Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Number and Manifestation

The relation between the Manifestations' divine and human natures becomes most perplexing when Baha'u'llah discusses how they fit, or rather don't fit, into the cosmic hierarchy. By denying a clear position within the cosmic hierarchy, Baha'u'llah exposes a certain ineffability to the Manifestation with regard to number. In view is not just the transcendent Essence of God, but His Manifestation in this world, the point of mediation between the Creator and creation. Worth remembering are Baha'u'llah's words: O children of the divine and invisible Essence! Ye shall be hindered from loving Me and souls shall be perturbed as they make mention of Me. For minds cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me. (AHW 66)

First, the implications of God's transcendent unity must be made clear. To grasp or contain is to form a bounded unity. As a hand closes around something it restricts its movement within a limited space. It sets an interior apart from an exterior and secures their clear separation. This is the movement of minds and hearts that fails when performed on God. To think of God as an interior thing with a non-Divine exterior is to conceive of Him as one would a body, inasmuch as it is through this interior/exterior distinction that all "bodies" become present in perception. The failure of the grasp is due to the error of conceiving God and bodies horizontally, as comparable beings on a common plane. Under such an assumption God's unity would come about by drawing a distinction between God and not-God. It is a unity that at once requires a multiplicity, a duality with not-God. Consider then these words:

He is a true believer in Divine unity who, far from confusing duality with oneness, refuseth to allow any notion of multiplicity to becloud his conception of the singleness of God, who will regard the Divine Being as One Who, by His very nature, transcendeth the limitations of numbers. (Gleanings LXXXIV)

It should not be concluded though, that God's unity is only possible once any idea of not-God is abolished, thus making all things God. Such a conclusion would wrongly assume that God and any ideas composed about Him perfectly correspond to each other, that their inner orders are interchangable. The alternative, indeed the only one, is to think of God within a provisional but impossible framework for which no possible replacement is conceivable. This is that ideas about God take place within multiplicity but refer to that which is outside this world of distinction, the place of placelessness, the outside of outsideness. With this in mind the unity of God can be thought of as a total absence of distinction, distinguishing it from this world of distinguishability. It might be said that God is invisible not so much because we are blind to Him, but because nothing can be seen in pure light or pure darkness. The contrast between light and shadow is needed to make out, grasp, and contain distinguishable forms. Without contrast it is utterly concealed. Such is the unity of God, a purity which no mind can grasp nor heart contain.

One such provisional but impossible framework is to think of God as occupying a station, a proper place within a hierarchy of the cosmos, that situates Him in relation to other things, each with their own station. Humanity, animals, plants, and minerals can then be thought alongside God within a united and coherent order. Everything within the hierarchy is understandable inasmuch as they can be confined to a particular station. This confinement though is of course the same attempt at grasping and containing encountered in the Hidden Words.

Baha'u'llah features the hierarchical model in His writings. But in a way He undermines it by including within it its very impossibility. He does this by assigning two stations to each of the Manifestations of God, two stations which he at no point condenses into one. This means that the Manifestation of God is not a station. Instead it is the simultaneous occupation of two. The first is the station of essential unity and pertains to that of God made manifest in each of them. From this perspective the Manifestation is sovereign. The other is the station of distinction and pertains to the human aspect of each one. From this perspective they are each the servants of God. (KI 191) The double station of the Manifestation appears as an anomaly, a logical impossibility within the hierarchical model that troubles the entire theological edifice. One must be either here or there. Both cannot be the case simultaneously. But if that is their appearance, their manifestation, then the hierarchical model cannot give an account of the event for which it is deployed to make understandable. In its grasping and containing, the event in question slips through its fingers and is made manifest as a double station. So the double station must be understood as the failure of the grasp rather than its fruit. It is a statement of ineffability and not of systematic structure.

With that in mind, the task of thinking the Manifestation of God must consider the matter that brought about the double station, the question of the Manifestation's number. By exceeding classification within a single station the Manifestation exceeds being grasped as one. Furthermore, the Manifestation exceeds being grasped as the sum of two terms, which itself is a sort of unity. Furthermore, the first term in the equation is God, Who transcendeth the limitations of numbers. One station pertains to the transcendent unity of God. While the other pertains to the plurality of humans who have been the thrones and messengers of that unity. Within each Manifestation there is a tension and overarching embrace between God's transcendent unity and the corporeal nature of each human, which within itself is marked by plurality. Bounded off from other creatures on one end, while open to God on the other, the double station requires the Manifestation to be thought as neither singular nor plural. The "number" of the Manifestation must be distinguished from "numbers." As the form of the grasp, the number one is out of the question. And with it goes any other number inasmuch as it is derived from the addition(s) of one onto itself.

the number of the Manifestation could possibly be left alone as a theological obscurity like the Trinity or the Immaculate Conception were it not for the implications it has on the relationship between the Manifestations of God and the rank and file of the communities they represent. This is because the relation between God and the Manifestation is analogous to the relation between the latter and His believers. Both use the imagery of light in a mirror. The two relations reflect in each other the theme of reflection. Consider this passage of Baha'u'llah.

Every one of them is a mirror of God, reflecting naught else but His Self, His Beauty, His Might and Glory, if ye will understand. All else besides them are to be regarded as mirrors capable of reflecting the glory of these Manifestations Who are themselves the Primary Mirrors of the Divine Being, if ye be not devoid of understanding. (Gleanings XXX)

Both relationships are understood in terms of the reflection of light from another. So it is understandable then that the same perplexities encountered between God and the Manifestation should be reflected in the analogous relationship. If it could be said that the former relationship primarily concerns the Revelation of the Word of God then the latter relationship primarily concerns the believer's action commissioned by that Word. The relation between the designations divine and human should next be considered as it pertains to this action.

Your Cat

1 comment:

Jalal said...

You refer in part to a single passage , here it is in full for those who find this page:

Regard thou the one true God as One Who is apart from, and immeasurably exalted above, all created things. The whole universe reflecteth His glory, while He is Himself independent of, and transcendeth His creatures. This is the true meaning of Divine unity. He Who is the Eternal Truth is the one Power Who exerciseth undisputed sovereignty over the world of being, Whose image is reflected in the mirror of the entire creation. All existence is dependent upon Him, and from Him is derived the source of the sustenance of all things. This is what is meant by Divine unity; this is its fundamental principle.
Some, deluded by their idle fancies, have conceived all created things as associates and partners of God, and imagined themselves to be the exponents of His unity. By Him Who is the one true God! Such men have been, and will continue to remain, the victims of blind imitation, and are to be numbered with them that have restricted and limited the conception of God.
He is a true believer in Divine unity who, far from confusing duality with oneness, refuseth to allow any notion of multiplicity to becloud his conception of the singleness of God, who will regard the Divine Being as One Who, by His very nature, transcendeth the limitations of numbers.
The essence of belief in Divine unity consisteth in regarding Him Who is the Manifestation of God and Him Who is the invisible, the inaccessible, the unknowable Essence as one and the same. By this is meant that whatever pertaineth to the former, all His acts and doings, whatever He ordaineth or forbiddeth, should be considered, in all their aspects, and under all circumstances, and without any reservation, as identical with the Will of God Himself. This is the loftiest station to which a true believer in the unity of God can ever hope to attain. Blessed is the man that reacheth this station, and is of them that are steadfast in their belief. --Bahá’u’lláh

The language here is clear, complete, and meant for all to understand.