HOW TO KNOW EVERYTHING

There is a concept in the facilitation of Baha’i Study, of elevated conversation. Elevated conversation is something that anyone can enter. It does require knowledge of certain things but, those things being known or understood, it is not necessary to be knowledgeable about other things and still be able to enter elevated conversation about those things.

Well those couple of sentences are, I am sure, just baffling. So lets look at it through a specific principle of the Baha’i Faith: religion and science are in harmony.

The first thing i would say is that, while scientific knowledge is useful for an elevated conversation around this principle, it is only that it can be a tool of elevated conversation, not a tool of scientific knowledge. This is a distinction that is important to make.

Let’s drill down into the ideas.

Conversation can be described as being in play with another or others. Play, for those who have forgotten what that is, is the to and fro without expectations, but from which something flourishes. It is mostly a very enjoyable experience for everyone.

‘Elevated’ in the context of Baha’i empowerment training might be defined as the transformation of complaint based issues to generative Baha’i Principle based conversation. Baha’i principles are socially transformative concepts based on the vast array of spiritual principles exhorted by Baha’u’llah, with implications for individual empowerment and action.

In elevated conversation, the facilitator can be thought of as holding a space for the other(s) and themselves to be working as with these generative principles. “As with” meaning both that the participants ARE the principle, and work WITH the principle. The facilitator could ask whether the other(s) agree with the principles as they are presented. Alternatively, the facilitator could request that the other(s) just try the principle on, like wearing a coat, for the duration of the conversation.

So, in regards science or any scientific idea. The Baha’i principle is that Science and Religion is in harmony. So, as Baha’is we don’t need to know everything there is about religion or science to explain the harmony. In fact, if you think about it, that would be a ludicrous expectation of ourselves and others. Rather, we as Baha’is have accepted to wear the coat of ‘science and religion is in harmony’. So the elevated conversation with scientific friend can be in the form of a request. “Brianna, can I request that you ‘wear’ this idea around for a while?” “You can always take it off, later on, if it doesn’t feel comfortable” Because as we know, we can only guess at what is wearable by looking at it on the rack. Until we try it on, we don’t really get a feel for it. And there is very little reality in a conversation about things. Reality is only what comes into being as a structure, an action. Conversation of course, is an action, so the distinction between conversation (play with another) and ‘about things’ (imagination), is important.

Once a person has agreed to ‘wear’ the concept of science and religion are in harmony, then the conversation can progress in the space of that concept. In that generative (creative) space, which you as facilitator are holding open for the conversation, there are only things that are ‘science and religion are in harmony’. Complaints about science and complaints about religion are not possibilities in that space. So, when complaint rises, the facilitator can notice it to the other(s). “So, can you see that, when you move the conversation into complaint about the past, or science or religion, that you have moved to a domain of ‘nothing new or transformative is happening here’. This human tendency to move to complaint is more often not about truth, just a social tendency, an habitual domain to get us into social engagement, upon which we peg some rationale, after the fact. So ‘holding the space’ means that the facilitator requests, “How about we come back to the arena of science and religion are in harmony,” “Okay, now what comes up for you in this arena, this space.”<

A note on generative language. Generative language is future and creative based language. It gets life from words that are about creating into the space. It might not be surprising to see that these words are the same as what we call 'virtues' or names of God, in the Faith eg enthusiasm, love, courage, beauty, wonder, questions, service, contribution, etc etc etc.

So, in practical terms, in the space of 'science and religion are in harmony' you can present the quotations from the writings that seem to link to a scientific idea, existence, the universe, even the limitations of human knowledge. In the spirit of conversation you might try a couple of quotes with an interaction in generative conversation. What comes up for you and the other(s)? What comes up dictates the next conversation, the next writings you might use. So be in play, in enjoyment. Then it never needs to stop.

If a conversation is always in play, does it have any purpose? A generative conversation would be expected to realise some milestones in development. By inference, if the conversation fails to develop, it is not generative, perhaps looping, certainly stagnating and eventually will stop. Within any branch of a conversation, it may indeed stop as the participants find no further point of generation. Yet, often another branch, another choice of direction, can be taken. Any conversational direction with another may yield fruit. Fruits of the tree of conversation are a form of contribution to the world, a service to humanity. The new contribution in the world is that the person has been transformed, that they ARE something new. The generative or elevated conversation can take advantage of any milestones in transformation that shows up as a new contribution.

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An Incorruptible Presence

Listening to Professor Mary-Jane Rubenstein reflecting on the work of Martin Heidegger and the question of his membership in the Nazi party that he never public spoke, I was taken by the recognition of the corruptibility that is human. It seems that Heidegger did believe that his role in support of the Nazi Party was something regretful, yet the best scholars of his work are confounded that, in this matter, his life did not reflect his own philosophical work. For Professor Rubenstein, it seemed that Heidegger become lost in his own ‘wonderment’ and was unable, as he himself proposed, to move between what is (culture as it occurs) and something imaginary that is possible.

And yet, I find myself recognizing that here we all stand in a corruption of what we think. By thinking I mean all those conclusions we make from our arguments and investigations, and all those things we say we believe as distinct from our true belief that shows up as what we do.

In that recognition of our incorruptibility of belief, I find myself acknowledging that the place I believe in Baha’u’llah, is a conviction of His incorruptibility. In Baha’u’llah’s life, I can perceive no inconsistency with his writings and actions, even though he sets a high moral bar and was under sever threat for the latter 40 years of His life. Of course, it might not be true that He was incorruptible and that some might object to that conclusion. Yet how would we approach such a conversation? The problems lies in that, all we others being corruptible, have no claim to the authority, the incorruptibility, to be able to evaluate incorruptibility.

Indeed, I find that there is only one possible approach to the conversation around the question whether Baha’u’llah, His life or His teachings are corrupted, and that is through the corruptibility of our own lives. And straight away, a key teaching of Baha’u’llah as found in the Hidden Words, that goes to the heart of all our conversations, is clarified,

“O Son of Man! Transgress not thy limits, nor claim that which beseemeth thee not. Prostrate thyself before the countenance of thy God, the Lord of might and power.”

and

“O Son of Being! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.”

Shortly after these words, Baha’u’llah cautions

“O Son of Being! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.”

Perhaps there is a form of conversation that has us talking from our own failures and limitations, as an account, a restoration of our accountability around those failing, and as an access to talking into the teachings of Baha’u’llah. It might be that not all things that Baha’u’llah taught are comprehensible, either to their correctness, necessity or implications, yet, as we resolve our own accountabilities, maybe a simple openness occurs that allows for some possibility that we will comprehend some truth. And yet we can still stand between how we perceive the world and that possibility of some other truth that Baha’u’llah is creating, without relinquishing any cherished point of view. That space ‘in between’ is a space for further conversation, and further conversation. In that to and fro, that play of ‘then something else might also be possible’ some unknown outcome, realization, being, might be released. Even as Baha’u’llah also evokes, ““Free thyself from the fetters of this world, and loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more.” Such freedom can occur through the open conversation in which some aspect of our own inherent incorruptible nature reveals itself.

As Baha’u’llah asks us implore, ”Let Thine everlasting melodies breathe tranquillity on me, O my Companion, and let the riches of Thine ancient countenance deliver me from all except Thee, O my Master, and let the tidings of the revelation of Thine incorruptible Essence bring me joy, O Thou Who art the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden!” He might not be asking that this essence is something YET to be gifted by some external hidden God but that IS ALREADY gifted to us all, giving Him to direct, “Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.

Sacred themes in conversation: a flowing river or a dam?

I was recently in a group conversation in which some emotionally sensitive issues were being raised. At a couple of moments during the conversation, a speaker made a polite comment citing or paraphrasing sacred writings without reference to the issue under discussion. The outcome was that the conversation stalled, then moved slowly to another place without resolution. I realized this left me with significant unease. What was being said here? Did the speaker have a particular understanding of the cited material that they expected everyone else would have? Did it mean support or criticism of what had been said by others? In any case, it had the effect of closing down further exploration of the topic, as listeners could only nod in acquiescence, perhaps disinclined to challenge the speakers meaning. Afterall, might not a challenge imply a challenge to the validity of the sacred words. In any case, a challenge might draw the conversation further from its purpose.

Indeed, it may be the purpose of a speaker, on feeling uncomfortable with the subject matter, to raise the Word of God as a shield, stalling the advance of a potentially conflictional exploration. The danger is that the shield doesn’t eliminate the subject. Although halted, the shield becomes a dam, behind which the topic’s waters accumulate, building pressure and creating distracting discomfort among the conversationalists.

Yet, surely the Word of God, the sacred scriptures, are invaluable in serious discussion of any kind. In fact, Baha’u’llah recommends, for utterance to be highly effective, it must be endowed with penetrating power and moderation. Interestingly, Baha’u’llah goes on to describe ‘penetrating power’, not as something particularly charismatic, but related to a pure spirit and a stainless heart. Yet His definition of moderation goes to the heart of this theme, as “blending utterance with tokens of divine wisdom (from) sacred Books and tablets”. This idea of blending would mean that the speaker, perhaps, introduces their contribution to the conversation by a composition that fundamentally asks the participants to look at one or more of the concepts under discussion, then suggesting a way of looking at that issue derived from Baha’u’llah’s teachings and including some relevant ‘tokens’ of His advice.

In this way, the application of citation from Baha’u’llah becomes part of the specific conversation. By considered construction of the utterance, one can avoid telling another they are wrong. Such construction becomes more natural if we enter any conversation with an attitude of wanting to build a relationship with the others and learn from them. Abdu’l-Baha’s advice is to, “look upon others with respect … speak as investigating the truth, saying, “Here these things are before us. Let us investigate to determine where and in what form the truth can be found… speak with th eutmost kindliness, lowliness and humility for such speech exerteth influence and educateth the souls.”

It seems that Baha’u’llah is also advising to learn how to do this in a way to enhance the interest and engagement of the hearer. The hearer could be anyone, seeker or lifelong believer. The method we are trying to learn, then, applies in all our interactions.

There are a few criteria we could evaluate our conversations against:

  1. Did the participants engage comfortably in the conversation?;
  2. Did the conversation attempt to work through barriers or conflictual elements?;
  3. Did the conversational path resolve, divert, or cease?;
  4. Did it allow pickup at a later date?

Of course sometimes it is not our participation but the utterance of another that become a conversation stopper. And it is certainly better that the conversation stops, than it should enter a disputation. Or, as Baha’u’llah advises, “If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and goodwill. If it be accepted, if it fulfill its purpose, your object is attained. If anyone should refuse it, leave him unto himself, and beseech God to guide him. Beware lest ye deal unkindly with him. A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding.