…an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah Revealed After the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 173.
When I first heard the words “mild as milk” I had to think hard about what milk meant to me.
In my personal life, milk and I don’t really get along. I learned this after unpleasant experiences during school lunches. I would break out in rashes and have terrible stomach upsets. I had such severe symptoms that the family doctor wrote a note to the school excusing me from having to drink milk. No one knew it at the time, but most Native American Indians can’t digest milk, perhaps because it was never part of our original diet.
You see, I come from a Northern Plains people whose main source of sustenance and nourishment was always the buffalo. We never consumed milk. We don’t even have a word for it in our language. Why is this? Well, can you imagine milking a wild buffalo? Neither could we.
As an American Indian there are difficulties for me at the level of culture, and with the approaches prevalent in society, especially when it comes to some words and phrases. Being from a minority culture, I don’t always have the assumed understanding of the majority. This has caused me to study the sources of quotes in their entirety, which is a good outcome, but it does make me feel outside of the group in my lack of understanding to what seems obvious to the majority. So I had to carefully examine what Baha’u’llah meant when he said “words as mild as milk.”
What are the qualities and properties of milk? Milk is typically defined as the primary source of nourishment for young mammals including humans. Milk, a primary source of nourishment, is one of the substances necessary for growth and health. Then, nourishment would consist of elements and compounds ingested, digested, absorbed and circulated to feed the cells of the body.
With this in mind, the “milk” metaphor Baha’u’llah uses might be compared to knowledge, as we ingest, digest, absorb and circulate it. If we remember the first part of the quote is about an “enlightened man of wisdom,” this comparison becomes even more significant.
If you consider that the “enlightened man of wisdom” might be similar to someone who is “spiritually learned”, then the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha gives us some answers to how our words might become “mild as milk”:
The spiritually learned must be characterized by both inward and outward perfections; they must possess a good character, an enlightened nature, a pure intent, as well as intellectual power, brilliance and discernment, intuition, discretion and foresight, temperance, reverence, and a heartfelt fear of God. – The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 33-34.
Might the words of someone spiritually learned or wise also evince good character, be enlightened, pure, powerful, brilliant, discerning, intuitive, discrete, foresighted, temperate and reverent?
Might we have a list of descriptions for “mild as milk” that come from the Baha’i teachings and are not singularly reliant upon a particular culture or individual worldview?
Also, it might be worthwhile to take a quick look at the meaning of “words” in a more mystical context. For this we can look at Abdu’l-Baha’s list of the five inner and outward powers:
The outward powers are five: the power of sight, of hearing, of taste, of smell and of feeling.
The inner powers are also five: the common faculty, and the powers of imagination, thought, comprehension and memory. – Some Answered Questions, pp. 210-211.
It seems apparent that we can attribute the words we utter to the outward powers of hearing (listening) and sight (reading). But what about the inner powers?
If “words as mild as milk” means utterances that give us nourishment, then the words that we speak would strengthen imagination, thought, comprehension and memory. Thus we could ask ourselves, are my words imaginative, thoughtful, comprehensible and worthy of remembering?
This may be a good way to describe a more universal meaning of the phrase “words as mild as milk”. This far more inclusive definition goes beyond the mainstream, culturally common descriptors of wise speech, such as refined, moderate and pleasant, which constantly change according to the times and the cultures we come from.
The Baha’i teachings aim to establish a divine civilization—so we would all benefit if we tried to understand and convey that message in a universal context; and become more aware of our individual cultural understandings.