My 3 Questions to Frame a Study of the Baha’i Writings

3 Questions to Frame Study of the Text

I naively and ignorantly thought that because I had been raised a Baha’i that I knew the Writings well. It wasn’t long before I realized that while I knew many of the principles of the Faith, I barely knew its sacred texts at all. Baha’u’llah exhorts us to immerse ourselves in the ocean of His words, and I was merely floating on the surface. In a boat.

I personally find that a small part of diving into the study of a text requires that I figure out its context. Through various deepening classes, I have learned that these 3 questions can prove very useful.

The first question I ask, particularly when it relates to a work of Baha’u’llah, is:

When and where was the text revealed or who compiled it?

The answer to this question adds a new level of appreciation to my study. For example, my understanding of the majesty and grandeur of The Kitab-i-Aqdas is heightening when I consider that, by contrast, it was revealed in a small room, in an overly crowded tiny dwelling, under house-arrest, in a pestilential penal colony whose air was so foul that it was said a passing bird would drop dead from the stench.

The date of revelation is also important. Was a text revealed prior to Baha’u’llah’s revelation or after? In Volume I of The Revelation of Baha’u’llah, Adib Taherzadeh describes how the station of Baha’u’llah prior to His revelation was like a fabric covered lamp. Its brilliance was muted but nevertheless present. The Kitab-i-Iqan, for example, was revealed a year prior to His declaration and keeping this in mind augments my appreciation of His words and assertions.

Some of the volumes of the writings available to us are compilations — like Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah. A friend once told me that if he were stranded on a deserted island with only one book, he would hope it was a copy of Gleanings as this compilation of the writings of Baha’u’llah is made all the sweeter because it was put together by Shoghi Effendi. Of all of the writings of the Blessed Perfection, these are the ones he personally selected for foundational study.

Perhaps most poignant of all compilations to me is the Tablet of Visitation that is recited at the Shrines of the Bab and Baha’u’llah. This tablet is a tapestry of passages of the Blessed Beauty that were lovingly stitched together by the grief-stricken Nabil, and granted authority by the Master. To recite its words is to pay homage to the Bab and Baha’u’llah — all through the silent tribute of a faithful servant so devastated at the passing of Baha’u’llah that he walked into the sea and took his own life.

The second question I ask is:

What measure of authority does the text have?

This becomes particularly interesting in the case of the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha because not all the publications of His words carry the same weight. Those written in His own hand — such as The Secret of Divine Civilization, Memorials of the Faithful, and The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, to name a few– stand undeniably and irrevocably authoritative. Some texts, like The Promulgation of Universal Peace, provide a different type of inspiration: it contains transcriptions of His talks that were never approved by the Master, and in some ways it can be considered similar to pilgrim’s notes.

The Guardian also clarifies this:

Shoghi Effendi has laid down the principle that the Baha’is should not attribute much importance to talks reported to have been given by the Master, if these have not in one form or other obtained His sanction. [...] Those talks of the Master that were later reviewed by Him, corrected or in some other form considered authentic by Himself, such as the ‘Some Answered Questions’, these could be considered as Tablets and therefore be given the necessary binding power. All the other talks such as are included in Ahmad’s diary or the diary of pilgrims, do not fall under this category and could be considered only as interesting material to be taken for what they are worth.1

This makes Some Answered Questions all the more special and its unique process of authorization is included in its introduction:

As interlocutor, Miss Barney arranged for one of Abdu’l-Baha’s sons-in-law, or for one of the three distinguished Persians of His secretariat of that period, to be present during the talks to ensure accuracy in recording His replies to the questions asked Him. ‘Abdu’l-Baha later read the transcriptions, sometimes changing a word or a line with His reed pen. They were later translated into English by Miss Barney.

What does this difference mean? Personally, it means that I study and gain inspiration from all of the above mentioned texts, but I am lighthearted about the semantics of those that are not authoritative.

The third question I like to pose is:

What does the Guardian say about the text?

God Passes By is an amazing resource for many reasons but one of those reasons is that it provides the ultimate summary, description and tribute of the writings. When examining a particular text, it can be really helpful to read what Shoghi Effendi masterfully says about it. Because the sacred writings of our Faith are so unlike anything else I’ve ever read, I find myself needing a basic understanding of a text before I dive into it and I cherish God Passes By for assisting me with this.

These are 3 of my favourite study questions but there are so many other tools out there! There are published study guides, like this guide to The Kitab-i-Iqan by Hooper Dunbar, there are some great resources online (like this website, where you can also download, Ocean, a searchable library of religious texts), and you never know what gems you’ll find when you study with others.


  1. From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the United States Publishing Committee, December 29, 1931 []

About the Author

Sonjel

In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a mother, a wife and a bookworm but professionally she is a museologist and a library technician. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.

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Discussion 27 Comments

  1. I remain amazed that for a faith that places so much emphasis on the writings, there does not as yet appear a simple volume to introduce thd wtitings to the new Baha’i who seeks to set out a journey of inquiry and study.
    I genuinely hope Sonjel might carry her work forward to produce such a publication.

    1. Charles, I believe what you are saying is available already, thanks to Internet. Just tell people about: bahai.org or Ocean or reference.bahai.org or bahai-library.com and most obvious Wikipedia. Guardian prophesied the invention of Internet in The World Order of Baha’u’llah -”a swift method of communication”
      What I want to point out is that Sonjel’s article highlights the gap that exists between the Baha’i sacred writings and others with regards to authenticity and authoritativeness.
      God bless,
      Hooshang

      1. Hello Hooshang and Charles!

        While there is no current print publication that includes all of the current translations of the Writings, the Baha’i Reference Library (reference.bahai.org) is a truly wonderful resource and thank you, Hooshang, for pointing it out. What I love about the growth and development of the Baha’i Faith is that new sacred texts are being translated by the Universal House of Justice. Recent publications include Gems of Divine Mysteries and Tabernacle of Unity. Sometimes new books, such as the Maxwells of Montreal Vol. II by Violette Nakhjavani also include approved provisional translations of previously unseen tablets. How wonderful is it to be alive as the writings are gradually unveiled to us?

    2. Charles, there are in fact, some introductory works about the Baha’i Faith, perhaps the best known is Baha’u’llah and the New Era. it is widely available for purchase, or can be downloaded in Word or PDF at http://www.bahai.org.
      The challenge is to put an ocean into a cup.
      personally, I think it is best to simply follow your heart, and open any of the writings of Baha’u’llah and jump in. It is less important to get a mental image of the scope of the Bahai faith, and more important to taste of its wondrous, universal, uplifting and healing spirit. Besides, any concept we get of it is grievously faulty, and will grow by leaps and bounds the more we read.
      Brent

  2. I believe it is also important to know if the text was revealed in answer to some questions, what were those questions and what were the motivations of the person who asked the questions.
    Historical circumstances may also be helpful to understand some texts.

  3. Sonjel,
    These are great! Thanks so much for sharing these questions to help us approach the Bahá’í writings. It’s wonderful the way context adds to the meaning and impact that the texts have on us.

    Once I’ve read a passage and have some understanding of what I think it is saying, I like to use another question: “What is another way I can understand this text?” That helps keep me from getting stuck with a single interpretation that could possibly be wrong. That way, when I hear someone else’s thoughts about a passage or when I find another passage that seems to contradict it, I already have internalised the idea that there are multiple ways of interpreting and understanding a given text. It makes me more open.

    Thanks again for another wonderful post from the isle shaped like a smile!

    1. Thanks, Alan, for your wonderful contribution. I will add it to my list for future study of our sacred texts!

  4. Thanks go to Naysan for bringing on so
    soon, immediately in the wake of Baha’i Blog’s ‘Number 9′ fascinating thread, another important and interesting topic – especially as he is so busy at his day time job at present.

    Given Sonjel’s citing (see immediately below) of the Guardian’s position vis-a-vis authenticity and authoritativeness of the Master’s words, intimately juxtaposed to her view of ‘The Promulgation of Universal Peace’, (PUP) more consultation might be in order:

    ‘Shoghi Effendi has laid down the principle that the Baha’is should not attribute much importance to talks reported to have been given by the Master, if these have not in one form or other obtained His sanction.’

    When Sonjel states that – ‘The Guardian also clarifies this’ – it’s not clear whether
    Shoghi Effendi’s 1931 letter cited by her has specifically in mind PUP, first published in the early 1920s during his ministry, again in 1943 at the height of his ministry, and again in 1982 by the NSA of USA.

    Sonjel asserts:

    ‘Some texts, like The Promulgation of Universal Peace, provide a different type of inspiration: it contains transcriptions of His talks that were never approved by the Master, and in some ways it can be considered similar to pilgrim’s notes.’

    – The final two paragraphs of the Foreword to The Promulgation of Universal Peace published under the aegis of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States reveal an alternative assessment :
    “Though The Promulgation of Universal Peace is a compilation of talks and, therefore, not strictly speaking a work by Abdu’l-Bahá, yet it has a unique “style” of its own and a unique place in His collected writings and talks. His Will and Testament, written in three sections, provides the authority for the Administrative Order of the Bahá’í Faith and ensures its integrity and unity. The Secret of Divine Civilization is a treatise on the general state of modern civilization. A Traveler’s Narrative chronicles the early history of the Babí and Bahá’í Faiths. Memorials of the Faithful contains Abdu’l-Bahá’s remembrances of seventy-nine early Bahá’ís, all bound by their love for Bahá’u’lláh. Some Answered Questions is perhaps closest in format to The Promulgation of Universal Peace – a series of discourses on a variety of topics. But Some Answered Questions was shaped by questions put to Abdu’l-Bahá. In The Promulgation of Universal Peace Abdu’l-Bahá, for the most part, chose the topics – chose them with care and determination, sometimes even with deliberate repetition. For He had come to the West, not as a tourist, but as an emissary, as it were of His father. Upon His arrival in New York He stated that ‘It is my purpose to set forth in America the fundamental principles of the revelation and teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.’
    “And that is exactly what He did. This new edition of The Promulgation of Universal Peace enables us once again, seventy years after the talks were first given, to sit in the front row and listen as Abdu’l-Bahá patiently explains facet after facet of the Bahá’í Faith, showing how each can help bring hope and peace and balm to our troubled world, until we have the courage, as He said we must, ‘to give these principles unfoldment and application in the minds, hearts, and lives of the people.’ ”

    Amidst 150 minutes of a professional production, which in no small way draws its inspiration from The Promulgation of Universal Peace, the makers of a 2013 DVD entitled Luminous Journey ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in America – 1912 might add much to this consultation because much has been gleaned since the days of the Guardian vis-a-vis authoritativeness of Baha’i texts and we now rely primarily on our blessed institutions:

    In a substantial memorandum from the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice dated 29
    November 1995 that learned body of scholars explained: – “For many of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s addresses included in (such famous and important works as) The Promulgation of Universal Peace and Paris Talks for example, no original authenticated text has yet been found… This does not mean that the unauthenticated talks will have
    to cease to be used…At present, the talks found in Some Answered Questions and a number of other individual talks are the only ones which are known to meet the requirements for authenticity and therefore are considered to be part of Bahá’í Sacred Scripture.”

    Haifa’s position, for example, on Mahmoud’s Diary and its copious recording of the Master’s words is in a different category to Shoghi Effendi’s 1931 appraisal of ‘Ahmad’s Diary’ as perhaps little more than – ‘interesting material’. Of interest to scholars, as recorded on page viii of Mahmoud’s Diary, the Universal House of Justice has noted in its letter of 30 April 1984 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States that it: “…attaches great importance to this work which, as you may know, is regarded as a reliable account of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s travels in the West and an authentic record of His utterances, whether in the form of formal talks, table talks or random oral statements.”

    Let’s recall too the status of the first few chapters of ‘Baha’u’llah and the New Era’ and its authoritative usage of Abdu’l-Baha’s words

    Where my own research is weak concerns the status of Some Answered Questions in translations other than the Persian original. Of particular interest to me is the official status of the vastly distributed English version???

    Baha’i love

    Paul

    1. Dear Paul,

      Thank you so much for those insightful quotations and for providing more information on the subject of the authoritativeness of talks attributed to the Master.

      My understanding regarding Some Answered Questions is that both the English and the Persian copies of the text were authorized by ‘Abdu’l-Baha. I’m sure you are aware of its history but I admire it so much I thought I’d share a little about it: Laura Clifford Barney compiled the text when she was visiting ‘Abdu’l-Baha in Akka. With the help of Ethel Rosenberg, an early British believer who spoke Persian, and the Master’s secretaries both a Persian and an English copy of His replies to her questions were recorded (Laura also spoke Persian, although I’m not sure how thorough her ability with the language was at this time). The Master then reviewed the texts. ‘Abdu’l-Baha was very occupied and the process was lengthy but the end result is priceless. Laura describes this process in the introduction to the work. I am ever so grateful for Laura’s work.

      1. Hi Sonjel and thanks for your kind and measured approach

        Bret has wisely referred seekers to ‘Baha’u’llah and the New Era’ (BNE) composed by Hand of the Cause, John Esslemont, who was the Guardian’s secretary, confidant and friend. I stress the word ‘wisely’ because today in the Faith so many introductory books exist that it’s not easy for neophytes (or veterans as this thread indicates) to assess the value of those works nor is it easy to determine the status of quoted text attributed to the Master – even within many famous Baha’i works for sale in Baha’i book shops. Little wonder then that Charles and Steve and others raise validly challenging points.

        In a work which has passed the arduous requirements of Baha’i review at the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia I attempt to prove BNE’s authoritativeness, to help seekers in their search for the best intro books and also in distinguishing between authenticated texts (Scripture) and authoritative content.

        At first glance, one might assume that speeches made by the Master which have not been authenticated are well nigh worthless vis-a-vis consultation between the friends but this is far from the case. The speeches in question are not considered counterfeit! Their degree of authenticity is yet to be ascertained because the original texts in his handwriting or texts that he has personally approved are not yet in our possession. On occasion one may with confidence be assured of the authoritativeness of an entire Baha’i work although it is not Scripture.

        At this early time in the Faith’s publishing history one entire Baha’i book that comes to mind remains authoritative (although it is neither authenticated holy text, or only partly authenticated as in the first few chapters of BNE) nor considered Scripture. How can this possibly be? And how to untangle the knot for seekers so we can concentrate on the Master’s elucidations rather than agonize over status?

        Shoghi Effendi’s, God Passes By,1944 p. 382 comes to the recue. Shoghi Effendi’s extraordinary praise of ‘Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era’, particularly his endorsement of it as ‘authoritative’, gives ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words therein a unique standing. On one hand the Master’s words and Dr Esslemont’s explanations have authoritativeness because the Guardian describes the entire book as authoritative. On the other hand, since no original texts of the speeches by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are known at present, it has not been possible to authenticate those speeches in the sense of belonging to Scripture .

        So, in the first instance, one may confidently refer seekers to all of BNE because it is authoritative in the estimation of the Guardian:

        “That splendid, authoritative and comprehensive introduction to Bahá’í history and teachings penned by that pure-hearted and immortal promoter of the Faith, Dr. John Esslemont.”

        Baha’i love

        Paul

        PS ‘Mahmoud’s Diary’, already alluded to here, is also authoritative, or tantamount to authoritative, though its citing of the Master’s words does not amount to Scripture

  5. I enjoyed your article, Sonjel. As a Canadian who became a Baha’i in his youth in the 1950s in Ontario, who is now in his 70s, and who has been pioneering now for more than 50 years, I find the study of the Baha’i writings has become a life-long experience. It is at the core of one’s life-narrative. We each develop our own framework for study, and our own questions, learning being the highly idiosyncratic exercise that it is.

    My framework and the questions that are at the heart of my approach, are writ-large at my website. I invite readers here to examine the form and contents of my study at this link: http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/Babi.html

    You have summarized your framework well, Sonjel, and I endorse all that you write.

  6. “Universality is of God, and all limitations earthly.”
    The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 13

    I start here, because every person approaches the Word differently. Each of us sees only a small slice of this great universal reality. What is important to me may not be of value to another. And with that in mind, I will offer my thoughts.
    First, I do not feel that the circumstances of the revelation of a particular tablet is particularly important. For example, at one level the Book of Certitude was revealed to a Shi’ah Muslim. However in reality it was revealed to the human race. While some passages are more easily understood by realizing that the recipient was a Muslim, I feel that the deeper inspiration is beyond culture, beyond gender, beyond whatever time frame a reader is in.
    In looking at how Baha’u’llah quotes the earlier revelations, He sometimes refers to the circumstances of the revelation; but mostly does not.
    For example, when speaking about the Qiblih, Baha’u’llah explains why Muhammad changed it from Jerusalem to Mecca, by referring to the circumstances at the time of revelation. Do a word search for “resented” and you’ll find that passage.
    Likewise when writing about Jesus referring to His own return, Baha’u’llah describes the circumstances at the time; look for the word “kindling.”
    But this is the exception. When explaining the meaning of the divine verses, He rarely takes this approach. He approaches the Word as having universal application.
    For example, there are two passages in the Qur’an referring to “the Abode of Peace” – Dar as-Salaam. He quotes these passages after stating that the Holy Books refer to the movement of the universal Manifestation to a designated land. Dar as-Salaam is the name of Baghdad; and Baha’u’llah is here hinting that revelation — the very Book He is revealing – is issuing forth from Baghdad, the Abode of Peace.
    In the Dawnbreakers the Bab cites the verse “is not the morning near” to refer to an impending plague.
    Baha’u’llah interprets a verse in the Qur’an to refer to one of the enemies of the Faith of the Bab – Karim Khan.
    He interprets a verse in the Book of Zechariah about the man whose name is the Branch building the Temple – and interprets Branch as referring to Himself, and the Temple referring to His verses revealed to the Kings of the earth and arranged in the shape of the human form, and expressly says that the “temple” referred to is not one made of clay. This is in the Introduction to Summons of the Lord of Hosts, or the Foreword.
    In Epistle to the Son of the Wolf around page 142 Baha’u’llah quotes several verses from Amos and Isaiah – and makes no reference whatever to the history or recipient or circumstances or anything about these verses. He just quotes them, as referring to Himself.
    When quoting the Qur’an He does not typically say “This is from the early Mecca period” like most modern scholars would.
    My point is that – to me – at times it is useful to think of the circumstances of revelation, but at other times it gets in the way of what I feel is the overriding purpose of reading the Word: Inspiration. Nourishment. Guidance. Substance. Not only information.
    Making sure that knowledge does not become a veil.

    1. Brent, thank you so much for pointing out the universal application of the writings. I completely agree with you and yes, knowledge should not become a veil to the power of the writings. I am struck by how often Baha’u’llah exhorts us to meditate on His words. Meditation, as a form of learning, was definitely not something I was taught in my formal education but is something I am so very slowly learning to do. Thank you for your insights.

  7. It is reported that there are only translations in English of 10% of Baha’u’llah’s writings up to this point in time. This should be something to consider as well!

  8. Sonjel above and beyond any of my comments about approach, the main thing is that it is so wonderful that you are encouraging the friends to read the writings. This is a marvelous service and I hope that God blesses and confirms you in this effort. & I do not want any of my earlier comments to overshadow my feeling that this is a wonderful service you are rendering. brent

  9. Sorry, I wanted first to acknowledge the comments made, pointing out that they are made from the perspective of an existing appreciation of the writings whereas I am thinking of how to welcome new Baha’is and help them orient their inquiry into what these writings comprise, how they came about and so forth.
    Here then an invitation:
    If someone you knew became a Baha’i, what would you recommend they read to start that great ocean plunge – what might come first, then what, what then and why?

    1. Hi Charles, in my personal opinion the journey into the vast ocean of the Baha’i revelation would really depend on the individual’s background and likes and interests. I personally find that a great way to deepen in the Baha’i Writings is to start that journey based on ‘topics of interest’ rather than specific texts. This method allows what’s being read to really ‘sink in’ as this is what the person is really interested in at the time. It’s like eating a pizza when you’ve been really craving one – it just hits the spot – rather than eating fried rice when what you really had been craving at the moment was a pizza.
      A while ago I posted on Baha’i Blog a list of 10 Introductory books about the Baha’i Faith, and perhaps this may also help: http://bahaiblog.net/site/2013/06/10-great-introductory-books-on-the-bahai-faith/

    2. Hi Charles

      Naysan’s advice about pizzas and accessing themes have merit but some people like to get an overview of the big picture, the whole enchilada, before they delve deep in the Dip for oysters

      Bret has wisely referred seekers to ‘Baha’u’llah and the New Era’ (BNE) composed by Hand of the Cause, John Esslemont, who was the Guardian’s secretary, confidant and friend. I stress the word ‘wisely’ because today in the Faith so many introductory books exist that it’s not easy for neophytes (or veterans as this thread indicates) to assess the value of those works nor is it easy to determine the status of quoted text attributed to the Master – even within many famous Baha’i works for sale in Baha’i book shops. Little wonder then that you and Steve and others raise validly challenging points. ‘By their fruits shall ye know them’:

      In a work which has passed the arduous requirements of Baha’i review at the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia I attempt to prove BNE’s authoritativeness, to help seekers in their search for the best intro books and also in distinguishing between authenticated texts (Scripture) and authoritative content.

      At first glance, one might assume that speeches made by the Master which have not been authenticated are well nigh worthless vis-a-vis consultation between the friends or as included in intro works but this is far from the case. The speeches in question are not considered counterfeit! Their degree of authenticity is yet to be ascertained because the original texts in his handwriting or texts that he has personally approved are not yet in our possession. On occasion one may with confidence be assured of the authoritativeness of an entire Baha’i work although it is not Scripture.

      At this early time in the Faith’s publishing history one entire Baha’i book that comes to mind remains authoritative (although it is neither authenticated holy text, or only partly authenticated as in the first few chapters of BNE) nor considered Scripture. How can this possibly be? And how to untangle the knot for seekers so we can concentrate on the Master’s elucidations rather than agonize over status?

      Shoghi Effendi’s, God Passes By,1944 p. 382 comes to the rescue. Shoghi Effendi’s extraordinary praise of ‘Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era’, particularly his endorsement of it as ‘authoritative’, gives ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words therein a unique standing. On one hand the Master’s words and Dr Esslemont’s explanations have authoritativeness because the Guardian describes the entire book as authoritative. On the other hand, since no original texts of the speeches by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are known at present, it has not been possible to authenticate those speeches in the sense of belonging to Scripture .

      So, in the first instance, one may confidently refer seekers to all of BNE because it is authoritative in the estimation of the Guardian:

      “That splendid, authoritative and comprehensive introduction to Bahá’í history and teachings penned by that pure-hearted and immortal promoter of the Faith, Dr. John Esslemont.”

      Baha’i love

      Paul

      PS ‘Mahmoud’s Diary’, already alluded to here, is also authoritative, or tantamount to authoritative, though its citing of the Master’s words does not amount to Scripture

    1. The official status of ‘Some Answered Questions’ (SAQ) in its English translation has arisen on this thread. The original Persian texts are Scripture and are held in Haifa in the Archives there. Miss Barney, speaking Farsi face to face with the Master, and with the help of expert native speakers of Persian at the same table, was SAQ’s author and the Master’s interlocutor over a substantial time in Haifa between 1904 and 1906.

      Having re-read the intro and the linked references therein to ‘God Passes By’ and having heard the opinion of Dr. Furutan vis-a-vis all translations I think that the Persian original is the only authenticated Scripture vis-a-vis SAQ

      Obviously, what Dr Furutan advised me about 14 years ago is a matter my old memory might have altogether wrong

  10. Nearly four months ago this amateur posed another curly one which our professional writers have expanded on I’m happy to report:

    PD – 2nd May 2014: Where my own research is weak concerns the status of Some Answered Questions in translations other than the Persian original. Of particular interest to me is the official status of the vastly distributed English version???

    PD 28th August 2014: For scholars and for students in any way interested in philosophy Ian Kluge’s “Some Answered Questions – A Philosophical Perspective” masterfully identifies and explores the Bahá’í positions embedded explicitly and implicitly in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s similarly titled elucidations which, among many pearls of wisdom, reject Hume’s analysis of causality. For those among us without Farsi Moojan Momen adds a wise word of warning: “The Persian text [of Some Answered Questions] was seen, corrected by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His [sic] own hand and approved by Him [sic] with the affixing of His seal. The English text has a number of problems and is currently being retranslated.”

  11. Hi Sonjel,

    This is an excellent article and these are very useful questions to ask. Indeed, we should ask many questions when we read the writings, I think the Lord moves each of us to ask different questions, and by extension allows us to gain even further understanding. This is one reason why unity and consultation are so very important. I have learned so many things about the writings by simply talking to others and finding out what truths they have learned.

    When I am personally trying to deepen my understanding of the writings, however, I have a few questions that I ask that often lead me to very amazing and wonderful observations.

    One of those questions was already mentioned by Alan:
    “What is another way I can understand this text?”

    Just being open to the possibility that there is more than one truth available can really help.

    Here are some others I often ask.

    “Is there a reason that I was led to this particular passage right now?” This question assumes that God plays an active role in our lives and that our reading a particular passage or seeing a particular truth is part of God’s plan for us. By asking this question, we can often gain new insight as to how the writings can be practically applied in our life.

    “What are some different contexts in which this passage might be interpreted and does it make a little more sense in those contexts?” This is related to Alan’s question.
    This is a question that I find applies to many scriptures, whether they are Baha’i in origin or not. For instance, when Christ says the only way to know God is to know him, the common interpretation is that you can’t know God unless you are Christian. Of course, another way of interpreting that might be that if you do know God, you must know Christ, whether or not you realize it. Bahá’u’lláh points out instances like this, frequently. This has helped me to better accept that many, seemingly contradictory, points of view are possible and that there can be truth in each and even more truth in the whole image.

    Finally, I have learned to ask, humbly, and with the realization that the answer is always a resounding “Yes!”
    “Could I be wrong about that?”
    This question reminds me that I’m fallible and just because I see a way that something could be true, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. This allows me to always be open to even more perfect truths, even when those truths appear to contradict my current understanding. It helps me to treat others with justice and equity and it just plain makes me happier.

    Hopefully these questions will help you and others to also improve their understanding of the writings and life in general, for that matter.

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