The need to see with one's own eyes

"O people, look not upon Me through your eyes or the eyes of your leaders, for by God, the Eternal Truth, that shall never profit you in any way, even should ye appeal for help to the first creatures to be created. Rather, look upon My beauty with My eyes, for if ye gaze with the eyes of anyone else, ye will never know Me. Thus hath the matter been revealed in the tablets of God, the Almighty, the Glorious, the Wise." - Baha’u’llah: Garden of Justice

Buried beneath the overarching view of religion found in the meta-story is each person’s close personal experience of religion, and this is usually based on just one religion in the never-ending cycle of religions. This means that people are inclined to see the whole phenomenon of religion within the context of the religious tradition they adhere to, rather than as an overarching reality that takes in all the religions through time. As such, they assume that all divine intervention in human affairs will take place in accordance with their own religious tradition, that all new revelation will conform to, and confirm, their own laws and teachings, and that the new prophet will be their own prophet come again. These assumptions, which confine religion to a specific revelation, lead the people to reject a new prophet when one appears. The new prophet inevitably appears foreign and unconvincing, and so is dismissed out of hand.

How, then, does a person see beyond the assumptions of their own tradition and succeed in recognising a new prophet? In the following quotes, Baha’u’llah outlines the central mistake the people make that causes them to reject the prophet’s claim and outlines the response that is required.

From the Book of Certitude:

“had these people in the days of each of the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth sanctified their eyes, their ears, and their hearts from whatever they had seen, heard, and felt, they surely would not have been deprived of beholding the beauty of God… But having weighed the testimony of God by the standard of their own knowledge, gleaned from the teachings of the leaders of their faith, and found it at variance with their limited understanding, they arose to perpetrate such unseemly acts” (Iqan para 14)

In this quote, Baha’u’llah says that the people did not “sanctify” their eyes, ears and hearts from all that was around them and therefore missed witnessing the divine beauty in the prophet. Instead, they judged the truth of the prophet’s claim against the received knowledge of their religious leaders and found that the claim differed from the teachings of their tradition. They therefore rejected the claim and arose to persecute the prophet.

From Gems of the Mysteries:

“Had [the Christian and Jewish peoples] but fixed their gaze upon the testimony of God itself, had they refused to follow in the footsteps of the abject and foolish among their leaders and divines, they would doubtless have … quaffed from the crystal waters of life eternal … But they… refused to see with the eyes wherewith God hath endowed them, and desired things other than that which He in His mercy had desired for them...” (Gems para 6)

In this quote, Baha’u’llah says that the people did not look at scripture itself, but followed the views of their religious leaders. They refused to see with the eyes God gave them and wanted events to unfold in accordance with their expectations rather than in the way God had determined they would play out.

The two quotes tell us the same thing about how the people went wrong. Their essential mistake was to fail to examine the matter with their own eyes, ears and hearts. Instead, they relied on the views of their religious leaders and judged the claim of the prophet against the standard of their tradition, expecting the prophet to conform to it.

From this analysis, we can conclude that, in order to recognise a prophet, a person must:

  1. put aside entirely all that has passed down to them from their religious tradition
  2. disregard the views of their religious leaders
  3. assess the claims of the prophet with their own eyes, ears and hearts
  4. rely on their own reading of scripture.

This requirement to see with one's own eyes is commonly referred to as the principle of independent investigation of truth. To see how this principle relates to the process of divine judgement, see The judgement process.