i-Mazindarani, Tihran 1954-55. Provisional translation by Keven Brown.)

Baha’u’llah was asked questions pertaining to the Islamic principle of haqqu’n-nas, (‘the right of the people’), which asserts that in the next world souls will receive compensation for the debts owed to them. As part of His response, Baha’u’llah wrote:
Whenever We purpose to explain this theme and expound upon the nature of the manifestations of things in the innumerable worlds, We make statements and give analogies that are easy to understand and comprehend. And there is no analogy more befitting than the dream world that We can set forth. The dream state is said to be the brother of death, inasmuch as recognizing a brother is by the likeness of the brother. Consider how in the world of vision thou beholdest certain things, and later while awake in this world, thou dost interpret and explain them by resorting to other names, forms, and characterizations. Then after a lapse of time, the same things thou didst interpret and explain are witnessed.
Therefore, O my brother, whenever thou art dreaming and behold such a thing in the world of vision, it will have another name and characterization there different from that which it hath here. Recognize, then, that this same disparity in forms applieth to the world after death. And know of a certainty that while the reality and the essence are one, the form and the characterization will vary.
Baha’u’llah then goes on to give the example, familiar to the inquirer, of the story of Joseph’s dream and its interpretation related in the Surih of Joseph in the Qur’an, 12:4, (it is also found in the Bible in the Book of Genesis, 37:9):
Now reflect. What kind of world is that wherein His father and mother are seen as the sun and the moon, and His brothers appear in the form of stars? And what is this world wherein the inverse is seen: the sun and the moon in the form of His father and mother, and the stars in the form of His brothers? He saith, exalted be His sovereignty, “I saw eleven stars, and the sun and the moon; I saw them bowing down before me.” The interpretation of this vision became clear once Joseph was established upon the throne of glory, and Jacob and Joseph’s eleven brothers prostrated themselves at His feet.
Now, since this question hath become established and ascertained, it is evident that the requital of every due taketh place in every world in a form befitting that world. Otherwise, assuredly the administration of justice could not be fulfilled.
(Baha’u’llah, Lawh-i Haqqu’n-Nas, ‘Tablet of the Right of the People.’ Provisional translation by Keven Brown) [6]

The Bab had made similar associations, referring to the phenomena of dreams as evidence of the afterlife, and as an illustration of how different the afterlife is from this mortal life. At the same time it appears He is explaining how dreams followed by awakening parallels the relationship of this temporal life to worlds hereafter:
Verily, God hath created the dream state in His servants that they may be assured of the existence of the worlds hereafter and the life everlasting. The life of this world and its changes and chances, after death, are even as a dream that one seeth; once the dreamer hath arisen, he will see only the effect (athar) of its interpretation.
(From a Tablet of the Bab, Amr va Khalq, vol. 1, part 3, p.323 compiled by Fadil-i-Mazindarani, Tihran 1954-55. Provisional translation by Keven Brown.)
Dreams are personal illustrations showing each one of us that we are more than merely our tangible, material life:
...reflect upon the perfection of man's creation, and that all these planes and states are folded up and hidden away within him.
"Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?"*
(Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 34) [*Here Baha'u'llah quotes Jalalu'd-Din Rumi (1207-1273 C.E.).]

Baha'u'llah would have us contemplate the implications of the transcendental nature of dreaming:

        Observe, how thou art asleep in a dwelling, and its doors are barred; on a sudden thou findest thyself in a far-off city, which thou enterest without moving thy feet or wearying thy body; without using thine eyes, thou seest; without taxing thine ears, thou hearest; without a tongue, thou speakest. And perchance when ten years are gone, thou wilt witness in the outer world the very things thou hast dreamed tonight.

         Now there are many wisdoms to ponder in the dream, which none but the people of this Valley can comprehend in their true elements. First, what is this world, where without eye and ear and hand and tongue a man puts all of these to use? Second, how is it that in the outer world thou seest today the effect of a dream, when thou didst vision it in the world of sleep some ten years past?
[7] Consider the difference between these two worlds and the mysteries which they conceal, that thou mayest attain to divine confirmations and heavenly discoveries and enter the regions of holiness.

(Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, pp. 32-33)

Photo © Baha’i International Community

          Behold how the thing which thou hast seen in thy dream is, after a considerable lapse of time, fully realized. Had the world in which thou didst find thyself in thy dream been identical with the world in which thou livest, it would have been necessary for the event occurring in that dream to have transpired in this world at the very moment of its occurrence. Were it so, you yourself would have borne witness unto it. This being not the case, however, it must necessarily follow that the world in which thou livest is different and apart from that which thou hast experienced in thy dream. This latter world hath neither beginning nor end. It would be true if thou wert to contend that this same world is, as decreed by the All-Glorious and Almighty God, within thy proper self and is wrapped up within thee. It would equally be true to maintain that thy spirit, having transcended the limitations of sleep and having stripped itself of all earthly attachment, hath, by the act of God, been made to traverse a realm which lieth hidden in the innermost reality of this world. Verily I say, the creation of God embraceth worlds besides this world, and creatures apart from these creatures. In each of these worlds He hath ordained things which none can search except Himself, the All-Searching, the All-Wise. Do thou meditate on that which We have revealed unto thee, that thou mayest discover the purpose of God, thy Lord, and the Lord of all worlds. In these words the mysteries of Divine Wisdom have been treasured.

Tablets of Baha'u'llah, pp. 187-188)

            Verily I say, the human soul is exalted above all egress and regress. It is still, and yet it soareth; it moveth, and yet it is still. It is, in itself, a testimony that beareth witness to the existence of a world that is contingent, as well as to the reality of a world that hath neither beginning nor end. Behold how the dream thou hast dreamed is, after the lapse of many years, re-enacted before thine eyes. Consider how strange is the mystery of the world that appeareth to thee in thy dream. Ponder in thine heart upon the unsearchable wisdom of God, and meditate on its manifold revelations....

    (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, pp. 161-62)

Abdu'l-Baha elaborated upon the dream as a "mode of the spirit's influence and action without...bodily instruments and organs."

For example, in the state of sleep, it sees without eyes, it hears without ears, it speaks without a tongue, it runs without feet--in brief, all these powers are exerted without the mediation of instruments and organs. How often it happens that the spirit has a dream in the realm of sleep whose purport comes to be exactly materialized two years hence! Likewise, how often it happens that in the world of dreams the spirit solves a problem that it could not solve in the realm of wakefulness. Awake, the eye sees only a short distance, but in the realm of dreams one who is in the East may see the West. Awake, he sees only the present; in sleep he beholds the future. Awake, by the fastest means he travels at most seventy miles in an hour; in sleep he traverses the East and West in the blink of an eye. For the spirit has two modes of travel: without means, or  spiritual travel, and with means, or material travel--as birds that fly, or as being carried in a vehicle.

While asleep, this physical body is as dead: It neither sees, nor hears, nor feels, and it has neither consciousness nor perception—its powers are suspended. Yet the spirit is not only alive and enduring but also exerts a greater influence, soars to loftier heights, and possesses a deeper understanding.

(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, 61.3-4, pp. 261-62)

This example was presented by Abdu'l-Baha in a discourse upon the immortality of the spirit.
It is noteworthy that later, on no less than five occasions during His 1912 trip to North America, ­in recorded talks delivered in Boston; Green Acre; Montreal; Washington, D.C.; and New York City, Abdu'l-Baha presented the world of dreams as evidence of the reality and immortality of the spirit.

(See Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 243, 259, 306-307, 416, 464.)

“Among all the worldly bounties…”
Here is part of a brief overview given by Abdu’l-Baha on the phenomena of dreaming:
Among all the worldly bounties, none is more wonderful than the dream. In this state the human spirit is able to release itself in such a way that the contingent phenomena become cut away. The ability of the human spirit to free itself, however, is dependent upon a heart that is sanctified and pure. If the heart of man has not attained this state, it will become very fearful in the world of the dream, and things will appear distorted in its view. This is because his heart is not sanctified and pure. But if the heart becomes purified, in the dream man is freed. If he is in a prison, he will see himself in a rose garden; if he is under the weight of chains, he will see himself seated upon a throne. Indeed, he will be unaware of any bodily sensations. But if he has vain thoughts in his mind, his dream journey will not be wondrous.
How often it happens that man ponders a question in wakefulness, but he is unable to solve it. Then, in the world of the dream, it happens that the answer is discovered. Frequently such a dream is a true dream, inasmuch as that which is seen becomes manifested to the outer eye, requiring no interpretation.
There are three kinds of dreams. One is a true vision, which is even as the morning light and has no need of interpretation. Exactly what is seen, the same thing occurs. But most people, generally, do not receive this kind of dream. In the period of every person’s life it may chance to happen that one’s heart and mind are free and clear of false suppositions. Then whatever the spirit discovers conforms to the reflection obtained. This is a true vision and needs no interpretation; it is reality.
The second kind of dream is that requiring interpretation, because the mind or the heart of the dreamer possesses false suppositions. When a spiritual journey is attained, it must be interpreted and false thoughts must be separated from spiritual discoveries. The soul is even as a fine white fabric. Any color that you add to it, it will receive, and this is real. However, if a color other than white is in the fabric, and you add a color, this is unreal. For example, if a yellowish color is in the fabric and you give it blue, it will become green. Then it is necessary to separate out the yellow until the blue is displayed. This is interpretation.
Another kind of dream is the confused dream. For example, during the day a man becomes engaged in a quarrel and dispute. Later, in the world of the dream, these same circumstances appear to him. This is a confused dream. It has no interpretation and contains no discoveries. Before the person dreamed, he was overcome with delusions. It is clear that this kind of dream bears no interpretation and is confused.
(From a talk of Abdu'l-Baha to pilgrims dated August 8, 1919, Amr va Khalq, Vol. 1, compiled by Fadil-i-Mazindarani, Tihran 1954-55. Provisional translation by Keven Brown.)

"... communications are registered.."

In a Tablet addressed to an individual, Baha’u’llah made this statement that shatters materialistic conceptions, (whether "sleep" here is regarded as literal or metaphorical):
O servant of God! We revealed Ourself to thee once in thy sleep, but thou didst remain unaware. Remember now, that thou mayest perceive and hasten with heart and soul to the placeless Friend.

(Baha’u’llah, The Tabernacle of Unity, p. 75)

In one of His North American addresses, Abdu'l-Baha gave us a delightful example of a dream providing inspiration—this is His prelude to a talk He delivered at a home in New York City on June 15, 1912:

I have made you wait awhile, but as I was tired, I slept. While I was sleeping, I was conversing with you as though speaking at the top of my voice. Then through the effect of my own voice I awoke. As I awoke, one word was upon my lips—the word imtiyaz ("distinction"). So I will speak to you upon that subject this morning.

(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 189)

Earlier in His sojourn to the West, in
London, Abdu'l-Baha is reported to have spoken of the time of sleep, (as well as the condition of receptivity which can be experienced during prayer), as a condition when one can receive inspirational help from those who have passed on to the next world:

Those who have ascended have different attributes from those who are still on earth, yet there is no real separation.

...When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty. This sometimes happens in sleep. But there is no phenomenal intercourse! That which seems like phenomenal intercourse has another explanation." The questioner exclaimed; "But I have heard a voice!" Abdu'l-Baha said: "Yes, that is possible; we hear voices clearly in dreams. It is not with the physical ear that you heard; the spirit of those that have passed on are freed from sense-life, and do not use physical means. It is not possible to put these great matters into human words; the language of man is the language of children, and man's explanation often leads astray."

(Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 96)

In a tablet addressed to an individual, Abdu'l-Baha explained:
When man's soul is rarified and cleansed, spiritual links are established, and from these bonds sensations felt by the heart are produced. The human heart resembleth a mirror. When this is purified human hearts are attuned and reflect one another, and thus spiritual emotions are generated. This is like the world of dreams when man is detached from things which are tangible and experienceth those of the spirit. What amazing laws operate, and what remarkable discoveries are made! And it may even be that detailed communications are registered...

(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 108)

Notes for Part 1

[1] Dement, William C., Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep, especially pages 24, 30, 35, The Portable Stanford, published by the Stanford Alumni Association Stanford, CA, 1972

[2] Murchie, Guy, The Seven Mysteries of Life: An Exploration in Science and Philosophy, Houghton Mifflin Company,
Boston, 1978, pp. 297-2­98

“As to what thou hast asked regarding the dream, think of the dream state as being like the state of being awake. How often two souls meet and converse with one another, and one later remembers (what was said), while the other completely forgets. The world of the dream is also like this, and the reason for our forgetfulness is because the dream has not been properly preserved in the depository of the memory.”

(From a Tablet of Abdu’l-Baha, Amr va Khalq, Vol. 1, compiled by Fadil-i-Mazindarani, Tihran 1954-55. Provisional translation by Keven Brown.)
Warmest appreciation and a debt of gratitude go to Baha'i scholar Keven Brown for sharing, some twenty-one or so years ago, (and for recently renewing permission for its use and reviewing and updating the material), his unpublished compilation, "The State When Asleep and Dreams: Their Interpretation and Wisdom." The several excerpts taken from that compilation, consisting of Keven's provisional translations of passages from Amr va Khalq, vol. 1, are a key component herein. Additionally, he has recently provided another important element quoted in this article, his provisional translation of Lawh-i Haqqu’n-Nas, and given me invaluable encouragement.

[4] In his book The Purpose of Physical Reality, the Kingdom of Names, pp. 98-99, John Hatcher discusses this passage of prayer, exploring it as a metaphor for spiritual awaken­ing. However, his interpretation does not invalidate the literal application to dreaming while physically sleeping, then awakening, as Dr. Hatcher acknowledged.
[5] A strong sampling of these can be found in a 166-page compilation published, (self published?), in 1992 by the late Elias Zohoori: A Wondrous World, A Collection of Baha’i Sacred Writings and Accounts of Dreams and Visions from Baha’i History.
It is the intent of this current writer to post online an Appendix to this current article, summarizing more such accounts of notable dreams and related events that have been experienced by Baha’is.

[6] See for the complete text of a different provisional translation, by Dr. Mehran Ghasempour, of this fascinating Tablet, Lawh-i Haqqu’n-Nas, and also for “An Introduction to the Lawh-i Haqqu’n-Nas,” by Jean-Marc Lepain, as well as another article, “Dreams and their Interpretation in the Baha’i Religion: Some Preliminary Remarks,” by Dr. Necati Alkan.

[7] Dreams appear to provide a plausible explanation for the phenomena of deja-vu, the eerie sensation that one has “been here before.”


Part 2, The Unsearchable Wisdom of God

Regarding Dreams, Continued

Cautions to Consider
Dreams are not always realized:

The mind and thought of man at times discovers certain truths, and this thought and discovery produce definite results and benefits. Such thoughts have a solid foundation. But many things come to mind that are like the waves of the sea of delusion; they bear no fruit and produce no result. In the world of sleep, too, one may have a dream which exactly comes true, while on another occasion one will have a dream which has absolutely no result.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, 71.8, p. 293)

The question of Guidance is a very subtle one. We cannot be positive that an impulse or a dream is guidance. We can seek, through earnest prayer and longing, sincerely to do God's will, His guidance. We can try, as you say, to emulate the Master and at all times live up to the teachings, but we cannot be sure that doing these things we are still making no mistakes and are perfectly guided. These things help us not to make so many mistakes and to receive more directly the guidance God seeks to give us.
(Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 35)

Turning to the Writings of the Bab, one finds a sobering consideration is His poignant words relating how dreams were associated with false pride at the time of His advent and also at the coming of Muhammad:

In the manifestation of the Apostle of God all were eagerly awaiting Him, yet thou hast heard how He was treated at the time of His appearance, in spite of the fact that if ever they beheld Him in their dreams they would take pride in them.
Likewise in the manifestation of the Point of the Bayan, the people stood up at the mention of His Name and fervently implored His advent night and day, and if they dreamt of Him they gloried in their dreams; yet now that He hath revealed Himself, invested with the mightiest testimony, whereby their own religion is vindicated, and despite the incalculable number of people who yearningly anticipate His coming, they are resting comfortably in their homes, after having hearkened to His verses; while He at this moment is confined in the mountain of Maku, lonely and forsaken.

Take good heed of yourselves, O people of the Bayan...

(The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 84) [Emphasis added.]

The following cautionary words of guidance provide key insights to balance any study of the Baha'i view of dreams:
...That truth is often imparted through dreams no one who is familiar with history, especially religious history, can doubt. At the same time dreams and visions are always coloured and influenced more or less by the mind of the dreamer and we must beware of attaching too much importance to them. The purer and more free from prejudice and desire our hearts and minds become, the more likely is it that our dreams will convey reliable truth, but if we have strong prejudices, personal likings and aversions, bad feelings or evil motives, these will warp and distort any inspirational impression that comes to us... In many cases dreams have been the means of bringing people to the truth or of confirming them in the Faith. We must strive to become pure in heart and 'free from all save God'. Then our dreams as well as our waking thoughts will become pure and true. We should test impressions we get through dreams, visions or inspirations, by comparing them with the revealed Word and seeing whether they are in full harmony therewith.

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, May 16, 1925)

Baha’u’llah’s sacred Writings are the touchstone of guidance, the primary Source of illumination, taking precedence over any dream, should there be a question about it:
The dream state, according to the divine and expressly revealed precepts, cannot be equated or compared. Lay aside the dream and seize hold of that which the All-Bountiful hath revealed in His Book.
(Baha’u’llah, Amr va Khalq, Vol. 1, compiled by Fadil-i-Mazindarani, Tihran 1954-55. Provisional translation by Keven Brown.)

There is an account of some Baha'is in America in 1901 that illustrates this understanding. The story involves Mirza Abu'l Fadl, an exemplary believer of great intellectual stature and one of the foremost scholars in the history of the Faith. Ali Kuli Khan, stalwart translator who served Abdu'l-Baha, was a participant in the following narrative and shared the following account of it with his daughter Marzieh Gail:
What had happened in Chicago was this: the Syrian, Khayru'llah, had been teaching the Cause, adding to the Faith many beliefs of his own, such as reincarnation, dream interpretation, occultism and the like. He had written a book incorporating these beliefs with the Teachings, and had gone to Akka and asked permission to publish it. The Master told him to abandon his superstitious beliefs, saying further that he would become a leading teacher if he would give them up and spread the Faith. But he returned to America and published his book. A rift resulted among the believers; Mirza Abu'l-Fadl and I were sent to heal the rift.

Chicago we found Asadu'llah, who had come to America with the two devoted Baha'i merchants of Egypt… although still a recognized teacher he was busily interpreting dreams for the believers and hemming them in with superstition. After listening to Mirza [Abu'l-Fadl] for awhile, some of the believers said he was ‘cold and intellectual’. They said Asadu'llah was 'spiritual', because he interpreted their dreams. They would walk down the hall, past Mirza's door, and go on to Asadu'llah. They would come and tell us that they were personally led by the spirit, or had had a vision warning them against a fellow-believer, and so forth. (Mirza's name for them was jinn-gir—'spook chasers'.)

We saw that all this occult confusion would lead to divisions among the friends, especially as many of them were not yet well grounded in the Cause. We talked the matter over and decided on the following procedure: when anyone came to us, saying he was guided by the spirit to do thus and so, we would answer, ‘The Universal Spirit is manifested today in Baha'u'llah. If you have visions or experiences urging you to some action, weigh this action with the revealed Teachings. If the act conforms with the Teachings, it is true guidance. If not, your experience has been only a dream.’

(Marzieh Gail, Dawn Over Mount Hira, pp. 107-108)

This wise decision by Abdu'l-Baha's two emissaries was crystallized in the guidance that the Guardian conveyed some twenty-four years later, as we read earlier above.
Briefly, there is no question that visions occasionally do come to individuals, which are true and have significance. On the other hand, this comes to an individual through the grace of God, and not through the exercise of any of the human faculties. It is not a thing which a person should try to develop. When a person endeavors to develop faculties so that they might enjoy visions, dreams etc., actually what they are doing is weakening certain of their spiritual capacities; and thus under such circumstances, dreams and visions have no reality, and ultimately lead to the destruction of the character of the person.
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated May 6, 1952, to an individual believer)

Freshening the House
One of the early Western Baha’is from the turn of the twentieth century commented on the circumstances at that time:
“We were sometimes led in America by dreams and visions,” said Georgia Ralston, a member of the [Phoebe] Hearst circle. “We had to be. There were no books.” Also, there were no local, national or international Baha'i bodies then. The individual simply wrote to Abdu'l-Baha, that he believed.

(Marzieh Gail, Arches of the Years, p. 51)
However, by 1923 there was a compilation of Baha’i writings in English, Baha'i Scriptures, Selections from the Utterances of Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha, edited by Horace Holley, which was “Approved by Baha’i Committee on Publications.” It included guidance, (although possibly not the best translation by current standards), that appears to have been directed to two different individuals:
Arise and wash thy body, wear a pure gown and, directing thyself to the Kingdom of God, supplicate and pray to Him. Sleep in a clean, well prepared and ventilated place, and ask for appearance in the world of vision. Thou wilt have visions which will cause the door of doubts to be closed, which will give thee new joy, wonderful dilation, brilliant glory. Thou wilt comprehend realities and meanings.

(Abdu’l-Baha, Baha'i Scriptures, p. 472)

When thou desirest and yearnest for meeting in the world of vision; at the time when thou art in perfect fragrance and spirituality, wash thy hands and face, clothe thyself in clean robes, turn toward the court of the Peerless One, offer prayer to Him and lay thy head upon the pillow. When sleep cometh, the doors of revelation shall be opened and all thy desires shall become revealed.

(Abdu’l-Baha, Baha'i Scriptures, p. 477)

Without close consideration, it may appear that Shoghi Effendi’s warning about deliberately cultivating visionary experiences conflicts with Abdu’l-Baha’s directions in the two specific instances just above. However, the Master on another occasion had explained that:

"Whatever is answered through the dream state happens without personal volition. But man can prepare himself that a better dream may be realized. It is like a guest who comes. If the owner of the house freshens and cleans it, its coming is easier."

(From a talk of Abdu'l-Baha to pilgrims dated
August 8, 1919, Amr va Khalq, Vol. 1, compiled by Fadil-i-Mazindarani, Tihran 1954-55. Provisional translation by Keven Brown.)

As is well-known in common experience, physical contingencies do affect the dream experience. Baha’u’llah referred to this in passing when He wrote, “Variation in dreams occurs…sometimes on account of food and drink.” [8]

The Current Scene

There is a burgeoning area of sleep exploration and study popularly known as "dreamwork." Dreamwork can be loosely defined as techniques for discovering the creative power in dreams.
[9] One of the more eclectic books in this field describes thirty-five dreamwork methods including the following: incubating dreams; the “Jungian-Senoi” dream task; following the dream ego; dialoguing with dream figures; symbol immersion; amplifying your dream; metaphorical processing; direct reentry into the dream state; carrying the dream forward; lucid dreaming; rewriting the dream; method of the four quadrants; symbol regression; relating to archetypes in dreams; etc. [10]

Some experiments and experiences such as these may well be inappropriate for Baha'is to pursue when examined in the light of the Guardian's advice “not to try to develop faculties so that one might enjoy visions or dreams.”

On the other hand, some aspects of dream study and research are making important contributions to modern psychology and to individuals’ self knowledge and are to be lauded, given the emphasis the Baha'i Faith places on learning and spiritual transformation. The vistas of human knowledge (and humility) are being expanded by sleep and dream study as both scientific and lay (pun intended) researchers come face-to-face with the workings of the spirit. As science writer and philosopher Guy Murchie, (a Baha’i), termed it, "the dream is a 'consciousness' that somehow gets smuggled into finity on Earth, presumably to help prepare our minds or souls for whatever degree of Infinity lies beyond. It also adds dimension to all being, both individual and collective, not least by raising critical questions."

The Baha'i Faith has much to say about dreaming and its importance. Baha'u'llah repeatedly used words of positive exhortation when alluding to the phenomenon of dreaming, for example, "behold," "consider," "ponder," "observe," "meditate on," and "reflect upon."

Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha spoke of dreaming as a wondrous manifestation of the world of the spirit offering evidence of the life beyond and providing us with an inkling of how different that afterlife is from this physical life.
Furthermore, dreams have played a significant role in the unfoldment of the Baha'i Faith, as they have throughout the history of other religions. [12] In fact, both the Herald and Founder of the Faith received the first intimations of their respective Missions through dreams. Other important events in the lives of the Bab, Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and the Guardian involved dreams. Also, dreams have been the means of bringing people, including many of the heroines and heroes of Baha'i history, "to the truth or of confirming them in the Faith." (See, for example, A Wondrous World--Dream and Visions, by Elias Zohoori, 1992, and Dreams of Destiny--In the Babi and Baha'i Faiths, by Amir Badiei, 2013.)

To aid and protect them in considering their dreams, Baha'is are directed that "we should test impressions we get through comparing them with the revealed Word..." Baha'is are warned of the dangers of deliberately cultivating visionary experiences—those that do so are actually "weakening certain of their spiritual capacities; and thus under such circumstances, dreams and visions have no reality, and ultimately lead to the destruction of the character of the person."
It is explained that purity of heart and freedom from prejudice are important factors in receiving truth through dreams and that dreams are "always coloured and influenced more or less by the mind of the dreamer." It is acknowledged that "truth is often imparted through dreams," although believers are admonished against taking false pride in their dreams and cautioned "to beware of attaching too much importance to them." Moreover, Abdu’l-Baha compares some dreams to “the waves of the sea of imaginations; they have no fruit, and no result comes from them.”
There is an array of beliefs, theories, investigation and experimentation focusing on dreams. This need not pose a quandary for Baha'is wishing to understand the significance of dreams; the Baha'i Faith has scriptural Writings and other authoritative texts of guidance clarifying this subject. These Writings and texts include interpretations of dreams given by the Bab, Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Baha. Furthermore, Baha'is have a principle of their Faith—the principle of moderation—and a body of Baha'i history to help guide them in interacting with their dreams. We also have in our Faith a living, organic network of consultative resources, including both appointed individuals and elected councils, to which Baha'is may turn for advice.

A Final Word about Priorities
Thou didst ask an interpreter of dreams to explain thy dream. Verily, We granted thee leave to do so and confirm thee again. He is the Almighty, the All-Powerful. But the principle thing is steadfastness (al-istiqámat)* in My Cause. Whoso hath attained to this station, God will cause oceans of truths and understanding to issue from his heart; and whoso hath rejected this station, verily, he is of the heedless.
*Al-istiqámat also means ‘sincerity,’ ‘integrity,’ ‘honesty,’ and ‘correctness.’
(From a Tablet of Baha’u’llah, Amr va Khalq, Vol. 1, compiled by Fadil-i-Mazindarani, Tihran 1954-55. Provisional translation and note by Keven Brown.) [Emphasis added.]

In some instances a dream experience can be of the utmost importance to an individual, leading one to the recognition of the Manifestation of God for this Day. Furthermore, for many people, meditating upon the existence of dreams as a pervasive phenomenon can be beneficial, and being aware of and contemplating one's own dreams may be helpful. Thus, where there is interest in the subject of dreams, sharing the Baha’i teachings on this topic could be worthwhile.
However, there may be another consideration if, for instance, a Baha’i was evaluating whether or not to organize regular group dreamwork sessions in the Baha’i community:
…the Cause has so many burdens to bear at this time, we are forced to do as Abdu'l-Baha said—give up the important for the most important.
(From a letter dated 29 December 1951 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations Vol. II, p. 116)

“...the community must become more adept at accommodating a wide range of actions without losing concentration on the primary objectives of teaching, namely, expansion and consolidation.”

(The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1990, "To the Baha'is of the World")

"Perhaps the task that will occupy the attention of you and your auxiliaries above all others is to assist the community in its effort to maintain focus. This ability, slowly acquired through successive Plans, represents one of its most valuable assets, hard won through discipline, commitment and foresight as the friends and their institutions have learned to pursue the single aim of advancing the process of entry by troops. On the one hand, you will find it necessary to discourage the tendency to confuse focus with uniformity or exclusivity. To maintain focus does not imply that special needs and interests are neglected, much less that essential activities are dropped in order to accommodate others. Clearly, there are a host of elements that comprise Baha’i community life, shaped over the decades, which must be further refined and developed. On the other hand, you will want to take every opportunity to reinforce the disposition to prioritize—one which recognizes that not all activities have the same importance at a given stage of growth, that some must necessarily take precedence over others, that even the most well-intentioned proposals can cause distraction, dissipate energy or impede progress. What should be plainly acknowledged is that the time available for the friends to serve the Faith in every community is not without limits. It is only natural to expect that the preponderating share of this limited resource would be expended in meeting the provisions of the Plan.”

(The Universal House of Justice,
27 December 2005, "To the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors") [Emphasis added.]

Notes for Part 2
[8] From a Tablet of Baha’u’llah, Amr va Khalq, Vol. 1, compiled by Fadil-i-Mazindarani, Tihran 1954-55. Provisional translation by Keven Brown.

[9] Dream Work—Techniques for Discovering the Creative Power in Dreams, by Jeremy Taylor, Paulist Press, 1983. This book has the most succinct definition of “dreamwork” in its title.

[10] Jungian-Senoi Dreamwork Manual, by Strephon Kaplan Williams, Journey Press, 1982.

[11] The Seven Mysteries of Life, p. 595

[12] See, e.g., God, Dreams, and Revelation, A Christian Interpretation of Dreams, by Morton T. Kelsey, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1974. This book provides an excellent survey of dream accounts in the Bible.

Baha'i Sources
For Parts 1 & 2, in the order quoted.
Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys, Translated by Marzieh Gail in consultation with Ali Quli Khan, Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois 60091, 1986 Edition.
Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, Translated by Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois 60091, 1983 Edition
Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah, Translated by Shoghi EffendiBaha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois 60091, 1987 Edition
The Dawn-Breakers - Nabil's Narrative of the Early Days of the Baha'i Revelation, Translated and Edited by Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois 60091, 1996 Reprint
Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, by, Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois 60091, 1974 Edition
Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, Revealed After the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Translated by Habib Taherzadeh with the assistance of a Committee at the Baha’i World Centre, Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois 60091, 1988 Edition
Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, Baha'i World Centre, 2014 Edition
Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois 60091, 1973 Edition
Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Talks Delivered by Abdu'l-Baha during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912, Compiled by Howard MacNutt, Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois 60091, 1982 Edition
Baha’u’llah, The Tabernacle of Unity: Baha'u'llah’s Responses To Manikchi Sahib and Other Writings, Baha’i World Centre, 2006

Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, Addresses & Notes of Conversations, Baha'i Publishing Trust, London, England SW7, IPD, 1987 Edition

Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, Translated by a Committee at the Baha'i World Centre and by Marzieh Gail, Baha'i World Centre, Haifa, 1978

The Bab, Selections from the Writings of The Bab, Translated by Habib Taherzadeh with the assistance of a Committee at the Baha'i World Centre, 1978 Reprint

Lights of Guidance: A Baha'i Reference File, Compiled by Helen Bassett Hornby, Baha'i Publishing Trust, P.O. Box 19, New Delhi 110 001 India, 1994 Edition.
Citations from pp. 513-514, 515

Gail, Marzieh, Dawn Over Mt. Hira and Other Essays, George Ronald, Oxford, 1976

Gail, Marzieh, Arches of the Years, George Ronald, Oxford, 1991
Baha'i Scriptures, Selections from the Utterances of Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha, Edited by Horace Holley, Approved by Baha'i Committee on Publications, Second Edition, New York, 1923

This is a work in progress. Copyright 2011 by Paul Mantle. Updated 2015.