"The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one's very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow.... No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!"
Bahá'u'lláh was thus described by the well-known Cambridge University Orientalist Edward Granville Browne in 1890. Bahá'u'lláh had, at that time, been a prisoner and an exile for almost 40 years and His teachings were shrouded in obscurity; today He is recognized by millions of followers around the world as the Manifestation of God or Divine Teacher for this age. According to Bahá'í belief, Manifestations of God, including Moses, Abraham, Christ, Muhammad, Krishna, and Buddha, have appeared at intervals throughout history to found the world's great religious systems. They have been sent by a loving Creator to enable us to know and to worship Him and to bring human civilization to ever higher levels of achievement.
The station of these Manifestations is unique in creation. Their essential nature is twofold: they are at once human and divine. But they are not identical with God , the Creator, Who is Unknowable. Of God, Bahá'u'lláh has written,
He, in truth, hath, throughout eternity, been one in His Essence, one in His attributes, one in His works. Any and every comparison is applicable only to His creatures, and all conceptions of association are conceptions that belong solely to those that serve Him. Immeasurably exalted is His Essence above the descriptions of His creatures. He, alone, occupieth the Seat of transcendent majesty, of supreme and inaccessible glory. The birds of men's hearts, however high they soar, can never hope to attain the heights of His unknowable Essence. It is He Who hath called into being the whole of creation, Who hath caused every created thing to spring forth at His behest.1
Furthermore, Bahá'u'lláh, addressing God in a prayer, says:
Exalted, immeasurably exalted art Thou above any attempt to measure the greatness of Thy Cause, above any comparison that one may seek to make, above the efforts of the human tongue to utter its import! From everlasting Thou hast existed, alone with no one else beside Thee, and wilt, to everlasting, continue to remain the same, in the sublimity of Thine essence and the inaccessible heights of Thy glory.
And when Thou didst purpose to make Thyself known unto men, Thou didst successively reveal the Manifestations of Thy Cause, and ordained each to be a sign of Thy Revelation among Thy people, and the Day-Spring of Thine invisible Self amidst Thy creatures...2
The Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, Bahji, near Acre, Israel.
Describing the relationship between the Manifestations of God and Their Creator, Bahá'u'lláh used the analogy of the mirror: God is as the Sun, and the Manifestations are as Mirrors that reflect that divine light -- but they are in no way to be considered as identical to that Sun:
These sanctified Mirrors...are, one and all, the Exponents on earth of Him Who is the central Orb of the universe, its Essence and ultimate Purpose. From Him proceed their knowledge and power; from Him is derived their sovereignty. The beauty of their countenance is but a reflection of His image, and their revelation a sign of His deathless glory.3
Bahá'u'lláh's central message for humanity in this day is one of unity and justice. "The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice,"4 He wrote, and "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens"5 in two often-quoted passages. He also stated, "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established."6 This is the prescription of God, the divine and all-knowing Physician, for our ailing world.
While such statements have become part of mainstream thinking in the contemporary world, we can only imagine the startling effect they would have had on someone like E.G. Browne, to whom Bahá'u'lláh uttered the following remarkable statement:
Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile.... We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer-up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment.... That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled -- what harm is there in this? ...Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the `Most Great Peace' shall come...
Born into a noble family in nineteenth century Persia, Bahá'u'lláh's destiny would seem to have been one of wealth and ease. Yet, from an early age He showed little interest in following in His father's footsteps at the Shah's court, preferring to spend His time and resources in ministering to the poor. Later, His recognition of the religion of the Báb , which arose in 1844 in Persia and was destined to fulfil the prophecies of Islam, caused Him to be cast into prison and subsequently exiled.
In His writings, the Báb alluded to the imminent coming of the Promised One foretold in all the world's religions -- a role claimed by Bahá'u'lláh. "This is the King of Days," Bahá'u'lláh thus extols the age that has witnessed the advent of His Revelation, "the Day that hath seen the coming of the Best-beloved, Him Who through all eternity hath been acclaimed the Desire of the World."7 "I am the One," He in another connection affirms, "Whom the tongue of Isaiah hath extolled, the One with Whose name both the Torah and the Evangel were adorned."8 Of Himself, He wrote: "Naught is seen in My temple but the Temple of God, and in My beauty but His Beauty, and in My being but His Being, and in My self but His Self, and in My movement but His Movement, and in My acquiescence but His Acquiescence, and in My pen but His Pen, the Mighty, the All-Praised. There hath not been in My soul but the Truth, and in Myself naught could be seen but God."9 And of His mission, He said:
And when the entire creation was stirred up, and the whole earth was convulsed, and the sweet savors of Thy name, the All-Praised, had almost ceased to breathe over Thy realms, and the winds of Thy mercy had well-nigh been stilled throughout Thy dominions, Thou didst, through the power of Thy might, raise me up among Thy servants, and bid me to show forth Thy sovereignty amidst Thy people. Thereupon I arose before all Thy creatures, strengthened by Thy help and Thy power, and summoned all the multitudes unto Thee, and announced unto all Thy servants Thy favors and Thy gifts, and invited them to turn towards this Ocean, every drop of the waters of which crieth out, proclaiming unto all that are in heaven and on earth that He is, in truth, the Fountain of all life, and the Quickener of the entire creation, and the Object of the adoration of all worlds, and the Best-Beloved of every understanding heart, and the Desire of all them that are nigh unto Thee.10
It was during His initial imprisonment that Bahá'u'lláh first experienced divine revelation. Of it, He wrote:
During the days I lay in the prison of Tihran, though the galling weight of the chains and the stench-filled air allowed Me but little sleep, still in those infrequent moments of slumber I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain. Every limb of My body would, as a result, be set afire. At such moments My tongue recited what no man could bear to hear.11
Throughout the long years of exile He endured, Bahá'u'lláh revealed divinely inspired passages equivalent to over 100 volumes. This revelation comprises mystical writings , social and ethical teachings , laws and ordinances, and a fearless proclamation of His message to the kings and rulers of the world, including Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, Pope Pius IX, the Shah of Persia, Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, and others.
The conception of human nature found in Bahá'u'lláh's revelation is one of dignity and essential nobility. In one passage, He writes, with the voice of God, "O Son of Spirit! Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created."12 Elsewhere, He states, "Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom."13 Every person, He asserts, is capable of recognizing God; all that is needed is a degree of detachment:
When the channel of the human soul is cleansed of all worldly and impeding attachments, it will unfailingly perceive the breath of the Beloved across immeasurable distances, and will, led by its perfume, attain and enter the City of Certitude.
...That city is none other than the Word of God revealed in every age and dispensation.... All the guidance, the blessings, the learning, the understanding, the faith, and certitude, conferred upon all that is in heaven and on earth, are hidden and treasured within these Cities.14
Bahá'u'lláh's Son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, who was appointed by Him as His successor, described the mission of His Father in these words:
He bore these ordeals, suffered these calamities and difficulties in order that a manifestation of selflessness and service might become apparent in the world of humanity; that the Most Great Peace should become a reality; that human souls might appear as the angels of heaven; that heavenly miracles would be wrought among men; that human faith should be strengthened and perfected; that the precious, priceless bestowal of God, the human mind, might be developed to its fullest capacity in the temple of the body; and man become the reflection and likeness of God, even as it hath been revealed in the Bible: `We shall create man in Our own image.'
Briefly, the Blessed Perfection [Bahá'u'lláh] bore all these ordeals and calamities in order that our hearts might become enkindled and radiant, our spirits be glorified, our faults become virtues, our ignorance transformed into knowledge; in order that we might attain the real fruits of humanity and acquire heavenly graces; although pilgrims upon earth we should travel the road of the heavenly kingdom; although needy and poor we might receive the treasures of life eternal. For this has He borne these difficulties and sorrows.15
Bahá'u'lláh passed from this earthly world in 1892, still nominally a prisoner in Palestine. One hundred years later, in 1992, the Bahá'í international community observed a Holy Year to commemorate the centenary of His ascension. In May of that year, a delegation of several thousand Bahá'ís from over 200 countries and territories gathered at His shrine in the Holy Land to pay homage to Him. And the following November a congress of some 27,000 followers assembled in New York City in an atmosphere of reverence and joy to celebrate the inauguration of Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant which has preserved the unity of His Faith since its inception. A statement written to acquaint people everywhere with the details of Bahá'u'lláh's life and mission was also released during this special year.
We invite you to learn more about Bahá'u'lláh's life and mission; to study the prayers and sacred writings revealed by Him; and to investigate His astounding claim to be "the Promised One of All Ages" and His promise of a future when "these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the `Most Great Peace' shall come."
1. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 2d rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1976), p. 193.
2. Bahá'u'lláh, Prayers and Meditations of Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1938), p. 128.
3. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 46-49.
4. Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985), pp. 3-4.
5. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 249-50.
6. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 286-87.
7. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, 2d rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974), p. 106.
8. The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 105.
9. The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 109.
10. Prayers and Meditations of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 104.
11. Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1979), p. 22.
12. The Hidden Words, p. 9.
13. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 260.
14. Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-qan, 3d ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982), pp. 199-200.
15. `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 2d ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982), p. 28.
Copyright 2006, Bahá'í International Community