Let’s imagine that I am a painter and you are my audience. I convey to you that I am about to paint an oak tree. In response you create an image in your mind of what you believe an oak tree should resemble. I begin to paint. First, the trunk, and as I begin to sketch out the outline of my trunk you agree that this is indeed in agreement with your preconception of what an oak tree is. As I continue, however, you notice that my trunk is short and the branches resemble those of a fruit tree, and that my twigs and leaves are identical to that of a cherry tree. Kindly, you allow me to continue, but still you find my painting unacceptable because now I have placed cherry blossoms where acorns should be found. Finally, I finish by coloring in my blossoming cherry tree after which I say, “behold, an oak tree!”
Now, the truth is that this is definitely not an oak tree. One cannot argue that a painting of a cherry tree is an oak tree because the definition of an oak tree and a cherry tree has been predetermined and agreed upon by science and common man alike. The physical attributes of each are known, and are not disputed. However, in this case, I have been handicapped in my perception somehow and have come to believe this painting of mine to be what it is obviously not.
So, as my observer, what do you do? You can’t force me to change my perception, nor should you lie and hope I may one day figure it out myself. It is important that I become educated, but not offended. Also, it is important that I discover the truth through my own investigation and observation, rather than through some paternal imposition. Therefore, you decide take me to the woods. You bring with yourself an illustrated copy of a well-known encyclopedia, you show me an oak tree, point at the picture in the book and say, “This is what I have always known an oak tree to be. Do you see why I am confused?”
Everything that exists in physical reality does so regardless of definition or description. The oak tree stands and grows with or without its title. However, let us imagine that you were the first person ever to see this tree, and were responsible to describe it to another. To be accurate, you would need to tap into an armory of adjectives and metaphors, similes, illustrations, colors, textures, scents, sounds, measurements, small scale models, charts, and so on. In other words, to describe truth, you must strive for perfection in your description, use all the angles, and most importantly, inspire the audience to explore for themselves. A true conveyor of knowledge would never dare convince his listener to be content with his message. Rather, he would excite and inspire the listeners to investigate the truth for themselves.
Humanity has defined a great many things, and has given objects and ideas semantic representations so as to prevent unnecessary debates over meanings and definitions. The Unknowable Essence (God) has also imbued physical reality with spiritual laws and principles that exist in and of themselves whether or not they are defined or described by our words. However, words and other forms of expression are required to define and describe these laws and principles, and just as words exist to describe the properties of physical reality, physical reality exists to convey the truths of spiritual reality. Kahlil Gibran illustrates this interaction between spiritual reality and physical reality in the following line:
“Art arises when the secret vision of the artist and the manifestation of nature agree to find new shapes.”
One such spiritual truth that is conveyed through physical reality is unity. This concept has been described through various expressions, such as circles, a harmonious choir, a symphony orchestra, or an ecosystem. We can observe that the concept of unity is not limited to its semantic definition; however, it can be inaccurately defined. The word “war,” a polluted landscape, a combination of disjointed/un-harmonized sounds, will never be fitting examples of unity. These descriptions do not content the hearer’s heart; instead, they convey anxiety, doubt and confusion.
To educate mankind and guide civilization towards a collective understanding of these spiritual truths, God communicates to us a series of operational definitions and parameters through His Manifestations, or divine educators. These divine educators describe truth, illustrate its qualities and attributes, and provide a roadmap for humanity to follow so that it may investigate and discover the truth, a truth that is relative to each individual. Shoghi Effendi, in describing the purpose of the revelation of Bahá’u’llàh, clearly defines the mission of the Manifestation, and more importantly the relativity of religious truth as the fundamental principle animating the Faith of God:
“Its [the Revelation] declared, its primary purpose is to enable every adherent of these Faiths to obtain a fuller understanding of the religion with which he stands identified, and to acquire a clearer apprehension of its purpose. It is neither eclectic in the presentation of its truths, nor arrogant in the affirmation of its claims. Its teachings revolve around the fundamental principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is progressive, not final.”
For each age a different language must be used to convey the message. For instance, at one point truth is conveyed in parables; at another, through poems; at yet another, as philosophy. For each audience there is a different medium to describe the same tree, so to speak. This is why we refer to the words of the Manifestations of God; they are the only beings who have had the bounty of perceiving spiritual truth in all its dimensions. Our own attempts to describe this truth are relative to our own, narrow perspectives. In other words, our perspectives are an accumulation of knowledge and experience, the perspective of the Manifestation is conferred by the source of creation itself. Bahá’u’llàh describes the purpose of the Manifestations in the following:
“From the foregoing passages and allusions it hath been made indubitably clear that in the kingdoms of earth and heaven there must needs be manifested a Being, an Essence Who shall act as a Manifestation and Vehicle for the transmission of the grace of the Divinity Itself, the Sovereign Lord of all. Through the Teachings of this Day Star of Truth every man will advance and develop until he attaineth the station at which he can manifest all the potential forces with which his inmost true self hath been endowed. It is for this very purpose that in every age and dispensation the Prophets of God and His chosen Ones have appeared amongst men, and have evinced such power as is born of God and such might as only the Eternal can reveal.”
As to the station of the Manifestation:
“And since there can be no tie of direct intercourse to bind the one true God with His creation, and no resemblance whatever can exist between the transient and the Eternal, the contingent and the Absolute, He hath ordained that in every age and dispensation a pure and stainless Soul be made manifest in the kingdoms of earth and heaven. Unto this subtle, this mysterious and ethereal Being He hath assigned a twofold nature; the physical, pertaining to the world of matter, and the spiritual, which is born of the substance of God Himself. He hath, moreover, conferred upon Him a double station. The first station, which is related to His innermost reality, representeth Him as One Whose voice is the voice of God Himself. The second station is the human station, exemplified by the following verses: “I am but a man like you.” “Say, praise be to my Lord! Am I more than a man, an apostle?” These Essences of Detachment, these resplendent Realities are the channels of God’s all-pervasive grace. Led by the light of unfailing guidance, and invested with supreme sovereignty, They are commissioned to use the inspiration of Their words, the effusions of Their infallible grace and the sanctifying breeze of Their Revelation for the cleansing of every longing heart and receptive spirit from the dross and dust of earthly cares and limitations. Then, and only then, will the Trust of God, latent in the reality of man, emerge, as resplendent as the rising Orb of Divine Revelation, from behind the veil of concealment, and implant the ensign of its revealed glory upon the summits of men’s hearts.”
This relationship between humanity and the Unknowable Essence via the Manifestations continues eternally. In physical reality this relationship establishes a universal order that protects and guides the individual through the development of his spiritual faculties so that it may continue, after death, towards the ultimate reality. This journey continues eternally.
To what end? Well, to attain the presence of the Creator, which no soul can ever attain. Why?
Well, this brings us to the question of time and linear reality. Most everything in our day-to-day life begins and ends. Our day, our meal, our work, our breaks, these all begin and end. We set goals, deadlines, create timelines, number our pages, create borders, boundaries, and we map the stars. We do this to create a sense of order, to feel a sense of completion, achievement, and because our reality is linear. This is, of course, absolutely important when it concerns our day-to-day life; otherwise, civilization would not progress. However, it is not true reality. The reality is that in the beginning there is 1, and in the end there is eternity.
1 = the creator
Eternity = creation
Try not to doze off…
Zero, or 0, is an artificial byproduct of linear reality. It is a human creation that the intellect requires in order to satisfy a need to quantify that which cannot be quantified. To understand God, to know the reality of the soul and spiritual reality, and to describe non-existence, we created zero, or nothingness. An illogical term fused with scientific truth, illustrating the primitivity of the human intellect. In reality, zero cannot truly exist since nothing can be absolutely annihilated, only transformed. ‘Abdu’l-Bahà provides us with a clear explanation of this topic:
“I have been asked to speak of that which is eternal and that which is contingent. Is creation a manifestation or an emanation of God? There are two kinds of eternities. There is an eternity of essence, that which is without first cause, and an eternity of time, that which has no beginning. When you will understand these subjects all will become clear. Know of a certainty that every visible thing has a cause. For instance, this table is made by a carpenter; its originator is the carpenter.
Therefore as such objects are not self created, they are not in the nature of things eternal; but need an auxiliary-transforming force, although in their essence they are very ancient in time; but their ancient and eternal existence is not due to the temporary form.”
For instance, the world of elements cannot be annihilated, because pure existence cannot be annihilated; and what we observe are but transformative modifications in the composition of the essence. The combination of different elements has formed physical man; when the composition is destroyed the elements will return to their component parts. Complete annihilation cannot take place.”
So, what is the answer to the question? Why has God—the Unknowable Essence, the Ultimate Reality, the origin of all creation—designed this eternal reality? Why do we forever journey to attain the presence of our Creator? Bahá’u’llàh gives us an answer that is absolutely complex, but in a sense, simple:
“O SON OF MAN! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.”
Unfortunately, this answer is not good enough for those who also glamorize nothingness, those who find themselves consumed by the falsity of linear reality, and believe that their theoretical abstractions of how things began justify their predictions of how things will end. Unfortunately, the idea that an end is never to be found, that the journey is eternal and endless, goes against the prevalent conception that all that begins must also come to an end. ‘Abdu’l-Baha discusses the idea of eternity with the following:
“Therefore, divine sovereignty necessitates a creation over which its dominion is exercised. There must be evidences of sovereignty. If we try to conceive of a time when creation was nonexistent, when there were no subjects or creatures under divine dominion and control, Divinity itself would disappear; there would be a cessation of the bounty of God, just as the kingship and favor of an earthly monarch would disappear if his kingdom did not exist. The sovereignty of God is eternal. There has been no beginning; there will be no end. This is as evident as the sun at midday, even to one endowed with limited reason.”
And again, the great poet Khalil Gibran
“I existed from all eternity and, behold, I am here; and I shall exist till the end of time, for my being has no end.”
The journey is our joy; the path, our greatest gift; love of our Creator, our sustenance; faith, our guiding light. This is that for which we live, contentment is the realization of this.
“O Son of Bounty! Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things. Thus, ere thou didst issue from thy mother’s womb, I destined for thee two founts of gleaming milk, eyes to watch over thee, and hearts to love thee. Out of My loving-kindness, ‘neath the shade of My mercy I nurtured thee, and guarded thee by the essence of My grace and favor. And My purpose in all this was that thou mightest attain My everlasting dominion and become worthy of My invisible bestowals. And yet heedless thou didst remain, and when fully grown, thou didst neglect all My bounties and occupied thyself with thine idle imaginings, in such wise that thou didst become wholly forgetful, and, turning away from the portals of the Friend didst abide within the courts of My enemy.” ~ Bahá’u’llàh