Perfection and conservation in Gate of the Heart
Posted by Sen on August 12, 2010
Continuing with the readings from Nader Saiedi’s Gate of the Heart. I’ve selected a section beginning on page 315, where it is headed ‘Perfection and refinement’ — a title that doesn’t do justice to the implications of these concepts for a theology of positive stewardship for the natural world.
If action is a process of spiritual journey, and if it is performed for God and to attain God’s good pleasure, then every single action must be a means of realizing the potentialities of things and the beautification and refinement of the world. This principle is one of the main criteria of an acceptable action in the Persian Bayan. In the writings of the Bab, the two concepts of perfection and refinement are inseparable from each other. The principle of perfection refers to the duty of all human beings to exert their utmost efforts to realize the potentialities of all things in the world. This duty is based on the idea that heaven and hell apply to all beings and that a thing’s state of perfection is its paradise. Humans, however, are required by the Bab to ensure that all phenomena achieve their perfection because “no created thing shall ever attain its paradise unless it appeareth in its highest prescribed degree of perfection.” Thus, in whatever activity the Babis are engaged, whether in the realm of industry or art, they must perform that work in the best possible manner and realize the utmost perfection in all things.
We can see, in the spiritualized utilitarianism of the Bab, as well as in his universal imperatives, that one should take into account not only the interests of human beings, but the interests of all created things because the realm of nature is endowed with moral rights as well as spiritual significance. The spiritual distinction of human beings is realized not by dominating nature, but by fulfilling their duty to facilitate its attainment to perfection, as its “paradise.” Again, the logic of the sanctuary of unity is visible in this approach to ethics.
It is in this connection that the Bab consistently emphasizes the idea of purification. All levels of reality, from the material body to the human heart, must be purified. Natural resources must be preserved in the utmost purity. The Arabic Bayan prohibits the commodification of the natural elements of fire, air, water, and earth. The Bab turns the idea of the purity of water into the protection of the environment. In the Persian Bayan He writes: “Nothing is more beloved before God than to keep water in a state of the utmost purity, to such an extent that if a believer should become aware that the glass of water he holdeth in his hand hath passed through any impure parts of the earth, he would be grieved.” In other words, it is implicitly necessary that all streams, lakes, and seas through which the water passes be clean.
An extended discussion of this principle can be found in one of the later writings of the Bab, The Book of Divine Names (Kitabu’l-Asma’). In discussing the name of God, the Most Perfect (Atqan), the Bab commands people to reflect the perfection of God’s handiwork in their own. Speaking in the mode of divine verses, He says:
Say! We verily have perfected Our handiwork in the creation of the heavens, earth, whatever lieth between them, and in all things; will ye not then behold? . . . Perfect ye then your own handiwork in all that ye produce with your hands working through the handiwork of God. Then would this indeed be a handiwork of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Waste ye not that which God createth with your hands through your handiwork; rather, make manifest in them the perfection of industry or craft, be it a large and mass product or a small and retail one. For verily one who perfecteth his handiwork indeed attaineth certitude in the perfection of the handiwork of God within his own being.
By striving for perfection in art and industry, human beings manifest the divine perfection within themselves, and in this way, human action becomes a divine action. In discussing the same name of God, this time in the mode of prayer, the Bab writes:
O my God! Thy handiwork hath always been complete, all-encompassing, perfect, and unfailing, and it will always continue to be perfect, unfailing, complete, and all-encompassing …. Thou hast commanded Thy servants, from the beginning that hath no beginning, till the end that hath no end, to produce handiwork with the utmost perfection, for this is verily the reflection of the perfection of Thy handiwork …. Educate then, O my God, the people of the Bayan in such wise that no product may be found amongst them but that the very utmost perfection of industry shall be manifest therein …. For verily Thou hast desired, by this law, to build the earth anew by virtue of Thy glorious handiwork through the hands of Thy servants.
The requirement to realize the perfection of all things is simultaneously the requirement to refine and beautify all things. Emphasizing the importance of this law, the Bab writes in the Persian Bayan:
For, in this religion no other command is as rigorously enjoined as the duty of refinement, and it is forbidden that one bring any object into being in a state of imperfection when one hath the power to manifest it in full perfection.
For example, should one build an edifice and fail to elevate it to the utmost state of perfection possible for it, there would be no moment in the life of that edifice when angels would not beseech God to torment him; nay, rather, all the atoms of that edifice would do the same. For each thing, within its own station, yearneth to attain unto the utmost height of excellence in its own level, Thus, should a man who is capable not realize and respond to the yearning of his capability, he will be held accountable therefor ….
… We can see that the ordinance regarding the perfection and beautification of all things is fundamental to the sanctuary of the heart: physical beauty is a sign of spiritual beauty. Refinement and beautification thus become the mediating point that links the physical to the spiritual. The kingdom of the Bab is thus an aesthetic as well as a spiritual kingdom.
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