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Abstract:
Tablet to Laura Clifford Barney regarding the wisdom of burying the dead in the Earth, aka Tablet of Cremation, in two translations: one by Marzieh Gail, one by ‘Alí Kulí Khán.

Wisdom of Burying the Dead in the Earth:
Tablet of Cremation

by Abdu'l-Bahá

translated by Ali-Kuli Khan and Marzieh Gail.
1902/1987
Translation 1:

From Marzieh Gail, Summon up Remembrance (George Ronald, Oxford, 1987), pp. 174-176, (fn. 106), translated on behalf of the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, March 1987

Translation 2:

Translated by Ali Kuli Khan,
June 18 1902
New York City
[no intro paragraph in Gail's version] [It appears that the Tablet as given below had added at the beginning the Bahá'í verses pertaining to use of a burial ring (perhaps from the earliest translation of the Kitab-i-Aqdas). -ed.]


God has ordained the enclosing of the dead in coffins of crystal, or exquisite stones or in pure, hard wood, after putting upon the finger of the dead an engraved ring bearing an especial inscription, "Verily, He is the Almighty, the All-Knowing."


Inscription upon the ring:

"I have already been created God and return to Him, severed from all else save Him, and dependent upon His name, the Clement, the Merciful."

HE IS GOD

The handmaid of God, Miss Barney, had asked a question as to the wisdom of burying the dead in the earth. She said too that scientists in Europe and America, after prolonged and wide-ranging research and debate on this subject, have concluded that according to the dictates of reason, the benefits of cremation have been fully established and wherein, then, lies the wisdom of the Holy Religion requiring burial in the earth?

As thou art aware, this servant doth not have the time for a detailed explanation, and therefore can write only a brief reply. Where universal phenomena are concerned, no matter how long and hard the human intellect may struggle to find the right procedures or the perfect system, it can never discover the like of the divine creation and its order of transferences and journeyings within the chain of life. For the transferences, the compositions, the gatherings and scatterings of elements, and of constituent parts and substances, proceed in a chain that is mighty and without flaw. Observe the effective universal laws and see to what a degree they are solidly established, secure and strong.

And just as the composition, the formation, and growth and development of the physical body have come about by degrees, so too must its decomposition and dispersal be gradual. If the disintegration be rapid, this will cause an overlapping and a slackening in the chain of transferences, and this discontinuity will impair the universal relationships within the chain of created things.

For example, this elemental human body hath come forth from the mineral, the vegetable and the animal worlds, and after its death will be entirely changed into microscopic animal organisms; and according to the divine order and the driving forces of nature, these minute creatures will have an effect on the life of the universe, and will pass into other forms.

Now, if you consign this body to the flames, it will pass immediately into the mineral kingdom and will be kept back from its natural journey through the chain of all created things.

The elemental body, following death, and its release from its composite life, will be transformed into separate components and minuscule animals; and even though it will now be deprived of its composite life in human form, still the animal life is in it, and it is not entirely bereft of life. If, however, it be burned, it will turn into ashes and minerals, and once it has become mineral, it must inexorably journey onward to the vegetable kingdom, so that it may rise to the animal world. That is what is described as an overleap.

In short, the composition and decomposition, the gathering and scattering and journeying of all creatures must proceed according to the natural order, divine rule and the most great law of God, so that no marring nor impairment may affect the essential relationships which arise out of the inner realities of created things. This is why, according to the law of God, we are bidden to bury the dead.

The peoples of ancient Persia believed that earth-burial was not even permissible; that such burial, to a certain degree, would block the coursings and journeyings required by nature. For this reason they built Towers of Silence open to the sky, on the mountain tops, and lay the dead therein on the surface of the ground. But they failed to observe that burial in the earth doth not prevent the natural travellings and coursings which are an exigency of creation — that rather, earth-burial, besides permitting the natural march of phenomena, offereth other benefits as well.

And briefly stated, beyond this, although the human soul hath severed its connection with the body, friends and lovers are still vehemently attached to what remaineth, and they cannot bear to have it instantly destroyed. They cannot, for example, see the pictured face of the departed blotted out and scattered, although a photograph is only his shadow and in the end it too must fade away. So far as they are able, they protect whatever remainder they have of him,be it only a fragment of clay, a tree, or a stone. Then how much more do they treasure his earthly form! Never can the heart agree to look on the cherished body of a friend, a father, a mother, a brother, a child, and see it instantly fall to nothing — and this is an exigency of love.

Thus the ancient Egyptians mummified the body that it might remain intact to the end of time, their belief being that the longer the dead endured, the nearer they would draw to the mercy of their gods. Yet the Hindus of India cremate the body without any concern, and indeed the burning is a solace to their hearts. This lack of concern, however, is fortuitous: it deriveth from religious beliefs and is not a natural thing. For they suppose that the more rapidly the body is destroyed, the nearer it will come to divine compassion. This is the opposite of what the ancient Egyptians believed. The Hindus are even persuaded that, as soon as the body is with great rapidity disintegrated, forgiveness will be assured, and the dead will be blessed forever more. It is this belief which reconcileth them to the cremation.

Greetings be unto thee, and praise. I did not have the time to write even a line, but out of regard for Miss Barney, this has been set down.

(signed) 'Ayn-'Ayn

Tablet of Cremation



The servant of God Miss Barney, questioned concerning the wisdom of burying the dead in the earth. She said also that the scientists in Europe and America, after reasoning and polix discussion upon this subject, have concluded that, according to the rational rules and benefits of cremating the dead are certain. Therefore, what has been the wisdom of the Holy Laws commanding the burying of the dead in the earth? You know that this servant has not the time to give a detailed explanation, consequently he writes briefly as follows:-


No matter how human intellect strive and endeavour their utmost to discover correct course concerning general matters, and the true method, yet (their conclusion) cannot be like the Divine creation, and the order of the evolution of the set scale of beings. For the evolution, decompositions and composition, union and separation of the elements, matters and substances are regulated and settled in a very perfect and fixed chain.


Consider the current general laws, as to what degree they are well founded, solid and secure. The blending and composition development and growth of the elemental body has been gradual; so also, its decomposition and disintegration must be gradual. If it is disintegrated rapidly, then it will occasion a sudden transformation in the chain of evolution, and this sudden transformation will result in weakening the general connections in the chain of existing things.


For example this elemental body of man has come from the kingdom of mineral, vegetable and animal and now after its death will become entirely animalculae. These microscopic animals will evolute into other compositions, and thus, through a Divine law and natural order, they will effect the body of the Universe.


If you burn this body, it will immediately pass into the mineral kingdom and will be detained from its natural progress in the chain of beings. After its death and separation from general life, the elemental body will constitute individual atoms and microscopic animals, although it is then deprived of the general in the human form, yet the animal life is realised in it, and therefore it is not utterly bereft of life. When it is burnt it turns into ashes and mineral. When it is turned into mineral, it must necessarily evolute into the vegetable kingdom in order to develop onward into the animal kingdom. This rapid progress of evolution is called sudden transformation.


To resume; Beings in their composition, decomposition, union, separation and evolution, must be according to natural order, Divine rule and the mighty law of God, so that no flaw nor defect may affect the necessary connections which have resulted from the reality of things. Consequently, the law of God commands to bury the dead.


The ancient Persians considered that even burial of the dead is not allowable, for interment prevents the natural progress to a certain extent. Therefore, they built "Dokhme [sp.?]" ( A circular stone building in the form of a cylinder, on the flat surface of which the fire worshippers lay the bodies of their dead), on mountain peaks, and laid the dead upon the surface of the earth. But they disregarded the fact that burying does not prevent the natural evolution and movement, nay rather burying in the earth has also other benefits besides its march and development. To be buried although the human soul severs its dependence from the body yet friends and companions have a great attachment for the remains of a man after his death, and they never consent to have them immediately effaced and destroyed. For instance, friends never consent to the effacement and destruction of the pictures and photograph of a man, although it is but man's spectral image, and will of necessity, be finally effaced. They preserve his memorials as much as possible, even though he be a stone, a tree, or a place of clay; how much more then, the body of man. The heart never consents to the immediate disintegration of the body in order that it should continue to remain forever; and they suppose that the longer it is preserved the nearer it will be to Divine mercy.


But the brahmins in India cremate it, and take no heed thereof, nay, this is conducive to the comfort of their hearts. This heedlessness is an outgrowth of their faith and is not natural, for the Hindus believe that the more rapidly the body is disintegrated the nearer it will be to Divine mercy. Contrary to the ancient Egyptians, they suppose that as soon as it is disintegrated, forgiveness will be secured, and the dead will attain to everlasting benefit. This belief is the cause of their satisfaction in cremation

Upon thee be greetings and praise


(Sig) A.A.B.
HE IS GOD!


Another point remains, and it is this: that in case of contagious diseases, such as the plague and cholera, whether cremation of bodies with lime or other chemicals is allowable or not? In such cases, hygiene and preservation is necessarily more important; for according to the clear Divine texts, medical commands are lawful, and 'necessities make forbidden things lawful' is one of the certain rules.

Upon thee be the glory of the All-Glorious!

(signed) 'Ayn-'Ayn

He is God

Another point remains and it is this; that in the case of contagious diseases, such as the plague and cholera, whether cremation of bodies with lime or other chemicals is allowable or not? In such cases, hygiene and preservation is necessarily more important or according to the clear Divine texts, medical commands are lawful and "necessities make forbidden things lawful" is one of the certain rules.

Upon thee be greetings and praise!

(Sig) A.A.B.
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