Select Page

Overcoming Our Ego

What is Our Ego?

We all have two natures – the higher and the lower.

In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature.  In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone.  Signs of both these natures are to be found in men.  In his material aspect he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcome of his lower nature.  The attributes of his Divine nature are shown forth in love, mercy, kindness, truth and justice, one and all being expressions of his higher nature.  Every good habit, every noble quality belongs to man’s spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 60)

The ego is the animal side of us, which is full of selfish desires:

The ego is the animal in us, the heritage of the flesh which is full of selfish desires.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

Other names for ego include lower nature, and Satan:

This lower nature in man is symbolized as Satan — the evil ego within us, not an evil personality outside.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 287)

According to the Bahá’í teachings, there is no such being as Satan. Satan is a human being who is led by his ego to live a life of wickedness and ungodliness. Shoghi Effendi’s secretary states on his behalf that ‘devil or Satan is symbolic of evil and dark forces yielding to temptation’ (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 513)

How is the Ego Developed?

From early childhood, human society trains us to exalt ourselves above others with the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power:

Human society at present exerts a pernicious influence upon the soul of man. Instead of allowing him to live a life of service and sacrifice, it is highly competitive and teaches him to pride himself on his accomplishments. From early childhood he is trained to develop his ego and to seek to exalt himself above others, in the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)

How Does the Ego Manifest?

Instead of allowing us to live a life of service and sacrifice, our ego is highly competitive and teaches us to pride ourselves on our accomplishments. From early childhood we are trained to exalt ourselves above others, with the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power.

Instead of allowing him to live a life of service and sacrifice, it is highly competitive and teaches him to pride himself on his accomplishments. From early childhood he is trained to develop his ego and to seek to exalt himself above others, in the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)

It manifests when we are thinking only of ourselves:

If man were to care for himself only he would be nothing but an animal for only the animals are thus egoistic. If you bring a thousand sheep to a well to kill nine hundred and ninety-nine the one remaining sheep would go on grazing, not thinking of the others and worrying not at all about the lost, never bothering that its own kind had passed away, or had perished or been killed. To look after one’s self only is therefore an animal propensity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 41)

It manifests when we are willing to be well off while others are in misery and distress:

It is the animal propensity to live solitary and alone. It is the animal proclivity to look after one’s own comfort. But man was created to be a man—to be fair, to be just, to be merciful, to be kind to all his species, never to be willing that he himself be well off while others are in misery and distress—this is an attribute of the animal and not of man. Nay, rather, man should be willing to accept hardships for himself in order that others may enjoy wealth; he should enjoy trouble for himself that others may enjoy happiness and well-being. This is the attribute of man. This is becoming of man. Otherwise man is not man—he is less than the animal.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 41)

It manifests as personal desires and achievement of leadership:

Now some of the mischief-makers, with many stratagems, are seeking leadership, and in order to reach this position they instil doubts among the friends that they may cause differences, and that these differences may result in their drawing a party to themselves. But the friends of God must be awake and must know that the scattering of these doubts hath as its motive personal desires and the achievement of leadership.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 214)

It manifests when we ascribe certain attributs as belonging to us and not to God; and when we employ them to boost our own ego:

In many of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh exhorts His followers not to become the bond-slaves of the Kingdom of Names. The well-known Islamic saying, ‘The Names come down from heaven’, has many meanings. In this world every one of God’s attributes is clad with a name, and every such name reveals the characteristics of that attribute. For instance, generosity is an attribute of God, and it manifests itself in human beings. However, a person who has this attribute often becomes proud of it and loves to be referred to as generous. When his generosity is acknowledged by other people, he becomes happy, and when it is ignored, he is unhappy. This is one form of attachment to the Kingdom of Names. Although this example concerns the name ‘generosity‘, the same is true of all the names and attributes of God manifested within the individual. Usually man ascribes these attributes to his own person rather than to God and employs them to boost his own ego. For instance, a learned man uses the attribute of knowledge to become famous and feels gratified and uplifted when his name is publicized far and wide. Or there is the individual whose heart leaps with feelings of pride and satisfaction when he hears his name mentioned and finds himself admired. These are examples of attachment to the Kingdom of Names.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 25)

It manifests when we take responsibility of the Faith into our own hands and try to force it into ways that we wish it to go:

The Universal House of Justice has emphasized the importance of our avoiding any tendency to take responsibility for the Cause into our own hands: ‘Service to the Cause of God requires absolute fidelity and integrity and unwavering faith in Him. No good but only evil can come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go regardless of the clear texts and our own limitations. It is His Cause. He has promised that its light will not fail. Our part is to cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions that He has created to preserve His Covenant.’  (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 119)

It manifests during Bahá’í consultation, particularly on the Assembly:

The application of these spiritual standards makes Bahá’í consultation a testing ground for every member of the Assembly. All the virtues of the individual—his faith, his courage and his steadfastness in the Covenant—undergo a rigorous test as the members sit around the table to consult. Here the spiritual battle within the soul of the individual begins and will continue as long as the ego is the dictator. Indeed, in many cases this battle lasts a lifetime. In this battlefield the forces of light and darkness are arrayed against each other. On the one side stands the spiritual entity, the soul of the believer; on the other, a great enemy, the self or ego. Whenever the soul hearkens to the lofty standards set by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and applies them during consultation, the ego, defeated, recedes into the background. The soul emerges victorious in this battle and becomes radiant with the light of faith and detachment. The application of these spiritual principles, however, must be genuine and not merely superficial. The feelings of love, unity, detachment and harmony must come from the heart. Humility and servitude, radiance, devotion, courtesy and patience, along with all the other virtues, are qualities of the spirit. These cannot be manifested by paying lip service to them. If this is the case, then the ego is the victor.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 36-37)

It manifests as Covenant Breaking:

Many people are puzzled by the fact that almost the entire family of Bahá’u’lláh defected. Why is it that those who were nearest to Him, who were members of His household, His sons and daughters, should be foremost among the violators of His Covenant? In normal circumstances, when a person attains a prominent position in the community, it is often the family members who rally around him and lend their whole-hearted support. But in the case of Bahá’u’lláh it was the reverse and a similar situation was created within the family of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá after His passing. To appreciate the reasons for this, we observe once again that the proper attitude of a believer towards the Manifestation of God should be a true demonstration of servitude, self-effacement and complete obedience. Whenever these qualities are absent, a barrier will be created between man and God. In such a case the believer may be associating with the Manifestation of God in person, yet because of this barrier he will not be able to appreciate His glory or become enchanted with His Revelation.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 25)

What Happens When We Give In To Our Ego’s Demands?

We are prevented from ascending to the realms of holiness:

Anger, passion, ignorance, prejudice, greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion prevent man from ascending to the realms of holiness, imprisoning him in the claws of self and the cage of egotism.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241)

Sin and error continue:

As long as the ego is subject to carnal desires, sin and error continue. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 184)

Our spiritual life is imperilled:

Shoghi Effendi writes: “After recognition of the Manifestation, the believer will be tested by God in many ways. Each time he passes a test, he will acquire greater spiritual insight and will grow stronger in faith. The closer he gets to the person of the Manifestation the more difficult become his tests. It is then that any trace of ambition or ego may imperil his spiritual life.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 1, p. 129)

We are changed into an animal, unable to judge good from evil, or to distinguish light from darkness:

As long as man is a captive of habit, pursuing the dictates of self and desire, he is vanquished and defeated. This passionate personal ego takes the reins from his hands, crowds out the qualities of the divine ego and changes him into an animal, a creature unable to judge good from evil, or to distinguish light from darkness. He becomes blind to divine attributes, for this acquired individuality, the result of an evil routine of thought becomes the dominant note of his life.  May all of you be freed from these dangers and delivered from the world of desires that you may enter into the realm of light and become divine, radiant, merciful, Godlike.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 133)

We lose our faith, our goodness and virtues; and fall into the abyss of degradation and ignominy:

There are many people who have rendered notable services to the Faith and their names are recorded in its annals, yet when the winds of tests blew they were unable to subdue their self and ego. These individuals not only lost their faith, but also their goodness and virtues. They fell from the heights of glory into the abyss of degradation and ignominy.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 264)

We are summoned to wickedness and lust:

O people of the world!  Follow not the promptings of the self, for it summoneth insistently to wickedness and lust; follow, rather, Him Who is the Possessor of all created things, Who biddeth you to show forth piety, and manifest the fear of God. He, verily, is independent of all His creatures.  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 41)

We will wander in the desert of heedlessness and regret:

Whosoever is occupied with himself is wandering in the desert of heedlessness and regret. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

We will remain deprived of the outpourings of God:

But if … any one betray the least of trusts or neglect and be remiss in the performance of duties which are intrusted to him, or by oppression takes one penny of extortion from the subjects, or seeks after his own personal, selfish aims and ends in the attainment of his own interests, he shall undoubtedly remain deprived of the outpourings of His Highness the Almighty! Beware! Beware! lest ye fall short in that which ye are commanded in this Tablet!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 403)

We will be entirely severed from God:

They do not know the subtlety of the ego of man. It is the Tempter (the subtle serpent of the mind), and the poor soul not entirely emancipated from its suggestions is deceived until entirely severed from all save God.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 487)

How Do We Subdue Our Ego?

Man can never completely eliminate the ego, but it can and should be ever-increasingly subordinated to the enlightened soul of man:

The complete and entire elimination of the ego would imply perfection—which man can never completely attain—but the ego can and should be ever-increasingly subordinated to the enlightened soul of man. This is what spiritual progress implies.  (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 11)

We can seek to become more perfect:

The only people who are truly free of the “dross of self” are the Prophets, for to be free of one’s ego is a hall-mark of perfection. We humans are never going to become perfect, for perfection belongs to a realm we are not destined to enter. However, we must constantly mount higher, seek to be more perfect.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

We can recognize that the Manifestation of God abides in a realm far above that of man

If we recognize that the Manifestation of God abides in a realm far above that of man, it becomes evident to us that the human intellect, when freed from self and ego, will admit its inability to appreciate fully the inner realities of the Word of God and His Covenant. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 1, p. 129)

We can understand that when we give free rein to our egos, we’re acting against God:

The mere consciousness of the fact that one is acting against God in condemning and attacking his fellow man, is sufficient to deter him in the pursuit of such reprehensible behaviour. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 189)

We can obey the laws of God, seek to live the life, pray and struggle:

By obeying the laws of God, seeking to live the life laid down in our teachings, and prayer and struggle, we can subdue our egos. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 453)

We can adorn ourselves with the virtues of humility and self-effacement:

The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh aims to reverse this process. The soul of man needs to be adorned with the virtues of humility and self-effacement so that it may become detached from the Kingdom of Names.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)

We can detach from all earthly things and banish all traces of passion and desire, of ego and  self-glorification:

But the requirements of faith and the path to Baha’u’llah……..remain unchanged. It is necessary for the believer of today, ………, to detach himself from all earthly things and to banish from his soul the traces of passion and desire, of ego and  self-glorification in order that he may truly appreciate the awe-inspiring station of Baha’u’llah …….. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 215)

We can renounce and forget our “self”:

The ‘Master Key’ to self-mastery is self- forgetting. The road to the palace of life is through the path of renunciation.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

We can eliminate the use of the word “I”:

Bahá’u’lláh calls on the individual to kindle a fire within his soul and burn away every trace of self so that the concept and the very word ‘I’ may totally disappear from his being. Indeed this is one of the most profound teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. When a person tries to exalt himself, to celebrate his own name and aspires to become famous he is, in fact, going right against the plan of creation. Such an individual hinders the flow of the bounties of God to himself. Although outwardly he may be considered a great success, in reality he has failed to fulfill the purpose for which he was created. When a man attains to real greatness, he then recognizes his helplessness, unworthiness and impotence. And when he becomes truly learned he genuinely discovers that he is ignorant. It is then that he can manifest the attributes of God within himself and impart them to others.   (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 43)

We can sever ourselves from the Kingdom of Names:

To sever oneself from the Kingdom of Names may prove to be the most difficult task for a Bahá’í, and the struggle may indeed last a lifetime. If a man can only realize that his virtues are not intrinsically his own, but rather are manifestations of the attributes of God, then he is freed from the Kingdom of Names and becomes truly humble. Such a man will bestow divine perfections upon the world of humanity. This is the loftiest station that God has destined for man. To the extent that a believer succeeds in severing himself from these three forms of attachment, will he be fulfilling his part in the Covenant of God.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 28)

We can leave authority in the hands of the institutions :

One of the distinguishing features of Bahá’u’lláh’s embryonic world order is that it does not harbour egotistical personalities. Bahá’u’lláh has conferred authority on its institutions, whether local, national or international, but the individuals who are privileged to serve on them are devoid of any authority. Unlike men who wield power in the world today and seek to acquire fame and popularity, members of Bahá’í institutions cannot but manifest humility and self-effacement if they are to remain faithful to Bahá’u’lláh. Those who do not succeed, through immaturity or lack of faith, in living up to these standards are indeed attached to the Kingdom of Names and become deprived of the bounties of God in this age.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 25-26)

We can protect ourselves from becoming complacent or indifferent:

Life is a constant struggle, not only against forces around us, but above all against our own ‘ego’. We can never afford to rest on our oars, for if we do, we soon see ourselves carried down stream again. Many of those who drift away from the Cause do so for the reason that they had ceased to go on developing. They became complacent, or indifferent, and consequently ceased to draw the spiritual strength and vitality from the Cause which they should have.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

We can repent and return:

We have repeatedly revealed similar utterances, but they have not profited the heedless ones, for they are found to be captives to egotism and lust. Ask thou God to enable all of them to repent and return . . . It is hoped that the hand of the Divine mercy, and the blessings of the compassionate One may assist them all, and adorn them with the garment of forgiveness and favor; and that He may also guard them from that which impairs His Cause among His servants. Verily, He is the powerful, the mighty, and He is the forgiving, the merciful! (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 184)

We can never afford to rest on our oars, for if we do, we soon see ourselves carried downstream again:

Life is a constant struggle, not only against forces around us, but above all against our own ‘ego‘. We can never afford to rest on our oars, for if we do, we soon see ourselves carried downstream again.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

We can burn away every veil that comes between us and God:

There are passages in the Mathnavi in which Bahá’u’lláh exhorts man to burn away every veil that comes between him and God. Then and only then can he behold the beauty and grandeur of his Lord. One of these veils is the ego.   (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 43)

The best way to do this is through prayer – as this line from the Long Obligatory Prayer tells us:

I beseech Thee by them Who are the Daysprings of Thine invisible Essence, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, to make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils which have shut me out from Thy beauty, and a light that will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence.  (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 6)

What Happens When We Overcome Our Ego?

We will be called saints:

We call people “saints” who have achieved the highest degree of mastery over their ego.  (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 453)

We will not be discouraged by  criticism or pleased with praise and glorification:

When a person reaches this stage of maturity and discernment, he will neither be discouraged by undue criticism, nor pleased with praise and glorification. It is always the ego which feels offended in the former case and gratified in the latter. The above-mentioned teaching of Bahá’u’lláh helps the individual to subdue his ego.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 189)

We will recieve the confirmations of the Kingdom:

Today the confirmations of the Kingdom of Abha are with those who renounce themselves, forget their own opinions, cast aside personalities and are thinking of the welfare of others.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

We will make spiritual progress:

Regarding the points you refer to in your letter: the complete and entire elimination of the ego would imply perfection — which man can never completely attain — but the ego can and should be ever-increasingly subordinated to the enlightened soul of man. This is what spiritual progress implies. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 11)

We will strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection:

The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.   (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

Adib Taherzadeh has a story of those early believers who were able to subdue their egos:

“There were many among His disciples who were enabled to subdue their ego. By their words and deeds they demonstrated their utter nothingness when they came face to face with their Lord. These became the spiritual giants of this Dispensation, and through their faith they shed an imperishable lustre upon the Cause of God. It is concerning such men, during the days of Baghdad, that Nabil writes:

Many a night, no less than ten persons subsisted on no more than a pennyworth of dates. No one knew to whom actually belonged the shoes, the cloaks, or the robes that were to be found in their houses. Whoever went to the bazaar could claim that the shoes upon his feet were his own, and each one who entered the presence of Bahá’u’lláh could affirm that the cloak and robe he then wore belonged to him. Their own names they had forgotten, their hearts were emptied of aught else except adoration for their Beloved… O, for the joy of those days, and the gladness and wonder of those hours!”  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 214 -216)

How has this helped you understand the ego better?  Post your comments below!

Redefining Miracles

 

The Bahá’í view concerning miracles is that the Manifestations of God derive their power and authority from Almighty God. They are the embodiments of His attributes and the manifestations of His glory in this world. They are therefore able to do what they will, even to change the laws of nature and perform miracles. For it is obvious that God, having established the laws of nature, is Himself able to change them if He so wishes. To entertain doubt that He can do this is tantamount to attributing impotence to Him. The followers of Bahá’u’lláh therefore do not deny the possibility of the performance of miracles by the Prophets and Messengers of God. However, such miracles, even when they have been performed, are valid as proof only for the few who have witnessed them. They cannot be regarded as a conclusive testimony to the authenticity of the message of the Prophet. For no one can prove that a certain miracle attributed to a Prophet has actually been performed. On the other hand, some of the miracles mentioned in the Holy Books such as the raising of the dead, the curing of lepers, or the ascending to heaven have spiritual significance. Bahá’u’lláh has revealed these meanings in many of His Writings and especially in the Kitáb-i-Íqán. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 3, p. 38-39)

The true miracle is not what is outwardly seen, but what is inwardly felt:

In the Gospel of St. John, chapter 6, verse 26, it is written: “Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 97)

Bahá’ís have witnessed many miracles in the course of the Faith, which might not be seen as miraculous as we normally understand it. The most notable include:

1. Bahá’u’lláh’s appearance as a human being whose every actions were a miracle:

Once a Muslim clergyman from Isfahan requested Haji Mirza Haydar-‘Ali to recount his impressions of Bahá’u’lláh. He did not, he said, wish to enter into discussion concerning proofs of the authenticity of His claims, but rather was interested in hearing about some of the things Haji Mirza Haydar-‘Ali had witnessed with his own eyes. Haji Mirza Haydar-‘Ali writes about his conversation with the clergyman:

“Much as I tried to explain to him [the clergyman] that contrary to all physical phenomena, which are possible of explanation, one cannot describe a spiritual experience, he was not able to understand. So I said, ‘Before attaining His presence, I was hopeful of seeing many miracles — physical, intellectual and spiritual. Also I had stored up several questions in my mind and wished them answered. But when I beheld the light of His beauteous Countenance, I was transported into such a state that all the miracles I had hoped to see and all the physical and spiritual mysteries I had longed to understand, paled into insignificance. They all appeared to me as a mirage to which the thirsty hasten, not the pure water which quenches the thirst and gives life.’ He [the clergyman] asked me, ‘What did you see that enabled you to acquire such a state of mind and heart?’… I said, ‘His blessed person appeared in the form of a human being, but His very movements, His manners, His way of sitting or standing, eating or drinking, even His sleep or wakefulness, were each a miracle to me. Because His perfections, His exalted character, His beauty, His glory, His most excellent titles and most august attributes revealed to me that He was peerless and without parallel. He was matchless with no one to join partners with Him, unique with no peer or equal, the One and Single without a deputy, the Ever-Abiding God, the Incomparable Being. He who “begetteth not, neither is He begotten and there is not anyone like unto Him”‘ (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 194)

2. Bahá’u’lláh’s Unique and Incomparable Reality and the Persuasiveness of His Proofs:

Haji Siyyid Muhammad, the uncle of the Báb … came for a visit to Isfahan and brought with him the Kitáb-i-Íqán, revealed in answer to his own questions. As a result of reading the Kitáb-i-Íqán, I became a thousand times more enchanted with the blessed utterances of the Ancient Beauty. I used to mention quite openly that I regarded Bahá’u’lláh’s magnanimity, His unique and incomparable reality, the power of His utterance, the sway of His pen and the persuasiveness of His proofs to be supernatural and the greatest and foremost miracle of all. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 75)

3. Nothing Is Impossible To Achieve If The Will Of God Is The Motivating Influence

This is not surprising to the followers of Bahá’u’lláh, for they believe that every major development that takes place in this Dispensation is guided by His Will. Nothing is impossible of achievement if the Will of God becomes the motivating influence. It is the Will of God which enables nature to create life and to bring about an abundance of miracles — the miracle of a tiny seed turning into a mighty tree, producing branches, leaves, blossoms and fruits; the miracle of a single cell in the womb of a mother, multiplying in an orderly fashion, becoming at the end a perfect human being; the miracles of the atom, of the universe and of every other created thing. All these happen through the Will of God. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 4, p. 324)

4. The Power in the Creative Word of God:

In all of these the Word revealed by the Prophet is regarded as the most potent force in the world. The creativeness of the Word is a miracle which is everlasting and cannot be obliterated by the passage of time. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 1, p. 106-107)

5. The Influence of the Words of the Manifestations:

The greatest miracle of the Manifestation of God is that He changes the hearts of people and creates a new civilization merely through the influence of His word. Every word that He utters is creative and endowed with such potency that all the powers of the world will not be able to resist the world-vivifying forces that are released through it. Like the animating energies of the spring season which are let loose in abundance and penetrate to the core of all living things, the creative Word of the Manifestation of God revolutionizes human society and by its resistless force breaks down man-made barriers of opposition, creating a new race of men and a new civilization. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 44)

6. Material Progress And Spiritual Discoveries:

This century is, verily, the spring season. The world of mind and kingdom of soul have become fresh and verdant by its bestowals. It has resuscitated the whole realm of existence. On one hand, the lights of reality are shining; on the other, the clouds of divine mercy are pouring down the fullness of heavenly bounty. Wonderful material progress is evident, and great spiritual discoveries are being made. Truly, this can be called the miracle of centuries, for it is replete with manifestations of the miraculous. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 153)

7. The Changes In Civilization:

Reflect upon the miracles of accomplishment which have already characterized it, the discoveries in every realm of human research, inventions, scientific knowledge, ethical reforms and regulations established for the welfare of humanity, mysteries of nature explored, invisible forces brought into visibility and subjection, a veritable wonder-world of new phenomena and conditions heretofore unknown to man now open to his uses and further investigation. The east and west can communicate instantly. A human being can soar in the skies or speed in submarine depths. The power of steam has linked the continents. Trains cross the deserts and pierce the barriers of mountains; ships find unerring pathways upon the trackless oceans. Day by day discoveries are increasing. What a wonderful century this is! (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 228)

8. Inventions (electricity, the internet, MP3’s):

For example, electricity was once a hidden, or latent, natural force. It would have remained hidden if the human intellect had not discovered it. Man has broken the law of its concealment, taken this energy out of the invisible treasury of the universe and brought it into visibility. Is it not an extraordinary accomplishment that this little creature, man, has imprisoned an irresistible cosmic force in an incandescent lamp? It is beyond the vision and power of nature itself to do this. The East can communicate with the West in a few minutes. This is a miracle transcending nature’s control. Man takes the human voice and stores it in a phonograph. The voice naturally should be free and transient according to the law and phenomenon of sound, but man arrests its vibrations and puts it in a box in defiance of nature’s laws. All human discoveries were once secrets and mysteries sealed and stored up in the bosom of the material universe until the mind of man, which is the greatest of divine effulgences, penetrated them and made them subservient to his will and purpose. In this sense man has broken the laws of nature and is constantly taking out of nature’s laboratory new and wonderful things. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 351-352)

9. Enemies of the Faith were laid low; their lives snuffed out at the very instant they had anticipated victory:

We Bahá’ís have witnessed many miracles in the course of the one hundred and fifteen years which have elapsed since the inception of this supreme Dispensation. As the spread of the Cause of God gathered momentum the ever-increasing protection vouchsafed it from on High has been unfailing; over and over again its enemies have been laid low, their plans completely frustrated, their lives and their hopes snuffed out at the very instant when they had anticipated victory — the latest demonstration of this invariable spiritual law being the death a few days ago of Ahmad Sohrab at a moment when he must have felt his machinations held some promise of fruition. (Ministry of the Custodians, p. 96)

10. Many Bahá’ís Are Saved Amidst The Fire Of Oppression And Tyranny:

Throughout these years of disturbance and commotion when the world of humanity was physically and spiritually afflicted, the friends of God passed the day in rest, ease and comfort. In the western countries only a few shared in the hardship and affliction of other souls while the mass of the friends and the maid-servants of the Merciful … have been living quietly and peacefully. In the Orient every nation became distracted and every gathering dispersed save the friends of God who remained all protected and sheltered from every trouble and calamity in the Fort of Bahá’u’lláh’s protection. Verily this is a divine miracle — that we helpless, friendless, unprotected, unsupported wanderers in these regions should be saved amidst the fire of oppression and tyranny. This is God’s miracle. (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 386-387)

11. People With Only A Little Faith Have Moved Mountains:

Stories of the heroism demonstrated by Bahá’u’lláh’s disciples and companions fill the pages of the Faith’s history. Though outwardly weak and helpless, they received such power from on high that their extraordinary courage and spirit made them appear as giants and they were enabled to overcome insurmountable obstacles. Indeed, they performed the miracles of which Christ speaks: ‘…If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.’ (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 1, p. 119-120)

12. Victories Are Won By Dedicated Souls Who Are Neither Rich, Famous Or Well Educated:

They must remember the glorious history of the Cause, which . . . was established by dedicated souls who, for the most part, were neither rich, famous, nor well educated, but whose devotion, zeal, and self-sacrifice overcame every obstacle and won miraculous victories for the Faith of God. (Shoghi Effendi, Victory Promises, p. 32)

13. The appearance of such a woman as Tahireh:

The appearance of such a woman as Qurratu’l-‘Ayn is in any country and any age a rare phenomenon, but in such a country as Persia it is a prodigy — nay, almost a miracle. Alike in virtue of her marvelous beauty, her rare intellectual gifts, her fervid eloquence, her fearless devotion and her glorious martyrdom, she stands forth incomparable and immortal amidst her country-women. Had the Bábí religion no other claim to greatness, this were sufficient — that it produced a heroine like Qurratu’l-‘Ayn. (Misc Baha’i, Appreciations of the Baha’i Faith, p. 16)

14. Woman’s Boldness When Enlisted in the Faith:

Abdu’l-Bahá has pointed out that ‘Among the miracles which distinguish this sacred Dispensation is this, that women have evinced a greater boldness than men when enlisted in the ranks of the Faith. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 617)

15. Unity Between East And West:

This is a very joyous evening, an evidence in itself of the possibility of uniting the East and the West — an eastern man appearing before an assemblage of reverent western people. The East and West, the Orient and Occident, shall be united. If we search history, we shall not find the record of such an occasion where one has traveled from the far East to the far West to address a meeting of this universal character. This is a miracle of the twentieth century which proves that the seemingly impossible may become real and possible in the kingdom of man. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 101)

16. The Unity of Mankind:

Truly, this can be called the miracle of centuries, for it is replete with manifestations of the miraculous. The time has come when all mankind shall be united, when all races shall be loyal to one fatherland, all religions become one religion, and racial and religious bias pass away. It is a day in which the oneness of humankind shall uplift its standard and international peace, like the true morning, flood the world with its light. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 168)

17. The Birth of Jesus Christ:

First regarding the birth of Jesus Christ. In the light of what Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá have stated concerning this subject it is evident that Jesus came into this world through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, and that consequently His birth was quite miraculous. This is an established fact. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 489)

18. The Manifestations Of God Are All Superior To Others:

But in the day of the Manifestation the people with insight see that all the conditions of the Manifestation are miracles, for They are superior to all others, and this alone is an absolute miracle. Recollect that Christ, solitary and alone, without a helper or protector, without armies and legions, and under the greatest oppression, uplifted the standard of God before all the people of the world, and withstood them, and finally conquered all, although outwardly He was crucified. Now this is a veritable miracle which can never be denied. There is no need of any other proof of the truth of Christ. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 100)

19. Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablets to the Kings and Rulers:

Referring to these Tablets addressed to the sovereigns of the earth, and which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has acclaimed as a “miracle . . . (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 46)

20. The Growth in the Number of Spiritual Assemblies:

Though the members of this community are still restricted in number, though its resources are as yet meagre, though its recent victories are as yet unconsolidated, though it has hardly recuperated from its recent labours, undertaken during a period of great national exhaustion and severe austerity, the mere act of launching upon so glorious, so fateful an enterprise, will, of necessity, create at this propitious hour the receptivity which will enable a swiftly marching, stout-hearted, virile community, now standing on the threshold of its mission beyond the seas, to attract a fresh measure of celestial potency adequate to its growing needs and its ever expanding responsibilities. The miracle its members have performed over so vast a territory, in so short a time, and under such adverse circumstances, cannot but augur well for the initial success of an enterprise infinitely more meritorious, of far greater promise, and endowed with vastly superior spiritual potentialities. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 251)

Undoubtedly the most important task facing the British community at the present time, is to increase its membership. It has performed miracles during the past ten years, through shifting around devoted volunteers from one centre to another, in order to maintain or to create Spiritual Assemblies. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 351)

21. The Flourishing of Religion:

The miracle of religions is no less remarkable. A religion comes into being as a seemingly insignificant movement at first, but through the power of God and His Will it flourishes and creates a civilization of its own. It is the miracle of the ascendancy of the Will of God which enables the Founders of all religions to triumph over their adversaries, and causes Their word to become creative. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 4, p. 324)

22. Earth-Blinded Eyes Open To The World Of Reality

Truly a miracle of miracles it is that earth-blinded eyes ever open to the World of Reality. (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 118)

23. The Conversion Of Jews And Zoroastrians To The Faith:

It will be readily seen that the conversion of Jews and Zoroastrians to the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh which to all outward appearances was the extension of Islam, whose literature was in the Arabic language and whose followers were exclusively from Muslim background, was one of the miracles of the time. It also demonstrates the creative power of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh which, in spite of so many barriers, exerted a tremendous influence upon these people, vivified their souls, granted them a new vision, enrolled them under the banner of His Cause and enabled them to render meritorious services in spreading His message, first among their own communities and later the whole nation. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 3, p. 262-263)

24. All of Creation:

Everything created in this world is a miracle in itself if we look at it with the eye of discernment. For example, the outpouring of energy from the sun is a miracle indeed, for the mind of man could never have believed in such a phenomenon if he had not actually seen the radiance of the sun with his own eyes. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 1, p. 106)

Even Bahá’u’lláh’s enemies recognized His greatness, calling Him the miracle of humanity, even though they didn’t believe in Him:

Even His enemies acknowledge the greatness of Bahá’u’lláh, saying He was the miracle of humanity. This was their confession although they did not believe in Him. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 155)

How does this change the way you view miracles?  Post your comments below!

Famous Miracles in the Baha’i Faith

Bahá’u’lláh forbade His followers to attribute miracles to Him because this would have amounted to the degradation of His exalted station. Nevertheless, there are many accounts left to posterity by His disciples, describing the circumstances in which He either healed incurables or raised the dead.

None of these supernatural acts were considered by His followers to be a proof of the truth of His Cause, since they are only convincing to a limited number of people and they are not decisive proofs even for those who see them.

With this caveat in mind, it’s fun to look back on our history, and see how the Central Figures handled miracles.

The Bab

The Báb cured Munírih Khánum’s parents of infertility; and their daughter later became ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s wife:

One night during dinner, Mirza Ibrahim turned to the Bab and said “My brother, Mirza Muhammad-‘Ali, has had no children. Bless him, I entreat Thee, and grant unto him his heart’s desire.” The Bab took a portion of the food with which He had been served, placed it in a platter, and handed it to His host, saying “Take this to Mirza Muhammad-‘Ali and his wife. Let them partake of this food; their wish shall be fulfilled.” By virtue of that portion which the Bab had bestowed upon her, the wife of Mirza Muhammad-‘Ali conceived, and in due time gave birth to a child, who eventually was joined in wedlock with the Most Great Branch, and therefore became the consummation of the highest hopes of her parents. (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, p. 72)

The Bab beseeched God that travels over the oceans of the world might become easier and safer:

In the 1840’s the sea journey from Bushihr to Jiddah was a dangerous and uncomfortable one; the distance was about 4000 kilometres and the journey took about two months. The seas were often rough, the storms frequent, water was scarce and there was very little food. The Bab and Quddus remained contented and peaceful throughout the long journey. They were absorbed in their prayers and devotions for many hours at a time, and the Bab revealed many writings, commentaries and letters which Quddus wrote down. However the rigors of the sea voyage caused the Bab to beseech God that travels over the oceans of the world might become easier and safer. (Mary Perkins, Hour of the Dawn: The Life of the Bab, p. 60)

Bahá’u’lláh

One time, the religious leaders in Persia asked Baha’u’llah to perform a miracle to prove the reality of His mission. Here’s what happened:

The ‘ulama recognize without hesitation and confess the knowledge and virtue of Bahá’u’lláh, and they are unanimously convinced that in all learning he has no peer or equal; and it is also evident that he has never studied or acquired this learning; but still the ‘ulama say, ‘We are not contented with this; we do not acknowledge the reality of his mission by virtue of his wisdom and righteousness. Therefore, we ask him to show us a miracle in order to satisfy and tranquilize our hearts.’

Bahá’u’lláh replied, “Although you have no right to ask this, for God should test His creatures, and they should not test God, still I allow and accept this request. But the Cause of God is not a theatrical display that is presented every hour, of which some new diversion may be asked for every day. If it were thus, the Cause of God would become mere child’s play.

The ulamas must, therefore, assemble, and, with one accord, choose one miracle, and write that, after the performance of this miracle they will no longer entertain doubts about Me, and that all will acknowledge and confess the truth of My Cause. Let them seal this paper, and bring it to Me. This must be the accepted criterion: if the miracle is performed, no doubt will remain for them; and if not, We shall be convicted of imposture.” The learned man, Hasan ‘Amu, rose and replied, “There is no more to be said”; he then kissed the knee of the Blessed One although he was not a believer, and went. He gathered the ‘ulama and gave them the sacred message. They consulted together and said, “This man is an enchanter; perhaps he will perform an enchantment, and then we shall have nothing more to say.” Acting on this belief, they did not dare to push the matter further. [The penetrating judgment of Bahá’u’lláh upon this occasion overcame the malignity of His enemies, who, it was certain, would never agree in choosing what miracle to ask for.]         (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 29-30)

Baha’u’llah bore his ordeals, calamities and suffering so that heavenly miracles, among other things, would be wrought among men:

During His lifetime He [Baha’u’llah] was intensely active. His energy was unlimited. Scarcely one night was passed in restful sleep. He bore these ordeals, suffered these calamities and difficulties in order that a manifestation of selflessness and service might become apparent in  the world of humanity; that the Most Great Peace should become a reality; that human souls might appear as the angels of heaven; that heavenly miracles would be wrought among men; that human faith should be strengthened and perfected; that the precious, priceless bestowal of God, the human mind, might be developed to its fullest capacity in the temple of the body; and man become the reflection and likeness of God, even as it hath been revealed in the Bible: “We shall create man in Our own image. (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 223)

Bahá’u’lláh seldom responded positively to those who demanded miracles from Him. But He often revealed a measure of His glory and power to those who had recognized Him in order to strengthen their Faith:

It is not right for man to test God. Bahá’u’lláh seldom responded positively to those who demanded miracles from Him. But He often revealed a measure of His glory and power to those who had recognized Him in order to strengthen their Faith. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 4, p. 54-55)

The following story by Haji Mirza Haydar-‘Ali confirms the power of the revealed Word. Haji was introduced to a person who was opposed to the Faith and found it very difficult to be convinced of its truth. This is a summary of his account:

A certain person who was a pious and devoted Muslim was introduced to me. No matter how much I spoke to him, he kept on insisting that he would never accept the Faith unless he was shown a miracle. In the end I was powerless to convince him of the truth of the Faith. So I said to him, ‘There is an inherent ability within every soul by which it can distinguish the words of God from the words of man.’ He agreed with me on this. I then said to him, ‘I will now recite some words for you, so incline your inner ears to them and judge for yourself who is the Speaker.’ I then chanted a Persian Tablet in which the overpowering majesty of the Words was clearly manifested. He had heard only a few verses when he lowered his head, prostrated himself or the ground, and said, ‘These are the words of God, exalted be His glory. There are many miracles hidden in each word. I testify that these utterances unmistakably proclaim the advent of the Day of God . . .’ He stayed with us for the whole night, during which he learnt about the teachings and the laws of the new Dispensation. This man became enraptured and set aglow with the fire of the love of God. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 4, p. 238)

During the new Governor’s short tenure of office he did a great deal to further the cause of education in ‘Akká, and also to secure for the city a good supply of fresh water. Towards the exiles he displayed a very friendly manner. And now another miracle was witnessed by all in ‘Akká, when, from deep wells that had carried only brackish water, fresh water suitable for human consumption gushed out. Describing this period, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith has written:

Though Bahá’u’lláh Himself practically never granted personal interviews, as He had been used to do in Baghdad, yet such was the influence He now wielded that the inhabitants openly asserted that the noticeable improvement in the climate and water of their city was directly attributable to His continued presence in their midst. (H.M. Balyuzi, Baha’u’llah – The King of Glory, p. 354)

Perhaps Bahá’u’lláh’s greatest miracle is that even though He was a captive, and bound in chains, He wielded power, moved about with authority and might, won victories in both East and West and subdued the world with His Writings:

And this is one of Bahá’u’lláh’s greatest miracles: that He, a captive, surrounded Himself with panoply and He wielded power. The prison changed into a palace, the jail itself became a Garden of Eden. Such a thing has not occurred in history before; no former age has seen its like: that a man confined to a prison should move about with authority and might; that one in chains should carry the fame of the Cause of God to the high heavens, should win splendid victories in both East and West, and should, by His almighty pen, subdue the world. Such is the distinguishing feature of this supreme Theophany. (Abdu’l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 27)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Before the fall of Haifa, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá predicted that the taking of Haifa and ‘Akká would come about without bloodshed:

Before the fall of Haifa, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was discussing the British campaign with a few of His followers in His garden one day. He then predicted that, contrary to the general expectation, the taking of Haifa and the walled town of ‘Akka would come about almost without bloodshed. This prediction was verified by the facts. He also stated that the Turks would surrender ‘Akká (supposed to be impregnable) to two unarmed British soldiers. the resultant facts so far as I was able to gather them were as follows:– Subsequent to the entry of our troops into Haifa, the front line was pushed forward half-way across the Bay of ‘Akká, and outposts were placed in position on the sands of the Bay some four miles from ‘Akká itself. Akká, as a fortified and walled town, was believed to be filled with Turkish troops at this time. Very early one morning two British Army Service soldiers, who had lost their bearings in the night, found themselves at the gates of ‘Akká, believing erroneously that the town was already in British hands. However, the Turkish rearguard troops had been secretly evacuated only eight hours earlier, and the Mayor of the town, seeing British soldiers outside the gates, came down and presented them with the keys of the town in token of surrender! It is credibly stated that the dismayed Tommies, being unarmed, dropped the keys and made post haste for the British lines! (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

A Commission of investigation arrived by ship from Turkey wanting to have ‘Abdu’l-Bahá hanged at the gate of ‘Akká, or taken away. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá prayed and sure enough, the ship turned away because of an attempt on the life of the Sultan. Some months later the ‘Young Turk’ Revolution freed all political and religious prisoners, including ‘Abdu’l-Bahá!:

Later, in 1907, four members of a second Commission of investigation arrived by ship from Turkey. ‘A few days before its arrival ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had a dream, which He recounted to the believers, in which He saw a ship cast anchor off ‘Akka, from which flew a few birds, resembling sticks of dynamite, and which, circling about His head, as He stood in the midst of a multitude of the frightened inhabitants of the city, returned without exploding to the ship.’ The members of the Commission remained in ‘Akka for approximately a month. They went to look at the stone edifice on the mountain. They asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to appear before them. Now, He refused to do so. Furious, the chairman wanted an ‘order from the Sultan to have Me hanged at the gate of ‘Akka,’ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá later said in London. The ship stood ready to carry ‘Abdu’l-Bahá away with the Commission members. The Master remained calm and confident. He even told the believers who were yet in ‘Akka, ‘The meaning of the dream I dreamt is now clear and evident. Please God this dynamite will not explode.’ Then, mysteriously, one day the Commission’s ship began to leave the harbour in Haifa and move towards ‘Akka. The Bahá’ís and family of the Master were filled with anguish on learning of this. They feared the Master would be taken aboard and carried away. Meanwhile, He was ‘pacing, alone and silent, the courtyard of His house.’ But at dusk, wonder of wonders, the ship had obviously changed its direction. She was heading directly for Constantinople. There had been an attempt on the life of the Sultan. When the Commission submitted its report to him, it was not even considered, as the Sultan and his government were ‘too preoccupied to consider the matter‘. Some months later the ‘Young Turk’ Revolution of 1908 freed all political and religious prisoners of the old regime. This included ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – free at last in 1908! In 1909 the Sultan himself was deposed. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 156)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá calms the weather so people can enjoy their feast:

After His talk, a huge Persian feast, prepared by the Persians in His entourage, was offered to everyone. As people began to eat, Juliet Thompson wrote that … A storm blew up – a strange, sudden storm, without warning. There was a tremendous crash of thunder; through the tree tops we could see black clouds boiling up, and big drops of rain splashed on the tables. The Master rose calmly and followed by the Persians, walked out to the road, then to the end of it where there is a crossroad. A single chair had been left there and, as I watched from a distance, I saw the Master take it and sit down, while the Persians ranged themselves behind Him. I saw Him lift His face to the sky. He had gone a long way from the house; thunder still crashed in the clouds rolled frighteningly low, but He continued to sit perfectly motionless, that sacred powerful face upturned to the sky. Then came a strong, rush of wind; the clouds began to race away; blue patches appeared above and the sun shone out. And then the Master rose and walked back into the grove. (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 147)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá cured Lua Getsinger of a rare blood disease

There are many stories of Lua Getsinger. This one was told me by Grace Ober, who heard it from Lua herself. It happened on one of Lua’s several visits to Acca and Haifa when she and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were walking together on the beach. Lua dropped behind slightly and began fitting her small feet, into His much larger foot prints. After a few moments the Master turned to ask what she was doing. “I am following in your footsteps,” said Lua. He, turned away and they walked on. A few moments later, He turned again, “Do you wish to follow in my foot steps?” He asked. “Oh, yes,” said Lua. They walked on – and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá turned again, “Lua! Do you wish to follow in my foot steps?” His tone was louder and stern. “Oh, yes,” said Lua again. Then, the third time he stopped and faced her. “Lua!” it was almost a shout, “Do you wish to follow in My foot steps?” “Oh, yes!” said Lua for the third time – and with that, a great tarantula jumped out from a hillock of sand and bit her ankle. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saw this and paid no attention, turning away and again walking. Lua followed, still fitting her footsteps into His. Her ankle swelled, the pain became excruciating, till, finally, she sank down with the agony of it. Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá picked her up and carried her to the ladies quarters, where the Greatest Holy Leaf put her to bed. The agony increased. Lua’s temperature flamed; delirium set in. Finally, the Greatest Holy Leaf could stand it no longer and she implored ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to heal her. He examined her carefully then laid His hands gently on her forehead. The temperature drained away, her head cleared she was healed. And it was only later that it was explained to her that she had been suffering from a strange and virulent condition of her blood which the bite of the tarantula had cured. (Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories: Stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 41-42)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá healed Corrine True’s daughter:

Corinne’s daughter Arna had a fever and cough and was afraid she had tuberculosis, a disease which had been in the True family and from which two of her brothers had been diagnosed and having died. She was understandably worried that she, too, had the disease. She had planned to marry Leo Perron, but felt it very unfair to do so if she actually had the fatal ailment. As she worried about what to do, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá touched her shoulder. One day, when Arna had just taken her temperature, still holding the thermometer, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took it from her and broke it in two, telling her that she would be well and could marry. Arna soon recovered and married Leo. (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 193)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá cured Ruth Randall of tuberculosis in both lungs:

Harry Randall’s wife, Ruth, had tuberculosis in both lungs and, having been intensely affected by his first meeting with Abdu’l Bahá, Harry decided to ask ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for help. On Sunday, 28 August, Harry went to the home of Maria Wilson, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was staying in Malden. Harry thought that if ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was all the Bahá’ís were saying He was, then surely He could cure Ruth’s illness. When Harry arrived at the Wilson home, it was packed with people. He managed to get into the house and explained his request to one of the Master’s secretaries. The secretary said that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was reading His mail from Persia and that if He wished to see Harry, He would call for him. The secretary informed Harry that over 100 others had also either asked to see the Master or wanted to invite Him somewhere and that He never accepted any until the spirit moved Him to do so. With so many people ahead of him, Harry was pessimistic of seeing ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, particularly since the Master didn’t even know he was there. He turned glumly, noticed Harlan Ober, so went over to talk with him. Suddenly, a voice called, “‘Abdu’l-Bahá will see Mr. Randall.” Shocked, Harry went to the porch where he found ‘Abdu’l-Bahá still reading His mail. When the Master finally looked up, Harry started to say, “I wanted to know if you …” , but ‘Abdu’l-Bahá simply said, “Yes, I will come to see your wife this afternoon.” At four o‘clock that afternoon, Harry returned to the Wilson home with a car and the chauffeur to take ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to see Ruth. Standing there ready to go with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – together with His complete set of Persian attendants and Harlan and Grace Ober. Ruth described what happened next:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá clapped His hands and the Persians got into the car, Grace and Harlan and my husband were standing on the sidewalk. The Master pointed to the Ober’s and said: “You wait here” – and motioned Harry to sit on the floor of the car. This did not please Harry but he did it. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá laughed and joked and seemed very happy. Several times He looked at Harry and laughed heartily. Harry knew later in life that he was being taught a lesson in humility. When they came to the driveway He ordered the chauffeur to stop and wait. They all got out and walked up the driveway. Upon reaching the porch ‘Abdu’l-Bahá changed to a white aba and a white turban.

My mother opened the door and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked right through the house to the porch where I was lying … When He opened the screen door He looked directly at me in that moment I was aware of the Fact that I had known him always. We had invited a number of people to meet Him and mother introduced them to Him and when she came to me He pushed His hand toward me and said: “I know her well!”

He took Margaret (Ruth’s five-year-old daughter, later named Bahiyyih by the Master) in his arms and asked her if she was happy. She was a little frightened because she had never seen such a long beard or such a wrinkled countenance …

Then He asked me why I thought I was sick and I made some senseless reply. He asked Dr. Farid to take my pulse. Then Abdu’l Bahá came and leaned over me and placed His hand on my forehead. He looked deep into my eyes. At that moment I knew that my life was a book which He could read at will. He then told me to do the same things that my physician told me, besides telling me to eat my noonday meal in the sun … He arose after a few minutes and went into the house. When He came to the library door he looked in and raised his eyes heavenwards saying: “This is a beautiful house, someday it will become a beautiful home.” Goodbyes were said and they walked down the driveway to the waiting car. Again He placed my husband on the floor of the car.

As they departed, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, through one of his interpreters, told Harry “not to mind if your wife does not like sweet things, that she will when she is better.” Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told Harry that he should always keep her in the light. Baffled by these comments, when he returned home later, Harry asked Ruth what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá meant. Each Sunday, Harry had brought home a box of fancy chocolates as a special treat for her and at that moment, she tearfully told him that she always struggled to eat even one of them to please him. Then she told him about the light: that because, as a child, she had to walk down a dark street each week to get the beans for dinner, she had been afraid of shadows ever since. After hearing these admissions, Harry was somewhat amazed at ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s depth of understanding. Ruth wrote that within hours, she was feeling better. Two weeks later, she visited a regular doctor. He examined her and exclaimed, “What have you been doing? You are so well!” Soon Ruth was completely cured of tuberculosis. This was Harry’s second big step towards becoming a Bahá’í. (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 175-177)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá cured the grand-daughter of Henry Birks, the founder of a chain of high-end Canadian jewellery stores:

The morning after His arrival in Montréal, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited the home of Henry Birks, directly across the street from the Maxwells. Geraldine Birks was a very sickly child of about 12. Because she was not allowed out of the house due to her health, May would send two-year-old Mary over to play with her, almost like a live doll. On this day, Mrs. Birks asked if ‘Abdu’l-Bahá could visit their home and even sent a carriage from that side of the street to this side of the street out of courtesy to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Master, however, walked across the street, but so as not to offend Mrs. Birks, had May ride across the carriage. Once inside, He spoke with Geraldine and embraced her, then told her parents that she must be allowed to go out into the sunlight on or she would only get worse. When her parents began to follow the Master’s instructions, Geraldine rapidly improved until she was completely healthy. (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 181)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá cured Juliet Thompson’s mother of bitterness:

At a time when Juliet Thompson’s mother was suffering much grief because her son’s fiancée, both brilliant and beautiful, did not want to make friends with his family, she received an invitation to visit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Though she was opposed to Juliet’s work for the Bahá’í Faith and a thunderstorm was raging, she got her rubbers and went to the Master. He was exhausted, lying on His bed. He had seen hundreds of people that day, literally. But she was warmly welcomed. His words of comfort included, ‘…I heard of your sorrow. And now I want to comfort you. Trust in God. God is kind. God is faithful. God never forgets you. If others are unkind what difference does it make when God is kind? When God is on your side it does not matter what men do to you.’ The next day ‘Mamma’ was able to say, ‘All my bitterness has gone.’ She regarded it as a miracle.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

Shoghi Effendi

Shoghi Effendi cures Rúhíyyih Khánum’s mother of a complete breakdown in health:

My mother was the one who had first known Shoghi Effendi as a child, when she came to the Holy Land at the end of the last century; she had come again, in 1909, with my father but I do not know how much contact, if any, they had at that time with Shoghi Effendi. Following the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá she suffered a complete break-down in health caused by the shock of his death, the news of which was broken to her very suddenly over the telephone, and for a year we did not know if she would live or die or lose her mind. My father felt that the only hope of dispelling the grief and dark thoughts that obsessed her – that she would never, because of her unworthiness, see the beloved Master in the next world – was for her to make a pilgrimage to Haifa again, this time to see the young successor of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. In April 1923 we arrived in Haifa and it was Shoghi Effendi who literally resurrected a woman who was so ill she could still not walk a step and could move about only in a wheel chair. From that time the love of my mother’s heart became entirely centred in the Guardian and when she was able to return to American . . . she once more served the Cause very actively. (Rúhíyyih Khánum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 150)

Shoghi Effendi cured Rúhiyyih Khánum’s father of dementia:

When my father fell desperately ill in the winter of 1949-50 his condition was despaired of by his doctors. He reached a point where he seemed to have no conscious mind left, could not recognize me, his only and idolized child, at all, and had no more control over himself than if he were six months old. If I had needed any convincing on the subject of whether man has a soul or not I received conclusive proof of its existence at that time. When Shoghi Effendi would come in to see my father, although he could not speak, and gave no conscious sign whatever of the Guardian’s nearness, a flutter, a tremor, some reaction wholly ephemeral but nevertheless visible, would pass over him because of the very presence of Shoghi Effendi. It was so extraordinary and so evident that his nurse (the best in Haifa) also noticed it was greatly puzzled by it. It went against all laws of the mind, which, as it fades, remembers the distant past more vividly than the immediate past. Shoghi Effendi determined my father should not die. At his insistence, when no one, including me, had the slightest hope, we took him with his nurse to Switzerland, where he rapidly recovered under the care of our own doctor, a recovery so complete that a few weeks later, when his new Swiss nurse and I took him for his first drive and he caught sight of a cafe in the midst of a garden, he promptly invited us to go in and have tea with him – an offer I accepted with feelings of wonder and gratitude that are indescribable. It was after this healing had taken place that the Guardian, in a message to America sent in July 1950, reporting progress in the construction of the Shrine of the Báb, was moved to allude to these events: “My gratitude is deepened by the miraculous recovery of its gifted architect, Sutherland Maxwell, whose illness was pronounced hopeless by physicians.”  (Rúhiyyih Khánum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 155)

Other Bahá’ís

Leroy Ios had faith in the power of God to work miracles, and this faith caused the covenant-breakers, who lived in a building next to the shrine of Bahá’u’lláh to be evicted and their dwelling demolished:

It seems almost inconceivable that Mr. Ioas could render any more extraordinary services, but he did.  There was one service that meant more than any other, to Shoghi Effendi. An apartment building in which the Covenant-breakers lived, was positioned immediately in front of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh and the Mansion of Bahji.  Every time ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited the Shrine of His Father, every time Shoghi Effendi visited the Shrine, the Covenant-breakers were there.  Their poisonous presence had polluted the Most Holy Spot for more than six decades … Following the establishment of the state of Israel, the government proceeded to identify the holy places of all of the religions in the Holy Land, and to officially recognize them.  The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh was one of these officially-designated Holy Places. I heard, though I do not recall from whom, that Mr. Ioas learned that the government of Israel had passed a law prohibiting residential dwellings within a certain number of meters from a designated holy place.  He informed Shoghi Effendi of this, and stated that perhaps the Covenant-breaker dwelling could be removed.  The Guardian asked, (paraphrasing, not his exact words), “Leroy, do you really think you could do this?”  Mr. Ioas answered that he could not; however, he knew that God assisted everything Shoghi Effendi wanted done, and if Shoghi Effendi told Mr. Ioas to do it, he knew that it could be accomplished.  Shoghi Effendi then told him to proceed, and said that it would be a miracle to get the Covenant-breakers out … This was not merely removal of an ugly building from otherwise beautiful gardens, nor merely the eviction of undesirables.  This represented the death-blow to the violators of the Covenant … The Covenant-breakers appealed the dispossession order, and they were not finally evicted until just a few weeks before Shoghi Effendi’s passing. He was in London at the time, and Mr. Ioas cabled him, informing him that the Covenant-breakers had finally been evicted, and asking the Guardian if he wished him to proceed with the demolition of the building.  Shoghi Effendi cabled back that he would supervise it himself, upon his return. However, Shoghi Effendi passed away shortly thereafter, and never returned to the Holy Land.  The Hands of the Cause proceeded with this demolition immediately after their First Conclave. (Brent Poirier, Leroy Ioas, Champion of the Charters of the Bahá’í Faith)

The Biggest Miracle of All!

The biggest miracle of all happened in 1850, and was witnessed by at least ten thousand people – in the events surrounding the Martyrdom of the Bab.

On the 9th of July, 1850, the guards came to take The Báb away. He was still speaking of important things with His companion, Siyyid Husayn, when the guards interrupted Him.

The Báb said to the guard, “Not until I have said to him all those things that I wish to say can any earthly power silence Me.”

The guard took no notice and led The Báb and Anis [who had beseeched the Bab for the honor of sharing martyrdom with Him] away. Iron collars were put round their necks and manacles around their wrists. The two young men were led by a long rope tied to their collars, and taken through the streets of the town. People in the crowds jostled with each other to get a look at the prisoners, and even climbed on each others shoulders.

The Báb and Anis were tied together and hung by a rope from a nail in the barracks wall. A great crowd of people gathered to see the execution, climbing onto the rooftops all around the square. Seven hundred and fifty riflemen in three lines took up their positions to shoot The Báb and Anis.

The soldiers took aim and fired. The crowds were deafened by the explosions. They strained and peered to see what had happened, but the square was dark with gunshot smoke. Gradually the smoke cleared and the crowd was able to see. They stared in amazement. Standing beneath the broken rope, with a smile on his face, was Anis. Of The Báb there was no sign. He had gone.

A frantic search began. Eventually The Báb was found by the same guard who had come for Him that morning. He was in the cell where He had spent the night. Calmly and quietly He was finishing the important conversation with Siyyid Husayn which had been so rudely interrupted early that morning.

The Báb said to him, “I have finished My conversation with Siyyid Husayn.”

The guard was so astonished and frightened that he left the barracks and resigned from his post. The leader of the regiment felt the same. He ordered his men out and would have nothing more to do with the business of shooting The Báb. Another regiment had to be brought in.

Again The Báb and Anis were tied to a rope and hung from the nail. Anis rested his head upon the Báb’s chest in a vain attempt to protect Him from the bullets.

Once again the deafening explosions of rifle fire rang out. At the same time a great wind swept over the city, bringing a whirlwind of blinding dust so dense that it completely shut out the light of the sun. This was followed by a violent storm, and the darkness continued for the whole of the rest of the day.

This time The Báb and Anis had been hit by the bullets. Their bodies were completely blended together by their force. All except the face of The Báb, which was completely unmarked and was calm and serene. (Dayspring Magazine – Issue 25  )

In a turn of fate that has often characterised Bahá’í history, the people who harmed the Báb’s Faith came to sorry ends themselves. The officers of the regiment who carried out the execution together with a third of its soldiers died in an earthquake the same year, when a wall collapsed on top of them. The other two-thirds of the regiment were all executed in front of a firing squad in Tabriz, just like the Báb, after a failed mutiny a few years later. Interestingly, the details surrounding the execution are well-documented in the official report of a military officer who watched the events.

The night of the execution, the mangled remains of the two victims were taken outside the city gates and dumped by the moat where they would be eaten by wild animals. To prevent the Bábis removing the bodies and giving them a dignified burial, a total of 40 soldiers kept watch by the bodies outside the city. But one of the Bábis, Haji Sulayman Khan, who was staying with a local mayor, was so determined to rescue the bodies and risk his life that the mayor enlisted one of his assistants for the job instead. In the middle of the night, the mayor’s assistant took the bodies from under the guards’ noses while they slept, and laid them in a specially-made wooden casket in a safe hiding place nearby. When Bahá’u’lláh heard about this development he instructed Haji Sulayman Khan to bring the bodies to a local shrine in Tehran and there they were hidden.

From then on, the Báb’s remains had to be kept a close secret to keep them out of the hands of the Faith’s enemies. Whenever danger threatened or word got out about their whereabouts, Bahá’u’lláh, or later ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, would have the casket moved to a new location. It was a full sixty years before the Báb’s body was finally laid in the ground. In that time the bodies were moved around over a dozen hiding places: under the floorboards of a shrine; between the walls of an abandoned temple; concealed within various Bahá’ís’ houses – a secret from even the Bahá’í community – until at last they were laid to a proper rest in Haifa in 1909, by a tearful ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. (adapted from Shoghi Effendi’s God Passes By, Chapters 4 and 8; and The Dawnbreakers, Chapter 23)

 

 

Do Baha’is Believe in Miracles?

Miracles – One of the Most Misunderstood Subjects

The question of miracles is one of the most misunderstood subjects concerning the prophets and messengers of God.

On the one hand, God’s power is beyond any limitation – He is the sole Author of all the laws operating in the universe, is above them and can, therefore, if He deems it necessary, alter them at His Own Will:

The operation of miracles is not necessarily irrational or illogical. It does by no means constitute a limitation of the Omnipotence of God. The belief in the possibilities of miracles, on the contrary, implies that God’s power is beyond any limitation whatsoever. For it is only logical to believe that the Creator, Who is the sole Author of all the laws operating in the universe, is above them and can, therefore, if He deems it necessary, alter them at His Own Will. We, as humans, cannot possibly attempt to read His Mind, and to fully grasp His Wisdom. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 489)

God can do anything he wants, even if it breaches the laws of nature:

To reject miracles on the ground that they imply a breach of the laws of nature is a very shallow, well-nigh a stupid argument, inasmuch as God Who is the Author of the universe can, in His Wisdom and Omnipotence, bring any change, no matter how temporary, in the operation of the laws which He Himself has created. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 489)

All religions have their miracles and mysteries which can’t be explained by scientific theories:

Not only do all religions have their miracles and mysteries, but religion itself, and certain fundamental religious concepts, such as the nature of the Manifestations of God, are far from being explicable by present-day scientific theories.  (Universal House of Justice, 1996 Feb 16, Misc. Questions – Talisman, Bahá’í Encyclopaedia, Virgin Birth)

The Manifestations of God have all performed miracles:

The Holy Manifestations are the sources of miracles and the originators of wonderful signs. For Them, any difficult and impracticable thing is possible and easy. For through a supernatural power wonders appear from Them; and by this power, which is beyond nature, They influence the world of nature. From all the Manifestations marvelous things have appeared. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 99)

Where did a belief in Miracles Come From?

The belief in miracles comes from the study of the Holy Books of old religions. Over the centuries, many miracles were passed on from generation to generation, without their inner significance being understood. On these miracles, many doctrines and dogmas were created, which became barriers between God and man:

The followers of all religions have attributed many miracles to their Prophets, miracles which traditionally are passed on from generation to generation although their inner significances have not been fully understood. Upon these miracles have been built, over the centuries, many doctrines and dogmas which have become mighty barriers between God and man. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 1, p. 107)

For example, the followers of a religion have come to regard their own Prophet as one who had a halo of light around his head and carried out supernatural acts to convince people of His station.

Consequently the followers of a religion regard their own Prophet as one who had a halo of light around his head and carried out supernatural acts to convince people of His station. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 3, p. 38)

Bahá’í teachers have had to lead those who are strictly and fanatically adhering to these beliefs, to a rational recognition of the divine qualities and spiritual powers possessed by the Manifestations of God:

In the East, at the time of Bahá’u’lláh, when the light of religion was still burning brightly within the hearts of men, the followers of these religions adhered strictly, indeed often fanatically, to their beliefs. Bahá’í teachers had to lead them from blind belief in miracles to a rational recognition of the divine qualities and spiritual powers possessed by the Manifestations of God. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 1, p. 107)

In the earlier days of the Bahá’í Faith when religion was still a vital force in society and exerted a far deeper influence upon the hearts of men than it does nowadays, people asked for religious proofs when they took part in discussion with Bahá’ís. One of the major questions was that of miracles. Many people believed blindly in them and the task of the Bahá’í teacher was to explain the reality and true significance of miracles in religion. But when beliefs are held fanatically a mere explanation is not always successful. This is why some of the old teachers of the Faith, when conversing with a dogmatic person whose religious beliefs bordered on vain imaginings, conducted their discussions in such a way as to enable him to first see the hollowness of his ideas, and then to present him with the Message of Bahá’u’lláh. This often helped those who were sincere and pure-hearted to see the light of truth. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 3, p. 39)

The Authenticity of Miracles

Religious leaders have endeavoured to emphasize miracles as one of the most important proofs of the authenticity of their faiths, but are they?

The belief in the possibility of miracles has never been rejected in the Teachings. Their importance, however, has been minimized:

The belief in the possibility of miracles has never been rejected in the Teachings. Their importance, however, has been minimized. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 489)

Miracles are not a conclusive proof of the authenticity of Their Messages:

Bahá’u’lláh also speaks in this Tablet [the Sahifiy-i-Shattiyyih or Book of the River] about miracles which are attributed to the Prophets. He states that one should not deny the performance of miracles by these Holy Souls, but emphasizes that miracles are not a conclusive proof of the authenticity of Their Messages. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 1, p. 106)

People tend to deny and refuse to acknowledge them:

We do not need to mention miracles, saying that out of rock water gushed forth, for such miracles and statements may be denied and refused by those who hear them. (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 273)

Most miracles have an inner significance:

Also, most of the miracles of the Prophets which are mentioned have an inner significance … (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 37)

Many of the miracles of the past have an inner meaning, rather than proving the existence of God:

Also, most of the miracles of the Prophets which are mentioned have an inner significance. For instance, in the Gospel it is written that at the martyrdom of Christ darkness prevailed, and the earth quaked, and the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and the dead came forth from their graves. If these events had happened, they would indeed have been awesome, and would certainly have been recorded in the history of the times. They would have become the cause of much troublings of heart. Either the soldiers would have taken down Christ from the cross, or they would have fled. These events are not related in any history; therefore, it is evident they ought not to be taken literally, but as having an inner significance. Our purpose is not to deny such miracles; our only meaning is that they do not constitute decisive proofs, and that they have an inner significance. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 37-38)

Miracles are proofs for eyewitnesses only; and even they may regard them not as miracles but as enchantments:

I do not wish to mention the miracles of Bahá’u’lláh, for it may perhaps be said that these are traditions, liable both to truth and to error, like the accounts of the miracles of Christ in the Gospel, which come to us from the apostles, and not from anyone else, and are denied by the Jews … Yes, miracles are proofs for the eyewitness only, and even he may regard them not as a miracle but as an enchantment. Extraordinary feats have also been related of some conjurors. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 37)

Why don’t we need miracles?

Miracles only offer proofs and arguments for those who are present and not those who are absent.

But in the Holy Books an especial terminology is employed, and for the Manifestations these miracles and wonderful signs have no importance. They do not even wish to mention them. For if we consider miracles a great proof, they are still only proofs and arguments for those who are present when they are performed, and not for those who are absent. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 99)

Those who believe miracles one day can become covenant-breakers the next:

Many prominent people of Haifa and ‘Akká who used to attribute miracles to Him in the past now shunned Him and secretly joined hands with Covenant-breakers against Him. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 151)

We want to exchange the divinely-revealed verses for our foul, vile and idle desires:

The people derisively observed saying: “Work thou another miracle, and give us another sign!” One would say: “Make now a part of the heaven to fall down upon us”; and another: “If this be the very truth from before Thee, rain down stones upon us from heaven.” Even as the people of Israel, in the time of Moses, bartered away the bread of heaven for the sordid things of the earth, these people, likewise, sought to exchange the divinely-revealed verses for their foul, their vile, and idle desires. (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 207)

We content ourselves with the stagnant waters of a briny lake, clamouring for guidance while ignoring the guidance we’ve been given:

In like manner, thou beholdest in this day that although spiritual sustenance hath descended from the heaven of divine mercy, and been showered from the clouds of His loving kindness, and although the seas of life, at the behest of the Lord of all being, are surging within the Ridvan of the heart, yet these people, ravenous as the dogs, have gathered around carrion, and contented themselves with the stagnant waters of a briny lake. Gracious God! how strange the way of this people! They clamour for guidance, although the standards of Him Who guideth all things are already hoisted. They cleave to the obscure intricacies of knowledge, when He, Who is the Object of all knowledge, shineth as the sun. (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 207)

There is a great difference between fact and belief.

There is a great difference between fact and belief. There are things in this life whose existence is proved and no one has ever denied them. For example, the existence of the sea on this planet is a proven fact and no person, including those who have never seen the sea, has ever denied its existence. But having a belief in something with which a number of people may disagree is a different matter. Such a belief may not be used as factual evidence for the simple reason that its authenticity is challenged, even though the belief in itself may be true. Miracles are examples of this. For instance, the followers of Christ believe that He performed many miracles. But since many people have denied the claim, one cannot consider these miracles as a factual reality, although they may well have been performed. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 3, p. 39-40)

What miracles do we look for?

The miracles we pray for on the material plane are often transitory and of no importance to our eternal life:

The outward miracles have no importance for the people of Reality. If a blind man receives sight, for example, he will finally again become sightless, for he will die and be deprived of all his senses and powers. Therefore, causing the blind man to see is comparatively of little importance, for this faculty of sight will at last disappear. If the body of a dead person be resuscitated, of what use is it since the body will die again? But it is important to give perception and eternal life — that is, the spiritual and divine life. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 100)

Spiritual miracles are more important than physical miracles as this story demonstrates:

As the Master went up the aisle he stopped and greeted Mrs. Dealy lovingly. She reached for his hand and said, “‘Abdu’l-Bahá, please put your hand on my four head, and I know I will see.” “Yes, my daughter,” He answered, “You will see. But you will have to choose. You may have your spiritual sight or your physical sight – which do you desire?” She said with emotion: “‘Abdu’l-Bahá, that is no choice! I would be blind 1000 years before I would give up my spiritual sight!” “Well said, my daughter, well said,” replied the Master as He touched her shoulder, and continued on His way out. Sitting next to her on that bench, Leroy Ioas realized with a chill how in that moment she had decided on her own destiny. She was steadfast. (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 116)

Bahá’u’lláh’s Miracles

In the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh there are many references to miracles.

Although there were many wonderful things done by Bahá’u’lláh, we do not recount them, as they do not constitute proofs and evidences for all the peoples of the earth; they are not decisive proofs even for those who see them; and they have an inner significance:

Briefly, my meaning is that many wonderful things were done by Bahá’u’lláh, but we do not recount them, as they do not constitute proofs and evidences for all the peoples of the earth, and they are not decisive proofs even for those who see them: they may think that they are merely enchantments . . . Our purpose is not to deny such miracles; our only meaning is that they do not constitute decisive proofs, and that they have an inner significance. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 37)

Although Bahá’u’lláh forbade His followers to attribute miracles to Him, nevertheless there are many accounts left to posterity by His disciples, describing the circumstances in which He either healed incurables or raised the dead. We don’t consider these supernatural acts to be a proof of the truth of His Cause, because this would amount to the degradation of His exalted station:

Although Bahá’u’lláh has forbidden His followers to attribute miracles to Him, nevertheless there are many accounts left to posterity by His disciples, describing the circumstances in which He either healed incurables or raised the dead. But none of these supernatural acts were considered by His followers to be a proof of the truth of His Cause, as otherwise this would amount to the degradation of His exalted station. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 3, p. 360)

Why don’t people believe the miracles they’ve been given?

Miracles are only convincing to a limited number of people:

Miracles are likewise convincing to a limited number only. For instance, a Buddhist would not be convinced by the miracles of Moses which are proofs only so far as the orthodox Jews are concerned, because they love Moses. On the other hand the miracles attributed to Jesus Christ are refuted by the Jews as a whole, saying “No one lives today who has seen these miracles performed, therefore, who can bear testimony to them? (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 43-44)

They have been taken out of context:

The meaning is not that the Manifestations are unable to perform miracles, for They have all power. But for Them inner sight, spiritual healing and eternal life are the valuable and important things. Consequently, whenever it is recorded in the Holy Books that such a one was blind and recovered his sight, the meaning is that he was inwardly blind, and that he obtained spiritual vision, or that he was ignorant and became wise, or that he was negligent and became heedful, or that he was worldly and became heavenly. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 101)

They blind us to the truth:

They see the sun with their own eyes, and yet question that brilliant Orb as to the proof of its light. They behold the vernal showers descending upon them, and yet seek an evidence of that bounty. The proof of the sun is the light thereof, which shineth and envelopeth all things. The evidence of the shower is the bounty thereof, which reneweth and investeth the world with the mantle of life. Yea, the blind can perceive naught from the sun except its heat, and the arid soil hath no share of the showers of mercy. “Marvel not if in the Qur’án the unbeliever perceiveth naught but the trace of letters, for in the sun, the blind findeth naught but heat.” (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 207)

On a personal level, often the miracles we’re looking for don’t come until the “eleventh hour” or almost the last possible minute:

He, as well as some of the other friends who are motivated by a great force of faith, believe firmly that God’s miracles will not fail to perform their wonders and at the very eleventh hour the full sum will be collected. (Shoghi Effendi, Extracts from the USBN)

I’m sure the purpose is to develop our patience and trust in God!

What’s been your experience with miracles? Post your comments below!

Wise and Un-Wise Uses of Communications Technology

A Presentation at the Newfoundland and Labrador Summer School, August, 2014 

By Harry Connors

 

 Thank you.

Our topic for this morning is “Wise and Un-Wise Uses of Technology”. I should be clear at the outset that the technologies that we addressing in this session are communications technologies – specifically, those technologies known through history under the terms newspapers, radio, television, telephone, e-mail, the “world-wide web”, and then latterly “converged” media which integrate elements of all of aforementioned communications technologies, and are those now utilized by both “mass media”, associations, sharing groups, families and individuals under the rubric “social media”.

Let me give you a road map to start off:

  1. A few comments on my background
  2. Section One – These communications technologies are arts and sciences which are gifts from God through the Manifestation, specifically foretold by the Manifestation and whose qualities were articulated by the Guardian and Universal House of Justice.
  3. Section Two – Because these technologies arise as a gift from God, there are certain responsibilities in use of these arts and sciences which are laid upon the users thereof, whether they are “mass media” or “social media”
  4. Section Three – The shift of communications from personal and direct interaction where the physical space is shared to communications where interactions are intermediated over distance via these communications technologies has impacts on each of us that may not be readily evident. A number of academic researchers and writers have identified several of these impacts. I have excerpted commentary and analysis from these writers, and I have placed alongside these excerpts guidance from the Universal House of Justice publication The Prosperity of Humankind, guidances which address how we might balance or offset these impacts.
  5. Section Four – The Universal House of Justice has offered a number of guidances regarding the use of these technologies and the application of the principles of consultation, and we will explore a few of those.
  6. Section Five – I will end this presentation with a brief excerpt from an essay that touches on the hopes that many held for these communications technologies.

Personal background

  • Worked as an editor/reporter for a daily newspaper 1966-1973
  • First computerized newspaper in North America in 1969-70 made it evident that these technologies would impact news gathering and presentation
  • University 1973 – 1977, degree in English Literature, with 8-course “minor” in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology; designed primarily for engineering and science students
  • 1973 – 1977 worked as reporter/researcher for CBC Radio, which also gave insight into the language and writing differences used in the same story presented by newspapers and radio
  • 1973 – 1977 worked for Dean of Engineering, and Dean of Science and Associate Dean of Science (David Rendell), as a “science writer” developing stories regarding science and technology research at MUN; stories carried by Canadian Press and regional news magazines
  • 1977 – 2003 worked with Bell Aliant, telecom and IT company, including 4 years in Ottawa with national consortium of telecom and IT companies. What attracted to me to the company was the challenge of sharing information within a company that employed 1,300 employees spread throughout Newfoundland and Labrador; when I retired 26 years later, I was a vice-president of a company that employed 10,000 people in 40 countries in telecom, IT and satellite communications – so the challenge of sharing communications and information didn’t go away, it just got bigger.

So I have had a fairly long and consistent interaction with these communications technologies as they have evolved, but my basic orientation really began with that set of history and philosophy courses; hence my tendency to take a somewhat philosophical approach to these matters. I admit that I tend to “cast a cocked eye” whenever I hear of the latest “new thing”, but I do try to pull my thinking back to appreciating what these gifts can provide, while remaining aware of the perhaps unintended impacts these technologies may have on us as individuals and society.

Section One: Arts and Sciences a Gift from God through the Manifestation

(read together)

Knowledge is one of the wondrous gifts of God. It is incumbent upon everyone to acquire it. Such arts and material means as are now manifest have been achieved by virtue of His knowledge and wisdom which have been revealed in Epistles and Tablets through His Most Exalted Pen—a Pen out of whose treasury pearls of wisdom and utterance and the arts and crafts of the world are brought to light.

In this Day the secrets of the earth are laid bare before the eyes of men. The pages of swiftly-appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world. They reflect the deeds and the pursuits of divers peoples and kindreds. …They are a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech. This is an amazing and potent phenomenon. However, it behoveth the writers thereof to be purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity. They should enquire into situations as much as possible and ascertain the facts, then set them down in writing.  (Tablets of  Bahá’u’lláh, pps 39-40)

A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity. (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p 203)

The system, so prophetically foreseen sixty years ago by Shoghi Effendi, builds a sense of shared community among its users that is impatient of either geographic or cultural distances.  (Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p 133)

I have pulled out some brief excerpts for discussion, and italicised them. 

Such arts and material means as are now manifest have been achieved by virtue of His knowledge and wisdom

In studying the history of various religions, we tend to assume that the religion arises as a result of the presence of certain capacities; however, the reality is opposite. It is the Manifestation, through the Power of Revelation, Who articulates the capacities and means required for the unity of the age, and the research and application of insight which gives rise to these means comes from the release of this creative power by the Revelation.

Religion is not an artifact of the civilization in which it is observed, ie a set of ideas created as a result of its era; rather Religion is the creator of the civilization associated with it, ie it is the generator of skills and capacities which owe their existence to divine creative impulse. When in the play/movie Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas laments anachronistically that the Christ should not have proclaimed His truth as Israel had no mass communications, the writer is suggesting, unintentionally perhaps, that the spread of Christ’s teaching would have been easier or was dependent upon technology. This was not and is not so, even as Christ said “the stones will cry out”, and as Baha’u’llah has said the Message is to be passed “mouth to mouth”.                                   

It seems to me that such capacities, when considered as a gift from God, are endowed with a greater meaning, and require that each of us consider carefully for what purpose did God, through His Manifestation, allow these to enter into the world of discovery, the world of being. In this regard, we should approach such gifts as the native peoples regard whatever comes into their path each day – that the Creator has placed something as a gift to be used for wise purposes. That suggests a sense of humility, of moderation, that we use these gifts to the spiritual benefit of ourselves and others.

Let’s move on – Consider the following phrase of Baha’u’llah: a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech 

An interesting aspect of Revelation is that when the Manifestation reveals a truth, we understand it in a certain way, but as the power of the Revelation and its creative impulse leads to greater discoveries and gifts in the arts and sciences, our understanding of the truth grows. So, when I first read this phrase about newspapers, I understood that they have pictures and carry quotations – but now I understand that the endowments of “newspapers” includes all of the aspects of the senses cited by Baha’u’llah. Certainly all of the responsibilities He lays upon the writers of the newspapers – to be purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity. They should enquire into situations as much as possible and ascertain the facts, then set them down in writing – all of these requirements apply to the presenters of radio and television, and equally so to the users of the Internet, e-mail, and social media, like Facebook and Twitter. In a sense, we live in a time when we are all journalists, sharing information, opinions, videos, and so on. In this regard, we all have responsibilities in the ways in which we use these media. 

Let’s look at another phrase, in the second quotation where the Guardian foretells so accurately the rise of these social media: freed from national hindrances and restrictions. The core of my technological work was telephony. During the late 1980s, I was working in Ottawa with the national telecom system. In those days, it was still true that to call many countries, you had to place that call through an operator – think of that! During my four years with the national system, we enjoyed such a sense of growing excitement as one by one various countries of the world adopted what we termed Direct Distance Overseas (DDO) which mean that you were now permitted to dial your call to an overseas location direct. Those countries no longer wished to “control” such calls to or by their citizens! Now think of what the Guardian said in the 1930s – that such technology would embrace the whole planet,  that it would be marvellously swift and regular, and freed from national hindrances or restrictions! And now look around us today.

To this the Universal House of Justice adds this technology could create: a sense of shared community among its users that is impatient of either geographic or cultural distances. How true this is becoming!

Section Two: Responsibilities arising from the gift of media arts and sciences

(read together)

O newspapers published throughout the cities and countries of the world!Have ye heard the groan of the downtrodden, and have their cries of anguish reached your ears?  Or have these remained concealed?  It is hoped that ye will investigate the truth of what hath occurred and vindicate it.(From a Tablet of Bahá’u’lláh,translated from Arabic ‑ passage #2 in compilation ‘Proclaiming the Faith Through the Mass Media’, distributed by the Universal House of Justice, 23 Oct, 1991)

(Vindicate: To make or set free; To clear from censure, criticism or doubt, by means of demonstration)

The code of conduct of the press must embrace the principles of consultation as revealed by Bahá’u’lláh. Only in this way will the press be able to make its full contribution to the preservation of the rights of the people and become a powerful instrument in the consultative processes of society, and hence the unity of the human race.(Statement issued by The Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, 1988, pp 17-18.)

“The media have both a powerful influence on people’s attitudes and perceptions … Currently, a great deal of media attention is focussed on the seemingly insurmountable differences that divide peoples and nations … The media have a responsibility to help people understand that diversity … can be a powerful resource for social development. … The media should highlight the honour of serving humankind.” (Baha’i International Community, 1994)

 Discussion

It is hoped that ye will investigate the truth of what hath occurred and vindicate it. This Tablet was addressed to The Times of London, and in it, Baha’u’llah is unveiling the truth of the innocence and nobility of the Seven Martyrs of Tehran. However, it is true that when the Manifestation speaks to a specific concern – the obligation of the media to be truthful and to hold blameless the victims of oppression – these same injunctions apply both to the specific situation and the condition and activities of the media in all such matters, wherever they may occur.

This next excerpt really jumped out at me: The code of conduct of the press must embrace the principles of consultation as revealed by Bahá’u’lláh. Again, the word “press” should be read as to include the electronic media, and the electronic media should be read as to include all media, as we are all journalists now. Baha’i scholars such as Dr. Michael Karlburg have been investigating methods of applying consultative principles, to quote him briefly:

“Consultation is more than a skill to be applied within localized contexts, for the purposes of making a decision or solving a problem…consultation must be understood as an inter-related set of principles … applied … across all field of human discourse – from inter-personal groups to mass-mediated settings – for the over-arching purpose of effecting unity in human affairs.”  (Michael Karlberg, Applying Consultative Principles and Objectives in a Mass-Mediated Setting)

The last excerpt from a statement of the Baha’i International Community addresses itself to the opportunities provided by these media: The media have a responsibility to help people understand that diversity … can be a powerful resource for social development. … The media should highlight the honour of serving humankind.

Section Three: Impacts of Using Social Media and How we can balance/offset those impacts

(read together)

Dr. Karlburg provides a good segue for me for this next section, as concerns regarding the opportunities and impacts of these new media go well beyond the Baha’i community. Many proponents of and researchers into the impacts of inter-mediated communications have offered helpful considerations regarding how these impact us as individuals and groups.  So, I want to emphasize that I am not one who rejects such media, but I just wish to emphasize we should be aware of these impacts so that we may use them wisely. I have drawn on a number of writers and I have ended each segment with a balancing quotation from the Universal House of Justice publication The Prosperity of Humankind.

1.  Social Media Challenges to Modes of Learning

(read together)

“Information anxiety is produced by the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. Information anxiety is the black hole between data and knowledge. … We read without comprehending, see without perceiving, hear without listening…. It can be … a chronic malaise, a fear that we are about to be overwhelmed by the very material that we need to master in order to function…” (Richard Saul Wurman, Information Anxiety)

“The freedom to investigate the purpose of existence and to develop the endowments of human nature that make it achievable requires protection. Human beings must be free to know. That such freedom is often abused and such abuse grossly encouraged by … contemporary society does not detract … from the valid­ity of the impulse itself. … Since the challenge is … empowerment …  through a vast increase in access to knowledge, the strategy that can make this possible must be con­structed around an ongoing and intensifying dialogue between science and religion…. ­­­People need to learn how to separate fact from con­jecture … to distinguish between subjective views and objec­tive reality; the extent to which indi­viduals and institutions so equipped can contribute to human progress, however, will be determined by their devotion to truth and their detach­ment from the promptings of their own interests and passions. (The Universal House of Justice, The Prosperity of Humankind)

Discussion

Information anxiety is the black hole between data and knowledge. … We read without comprehending, see without perceiving, hear without listening.

I think these anxieties arise when we encounter information without context, including times when information that is highly personal and intimate is shared without our being able to place it within the fullness of a mature relationship with the other person. Certainly, there are times when we will feel we have too much information, even when it is non-contextual or non-intimate: the sheer volume overwhelms our senses. And consider that impact – Baha’u’llah says that these media are endowed with certain senses, and yet on times it happens that the volume of information flow operates to overwhelm or even shut down these senses, leaving us feeling helpless, perhaps frustrated, and prone to other emotions such as upset or anger or even apathy.

­­­People need to learn how to separate fact from con­jecture … to distinguish between subjective views and objec­tive reality; the extent to which indi­viduals and institutions so equipped can contribute to human progress, however, will be determined by their devotion to truth and their detach­ment from the promptings of their own interests and passions

The admonition to be detached from our passions, especially in the use of such media, is an essential matter. Abdul Baha references an authoritative Tradition as follows:  “As for him who is one of the learned: he must guard himself, oppose his passions, and obey the commandments of his Lord’…”, and then goes on to say:

“ ‘… opposes his passions’  How wonderful are the implications of this deceptively easy, all-inclusive phrase. This is the very foundation of every laudable human quality; indeed these few words embody the light of the world, the impregnable basis of all the spiritual attributes of human beings. This is the balance wheel of all behaviour, the means of keeping all man’s good qualities in equilibrium.” (Secret of Divine Civilization, pps 59-60)

2.  Social Media Impact on Relationships

(read together)

 “Social roles (ie. the social “place”) can be understood … in terms of social situations, which, until recently, have been tied to physical place, and … the logic of situational behaviours has much to do with patterns of information flow, that is, much to do with the human senses and [these] technological extensions. … Evolution in the media …[changes] the logic of social order by restructuring the relationship between the physical place and the social place and by altering the ways in which we receive and transmit social information.”  (Joshua Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place)

“The word discourse itself contains part of the explanation of this tendency. Discourse implies a long process: an indirect approach and a kind of winding movement involving successive approximations [of reality] . …the invasion of the verbal realm by images results in role reversal and domination … the humiliation of the word… we are dealing with … the disappearance of one sort of thinking”  (Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word)

 “Central to the task of recon­ceptualising the system of human relationships is the process that Baha’u’llah refers to as consultation. “In all things it is necessary to con­sult,” is His advice. “The maturity of the gift of understanding is made manifest through consultation.” (The Universal House of Justice, The Prosperity of Humankind)

Discussion

Evolution in the media …[changes] the logic of social order by restructuring the relationship between the physical place and the social place and by altering the ways in which we receive and transmit social information

A world that was once very ordered and formal in its social communications has become immediate and intimate and informal, often with neither introduction nor warning. Once we shared intimacies with individuals we had known for a long time, now we tell the world of our trials, errors, successes, achievements and failures. And those of everyone else we might or might not know. We connect with everyone but there is no contextualizing and binding mortar. In business, it was not so long ago, up to the 1980s, somewhat uncommon to call someone in a business we did not know directly but would first write a letter, requesting the opportunity to speak. Now, the e-mail comes, and we are expected, or feel obligated, to respond, regardless of the lack of direct familiarity with the person. We are invited to be “friends” by, … who? Someone who knows someone who knows someone … The social order is upset, and this will continue, so the question is how are we to operate in this new world?

we are dealing with … the disappearance of one sort of thinking

Communications which is focussed on reading or listening to the words another is using is significantly impacted by the addition of images, videos and so on. Images create an interpretation of the words, are sometimes unintentionally disconnected from the speakers/senders own meaning. They impose on the reader/listener, deny the freedom of imagination and thought. Music videos did kill radio music – I realized that if I had seen a music video, I could no longer listen to the record without the promptings of the images, and I could create none of my own.  Again, it is a question of how do we re-balance.

Discourse implies a long process: an indirect approach and a kind of winding movement involving successive approximations [of reality]

Is this not an apt expression of the dynamics of consultation? It suggests space and time and freedom to exchange ideas and views.

Central to the task of recon­ceptualising the system of human relationships is the process that Baha’u’llah refers to as consultation.

It is fascinating that social media could have such impacts on our communications and our relationships, and that The Universal House of Justice would direct our attention to the process of consultation as the means of reconceptualising human relationships. So we need to ask ourselves, what is in the principles and practices of consultation as defined by Baha’u’llah that would allow us to re-balance the impacts of these media.

3.  Social Media Impact on the ability to absorb and synthesize information

(read together)

 “… one way to characterize ourselves is as ‘hunters and gatherers of an information age’. Our shared sphere of interaction is informational rather than physical … Like hunters and gatherers who take for granted the abundance of food ‘out there’ and therefore only hunt and gather enough to consume immediately, we are becoming increasingly a ‘subsistence information society’…. people are beginning to believe that information is available ‘out there’ and that individuals do not need to stockpile it. … even many scholars have begun to steer away from storing in their minds the long, linear arguments [that characterized] literacy, that linked new discoveries to old, and that pointed to the future. The computer is increasingly used as an abundant jungle of bits and pieces of ‘data’ … the connections found are often consumed and digested immediately without being painstakingly linked to other knowledge and ideas.” (Joshua Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place)

“Another capacity that science must cultivate in all people is that of thinking in terms of process, including historical process …” (The Universal House of Justice, The Prosperity of Humankind)

Discussion

storing in their minds the long, linear arguments [that characterized] literacy, that linked new discoveries to old, and that pointed to the future

You will note perhaps the similarity between Meyerowitz’s description of literacy and Ellul’s description of discourse. The ability to hold within our minds long chains of reasoning, of different ideas, of information gathered from divers sources, this regular re-reading and combining of personal discovery, guidance and experience. It is the sustaining of this kind of thinking that Ellul urges upon us, to not let such gifts be overwhelmed and lost in the use of otherwise gifted technologies which can provide the immediate, the ever-present, the instantly accessible.

Another capacity that science must cultivate in all people is that of thinking in terms of process, including historical process

I ask you to consider the manner in which The Universal House of Justice models for us “thinking in terms of process, including historical process”.  Consider prior to this current series of plans publications such as The Peace Statement, Century of Light, The Prosperity of Humankind, how these act to provide us with insight into the experiences of humanity since the advent of Baha’u’llah’s Revelation. Even before these current Plans, did not The Universal House of Justice encourage upon us study of certain letters of the Guardian to the United States, which letters contextualize the developments of the world and the Faith up to the 1950s. Similarly, within the current Plans, consider the approach of the annual Ridvan Messages, and the ever-increasing flow of reflections regarding the institute process and the increasing penetration of programs supporting personal growth and community transformation.  These are models of connecting chains of reasoning, of experience, of contextualizing data.

4.  Social Media Impact on the power of reflection

“In Time and Free Will, Henri Bergson [asks]: ‘Suppose some mischievous genius could so manage things that all the motion in the universe doubled in speed, and everything happened twice as fast as at present. How could we detect this fraud? …Easily, [by] the impoverishment of our conscious lives. The contents of our minds would be reduced.’ Apply that criterion to those … [for whom] … speed is of the essence… Do they not rather despise anybody who pauses long enough to acquire a mental content from reflection, or to win a wisdom which will only cut down his speed in making for the goal? And is it strange that those who travel so fast and light should arrive in a nude and starving condition?” (Marshall McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride)

A superficial culture, unsupported by a cultivated morality, is as ‘a confused medley of dreams’ …” (Abdul Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization)

“Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life … the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation. … This faculty brings forth from the invisible plane the sciences and the arts. Through the meditative faculty inventions are made possible, colossal undertakings are carried out; through it governments can run smoothly. … The meditative faculty is akin to a mirror … if you turn the mirror heavenwards … the rays of the Sun of Reality will be reflected in your hearts, and the virtues of the Kingdom will be obtained.”(Abdul Baha, Paris Talks)

Discussion

everything …  twice as fastthe impoverishment of our conscious lives. The contents of our minds would be reduced

Bergson’s provides a concise and apt description of the impact of the speed and volume of information enabled by these communications technologies, and these comments are enhanced by McLuhan’s critique (and you didn’t think we were going to complete this session without McLuhan, did you). Someone send you an e-mail, after an hour they call you to ask if you have read it, they want an answer before you can think of what is the question.

A superficial culture, unsupported by a cultivated morality, is as ‘a confused medley of dream

We need to avoid a shallowing or hollowing out of our capacities in using these technologies. With regard to cultivated morality, I think Abdul Baha is suggesting a morality with is worked at, like a garden, where our thinking is guided by a Gardener.

the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation.

As with thinking in terms of process, the importance of meditation and reflection is key to balancing the impacts of these media. Studies such as Thinking, Fast and Slow can really help us to understand the necessity to be moderate and balanced, to recognize these impacts.

Section Four: Wisdom in the use of Social Media: Guidance of The Universal House of Justice

(read together)

Essentially, the position of the House of Justice is that the Internet offers Bahá’ís a very valuable communication tool. As with all other forms of consultation, however, such exchanges are spiritually and intellectually helpful to a believer to the extent that they take place within the context of Bahá’í principle. (The Universal House of Justice, 1999 Nov 22)

–          Notice the reference to the Internet as a form of consultation, and the need to apply requisite Baha’i principle.

As you well appreciate, the extent to which such technology advances the work of the Faith depends, of course, on the manner in which it is used. As a medium for Bahá’ís to exchange views, it imposes on participants the same requirements of moderation, candour, and courtesy as would be the case in any other discussion. Likewise, those involved should avoid belittling the views of one another. (The Universal House of Justice, 1997 Aug 13, Science and Religion, p. 6)

–          The descriptions of the behavioural qualities are exactly the same as those which apply to the process of consultation

The ease and relative impersonality of the electronic medium require in some ways an even higher level of self-discipline than is the case in situations where a spirit of unity is reinforced by the opportunity for direct personal contact and social interaction. In the pursuit of such a spirit of unity, Bahá’ís will, without doubt, wish to assist the consultative processes by sharing and discussing relevant Bahá’í texts. This will itself have the further effect of drawing attention back to the framework of Bahá’í belief. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

–          We should reflect on why The Universal House of Justice states that these media require an even higher level of self-discipline. A typewritten letter which must be physically mailed might provide an opportunity for sober second thought; the “magic” send or enter buttons on a computer can be a blessing or a curse.

–          These next two excerpts fall within the framework of “Protection of the Faith”

It is natural that the friends would discuss such matters among themselves, as you and your correspondent have been doing on your Internet discussion group; how otherwise are they to deepen their understanding of the Teachings? But they should recognize that the resolution of differences of opinion on such fundamental questions is not to be found by continued discussion, but in referring to the Universal House of Justice itself, as you have done. Prolonged, unresolved, public discussion of these fundamental questions can do nothing but breed confusion and dissension. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

The principle which should guide our efforts to share the fruits of Bahá’í scholarship has been made clear for all of us in this passage from Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings: “Thou hast written that one of the friends hath composed a treatise. This was mentioned in the Holy Presence, and this is what was revealed in response: Great care should be exercised that whatever is written in these days doth not cause dissension, and invite the objection of the people. Whatever the friends of the one true God say in these days is listened to by the people of the world. It hath been revealed in the Lawh-i-Hikmat: “The unbelievers have inclined their ears towards us in order to hear that which might enable them to cavil against God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.” Whatever is written should not transgress the bounds of tact and wisdom, and in the words used there should lie hid the property of milk, so that the children of the world may be nurtured therewith, and attain maturity. We have said in the past that one word hath the influence of spring and causeth hearts to become fresh and verdant, while another is like unto blight which causeth the blossoms and flowers to wither. God grant that authors among the friends will write in such a way as would be acceptable to fair-minded souls, and not lead to cavilling by the people. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

“With the physical unification of the planet in this century and acknowledgement of the interdependence of all who live on it, the history of humanity as one people is now beginning. The long, slow civilising of human character has been a sporadic development, uneven and admittedly inequitable in the material advantages it has con­ferred. Nevertheless, endowed with the wealth of all the genetic and cultural diversity that has evolved through past ages, the earth’s inhab­itants are now challenged to draw on their collective inheritance to take up, consciously and systematically, the responsibility for the design of their future.” (The Prosperity of Humankind)

–          We are at the beginning of Revelation, whose power is steadily bringing forward an ever-advancing civilization, a process which will take a considerable time and require endless adjustment of our understandings and behaviours. We can be patient, thoughtful and reflective, as well as alert to the impacts of such discoveries.

I wanted to end on a personal note, a note which I think reflects a quality of hopefulness about these communications technologies when they were fresh and new in the world. MY father wrote this essay when he was just a few months past his 16th birthday – just over a year beyond what we would refer to as a “junior youth” – when he was a first year student at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. The occasion for this essay in the student newspaper, in 1931, was the fact that there were now 16 originating and transmitting radio stations in North America. A radio station would be established in Newfoundland in 1932, a year after this essay, and it reflects the sense of real hope held by many for the expected benefits of these new technologies. So I will end on this note:

                   A Family Note on the Impact of Technology

…what a blessing Radio is to us. …Rich and poor, urban and rural, educated and illiterate, all are absorbed … with the same degree of interest. Every evening we are passing the time in the company of people of at least ten different nationalities. … No longer do we have to crowd around bulletin-boards to hear the latest dispatches. … At first the mere thought of sound picked out of the air fascinated us; now programs from foreign lands merely form part of the daily broadcast. The interest, however, has not diminished inasmuch as they contain an element of the unknown. ….It can be best left to the imagination to picture for itself what Radio holds in store for us. Myths at which our grandfathers scoffed have become realities within the century. Who, then, can say what Radio will not accomplish? It is full of possibilities and already glorious with success. When the fruit is ripe for the plucking, we shall see. (JJ Connors, age 16, St. Mary’s University, 1931)

How has this helped you understand the topic further?  Post your comments below!