Thursday, July 5, 2012

Musings on the Tablet of Ahmad

Reflections from Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, referring to the "Tablet of Ahmad:"

"...We cannot ignore prisons in this Dispensation. Whether they belong to the category of the 'Most Great', which suggests life as well as Akka, or the various prisons of self in which the soul is trapped, we find walls and barred gates throughout the Sacred Writings. As metaphors, too, they remind us that words contain their own deep pits in which the croaking of the raven is heard, for we can become as bound by names and attributes as by any other material chains.

Photo © Baha’i International Community
 The bridge at Büyükçekmece, Turkey, which Bahá’u’lláh and His companions crossed on their way from Constantinople to Adrianople in December 1863.

 "Above all, we have as an example Baha'u'llah's own lifetime of exile and imprisonment. 'Remember My days during thy days,' He quietly admonishes, 'and my distress and banishment in this remote prison.' This too was surely part of His message to our generation. How many times do we find warnings that we should not allow ourselves to be 'debarred' from His Presence, that we should not permit veils to come between our hearts and His Truth? Veils taken to their logical conclusion transform to walls. Over and over again we find Baha'u'llah bewailing the condition of the human race suffocating within its self-constructed prisons, abandoned in its deepest dungeons..."

(Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Four on an Island, p. 105)

"...We need a collective breakthrough, a kind of creative revolution on a global scale, in response to the principles of the Baha'i Faith in order for its effects to permeate society. This perhaps is one of the themes of the Tablet of Ahmad, and a close study of certain passages from this extraordinary prayer might serve to conclude these thoughts.

"At the beginning of the Tablet of Ahmad, Baha'u'llah announces His Revelation to mankind, through the image of a Nightingale, that symbol of the full-throated Song of God in every Dispensation. As that Divine Bird sings out to us in the dark night of the soul, hidden by our folly and despised, its holy and sweet melodies are heard by four groups of listeners: the sincere ones, the believers in the Divine Unity, the severed ones and the lovers. Since we read from left to right, and have a tendency to move down the page from line to line, it is natural to assume that the four stations likewise move step by step from the first--sincerity--to the last--love. Before we can even listen to the Nightingale we must at least be sincere. Only then can we proceed to believe, which in turn leads us to severance and brings us finally to the station in which we recognize that the message of the Nightingale is one of love.

"However, as we follow Baha'u'llah's instructions, 'Learn well this Tablet, O Ahmad. Chant it during thy days and withhold not thyself therefrom', we cannot help noticing that enigmatic promise at its end: 'Should one who is in affliction or grief read this Tablet with absolute sincerity,' asserts Baha'u'llah, 'God will dispel his sadness, solve his difficulties and remove his afflictions.' Such a promise makes us retrace our steps to the beginning once more and start again, for we question our motives and wonder whether or not we were indeed sincere. So precious is the promise that we find sincerity itself to be our goal. The act of reading the first paragraph, therefore, and proceeding step by step through the four stations ironically enough separates us from the very goal of the prayer--sincerity. We must read forwards and simultaneously think backwards. Unless we love the idea of sincerity we cannot be detached or reach the seat of sanctity. Unless we are severed from earthly thoughts (the very preoccupations with sadness, difficulties and afflictions which may have sent us running to the prayer in the first place), we cannot comprehend the source of this sincerity to be from God 'the King the Glorious, the Peerless'. Until we understand the source we will not realize its central motivating impulse of unity: the purpose of the Revelation, as well as our own goal of sincerity, is for unity, for the fusion of hearts, for the recognition of providence within calamity, and the mingling of contraries. Until we get a glimpse of the meaning of 'Divine Unity' on every level how can we call ourselves sincere?

"There are many of us, whether or not we call ourselves Baha'is, who are lovers of this Faith, who pursue its aims under a myriad social and economic guises, who feel the throb of its message in the arteries of our travailing age. And many lovers have not yet attained severance. We may think these principles and ideas are our own; often as Baha'is we think we know more about them than anyone else. But once we have understood the source to be God, the motivation God, the very choice of our instrumental lives to lie in His acceptance, then our love and our detachment bring us to the shores of Divine Unity. We recognize that whether we want it or not we are being united; whether we accept each other or not our diversity is readily accepted by our Creator. Before His mercy seat, therefore, we begin to turn towards each other, with open arms; embracing the contradictions of our humanity, we begin the search of the sincere. We return to the prayer again, questioning our motives, humbled by our limitations, and read once more from the beginning in an attempt to arrive at the endless end.

"According to Baha'u'llah it is better to be sincere about our doubts than hypocritical about our faith. In one of His tablets He warns the believers in very forceful language against the dangers of insincerity. He says it is preferable to be an inmate of hell itself, than to be a hypocrite; better to be an unbeliever than one who plots and schemes. He even goes so far as to say He would rather men were drunk than malicious, that they were beheaded rather than heartless. He cautions humanity to fear God rather than their own 'priest-prompted superstitions', and concludes by stating that the purpose of His Revelation is to infuse eternal life into the mortal frames of living men.[*]

"It is surely the climax of divine irony, therefore, to discover at the end of the Tablet of Ahmad, that the prize awarded to the one who attained 'absolute sincerity' would be 'the reward of a hundred martyrs and a service in both worlds'. Sincerity grants us a sense of purpose in this world and the next; it is the equivalent of that reward attained by a hundred martyrs. To endure death for the sake of the Cause is a kind of vivid living. It is a service in other worlds which intensifies our privilege of serving in this one..."

(Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Four on an Island, pp. 120-123)

[*] Blogger's Note: Ms. Nakhjavani, writing in 1983, is describing a passage that has since appeared in an authorized English translation. See "Trustworthiness: A Cardinal Baha'i Virtue," January 1987, Compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice. The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 337, #2050. Here is that passage from Baha'u'llah:

Be thou of the people of hell-fire, but be not a hypocrite.
Be thou an unbeliever, but be not a plotter.
Make thy home in taverns, but tread not the path of the mischief-maker.
Fear thou God, but not the priest.
Give to the executioner thy head, but not thy heart.
Let thine abode be under the stone, but seek not the shelter of the cleric.
Thus doth the Holy Reed intone its melodies, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its song, so that He may infuse life eternal into the mortal frames of men, impart to the temples of dust the essence of the Holy Spirit and the heavenly Light, and draw the transient world, through the potency of a single word, unto the Everlasting Kingdom.

(From a Tablet - translated from the Persian)