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Annihilation and the self in the Hidden Words and the Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys.
Originally written as a homework assignment for the Wilmette Institute.

How to get out of it:
Faná' and baqá' in the Early Writings of Baha'u'llah

by Alison Marshall

The Kalimat-i Maknunih (Hidden Words) were revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in 1857, while he was living in Baghdad. They are divided into two sections, one in Arabic and one in Persian, and consist of a series of short passages that Bahá'u'lláh describes as "the inner essence" of his revelation, "clothed in brevity."[1]

The seventh of the Arabic Hidden Words states:
O son of man! If thou lovest Me, turn away from thyself; and if thou seekest My pleasure, regard not thine own; that thou mayest die in Me and I may eternally live in thee.
In this paper, I want to discuss what Bahá'u'lláh means by 'turning away from self', 'dying in Him' (faná') and 'God living in us' (baqá'). These terms are taken from Islamic mysticism (Sufism) and have complex meanings in that tradition. By exploring their meaning, I want to shed light on whether these states are achievable by the average Bahá'í, or whether they are only for people who are really 'spiritual'. I want to show that anyone can achieve them if they choose to; in fact, I want to show that how much you get out of it will depend on your willingness to get out of it!

The idea that the 'self' is something we should renounce is found throughout the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá.[2] What isn't immediately apparent is what Bahá'u'lláh means by 'self'. It is common to think of the self as being the essence of who we are, the thing at the heart of our functioning, the very core of our being. If you look up 'self' in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, this is precisely the definition you get: "Person's or thing's own individuality or essence, person or thing as object of introspection or reflexive action." But does Bahá'u'lláh mean us to give up our individuality or essence when he asks us to give up our selves? This may seem like a silly question, but in the face of statements like "Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired for you,"[3] we might well conclude that becoming 'spiritual' means to shut ourselves off from our inner experience, thinking it sinful because it comes from us and not God.

However, giving up our essence is not what Bahá'u'lláh meant by turning away from self. In a talk given in Paris in 1910, 'Abdu'l-Bahá discusses the topic of the nature of humans, explaining that we have two natures, a higher and a lower one.
In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men. 4
In a commentary on the hadith "He who knoweth his self knoweth his Lord", Bahá'u'lláh describes the higher self in the following way:
Consider the rational faculty with which God hath endowed the essence of man. Examine thine own self, and behold how thy motion and stillness, thy will and purpose, thy sight and hearing, thy sense of smell and power of speech, and whatever else is related to, or transcendeth, thy physical senses or spiritual perceptions, all proceed from, and owe their existence to, this same faculty. So closely are they related unto it, that if in less than the twinkling of an eye its relationship to the human body be severed, each and every one of these senses will cease immediately to exercise its function, and will be deprived of the power to manifest the evidences of its activity. It is indubitably clear and evident that each of these afore-mentioned instruments has depended, and will ever continue to depend, for its proper functioning on this rational faculty, which should be regarded as a sign of the revelation of Him Who is the sovereign Lord of all. Through its manifestation all these names and attributes have been revealed, and by the suspension of its action they are all destroyed and perish.[5]
In this passage, Bahá'u'lláh explains that the higher self is a rational faculty that he likens to a "sign" of God in us. This sign is a piece of magic that can do startling things like manifest all the names and attributes of God. Given the vital function of this 'self', it is clear that Bahá'u'lláh did not mean us to renounce our own divinity in order that we might become spiritual!

The quote also shows that turning away from self also does not mean we should stop using the abilities that this sign gives us - that is, using our senses, will, minds and hearts. In fact, quite the opposite is indicated. If we stop using these functions voluntarily, thinking that this will make us spiritual, what we actually do is 'destroy' the evidences of our spirituality. The Sufi poet, Jalalu'd-Din Rumi, addresses this issue in the following poem, arguing that using these God-given capacities is our way of showing gratitude to God for such gifts and that using them increases our ability to thank Him:
God hath placed a ladder before us: we must climb it, step by step.
You have feet: why pretend to be lame? You have hands: why conceal the fingers that grip?
Freewill is the endeavour to thank God for His beneficence; your necessitarianism denies that Beneficence.
Thanksgiving for the power of acting freely gives you more power to thank Him; necessitarianism takes away what God hath given.[6]
It is clear, then, that when Bahá'u'lláh asks us to turn away from self, he must have meant us to turn from the lower self, not the higher one. So what is the lower self and how do we turn away from it? In a talk given in 1912, 'Abdu'l-Bahá discusses the two "susceptibilities" of humans: the "natural emotions" and the "merciful and heavenly characteristics", by which, I suggest, he means the lower nature and higher nature. He likens the "natural emotions" to dust on the mirror of the heart, describing this dust as "attachment to the world, avarice, envy, love of luxury and comfort, haughtiness and self-desire."[7]

The Sufis had many images for the lower self, but a common one was that it was like a dog or horse that needed training. The goal of training was to teach the lower self to behave so that it would aid the higher self.[8] This idea suggests that turning away from self does not involve destroying the lower self so much as taming it. Given that we are created with two natures, it is idle for us to imagine that we could destroy one of them. Instead, we need to bring it into line. In a talk on the nature of the material world and humanity's place in it, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also emphasises the importance of training the lower self, arguing that the manifestations of God are like gardeners who cultivate the wilderness of humanity by "train[ing] the souls of humanity and free[ing] them from the thralldom of natural instincts and physical tendencies."[9] Similarly, in a passage interpreting the tradition "As for him who is one of the learned: he must guard himself, defend his faith, oppose his passions and obey the commandments of his Lord," 'Abdu'l-Bahá argues that "[t]he primary meaning of this guarding of oneself is to acquire the attributes of spiritual and material perfection."[10]

'Abdu'l-Bahá has left us with what I suggest is one example of how the lower self is trained; in effect, the lower and higher selves consult with each other. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was asked whether a person can converse with someone in the next world, to which he says yes, citing conversation with the higher self as an example of such communication:
'Can a departed soul converse with someone still on earth?'
       Abdu'l-Bahá. - 'A conversation can be held, but not as our conversation. There is no doubt that the forces of the higher worlds interplay with the forces of this plane. The heart of man is open to inspiration; this is spiritual communication. As in a dream one talks with a friend while the mouth is silent, so is it in the conversation of the spirit. A man may converse with the ego within him saying: "May I do this? Would it be advisable for me to do this work?" Such as this is conversation with the higher self.'[11]
What then is the purpose of the lower self once it is brought under the control of the higher self? The answer is that it guides us on our path. When it is out of control, it leads us astray,[12] but once it is tamed it helps to keep us on track. One of the ways it does this is by reminding us that we are not better than others. 'Abdu'l-Bahá counsels us to seek out our own imperfections and not concentrate on those of others. He quotes Bahá'u'lláh: "I wonder at the man who does not find his own imperfections."[13]

In an illuminating passage in the Persian Hidden Words, Bahá'u'lláh describes the effect of the lower self on the higher one:
O My servant! Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer's knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world.[14]
Here Bahá'u'lláh likens our lower self to a sheath that hides our true worth. In effect, it obscures the sign of God in us, hence it hides our higher self. This idea of veiling is supported by other metaphors for self that Bahá'u'lláh uses. In the Persian Hidden Words, for example, he likens the lower self to a veil[15] and a prison[16], and to dust.[17] All these have the effect of obscuring what should be revealed.

It is also common for Bahá'u'lláh to use the word 'self' in the same breath as 'passion' or 'desire', as he has done in the Hidden Word quoted above. These words carry the image of something acting in an out of control or calculating way, quite different to the idea of a prison. Nonetheless, the Hidden Word indicates that whether we think of the lower self as an imprisonment or as a wild frenzy, it still has the effect of hiding our true worth. On this understanding, idle fancies and vain imaginings would all be images of ourselves that obscure, bear no relationship to, or are not consistent with, our divinity.

In another image that captures the idea of the lower self obscuring the higher one, Bahá'u'lláh likens the sign of God to a mirror that can potentially reflect all the names and attributes of God. He says that by polishing this mirror, wiping away the dust and increasing the shine, we are able to draw near to God and shine our divinity on the world.[18]

I conclude, therefore, that 'turning away from self' does not mean renouncing our essence or the faculties that are the fruit of the higher self, such as will, intellect and emotion. It is the process of training our lower self, which out of ignorance acts contrary to our divinity, so that it is brought under control and serves us on our path to perfection. Bahá'u'lláh likens the lower self to a covering that hides our divinity, so I think of turning away from self as a journey by which we become increasingly aware of our divinity and shine it to the world.

In the seventh Arabic Hidden Word, Bahá'u'lláh suggests that we turn away from self for the love of God. The Sufis believed that love was "the only legitimate way to educate the base faculties."[19] In what follows, we will see the primary role that love plays.

How is it that we don't recognise our own divinity? Given how amazing our spiritual selves are, it seems odd that we should be so afflicted. To understand this, we need to understand how we perceive things with our physical senses as opposed to our spiritual ones. Bahá'u'lláh alludes to the limitations of physical sight when He says: "Never shall mortal eye recognize the everlasting beauty."[20] He tells us that our sight and hearing need to be shut off in order for us to perceive Him: "Blind thine eyes, that thou mayest behold My beauty; stop thine ears, that thou mayest hearken unto the sweet melody of My voice."[21] From this, we know that what we perceive with our physical senses is not what Bahá'u'lláh wants us to focus on. In fact, he tells us that what is really worthy of our attention is something that has been deliberately concealed from us:
O son of My handmaid! Didst thou behold immortal sovereignty, thou wouldst strive to pass from this fleeting world. But to conceal the one from thee and to reveal the other is a mystery which none but the pure in heart can comprehend.[22]
How do our senses trick us into thinking that what we see is all there is to know? When you go down vertically in a roller coaster, you feel terrified because it seems like you are falling to your death. The thing that prevents you from falling to your death is not immediately apparent to your senses at the instant you fall, so you perceive the situation as one of immediate danger.

One image used by the Sufis to convey this idea that we are deceived by our physical senses is, again, the mirror.[23] If we perceive the physical world entirely with our physical senses, this is like looking in a mirror and believing that the images we see are real. However, if we bring our spiritual capacities to bear on our perception, we will stand back from the images in the mirror and see the mirror itself, and realise that we have been focusing on almost illusory things as if they were all that mattered. For example, when we are on the roller coaster, we use our intellect to remind us there is an invisible operator who has our falling in hand.

According to Bahá'í theology, the hidden mirror in which we see our world is Bahá'u'lláh (and not God).[24] Because it is impossible for human beings to have any direct interaction with God and His names and attributes, God creates special beings that manifest His names and attributes by reflecting them in their perfect mirrors. Were it not for their reflections, we would not exist, for we are totally dependent on their grace:
Nay, all else besides these Manifestations, live by the operation of their Will, and move and have their being through the outpourings of their grace. "But for Thee, I would have not created the heavens." ... These Tabernacles of holiness, these primal Mirrors which reflect the light of unfading glory, are but expressions of Him Who is the Invisible of the Invisibles. By the revelation of these gems of divine virtue all the names and attributes of God, such as knowledge and power, sovereignty and dominion, mercy and wisdom, glory, bounty and grace, are made manifest.[25]
If we look at the images of the world from the perspective of our spiritual capacities and do not focus on what our physical senses perceive, we will begin to awaken to the Reality that sits immediately behind them. Showing through the many images in front of us, we can begin to see a divine drama displaying his everlasting beauty,[26] the sweet melody of his voice,[27] the ocean of eternal wealth.[28]

As the scenario of the roller coaster shows, in order to pass from one way of perceiving things to another, we need faith. When we are on the roller coaster, we have to trust the people running it, otherwise we would not get on it in the first place. Similarly, to perceive Bahá'u'lláh behind our immediate experience requires faith. We must be prepared to let go, be out of control, and imagine for just a minute that what we see isn't what it seems.

At this point, knowledge and reason can be obstacles (but by no means the only ones) to taking that one step: "Thou art but one step away from the glorious heights above and from the celestial tree of love."[29] The tradition, "Knowledge is the most grievous veil between man and his Creator,"[30] captures the idea that a person who has acquired learning is particularly unlikely to put aside that knowledge in order to take the step into the unknown. Annemarie Schimmel describes how the Sufis took sport in trashing the intellect.[31] They said that on the path to God, the intellect was like a "donkey that carries books" (Qur'an 62:5). The mystic Abu Hamid Ghazzali, a highly educated man who learned to let go of his intellect, describes how the intellect cannot capture the "drunkenness" of those who take the step into the unknown:
How great is the difference between knowing the definition, causes, and conditions of drunkenness and actually being drunk! The drunken man knows nothing about the definition and theory of drunkenness, but he is drunk; while the sober man, knowing the definition and the principles of drunkenness, is not drunk at all.[32]
However, it is possible to be drunk and know the definition and theory of drunkenness, which shows that knowledge, reason and intellect, like anything, are only obstacles to our letting go if we let them be. They are not bad in themselves.

Because there are potentially an infinite number of reasons for not taking that one step, in the end, we do it only when are driven to. In a famous passage in the Kitab-i-Iqan (The Book of Certitude, written 1860-61), Bahá'u'lláh dwells on the inner condition of the person who truly seeks God and describes it like this:
Only when the lamp of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of passionate devotion, of fervid love, of rapture, and ecstasy, is kindled within the seeker's heart, and the breeze of His loving-kindness is wafted upon his soul, will the darkness of error be dispelled, the mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude envelop his being.[33]
It is often in situations of total despair that we find inside ourselves the intense emotion Bahá'u'lláh describes. A feeling of being completely alone impels us to seek union with someone or something, and forces us to look beyond the illusion the senses create. At these times, we begin a relationship with the invisible realm. Rumi has written a wonderful poem that captures this intense experience and shows how it transforms our vision:
'Tis as when a mother, at the grave of her child newly dead,
Speaks to him earnestly and intensely: crazed with grief, she imagines his dust to be living
And in her heart believes he is listening to her. Lo, the magic wrought by Love!
Fondly and with tears she lays her lips, time after time, on the fresh earth of the grave in such wise
As, during his life, she never laid them on the face of the son who was so dear to her.[34]
Rumi describes how the mother speaks to her dead son as though he were alive and listening to her. Her feelings of love and loss incline her to another world, which she is totally absorbed in. There is no question in her mind of his real existence before her. She is talking directly to her son; for her, the communion with him is real. Note the faith and belief, and the condition of her heart, and how all this combines to create a world that she 'sees' with her inner senses. In this state, she might even be able to describe her son's face, how his features change as he reacts to what she is saying and so on. I suggest that it is in a state similar to this that we are able to hear Bahá'u'lláh's melody, smell his fragrance, and see his beauty.

The philosopher Toshihiko Izutsu, who has written extensively on Islamic mysticism, describes the process the mother is going through as the collapsing of the subject/object dichotomy.[35] On this idea, the fact that we perceive things in the world as 'other' than ourselves, or outside of us, is an illusion - the same illusion as thinking that the images in the mirror are real. If we perceive things as existing 'outside' of us, it is because we imagine them to have independent reality or existence. But, this is not necessarily the case; there are many levels of reality. If we compare things in the world with God, for example, they do not exist because they are just images in a mirror. 'Abdu'l-Bahá explains: "... the existence of beings in comparison with the existence of God is but illusion and nothingness; it is an appearance, like the image reflected in a mirror.[36] From this perspective, things that look as though they are outside and independent of us do not exist and nor do we. From this point of view, it makes no sense to say "I" (subject) and "you" (object); the only "I" is God.

Izutsu explains that in order to collapse the us/them dichotomy, we must 'become' the other.[37] Take the example of the mother; she is totally absorbed in her experience of communion with her son. In a sense, she has completely disappeared into it. States similar to this are attained when we are in love - we feel like we 'know' our beloved, we 'know' how that person feels, what he or she is thinking and so on. The seeming distance between us and the person we love collapses. We lose consciousness of our being an independent existing thing and become that person.

A person who has 'become' the beloved is said by the Sufis to be in a state of "faná'", which is what Bahá'u'lláh meant by 'dying in Him'. Rumi said that this state was the goal of the mystic.[38] Faná' literally means 'annihilation' - implying the annihilation of self. Because faná' takes place inside the believer, it is not possible to define it. In fact, the exact meaning of faná' was a topic of controversy among Sufis.[39] The best anyone can do is capture something of its characteristics.

Schimmel argues that there are three levels of faná'.[40] The first is an ethical stage, where the believer's faults are exchanged for spiritual qualities. This might be where a person struggles to improve herself by replacing behaviour originating with the lower self to behaviour that reflects the divine in her. The second stage is where the believer's vision is transformed so that the person replaces an everyday perception of the world with an ongoing vision of the light of God. The third stage is where the believer's 'existence' is replaced by that of God's. This shows that the annihilation of self happens by degree rather than in an absolute way.

The metaphor of the moth and the candle, although used by Schimmel to describe the three levels of certitude, helps to illustrate the three levels of faná': the first level is when the moth sees the light of the candle, the second level is when it feels the heat, and the final stage is when it is burned in the flame. Interestingly, a person is said to attain real certitude (the highest level) in an experience of faná'.[41] This shows that certainty was believed to come from illumination of vision, and not solely from knowledge in the everyday sense of the word - something Ghazzali illustrates in his quote about the limitations of the intellect.

Izutsu defines faná' as "the total nullification of the ego-consciousness."[42] From the point of view of the mystic, I suggest this ecstatic experience is like losing consciousness in the sense that the experience takes place in a realm where the consciousness-producing faculties are not used.[43] Rumi says:
That which the imagination hath not conceived,
      that which the understanding hath not seen,
Visiteth my soul from Thee: hence in worship
      I turn toward Thee.[44]
A soul that attains this state has remembered the moment it was originally created.[45] This is the moment that Bahá'u'lláh refers to in the following:
O My friends! Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all-glorious paradise?[46]
Bahá'u'lláh ends the passage by saying that if we "sanctify our souls," we will immediately "recall that place and those surroundings" and testify to the truth of what he told us there. Significantly, 'Abdu'l-Bahá has interpreted this gathering to be the place where Bahá'u'lláh established his covenant.[47] This shows the importance of the faná' experience in understanding the covenant - as with certitude, it cannot be understood by the intellect alone.

Rumi describes what happens in a state of faná' by likening it to a candle in the sun:
There is no dervish in the world; and if there be, that dervish is really non-existent.
He exists in respect of the survival of his essence, but his attributes are extinguished in the Attributes of God.
Like the flame of a candle in the presence of the sun, he is really non-existent, though he exists in a formal calculation.
The flame's essence is existent in so far as if you put cotton upon it, the cotton will be consumed;
But in reality it is non-existent; it gives you no light, the sun has naughted it.[48]
Rumi explains that the candle exists, but its attributes of light, radiance and heat are taken over by those of the sun. Similarly, the essence of the mystic continues to exist, but her attributes are overcome in the moment of ecstasy and replaced with those of God. In this way, the subject/object dichotomy collapses and the mystic unites with Bahá'u'lláh to become the subject of her experience.[49] In this state, the mystic testifies that she is a being made in the image of God.

This explains why Bahá'u'lláh tells us that we are the place of his revelation and manifestation: "Thy spirit is My place of revelation; cleanse it for My manifestation."[50] Just like the manifestation can display the names and attributes of God in his mirror, we can display the names and attributes of the manifestation in our mirrors, and when we do, we are manifesting him. This shows the parallels between our experience of ourselves and the manifestation's experience of himself, although of course, his experience takes place in a realm beyond us. We know, for example, that Bahá'u'lláh described his station as 'dying to oneself and living in God', the same terms he used in the seventh Arabic Hidden Word. In "Epistle to the Son of the Wolf" (written around 1891), Bahá'u'lláh responded to accusations that his claims of "Divinity" and "Godhood" were claims to be the essence of God. Bahá'u'lláh explains that they were not claims to be the Godhead, but expressions of his complete "self-effacement":
"... Moreover, the Babis believe in his (Bahá'u'lláh's) Divinity and Godhood."
       O Shaykh! This station is the station in which one dieth to himself and liveth in God. Divinity, whenever I mention it, indicateth My complete and absolute self-effacement. This is the station in which I have no control over mine own weal or woe nor over my life nor over my resurrection.[51]
Just imagine what exquisite states of ecstasy Bahá'u'lláh must have felt, given that he achieved his self-annihilation perfectly![52]

After coming down from faná', a person passes into a state called "baqá'", which is 'living in God' or 'God living in us'. Izutsu explains that in the state of baqá', the person is reawakened to the 'multiplicity' of the world, after being 'extinguished' in the state of faná'.[53] But now the person sees the world with new eyes; whereas before she saw only the many created things, now she can also see the One that is behind everything. It could be said that the person has a permanent vision of unity in diversity. Using the metaphor of the mirrors again, a person in this state can see the images of created things reflected in the mirror of God and at the same time see God in the mirror of created things.[54]

Because the mystic can now see the One in everything, things that used to be contradictory, now begin to make sense. From the point of view of a person who sees only multiplicity, many things seem contradictory - especially the words of God! Take, for example, "On the day when the earth shall be changed into another earth."[55] For the mystic, this statement makes a lot of sense. She feels as if a new world has been created right in front of her, like an enormous magic show put on just for her enjoyment. But a person who sees only contradictions because he is unable to see from the perspective of Oneness cannot make sense of such a statement. To the mystic, such a person is missing out on a world of real delight.[56]

In Haft Vadi (Seven Valleys), which was written in 1857-58 in response to questions put to him by a Sufi, Bahá'u'lláh describes the seven stages "of the wayfarer's journey from the abode of dust to the heavenly homeland."[57] He calls the last stage or valley, The Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness, and describes it as "the dying from self and the living in God, the being poor in self and rich in the Desired One."[58] Bahá'u'lláh emphasises that a person in this valley is "sanctified" from everything in the world, having burned it up in the fire of love, and lives in a place where "All on earth shall pass away, but the face of thy Lord...."[59]

Rumi has written a poem that I think illustrates the experience of a person who is sanctified from everything in the world. The image Rumi uses is of a person who is asleep to the material world (not the spiritual one[60]), likening falling asleep to becoming free from the cage of self. Rumi skilfully captures the state of rest and assurance that a person who lives in God experiences, and shows how the power relationships set up in the material world - in this case, those between prisoner and governor - have no meaning for a person who has attained this state:
Every night Thou dost free our spirits from the body's snare and erase all impressions on the tablets (of memory).
Our spirits are set free every night from this cage, they are done with audience and talk and tale.
At night prisoners forget their prison, at night governors forget their power.
There is no sorrow, no thought of gain or loss, no idea of this person or that person.
Such is the state of the mystic, even when he is not asleep: God saith, "(Thou wouldst deem them awake) whilst they slept."
He is asleep, day and night, to the affairs of this world, like a pen in the hand of the Lord.[61]
Rumi says that the mystic is like a pen in the hand of God; in other words, the mystic is doing what the mystic wills, but because of her state - union with God - she is also doing God's will. That such a state is possible is confirmed by Bahá'u'lláh in another mystical treatise, Chihar-Vadi (Four Valleys). This was written sometime between 1858-62 and discusses four mystical stations, which Schimmel explains "define the different stages the wayfarer has attained in his ascetic and moral discipline."[62] Bahá'u'lláh describes the fourth station as "the beauty of the Beloved One" [Mahbub], and says it is the "apex of consciousness and divine guidance."[63] He cites two traditions that he argues apply to this station, the first of which is: "O My Servant! Obey Me and I shall make thee like unto Myself. I say 'Be,' and it is, and thou shalt say 'Be,' and it shall be."[64] Bahá'u'lláh therefore believes that the ultimate expression of divine guidance takes place in the state of baqá', where God and the mystic have one will. Rumi says he gets "impatient" with those who think that this implies an aspect of "compulsion". He says: "'Tis only he who loves not that is fettered by 'compulsion'. This is communion with God, not 'compulsion.'"[65]

In conclusion, I want to emphasise that faná' and baqá' are not absolute states - we are attaining to them all the time. Bahá'u'lláh says they "have no visible ending in the world of time..."[66] In fact, because God and His names and attributes are unknowable to us, all we can ever know is the traces of the Unknowable that we perceive by virtue of the sign of God in us, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá explains:
For however much detached minds and pure souls seek to penetrate the worlds of Inner Knowledge, their understanding will never penetrate more than that station which is a sign pointing towards the Monarch of Primal Oneness which He has placed as a trust within the reality of man. And however much they may fly with triumphant wings in the limitless space of what is knowable and observable, they will read naught but the letters of the book of their own selves."[67]
Bahá'u'lláh tells us that no matter how much we yearn for union, it is not possible to know our beloved completely:
O children of the divine and invisible essence! Ye shall be hindered from loving Me and souls shall be perturbed as they make mention of Me. For minds cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me.[68]
However, we can know the object of our affection better and better, by getting out of it and becoming our true selves.


[1]    Introduction to the Hidden Words, which appears at the beginning of the Arabic passages.
[2]    See, for example, Arabic Hidden Words, nos 7 and 8, and Persian Hidden Word, no 40. See also the talks by 'Abdu'l-Bahá discussed below.
[3]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 19
[4]    'Abdu'l-Bahá: Paris Talks, p. 60
[5]    Bahá'u'lláh: Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 164
[6]    Mathnavi I, 929. Translated by Reynold A. Nicholson in Rumi: Poet and Mystic (1207 -1273: Selections from his writings. Translated from the Persian with introduction and notes) (London/Boston: Unwin Paperbacks, 1978) p. 69
[7]    'Abdu'l-Bahá: Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 244
[8]    Annemarie Schimmel: Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975) p. 113
[9]    'Abdu'l-Bahá: Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 310
[10]    'Abdu'l-Bahá: Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 34-35
[11]    'Abdu'l-Bahá: Paris Talks, p. 179
[12]    Annemarie Schimmel: Mystical Dimensions of Islam p. 113
[13]    'Abdu'l-Bahá: Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 244
[14]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 72
[15]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 22
[16]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 40
[17]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 69
[18]    Bahá'u'lláh: Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 262. For a discussion on Bahá'u'lláh's commentary on "He who knoweth his self knoweth his Lord", including the idea of polishing the mirror, see Juan Cole: A Zen Gloss on Bahá'u'lláh's Commentary on "He who knoweth his self knoweth his Lord', available at
[19]    Annemarie Schimmel: Mystical Dimensions of Islam p. 141
[20]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 10
[21]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 11
[22]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 41
[23]    See, for example, Rumi's Mathnavi V, 1430. English translation in Rumi: Poet and Mystic p. 59. In this passage, Rumi likens the person looking in the mirror to a parrot talking to the image of itself in a mirror, believing the image to be that of another parrot.
[24]    For detailed discussion, see Juan Cole: The concept of the Manifestation in the Bahá'í Writings Bahá'í Studies Journal, vol 9 (1982), especially pp. 18-24.
[25]    Bahá'u'lláh: The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 103
[26]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 10
[27]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 11
[28]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 11
[29]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no 7
[30]    Bahá'u'lláh: The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 69
[31]    Annemarie Schimmel: Mystical Dimensions of Islam p. 140
[32]    Abu Hamid Ghazzali: al-Munqidh min al-dalal (The deliverer from error). Quoted in R A Nicholson: The Idea of Personality in Sufism (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1964) p. 54
[33]    Bahá'u'lláh: The Kitab-i-Iqan, pp. 195-196
[34]    Mathnavi V, 3260. English translation in Rumi: Poet and Mystic p. 138
[35]    Toshihiko Izutsu: Creation and the Timeless Order of Things Essays in Islamic Mystical Philosophy (Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press, 1994) p. 8
[36]    'Abdu'l-Bahá: Some Answered Questions, p. 278
[37]    Toshihiko Izutsu: Creation and the Timeless Order of Things p. 8
[38]    Annemarie Schimmel: Mystical Dimensions of Islam p. 123
[39]    Annemarie Schimmel: Mystical Dimensions of Islam p. 142
[40]    Ibid.
[41]    Ibid.
[42]    Toshihiko Izutsu: Creation and the Timeless Order of Things p. 11
[43]    I do not mean to imply that a person in this state does not faint. In fact, I would argue that the Maid of Heaven is described as experiencing faná' when she passes out upon learning of Bahá'u'lláh's identity. See "Tablet of the Maiden," translated by Juan Cole, at
[44]    From the "Divan of Shams-i Tabríz". Quoted in R A Nicholson: The Idea of Personality in Sufism p. 73
[45]    R A Nicholson: The Idea of Personality in Sufism pp. 22-23
[46]    Bahá'u'lláh: Persian Hidden Words, no. 19
[47]    Adib Taherzadeh: The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. Baghdad 1853-63. (Oxford: George Ronald, 1974) p. 81
[48]    Mathnavi III, 3669. English translation in Rumi: Poet and Mystic p. 180
[49]    Toshihiko Izutsu: Creation and the Timeless Order of Things p. 13
[50]    Bahá'u'lláh: Arabic Hidden Words, no 59
[51]    Bahá'u'lláh: Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 41
[52]    That is, perfect in relation to human beings; the Maid of Heaven had a go at him for not being good enough! See Qasidiy-i-Varqa'iyyih ("Ode of the Dove").
    During his time in Kurdistan, Bahá'u'lláh wrote many verses describing his experiences. Here is one short extract from Ode of the Dove, a poem of 127 verses written around 1855:
      My spirit disappeared, My heart dissolved;
      My soul boiled from the pain of misery.
      I was left with no spirit, heart or soul;
      that I existed at all startled Me. (Verses 83 and 84)
    Here Bahá'u'lláh is trying to convince the Maid of Heaven just how self-effacing he is! Translation by Juan Cole. Complete provisional translation at
[53]    Toshihiko Izutsu: Creation and the Timeless Order of Things p. 17
[54]    Toshihiko Izutsu: Creation and the Timeless Order of Things p. 25
[55]    Qur'an 14:48
[56]    If you are thinking to yourself right now, "well, this 'getting out of it' business sounds all very well, but I have to get up in the morning and live in the real world," then go back to the beginning of this paper and strive for faná', because a statement like that makes no sense to a person who lives in God! It cannot be understood intellectually.
[57]    Bahá'u'lláh: "The Seven Valleys", in Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, p. 4
[58]    Bahá'u'lláh: "The Seven Valleys", in Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, p. 36
[59]    Bahá'u'lláh: "The Seven Valleys", in Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, p. 37
[60]    This metaphor for sleep should not be confused with the image of a person who is asleep to the spiritual world because he has not eliminated self, which is what Bahá'u'lláh means by the following: He said: "O Son, if thou art able not to sleep, then thou art able not to die. And if thou art able not to waken after sleep, then thou shalt be able not to rise after death." See Bahá'u'lláh: "The Seven Valleys", in Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, pp. 34-35
[61]    Mathnavi I, 388. English translation in Rumi: Poet and Mystic, p. 49. The quote is from Qur'an XVIII, 15-20
[62]    Annemarie Schimmel: Mystical Dimensions of Islam p. 100
[63]    Bahá'u'lláh: "The Four Valleys", in Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, p. 57
[64]    Bahá'u'lláh: "The Four Valleys", in Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, p. 63
[65]    Mathnavi: 1, 59. Quoted in R A Nicholson: The Idea of Personality in Sufism p. 77
[66]    Bahá'u'lláh: "The Four Valleys", in Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, p. 40
[67]    'Abdu'l-Bahá: Commentary on "I was a hidden treasure..." Translation by Moojan Momen. Bahá'í Studies Bulletin Vol 3. No. 4 December 1985 p. 32
[68]    Bahá'u'lláh: Arabic Hidden Words, no 66
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