The Bahá'í teachings on
creation correspond with many of the central ideas affirmed in the
Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition, in Greek philosophy, and, in places, they
parallel theories found in non-Western religions. Taken as a whole, they
present a new synthesis of ancient and more recent cosmological teachings.
Their importance to the history of intellectual thought derives in part from
the fact that they appear in the form of a "prophetic revelation" at a time
when modern Western ideas were also beginning to penetrate nineteenth century
Iran and intermix with its enduring medieval conceptual milieu.
1. The Nature of the Creator
understand the meaning of creation from a Bahá'í perspective requires
understanding something of the nature of the Creator. As the Supreme Being
through which the existence of all other things is realized, the Creator exists
outside of His creation. He is not a force inside the universe, nor is creation
the manifestation or extension of His existence, as some Sufis have proposed.
The designation "Creator" is quite appropriate, as it implies a separation
between the Creator and the things created, in the sense that what is created
only becomes fashioned through the intermediary of instruments and tools. For
example, it is the paintbrush in the hand of the painter that is the direct
cause of the creation of the painting. In the same way, according to the Bahá'í
teachings, God creates through the intermediary of the Primal Will, which is
His instrument for calling all created things into being. The Primal Will,
therefore, is the direct cause of the universe, while the Creator is said to be
"the Originator of the cause of causes" (‘Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, p.
If the Creator is outside of creation, then
what can we really know about His being? ‘Abdu'l-Bahá describes the situation
by this analogy: "Man is like unto a tiny organism contained within a fruit;
this fruit hath developed out of the blossom, the blossom hath grown out of the
tree, the tree is sustained by the sap, and the sap formed out of earth and
water. How then can this tiny organism comprehend the nature of the garden,
conceive of the gardener and comprehend his being? That is manifestly
impossible" (Bahá'í World Faith, p. 343). Yet by the power of reason and
reflection, according to ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, we can realize that the "gardener" must
exist. He continues: "Should that organism understand and reflect, it would
observe that this garden, this tree, this blossom, this fruit would in nowise
have come to exist by themselves in such order and perfection. Similarly the
wise and reflecting soul will know of a certainty that this infinite universe
with all it grandeur and order could not have come to exist by itself" (pp. 343-344).
affirms the essential ungraspability of the Creator's being: "He [God] hath
from everlasting been immeasurably exalted above the understanding of His
creatures and sanctified from the conceptions of His servants....From
everlasting Thou hast been a treasure hidden from the sight and minds of men
and shalt continue to remain the same for ever and ever" (Tablets of
Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 112-114). He also emphasizes that the Creator is "exalted
above all comparisons and likenesses with which men have compared Him. He hath
erred grievously who hath mistaken these comparisons and likenesses for God
Himself" (Gleanings, pp. 336-337). Difference in degree of existence and
lack of similarity in essential being are barriers to understanding (Some
Answered Questions, pp. 146-147, Makátíb, vol. 2, pp. 44-47).
Nevertheless, the existence of such a being can be proved by rational
arguments. Traditional creation-, ontological-, and design-based proofs for the
existence of God are given by ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, as well as a modern proof based on
the composition of things (see Some Answered Questions, pp. 3-6; Amr
va Khalq, vol. 1, pp. 42-58).
the true nature of the Creator's attributes cannot be grasped by the human
mind, Bahá'í texts take the negative approach toward them:
As to the
attributes and perfections such as will, knowledge, power and other ancient
attributes that we ascribe to that Divine Reality, these are the signs that
reflect the existence of beings in the visible plane and not the absolute
perfections of the Divine Essence that cannot be comprehended. For
instance...we infer that the Ancient Power on whom dependeth the existence of
these beings cannot be ignorant; thus we say He is All-Knowing. It is certain
that it is not impotent, it must be then All-Powerful....The purpose is to show
that these attributes and perfections that we recount for that Universal
Reality are only in order to deny imperfections, rather than to assert [that
God possesses] the perfections that the human mind can conceive. (Bahá'í
World Faith, pp. 342-343)
This position is important, and cannot be
over emphasized, because it explains why Bahá'í texts are able to resolve
certain philosophical difficulties that have led many thinkers into nets of
contradiction because they have relied upon a literal likeness between the
attributes of God and the attributes of man.
good example is the question of God's knowledge. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá says that the
advocates of the doctrine of the "unity of existence" (waḥdat al-wujúd)
compared God's knowledge to human knowledge in order to prove their theory. He
repeats their proof thus:
are things known of God; and knowledge without things known does not exist, for
knowledge is related to that which exists, and not to nothingness....Therefore,
the realities of beings, which are things known of God the Most High, have an
intelligible existence, since they are divine intelligible forms; and they are
preexistent, as the Divine Knowledge is preexistent. As this knowledge is
preexistent, the things known are equally so, and the individualizations and
the specifications of beings, which are the preexistent objects of God's
knowledge, are the Divine Knowledge itself. For the reality of the Divine
Being, knowledge, and the things known, have an absolute unity which is real
and established. Otherwise, the Divine Being would become the place of multiple
phenomena, and a plurality of preexistences would become necessary, which is
absurd. So it is proved that the things known constitute knowledge itself, and
knowledge the Essence itself--that is to say, that the Knower, the knowledge,
and the things known are one single reality. (Some Answered Questions,
refutation of this proof ‘Abdu'l-Bahá says:
with regard to this theory that all things are realized through the One [God],
this is agreed upon by the philosophers and the Prophets. But there is a
difference between them. The Prophets say the knowledge of God has no need of
the existence of beings, but the knowledge of the creature requires the
existence of objects of knowledge; if the knowledge of God had need of any
other thing, then it would be the knowledge of the creature, and not the
knowledge of God, for the preexistent is different from the created, and the
created is opposed to the preexistent….Therefore, the preexistence of the
specifications and individualizations of beings, which are the things known of
God, does not exist. These divine and perfect attributes [belonging to God's
Essence] cannot be encompassed by rational perception in order to judge whether
the knowledge of God needs objects of knowledge or not. (Some Answered
Questions, pp. 293-294)
Averroes shared the same opinion when he
clarified in his Decisive Treatise (Kitáb faṣl al-maqál):
Exalted, knows them [particulars] in a way that is not of the same kind as our
way of knowing them. For our knowledge of them is an effect of the object
known, originated when it comes into existence and changing when it changes;
whereas Glorious God's knowledge of existence is the opposite of this; it is
the cause of the object known, which is an existent being. Thus to suppose the
two kinds of knowledge similar to each other is to identify the essences and
properties of opposite things, and that is the extreme of ignorance. (quoted in Medieval Political Philosophy, p. 172)
All of this
is not to deny that the Creator may actually have the attributes ascribed to
Him, but that if He has them, they exist in Him in a way that is different and
more perfect than the way they exist in His creatures. As being without mind
and consciousness is considered an imperfection, "we say [that] that Reality
has a consciousness....But the consciousness of God is different from the
consciousness of man" (quoted in Goodall, Daily Lessons Received at ‘Akká,
2. The Relation Between Creator and
The relation between the
Creator and the created is one of voluntary emanation (ṣudúr).
Creatures emanate from God, as speech proceeds from a speaker, action from an
actor, and writing from a writer (Some Answered Questions, pp. 202-206).
The speech, the action, and the writing all depend completely upon that from
which they proceed, but they are not consubstantial with it or comparable to
it. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá contrasts this view with that of those Sufis who say that
creatures are the manifestation (ẓuhúr or tajallí) of the
say: "The realities of things are the manifestations of the real One." But the
Prophets say: "They emanate from the real One," and great is the difference
between manifestation and emanation. Appearance by manifestation means that a
single thing appears in infinite forms. For example, the seed, which is a
single thing possessing the vegetative perfections, which it manifests in
infinite forms, becomes resolved into branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits.
This is called appearance by manifestation. Whereas in appearance by emanation
the real One remains and continues in the exaltation of Its sanctity….The real
One can be compared to the sun. The rays of the sun emanate from it and shine
upon all created things, but the sun remains in the heights of its loftiness;
it does not descend or resolve itself into the forms of the rays, nor does it
appear in the identity of things through specification and individualization. (Some
Answered Questions, pp. 294-295)
Though both parties agree that "by God all
things are realized, and by Him all beings have attained to existence" (Some
Answered Questions, p. 203), the Sufi doctrine of manifestation would make
the act of creation necessary, not voluntary. The seed, for example, of
necessity must manifest the potentialities latent within it. It cannot yield
what it does not already possess. This view corresponds with that of many
Muslim philosophers, including Avicenna, who believed that the procession of
creatures from God is "necessary," hence ruling out creation as a voluntary act
on the part of God (cf. Marmura, Conflict over the World's Pre-eternity,
chapter 1). The reason the philosophers have said that God's creation is
necessary is because of their identification of God with the first direct cause
of creation, and cause and effect, in this sense, necessarily entail each other
(in the same way that fire necessarily entails heat). On this basis, they also
argued that the creation is eternal, because that which is caused as a necessary
effect always exists together with its cause. The Bahá'í view, as quoted above,
is that God is the Originator of the first natural cause of created things, but
not Himself such a cause. For were "necessity" to accurately describe the
relation between God and creation, the true meaning of "creation" would be
negated, which implies the power to freely create something new and novel from
what is outside oneself. As summed up by Etienne Gilson, "the philosophers who
examined these problems with the help of reason alone were never able to rise
to the Christian notion of a free God" (History of Christian Philosophy,
How then do
the Bahá'í Writings resolve these two important questions: (1) Is creation
eternal, as the philosophers say, or did it have a beginning, as the
theologians assert? (2) If God is not the first cause in the chain of natural
causation, how did He create the universe?
In answer to
the first question, Bahá'u'lláh indicates that both standpoints are true from a
thine assertions about the beginning of creation, this is a matter on which
conceptions vary by reason of the divergences in men's thoughts and opinions.
Wert thou to assert that it hath ever existed and shall continue to exist, it
would be true; or wert thou to affirm the same concept as is mentioned in the
sacred Scriptures, no doubt would there be about it, for it hath been revealed
by God, the Lord of the worlds. Indeed He was a hidden treasure. This is a
station that can never be described nor even alluded to. And in the station of
"I did wish to make Myself known," God was, and His creation had ever existed
beneath His shelter from the beginning that hath no beginning, apart from its
being preceded by a Firstness which cannot be regarded as firstness and
originated by a Cause inscrutable even unto all men of learning. (Tablets of
Bahá'u'lláh, p. 140).
The standpoint from which the eternity of
creation is true is with respect to time. There never was a time when the
creation did not exist. In the station of "I did wish to make Myself known,"
God, as known by names and attributes, has always had a creation. The standpoint from which the beginning of
creation is true is with respect to existence. In other words, to speak of God
as being before His creation refers to an essential (or ontological)
priority to creation, but not to a temporal priority. The "Firstness" that
Bahá'u'lláh mentions above refers to the fact that all created things have a
cause which logically precedes them. As Bahá'u'lláh states: "The one true God
hath everlastingly existed, and will everlastingly continue to exist. His
creation, likewise, hath had no beginning, and will have no end. All that is
created, however, is preceded by a cause" (Gleanings, p. 162).
This fact of
God's ontological, but not temporal, priority to creation is how Bahá'u'lláh
explains those saying attributed to the Prophets of old, such as "In the
beginning was God; there was no creature to know Him," and "The Lord was alone;
with no one to adore Him." He continues: "To this same truth bear witness these
words which He hath revealed: ‘God was alone; there was none else besides Him.
He will always remain what He hath ever been.' Every discerning eye will
readily perceive that the Lord is now manifest, yet there is none to recognize
His glory. By this is meant that the habitation wherein the Divine Being
dwelleth is far above the reach and ken of any one besides Him" (Gleanings,
pp. 150-151). God, therefore, can always be described as being "alone" and
"with no one to adore Him," because His state of existence utterly transcends
the state of contingent existence.
There is a
case, however, in which God's existence precedes the existence of the universe
both essentially and temporally, and that is with respect to its parts.
‘Abdu'l-Bahá explains: "Yes, it may be that one of the parts of the universe,
one of the globes, for example, may come into existence, or may be
disintegrated, but the other endless globes are still existing; the universe
would not be disordered nor destroyed….As each globe has a beginning,
necessarily it has an end, because every composition, collective or particular,
must of necessity be decomposed" (Some Answered Questions, p. 180). In
the light of recent advances in astronomy and theoretical physics, what
‘Abdu'l-Bahá means by a "globe" or a "part" of the universe can now be
understood to be a galaxy, a galactic cluster, or even a particular universe.
Similar to Hindu cosmology, Bahá'í texts hold that cycles of creation and
destruction in the world of existence are necessary (Some Answered Questions,
3. The Act of Creation
for bringing the creation into being is essentially twofold. The first is love:
"I loved thy creation, hence I created thee" (Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words,
p. 6). This love is a bountiful outpouring that has always existed and will
never cease. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá affirms: "Love is the cause of God's revelation unto
man, the vital bond inherent, in accordance with divine creation, in the realities
of all things" (Selections, p. 27). The second motive, which has already
been mentioned, is God's desire to reveal Himself and to be known.
thing to emanate from God, in the station of wishing to be known, is the Primal
Will, which ‘Abdu'l-Bahá identifies with the First Intellect of the ancient
philosophers (Some Answered Questions, p. 203). In conventional
religious terminology, it is known as the Word of God and His Command (Tablets
of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 140-41). In the terminology of Plato, the Primal Will
corresponds to the "Idea of the Good," which, consequently, emanates from the
Being who is good. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá explains that this Will "is without
beginning or end" (i.e., having temporal preexistence), whereas only God has
both essential and temporal preexistence. "Essential preexistence is an
existence which is not preceded by a cause" (Some Answered Questions,
pp. 203, 280). The Will, therefore, although originated by a cause, is
co-eternal with God and precedes space and time. Space and time unfold from it
as its necessary effects. It is the act by which God, as the agent, calls the
rest of creation into being (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 140; Kitáb-i-Íqán,
p. 98), as is also recounted in the Biblical story of genesis, the gospel of
John (1:1-3), and such Qur'ánic verses as "When God decrees a thing He has only
to say to it Be! and it is" (2:117).
all things through the intermediary of His Will, but what about the Will
itself? According to the Báb, God created the Will through itself:
created the Will from nothing through itself, then He created through it all
that to which the name "thing" can be applied. The cause of its existence, in
truth, is its own self and naught else. Those who believe that the Essence is
the cause of creation have made themselves partners with Him….It is established
in philosophy that cause and effect are alike. Therefore, the Imám hath
declared: "The cause of things is His fashioning, but He is not its cause." (Amr
va Khalq, vol. 1, pp. 100-101)
the first sentence, the Báb is repeating the dictum of the sixth Imám, Ja‘far
Ṣádiq, who stated: "God created the Will through itself, then He created
all things through the Will" (quoted in Idris Hamid, Metaphysics, p.
174, footnote). This doctrine of the Will being its own immediate cause was
also supported by Christian philosophers, such as Augustine and Duns Scotus
(see Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy, pp. 73, 463). The intent
of this passage is to emphasize that God is not that kind of cause defined in
philosophy as "that whose existence immediately and without conceivable delay
necessitates the existence of something else" (Suhrawardí, Philosophy of
Illumination, p. 43). God is not this kind of cause; His being does not
automatically entail the existence of creatures as effects, nor does it
automatically entail an act of will, since God may choose to will something or
not to will it. According to the theologians, the correct term for God
is "agent" (fá'il), not "cause" (sabab), because the term "agent"
is applicable to a living, willing, knowing being, who is not compelled to
create or act out of necessity or by nature (see Marmura, Conflict over the
World's Pre-eternity, p. 12 ff.).
Shaykh Aḥmad Aḥsá'í, also, often quoted the above statements of the Imám
Ṣádiq. He identified God's willing with His "acting" and His
"fashioning," and he distinguished the actor, i.e., God, from both the acting
and the effect of the acting. These three—actor, acting, and effect—constitute
three separate realms of being related through emanation. Just as primary
matter does not require another matter through which it subsists, willing does
not require another act of will by which it is willed, but it is willed through
itself; otherwise an infinite regress would ensue. Thus, the Being who wills is
not identical to the act of willing, nor is the will identical to the object
willed. This does not imply, of course, that the Will is independent of the
Being who wills. The Primal Will is always with God and is utterly dependent
upon God as its agent.
distinct ontological levels are inscribed on the Bahá'í ringstone symbol as the
worlds of God, Command, and creation. The Primal Will, which is the world of
Command, itself consists, in a subsequent stage, of the inner realities (i.e.
intelligible forms and essences) of the things created. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá explains:
"The world of Command is the station of the Primal Will, which is a universal
reality (ḥaqíqat-i-kullíyyih) that is resolved into infinite
forms," like the sea into waves (Makátíb, vol. 2, p. 141). In
another place, he describes this station as "the first emanation from God…which
appears in infinite forms in the realities of all things and becomes specified
and individualized according to the disposition and capacity of the essences of
things" (Some Answered Questions, p. 295). In everyday
language, an essence, reality, or intelligible form is like the plan or design
of something that exists in the mind of its creator before it is called into
actual existence. In the Bahá'í Writings, this stage of the creative Act is
called predestination or predetermination (qadar). All together the
Bahá'í Writings describe seven stages of God's creative Act, three of which are
hidden in the atemporal dimension, and four of which are manifested in time.
These seven stages will be elaborated upon more later.
Many of the
philosophers share a similar conception of the nature of the First Intellect.
For instance, Avicenna writes: "This intellect is not...the true God, the
First. For although in one respect this first intellect is one, it is multiple
inasmuch as it consists of the forms of numerous universals" (quoted in Medieval
Political Philosophy, pp. 117-118). Typically, Avicenna reserves the
function of providing the forms and matter of the sublunar world to the Active
Intellect, which is the tenth intellect in an emanational hierarchy proceeding
from the First Cause. This hierarchy of ten intermediate intellects, each
corresponding to a heavenly sphere, between God and the realm of physical
matter is not found in Bahá'í cosmology. Rather, a single universal intellect,
now termed the Primal Will, performs this function.
in the tradition of the Platonic philosophers, does not consider the inner
realities of things in the Will to be mere nominal constructs. Rather, they
have a reality in comparison to which outward things are but a fleeting image.
He says: "That which thou beholdest in this temporal world
are the fleeting shadows of the world of the Kingdom and the external images of
the celestial realm. This is why thou observest that these shadows and forms
are continuously being renewed. They are not permanent, but the succession of
similar forms and like states is such as to give the appearance of constancy.
In the end, however, it will become clear that it was a mirage, not real water;
illusions, not the realities of the signs" (Muntakhabát, vol. 3,
p. 23). The "realities of the signs" are akin, if
not identical, to the eternal Forms of Plato, which, like the laws of nature
posited by modern science, govern the temporal unfolding of outer phenomena.
Suhrawardí explains that Plato's Forms are not nominal predicates of the many
(as are universals in logic), but real luminous essences, the roots of the
many. They are termed "universal" only insofar as they bear the same relation
of emanation to many actualized individuals. Suhrawardí designates them the
"lords of the species" (arbáb al-anwá‘ ) (see Harawi, Anváriyyih,
pp. 41-42), an expression which Bahá'u'lláh confirms in a Tablet in which He
explains the meaning of the "active force" mentioned in the Tablet of Wisdom.
In that Tablet, He says: "The intention of the active force is the lord of the
species, and it hath other meanings" (Áthár-i-Qalam A‘lá, vol. 7, p.
of Wisdom contains many of Bahá'u'lláh's most important statements on the
subject of creation. In a key passage, He affirms both the evolution of the
temporal universe and the need of complementary active and recipient principles
for its realization:
hath been in existence had existed before, but not in the form thou seest
today. The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from
the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These
two are the same, yet they are different. Thus doth the Great Announcement
inform thee about this glorious structure. Such as communicate the generating
influence and such as receive its impact are indeed created through the
irresistible Word of God, which is the Cause of the entire creation, while all
else besides His Word are but the creatures and effects thereof. (Tablets of
Bahá'u'lláh, p. 140)
has been explained by ‘Abdu'l-Bahá. In regard to the first sentence, he says:
"From this blessed verse it is clear and evident that the universe is evolving.
In the opinion of the philosophers and the wise this fact of the development
and evolution of the world of existence is also established. That is to say, it
is progressively transferred from one state to another." In regard to the next
two sentences, he states: "The substance and primary matter of contingent
beings is the ethereal power, which is invisible and known only through its
effects, such as electricity, heat, and light—these are vibrations of that
power, and this is established and proven in natural philosophy and is known as
the ethereal matter. This ethereal matter is itself both the active force and
its recipient" (Má'idiy-i-Ásmání, vol. 2, p. 69).
we have Bahá'u'lláh affirming that the active force is the "lord of the
species," in other words, the Platonic Forms or realities of things. But
‘Abdu'l-Bahá states that ethereal matter is meant. This seeming contradiction
is easily resolved, because what is being referred to is simultaneously two
things, neither of which can be realized without the other. These two are
matter and form, or in other terms, existence and essence. This ontological
polarity principle is also a cornerstone of the philosophy of Shaykh
Aḥmad, who proposed that matter and form logically require each other in
order to exist. Hence, matter, which receives God's action, becomes active in
relation to the form it takes on, which, in turn, is active in relation to that
which it acts upon. These two together are the inseparable common ground of all
creatures, whether they be eternal and intelligible or perishable and material.
As Idris Hamid expresses it: "Every created, contingent thing is a complex of
acting (fi‘l) and becoming-in-yielding-to-acting (infi‘ál)"
("Metaphysics and Cosmology of Process," p., 136). The Báb confirms this
essential duality at the basis of contingent existence. He explains: "With the
exception of God, nothing can subsist through itself. All things are composite.
Once this duality is established, connection is also established, for a thing
cannot be a thing except through its existence, which is the aspect of
manifestation (tajallí) in it, through its essence, which is the aspect
of receiving (qubúl), and through connection (rabṭ), which
is realized after the union [of the first two]" (INBA, vol. 14, p. 268).
logically the action of God cannot produce an effect from absolute nothingness,
the medium of matter, which is like the screen for a painter, must in some
manner preexist, though without any definable characteristics whatsoever. This
is confirmed by ‘Abdu'l-Bahá when he explains: "If it be said that such a thing
came into existence from nonexistence, this does not refer to absolute
nonexistence, but means that its former condition in relation to its actual
condition was nothingness. For absolute nothingness cannot find existence, as
it has not the capacity of existence" (Some Answered Questions, p. 281).
Shoghi Effendi also clarifies that the statement of Bahá'u'lláh in Gleanings:
"Who out of utter nothingness hath created the reality of all things" (pp.
64-65) "should be taken in a symbolic and not a literal sense" (Letters to
Australia and New Zealand, p. 41). The divine act of creation, therefore,
is the actualization of preexisting potential and not calling into being from
absolute nothingness, which ‘Abdu'l-Bahá tells us is impossible. God,
therefore, is still the creator of matter insofar as it is actualized through
His action. In itself matter is non-being, but the action of God gives it being
by giving it form.
similar to the idea of the indefinite Dyad said to be taught by Plato (see
Reale, Plato and Aristotle, pp. 65-70). The Dyad is not the number two
but the principle of duality, a kind of intelligible, indeterminate matter,
either infinitely great or infinitely small, capable of taking on a
multiplicity of forms through the action of the One, which determines it. The
Dyad is like the canvas upon which God paints. From the interaction of these two principles, therefore, being is produced as a
unity of determination and indetermination, of limit and unlimited. In God, or the One, there is no polarity,
for His existence is identical to His essence, and vice versa. It is at the
level of the Primal Will, or the World of Command, that the duality of
existence and essence, matter and form, arises. These two principles are
symbolically expressed in the Bahá'í Writings by the two letters "B" and "E,"
or Káf and Nún, which together form the imperative command "Be!" (kun).
The Báb affirms: "Through the ‘B' God created the matter of all things, and
through the ‘E' God created the form of all things" (quoted in Afnán,
"Tafsír-i-Bismilláh," p. 126). He also refers to them as the father and the
mother of all things, and identifies them with the stages of God's Will (mashíyyat)
and Purpose (irádah), the first two of the seven stages of creation.
Nothing in creation exists which is not a composite effect of these two active
and recipient principles.
In order for
the Primal Will (as Dyad receiving act) to be resolved into the infinite
intelligible forms of created things, it needs the creative energies of the
names and attributes of God. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá attests that God "hath ordained these
names and attributes to be the first principle of giving existence in the world
of creation and the source of the different grades of realities in the degrees
of existence" (Makátíb, vol. 1, p.13). These names and attributes,
therefore, are the highest members of hierarchy of intelligible existence in
the world of the Primal Will. They "are actually and forever existing and not
potential. Because they convey life, they are called Life-giving; because they
provide, they are called Bountiful, the Provider; because they create, they are
called Creator; because they educate and govern, the name Lord God is applied"
(‘Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation, p. 219). The other intelligible realities
are structures and manifestations of these divine names.
essential attributes, which are identical to His Essence and exhibit no need,
these names and attributes are of a very different nature. They are originated
and "require the existence of objects or creatures upon which they have been
bestowed and in which they have become manifest" (Promulgation, p. 219).
Thus, every inner reality in the world of Command requires an outer reality
that corresponds to it and is its expression. Nature, in its essence, is an
intelligible reality (Some Answered Questions, p. 84); it is both "God's
Will" and "its expression" (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 142). ‘Abdu'l‑Bahá
explains that "all of the realities and conditions which the philosophers
attribute to nature are the same as have been attributed to the Primal Will in
the Holy Scriptures" (Má'idiy-i Ásmání, vol. 2, p. 70). All particular phenomena to which we
attach the name "beautiful," for example, are expressions, in part, of the
originated attribute of beauty that exists eternally in the world of the Will.
According to Bahá'u'lláh, the names are
garments for these originated attributes, which in turn are identical to God's
creative actions. He explains:
In another station, the names are
garments for the attributes, since an attribute is an act being manifested by
an actor, such as giving something or causing one thing to prevail over
another. Thus whatever is manifested by the actor appeareth through the stages
of his will and his power. This act is made manifest as an effect of the action
produced by the actor. When God purposed to make His action manifest in His realm,
reveal it upon His earth, establish it in His land, and make it a perpetual
word and a clear sign, He clothed it in the garment of names. This is the same
as when ye say [of certain acts]: "this is munificent," "this is discerning,"
"this is informed," and so forth with similar names…. If these actions were not
named by these names, they would not become known and made manifest…. Nothing
in the heavens or on the earth can exist unless it is under the shadow of
certain names among His names. For example, if thou seest the knowledge of a
learned person, be assured that this knowledge hath appeared as a result of the
effulgence of the name of God the Knowing. If thou observest the power of a
powerful individual, know that this power oweth its existence to its reflection
of the name the Powerful. In like manner, the loftiness of the sky is a
consequence of His name the Exalted, the radiance of the sun is a consequence
of His name the Luminous, the stability of the earth is a consequence of His
name the Imperturbable, the flowing of water is a consequence of His name the
Fluid, and the blowing of wind is a consequence of His name the Sender. (from
the Tafsír-i-Hu, International Bahá'í Archives, unpublished manuscript, no.
In his commentary upon the Islamic
declaration: "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,"
‘Abdu'l-Bahá also explains how the divine names are given existence at the
level of unity-multiplicity (i.e., that of the Primal Will), not
that of absolute oneness:
The names of God derive from
those attributes which are the perfections [acts] belonging to the reality of
the Essence. In the station of the absolute oneness (aḥadíyya) of
the Essence, these names have neither manifestation nor distinction, and no
trace, indication, or sign, for they are dispositions that belong to the
Essence in the mode of simplicity and original oneness. Rather, it is in the
station of unity-multiplicity (wáḥidíyya) that the names become
manifested, distinguished, realized, established, and given existence—an
existence which emanateth from the merciful Reality and giveth rise to
spiritual realities and heavenly essences at the level of the fixed archetypes
(a'yán thábita)….So in this regard, namely, that of the absolute oneness
of the Essence, the name is the same as the named and equivalent to His reality
and His identity. It hath no existence additional to and apart from the
Essence. For existence is either identical to essence, or different from it.
And if it is different from it, we must ask whether it is a requisite of it and
its concomitant without cancellation or separation, or is it possible for it to
be canceled and separated.
The first is
applicable to the reality of the Essence in the station of absolute oneness.
His existence is the same as His essence, and His essence is the same as His
existence. The second is applicable to the station of necessity [i.e., the
Primal Will], where existence is distinct from essence, though the former is a
concomitant of the latter in such a way that separation and disassociation are
inconceivable and unimaginable, since existence is an essential attribute of
essence. The third is applicable to the station of contingency, where
something's existence is acquired from another and obtained from that which is
beyond itself. In this case, its existence is other than its essence, its
essence is other than its existence, and the separation and disassociation of
these two are possible. (Makátíb, vol. 1, pp. 49-50).
three kinds of existence, or relationships between essence and existence, which
correspond to the worlds of God, Command, and creation, have been termed by
Shaykh Ahmad "real existence" (al-wujúd al-ḥaqq), "absolute
existence" (al-wujúd al-muṭlaq), and "delimited existence" (al-wujúd
al-muqayyad) (Hamid, "Metaphysics
and Cosmology of Process," p. 97). Real existence, in which essence and
existence are identical, belongs only to God. Absolute existence, in which
essence and existence are distinct but inseparable, belongs to the Primal Will
and to the realities of things. Delimited existence, which ‘Abdu'l-Bahá also
describes as "an accident occurring to the realities of things," (Makátíb,
vol. 3, p. 354), and which can be separated from them, belongs to the external
As for the "fixed archetypes" mentioned in the
above passage, this is another expression for the realities of things. As
explained by Sajádí, "according to the wayfarers, these are intelligible forms
in the world of God; and in the terminology of the theosophists, they are the
essences of things. The archetypes are the forms of the divine names, and souls
are manifestations of the archetypes" (Farhang-i-Iṣṭiláḥát-i-‘Irfání.,
‘Abdu'l-Bahá agrees with
Aristotle that the existence of each thing depends on four causes: the
efficient cause, the formal cause, the material cause, and the final cause (Some
Answered Questions, p. 280). The Bahá'í Writings also recognize, like
Plato, the existence of intelligible formal causes that transcend the material
world, which are the powers or laws through which physical things are enabled
to appear in increasingly complex systems of order. Such realities do not enter
or exit, descend or ascend, but are described as placeless, all-pervasive, and
having a direct connection to things, like images reflected in a mirror (Some
Answered Questions, p. 108). At the lowest end of the intelligible
hierarchy in the spiritual worlds, at the border of material existence, the
matter-form, active-recipient duality is termed "ether" or "ethereal matter" (máddiy-i-athíríyyih)
by ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, and the effects by which it can be known include electricity,
heat, and light. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá says "it is the sign of the Primal Will in the
world of corporeal beings" (Má'idiy-i-Ásmání, vol. 2, p. 69). From
the heat generated by the interaction of these two opposites, "the active force
and that which is its recipient," the universe unfolds, declares Bahá'u'lláh (Tablets
of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 140). It is interesting to recall here Aristotle's
assertion in the Physics (188a): "That opposites are principles is universally
agreed. For the principles must come neither from one another nor from anything
else, and everything else must come from them."
the intelligible formal causes nor their reflective medium, ethereal matter,
constitute the physical realm, but the physical realm is the reflection itself,
which is subject to constant transformation. The physical is also expressed as
the motion or vibration that occurs in the ethereal medium (Má'idiy-i-Ásmání,
vol. 2, p. 69; Some Answered Questions, p. 190), and as "an accident
occurring to" or "inhering in the realities of things" (Makátíb, vol. 3,
p. 354; Mufávaḍát, p. 203). It is through accidents that the
realities of things can be particularized and temporally manifested. What
defines the material realm is not matter, which is an essential principle of
both the material and spiritual worlds, but the ability of something to become
decomposed after composition. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá explains, for example, that because
the soul of man "is not a composition of diverse elements…and is not subject to
decomposition…it is ever-living, immortal, and eternal." He continues: "The
people of truth hold that all material existents, even those which the
scientists of today consider simple, if investigated carefully and examined
closely, will also be found to be composed [and therefore capable of being
decomposed]" (Khiṭábát, vol. 1, pp. 145-146). This was quite
prescient of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, who made this statement in 1911 at a time when atoms
where still commonly believed to be indivisible.
explanation of the origin of the elements is very similar to current theories
regarding the origin of the ninety-two stable atomic elements: The elementary
matter of each of these "great existents" was originally one. "That one matter
[then] appeared in a particular form in each element. Thus various forms were
produced, and these various forms as they were produced became permanent, and
each element was specialized. But this permanence was not definite, and did not
attain realization and perfect existence until after a very long time.
Then...from the composition and combination of these elements innumerable
beings appeared" (Some Answered Questions, p. 181). Bahá'u'lláh, like the ancient philosophers, divides the elements into four
basic kinds: earth (solid), water (liquid), air (gaseous), and fire (radiant),
and affirms that through these four states of matter God fashioned the physical
creation (Má'idiy-i-Ásmání, vol. 4, p. 82).
‘Abdu'l-Bahá explains that "every
being hath come to exist under numerous influences and continually undergoeth
reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other
influences....Such process of causation goes on" until it leads to "the
Ultimate Cause" (Bahá'í World Faith, p. 343). This process should not be
seen as a "going back in time" but as discovering prior or essential causes
outside of time. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá denies that formation is possible by
accident (i.e., chance), since "for every effect there must be a cause" (Bahá'í
World Faith, p. 342). He says the same of formation by necessity, because
"then the formation must be an inherent property of the constituent parts
and...under such circumstances the decomposition of any formation is
impossible" (Bahá'í World Faith, p. 342). This leaves, he says,
voluntary formation, i.e., formation by the agency of the Primal Will, of which
the will of each thing is an expression.
‘Abdu'l-Bahá affirms that the
attribute of volition in God's act of creation extends in some sense to all
created things, and that this is necessary to uphold the justice and mercy of
God. He says: "Created things and the recipients of God's action have each
accepted a degree of existence according to their own pleasure and desire" (Makátíb,
vol. 2, p. 38). Creation thus entails both a voluntary act on the part of the
Creator and a voluntary act to receive existence on the part of the created,
according to its own disposition.
The jewish philosopher Maimonides
made a similar observation. He noted that if the existence of the world was by
necessity, nothing could then fail to be "other than as it is." But this would
imply that "nothing can diverge in any way from the nature which it has" (Qtd.
in Goodman, Jewish and Islamic Philosophy, p. 98). Maimonides explains that only
voluntarism allows for "change in the nature of things," that is, evolution, as
a means of bringing creation to maturity.
The formation of things through this Will, also equated with
nature by ‘Abdu'l-Bahá (see above), comprises seven stages. The first stage is
the Will itself, and the second is Purpose, explained earlier as the stages of
prime matter and form. The conjunction of these two give rise to the stage of
predestination (qadar), which the Báb describes as "the womb of the
possible…which existeth for the purpose of choice, for nothing can exist in any
world except by its own choice" and "the condition for the choosing of good or
evil" (INBA vol. 40, pp. 140-141). Bahá'u'lláh describes predestination as "the
stage of scheme and dimension, that is to say, the appearance of means in
proper quantity" (Má'idiy-i Ásmání, vol. 8, p. 192), and ‘Abdu'l-Bahá
clarifies that it consists of "the necessary and indispensable relationships
which exist between the realities of things," such as the relationship between
sun and soil, that the sun should shine and the soil yield (Selections from
the Writings of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 198). The design of things and the
necessary relationships governing their realities, however, are still hidden
and undisclosed in this stage. Their manifestation in time and space is termed
"fate" (qaḍá'), which is the fourth of the seven stages of
coming-into-being. This would correspond to the actual construction of a bed,
for instance. The fifth stage is termed either permission (idhn)
or execution (imḍá'), which Shaykh Ahmad calls "the
concomitant of fate." The sixth stage is called the fixed time, or the
irrevocable decree (ajal), which refers to the natural duration of
things, and the seventh is called the book (kitáb), which is the
unveiling of the perfection of things. (See Amr va Khalq, vol. 1, pp.
99-100 and Má'idiy-i-Ásmání , vol. 8, pp. 191-192.)
After the creation of the
elements (along with stars and planets), the elements became composed into the
forms that would give rise to organic existence, and by the mutual effect of
these combinations on each other innumerable life forms arose. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá
compares the planet earth to a living being. Like particular beings, it is
itself a system composed of many sub-systems and governed by the same laws (Some
Answered Questions, p. 182). Many life forms emerged simultaneously because
life as a whole depends upon the unity and mutual dependence of different forms
of life: "There is no doubt that this perfection which is in all beings was
realized by the creation of God from the composition of the elements, by their
appropriate mingling and proportionate quantities, by the manner of their
composition, and the influence of other beings. For all beings are connected
together like a chain; and reciprocal help, assistance and interaction
belonging to the properties of things are the causes of the existence,
development and growth of created beings" (Some Answered Questions, pp.
Biological evolution [cf.
evolution], as a process of change influencing living organisms, is
accepted by the Bahá'í teachings. Evolution in the broader sense of a force
shaping other systems, such as societies, is also used. In regard to physical
evolution, ‘Abdu'l-Bahá states: "It is evident that this terrestrial globe,
having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe,
and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained
this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable
beings....[Likewise], man, in the beginning of his existence and in the womb of
the earth, like the embryo in the womb of the mother, gradually grew and
developed, and passed from one form to another, from one shape to another,
until he appeared with this beauty and perfection" (Some Answered Questions,
pp. 182-83). Human societies have also evolved, according to Shoghi Effendi, by
a "process of integration which, starting with the family, the smallest unit in
the scale of human organization, must, after having called successively into
being the tribe, the city-state, and the nation, continue to operate until it
culminates in the unification of the whole world" (Promised Day is Come,
4. The Purpose of Creation
The Bahá'í Writings compare
the body of the world to the body of man. Every part of the human body is
connected and coordinated with every other part by the unifying agency of the
soul, so that each part discharges its function in complete harmony and with
perfect regularity (Bahá'í World Faith, p. 340). None of the parts is
nonessential, but each plays a part in the functioning of the whole, otherwise
creation would be imperfect. "All existing being... have been created and
organized, composed, arranged and perfected as they ought to be; the universe
has no imperfection" (Some Answered Questions, p. 177). This perfection
is not limited by time; it always exists, as the realities of things (i.e., the
laws of nature) always exist and they always require the existence of beings in
which their qualities are manifested.
is the chief member of the body of the world, for he is in the position of the
mind in the human organism (Some Answered Questions, p. 178). As human
maturity comes with the full operation of the mental capacities, the maturity
of the world will come when humankind reaches spiritual maturity. In all the
universal cycles, explains ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, "the divine and creative purpose...was
the evolution of spiritual man....The tree of life has ever borne the same
heavenly fruit" (Promulgation, p. 220). The unfolding of creation, which
begins through God's overflowing love, desires continually, out of reciprocal
love, to complete its cycle and return to its origin. This love is the force
that causes the elements to transition through ever higher forms of life until
the human reality appears, a being capable of consciously recognizing and
worshiping its Creator, and finding God reflected, so to speak, in itself and
all things. Bahá'u'lláh states that man's "capacity to know Him and to love
Him...must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose
underlying the whole of creation" (Gleanings, p. 65). The rest of
creation, then, serves as the matrix for this process, and is a source for
educating and training the human spirit (Hidden Words, pp. 32-33). "Man
is the collective reality [of the universe]...the center where the glory of all
the perfections of God shine forth--that is to say, for each name, each
attribute, each perfection which we affirm of God there exists a sign in
man....If man did not exist, the universe would be without result, for the
object of existence is the appearance of the perfections of God. Therefore, it
cannot be said there was a time when man was not. All that we can say is that
this terrestrial globe at one time did not exist, and at its beginning man did
not appear upon it. But from the beginning which has no beginning, to the end
which has no end, a perfect manifestation [i.e., the perfect man] always
exists" (Some Answered Questions, p. 196). Stated in another way, "If
there were no man...the light of the mind would not be resplendent in this
world. This world would be like a body without a soul. This world is also in
the condition of a fruit tree, and man is like the fruit; without fruit the
tree would be useless" (Some Answered Questions, p. 201).
Although the generality of
humankind is far from perfect, perfection is latent in each person, for "in the
creation of God there is no evil" (Some Answered Questions, p. 214).
Each being is created perfect in its own degree, and this is its innate
character. The differences between persons do not "imply good or evil
but...simply a difference of degree" (Some Answered Questions, p. 212).
‘Abdu'l-Bahá explains that "certain qualities and natures innate in some men
and apparently blameworthy are not so in reality. For example...greed, which is
to ask for something more, is a praiseworthy quality provided that it is used
suitably. So if a man is greedy to acquire science and knowledge, or to become
compassionate, generous and just, it is most praiseworthy. If he exercises his
anger and wrath against the bloodthirsty tyrants...it is very praiseworthy; but
if he does not use these qualities in a right way, they are blameworthy" (Some
Answered Questions, p. 215). It is this acquired capacity of man to use the
natural qualities in an unlawful way (contrary to his own inner ontological
structure) that is "the cause of the appearance of evil" (Some Answered
Questions, p. 214). Because human beings have free will and the
susceptibility to follow their lower nature, which is symbolized as Satan, they
are "in need of divine education and inspiration," in other words, the
teachings and guidance of God's Prophets.
The Bahá'í concept of "Manifestations of God"
as intermediaries between God and man is an essential element of Bahá'í cosmology.
"They are the divine Gardeners Who till the earth of human hearts and minds,"
causing man to "pass from degree to degree of progressive unfoldment until
perfection is attained" (Promulgation, p. 295). Although such perfection
is relative, not absolute, it is referred to in the holy books as the "second
birth" into the spiritual life of the Kingdom and "eternal life" (Some
Answered Questions, pp. 223-224, 242). In this station man comes to know
God insofar as he comes to know and abide by the spiritual perfections latent
in his own reality (Gleanings, pp. 326-327). The coming of one of these
Manifestations of God renews the world spiritually and is referred to in the
Bahá'í scriptures as "a new creation" (Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 115).
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 Normally, I
would not mix science and philosophy, but it is interesting that a new theory
called the holographic principle "holds that the universe is like a hologram:
just as a trick of light allows a fully three-dimensional image to be recorded
on a flat piece of film, our seemingly three-dimensional universe could be
completely equivalent to alternative quantum fields and physical laws ‘painted'
on a distant, vast surface" ("Information in the Holographic Universe," Scientific
American (August 2003), p. 60).