March 24, 2024

The Archeology of the Kingdom of God: Diving a Bit Deeper into a Baha’i Approach to Metaphysics


by Brian Turner

In an effort to help improve and deepen our dialogue with @Thomas and @RJM, I would like to share a few quotes about Baha’u’llah’s approach to metaphysics from The Archeology of the Kingdom of God, which is an English translation by Peter Terry of a French work by Jean-Marc Lepain. Because it is a translation, the wording for me is a little strange in places, but the writer is clearly knowledgeable. Let’s start off with a comparison between Baha’u’llah’s approach and the general approach of classical metaphysicians. We’ll go elsewhere and explore further from there. :)

 

  1. It looks like where we start our approach differs dramatically. Classical metaphysics begins with God and a descent through the hierarchy of Being. Baha’u’llah’s approach works the other way around: “It is because one begins by defining the nature of man that one can thereafter ascend the degrees of the hierarchy of Being.”

 

“While classical metaphysics begin with God to descend thereafter through the degrees of the hierarchy of Being, from the world of essences to that of individuals, the question which is found at the heart of the philosophy of Baha’u’llah is an inquest upon the nature of man. It is because one begins by defining the nature of man that one can thereafter ascend the degrees of the hierarchy of Being. This explains that the philosophy of Ideas or of Forms appropriate to Platonism or Aristotelianism is replaced by a philosophy of values. It is in the function of the meaning which is given to human life that one can define the finality of the physical reality of the universe.”

 

More on the reasoning behind this thinking here:

 

“For Baha’u’llah, there are two complementary ways of apprehending the world: the one rational and scientific which exists from our exteriority, and the other intuitive and mystical which exists from our interiority. But, in order to take this second path, man must first explore and understand his interiority. Furthermore, in that which concerns God and the spiritual worlds in general, the way of interiority alone exists. This is why Baha’u’llah, after the knowledge of self, assigns as finality to human existence “to know and love God”. He affirms that this is not only the finality of all human existence but that it is also the finality of all creation, for it is impossible to conceive of a divine creation without a consciousness which knows his Creator. This is what we have called “the anthropic principle” of Baha’u’llah. This principle overturns all of philosophy and had multiple and fundamental implications which are far from being explored. It is this principle which explains that the reality of the universe appears to be structured in its functioning by a law of intelligibility which the universe shares with the human spirit. It is this principle which also implicates the necessity of a noetic and epistemological link between the creature and the Creator which is at the source of the Baha’i hermeneutic. From that also follows that Being cannot be at the center of the metaphysic, and even of the ontology, of Baha’u’llah.”

 

  1. “Being is no longer at the center of metaphysics” in Baha’i thought.

 

“The principle which is the resume of the anthropology of Baha’u’llah, and which constitutes the key to the vault of his teaching is contained in the affirmation that the nature of man is spiritual. The fundamental philosophical problem which this principle poses consists then in understanding what the word “spiritual” signifies. We can say that this question is the object of the metaphysic of Baha’u’llah, for the concept of the spiritual refers to a world of transcendental values, intermediary values between God and His creation, the existence of which one must explain. Now we understand why the metaphysic of Baha’u’llah is not presented according to the mode to which the classical systems have habituated us. Being is no longer at the center of metaphysics; it is replaced by the spirit and the consciousness.”

 

 

  1. Old terms are redefined by Baha’u’llah as a result of this approach.

 

“Whenever Baha’u’llah takes up the mystical language of the Arabo-Persian tradition it is always in a metaphorical sense and not in order to approve the dogmas which were generated therefrom. This is the case with all the vocabulary of the Ishraqi theophany, such as ishraq (auroral light), mashriq(orient, dawn), tajalli (radiance, effulgence, emanation), zuhur (manifestation, appearance), mazhar(place of manifestation), ufuq (horizons), and so forth. These words are, in the work of Baha’u’llah, redirected from their original meaning to express new ideas in the midst of a philosophy that denies all dogmatism and all systematic philosophical theorization. It is in the spirit of this transformation that we must examine the role and the place of the terminology of the divine worlds in the work of Baha’u’llah.

 

It is also important to emphasize that Baha’u’llah broke with the entire philosophical tradition of Islam. He rejects the ontology of Ibn Sina which furnished that tradition with its principal structure over the course of several centuries. He repudiates the theory of the creative Imagination which Ibn Sina, Ibn al-‘Arabi and al-Suhrawardi developed. He also rejects existential monism which, since al-Hallaj, seemed to be the only form of thought definitely opposed to Islamic orthodoxy. He dares to affirm the eternity of the creation and reduces to allegorical symbols the greater part of the Quranic dogmas, including the resurrection, the final judgment, the appearance face to face with God, the angels, the Imams, and so on. The profundity of his thought manifests itself above all in its limpidity which contrasts it with the extreme sophistication of the thought systems of his time.

 

One does not find in the work of Baha’u’llah a single exposition sui generis of an ontological or metaphysical theory. This does not mean to say that Baha’u’llah did not have any conception of his own in this domain. But this conception is implicit. The only way to rediscover it is to become impregnated with his work, to study it deeply and to meditate thereon. Then abysses of wisdom reveal themselves. This refusal of all theorization by Baha’u’llah is fundamental. The Manifestations of God do not come to construct systems. The elaboration of a knowing discourse is the province of theologians, mystics and philosophers who follow the Manifestations in each Dispensation.

 

In the Writings of Baha’u’llah, it is often necessary to compare one text with several others in order to release the complete image of his thought. This brevity exemplifies the great reserve which Baha’u’llah leaves to be penetrated in the case of metaphysical questions. This reserve exists for two reasons. The first refers to the concept which Baha’u’llah has of his own mission. A Manifestation of God is not a professor of philosophy, no more than he is a medical doctor, a biologist, a physicist or other specialist. The Manifestation of God does not come to reveal to us the secrets of the universe, but to give us a moral and spiritual teaching susceptible of contributing to the spiritual expansion of man. The spiritual blooming of man is found in detachment, in the service of humanity and in teaching the Cause of God, not in metaphysical speculation.

 

However, the brevity of the discourses consecrated by Baha’u’llah to the divine worlds, and the evident reserve with which these are treated, should not make us believe that the subject has little importance in his eyes. He habitually employs this concise and stripped down manner of writing which delivers only the essential. One could even say that the absence of literary ornament always characterizes the most important passages of his writings. The “Most Holy Book” (Kitab-i-Aqdas) is the very model of brevity and concision. The establishment of Houses of Justice, signally the foundation of the Baha’i Administrative Order, is treated in less than three lines and none of his essential points receives a long elaboration. What is fundamental in the exposition of Baha’u’llah in the “Tablet of All Food” is the link that he establishes between the question of the divine worlds and a spiritual hermeneutic (ta’wil), in which he indicates that a certain food (understood as spiritual in nature) corresponds to each world, and that at the same time the word “food” itself is susceptible to receiving an interpretation particular to its function in each of these worlds, so that in fact the term contains innumerable significances.”

 

Ahanu 23/03/2024

View Thread: https://www.interfaith.org/community/threads/21086/

 

 


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