Wednesday, July 20, 2011

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.


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