The Covenant of Baha'u'llah
Tablet in Bahá'u'lláh's handwriting addressed to Abdu'l-Bahá Translated by Shoghi Effendi as follows:
O Thou Who art the apple of Mine eye! My glory, the ocean of My loving-kindness, the sun of My bounty, the heaven of My mercy rest upon Thee. We pray God to illumine the world through Thy knowledge and wisdom, to ordain for Thee that which will gladden Thine heart and impart consolation to Thine eyes. The glory of God rest upon Thee, and upon whatsoever serveth Thee and circleth around Thee.
GR GEORGE RONALD OXFORD
46 High Street, Kidlington, Oxford OX5, 2DN
(C) ADIB TAHERZADEH 1992
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Billing and Sons Ltd, Worcester
NOTES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSThe extracts from the Writings of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh quoted in this book are from the matchless translations by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, and those carried out under the auspices of the Universal House of Justice. Published sources are acknowledged in the References and Bibliography. There are many other quotations from Persian manuscripts and publications, and these I have translated, unless otherwise indicated. Most quotations had to be edited prior to translation. The footnotes to these quotations, however, are mostly mine, and this is indicated explicitly where confusion may arise. Persian and Arabic names are transliterated in accordance with the system adopted for books on the Bahá'í Faith, but quotations are reproduced in their original form.
I am deeply indebted to the Audio-Visual Department of the Bahá'í World Centre for supplying the photographs printed in this book.
I wish to extend my warmest appreciation to Dr May Hofman Ballerio for her excellent and skilful editorial work on this book. Her advice and expert assistance on many issues have been of great value to me. I am truly indebted to my dear wife Lesley for her selfless and loving support which she has extended to me in the course of my writing this book.
My special grateful thanks to Mr Thomas Howe for reading the manuscript in its early stages and offering valuable suggestions to improve its syntax.
I wish to extend my warmest thanks and gratitude to Miss Carol Clyde, Miss Corinne Logue and Miss Johanna Merritt for their excellent typing of the manuscript from my scribbled and often illegible notes. I am grateful to Dr Wendi Momen for the skilful production of the index and many helpful suggestions.
FOREWORDThis book is an attempt to provide some basic material, however limited in scope, for the study of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh -- the unique and priceless heritage He has bestowed upon His followers. The enormous potentialities latent within so mighty an institution, unprecedented in past Dispensations, will need to be manifested in the course of time stretching far into the future, unfolding thereby the glory and the perfection of Bahá'u'lláh's new world order destined to usher in the Golden Age of His Faith on this planet.
This peerless Covenant revolves around its Centre, Abdu'l-Bahá, extolled by Shoghi Effendi as Bahá'u'lláh's 'most exalted handiwork, the stainless Mirror of His light, the perfect Exemplar of His teachings, the unerring Interpreter of His word, the embodiment of every Bahá'í ideal, the incarnation of every Bahá'í virtue, the Most Mighty Branch sprung from the Ancient Root, the Limb of the Law of God, the Being round whom all names revolve, the Mainspring of the Oneness of Humanity, the Ensign of the Most Great Peace, the Moon of the Central Orb of this Most Holy Dispensation'.
The Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Bahá, the child of this Covenant, provides its extension through the establishment of the Administrative Order, supported by the two mighty pillars of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice and perpetuating into the future the manifold functions with which the author of the Faith has endowed the institutions of His world-embracing order. These include the protection of the revealed Word from human interference, the preservation of the integrity of the Faith and of the purity of its teachings, principles and laws, the safeguarding of the unity of the Bahá'í community, the promotion of an ever-advancing civilization, the provision of means for the spiritualization of the human race, and the development of the necessary agencies needed to establish the Bahá'í World Commonwealth as envisaged in the Holy Writings.
In order to grasp the mysteries of the Covenant, and to apprehend its immeasurable potentialities for the unification of humanity and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, the followers of
Bahá'u'lláh are duty bound to study this important feature of their Faith.
The Kitab-i-'Ahd (The Book of the Covenant) and the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Bahá, the two major documents upon which the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh is based, are quoted in full in this volume; it is the hope of the present author that the study of this book might help the reader to appreciate the significance of their contents as well as details of many historical episodes recorded therein.
This appreciation depends also upon the individual's endeavour to deepen his knowledge of the verities of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, and to meditate, in a prayerful attitude, on His Writings and those of Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi in order to discover for himself 'the pearls of wisdom' hidden within the ocean of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation and thereby perceive, to the extent of his capacity, the preponderating role of Bahá'u'lláh's mighty Covenant as well as the mysteries it enshrines.
That this book, however inadequate, may even to a small extent assist those who embrace the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh in the study of His Covenant, is the ardent hope of the present author.
INTRODUCTIONPhysical life in the world around us is governed by the laws of nature. The sun pours its energy upon all living things on this planet, the earth supplies the food, while every creature responds to the dictates of nature. The mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms are all under its control and cannot deviate a hair's breadth from the course which the Creator has set for them. For instance, the bee is created to make its hive only in the form of a hexagon; it cannot choose to build it in a different form. The fish must live in the water, and the beast inhabit the land. Each living organism and, indeed, the whole universe involuntarily obeys the laws of nature.
Man is the only exception. God has endowed him with two opposite natures, the animal or physical, and the spiritual. Man's physical being is subject to the laws of nature; but his soul, his spiritual nature, is not. The soul emanates from the spiritual worlds of God and cannot be bound by material ties. Because of his spiritual qualities man has been endowed by the Creator with the special faculty of free will, a faculty which is absent in the rest of His creation on earth. Furthermore, God has created man in His own image, meaning that He has conferred all His attributes upon man, attributes that are latent within him.
In order to enable the soul to progress and attain spiritual qualities and so reveal these latent attributes, God has made a Covenant with man and has required him to abide by its provisions. We note therefore that whereas the body of man is bound by the laws of nature, his soul is governed by the laws of the Covenant of God. A covenant is a contract between two sides, each of whom has obligations to fulfil. It follows that a meaningful covenant between God and man must require freedom of choice on both sides, and that man must exercise his free will in choosing his response to his Creator.
The relationship of God with man in this Covenant is somewhat similar to the relationship between the principal of a school and the child. As soon as a child goes to school for the first time, he enters into a covenant with the school principal, although often without
really knowing it. In this contract the principal provides the means for the education of the child. He appoints teachers to teach him, draws up the educational programme and ensures the child's well-being and development in every way. The child's part in this covenant is to follow the instructions of the teacher and learn every lesson he is taught. It is through this process that the child acquires knowledge, develops his capacity, and becomes endowed with intellectual and spiritual powers. As the child grows in learning and maturity, the principal will appoint other teachers to contribute to his education. In this covenant, the responsibilities of the two parties are fundamentally different. They cannot be confused and are not interchangeable.
Another feature of this covenant is that the two parties are not of the same calibre. One side, the school principal, is knowledgeable, wise and strong. The other, the child, is unlearned, weak and immature. The terms of this covenant are drawn up entirely by the strong party and the child has no say in them. Usually, the weaker party is the loser when a contract is drawn up solely by the strong. Not so in this case, for the motive of the principal in making all the arrangements is his love for the child and concern for its education. His greatest ambition is to see the child attain wisdom and knowledge. He longs to see his pupil become a mature person.
The same is true of God. He is the Creator, the Almighty, the Author of the Covenant, whose terms He Himself has stipulated unilaterally without the help of man. As in the above example, God's part in this Covenant is different from man's. God's part is to release the vivifying forces of life and of Revelation, and man's is to receive these voluntarily and obey His commandments wholeheartedly.
We learn from the study of religions that it is the act of creation itself that brings about this Covenant of God with man. God's part in the Covenant is to confer life upon the individual, to provide him, on the one hand, with his physical needs by placing at his disposal all the resources of this earth and, on the other, to bestow upon his soul the bounty of His Revelation by sending His Messengers to guide his steps toward his everlasting abode.
Bahá'u'lláh tells us that everything in the physical world is created for the well-being and development of humanity. Addressing man in Hidden Words, He affirms:
"O Son of Bounty! "Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things. Thus, ere thou didst issue from thy mother's womb, I destined for thee two founts of gleaming milk eyes to watch over thee, and hearts to love thee. Out of My loving kindness,
'neath the shade of My mercy I nurtured thee, and guarded thee, by the essence of My grace and favour..." [I-1]
This and many similar passages in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh indicate that God has created the mineral, the vegetable and the animal worlds for man's benefit and for his use. There is a delicate relationship between all levels of creation in which the lower kingdom serves the higher kingdom while the higher kingdom lives in harmony with the lower. Indeed, the world of nature is placed at man's disposal to enrich the quality of his life while on this earth, while man is duty bound to respect and preserve his environment.
God provides not only for man's physical well-being, but He also reveals Himself to him through His Messengers in order to develop his spiritual life. Through the influence of these Messengers humanity has passed through the stages of infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and today, as a result of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, is destined to come of age. The Messengers are similar to the teachers in the above analogy. They reveal progressively the teachings of God in accordance with the capacity of the people of their own age.
As the recipient of God's spiritual bounties, mankind has progressed in each age to the extent that it has been able to carry out the teachings of His Messengers and Prophets. As in the analogy where a child's progress depends on his willingness to obey the teacher and carry out his instructions, the spiritual advancement of the human soul is, to a great extent, dependent upon the receptivity of the individual and his readiness to obey his Lord. Should he submit to the will of God, be willing to obey the teaching of His Messengers, and open his heart to receive the outpouring of God's Revelation for the age he lives in, then he has been faithful to the Covenant of God. But if he fails to turn to God's Messengers and His Manifestation, he will become spiritually impoverished. This is true both for individuals and for society as a whole.
This eternal Covenant of God with man encompasses several distinguishable forms. The Bahá'í scholar George Townshend, for instance, has identified seven types of covenant as being subsidiaries of the eternal Covenant. He outlines them as follows:
"1. The ... Covenant, beginning with Adam and closing with Bahá'u'lláh, between God and the whole human race.
2. Between God and each Messenger, assigning His Mission.
3. Between a Messenger and the faithful: Covenant of the next (or of a later) Manifestation.
4. Between the Messenger and the faithful: Ethical Covenant of faith and obedience.
5. Between the Messenger and the faithful: Covenant of immediate Successor.
6. Between the Messenger and a disciple.
7. Between the immediate Successor (e.g. the Centre of the Covenant) and the faithful: i. Covenant of continuing succession ii. Ethical Covenant" [I-2]
The question of successorship (nos. 3, 5 and 7 in Townshend's analysis) is of prime importance in the history of religion. A lack of consensus among the faithful has been one of the major causes of schism and disunity within religions and is one of the reasons why each Manifestation of God has been persecuted. This question can be divided into two aspects: the Greater Covenant and the Lesser Covenant. The Greater Covenant is that which a Manifestation of God makes with His followers concerning the next Manifestation. The Lesser Covenant is the one which a Manifestation of God makes concerning His immediate successor.
In this book we will discuss mainly three forms of the Covenant which are of great significance to the followers of Bahá'u'lláh:
1. The Covenant of the Bab concerning the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh described as 'Him Whom God shall make manifest': the Greater Covenant in the Dispensation of the Bab.
2. The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh concerning the appointment of Abdu'l-Bahá as His successor; part of the Lesser Covenant.
3. The Covenant made by Abdu'l-Bahá concerning Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice: also part of the Lesser Covenant.
These three themes correspond to the three main parts of this book.
In the great scheme of the Covenant of God, divine bounties reach humanity through the agency of the human soul. Thus, at this early stage of the book we will focus our attention on the nature of the soul, in an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of this essential agent in the divine plan of the will of God for this age.
PROLOGUEThe Covenant and the Human Soul
The basic principle which governs the operation of the Covenant of God with man may be said to have been revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in the following passage in Hidden Words:
"Love Me that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O Servant." [P-l]
It is clear from the above statement that there is a love relationship between God and man. But to receive the bounties of God's love, man must take the first steps. It is like opening a channel, and needs to be done by the individual in the first place.
The soul is a spiritual entity. It has no physical existence; one cannot observe or understand it through scientific or other material means. Its essence, its reality, are beyond the understanding and comprehension of man.
In a Tablet revealed in Baghdad and addressed to Mulla Hadiy-i-Qazvani, a Letter of the Living who later became a follower of Mirza Yahya, Bahá'u'lláh refers to the human soul as a 'divinely ordained and subtle mystery' and the 'sign of the revelation of the All-Abiding, All-Glorious God'. He affirms that no one will ever know the essence of the soul:
[1 Concerning this Tablet, see The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 2, pp. 144-5]
"Wert thou to ponder in thine heart, from now until the end that hath no end, and with all the concentrated intelligence and understanding which the greatest minds have attained in the past or will attain in the future, this divinely ordained and subtle Reality, this Sign of the revelation of the All-Abiding, All-Glorious God, thou wilt fail to comprehend its mystery or to appraise its virtue." [P-2]
Although it is impossible for man, at least in this world, to discover the essence of his own soul, he can observe its powers and witness the expression of its attributes within himself. Belief in the soul, and knowledge of its existence and attributes, come to us
originally through the words of the Manifestations of God. It is they who primarily impart to mankind the vision of spiritual realities.
In past dispensations humanity had not acquired the capacity to understand the spiritual realms of God. Christ confirmed this fact when He stated:
"I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you unto all truth..." [P-3]
This is why the Manifestations of old spoke about the soul but did not explain its nature or reveal any of its mysteries. Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, who was the last Messenger of God in the Prophetic Cycle and whose Revelation was the latest of all the older Dispensations, referred to the soul only in one short sentence in the Qur'an:
"They ask thee concerning the spirit. Say: The spirit (was created) at the command of my Lord. But you have no knowledge given unto you except a little." [P-4]
In this Dispensation, however, Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá shed much light on the subject. In many Tablets they testify to the existence of the soul, describe it as an unknowable spiritual reality, acknowledge its exalted station, refer to it as a 'mighty sign of God', and reveal a great deal about its qualities and attributes, its immortality, its condition and its progress in the afterlife. So vast is the range of these Writings that a large volume could be compiled of all their utterances on the subject. Indeed, Bahá'u'lláh's explanations of the human soul are among the great contributions that He has made to religious knowledge, revealed in proportion to the capacity of the people of this age.
These explanations are limited to the description of the characteristics of the soul; in no way do they reveal the reality of the soul itself. Since it is a spiritual entity, the soul emanates from the spiritual worlds of God, and it is therefore impossible to describe its innermost essence in words; it cannot be understood by human intellect or other physical senses. Bahá'u'lláh confirms this in a Tablet addressed to a certain believer known as Abdu'r-Razzaq:
"Know, verily, that the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel...
"Verily I say, the human soul is, in its essence, one of the signs of God, a mystery among His mysteries. It is one of the mighty signs of the Almighty, the harbinger that proclaimeth the reality of all the worlds of
God. Within it lieth concealed that which the world is now utterly incapable of apprehending." [P-5]
Nevertheless, a study of Bahá'u'lláh's Writings is enlightening. We learn from the Writings that the soul, being an emanation from the spiritual worlds of God, comes into existence at the time of conception, when it becomes associated with the body. The belief that the soul exists before conception is therefore contrary to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith, states, 'the soul or spirit of the individual comes into being with the conception of his physical body'. [P-6] The soul, being exalted above entry or exit, ascent or descent, cannot be physically placed inside a body or have any connection with material things.
Bahá'u'lláh declares in the same Tablet to Abdu'r-Razzaq:
"Verily I say, the human soul is exalted above all egress and regress. It is still, and yet it soareth; it moveth, and yet it is still. It is, in itself, a testimony that beareth witness to the existence of a world that is contingent, as well as to the reality of a world that hath neither beginning nor end." [P-7]
The association of the soul and the body is similar to the association of light and the mirror. The light is not inside the mirror, but reflected on it from a different source. When the mirror breaks, the light remains unaffected.
When the soul becomes associated with the body, a human being with a unique identity is created. This creation has a beginning at the time of conception, but has no end. Abdu'l-Bahá states: 'The spirit of man has a beginning, but it has no end; it continues eternally.' [P-8] The soul is thus immortal and will progress in the spiritual worlds of God for all eternity. Such a concept of everlasting life is truly a most uplifting vision for the human race. This thought of immortality can evoke in the heart of every believer the feelings of utmost joy and gratitude for having been endowed with eternal life by Almighty God. Another feature of this bounty is that God has bestowed an everlasting privilege upon the parents who become aware of, and rejoice in, being instrumental in bringing into this world children whose souls are destined to progress in the worlds of God throughout eternity.
To understand any spiritual reality, one needs to read the Holy Writings and meditate upon them. Another source from which the individual may learn is nature itself, through an examination of the principles of nature, provided he can relate his findings to the truths enshrined in the Holy Writings. The combination of the two can enable him to grasp a measure of the reality of any spiritual subject, including the human soul. A word of warning is needed, however,
in that whereas the Holy Writings are self-sufficient sources for the understanding of spiritual truth, the study of the laws of nature will have to be harmonized with the Writings. Otherwise, by merely employing some principles of nature in one's study of spiritual life, the result could be misleading indeed.
A deeper understanding of religious truth may be realized when the individual recognizes the fact that God's creation is one entity. The spiritual and physical worlds are not separate entities, but parts of one realm of being. The laws and principles governing the world of nature are similar to those which operate in the spiritual worlds of God, in the world of religion and in the world of man. To give an example: we note a great similarity between the laws governing the life of a tree and those which motivate the life of man, both physically and spiritually. We note that the tree thrusts its roots deep into the soil and draws on the minerals in the earth for its food. The soil is inferior to the tree; the tree is nevertheless dependent upon it for its existence. In spite of this dependence, the tree grows in the opposite direction, away from the soil. As if disliking the soil, it raises up its branches high towards the sky. This is similar to man and his state of detachment from the material world when his soul aspires to spiritual things and renounces earthly desires.
By growing upwards, away from the soil, the tree becomes the recipient of the rays of the sun, the most precious thing in this physical world. As a result of the outpouring of energies released by the sun, the tree becomes verdant and produces beautiful blossoms and fruit. Of course, the growth of the tree is involuntary. But let us suppose that it had a choice and, because it loves the earth and is dependent on the soil, inclined its branches downwards and buried itself in the ground. Then it could no longer receive the rays of the sun; in the end, it would rot away.
The same principles apply to a human being who has to live in this world and work to earn a living, and who depends upon material things for his existence. God, however, has destined in His Covenant with man that the soul of man should become detached from the things of this world and aspire towards spiritual realms. But unlike the tree, which has no choice, man has free will. If he chooses to disregard the provisions of the Covenant and to fall in love with the world, its vanities and its material attractions, then he becomes a bondslave of earthly things and his soul, deprived of the power of faith, becomes impoverished.
On the other hand, when the individual aspires to spiritual things, turns to the Manifestation of God, and does not direct all his affections towards this mortal world, then his soul becomes illumined with the rays of the Sun of Truth and will fulfil the purpose
for which it has been created. The above example showing the similarity between tree and man demonstrates that the physical and the spiritual worlds of God are related to each other by similar laws. It is therefore possible to discover some spiritual principles by examining physical laws. Similarly, the basic laws and teachings of a religion can be seen as the laws of nature in a higher realm. The difference is that as the laws of a lower kingdom are applied to a higher kingdom, certain features are added which are absent in the lower one. This fact was noted in the above example; the added feature is that man exercises his free will to decide his own destiny, while the tree grows involuntarily, the element of choice being absent in the vegetable kingdom.
In one of His Tablets [P-9] Bahá'u'lláh states that every created thing in this physical world has some counterpart in the worlds of God. In order to identify these, we can turn to the words and utterances of the Manifestations of God and be guided by their explanations. For example, the study of the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá leads us to believe that a counterpart of the Manifestation of God in this physical kingdom is the sun. As the sun pours out its energies upon this earth and is the cause of life, so is the Manifestation of God in relation to humanity. The study of some of the characteristics of the sun could help us to appreciate some of the powers and attributes of the Manifestation of God, to the extent of our human limitations.
We may ask what the physical counterpart of the soul is in this world. It seems from the study of the Writings that it is the embryo growing in the womb of a mother. From a study of the latter, we can deduce some attributes and characteristics of the former. We can observe striking similarities between the two; for example, we note that the embryo begins its life as one cell. There are no limbs and organs at first, but the cell has the capacity to multiply, and in the fullness of time become transformed into a perfect human body. Similarly the soul when it is first created is a 'heavenly gem'. It is without experience and its qualities and powers are latent within it, but it is capable of acquiring these latent qualities progressively in the course of a lifetime. God has decreed that the embryo develop limbs and organs while shielded within the womb. Similarly, He has ordained that the soul develop spiritual qualities in the course of its association with the body. It is in this life, this womb-world, that the soul can acquire divine virtues and perfections. If it so chooses, it can become the repository of knowledge, of wisdom, of love and all the other attributes of God.
The growth of limbs and organs in the embryonic life, and the development of spiritual qualities by the soul, are governed by the same principles. But there is a major difference. The growth of
the embryo is involuntary and dictated by nature, while the soul has freedom of choice. This is an added dimension granted to the soul which does not exist in the physical world of nature.
In a Tablet revealed in honour of Haji Muhammad-Ibrahim-i-Khalil, a believer of note from Qazvin, Bahá'u'lláh states:
[1 For further information about him, see The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 2, pp. 259-261.]
"And now, concerning thy question regarding the creation of man. Know thou that all men have been created in the nature made by God, the Guardian, the Self-Subsisting. Unto each one hath been prescribed a preordained measure, as decreed in God's mighty and guarded Tablets. All that which ye potentially possess can, however, be manifested only as a result of your own volition." [P-10]
Another similarity between the soul and the embryo is that the latter grows within the womb for only a short period of time. It is a transitory stage, not designed as a place to live in for ever. This world is also of limited duration for the soul. It is not a place of eternal residence; every human being will inevitably have to depart from it. The goal of life for every child is to die to the womb and be born into this world, its next world. So is the goal for the soul, whose ultimate destiny is to depart from this world and enter into the spiritual worlds of God.
Another similarity between the soul and the embryo is that the child must develop his limbs and organs in the womb of his mother. If he is born without some of these, he will be handicapped, for he is unable to acquire them in this life. The soul too must develop spiritual qualities in this world. The acquisition of wisdom, knowledge, love, humility and all other divine attributes is possible only in this earthly kingdom. We note that some limbs or organs seem to be useless in the womb-world. For instance, eyes are incapable of seeing there, but when the child is born, the light will bring vision to his eyes. The combination of the two -- eyes acquired in the womb, and the rays of light existing in this world -- endow a human being with vision. Similarly, the virtues and perfections which the soul has acquired in this world, combined with the conditions of the spiritual worlds which are unknown to us while on this mortal plane, will cause the soul to progress in the next life.
As long as a human being lives in this world, the soul and the body are associated with each other. When death takes place, this association comes to an end; the body will return to its origin, which is the earth. The soul also returns to its origin which is the spiritual worlds of God. The embryo begins its life as one cell, but ends up as a perfect human body by the time of its birth. The soul is the same. When it first emanates from the spiritual worlds of God, it has no
powers. But if it has grown properly, lived a good life on this earth, and acquired spiritual qualities, then it returns in a state of might and glory to its own original habitation. Manifesting the signs of God and possessing divine attributes, it retains its own individuality and identity, and as Bahá'u'lláh promises, it will associate with God's Messengers and Chosen Ones in the realms above.
In the Tablet to Abdu'r-Razzaq, Bahá'u'lláh discloses the grandeur of the soul after its separation from the body, a soul which has walked in the path of its Lord in this life:
"When it [the soul] leaveth the body, however, it will evince such ascendancy, and reveal such influence as no force on earth can equal. Every pure, every refined and sanctified soul will be endowed with tremendous power, and shall rejoice with exceeding gladness." [P-11]
Here we see a vast contrast between the soul at the beginning, when it is first associated with the body at the time of conception, and at its consummation, when it returns to its origin in the spiritual worlds of God. At first devoid of all power, at the end it is the possessor of many attributes and spiritual qualities. The condition of the soul in the next world is, therefore, dependent on the acquisition of spiritual attributes, in the same way that the condition of the child born into this world depends on his healthy development in the world of the womb.
We learn from the Holy Writings and by looking at nature that God's creation is not finite: it is infinite in every respect. This is true of the physical universe, which is limitless in size. It is also true of the spiritual worlds of God. Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá have in many of their Tablets revealed that the soul of man will continually progress in the spiritual worlds which are countless in number and infinite in range. In one of His Tablets [P-12] Bahá'u'lláh states that all the spiritual worlds of God revolve around this world, and that in every world a particular condition has been decreed by God for each soul.
One of the fascinating mysteries of creation is the whereabouts of the next world, the spiritual domain which is mentioned in all the heavenly Books. The study of the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and a look at nature will resolve this question. One of the principles of nature is that higher forms of life revolve around, and depend upon, the lowest. In this physical world we observe that all living things derive their sustenance from the mineral world, which is the lower kingdom. This earth, although the lowest form of life, gives birth to higher forms and may be regarded as a pivot round which the kingdoms of the vegetable, the animal and man revolve. Similarly, the spiritual worlds of God, as testified by Bahá'u'lláh in His Tablets, revolve around this world, the world of man. This means that the
next world is not divorced from life in this world, but rather encompasses it. We notice in nature that while the child grows in the womb, he is, in reality, in this world. Only a small barrier separates the womb-world from this one. It is like a chicken inside an egg: before the egg breaks open, a thin shell acts as a barrier, but both the egg and the chicken are in this world from the beginning.
The child in the womb of the mother is unable to discover that the world into which he is destined to be born is amazingly close to him. This principle applies in the spiritual realms also. As longs as man dwells in the physical world he is unable to apprehend the features of the next world, which embraces the human world and all that it contains. Nor is he capable of visualising the grandeur and the splendour of heavenly kingdoms. It is only after its separation from the body that the soul will appreciate how close the spiritual world has been, and how it encompasses this physical world. Then it will realize that, as Bahá'u'lláh testifies in one of His Tablets, 'the world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother'. [P-13]
God has not granted to the unborn child the ability to discover the smallness of its temporary abode, or the vastness and the beauty of this world. Similarly, He has not endowed the human being, while on this earth, with the ability to perceive even to an infinitesimal measure the conditions of the spiritual worlds of God. If He had, the stability as well as the purpose of this life would have been completely undermined. Bahá'u'lláh states in one of His Tablets that should the station destined for a true believer in the world beyond be revealed to the extent of a needle's eye, every soul would expire in ecstasy. The story of Siyyid Isma'il of Zavarih, surnamed Dhabih (Sacrifice) who attained the presence of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad, is an example. Bahá'u'lláh complied with his plea and revealed to him a glimmer of the unknowable worlds of God. As a result of this experience, Dhabih could no longer bear to live in this world and took his own life.
[1 See The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 1, pp 101-103.]
Those who have passed into the next life abide in a realm which enfolds and embraces this life. The influence which pure and enlightened souls in the spiritual kingdom exert upon the world of humanity is the main cause of its progress, according to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. This truth may be appreciated if one looks at nature and examines the relationship of the unborn child to those who care for him in this world. There are a host of people who are deeply interested in the welfare of the unborn. First, there is the mother who bears the child, loves it, and is even willing to risk her life for its
health and protection. Then, there is the father and many other people who are directly or indirectly involved in its welfare. But the child, so long as it is going through the embryonic stage of growth, is unaware of the love and care which are directed towards it. Similarly, those souls in the next world who are possessed of spiritual qualities are the instruments of man's welfare, development and growth on this earth. In many of His Writings Bahá'u'lláh has attributed man's progress in this world to the influence of the 'Concourse on high', the gathering of the Prophets and God's holy and chosen souls. He also indicates that when the believers in this Dispensation have shown extraordinary heroism and self-sacrifice in the path of God, these acts have caused great jubilation and rejoicing among the Concourse on high.
[1 For an example, see the story of Badi', The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 3, ch. 9. ]
In the same Tablet to Abdu'r-Razzaq, Bahá'u'lláh describes the influence of pure and holy souls upon mankind. These are His assuring words:
"Thou hadst, moreover, asked Me concerning the state of the soul after its separation from the body. Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly, return and be gathered to the glory of the Beloved. By the righteousness of God! It shall attain a station such as no pen can depict, or tongue describe. The soul that hath remained faithful to the Cause of God, and stood unwaveringly firm in His Path shall, after his ascension, be possessed of such power that all the worlds which the Almighty hath created can benefit through him. Such a soul provideth, at the bidding of the Ideal King and Divine Educator, the pure leaven that leaveneth the world of being, and furnisheth the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest. Consider how meal needeth leaven to be leavened with. Those souls that are the symbols of detachment are the leaven of the world. Meditate on this, and be of the thankful." [P-14]
The influence which these holy souls exert upon humanity can only be for the good of mankind. Abdu'l-Bahá states, 'God has never created an evil spirit...' [P-15] There can be no such thing as evil influences from the next world affecting anyone in this world. This is because the soul, when ascending to the next world, cannot carry with it 'bad' qualities. And since there is no evil in that realm, there can be no evil effects which could reach this world.
The soul carries with it divine attributes and spiritual qualities to the next world, but cannot take with it bad qualities for badness has no existence of its own; it is only the lack of goodness. In order to clarify this point further, let us look at the following examples. We may note that darkness has no real existence; it is the absence of light.
It is the same with poverty; a poor man cannot claim that he carries his poverty around with him. What he has is very little money. There is no standard for measuring poverty; it can only be defined as lack of riches, and is measured by the standard of wealth. A bad person may be described as one who has very few good qualities. His soul is impoverished and therefore he can take only a very small measure of goodness with him to the spiritual worlds of God.
The degree of the progress of one's soul in the spiritual worlds of God depends upon the extent to which the individual has adorned his being with the 'ornaments of goodly character and praiseworthy virtues'. This is the main reason that God has sent His Manifestations, so that they can cast light upon man's path in this life and show him how to acquire spiritual qualities and heavenly attributes. We have seen that these attributes, which may be likened to spiritual limbs and organs, are needed in the next world for the continued progress of one's soul. Obedience to the teachings of God will endow the soul with divine attributes, otherwise the soul will return to the spiritual realms of God in a state of loss and impoverishment. In one of His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh reveals these weighty utterances:
"If it [the soul] be faithful to God, it will reflect His light, and will eventually, return unto Him. If it fail, however, in its allegiance to its Creator, it will become a victim to self and passion, and will, in the end, sink in their depths... Every soul that walketh humbly with its God, in this Day, and cleaveth unto Him, shall find itself invested with the honour and glory of all goodly names and stations." [P-16]
From the study of the Writings we gather that as in this world where there are degrees of existence such as the mineral, the vegetable, the animal and man -- and within each kingdom there are many divisions -- the soul will also progress in the spiritual worlds of God on different levels, depending on the qualities it has acquired in this life. The level in which the soul can abide in the next world is determined by its closeness to God and the spiritual attributes that it takes with it after its separation from the body. However, there is another determining factor, and that is the bounty of God. Through this the soul may be elevated, and its outpouring is beyond the comprehension of man.
[1 For an example of this, see The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 2, p. 401.]
It is stated in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh that the souls on a higher level will encompass those on a lower one, while the latter will not be able to comprehend the powers and realities of the former. In fact, the grading of human souls and their different stations is similar to the variety of creatures which God has created on this earth. We note that in this physical world also the lower kingdom is blind to the
qualities of a higher one. For instance, while the three kingdoms are so closely linked together, breathing the same air and receiving the same sunshine, the vegetable does not understand the animal and the animal is incapable of really knowing the human being. Conversely, based on the same principles, we note that the higher kingdom dominates the lower ones. The animal has ascendancy over the vegetable, while man rules over the entire world of nature.
In a Tablet revealed in honour of one of His apostles, Zayn'ul-Muqarrabin, Bahá'u'lláh reveals these thought-provoking words:
[1 For a short reference to his life, see The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 1, pp. 25-6.]
"And now concerning thy question whether human souls continue to be conscious one of another after their separation from the body...
"The people of Baha, who are the inmates of the Ark of God, are one and all well aware of one another's state and condition, and are united in the bonds of intimacy and fellowship. Such a state, however, must depend upon their faith and their conduct. They that are of the same grade and station are fully aware of one another's capacity, character, accomplishments and merits. They that are of a lower grade, however, are incapable of comprehending adequately the station, or of estimating the merits, of those that rank above them. Each shall receive his share from thy Lord. Blessed is the man that hath turned his face towards God, and walked steadfastly in His love, until his soul hath winged its flight unto God, the Sovereign Lord of all, the Most Powerful, the Ever-Forgiving, the All-Merciful.
"The souls of the infidels, however, shall -- and to this I bear witness -- when breathing their last be made aware of the good things that have escaped them, and shall bemoan their plight, and shall humble themselves before God. They shall continue doing so after the separation of their souls from their bodies.
"It is clear and evident that all men shall, after their physical death, estimate the worth of their deeds, and realize all that their hands have wrought. I swear by the Day Star that shineth above the horizon of Divine power! They that are the followers of the one true God shall, the moment they depart out of this life, experience such joy and gladness as would be impossible to describe, while they that live in error shall be seized with such fear and trembling, and shall be filled with such consternation, as nothing can exceed. Well is it with him that hath quaffed the choice and incorruptible wine of faith through the gracious favour and the manifold bounties of Him Who is the Lord of all Faiths..." [P-17]
The knowledge that souls will be divided in the next world, and that each one in accordance with its capacity will progress on its own level, can exert a considerable influence upon the individual to mend his ways in this life, to turn to God and consciously adorn his soul with the 'ornament of pure deeds and goodly character'.
Abdu'l-Bahá has shed further light on this subject. Speaking to His guests at His dinner table in Akka, he said:
"As the divine bounties are endless, so human perfections are endless. If it were possible to reach a limit of perfection, then one of the realities of the beings might reach the condition of being independent of God, and the contingent might attain to the condition of the absolute. But for every being there is a point which it cannot overpass; that is to say, he who is in the condition of servitude, however far he may progress in gaining limitless perfections, will never reach the condition of Deity. It is the same with the other beings: a mineral, however far it may progress in the mineral kingdom, cannot gain the vegetable power; also in a flower, however far it may progress in the vegetable kingdom, no power of the senses will appear. So this silver mineral cannot gain hearing or sight; it can only improve in its own condition, and become a perfect mineral, but it cannot acquire the power of growth, or the power of sensation, or attain to life; it can only progress in its own condition.
"For example, Peter cannot become Christ. All that he can do is, in the condition of servitude, to attain endless perfections; for every existing reality is capable of making progress." [P-18]
From the above words we may conclude that the soul will continue to progress in the spiritual worlds of God on its own level, and that this progress is due to the bounty of God. The soul may also progress by means of prayers for the departed offered by those still in this life. Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá have revealed many prayers for this occasion. It is also stated in the Bahá'í Writings that acts of charity in memory of the departed will uplift the condition of the soul. It is for this reason that individual Bahá'ís customarily commemorate the passing of their loved ones by holding a meeting of prayer and remembrance.
It is interesting to note that the early believers in the East during the days of Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá never celebrated their own birthdays. They considered that such an act would imply self-glorification, a means of boosting one's ego. It never crossed their minds that a certain day was their birthday. So real and genuine was this attitude that a great many individuals did not know the exact date of their birth. In the absence of birth certificates, some parents would record the date of the birth of their children in a certain book, much as Westerners used the family Bible for the same purpose. Even then an individual would be deeply insulted if someone wanted to celebrate his birthday, for the only persons whose birthday merited celebration were the Prophets and Chosen Ones of God. Instead of celebrating birthdays, however, these people held regular
annual memorial meetings, inviting their friends to join in remembering one of their loved ones who had passed away. In such a meeting, they prayed for the progress of his soul, recounted his services to the Cause, described his qualities, recited Tablets revealed in his honour, if any, and offered charitable donations on his behalf. This practice of annual remembrance of the departed, which is not a binding obligation in the Bahá'í Faith, is now followed by many Bahá'í families. The organisation of such meetings is not usually the responsibility of the institutions of the Faith. They are arranged by individuals on the anniversaries of the passing of their loved ones.
[1 It must be noted that there is nothing in the Bahá'í writings either to condemn the celebration of one's birthday or to encourage it. ]
The following are the words of Abdu'l-Bahá as He spoke to His guests at His dinner table in Akka:
"Also a father and mother endure the greatest troubles and hardships for their children; and often when the children have reached the age of maturity, the parents pass on to the other world. Rarely does it happen that a father and mother in this world see the reward of the care and trouble they have undergone for their children. Therefore, children, in return for this care and trouble, must show forth charity and beneficence, and must implore pardon and forgiveness for their parents. So you ought, in return for the love and kindness shown you by your father, to give to the poor for his sake, with greatest submission and humility implore pardon and remission of sins, and ask for the supreme mercy.
"It is even possible that the condition of those who have died in sin and unbelief may become changed -- that is to say, they may become the object of pardon through the bounty of God, not through His justice -- for bounty is giving without desert, and justice is giving what is deserved. As we have power to pray for these souls here, so likewise we shall possess the same power in the other world, which is the Kingdom of God. Are not all the people in that world the creatures of God? Therefore, in that world also they can make progress. As here they can receive light by their supplications, there also they can plead for forgiveness and receive light through entreaties and supplications. Thus as souls in this world, through the help of the supplications, the entreaties and the prayers of the holy ones, can acquire development, so is it the same after death. Through their own prayers and supplications they can also progress, more especially when they are the object of the intercession of the Holy Manifestations." [P-19]
The spiritual qualities acquired by the soul in the course of a lifetime -- qualities such as knowledge, wisdom, humility, love and other virtues -- are acquired gradually. The individual grows in maturity with the passage of time. The spiritual growth of the soul is similar to the organic growth of living creatures. To return to the metaphor of the tree, whose life begins with the planting of a seed: it grows gradually, bringing forth branches, leaves, shoots and offshoots one after another, until the time comes when it produces its
fruit. The stage of fruition may be said to constitute the crowning achievement of the tree; it is that stage in which the tree has fulfilled the purpose for which it was created. But the tree cannot produce its fruit by itself. It acts as a female and has to be pollinated by a male element which fertilizes its ovules. Other living creatures which produce their young also go through the same process of intercourse with their male counterparts.
The same is true of the soul. It comes into being at the time of conception, it gradually acquires divine qualities, but there comes a time when it has to produce its fruit. Not until the soul reaches this point can it be said to have fulfilled its destiny. This can happen when, following the above principle of male and female interaction, the soul assumes the function of the female and establishes a spiritual intercourse with another agency. If it chooses the material world as a partner, then the child born of that union will be a materialistic way of life which deprives the soul of its spiritual heritage. A great many people in the world allow themselves to fall in love with material things; consequently the soul is impoverished and although it is a spiritual entity, it becomes sullied with worldly affections and gives birth to materialism, an offspring unworthy of its high station. But the Covenant of God enjoins upon man to recognize His Manifestation and turn to Him. These are the words of Bahá'u'lláh as revealed in a prayer stating the purpose of creation:
"I bear witness, O my God, that Thou has created me to know Thee and to worship Thee..." [P-20]
By turning with devotion to Bahá'u'lláh, the Manifestation of God in this day, by submitting to His Will and becoming enamoured of Him, the soul becomes a fertile instrument and a worthy recipient for the outpouring of His Revelation. Through the establishment of a spiritual intercourse with the energizing forces of this Revelation, the soul becomes fertilized and will give birth to a noble offspring -- the spirit of faith. This is the ultimate and most glorious destiny for the soul, the purpose for which it is created.
In each Dispensation the Manifestations of God have bestowed the gift of faith on their followers. Christ referred to it as the 'second birth'. In this day the child of faith is conceived in the soul when a person's heart is touched by the love of Bahá'u'lláh and he becomes assured of the truth of His Revelation. And when it becomes evident that the individual has been illumined by the 'spirit of faith', he will need to take spiritual nourishment so that his new-born faith may be enabled to grow. This spiritual food is the Word of God, revealed in this day by Bahá'u'lláh. By reciting His Words regularly every day and every night, as He has ordained, and through obedience to His
teachings, the spirit of faith will grow step by step and the believer will become steadfast in faith and assured and happy in his life. If he neglects this vital necessity, his faith will diminish in strength and he may even lose it altogether.
In many of His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh has extolled the station of a soul who has been endowed with the spirit of faith and confirms that if 'that station were to be unveiled to mankind, every beholder would be consumed away in his longing to attain it'. [P-21]
Referring to the station of a soul who has truly recognized Him, Bahá'u'lláh, in a Tablet, reveals these words:
"We dare not, in this Day, lift the veil that concealeth the exalted station which every true believer can attain, for the joy which such a revelation must provoke might well cause a few to faint away and die... "By the righteousness of the one true God! The very breath of these souls is in itself richer than all the treasures of the earth. Happy is the man that hath attained thereunto, and woe betide the heedless." [P-22]
So precious is the soul of a true believer in the estimation of God that Bahá'u'lláh states, in one of His Tablets [P-23] revealed in honour of one of the Afnans, that it is for the sake of His loved ones that God has created the heavens and the earth and all that is therein.
There are numerous Tablets in which Bahá'u'lláh has disclosed the nature of the soul and described its main features. Notable among these is a Tablet revealed in Akka in honour of Abdu'l-Vahhab, a believer from Quchan in the Province of Khurasan. We cite part of this Tablet in these pages:
[1 Parts of these Tablets are translated by Shoghi Effendi and published in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, nos. LXXVII, LXXVIII and LXXX (both parts of the same Tablet), LXXIX, LXXXI, LXXXII, LXXXIII and LXXXVI.]
"And now concerning thy question regarding the soul of man and its survival after death. Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty. The movement of My Pen is stilled when it attempteth to befittingly describe the loftiness and glory of so exalted a station. The honour with which the Hand of Mercy will invest the soul is such as no tongue can adequately reveal, nor any other earthly agency describe. Blessed is the soul which, at the hour of its separation from the body, is sanctified from the vain imaginings of the peoples of the world. Such a soul liveth and moveth in accordance with the Will of its Creator, and entereth the all-highest
Paradise. The Maids of Heaven, inmates of the loftiest mansions, will circle around it, and the Prophets of God and His chosen ones will seek its companionship. With them that soul will freely converse, and will recount unto them that which it hath been made to endure in the path of God, the Lord of all worlds. If any man be told that which hath been ordained for such a soul in the worlds of God, the Lord of the throne on high and of earth below, his whole being will instantly blaze out in his great longing to attain that most exalted, that sanctified and resplendent station.... The nature of the soul after death can never be described, nor is it meet and permissible to reveal its whole character to the eyes of men. The prophets and Messengers of God have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth. The purpose underlying their revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High. The light which these souls radiate is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples. They are like unto leaven which leaveneth the world of being, and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest. Through them the clouds rain their bounty upon men, and the earth bringeth forth its fruits. All things must needs have a cause, a motive power, an animating principle. These souls and symbols of detachment have provided, and will continue to provide, the supreme moving impulse in the world of being. The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother. When the soul attaineth the Presence of God, it will assume the form that best befitteth its immortality and is worthy of its celestial habitation. Such an existence is a contingent and not an absolute existence, inasmuch as the former is preceded by a cause, whilst the latter is independent thereof. Absolute existence is strictly confined to God, exalted be His glory. Well is it with them that apprehend this truth." [P-24]
God loves to attract a soul to Himself, but there are many barriers interposed between man and his Creator. These are all in the nature of attachment to material, intellectual and spiritual things which prevent man from drawing near to his God. These formidable barriers must be removed before man can draw near to God; it is for this purpose that God has sent His Messengers throughout the ages.
[1 Nearness to the Essence and Reality of God is impossible. By 'God' is meant God revealed to man, i.e. His Manifestation.]
In one of His Tablets [P-25] Bahá'u'lláh states that there are three barriers between man and God. He exhorts the believers to pass beyond these so that they may attain His Presence. The first barrier is attachment to the things of this world, the second is attachment to the rewards of the next world, and the third is attachment to the Kingdom of Names.
A believer becomes attached to the things of this world when he allows his material, intellectual and selfish interests to take precedence over the interests of the Cause of God. This does not mean that he has to forego his personal interests, but rather to use them in promoting his spiritual pursuits, and not to allow earthly things to come between him and God.
Since attachment to this world is a great barrier which prevents man from fulfilling his part in the Covenant of God, Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá have exhorted their followers in many of their Tablets to become detached from earthly desires, to turn instead to God and obey His commandments.
"O My servants! Could ye apprehend with what wonders of My munificence and bounty I have willed to entrust your souls, ye would of a truth, rid yourselves of attachment to all created things, and would gain a true knowledge of your own selves -- a knowledge which is the same as the comprehension of Mine own Being. Ye would find yourselves independent of all else but Me, and would perceive, with your inner and outer eye, and as manifest as the revelation of My effulgent name, the seas of My loving-kindness and bounty moving within you. Suffer not your idle fancies, your evil passions, your insincerity and blindness of heart to dim the lustre, or stain the sanctity, of so lofty a station. Ye are even as the bird which soareth, with the full force of its mighty wings and with complete and joyous confidence, through the immensity of the heavens, until, impelled to satisfy its hunger, it turneth longingly to the water and clay of the earth below it, and, having been entrapped in the mesh of its desire, findeth itself impotent to resume its flight to the realms whence it came. Powerless to shake off the burden weighing on its sullied wings, that bird, hitherto an inmate of the heavens, is now forced to seek a dwelling-place upon the dust. Wherefore, O My servants, defile not your wings with the clay of waywardness and vain desires, and suffer them not to be stained with the dust of envy and hate, that ye may not be hindered from soaring in the heavens of My divine knowledge." [P-26]
This concept of detachment from material things is often misunderstood and is taken to mean renouncing the world. Many people think that the way to detachment is to shut oneself away in a monastery, lead an ascetic life, or live as a mendicant, careless of one's personal affairs and responsibilities.
None of these practices conform with the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. In His second Tablet to Napoleon III, Bahá'u'lláh, addressing the Christian monks, admonishes them in these words:
[1 ]See The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. vol. 3.
"O concourse of monks! Seclude not yourselves in churches and cloisters. Come forth by My leave, and occupy yourselves with that which will profit your souls and the souls of men. Thus biddeth you the
King of the Day of Reckoning. Seclude yourselves in the stronghold of My love. This, verily, is a befitting seclusion, were ye of them that perceive it. He that shutteth himself up in a house is indeed as one dead. It behoveth man to show forth that which will profit all created things, and he that bringeth forth no fruit is fit for fire. Thus counselleth you your Lord, and He, verily, is the Almighty, the All-Bounteous. Enter ye into wedlock, that after you someone may fill your place. We have forbidden you perfidious acts, and not that which will demonstrate fidelity." [P-27]
Attachment to this world may be described as anything which becomes a barrier between God and man, depriving the individual from drawing near to his Maker. It is clear from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh that God has created this world for man alone. For instance, in The Hidden Words, Bahá'u'lláh declares:
"O Son of Dust! all that is in heaven and on earth I have ordained for thee except the human heart..." [P-28]
This means that the world and all that is therein is created for man. God wants him to benefit from its wealth, to exploit its resources wisely and in harmony with nature, to work and possess all the good things he can earn, and to enjoy all the legitimate pleasures that life bestows upon him. But at no time must he allow the things of this world to possess him and rule over his heart and soul.
Indeed, in this Dispensation Bahá'u'lláh has ordained work rendered in the spirit of service to mankind as worship of God. He enjoins upon man the duty of working for the betterment of the world and the building of a new world order on this planet. In one of His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh has revealed these exalted words:
"Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him. Eat ye, O people, of the good things which God hath allowed you, and deprive not yourselves from His wondrous bounties. Render thanks and praise unto Him, and be of them that are truly thankful." [P-29]
One may be wealthy, yet detached from material things. Man can achieve this if he lives his life in accordance with the teachings of God. In one of His Tablets [P-30] Bahá'u'lláh states that the good things of this world and its beautiful products are all the manifestations of the attributes of God. To possess them will not become the cause of attachment to material things, provided the individual does not fix his affections upon them, nor allow himself to be possessed by them,
because this world and all that is therein are like unto a passing shadow and transitory. He further explains that one meaning of attachment to this world is attachment to those who have denied Him and repudiated His Cause.
To appreciate the true meaning of detachment, let us examine the nature of a human being. We note that the animal nature in man makes him selfish. The instinct for survival drives him to find food, clothing and shelter for himself. He pursues comfort, wealth and well-being, and has an insatiable appetite for collecting any beautiful and pleasurable object that comes his way. All these, as well as his emotional, spiritual and intellectual pursuits are aimed at benefiting his own self. He is the master of his own life, a pivot around which circle all his material possessions as well as his intellectual pursuits. One day he finds the Cause of God, recognizes its truth, falls in love with it, and then he adds it, like his other possessions, to his collection. He remains the master figure in the centre and all his possessions, including the Faith, revolve around him and serve his interests. Such a person is attached to the things of this world, for he allows his own interests to take precedence over the interests of the Cause, and his own ego to rule over his spiritual side. He puts his religion on a par with his other pursuits and selfishly expects to benefit from it just as he benefits from his other possessions.
On the other hand, genuine detachment from earthly things is achieved when the individual makes the Cause of God the pivot of his life, so that all his personal and material interests may revolve around his Faith. In this case, he can benefit from his material possessions without being attached to them. And since the Cause of God is the prime motivating influence in his life, he will never act against the teachings of his Faith. Every step he takes in his daily activities will be in harmony with the commandments of God. When a person reaches this exalted position, the interests of the Faith take precedence over his personal interests. And when he arises to serve the Cause of God, he will be ready to meet the challenge whatever the cost. Such a person has reached the summit of detachment.
Becoming detached from the things of this world is often a painful process and involves sacrifice. But when the believer gives up something dear to him for the sake of the Cause of God, mysterious forces will be released which will cause the Faith to grow. To offer up one's time, to labour for the establishment of the Faith in a locality, to give up the comforts of home and to go as a pioneer to foreign lands, to offer up one's substance for the promotion of the Cause, to be persecuted for one's faith, and even to give one's life at the end -- all these sacrifices are meritorious in the sight of God and will undoubtedly bring victory to His Cause, provided one's
motives are pure and sincere. That is the essential condition of loyalty and steadfastness in the Covenant of God -- purity of motive. Without it one's deeds are not acceptable by God. Bahá'u'lláh testifies to this truth in these words:
"O Children of Adam!
"Holy words and pure and goodly deeds ascend unto the heaven of celestial glory. Strive that your deeds may be cleansed from the dust of self and hypocrisy and find favour at the court of glory; for ere long the assayers of mankind shall, in the holy presence of the Adored one, accept naught but absolute virtue and deeds of stainless purity. This is the day-star of wisdom and of divine mystery that hath shone above the horizon of the divine will. Blessed are they that turn thereunto." [P-31]
As to the second barrier: we note in the Holy Writings that the purpose of the creation of man is that he may know God. One of the traditions of Islam states that in the beginning God was a 'Hidden Treasure', but desired to be discovered and recognized. He created man for this purpose. And now man has found God and turned to Him. Returning to the Short Obligatory Prayer which Bahá'u'lláh revealed for His followers to recite each day, we read: 'I bear witness O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee...'
Man, therefore, is created to serve his Lord and worship him with a pure heart, hoping to attain His good pleasure. The purpose is not that he receive reward for his actions. Man's deeds are thus praiseworthy in the sight of God when they are performed solely for His love and for no other reason. To this Bahá'u'lláh testifies in the Kitab-i-Aqdas: 'Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.' [P-32] In fact, when a believer turns to the Manifestation of God with true love, he cannot help but leave aside his personal interests. His attraction to the Manifestation is such that he will offer up everything to his Lord and will seek no benefits for himself.
If a man's actions are motivated by the thought that he may reap a reward for himself in the next world, then this is attachment, and a barrier between himself and God. To be detached means to do everything for the sake of God and to seek no recompense.
As to the third barrier: There are many references in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh to the 'Kingdom of Names'. God, in His own essence, is exalted above attributes. However, in all His dominions and within each of His worlds, both spiritual and physical, He reveals the kingdom of His attributes. Every created thing manifests the names and attributes of God. In the spiritual world, these attributes are manifest with such intensity that man will never be able to comprehend them in this life. In the human world, however, these attributes
appear within the 'Kingdom of Names' and man often becomes attached to these names.
In many of His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh exhorts His followers not to become the bond-slaves of the Kingdom of Names. The well-known Islamic saying, 'The Names come down from heaven', has many meanings. In this world every one of God's attributes is clad with a name, and every such name reveals the characteristics of that attribute. For instance, generosity is an attribute of God, and it manifests itself in human beings. However, a person who has this attribute often becomes proud of it and loves to be referred to as generous. When his generosity is acknowledged by other people, he becomes happy, and when it is ignored, he is unhappy. This is one form of attachment to the Kingdom of Names. Although this example concerns the name 'generosity', the same is true of all the names and attributes of God manifested within the individual. Usually man ascribes these attributes to his own person rather than to God and employs them to boost his own ego. For instance, a learned man uses the attribute of knowledge to become famous and feels gratified and uplifted when his name is publicized far and wide. Or there is the individual whose heart leaps with feelings of pride and satisfaction when he hears his name mentioned and finds himself admired. These are examples of attachment to the Kingdom of Names.
Human society at present exerts a pernicious influence upon the soul of man. Instead of allowing him to live a life of service and sacrifice, it is highly competitive and teaches him to pride himself on his accomplishments. From early childhood he is trained to develop his ego and to seek to exalt himself above others, in the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power.
The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh aims to reverse this process. The soul of man needs to be adorned with the virtues of humility and self-effacement so that it may become detached from the Kingdom of Names.
Abdu'l-Bahá, the true Exemplar of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, demonstrated this form of detachment by His actions. He never in the course of His life wished to exalt His name, nor did He seek publicity for Himself. For instance, He had an immense dislike of being photographed. He said, '...to have a picture of oneself is to emphasize the personality...'. During the first few days of His visit to London, He refused to be photographed. However, as a result of much pressure by the newspaper reporters, and persistent pleas by the friends to be allowed to take His photograph, Abdu'l-Bahá acquiesced in order to make them happy.
The exalted titles conferred upon Him by Bahá'u'lláh are indicative
of Abdu'l-Bahá's lofty station. Yet Abdu'l-Bahá never applied them to Himself. Instead, after the Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, He took the title of Abdu'l-Bahá (Servant of Baha) and urged the believers to call Him only by this name. True servitude at the threshold of Bahá'u'lláh was all He prized. These are some of His words as He describes with utter self-effacement the reality of His station:
"My name is Abdu'l-Bahá. My qualification is Abdu'l-Bahá. My reality is Abdu'l-Bahá. My praise is Abdu'l-Bahá. Thralldom to the Blessed Perfection is my glorious and refulgent diadem, and servitude to all the human race my perpetual religion... No name, no title, no mention, no commendation have I, nor will ever have, except Abdu'l-Bahá. This is my longing. This is my greatest yearning. This is my eternal life. This is my everlasting glory." [P-33]
One of the distinguishing features of Bahá'u'lláh's embryonic world order is that it does not harbour egotistical personalities. Bahá'u'lláh has conferred authority on its institutions, whether local, national or international, but the individuals who are privileged to serve on them are devoid of any authority. Unlike men who wield power in the world today and seek to acquire fame and popularity, members of Bahá'í institutions cannot but manifest humility and self-effacement if they are to remain faithful to Bahá'u'lláh. Those who do not succeed, through immaturity or lack of faith, in living up to these standards are indeed attached to the Kingdom of Names and become deprived of the bounties of God in this age.
To sever oneself from the Kingdom of Names may prove to be the most difficult task for a Bahá'í, and the struggle may indeed last a lifetime. If a man can only realize that his virtues are not intrinsically his own, but rather are manifestations of the attributes of God, then he is freed from the Kingdom of Names and becomes truly humble. Such a man will bestow divine perfections upon the world of humanity. This is the loftiest station that God has destined for man. To the extent that a believer succeeds in severing himself from these three forms of attachment, will he be fulfilling his part in the Covenant of God.
To achieve this exalted goal man needs to recognize the station of Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation of God for this age and then observe His commandments with clear vision, mature reflection and a prayerful attitude. This can be achieved through deepening one's knowledge of the Faith and in serving His Cause. It is then that the heart will become the recipient of the knowledge of God, and will attain certitude in its faith. It is then that obedience to the teachings of
the Faith becomes wholehearted, as the individual grasps the significance of God's commandments, and comes to understand their wisdom, their excellence and their necessity. It is then that his thoughts, his vision, his aspirations, his words, and his deeds will all be in harmony with the Covenant of God. And it is then that his soul will acquire spiritual qualities and virtues. This is the ultimate outcome of obedience to the Covenant, which will enable the soul to progress in the spiritual worlds of God.