One of the first scholars to study the Bahá'í Faith, Professor
Edward G. Browne of Cambridge University, commented on the fact that there is
little in the corpus of works about that faith that can be described as
systematic theological or metaphysical writing.
This is somewhat surprising for two reasons: first, there
are ample passages in the Bahá'í scriptures that could serve as
the basis of theology and metaphysics; and second, such Bahá'í
teachings as the unity of religions appear to require theological and
metaphysical elaboration and underpinning.
The concept of the unity of religions is one of the key doctrines of the
Bahá'í Faith. At its most basic level, this doctrine can be
expressed as the belief that the different religious systems of the world
merely reflect different stages in a single process, the progressive unfoldment
of religious "Truth." The observable differences between the various religions
are regarded as only a function of the different social conditions that
prevailed at the time and place that these religions first appeared.
However, this doctrine is open to some serious questions. It appears to work
well enough when applied to the different religions in the Western
Judaeo-Christian-Muslim tradition. One can easily conceive (whether one chooses
to believe it or not) that a succession of prophets, each claiming to be a
representative of God and each having a particular holy book, holy law,
prophecies, and teachings, were in fact successive teachers in a chain sent by
a Creator God and intended to take man through progressive stages in his social
and spiritual evolution. Indeed, what may make this concept particularly
attractive to many converts to the Bahá'í Faith is the manner in
which such an idea fits into the general schema of evolutionary thought that
predominates in the biological and social sciences. If man has evolved
biologically and socially, then it makes sense to conceive of his religious
life as having evolved also. Problems arise, however, when the theory is
applied to other religious systems, in particular the Eastern systems: Indian,
Chinese, and Japanese religion. In these systems there is frequently no concept
of a Creator God, of prophethood, or of the revelation of a holy law and divine
The divergence between different systems of religious thought is very wide,
particularly in the area of their ontology and metaphysical construction of the
universe. There are religious traditions that point towards a monistic
universe, where there is no essential difference between the self of man and
the Absolute. This line of thought is pursued mainly in the Eastern religious
systems such as the Hinduism of Shankara, some forms of Mahayana Buddhism, and
Sufism of the wahdat al-wujúd
Man's goal in these systems is the cultivation of wisdom,
through which man's true nature--his identity with the Absolute--is realised.
On the other hand, the Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--at
least as expressed by their major traditions) have adopted a dualistic view of
the universe in which man and the physical world are seen as being completely
"other" than the Absolute, which is identified as the creator God. The
relationship between man and God is one of worshipper and worshipped. Man's
goal is to achieve salvation by orienting his life in accordance with the will
of God. Such differences between Western and Eastern religious thought are
summarized in Table 1.
TABLE 1: Differences between Eastern and Western Religious Thought
Bahá'u'lláh's Statements of a Dualist Nature.
A Creator God.
A concept of the Absolute as undifferentiated and impersonal.|
Man is fundamentally different from God, i.e., dualism
Either man is God (Atman is Brahman), i.e., monism; or else, as in Buddhism, no
statement can be made about the person who has achieved nirvana.|
Evil is transgression against the law of God.
Evil is due to man's ignorance and self-delusion.|
The path to salvation depends either upon faith, or upon good works and
adherence to the Holy Law, or is simply a matter of the grace of God.
The path to salvation is through the acquisition of knowledge or wisdom, i.e.,
the ability to see things as they really are.|
The purpose of salvation is to escape from the threat of hell.
5. The purpose of salvation is to escape from the suffering of this world.|
6. The goal of salvation is heaven or paradise.
6. The goal of salvation is to achieve the state of blissfulness, nirvana or
The most important ritual elements revolve around worship and sacraments.
Most important ritual elements revolve around meditation and achievement of
altered states of consciousness. |
Progressive "historical" time with a beginning and an end centered on a
particular apocalyptic event.
Cyclical time in a world with no beginning or end.|
Initially, it would appear that Bahá'í metaphysics and
ontology belong firmly in the Western, dualist camp. Bahá'u'lláh
himself was born in a Muslim society, spent all of his life in Muslim
countries, and all of his followers were converts from one or another dualist
tradition. Even during the lifetime of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (who wrote a great
deal on metaphysical questions), although the Bahá'í Faith had
spread extensively, this had been mostly to places where the religious system
was Western and dualist. There were very few Bahá'í converts from
a monistic background. By the time of Shoghi Effendi, there had grown up
Bahá'í communities in the Eastern monist world, but he wrote
little on metaphysical themes. Thus, most of the material that we have in the
Bahá'í scriptures is addressed to persons of a Western dualist
There is, moreover, no lack of examples of statements by
Bahá'u'lláh that indicate a dualist metaphysics:
Immeasurably exalted is He above the strivings of the human mind to grasp His
Essence, or of human tongue to describe His mystery. No tie of direct
intercourse can ever bind Him to the things He hath created, nor can the most
abstruse and most remote allusions of His creatures do justice to His being.
From time immemorial He hath been veiled in the ineffable sanctity of His
exalted Self, and will everlastingly continue to be wrapt in the impenetrable
mystery of His unknowable Essence. Every attempt to attain to an understanding
of His inaccessible Reality hath ended in complete bewilderment, and every
effort to approach His exalted Self and envisage His Essence hath resulted in
hopelessness and failure.
However, we must be careful about arriving at the conclusion that
Bahá'u'lláh endorsed a dualist view of the world. Much of
Bahá'u'lláh's writings were written in response to specific
questions from his followers and others. In answering these, it is clear that
Bahá'u'lláh used the concepts and ideas current at the time and
known to his questioner. However, Bahá'u'lláh was not in this
situation acting as a philosopher and giving authority and support to these
concepts and ideas. Rather his primary purpose was to give spiritual guidance,
utilising such concepts as would be most intelligible to his questioners in
order to lay open a spiritual truth. This point has been developed elsewhere by
Juan Cole in relation to Bahá'u'lláh's Lawh-i hikmat
Tablet of Wisdom
). And, therefore, when we
find Bahá'u'lláh using classical metaphysics from the Islamic and
Western traditions, it must be borne in mind that perhaps he was merely
expressing himself in this manner because this was the metaphysical system to
which his questioner was accustomed.
A Cosmology Used by Bahá'u'lláh.
Although, as indicated above, there are many statements of
Bahá'u'lláh that indicate a dualist metaphysics, the schema of
cosmology he uses most often in his writings is not so clearly dualist. This
cosmology is his adaptation of the one used by many philosophers and mystics in
the Islamic world. It is based on the Neo-Platonic cosmology of such
philosophers as Plotinus, and it was also used extensively in Christian and
Jewish philosophy and mysticism. Its Islamic development reached an apex in the
writings of Avicenna during the eleventh century. Later, it was taken over by
the philosopher-mystics of the School of Isfahan who expounded the Divine
Philosophy (hikmat-i iláhí
in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries. It was also used extensively by Shaykh Ahmad
al-Ahsá'í, the founder of the Shaykh
i movement, and by the
Báb. Its importance to the present paper lies in the fact that it was
used both by philosophers who were strongly attached to a dualist metaphysics,
such as Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í, and by those who primarily
followed a monist vision, such Ibn al-'Arabí.
A typical example of the type of schemata used by
Bahá'u'lláh appears in the Lawh-i Kullu't-ta'ám
(Tablet of "All Food"). In commentary upon the meaning of the phrase "all
Bahá'u'lláh states that
there are diverse levels of meaning for it. He sets these levels of meaning in
five of the cosmological realms described by Muslim writers:
- háhút: This is the realm of the unknowable
Essence of God, the realm of "He" (huwa); the paradise of
absolute oneness (ahadiyya). In this realm, God is known by such
names as the "Hidden Mystery" and the "Absolute Unknown." This is God as the
unmanifested Essence. In this station, all of the names and attributes of God
are undifferentiated and inseparable from the Essence; 'Abdu'l-Bahá
likens this to a dot of ink on paper within which are hidden and enclosed all
letters and words in potential form, although no trace can be seen of these,
nor are they in any way differentiated from the dot in this state of
potentiality. This realm is so exalted that
it is forever beyond all of the rest of creation; even the prophets of God have
no access to this station. Bahá'u'lláh describes it thus:
To every discerning and illumined heart it is evident that God, the unknowable
Essence, the divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute,
such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it
from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that
human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. . . No tie of direct intercourse
can possibly bind Him to His creatures. He standeth exalted beyond and above
all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness...
The action of love within the Divine Essence results in the manifesting of the
Absolute to itself. In this stage, the names and attributes of God became
defined within the divine consciousness as the archetypal forms and essences of
all created beings. However, since this is an event which takes place only
within the divine consciousness, they are said to subsist within the Absolute
and cannot yet be said to have achieved existence . Therefore this stage is regarded by 'Abdu'l-Bahá as
part of the Hidden Mystery.
Gracious God! How could there be conceived any existing relationship or
possible connection between His Word and they that are created of it?. . . All
the Prophets of God and their chosen Ones, all the divines, the sages, and the
wise of every generation, unanimously recognize their inability to attain unto
the comprehension of that Quintessence of all truth, and confess their
incapacity to grasp Him, Who is the inmost Reality of all things.
- láhút: This is the realm in which the
potentialities hidden within the Essence of God are first actualized and
revealed, but still within the Godhead; the realm of "He is He and there is
none but He." In this realm, the divine names and attributes, potential and
concealed in the realm of háhút, achieve existence. This
realm is the first emanation from God, the first revelation of the Essence of
God. In Bahá'í terminology, it has variously been named the
Heavenly Court, or the All-Glorious Horizon; and the manifestation of God in
this station is called the Lord of Lords, the Tongue of Grandeur, the Most
Exalted Pen, the Primal Will, the First Intelligence. In other religious
dispensations it has been identified as Jehovah, the Speaker on Sinai, the
Logos or Word of God, and the Nous or Divine Intellect.
- jabarút: This is the realm of the revealed God acting
within Creation; the realm of "Thou art He Himself and He is Thou Thyself".
This realm is called the paradise of conditioned oneness
(wáhidiyya), the all-highest Paradise. This is the realm
of God's actions and decrees. The manifestations of God in this realm, the
agents of His Will, have in previous religious dispensations (and occasionally
in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh) been considered to be the
archangels, to each of whom is delegated the execution of one aspect of the
decrees of God: for example, 'Izrá'íl, the Angel of Death, and
Isráfíl, the seraph who will sound the trumpet on the Day of
- malakút: This is the angelic realm, the realm of those
"whom neither business nor commerce distract them from the remembrance of
God". The manifestations of God in this
realm have in previous dispensations been referred to as angels, while in
Bahá'í writings they are called the "Concourse on High." In
Bahá'í terminology, the realm itself is called the all-glorious
(abhá) Paradise. Concerning this realm,
Bahá'u'lláh has written in the Lawh-i varqá:
The meaning of the Kingdom (malakút) in its primary
sense and degree is the scene of His transcendent glory. In another sense it is the world of similitudes
('álam-i-mithál)15 which existeth
between the Dominion on high (jabarút) and this mortal
realm (násút); whatever is in the heavens or on the
earth hath its counterpart in that world. Whilst a thing remaineth hidden and
concealed within the power of utterance it is said to be of the Dominion
(jabarút), and this is the first stage of its
substantiation (taqyíd). Whenever it becometh manifest it
is said to be of the Kingdom (malakút). The power and
potency it deriveth from the first stage, it bestoweth upon whatever lieth
- násút: This is the physical world. This world
may be subdivided into the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms. But, even
at this level, each created thing is capable of manifesting some aspects of
God is of course as indicated above manifested in all of these realms except
the first, which is the unmanifested Essence. But, in Bahá'í
terminology, the phrase "Manifestation [with a capital M] of God" refers to
those major prophets who have appeared from time to time in human history and
have been perfect manifestations of all of the names and attributes of God.
These Manifestations of God exist at all of these various levels except the
first. Seen in their aspect of láhút,
they are the Word of
God, the ones "through whom the letters B and E (Be!, that is,
and nún, kun
have been joined." Indeed,
one of the most interesting and original of Bahá'u'lláh's
teachings is his assertion that, since the Essence of God is hidden,
unmanifested, and unknowable, in fact, all statements made about actions of God
in former scriptures concern this level, and in fact, relate to the
Manifestation of God--not to God's Essence.
It is in this station that Bahá'u'lláh
states that he was the speaker on Sinai and calls himself the Ancient (or
Preexistent) Beauty, the Pen of the Most High, the Lord of Lords. Some of the
writings of Bahá'u'lláh are set in the form of a dialogue between
this higher aspect of the Manifestation and his lower aspect. In these
circumstances, the higher aspect is imaged as the Maid of Heaven.
In their aspect of jabarút,
the Manifestations of God are seen in
their transhistorical function--each of them acts as spiritual guide and
saviour to the world of creation:
These Manifestations have each a two-fold station. One is the station of pure
abstraction and essential unity. In this respect, if thou callest them all by
one name, and dost ascribe to them the same attributes, thou hast not erred
from the truth. Even as He hath revealed: "No distinction do We make between
any of His Messengers." (Qur'án 2:285) For they, one and all, summon the
people of the earth to acknowledge the unity of God, and herald unto them the
Kawthar of an infinite grace and bounty. They are all invested with the robe of
prophethood, and are honoured with the mantle of glory . . . These Countenances
are the recipients of the Divine Command, and the Day Springs of His
Seen in their aspect of malakút
--which is their historical role
within the world, however, each has a specific function and a particular
The other station is the station of distinction, and pertaineth to the world of
creation, and to the limitations thereof. In this respect, each Manifestation
of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission, a
predestined revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each one of them
is known by a different name, and is characterised by a special attribute,
fulfills a definite mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation.
The physical bodies of the Manifestations of God exist of course in the realm
Man exists on the interface between the realms of násút
If he chooses, he can live entirely in the world
in which case he behaves like an animal. He is
in fact lower than the animals in that he has failed to achieve his full
His entire life is centered on
material possessions and worldly ambition. But if he chooses, he can detach
himself from the physical world and live in the realm of malakút.
This is the realm which is man's true plane of existence. This is the plane
on which man's full potential (in manifesting the names and attributes of God)
is realized. Man then becomes the equivalent of the angels that inhabit this
realm. According to Bahá'u'lláh:
By "angels" is meant those, who, reinforced by the power of the spirit, have
consumed, with the fire of the love of God, all human traits and limitations,
and have clothed themselves with the attributes of the most exalted Beings and
of the Cherubim.
Similarly 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes:
Likewise angels are blessed beings who have been released from the chains of
self and the desires of the flesh, and anchored their hearts to the heavenly
realms of the Lord.
Although this particular schema of five realms is referred to in the writings
of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, other schemata are also
used. One breaks up the realms of God into two:
God and His Creation; another into three: God, the Manifestation of God and
Man; and others that break up the five realms above described into smaller
units: dividing the realm of násút into the mineral,
vegetable, and animal worlds; etc.
Bahá'u'lláh's Statements of a Monist Nature.
As was mentioned previously, this cosmological schema can and has been
used in both monist and dualist metaphysical discourse. Examples of the manner
in which this schema is used in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh from
a dualist viewpoint have been given above. But it is also clear that it was not
Bahá'u'lláh's intention to give this schema any absolute
authority, as though it were exhaustive of reality. For example, he states:
"Know thou of a truth that the worlds of God are countless in number, and
infinite in range. None can reckon or comprehend them except God... "
Thus the worlds of God, which have been described above as being five, can also
be seen as being countless--with an infinite number of gradations. Nor is this
far from 'Abdu'l-Bahá's assertion that those whose vision is averted
from the world of plurality can enter the ocean of oneness where all gradations
and limitations disappear.
In this we can
discern a more monist position. However, there are statements of
Bahá'u'lláh which are very clearly monist:
Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me [God] standing within
thee, mighty, powerful and self -subsisting.
Thus when the wayfarer gazeth only upon the place of appearance--that is, when
he seeth only the many-colored globes--he beholdeth yellow and red and white...
And some do gaze upon the effulgence of the light; and some have drunk the wine
of oneness and these see nothing but the sun itself.
Yea, all he hath, from heart to skin, will be set aflame, so that nothing will
remain save the Friend . . . This is the plane whereon the vestiges of all
things are destroyed in the traveler, and on the horizon of eternity the Divine
Face riseth out of darkness, and the meaning of "All on the earth shall pass
away, but the Face of thy Lord . . " (Qur'án 55:27) is made manifest.
Moreover, the concept that only God has an absolute existence and that man's
existence is contingent and relative, a concept that is found in several places
in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh,
is in essence a monist position.
Relativism as a Reconciliation of the Dichotomy.
How then does Bahá'u'lláh reconcile these two seemingly
contradictory stances? Let us first clarify the nature of the problem. The two
positions have been summarised by Parry
different answers to the question: "Are there from the Bahá'í
perspective any fundamental differences in reality?"
To this question, the two positions would make the following responses with
respect to two important states of affairs:
A) There is a fundamental difference between the human soul and the Absolute
(the dualist position);
B) There is no fundamental difference between the human soul and the Absolute
(the monist position).
Parry has put forward two possible ways of explaining the presence together in
the Bahá'í writings of statements that tend towards both monism
- It is possible to postulate that one of these positions represents a
"higher truth." As occurs in Mahayana Buddhism and some Hindu systems, the
monistic viewpoint is regarded as the "higher truth" which the "true knowers"
can see, while the dualist view is recognized as a valuable means of assuring
the morality of the masses, a "lower truth."
- It is possible to assume (and this is the more likely of the two
alternatives) that the Bahá'í Faith is dualistic and that those
expressions of monism that occur are a reference to what Parry names an ethical
monism--"an annihilation of one's egotistical desires and a merging of one's
will with God"--rather than an ontological monism.
I would like to propose a third alternative but before doing so, a digression
regarding the nature of logic is necessary. The laws of Aristotelian logic
apply (i.e., are validated by experience) in the day-to-day world in which we
live, and so it has generally been assumed that they have a universal
applicability. Indeed, they are sometimes called the Laws of Thought, in that
they are regarded as ontologically real (i.e., describing the ultimate nature
of reality) and cognitively necessary (i.e., no coherent thought is possible
without them). We will look at some of the basic assumptions that underlie
Aristotelian logic. These are sometimes referred to as the Newtonian world
view, since it was Newton who first explicitly stated most of them:
- That what we observe and experience in the outer world has some
reality and existence independent of our observing and experiencing it,
- That time is a universal phenomenon; i.e., that the passing of time
is the same for all people under all circumstances,
- That space is a universally uniform phenomenon,
- That, although matter can be broken down and built up, in any
process matter is conserved (i.e., the sum total of mass at the beginning
equals the sum total at the end). This is usually associated with a concept of
an indestructible, irreducible, prime matter from which all else is built
- That if proposition A is the opposite of proposition B, and one of
these is shown to be true, then the other must necessarily be false.
All of these are what one might call "common-sense" propositions that are
continuously verified by our every-day experiences and, therefore, one might
suppose, hardly worth stating.
However, these basic assumptions are, in fact, only approximations that happen
to hold at our normal level of experience, but are falsified when we go beyond
our "every-day world." Modern physics has shown that all five of the above
"basic assumptions," although they appear correct in traditional Newtonian
physics dealing with objects of every-day size, do not in fact hold (or have to
be substantially modified) if one considers phenomena that are occurring at
either of the extremes of largeness or smallness (i.e., when dealing with stars
and other massive astronomic bodies or with atomic and, in particular,
subatomic particles). At these levels, modern physics based on relativity and
quantum theory has found that:
- We can make no absolute statements about phenomena. The phenomena
that we are observing are in fact affected by our observing them. Therefore,
our observations are not objective and independent but relative. In other
words, we cannot know anything in absolute terms. In particular, the Heisenberg
Uncertainty Principle sets limits to our knowledge: the more we know about the
position of a particle, the less we can know about its momentum. This is
because our methods of measuring relate to only one of these factors, leaving
the other uncertain. In general then, any statements that we make are purely
relative to our method of observing and measuring this world.
- Time is not universal, its rate of passing is relative to the
- Space is not uniform but is in fact curved by mass. Indeed,
space-time is one interconnected entity.
- Mass is not in fact conserved in subatomic reactions; it can be
created and disappear with gains and losses of appropriate amounts of
- With regard to the fourth proposition, mass and electromagnetic wave
energy were considered, in traditional physics, to be two fundamentally
different phenomena. If X is a body with a mass, this in traditional physics
excluded the possibility that it could be an electromagnetic wave. It is now
considered, however, that subatomic particles can be considered as both
electromagnetic waves and as particles with mass--something that it is not even
possible to conceive of intellectually, since our concepts are naturally based
on our every-day experiences. The idea of something being simultaneously both a
physical body and an electromagnetic wave is outside of our every-day
Indeed, at the level of subatomic events, causality itself, one of the
fundamental planks of the Newtonian world-view becomes meaningless. At this
level, we can no longer speak of individual events and their causes. All we can
do is to measure groups of events and assign probabilities to them. Thus we
find the Law of Causality being replaced by the Law of Probability.
And so if the laws of Aristotelian logic do not apply when one goes outside of
the world of every-day experience in terms of physical phenomena, one may also
consider whether they apply in other areas which are also "outside" of the
every-day physical world. For centuries now, mystics have been saying that the
laws of Aristotelian logic do not apply to their experiences either. They
consider, for example, that time passes at a different rates--or even stops--in
the mystical state. They state that mass and space can alter their usual
properties during these mystical experiences.
Thus, these mystical experiences appear to confirm that
much of what we consider universal and absolute is in fact relative.
Relativism as a Basis for Bahá'í Metaphysics.
In the area of metaphysics, which is also "outside" the every-day
physical world, Bahá'u'lláh appears to put forward very much this
same relativistic view. An absolute knowledge of the metaphysical structure of
the cosmos is, Bahá'u'lláh states, impossible for man to achieve
because of the finite nature of man's mind:
So perfect and comprehensive is His creation that no mind or
heart, however keen or pure, can ever grasp the nature of the most
insignificant of His creatures; much less fathom the mystery of Him Who is the
Day Star of Truth, Who is the invisible and unknowable Essence. The conceptions
of the devoutest of mystics,, the attainments of the most accomplished amongst
men, the highest praise which human tongue or pen can render are all the
product of man ~ finite mind and are conditioned by its limitations.
Wert thou to ponder in thine heart, from now until the end that hath no end,
and with all the concentrated intelligence and understanding which the greatest
minds have attained in the past or will attain in the future, this divinely
ordained and subtle Reality [the rational faculty], this sign of the revelation
of the All-Abiding, All-Glorious God, thou wilt fail to comprehend its
mystery or to appraise its virtue. Having recognised thy powerlessness
to attain to an adequate understanding of that Reality which abideth within
thee, thou wilt readily admit the futility of such efforts as may be
attempted by thee, or by any of the created things, to fathom the mystery of
the Living God, the Day Star of unfading glory, the Ancient of everlasting
days. This confession of helplessness which mature contemplation must
eventually impel every mind to make is in itself the acme of human
understanding, and marketh the culmination of man's development.
Exalted, immeasurably exalted, art Thou above the strivings of mortal man to
unravel Thy mystery, to describe Thy glory, or even to hint at the nature of
Thine Essence. For whatever such strivings may accomplish, they can never
hope to transcend the limitations imposed upon Thy creatures.
Far, far from Thy glory be what mortal man can affirm of Thee, or
attribute to Thee, or the praise with which he can glorify Thee! Whatever duty
Thou hast prescribed unto Thy servants of extolling to the utmost Thy majesty
and glory is but a token of Thy grace unto them, that they may be enabled to
ascend unto the station conferred upon their own inmost being, the station of
the knowledge of their own selves . . .
Therefore, no absolute knowledge of the cosmos being available to man, all
descriptions, all schemata, all attempts to portray the metaphysical basis of
the universe, are necessarily limited by the viewpoint of the particular person
making them. They are limited, relative truths only:
Thy verses of description are, while true, but a children's truth. All that the sages and mystics have said or
written have never exceeded, nor can they ever hope to exceed, the
limitations to which man's finite mind hath been strictly subjected. To
whatever heights the mind of the most exalted of men may soar, however great
the depths which the detached and understanding heart can penetrate, such mind
and heart can never transcend that which is the creature of their own
thoughts. The meditations of the profoundest thinker, the devotions of the
holiest of saints, the highest expressions of praise from either human pen or
tongue, are but a reflection of that which hath been created within
It is clear to thy eminence that all the variations which the wayfarer
in the stages of his journey beholdeth in the realms of being, proceed from
his own vision. We shall give an example of this, that its meaning may
become fully clear: consider the visible sun; although it shineth with one
radiance upon all things, and at the behest of the King of Manifestation
bestoweth light on all creation, yet in each place it becometh manifest and
sheddeth its bounty according to the potentialities of that place. For
instance, in a mirror it reflecteth its own disc and shape, and this is due to
the sensitivity of the mirror; in a crystal it maketh fire to appear, and in
other things it showeth only the effect of its shining, but not its full disc
In sum, the differences in objects have now been made plain. Thus when the
wayfarer gazeth only upon the place of appearance--that is, when he seeth only
the many-colored globes--he beholdeth yellow and red and white;.. . and some
have drunk of the wine of oneness and these see nothing but the sun itself. .
In his commentary on the Islamic tradition "I was a Hidden Treasure . . . 
'Abdu'l-Bahá appears to be stating
that a situation of what might be called metaphysical relativism applies with
regard to the Bahá'í view of ontology. In the third section of
about a fundamental issue which may be regarded as a reflection of the dualism!
monism dichotomy. The specific issue concerns Knowledge as one of the eternal,
unchanging attributes of the Absolute. The essences (archetypal forms) of
created things are, presumably, the objects of that Knowledge and must
therefore also be eternal (since there cannot be knowledge without an object of
that knowledge). Since the Knowledge of God is eternal, the question is whether
these essences of created things (as the objects of that Knowledge) are
external to and coeternal with the Absolute, or whether they are internal and
originated within the Essence of the Absolute. Since these archetypal forms are
the reality and essence of created things, this question becomes equivalent to
asking whether the essence and reality of man is separate from the Absolute, or
internal and originated within the Essence of the Absolute, respectively. In
the first case, man is fundamentally different from the Absolute (the dualist
position); in the second case, man is in essence nothing but an emanation or
manifestation of the Absolute (the monist position). 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in
this section of the treatise summarizes the traditional proofs advanced by the
proponents of these two positions.
'Abdu'l-Bahá's resolution of the dichotomy is most interesting. Having
in the first section of the treatise already established that any knowledge of
the reality or essence of the Absolute is impossible for man to achieve,
'Abdu'l-Bahá then states that, in his opinion, the proofs and evidences
given for both of these positions are equally correct. These two apparently
opposing groups of philosopher-mystics are, 'Abdu'l-Bahá asserts,
viewing the same object from different viewpoints and so are arriving at
different and even contradictory conclusions. The differences in the viewpoints
arise from differences in the fundamental natures (i.e., the attributes
predominant within the soul/psyche complex) of the observers. The fundamental
nature of one individual inclines him to see Reality in a dualist mode, while
another will see Reality in a monist mode.
'Abdu'l-Bahá's position thus corresponds with that of Relativity Theory
which concludes that what is observed (i.e., the result of the process of
observation) only has a reality relative to the observer.
Indeed, 'Abdu'l-Bahá asserts that no matter how hard an individual
strives in his efforts to gain knowledge of the Absolute, the only ultimate
success is to achieve a better knowledge of his own self. 'Abdu'l-Bahá
likens this state of affairs to a compass: no matter how far the compass
travels, it is only going around the point at its center and, similarly,
however much men may strive and achieve within the realms of spiritual
knowledge, ultimately they are only achieving a better and greater knowledge of
themselves (or of the Absolute manifested within themselves), not of any
To return to the fundamental question posed earlier: "Are there from the
Bahá'í perspective any fundamental differences in reality?"
Let us consider the statements:
A) There is a fundamental difference between the human soul and the Absolute
(the dualist position);
B) There is no fundamental difference between the human soul and the Absolute
(the monist position).
According to the Aristotelian Law of the Excluded Middle, since these are
mutually contradictory statements, either one or the other can be true, but
they cannot both be true. What 'Abdu'l-Bahá appears to be saying is that
no absolute answer can be given to this question. Since it is human beings who
answer the question, the only answers that can be arrived at are by definition
"colored" by the viewpoint of the answerer.
It is as though each time we, as human beings, point a finger and say: "That is
the Absolute" (i.e., God or Reality or the cosmological order), the finger
turns around and points back at us and says: "No! That is only you" (i.e., the
product of a particular soul/psyche complex in a particular cultural
environment). And so these two statements (A and B above) are both equally
correct from their relative viewpoints, even though they appear to be
contradictory. The contradiction only arises because we are incapable of
intellectually conceiving of what it means for both positions to be correct.
(We are just as intellectually incapable, as mentioned above, of conceiving of
something as simultaneously both a body and an electromagnetic wave.) The fact
that we are incapable of conceiving it is only an indication of its being
outside of our every-day experience, rather than an indication of its being
incorrect. This "understanding" of man's relationships with the Absolute is
thus essentially a "nonunderstanding." It can be intuited, perhaps, but not
known through any pattern of logical thought. This is in accordance with the
Bahá'í position that God is "unknowable."
As 'Abdu'l-Bahá has commented:
All the people have formed a god in the world of thought, and that form of
their imagination they worship...
Therefore consider: All the sects and people worship their own thought; they
create a god in their own minds and acknowledge him to be the creator of all
things, when that form is a superstition
--thus people adore and worship imagination.
That Essence of the Divine Entity and the Unseen of the unseen is holy above
imagination and is beyond thought. Consciousness doth not reach It. . This much
is known: It exists and Its existence is certain and proven--but the condition
Similarly, Bahá'u'lláh has written:
Ye bow the knee before your vain imaginings and call it truth.
To present this diagramatically, it would be useful at this stage to take the
diagram used by Parry:
=||Monist Universe of Discourse
=||Dualist Universe of Discourse
=||The state of affairs depicted by (i.e., the referrent of) each Universe of
What 'Abdu'l-Bahá appears to be saying is that Y, Ultimate Reality,
cannot be directly known or experienced by human beings. It can only be
approached through a particular UD and each particular UD shows Y from a
different viewpoint (X). Thus, each X inherently tends to confirm its original
UD, which is only another way of restating the conclusion of relativity theory
that what is observed has no independent reality, but is dependent on the
observer and his methods/viewpoint.
Thus it would appear that the following is a better representation of what
'Abdu'l-Bahá is intending:
where the fact that the arrows of M.UD. and D.UD. are pointing in
opposite directions is an indication of their contradictory conclusions.
The only problem with this diagram is that it tends to imply that
there is only a short distance between X and Y. A more accurate representation
would be one where the circle in the diagram is made the base of a cone, the
apex of which (Y) is situated at an infinite distance above the plane of the
paper. Indeed if we are going to take a "strong" position on relativity, then
we must say that a signifier no longer points to a fixed thing signified (i.e.,
some underlying transcendental or absolute essence) but only to another
signifier which in turn points to another signifier and so forth ad
Significance, therefore, is built up from this pattern or
network of relationships rather than being an attempt to uncover some
underlying absolute "essence." Thus, even the second diagram above no longer
holds, for the arrows M.UD. -- Xl and D.UD. -- X2 should really point to a
field of interrelated arrows. And indeed the arrows should point back to
themselves (in accordance with the view expressed above that all we ultimately
achieve is a better understanding of ourselves or of the Absolute manifested
within us). The Ultimate Reality (Y) disappears from the diagram completely
since there is no access to it.
Nor is this relativism to be found only in the writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
In the Seven Valleys,
Bahá'u'lláh states that 'the
wayfarer leaveth behind him the stages of 'oneness of Being and Manifestation'
and reacheth a oneness that is sanctified above these two stations."
In another work, he clearly defines "oneness
of Being" as monism and "oneness of Manifestation" as dualism and states that
these are two stations (maqám,
perhaps best translated in this
connection as viewpoints
within belief in the Divine Unity
Dealing with a related issue, that of whether the world of creation is
coeternal with God or created in time (an issue which is a direct parallel to
the issue of God's knowledge dealt with by 'Abdu'l-Bahá above; see also,
Table 1, no. 8), Bahá'u'lláh gives much the same answer in the
As regards thine assertions about the beginning of creation, this is a
matter on which conceptions vary by reason of the divergences in men's thought
and opinions. Wert thou to assert that it hath ever existed and shall continue
to exist, it would be true; or wert thou to affirm the same concept as is
mentioned in the sacred Scriptures [that the creation was created in time], no
doubt would there be about it.
In this passage the two words that are translated "thought and opinions" are
which means man's heart or organ for understanding inner
meaning, and al-anzár,
which could be translated as points of
view. Shoghi Effendi, moreover, widens the scope of this relativism when he
states: "The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh. . .
is that religious truth is not absolute but relative" and that the teachings of
the different world religions are "facets of one truth.
This highly interesting concept, which seems to be the basis of
Bahá'í metaphysics, may be summarised by stating that we are
unable to make any absolute statements about Reality or the structure of being
(i.e., ontology) because any knowledge or understanding that we have of these
is relative. That relativism is grounded in the very structure of our thinking.
This may be termed a cognitive or epistemic relativism.
This Bahá'í position would appear to be an original formulation.
Although it may be that this view is implicit within some of the Islamic
philosophers and within Hinduism and Buddhism, in fact, it has never been
explicitly stated. Previous writers on this theme have ultimately come down on
one side or another of the two positions (dualism and monism), or have resorted
to a "higher truth/lower truth" resolution of the problem. Many monist writers
may appear to be advocating relativism, but in fact this is merely a facet of
their "higher truth/lower truth" position.
The concept of the "God created in Faiths" of Ibn al-'Arabí
would certainly appear to be very close to
the Bahá'í position. However, Ibn al-'Arabi himself, and
certainly those that followed his school in later years, tended towards a
"higher truth! lower truth" resolution of the dichotomy. Perhaps the closest to
this position are some Buddhist schools and in particular the Madhyamika.
However, while the Madhyamika school holds to a cognitive relativism, it
differs from the Bahá'í position in that it considers that
Absolute Truth (paramartha satya
can be experienced by those who
attain to wisdom.
There is also some similarity between this Bahá'í formulation and
the coincidentia oppositorum
of the mystics whereby two apparently
opposite statements are seen to be in fact polar aspects of the truth, rather
than contradictory. Among contemporary writers, John Hick would appear to hold
a position very similar to the Bahá'í position. He uses the
Kantian concepts of Noumenon,
as the eternal, unchanging Absolute in
itself, and Phenomena
as the plurality of different divine forms seen in
the world. He proposes what he calls a Copernican Revolution, whereby instead
of each religion considering itself the center of the spiritual world, God or
the Absolute is put at the center of the spiritual universe and all religious
faiths are thus seen as circling around this center, and each expressing their
religious experience from a certain cultural bias.
The idea that these two apparently contradictory metaphysical positions
(dualism and monism) are the result of different soul/psyche constitutions in
individuals would appear to be supported historically by the appearance, within
a completely dualistic environment, of individuals such as Meister Eckhart in
Christianity, the author of the Zohar
in Judaism, and Ibn al'Arabi in
Islam. Although having no knowledge of the religious traditions of the East,
they nevertheless came by themselves to monist conclusions. And conversely,
within the predominantly monist environment of the East, there arose traditions
that tended towards dualism such as the bhakti
tradition in Hinduism and
the Vatsiputriya movement in Buddhism. (Indeed, most folk religion in Buddhist
countries is markedly dualist in nature.) It would appear that every religion
that is going to be truly universal must evolve both of these types of
religious expression in order to. satisfy the religious aspirations of all
types of people. 'Abdu'l-Bahá seems to be referring to this phenomenon
and also laying the basis of the Bahá'í reconciliation of
fundamental differences of religious doctrine and outlook when he states: "The
differences among the religions of the world are due to the varying types of
Some Consequences of Metaphysical Relativism.
This concept of metaphysical or cognitive relativism helps the
Bahá'í Faith escape a problem that is troublesome for other
religions. Relativism has in one form or another thoroughly permeated the
thinking of the modern world. It has affected thinking in almost every field.
Only religion today stands apart as being
unaffected by relativistic thought. It can indeed be said that relativism has
in the twentieth century replaced evolutionary theory as the major intellectual
movement seen to be challenging the claims of religion.
The death of God is but a metaphor for man's loss of belief in an absolute,
transcendent source of significance for the phenomena of his immediate reality
and for the self.
Religion has attempted to stand out like a Canute, believing in its possession
of an absolute truth, against the incoming tide of relativistic thought in all
other spheres of intellectual life. Individual religions continue to believe
that their doctrines represent an absolute truth. In Christianity, this
absolute truth is represented by the person of Christ.
In Islam, the same position is occupied by the
Qur'án, which is considered the final, complete revelation of the Word
of God, the absolute truth. In Buddhism, similarly there is an Absolute
Nirvana. It is the unconditioned, beyond all becoming and cessation; the sole
There is a similar conflict between religion and the scientific concept that
all things evolve and develop in time. Christianity and Islam have similar
concepts of time. Although both Christ and the Qur'án, as the Word of
God, have existed for all time in the divine world, time in the physical world
revolves around one focal revelatory event--the appearance of Christ or the
revelation of the Qur'án. Time has, in a sense, stood still since then.
For everything stands in relationship to the event itself, and it makes no
difference whether one lives one hundred years or one thousand years
afterwards; everything relates back to that central event. The concept of time
in Buddhism is that of a continuous chain of events (cause and effect) that has
been from eternity past and will continue to eternity in the future. But once
again, it really makes no difference where one individual happens to live in
this chain, because man's condition (in terms of the laws of Karma) is
Thus religions, whether Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism (or indeed the other
religions also), hold that their central religious truth as well as their path
to salvation are Absolute Truth (in the sense that they are unconditioned and
unchanging) and that knowledge of this Absolute Truth is attainable and is
outside of considerations of time and evolution. Thus these religious
traditions have put themselves outside the major intellectual trend of the
twentieth century, relativism. Indeed, much of the loss of belief in religion
in the modern world can perhaps be indirectly traced to this conceptual
The teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, however, accept the relativist
concept that man can have no access to absolute truth in the field of religion
as in other fields. However this does not mean that "God is dead," or ceases to
act within the world, as the writings of some of those advocating relativism
Bahá'u'lláh claims that God acts in the world through the major
prophets (whom he calls "Manifestations of God") and these act fully within the
dictates of relativism. Their teachings and guidance are not absolute and for
all time, but rather limited both in terms of their geographical and temporal
scope. Religious truth, as taught by these major prophets is subject, like all
other branches of human knowledge, to a decline in its relevance. It is,
moreover, relative to the culture in which it finds itself. As man's social and
intellectual outlook changes from age to age and from culture to culture, so
too do the teachings of successive prophets.
What then are the consequences of relativism within the Bahá'í
system? First, it may be said that if, as we have seen is the consequence of
relativism, all metaphysical viewpoints and dogmatic positions are ultimately
relative and reflect only the soul/psyche composition of the individual rather
than any Absolute Truth, there must be a change of emphasis in what is
considered important. In most religions, metaphysics--the structure of the
spiritual world--is considered of primary importance. Even in Buddhism, where
the Buddha himself played down the importance of metaphysics--and even went so
far as to refuse to answer metaphysical questions--a vast amount of effort by
Buddhist scholars through the ages has gone into defining and refining their
However, if it is considered
that the truth of all metaphysical systems is only a provisional, partial,
relative truth, the importance of metaphysics lessens considerably. Interest is
no longer primarily in the structures of metaphysics, but rather in
relationships. That is to say that the focus of interest is no longer so much
in what the Absolute is, but in what the individual's relationship with the
Absolute should be, and what the consequences of that relationship are. The
emphasis has shifted from structures to processes and relationships.
And therefore ethics comes to the forefront
Thus the relative lack of Bahá'í literature on metaphysics that
we noted at the beginning of this paper is not surprising. As we might expect,
published Bahá'í literature concerns itself primarily with social
and personal ethics.
Bahá'u'lláh's injunction: "Let deeds, not words, be your
can, perhaps, in relation to the
subject here under discussion, be paraphrased thus: "As long as your actions
and intentions are in accordance with divine ethics (for which there are
universal standards) then it does not matter what your metaphysics are since
these will, in any case, be valid only for a particular individual with a
particular psychological make-up and cultural background."
'Abdu'l-Bahá. Foundations of World Unity. Wilmette:
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1945.
------ Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, trans. by
Marzieh Gail, et al. Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978.
------ "Sharh-i kuntu kanzan makhfiyan"in Makátib-i
'Abdu'l-Bah4, vol. 2. Cairo: Matba'a Kurdistán al-'Ilmiyya,
Bahá'í World Faith. Wilmette: Bahá'í
Publishing Trust, 1956.
Bahá'u'lláh. Alváh-i mubárakay-i hadrat-i
Bahá'u'lláh: Iqtidárát va chand lawh dígar.
------ Áthár-i qalam-i a'lá, vol. 3. Tehran:
Mu'assisa Millí Matbú'át Amrí, 121 badi'
------ Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh (trans.
Shoghi Effendi). The references are given with passage number in roman
numerals, followed by the page number of the Persian/Arabic text
(Hofheim-Langenhain: Bahá'í-Verlag, 1984); then of the British
edition (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1961); and then of the
American edition (Wilmette, Ill: Bahá'í Publishing Trust,
------ Hidden Words (trans. Shoghi Effendi). The references are given as
Persian or Arabic section, followed by number. Text and English trans., London:
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1929.
------ Kitáb-i Íqán. The references are given with
text (Hofheim Langenheim: Bahá'í-Verlag, 1980) page numbers
first; then translation by Shoghi Effendi, British edition (London:
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1961) page numbers; then American
edition (Wilmette, Ill: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1950).
------ Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, trans.
Shoghi Effendi. References are given with passage number in roman numerals,
followed by the page number of the British edition (London:
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1978); then of the American edition
(Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1962).
------ Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, trans. Marzieh Gail. Wilmette:
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1978.
------ Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the
Kitáb-i-Aqdas, trans. Habib Taherzadeh, et al. Haifa:
Bahá'í World Centre, 1978.
Capra, Frithjof. The Tao of Physics, rev. ed. London: Flamingo, 1983.
Cole, Juan R. "Problems of Chronology in Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet of
Wisdom," World Order, Vol. 13, No. 3 (1979) pp. 24--39.
Corbin, Henri. Creative Imagination in the .5zifism of Ibn 'Arabi.
Bollingen Series XCI. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.
Craige, Betty J. Literary Relativity. London and Toronto: Bucknell
University Press, 1982.
Goodall, Helen S. and E. G. Cooper. Daily Lessons Received at 'Akká,
January 1908, reprint. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust,
1979. Hick, John. God Has Many Names, Philadelphia: Westminster Press,
------ Problems of Religious Pluralism. London: Macmillan, 1985. Hollis,
Martin, and Steven Lukes, eds. Rationality and Relativism. Oxford:
Ibn al-'Arabi, Muhyíd-Din. Fusús al-hikam, ed. A. A.
Afifi. Cairo: Jama'a Ihyá al-Falsafa, 1946; translation, The Bezels
of Wisdom, trans. by R. W. J. Austin. London: SPCK, 1980.
Ishráq-Khavarí, 'Abdu'l-Hamíd, ed. Má'iday-i
Ásmání, 9 vols. Tehran: Mu'assisa Millí
Matbú'át Amrí, 128--129 badi' (1971--2).
Izutsu, Toshihiko. Key Philosophical Concepts in Sufism and Taoism, Vol.
1. Tokyo: Keio University, 1966.
Lambden, Stephen. "A Tablet of Mirzá Husayn 'Ali
Bahá'u'lláh of the Early Iraq period: The Tablet of All Food,"
Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, vol. 3, no. 1 (June 1984) pp.
Momen, Moojan. "'Abdu'l-Bahá's Commentary on the Islamic Tradition: 'I
was a Hidden Treasure,'" Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, Vol. 3,
No. 4 (Dec. 1985) pp. 4--64.
------ "The Psychology of Mysticism and its Relationship to the
Bahá'í Faith," Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, vol.
2, no. 4 (March 1984) pp. 4--21.
Murti, T. R. V. The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. London: Unwin,
Parry, Robert. "Rational/Conceptual/Performance--The Bahá'í Faith
and Scholarship--a discussion paper," Bahá'í Studies Bulletin,
vol. 1, no. 4 (March 1983) pp. 13--21.
------ "The Soul and God--some philosophical issues in relation to
Bahá'í and non-Bahá'í writings,"
Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, forthcoming.
Phelps, Myron H. Abbas Effendi, His Life and Teachings. New York and
London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1903.
Shoghi Effendi. Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh. London:
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981.
------ Guidance for Today and Tomorrow. London: Bahá'í
Publishing Trust, 1953.
I am very grateful to Robert Parry who has seen and commented on the various
preliminary drafts of this paper and who has thus contributed greatly to its
development. I am also grateful to Steven Scholl for his comments on an earlier
draft of part of this paper.
Foreword to M. Phelps, Abbas Effendi,
I have here avoided the question of whether
it is more correct to call some of these systems non-dualism rather than monism
since this point makes no difference to the rest of the argument of this paper.
I have used the term monism throughout.
It will be clear to the reader that I have
here taken the two terms monism and dualism to signify the differences between
the Western and Eastern religious outlook. I am therefore using them in a
somewhat wider context than the strict meaning of the two words.
Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from
the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh,
No. CXLVIII, p. 204/317/318.
No. XXVI, pp. 48--9/62/63.
Cole, "Problems of Chronology", pp.
This phrase is from the Qur'án: "All
food was made lawful to the Children of Israel." (Qur'án 3:87) The text
of this tablet can be found in Ishráq-Khávarí,
vol. 4, pp. 265--276; a
provisional translation can be found in Stephen Lambden, "The Tablet of All
'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Sharh-i Kuntu Kanzan
Makhfiyan" (hereinafter referred to as "Sharh"), pp. 7--8. A provisional
translation by the present author appears in Momen, "'Abdu'l-Bahá's
"They have not inhaled the breezes of
existence" states 'Abdu'l-Bahá in "Sharh," p. 10, quoting Ibn
al-'Arabí, Fusús al-hikam,
p. 76; trans., p. 85.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Sharh," p. 10.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, in a recorded talk,
stated that these entities are in fact images rather than having an actual
independent existence. Goodall and Cooper, Daily Lessons received at
elsewhere that the "scene of His transcendent glory" [manzar-i akbar
the place of the residence of the Manifestation.
vol. 4, pp. 525--26.
15 'Âlam-i mithál.
The French orientalist and
philosopher, Henri Corbin, has preferred to coin the phrase "imaginal world" to
translate this term, since the usual translation "imaginary world" gives the
idea that this is something that does not truly exist. Whereas, in fact, the
realm of malakút,
being ontologically closer to the Absolute, is
if anything more real than this physical world.
vol. 1, pp. 18--19.
These last four realms appear to be
addressing the first realm in the Long Obligatory Prayer (salát-i
"I testify unto that whereunto have testified all
created things (násút
and the Concourse on high
and the inmates of the all-highest Paradise
and beyond them the Tongue of Grandeur itself
from the all-glorious Horizon (láhút
art God... " Bahá'u'lláh, Prayers and Meditations,
CLXXXIII, p. 246/321.
See, for example,
Bahá'u'lláh's claim to be "He... Who in the Old Testament hath
been named Jehovah," (cited by Shoghi Effendi in Dispensation of
p. 13) and his statement that it was he who
spoke to Moses from the Burning Bush (Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of
pp. 50, 107).
No. XXII, pp. 41/50--51/50--51.
No. XXII, pp. 42/52/52.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Foundations of
No. LXXIX, p. 102/151/151--2.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Sharh," p. 15.
Arabic, No. 13.
Valleys and Four Valleys,
No. LXXXI, p. 106/157/157; idem., Prayers and Meditations,
LVIII, p. 69/91.
R. Parry, "The Soul and God."
Frithjof Capra, The Tao of Physics,
has demonstrated the parallels between modern physics and Eastern
No. XXVI, p. 48/62/62 (italics added).
No. LXXXIII, pp.
110/164--5/165--6 (italics added).
No. I, p. 11/3--5/3--5. Cf.
No. XIX, pp. 38/46--7/46--7 (italics added).
Poem of Bahá'u'lláh,
entitled Qasíday-i 'Izz-i Varqá'iyya,
Bahá'u'lláh, Athár-i Qalam-i A'lá,
p. 210. Translation by Juan R. Cole (personal communication).
No. CXLVIII, pp. 204/316/317--8 (italics added).
Bahá'u'lláh, The Seven
pp. 18--21 (italics added).
'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Sharh," pp.
For a more detailed consideration of the
evidence that the preference for monistic or dualistic metaphysics in any
particular individual is dependent on that individual's psychological
constitution and method of approach to the spiritual world, see M. Momen, "The
Psychology of mysticism and its relationship to the Bahá'í
'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Sharh," p. 48. See
also quotation of Bahá'u'lláh cited in note 34, p. 200.
 Bahá'í World Faith,
pp. 381--2. An alternative translation of this passage may be found in
Persian, no. 45.
Valleys and Four Valleys,
"Tablet" of Bahá'u'lláh, in
commentary upon the dictum of Mullá Sadrá: "That which is simple
in its reality is all things," Alváh-i mubáraka,
105--116; also Manuscript Or. 4971, University of Leiden. Of course,
historically the issue of Oneness of Being (wahdat al-wujúd
and Oneness of Manifestation (wahdat ash-shuhúd
the source of a prolonged and still unfinished debate within Islam. The great
protagonist of wahdat ash-shuhúd
was Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindí
who attacked the wahdat al-wujúd
concept of Ibn al-'Arabf; the
former being supported by the legalistic divines and the latter by the more
Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of
Shoghi Effendi, Guidance for Today and
Ibn al-'Arabí, Fusús
p. 1131; trans. p. 137; see also H. Corbin, Creative
pp. 195--200; T. Izutsu, Key Philosophical Concepts,
Vol. 1, pp. 244--5.
See T. R. V. Murti, Central Philosophy
especially pp. 136--140, 244. The conclusion that "samsara
are identical" (ibid.,
p. 162) would appear to be
a monistic ontology underlying this cognitive relativism.
On Noumenon/Phenomenon see Hick, God
Has Many Names,
pp. 53--5. On the Copernican Revolution, see Hick,
pp. 29--37. On the problems of religious pluralism, see Hick,
Problems of Religious Pluralism.
On relativism in sociology and
anthropology together with a critique of relativism, see Hollis and Lukes,
Rationality and Relativism.
On relativism in literature and the arts,
see Craige, Literary Relativity.
Craige, Literary Relativity,
"I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no
man cometh to the father but by Me" (John 14:6) is taken to mean that the
person of Christ is the Absolute Truth, the only path to salvation.
Craige, Literary Relativity,
Indeed, most doctrinal disputes in
Buddhism have revolved around metaphysical questions. And since it has been
largely these controversies that have given rise to the religious literature,
much of this literature is also about metaphysics.
This, of course, reflects exactly the
shift in the physical sciences where research can no longer look at structures
in any absolute sense, but rather must focus on relationships and processes.
We have noted above that this position
whereby ethics is emphasized at the expense of metaphysics corresponds most
closely to the position of the Buddha who refused to answer questions of a
metaphysical nature and urged his disciples to concentrate instead upon the
path to salvation through ethics. There is also a parallel with the thought of
Wittgenstein in that the latter urges us to move away from a desire to
understand concepts as though they represent a metaphysical structure in an
absolute way and to concentrate instead on relationships. On the performatory
nature of Bahá'í religious life, see R. Parry,
"Rational/Conceptual/Performance--The Bahá'í Faith and
Apart, that is, from introductory
historical and polemical works.
Persian, No. 5.