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COLLECTIONPublished articles
TITLERelativism: A Basis For Bahá'í Metaphysics
AUTHOR 1Moojan Momen
VOLUMEStudies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, vol. 5, ed. Moojan Momen
TITLE_PARENTStudies in Honor of the Late Husayn M. Balyuzi
PUB_THISKalimat Press
CITY_THISLos Angeles
ABSTRACT"Relativism" as a means of reconciling the often widely-divergent theologies of the world's religions.
CROSSREFCommentary on the Islamic Tradition "I Was a Hidden Treasure..."
TAGS- Buddhism; - Christianity; - Hinduism; - Interfaith dialogue; - Islam; - Judaism; - Philosophy; Cosmology; Dualism; Metaphysics; Monism; Philosophy, Buddhist; Philosophy, Hindu; Philosophy, Islamic; Relativism; Relativity of religious truth; Speculation; Sufism; Theology; Worlds of God
CONTENT 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.[1] 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 teachings.

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 school.[2] 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.[3]

TABLE 1: Differences between Eastern and Western Religious Thought

Western/Dualist Eastern/Monist
1. A Creator God. 1 A concept of the Absolute as undifferentiated and impersonal.
2. Man is fundamentally different from God, i.e., dualism 2. 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.
3. Evil is transgression against the law of God. 3. Evil is due to man's ignorance and self-delusion.
4. 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. 4. The path to salvation is through the acquisition of knowledge or wisdom, i.e., the ability to see things as they really are.
5. 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 moksa.
7. The most important ritual elements revolve around worship and sacraments. 7. Most important ritual elements revolve around meditation and achievement of altered states of consciousness.
8. Progressive "historical" time with a beginning and an end centered on a particular apocalyptic event. 8. Cyclical time in a world with no beginning or end.

Bahá'u'lláh's Statements of a Dualist Nature.

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 background.

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.[4]
And also:
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.[5]
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 (The Tablet of Wisdom[6]). 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 Shaykhi 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 food",[7] 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:
  1. 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.[8] 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...

    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.[9]
    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 .[10] Therefore this stage is regarded by 'Abdu'l-Bahá as part of the Hidden Mystery.[11]

  2. 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.

  3. 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 Judgement.[12]

  4. malakút: This is the angelic realm, the realm of those "whom neither business nor commerce distract them from the remembrance of God".[13] 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.[14] 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 below.[16]

  5. 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.[17]
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, káf 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.[18] 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 Revelation.... [19]

Seen in their aspect of malakút--which is their historical role within the world, however, each has a specific function and a particular teaching:
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.[20]
The physical bodies of the Manifestations of God exist of course in the realm of násút.

Man exists on the interface between the realms of násút and malakút. If he chooses, he can live entirely in the world of násút, 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 station.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23]
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... "[24]

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.[25] 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.[26]

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.[27]

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.[28]
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,[29] 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[30] as 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 and dualism:
  1. 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."

  2. 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:
  1. That what we observe and experience in the outer world has some reality and existence independent of our observing and experiencing it,

  2. That time is a universal phenomenon; i.e., that the passing of time is the same for all people under all circumstances,

  3. That space is a universally uniform phenomenon,

  4. 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 up,

  5. 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:
  1. 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.

  2. Time is not universal, its rate of passing is relative to the observer.

  3. Space is not uniform but is in fact curved by mass. Indeed, space-time is one interconnected entity.

  4. Mass is not in fact conserved in subatomic reactions; it can be created and disappear with gains and losses of appropriate amounts of energy.

  5. 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 experience.

    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.[31] 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.[32]

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.[33]

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 . . .[34]

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.[35] 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 themselves.[36]

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. . .[37]
In his commentary on the Islamic tradition "I was a Hidden Treasure . . . [38] '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 this treatise,[39] 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes 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.[40] '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 exterior Absolute.[41]

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 is unknown.[42]
Similarly, Bahá'u'lláh has written:
Ye bow the knee before your vain imaginings and call it truth.[43]
To present this diagramatically, it would be useful at this stage to take the diagram used by Parry:

where M.UD. =Monist Universe of Discourse
D.UD. =Dualist Universe of Discourse
X =The state of affairs depicted by (i.e., the referrent of) each Universe of Discourse
Y =Ultimate Reality

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 infinitum. 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."[44] 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 (tawhíd).[45] 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 Lawh-i hikmat:

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.[46]

In this passage the two words that are translated "thought and opinions" are al-af'ida, 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.[47]

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[48] 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.[49]

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.[50]

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 minds."[51]

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.[52] 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.[53]

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.[54] 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 final salvation.

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 unchanging.

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 isolation.

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 would assert.[55] For 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 metaphysics.[56] 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.[57] And therefore ethics comes to the forefront of consideration.[58]

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.[59] Indeed, Bahá'u'lláh's injunction: "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning"[60] 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, 1330/1912.

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. [Tehran?], n.d.

------ Áthár-i qalam-i a'lá, vol. 3. Tehran: Mu'assisa Millí Matbú'át Amrí, 121 badi' (1964).

------ 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, 1950).

------ 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, 1982.

------ Problems of Religious Pluralism. London: Macmillan, 1985. Hollis, Martin, and Steven Lukes, eds. Rationality and Relativism. Oxford: Blackwell, 1982.

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. 4--67.

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, 1980.

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.
[1] Foreword to M. Phelps, Abbas Effendi, p. xxii.
[2] 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.
[3] 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.
[4] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, No. CXLVIII, p. 204/317/318.
[5] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, No. XXVI, pp. 48--9/62/63.
[6] Cole, "Problems of Chronology", pp. 38--9.
[7] 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, Má'iday-i Âsmání, vol. 4, pp. 265--276; a provisional translation can be found in Stephen Lambden, "The Tablet of All Food".
[8] '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 Commentary."
[9] Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, pp. 73--4/63--4/98--9.
[10] "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.
[11] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Sharh," p. 10.
[12] '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 'Akká, pp. 43-44.
[13] Qur'án 24:37.
[14] Bahá'u'lláh explains elsewhere that the "scene of His transcendent glory" [manzar-i akbar] is the place of the residence of the Manifestation. Ishráq-Khávarí, Má'iday-i Âsmání, 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.
[16] Ishráq-Khávarí, Má'iday-i Âsmání, vol. 1, pp. 18--19.
[17] These last four realms appear to be addressing the first realm in the Long Obligatory Prayer (salát-i kabír): "I testify unto that whereunto have testified all created things (násút), and the Concourse on high (malakút), and the inmates of the all-highest Paradise (jabarút), and beyond them the Tongue of Grandeur itself from the all-glorious Horizon (láhút), that Thou art God... " Bahá'u'lláh, Prayers and Meditations, No. CLXXXIII, p. 246/321.
[18] 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 Bahá'u'lláh, p. 13) and his statement that it was he who spoke to Moses from the Burning Bush (Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 50, 107).
[19] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, No. XXII, pp. 41/50--51/50--51.
[20] Ibid., No. XXII, pp. 42/52/52.
[21] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 42.
[22] Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, pp. 61/50--51/78--9.
[23] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, p. 81.
[24] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, No. LXXIX, p. 102/151/151--2.
[25] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Sharh," p. 15.
[26] Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic, No. 13.
[27] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, pp. 20--21.
[28] Ibid., pp. 36--7.
[29] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, No. LXXXI, p. 106/157/157; idem., Prayers and Meditations, No. LVIII, p. 69/91.
[30] R. Parry, "The Soul and God."
[31] Frithjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, has demonstrated the parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism.
[32] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, No. XXVI, p. 48/62/62 (italics added).
[33] Ibid., No. LXXXIII, pp. 110/164--5/165--6 (italics added).
[34] Ibid., No. I, p. 11/3--5/3--5. Cf. No. XIX, pp. 38/46--7/46--7 (italics added).
[35] Poem of Bahá'u'lláh, entitled Qasíday-i 'Izz-i Varqá'iyya, in Bahá'u'lláh, Athár-i Qalam-i A'lá, vol. 3, p. 210. Translation by Juan R. Cole (personal communication).
[36] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, No. CXLVIII, pp. 204/316/317--8 (italics added).
[37] Bahá'u'lláh, The Seven Valleys, pp. 18--21 (italics added).
[38] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Sharh."
[39] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Sharh," pp. 24--44.
[40] 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 Faith."
[41] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Sharh," p. 48. See also quotation of Bahá'u'lláh cited in note 34, p. 200.
[42] Bahá'í World Faith, pp. 381--2. An alternative translation of this passage may be found in 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, p. 53.
[43] Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Persian, no. 45.
[44] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, p. 39.
[45] "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, pp. 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) was 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 mystically inclined.
[46] Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 140.
[47] Shoghi Effendi, Guidance for Today and Tomorrow, p. 2.
[48] Ibn al-'Arabí, Fusús al-hikam, p. 1131; trans. p. 137; see also H. Corbin, Creative Imagination, pp. 195--200; T. Izutsu, Key Philosophical Concepts, Vol. 1, pp. 244--5.
[49] See T. R. V. Murti, Central Philosophy of Buddhism, especially pp. 136--140, 244. The conclusion that "samsara and nirvana are identical" (ibid., p. 162) would appear to be a monistic ontology underlying this cognitive relativism.
[50] On Noumenon/Phenomenon see Hick, God Has Many Names, pp. 53--5. On the Copernican Revolution, see Hick, Ibid., pp. 29--37. On the problems of religious pluralism, see Hick, Problems of Religious Pluralism.
[51] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, p. 63.
[52] 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.
[53] Craige, Literary Relativity, p. 16.
[54] "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.
[55] Craige, Literary Relativity, pp. 16--21.
[56] 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.
[57] 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.
[58] 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 Scholarship."
[59] Apart, that is, from introductory historical and polemical works.
[60] Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Persian, No. 5.
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