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      Today is the 190th Anniversary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh, the promised one of all religions. As my post in commemoration of this august occasion, I want to express an idea that He expounds in the “Book of the River”, and which seems to keep appearing in my life.
      The Book of the River was written in Baghdad, on the Tigris river. (Nader Saiedi translates the title as “Book of the River”, while Juan R.I. Cole chooses “Book of the Tigris”. I prefer and agree with Juan’s title, but Saiedi’s translation is superior in regards to the actual book.) The Book is not actually a book, but a letter to a man named Javád. (Saiedi theorizes that this is Javád-i-Káshání, who later became a Bahá’í) This was before Baha’u’llah had declared His Station, but He was already among the most influential of the Bábís (Followers of the Báb). I have learned, from studying a few Bahá’í scholars’ writings on this piece, that at this time Bahá’u’lláh would mix explicit denials of any divine station with implicit declarations of one. He explains in this tablet that He desperately wished to proclaim His Station as Sahibu’z-Zaman (Lord of the Age) but He was prevented from doing so by the blackness of the hearts of many of the prominent Bábís. Bahá’u’lláh likens the pressure of the two urges -both to reveal and conceal – to the tribes of Gog and Magog, and pleads for an Alexander the Great to save Him (Although, He would soon answer His own plea).

      Were it not for fear of the malice hidden in the hearts, I would have assuredly unveiled all the inmost divine analogies and all the subtleties of the heavenly principles with regard to the course of this outward river. Yet, alas, I am disinclined to approach any matter. On account of the intensity of My anguish and sorrow, in these days I am sore tried between the Gog of silence and the Magog of utterance. I beseech God to send down an Alexander who will raise an insurmountable barrier.

      Now, in addition to many other points, Bahá’u’lláh explains in this epistle that truth is relative, and human intellect cannot be used as the sole qualifier. While Saiedi himself explains in another work that Bahá’u’lláh is not simply a Neo-Platonist, these are Platonic ideas. I do not mean by this that Bahá’u’lláh learned these ideas from Plato, or even was influenced by later Muslim Neo-Platonism. The fact of Bahá’u’lláh’s education denies this.
      In this epistle Bahá’u’lláh uses the analogy of a flooding river to express the power of divine revelation. This analogy becomes very complex, and for the most part I will not go into it here. Realize however, that the analogy is already very established at the point where human intellect and absolute truth are challenged.

      For example, with reference to the same analogy of the flooding river, observe that it floweth forward in one manner and its relationship to all buildings and structures is the same, yet any valley that hath more capacity is able to take in more of it, and any dam whose foundation is weaker is less able to resist it. These differences, therefore, have arisen from the diversity of recipients. In like manner, consider the rays of the Eternal Sun, which shine with the same illumination in the heaven of human hearts but, when reflected in the forms of mirrors, differ by reason of differences among the mirrors themselves. Thus it is that some abide exalted in their essences and high in their endeavors, while others sink into the depths of lethargy and degradation. All things have their rank before God, and all return unto Him.

      Now, the fact that the Blessed Beauty is speaking specifically of divine revelation, not of Universals and Forms is not lost on me. I do think however that the application of these verses to a Platonic theory of existence is logical and obvious. Now, simplified Plato’s theory is this, that objects and qualities in this universe are not real, but existent manifestations or shadows of transcendent ideas. This is equally true with ideas, they transcend reality, and are only called into worldly existence due to the interaction of other ideas in the world. Thus, any idea we have is not our idea, but one we have accessed. A chair is not actually a chair but a conglomeration of transcendent ideas. Even our human archetype of chair is only a shadow of the higher transcendent reality of chair. These transcendent ideas are the rays of the sun Bahá’u’lláh mentions, and the mirrors are the manifest forms called into existent being by the interaction of other manifest forms. (Note that there is a distinction between transcendence and existence. God transcends, but does not exist, as existence is phenomenal, and the phenomenal is effulgent of God.)
      This is very similar to how `Abdu’l-Bahá explained that every thing in the world of creation is a manifestation of an attribute of God. While Plato may have placed the transcendent forms as independent entities, I would place them as synonyms for God, or attributes thereof, as I think the Writings explain. What must be emphasized is that these ideas and truths manifest in existence are relative, as Bahá’u’lláh here explains.

      Hidden allusions are concealed within these verses and holy letters are treasured up within these words. Blessed is the one who hath seized these pearls, recognized their value, and attained the presence of their Supreme Meaning. It is clear and evident that the root of differences, from the farthest worlds of meaning to the nearest degrees of expression, is caused by the diversity of the forms of the mirrors. Each person speaketh and expresseth himself according to that which is reflected within him. For example, with reference to the same analogy of the flooding river, observe that it floweth forward in one manner and its relationship to all buildings and structures is the same, yet any valley that hath more capacity is able to take in more of it, and any dam whose foundation is weaker is less able to resist it. These differences, therefore, have arisen from the diversity of recipients.

      As I read it, Bahá’u’lláh puts forth here that all truth is relative, even that revealed by the Manifestation. Because we earthly beings are relative, we cannot comprehend or access truth in its absolute form. In its absolute form, truth and God are synonymous. As relative beings, anything we come in contact with is relative; in coming in contact with something we are actually calling into being a shadow of an absolute. Just as a painting cannot surpass a painter, any idea we comprehend is relative to our minds. Our minds themselves are relative to creation, which is relative to God.
      As Bahá’ís we say that religious truth is relative, as it changes from age to age. In the time of Krishna untouchables were a social necessity and were morally justifiable, today the system cannot coexist with a just society, as it has surpassed its purpose (To quarantine those who handle the dead). However, I would take this a step further and say that all truth is necessarily relative. As relative beings we progress towards absolute existence, but cannot reach it (As a painting can never become a painter). As we progress we outgrow certain truths, and they cease to be true. For this reason, the dual relativity between humans and truth, we need the Manifestations of God to nudge us along now and then. Consider the Old Testament, God to us seems dark, bitter and vengeful, nothing like the God of Christ. In the time of the Old Testament, they knew that character, He was the familiar tribal leader, who maintained social order. In their time the God of Christ was inconceivable – though they felt love from the God they knew – and according to human reason and relative existence, Christ’s God did not exist. Yet in His transcendence, the Gods that are contradictory in the world of existence are mutually inclusive. Thus human reason cannot be our only guide, it is incapable of independent progression, as it denies that which it cannot comprehend. All things are miracles, as without God existence could not comprehend their transcendent reality.

      When viewed with the eye of insight, no phenomenon on earth could be comprehended by any human, whether high or low, without prior observation and experience. Observe the sun in the heavens. To the extent that it is manifest, it giveth splendor and illumination to the entirety of the inhabitants of the earth in the east, the west, and all other directions. Certainly, human reason would not be inclined to accept the possibility of the existence of such a thing by means of any rational definition or description without actual observation and experience. It is the same with all other things in God’s creation. Reflect, so that the secret of this question may become disclosed to thee. All things are miracles of the Prophets; “Repeat the gaze: seest thou a single flaw?”In the Qur’án there are many verses which touch upon this theme. Although We do not have in mind an exact text, the purport of the verses is as follows. For example: “He it is Who created you and then provided for your sustenance. Will ye not see?” “He it is Who produced you from the earth most excellently. Will ye not believe?” “He hath sent down the rain from heaven. Will ye not give thanks?” “He hath created the heavens and the earth and whatever lieth between them, and made the mountains a shelter as a token of His grace, yet few among you understand.” Thus it becometh evident that all phenomena, as things endowed with power, are also miracles of God. Is there any Creator besides God? Say: Praise be unto God. No maker is there but Him, in whose name the faithful believe.

Please note that I used Nader Saiedi’s translation of Bahá’u’lláh’s Ṣaḥífiy-i-ShaṭṭíyyihorBook of the River. I also consulted Juan Cole’s translation entitled The Book of the Tigris. I find Saiedi’s and Cole’s style equally pleasing, however Saiedi demonstrates the superiority of his translation. Both are provisional, and not official Bahá’í translations. Translation choices may reflect their own personal views, and may contain errors of translation and interpretation. Neither should be taken alone to reflect Bahá’í views, rather more important and studied texts should. Cole’s translation is available online here, and Saiedi’s translation and commentary is available online here.