Prerequisites for the Study of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh
A true understanding of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh gained by focusing on the Kitab-i-'Ahd and the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá is dependent upon one's wholehearted faith in the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. To comprehend, however inadequately, the manifold mysteries contained in these two great documents and to appreciate the provisions enshrined in them, one must first and foremost recognize the station of Bahá'u'lláh as a Manifestation of God whose sublime and momentous Revelation has many unique features. In the person of its Author, transcendental in His majesty, in the intensity of its glory, in the prolific outpouring of its holy writ, in the unifying power of its Covenant, in the revolutionizing influence of its teachings, in the release of its world-vitalizing forces, in the strength and vitality of its institutions, the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh 'stands unparalleled in the annals of the past, nor will future ages witness its like'. It endows the human race with undreamt-of potentialities and provides the means for its progress and spiritual development in this Dispensation. Bahá'u'lláh has extolled His Revelation in glowing terms. His writings are replete with passages such as these:
[22 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 77.]
None among the Manifestations of old, except to a prescribed
degree, hath ever completely apprehended the nature of this
[23 ibid. (Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice,
I testify before God to the greatness, the inconceivable greatness
of this Revelation.
[24 ibid. (Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice,
The purpose underlying all creation is the revelation of this most
sublime, this most holy Day, the Day known as the Day of God, in
His Books and Scriptures — the Day which all the Prophets, and
the Chosen Ones, and the holy ones, have wished to witness.
[25 ibid. (Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice,
This is the Day whereon the unseen world crieth out, 'Great is thy
blessedness, O earth, for thou hast been made the footstool of
thy God, and been chosen as the seat of His mighty throne.'
[26 ibid. p. 78. (Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine
Belief in the authenticity of such a momentous Revelation and firmness in the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh are the first requirements for the successful study and understanding of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The next step is to recognize the limitations of the human mind in unravelling the divine mysteries concealed within the revealed Word and in appreciating the true station of its Author.
Although God has endowed every human being of sound mind with the capacity to recognize and to know the Manifestation of God, this capacity has its limitations. We observe that in this material world God has not given creatures of the lower kingdoms the capacity to comprehend the qualities and powers of the higher ones. In each kingdom there are barriers which the creatures cannot overstep. Thus an animal, no matter how intelligent, cannot understand human intellectual and spiritual powers. It can perceive people only as creatures similar to itself and judge their actions from its own limited outlook.
The same is true when we examine the relationship between the Manifestation of God and human beings. One is on a level far above the other. Although a Manifestation of God is physically human, to regard Him as being one with humanity is inadmissible. To view man as an equal with Him is similar to the animal observing a human and considering itself to be his equal.
In one of His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh mentions that a disease has afflicted many of those who, in their own estimation, have acquired a measure of knowledge and learning. The disease is that such people consider themselves to be the equal of the Manifestation of God and on the same level. He states that a great many people suffer from this disease and consequently they have deprived themselves of the bounties of God's Revelation.
[27 Iqtiddarat, p. 85.]
If we recognize that the Manifestation of God abides in a realm far above that of man, it becomes evident to us that the human intellect, when freed from self and ego, will admit its inability to appreciate fully the inner realities of the Word of God and His Covenant. Expatiating on this theme, Shoghi Effendi writes:
To strive to obtain a more adequate understanding of the significance
of Bahá'u'lláh's stupendous Revelation must, it is my unalterable
conviction, remain the first obligation and the object of the
constant endeavour of each one of its loyal adherents. An exact and
thorough comprehension of so vast a system, so sublime a revelation,
so sacred a trust, is for obvious reasons beyond the reach and
ken of our finite minds.
[28 Shoghi Effendi, World Order, p. 100.]
Although the human mind, with its limitations, is unable to apprehend fully the unique significance of the Word of God, it has the.
capacity to reach great heights of understanding. Indeed, the power of the intellect is one of the greatest gifts bestowed by God upon man. Through it man is enabled to discover many mysteries of creation, both spiritual and material. Humanity is therefore indebted to men of learning, those souls endowed with high intellectual powers and who open the doors of knowledge to the face of mankind. When this knowledge born of human intellect combines with faith in Bahá'u'lláh as the Supreme Manifestation of God, the individual can reach the pinnacle of true knowledge and understanding. To such people, Bahá'u'lláh addresses these words in the Kitab-i-Aqdas:
Happy are ye, O ye the learned ones in Baha. By the Lord! Ye are
the billows of the Most Mighty Ocean, the stars of the firmament
of Glory, the standards of triumph waving betwixt earth and
heaven. Ye are the manifestations of steadfastness amidst men
and the daysprings of Divine Utterance to all that dwell on earth.
Well is it with him that turneth unto you, and woe betide the
froward. This day, it behoveth whoso hath quaffed the Mystic
Wine of everlasting life from the Hands of the loving-kindness
of the Lord his God, the Merciful, to pulsate even as the throbbing
artery in the body of mankind, that through him may be
quickened the world and every crumbling bone. 
[29 Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas, para. 173.]
However, human reason, if not assisted by the spirit of faith, is insufficient as a tool by which a mortal being can comprehend the potentialities of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh or grasp the many divine mysteries hidden within the Kitab-i-'Ahd and the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The history of the Faith confirms this. Many believers of proven ability, keen intelligence and deep knowledge, relying entirely on their own interpretations of these two momentous documents, failed to comprehend the true significance of their contents; they became deluded, were severely tested and lost their faith altogether.[*]
[* See the stories of the Covenant-breakers in later chapters.]
Although the human intellect has its limitations, through the power of prayer, the assistance of the Holy Spirit and reliance on the interpretations of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, it is possible to acquire a profound understanding of the Kitab-i-'Ahd and the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The words of God are revealed for man to comprehend and to become revived by their life-giving influence. How, then, should he approach the holy writings in order to fathom the inner reality of the Word of God and become exhilarated by its transforming power? Bahá'u'lláh has shown the way by laying down certain conditions through which a soul can immerse itself in the
ocean of His words and obtain the pearls of wisdom and knowledge hidden in its depths.
The criteria Bahá'u'lláh has established for understanding His Revelation and His Covenant are different from those usually advocated by men of learning and knowledge untouched by the light of His Faith. Their criteria are generally based on the premise that to master any subject in depth, the individual must acquire academic knowledge and become an accomplished scholar.
Although Bahá'u'lláh has enjoined His followers to acquire knowledge and has praised the station of men of learning, He has not made recognition of His Cause, the true understanding of His words and the comprehension of the inner realities of His Revelation dependent upon acquired knowledge. The opening paragraph of the Kitab-i-Iqan states:
No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding
except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth.
[30 Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 3.]
The understanding of His words and the comprehension of the
utterances of the Birds of Heaven are in no wise dependent upon
human learning. They depend solely upon purity of heart, chastity
of soul, and freedom of spirit. This is evidenced by those who,
today, though without a single letter of the accepted standards of
learning, are occupying the loftiest seats of knowledge; and the
garden of their hearts is adorned, through the showers of divine
grace, with the roses of wisdom and the tulips of understanding.
Well is it with the sincere in heart for their share of the light of a
[31 ibid. p. 211. (Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan.)]
The writings of Bahá'u'lláh are replete with similar passages in which He states that man can acquire the knowledge of God and come to understand the significance of His words only through purity of heart, detachment from earthly things and humility and meekness before His servants. These qualities, together with a staunch faith in the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh and the guidance of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, constitute the two essential prerequisites for a deeper understanding of the provisions of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
Apart from these two requirements, the study of the Will and Testament and of the Kitab-i-'Ahd calls for some general knowledge of the history of the Covenant and of the family of Bahá'u'lláh, particularly those who violated His Covenant. Therefore, a brief history of the personal life of Bahá'u'lláh and of some who rose up against the Centre of the Covenant is provided here.