The Love Relationship Between God and Humanity:
A Commentary on Bahá'u'llah's Hidden Words
First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #2
Bahá'í National Center: Wilmette, Illinois, USA
March 25–27, 1994
(see list of papers from #2)
published in Scripture and Revelation, pages 283-308
© 1997, Irfán Colloquia
The poetical-spiritual atmosphere of The Hidden Words and their theological-philosophical content are briefly examined. Through those aphorisms the human adventure upon the earth is described. Man's material and spiritual creation is explained. The story of God's love for His creature, of the gifts He bestowed upon man, of the Covenant He entered with him, and of the ambiguous response of man to the precious Covenant his Creator offered to him is narrated. Man's travel through the paths of life is followed in its most important steps. Man is shown as a creature hovering between the allurement of a material life, which is viewed as empty and vain in itself, and the ecstasy of a spiritual world, which is recognized as man's real homeland. How man will be enabled to make his choice between his attachment to this world and his sometimes unconscious love for his spiritual homeland; how the blessings and challenges of material life may be fully enjoyed and met; how the precious potential divine qualities of the soul may be expressed during this life in the form of thoughts, feelings, words, deeds, and behaviors: how the purpose of human life may be realized: all this is explained in this most important among the ethical Works by the Pen of Bahá'u'lláh.
The Hidden Words is a collection of aphorisms, set out in no
particular sequence, as if the God Himself was speaking (the Islamic form of
`to admonish and counsel' humanity.
These aphorisms suggest a way of inner growth, whereby every person may
approach reunion with the Divine Self. At the same time they reflect upon the
origin of humanity and human nature, the relationship between God and humanity
and of each person with every other. They explore the meaning of human life,
the comprehension of which is an incentive and the premise for those wishing to
tread the path Bahá'u'lláh's words recommend. It may be owing to
these characteristics that the Hidden Words have been described by
Shoghi Effendi as a work of `unsurpassed preeminence among the ... ethical
Bahá'u'lláh Himself presents His book as a synthesis of the
teachings `revealed unto the Prophets of old', now offered by Him `as a token
of grace unto the righteous, that they may stand faithful unto the Covenant of
God ... and in the realm of spirit obtain the gem of Divine virtue'. His
educational and moral intention is evident: to encourage the readers to
manifest their loyalty to God through `deeds of stainless holiness (P35)', a
message representing the foundation of all revealed religions.
The language of the Hidden Words is not that of philosophical works
but rather the inspired and metaphorical idiom of scripture. The reader is
introduced into a mythical
universe ... that extends into the past and future of eternity, out into
the macrocosm of the physical universe and into the microcosm of that most
spiritual of all universes - our own hearts and minds.
Here is a love-story, `the romance of all the ages- the Love of ... the
Creator and His creature ... Only the final event of this love-story is
lacking. God calls, and when His utterance is complete He pauses that man may
answer, and waits- listening'.
Although the Hidden Words repeatedly refer to human unfaithfulness,
the reader emerges from its perusal with the feeling that it is possible for
man to be faithful to that ancient Covenant and thus bring his heart's
love-story to a happy conclusion. Perhaps it is this feeling of confidence,
that makes it a frequented book. And while the aphorisms are once again read
with more concentrated attention, from those metaphors scattered concepts and
ideas emerge in greater clearness. Those ideas, enlightened as they are by the
light of spirit, seldom remain on the plane of mind, more often they quicken
the creative power of a deep love. Perhaps this is one of the reason why The
Hidden Words have been recommended by `Abdu'l-Bahá as a text of
meditation, inspiration and practical guidance and described by Shoghi Effendi as a `dynamic spiritual
leaven cast into the life of the world for the reorientation of the minds of
men, the edification of their souls and the rectification of their
The Origin and Position of man
God creates out of love. In the unapproachable station of His
unknowable Oneness, wherein He alone is, He knows His love for that which comes
into existence because He is Creator and which, because it is created by Him,
is His reflection (A3). And among His creatures He chooses one, the human
being, for a special love: in us He reflects His whole `image', to us He says:
`Know thou, that I ... have perfected through thee My bounty and have desired
for thee that which I have desired for My Self (A70)'. This image of God engraved within the individual, this
divine trust entrusted to us, is the blessing and the challenge of our lives:
it is our spiritual reality, our soul.
The soul, called also
`spirit' and, with different shades
of meaning, `heart', is described
in its essential aspects. The soul is `a breath of [the Divine] Spirit
(A19)', and therefore it is
immortal (A14). It is the `throne (A58)' of God, His `home (A59)', the
`habitation of [His] beauty and glory (P27)', the `place of [His] revelation
(A59)'. It is a `sacred city (P33, 78)', a `Sinai', upon which `the spirit of
enlightenment hath breathed (A63)', a testimony of the words: `My love is in
thee (A10)'; `I have bountifully shed My favor upon thee (A11)'; `within thee
have I placed the essence of My light (A12)', `the pearls of My mysteries and
the gems of My knowledge (A69)'. And yet, the soul is also described as a
`candle ... lighted by the hand of [His] power', that may be quenched by the
`winds of self and passion (P32)', as a `bird ... [that may stray] far from
[its] eternal nest (P2)'- metaphors alluding not only to its capacity of
soaring towards higher spheres, but also to its weakness and imperfection. Thus
the soul is shown as a potential reality, like unto a `tablet (A71;
P45)', whereon angelic or satanic
words may be written. It is a `pure soil (P33, 36, 78)' that should be tiled,
so that it may be changed into a `meadow (P45)'; a `garden (P3)', that should
be taken care of, so that `the hyacinths of ... knowledge and wisdom may spring
up fresh and green (P33, 78; 36)' and it may not become a place of thorns and
Between the Two Worlds
Thus the soul is floating between two worlds: a material world and a
spiritual world. The former is described as an inferior level of existence
unworthy of man's love. Sometimes its ephemeral nature is stressed. It is then
defined as `that which perisheth (A23, P37)', `a passing day (P39)', `mortal
(P23)' and `fleeting world (P41)'. But his transience is enwrapped in a `gay
livery (P74)', and thus this world is also a `sovereignty (P74)', albeit
`mortal and fleeting (A54)', a beauty, `that [yet] must die (P14)', a `mortal'
`cup (P61)', that offers `evanescent water (P62)'. Other times it is described
as a `cage', a `prison (P39)' where the soul is constrained in `the fetters
(P40)', subjected to `self (P40)', immersed `in the darkness of dust (P23)', a
prisoner `in the realms of desire' and in `the regions of satanic fancy
And yet also such fleeting and cunning world has its value, because it
offers to man a `chance (P21)', that must be seized `for it will come to [him]
no more (P40)': the opportunity of demonstrating his faithfulness to the
Covenant. If man will seize its challenge, he will be `freed from destruction
and death, from toil and sin (P70)' and will obtain the qualities of the
spiritual or divine world.
This divine world is variously described for its qualities: `everlasting'
and `eternal life (A63; P58)'; `realm of the infinite (P1)', or `of spirit
(prologue)'; or for its gifts: `court of holiness (A33)', `heights of certainty
(P9)', or `reunion (A34, 61)'. It is a `highest paradise (A46)', where man
will be in a condition of `peace' `rest' `light' `holiness (A8, 41, 50, 68)';
the' city of eternity' (P71).
We are thus presented as creatures endowed with a dual nature:
material and spiritual. As material nature, he is de-scribed as
a creature born from an ephemeral world, whose fleetingness he shares. He is
bound to this world, and manifests this tie in the form of passion and desire
(P34, 45, 68), which draw him
towards behaviours that strengthen his ties with the material world and
manifest the material side of his nature - negligence, heedlessness, rebellion,
fancy, hypocrisy and vainglory. As spiritual nature he is described as a
spiritual being, created by God Himself, `Divine and Invisible Essence',
through His `Being', the Perfect `Man', the Eternal `Adam', Who speaks His
`Utterance' to man. Upon this creature He lavishes His attributes, like beauty,
light, justice, love, glory, bounty, and such precious capacities as inner
vision, a mind to know and ears to hear. Therefore God considers this creature
not only as a son, but as a friend, a companion of His Throne, a brother in the
path, a dweller in the highest paradise, the city of love. But all these
bounties are potential. Their manifestation depends from man himself. In fact
while God made man to share in both the spiritual and the material worlds, He
has also endowed him with instruments whereby he may know the two sides of
reality: i.e. the `two visions', apt both at looking to `the world', and
recognizing `the hallowed beauty of the Beloved (P12)'. Besides, He conferred
to man the capacity of loving, a capacity He left him free to orient towards
either the `eternal, imperishable dominion' or a `mortal and fleeting
This dual nature makes man somehow ambiguous. Albeit he is
able to know the two worlds, and endowed with wings that enable him to `fly
to realms of mystic holiness', he often directs his steps towards `the regions
of satanic fancy (P79)'. His life, therefore, appears as wavering between a
material world, whereto he is attracted because of desire and passion, and a
spiritual world, towards which he is driven by his divine potentiality, almost
a `spiritual instinct', and by
God Himself through His loving assistance.
The Hidden Words suggest a path whereby man may make his choice
between the two worlds, the blessings and the challenge of his life may be
fully met and he may manifest, as thoughts and feelings, words and deeds, those
precious qualities wherewith he is endowed, and suggest that thus the purpose
of his creation will be fulfilled.
God's Ancient Covenant
The journey of the human beings begins in the moment when he is
created. The Hidden Words describe this event through a metaphorical
language of great charm. One of the aphorisms recalls his physical creation
`Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of [God's] command (P29)'. Man
is here shown as a creature for whose training `every atom in existence and the
essence of all created things (P29)' were pre-ordained: a poetical reference to
the fact that man is the fruit of evolution, which was preordained for his
education? Anyhow, the purpose of this evolution and education is suggested on
a higher plane of existence: God's `everlasting dominion (P29)' (cf. A70).
Another aphorism describes man's spiritual creation. It is a `radiant morn'
`in the all-glorious paradise'; all men are gathered `beneath the shade of the
tree of life (P19)' in the presence of their Creator. It is then that God
enters with men into a Covenant, that animates, sustains and guides the whole
human life, a Covenant here
summarized in the form of `three most holy words':
Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired
for you, and approach Me not with lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly
desires and cravings (P19).
We are invited to be faithful to that Covenant which asks us to love God
above anything else, to be submitted to His will and detached from the material
world; he will thus obtain `a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting
(A1)'. But if he will not be faithful to that Covenant, God pledges Himself
`not to forgive any man's injustice (P64)'.
The language of these aphorisms is that of Islamic mysticism. But here the
metaphors are divested of any rigid symbolical stereotype and convey deep inner
meanings. It is an intrinsic quality of human nature for man to be a creature
bound to its Creator by a tie of complete dependence. It is the bounty of its
Creator that He gave to this dependence the benefit of a tie of love. The
Creator in His love for man reveals how best he may live that dependence and
enjoy the bounties of that love: the path of faithfulness to a Covenant decreed
by God Himself which will lead man towards the joy of reunion with Him. And
since man is born and lives in the world of matter, it is there that He
realizes that Covenant, manifesting Himself in a human temple.
The Hidden Words merely hints at this renewal of the Covenant
through successive Manifestations of God upon the earth, whereas man's course
in his relation with the Covenant is described in greater details: the starting
point; the difficulties met along the way; his unfaithfulness; some of the more
important clauses of the Covenant and of the glories of its final goal.
The Manifestation of God
The Hidden Words explain that God reveals His Word to man and
bestows upon him plentiful spiritual bounties (cf. A70). As to the Word of God,
it is often compared to water: a `wondrous fountain (A37)', a `river of
everlasting life (P37)', `a dew-drop out of the fathomless oceans of [God's]
mercy (P61)'. As to the spiritual bounties, His `invisible bestowals (P29; cf.
P11, A57)', the allusions are many: `spirit of life (A4)', `holiness [and] power (A34)'; `of enlightenment
(A63)' and `mercy (P38)'; `breath of bounty (P46)' and `divine favor
(conclusion)': it is the `Holy Spirit (P58)'. Through these bounties the best human qualities can
emerge, like `a finely tempered sword' from `the darkness of its sheath (P72)'
wherein they were concealed.
God, Who is forever `[v]eiled ... in the ancient eternity of [His] essence
(A3; cf. 65, 66)', reveals His Word and bestows
His gifts through an Intermediary, `the manifestation of [His] holiness
(P27)'. This `Manifestation' abides, `beneath the canopy of majesty behind the
tabernacle of glory (A45)', in the `court of holiness (A33)': the `realms of
celestial glory (P28)' and `sanctity (P38; cf. A6), `the realms of the
The Manifestation reveals whatever human beings may know about God and the
spiritual worlds and thus he is `the countenance of ... God (A24, 34)', the
`Self (A70)' of God, `the Most
Great Name (P53)', `the Most High (P2, 8)', `the All-Glorious (P22)', the
`divine Assayer (P25)' who tests human beings and being at his presence is the
same as being `in the holy Presence (P59)' of God.
The Manifestation of God conveys to us the divine Word: therefore he is
given such titles as `tongue of power and might (Prologue; cf. A67)', or
`tongue of the merciful (P78)'; `pen of might (A67)', `of glory (P7)' or `of
the Lord of all names (P52)'; `dove of heaven (P13) `dove' or `nightingale of
holiness (P23, 15)', an allusion to the `celestial melody (P15)' of His words
that is the `voice (P15)' of God Himself.
The Manifestation of God is also described, because of the abundance of his
spiritual gifts, as `Lord of wealth (A53)' and `tree of effulgent glory (A21;
cf. A68, P49)'. In fact man will find in him everything he needs to fulfill the
purpose of his life. He is `the most effulgent horizon (P2)', because the
quickening light of the divine Sun shines from him.
The Manifestation of God is `the true Friend' who `hath suffered for
[man's] guidance countless affliction' (P52). Because of his love for man and
of his generosity, he is the `Well-Be-loved (P1; cf. 12, 17, 22, 27, 45, 46,
62)', the `Adored One (P35, 69)', the `Friend (P26, 29, 43, 52)', the `chief of
the monarchs of love (P23)'.
Another line of symbols hints at the Manifestation of God as a
manifestation of beauty (A3, 36, 39, 47, 50; P10, 11, 48, 63, 74). Thus he is
called `veilles Beauty (P9)'; `beauty of the immortal Being (P77)' or `of the
Beloved (P12, 22, Conclusion; cf. P36)'; `beauty of the rose (P13)'. Finally he
is also described as a `celestial Youth (P23, 70)', an `immortal ... divine
Cup-bearer (P58, 62)' who proffers to man `the cup of eternal life (P58; cf.
P62)'. The symbol, typical of Persian lyric poetry, is transparent: the
Manifestation of God bestows His word and gifts for man's spiritual growth, as
the young cup-bearer offers the cup filled with inebriating wine for the
physical joy of his guest.
We are urged to turn unto him (P9) and to `give ear ... to that which hath
been revealed by the pen of glory (P7; cf. A71, 38, 39, 40 etc.)'. In fact the
words of the Manifestation of God reveal unto man the will of God, i.e. the
clauses of His Coven-ant, worded as `statutes (A38)', `commandments (A39)' and
`counsels (A39)'. They are the divine teachings, that reveal `myriads of hidden
mysteries (P16)'; the `Cause (A34, 41, 42)' of God, compared to a `beauteous
robe (A37)', a `garden (P18; cf. P1)', a `celestial city (P17)'. And yet,
albeit those words and gifts are great, they are `in accordance with [man's]
capacity and understanding, not with [God's] state (A67)'.
If we conform to these teachings `the hyacinths of [Divine] knowledge and
wisdom [will] spring up fresh and green in the sacred city of [our] heart (P33;
78)' and `all wisdom [will] be [ours] (P62)'. Thus he will be able to overcome
the suggestions of desire and passion, born of the material world, and to
manifest the divine qualities of his soul.
However, if we want to receive these gifts, we should seek for them through
an act of love and free choice (A5), an act that requires an effort. In fact,
because of `a mystery which none but the pure in heart can comprehend', it is
easier for us to understand `this fleeting world (P41)' rather than the other
one; and `the immortal sovereignty (P41)' is not as evident to us as the `gay
livery (P74)' of the material world. Therefore it is easier for us to love the
latter then the former. The challenge of earthly life is that, despite this, we
will love the former.
Our Faithlessness to the Covenant
Although the clauses of the Covenant seem so clear and simple, yet
men are repeatedly faithless to it (P17, 71) down the ages (P20), often they
pass by the Manifestation of God without seeing him (P16, 17), and even indulge
in acts of persecution and cruelty against him (P17, 23, 77, 79). But God is
merciful and instead of getting angry for this impious and cruel ingratitude,
manifests His solicitous fear that man may be lost and `return to water and
clay (P13)'. He just reminds man that his actions are not hidden and that one
day will come when the truth of all hearts will be manifested (P59,
Manifold are the reasons of man's faithlessness: his impurity that draws
him to prefer `a mortal cup' with its `foul dregs (P61, 62)' and to `let ...
the defilement of the world eclipse [his] splendor (P73; cf. P45)';
`negligence' the source of `vain ... imaginings (P23)', that like `veils (A63)'
make him believe the world to be a precious wealth (A56) and hold him back
`within the pastures of desire and passion (P45)', while forgetting (P29; cf.
P79) the bounties of God; `heedlessness (P20, 30, 49)', that deprives him `of
the glory of the divine presence (P2)', causes him to neglect the divine
bounties (P29) and the Covenant, and prevents him from emerging resplendent
`from behind the clouds (P73)'; `ease' that induces him to busy himself with
others than God (P28; cf. P39, 54); pride and rebellion that efface the
remembrance of the Covenant `from the hearts, in such wise as no trace thereof
remaineth (P71)', and thus fell `the tree of [his] hope (P21)'.
The Obstacles of Our Journey
The same reasons of faithlessness remain as obstacles in man's
spiritual journey. Impurity, idle fancies, negligence, heedlessness, ease,
apathy, and rebellion bind him to the world in a despairing remoteness from
God. Envy prevents him from attaining the `everlasting dominion' and inhaling
the `sweet savors of holiness breathing from [His] kingdom of sanctity (P6)';
malice forbids him from entering the `court of holiness (P42)'; idle
contentions (P46) and covetousness (P50) keep him in a condition of affliction
and deprivation; hypocrisy excludes him from the hosts of God's true lovers
(A28); slander and back-biting defile his tongue, `designed for the mention' of
God (P66; cf. A26, 27).
These qualities belong to man's material nature. They are the result of his
attachment to the self and the world, a sign demonstrating that he is not
faithful to the Covenant, because he has set his love on the self and the
world, rather than on God.
In The Hidden Words the self is described as a `prison (P40)' or as
a `fire (P66)', a reality that can draw man to behaviors he should avoid (A26,
27). It is associated with `the fiery charger of passion', that man, in his
rebellion, spurs `into perilous ways that lead unto destruction (P65)' and that
as a contrary wind may quench the `candle of [his] heart' that was `lighted
with the hand of [God's] power (P32)'; it is associated with `worldly desire
(P37; cf. P79)', that as a `sheath' prevents man's worth to `be made
resplendent and manifest unto all the world (P72)'.
Still other obstacles met on the spiritual path depend from the
circumstances of life. These are God's tests, as tribulations that nonetheless
`the true lover yearneth for (A49)', because they enable him to demonstrate his
love for God; or as wealth (A55), that can easily draw man far from
Bad friends are also described as obstacles, because they exercise an evil
influence upon the soul, so much so that man is advised to guard himself `from
the strangers amidst [God's] servants and from the ungodly amongst [His] people
The Consequences of Faithlessness
Those who are faithless to the Covenant are condemned to remain
`far' from God (A35; P2, 21), deprived of His love (A5) and sometimes even
accursed by Him (A26, 27). Caught within `the prison of self (P40)', they will
live a life deprived of `peace (A8)' and `rest (A40)'. They will `thirst for
evermore (A37)', lost in a vain search after appeasement (A15, 17). Victims of
illusion (A56), sunk into the `baser stages of doubt (P9)', they will be
`sorely afflicted (P46)', and will fall a prey of `poverty (A13)', spiritual
abasement (A22) and `boundless shame (P21)'. The `shades of utter loss (P13)'
will envelop them. Scourged by `weariness [and] trouble (A63)', `toil and sin
(P70)', they will be overcome by `destruction (P65)', perdition and spiritual
death (A9), or, in eschatological sense, by an `unforeseen calamity ... [a]
grievous retribution (P63)'.
And yet although we, who know our own self better than we know others
(P66), are conscious of our limitation, we wrongly believe that `secrets of
hearts are hidden (P59)' and that our faithlessness will remain unpunished. But
God knows all secrets and in His grace decided not to breath them (P28, 60). He
will call upon us `to give account for [our] deeds (A31)': individually, at the
end of our days when `death, unheralded, shall come upon (A31)' us and the
secrets of our hearts will be manifested and God, careless of the gay liveries
of the world, will gather us with all humanity `beneath the one-colored
covering of the dust (P74)'; collectively, at the end of time when `the radiant
dawn breaketh above the horizon of eternal holiness (P67)' and perversity and
injustice (P63, 64) will be punished.
The Clauses of the Covenant
It is the kernel of the ethical teachings set forth in The Hidden
Words. And yet it is not a cold list of precepts or a lengthy description
of abstract casuistries. It is the voice of a wise and loving Father, Who
reminds His children of His eternal teachings and, in His love, touches the
innermost chords of their hearts. Is it because His counsels are the most
precious part of all religious traditions, and were thus absorbed by all men
through the most cherished experiences of childhood? Or is it the `reed' of the soul which, perceiving the
breezes wafting from the rushes where it was born and whence it was pulled up,
becomes `at-one-ed' with the
melody of His words and vibrates?
Love of God
The God of the Hidden Words desires `to be loved alone and
above all that is (A8)'. He claims to this love (A20), because of His bounties
unto man: `the fragrances of holiness' and His `word (A70)'. `Love Me, that I
may love thee.' He says, `If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach
thee (A5)'. It is a two-way love relationship, as that between the sun and the
tree or mother and son, which even in nature `is the basis for growth'. Neither the world of matter nor the
human self, in their ephemerality, are worthy of man's love: only God is worthy
of being loved and such a love, which is the essence of human faithfulness to
the divine Covenant, is an indispensable prerequisite whereby the required
bounties of God may be received and an inner transformation, which is the
purpose of human life, may be achieved. The results are so beneficent that this
love is described as a `treasure' to be cherished `even as [one's] very sight
and life (P32)'. Any-thing else will offer only fleeting joys and will finally
bring to man bitterness and delusion (A8, 9, 15, 17, 37, 40; P4).
Love for the Manifestation of God
And yet, since God is `veiled ... in the ancient eternity of [His]
essence (A3)', we cannot orient our love directly to Him. The object of our
love is He wherein God chooses to reveal Himself: His Manifestation. This love
for the Manifestation of God is not just a feeling, or a thought; it is a
continuous quest for the nearness to God (A34, 35) and for God's `pleasure
(A7)', pursued through the observance of His statutes for His love's sake
(A38). To attain this nearness and pleasure we should `Posses a pure, kindly
and radiant heart (A1)'.
The `pure ... heart'
The first quality required from the heart is that it be `pure', i.e.
sanctified and cleansed from anything beside God (A7, 58, 59). In fact the
heart is the centre of man's love, and therefore God wants it for Himself
(P27): `Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent... (A59)'. It is
impossible indeed `that friend and foe should abide in one heart (P26)' or for
His `will and the will of another than [Him to] dwell together in one heart
(P31; cf. P27)'. Therefore Bahá'u'lláh admonishes: `Cast out ...
the stranger, that the Friend may enter His home (P26)'. This condition is
called `detachment (A68)'.
The first requirement of detachment is detachment from the self: `If thou
lovest Me, turn away from thyself (A7)'; `There is no peace for thee save by
renouncing thyself (A8)'; `Renounce thyself and ... abide in the realm of
celestial sanctity (P38)'. Detachment from the self implies manifold attitudes.
Firstly it implies detachment from `idle fancies (A62, 63; cf. P45)', i.e.
ideas, accumulated in the course of time, that, since they are at variance with
reality, are defined as prejudices. Sometimes they are considered by men as
`learning (P11)', because they are part of tradition. But it is this kind of
`learning' that hinders man from recognizing the Manifestation of God, when he
appears to him, bereft of worldly power, enwrapped in the glory of the spirit
(P10, 12). And thus The Hidden
Words admonish: `empty thyself of all learning, save the knowledge of Me,
that with a clear vision, a pure heart and an attentive ear thou mayest enter
the court of My holiness (P11)'.
A further requirement of detachment is detachment from the world (P14, 15,
16, 54). This detachment implies detachment from wealth, that is fleeting (A52,
53) and dangerous for the spirit (P53; cf. A55, 56; P11, 55). And yet wealth is
condemned only when it becomes a barrier between man and God (P53). The poverty
recommended in The Hidden Words is a poverty `in all save God (P51)'
consisting in a complete submission to the Will of God.
Detachment from the world implies also detachment from the `Kingdom of
Names', i.e. from `vainglory
(P47); as well as `fortitude under My decree and patience under my trials
(A48)', here presented as `the sign of love (ibid.)' (cf. A49, 50, 51; P44).
These fortitude and patience can go as far as martyrdom (A45; 46, 47)',
intended not only in its literal meaning, but also as a life wholly devoted to
the service of the Cause of spirit. Without these qualities the path of
detachment cannot be tread, because the required moral strength whereby the
tests of life may be met would be lacking.
Detachment from the self and from the world does not imply life to be
abhorred, but only it to be considered in its real meaning: a school wherein
the soul may learn how to know, in the practice of daily living, the qualities
of the spiritual world wherewith it is potentially endowed (P29, A3). Therefore
detachment is not asceticism, renunciation, indifference, but only the choice
of God as supreme object of love. The Hidden Words proffer a very clear
admonishment: `The basest of men are they that yield no fruit on earth (P81;
cf. P82)', `Let deeds, not words, be your adorning (P5)'. These words leave no
place for doubts: he who loves God should learn how to live a life of both
detachment and commitment and service, for His love's sake.
Detachment may be obtained by cleansing `the heart with the burnish of the
spirit' and hastening `to the court of the Most High (P8)'. The rough surface
of the heart will not reflect the splendor of the Sun of Reality, until the
burnish of the continuous effort of observing the laws, required to be admitted
into the `court of the Most High', will have not released it from the fetters
and impurities of earthly life and made it a polished and shining
Of great help for a man who is struggling for detachment are an
introspection that may lead him to `bring [himself] to account each day (A31)',
remembrance of God, considered as the `healer of all ... ills (P32)' and
`companionship of the righteous (P3)' that `cleanseth the rust from off the
heart (P56)' and `doth quicken and illumine the hearts of the dead (P58)'
The `pure heart' is characterized by other qualities as well: justice (A2),
trust in God (A8), faithfulness (P1), contentment (P50), obedience (A18, 38,
39), humbleness in front of God (A24, 42).
The `kindly ... heart': Loving Humankind
The Covenant provides for man to attain the well-pleasure of God
through `the pleasure of His creatures (P43)'. In order for this pleasure to be
attained the qualities of a `kindly ... heart' are required:1 love (P3), justice (A2, 38), honesty,
loyalty and sincerity (A2, 28), humbleness in front of one's fellow-men (A25,
68; P5, 47, 48), courtesy and kindliness (A1), harmony (P5), forbearance (P48),
compassion and mercy (A27, 30; P44, 49, 66), charity and generosity (A30, 57;
P49, 54). These qualities of kindliness contribute to form that which is
commonly defined as a `good character'. He who has a good character is both a
loving and a lovable person. He
loves all people around him, and all those who meet him can easily love him.
These qualities are therefore very precious in human relationship, whose
perfection is realized in the oneness of mankind. The oneness of mankind, the
pivot of the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith, is offered in The
Hidden Words both as the starting point of mankind, which was created
`all from one same substance (A68)', and as a reaching point of its evolution,
the highest expression of collective spirituality that can be achieved on the
earth, and therefore the purpose of the whole world of creation. No wonder that
The Hidden Words sternly condemn back-biting, slander (A26, 27; P44,
66), envy (P6, 42) and malice (P42), important factors of disunity.
The `radiant ... heart': Creativity
`Rejoice in the gladness of thine heart, that thou mayest be worthy
to meet Me and to mirror forth My beauty (A36)': this gladness is born from
being content with the will of God, i.e. from `submission to [His] command and
humbleness before [His] Face (A40)', and from thankfulness to Him (A70), a
thankfulness described by `Abdu'l-Bahá not only as a `verbal
thanksgiving which is confined to a mere utterance of gratitude', but also as
`a cordial giving of thanks from the heart', that expresses itself in
`spiritual susceptibilities' or better yet `in praise-worthy actions' such as
self-sacrificing, loving the servants of God, forfeiting even life for
them, showing kindness to all the creatures ... [being] severed from the
world, attracted to the Kingdom of Abhá, the face radiant, the tongue
eloquent, the ear attentive, striving day and night to attain the good
pleasure of God.
This contentment and gratitude should be manifested not only in front of
the great gifts of God (A70), but also under the trials of life, that in this
respect are often sent down upon man so that his faithfulness to the Covenant
may be tested: `If adversity befall thee not in My path, how canst thou walk in
the ways of them that are content with My pleasure?' (A50)'
Other qualities of a radiant heart are knowledge (P11, 33) and
self-knowledge (A13); wisdom (P36) and holiness (P8); an attitude of prayer and
meditation (A16, 31; P8, 32); unity (A68) and commitment to one's work (P80);
happiness (P44) and the capacity of enjoying any legitimate pleasure that may
be offered by life (P82); serenity in the face of death (A14, 32), and last but
not least the beneficent influence it exercises upon the others (P56, 58). A
heart endowed with such gifts is a versatile instrument whereby the Cause of
God may be established and divulged in the world, according to His own behest
(A41, 42, 43).
The Goal of the Path: Spirituality
Faithfulness to the Covenant implies for man a way of life, shaped
by a persistent effort of doing whatever the Manifestation may require (A71).
Through this effort man writes the divine word `upon the tablet of [his] spirit
(A71)', and thus he ac-quires qualities which are also requirements for his
efforts to be successful. It is a process of transformation, which proceeds
slowly at first, and then with accelerating speed, whereby man is raised from a
world of dust to the luminous lands of a celestial realm. It is a gradual (P7) transformation, described as
`path of holiness (P8)' or `of detachment (Conclusion)'.
During this process the soul is filled `with the spirit of life'; through
the assistance of the `Holy Spirit (P58)', its inner eye is opened (A44, P12),
the `pearls of [Divine] mysteries and the gems of ... knowledge (A69)', God has
enshrined within it, become manifest. Thus the soul becomes `an eternal light
and an immortal spirit (A51)', obtains `the gem of Divine virtue (Prologue)'
and attains unto that `sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting (A1)'
for which it was created.
As divine qualities are gradually acquired and perfected, self and passion,
fear and uncertainty grow less in the heart, and peace, joy, certitude and love
grow stronger. Physical, intellectual and spiritual potentialities of man are
actualized with growing harmony and diminishing conflicts. The heart, pure in
its determination of expressing its love for God in the form of deeds, has
attained not only kindliness, as the capacity of actively loving the others,
but also such radiance as bestows upon it the light of a lamp of guidance. That
man has become one of those righteous described by Bahá'u'lláh:
`Wouldst thou seek the grace of the Holy Spirit, enter into fellowship with the
righteous, for ... even as the true morn [he] doth quicken and illumine the
hearts of the dead (P58)'.
Spiritual growth is thus neither a barren ascetic exercise, nor a
narcissistic process of self-gratification, but a path leading, through
service, to the progress of mankind. A balance is realized between the private
domain and the public square, in a reciprocity of influences and in a balance
between the two spheres, thus described by `Abdu'l-Bahá:
Every soul who lives according [these] teachings ... is free from the
ailments and indispositions which prevail throughout the world of
humanity; otherwise, selfish disorders, intellectual maladies, sicknesses,
imperfections and vices will surround him, and he will not receive the
life-giving bounties of God.
This is the `joy of reunion (A61)', the attainment unto the eternity and
unity of God (A64), His majesty and grandeur (A65). This is paradise, i.e. `My
love ... reunion with Me (A6)', thus explained by `Abdu'l-Bahá:
... The essential principles of [these] ... healing remedies are the
knowledge and love of God, severance from all save God, turning our faces
in sincerity towards the Kingdom of God, implicit faith, firmness and
fidelity, loving-kindness toward all creatures and the acquisition of the
divine virtues indicated for the human world. These are the fundamental
principle of progress, civilization, international peace and the unity of
mankind ... the secret of everlasting health, the remedy and healing for
... nearness to God is possible through devotion to him, through
entrance into the Kingdom and service to humanity; it is attained by unity
with mankind and through loving-kindness to all; it is dependent upon
investigation of truth, acquisition of praiseworthy virtues, service in
the Cause of universal peace and personal sanctification. In a word
nearness to God necessitates sacrifice of self, severance and the
giving up of all to Him. Nearness is likeness.
God within man
In the course of this process of transformation real self-knowledge
is attained, as explained in the words: `Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou
mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting
(A13)', thus commented by `Abdu'l-Bahá:
This is the statement to which ... Christ, referred His apostles in the
Gospel, saying, `The Father is in the Son, and the Son is in you.' [Jn
Thus at the end of his path man discovers God within himself: did He not
engrave His image upon him (A10, 11, 12, 19, 36, 64)?
... when the hearts are purified and through divine education and
heavenly teachings become the manifestators of infinite perfections, they
are like clear mirrors, and the Sun of Truth will reflect with might, power
and omnipotence in such a mirror, and to such an extent that whatever is
brought before it is illumined and ignited.
In this condition finally a man may be said to be faithful to, and mindful
of the Covenant; it is the realization of the words: `Would ye but sanctify
your souls, ye would at this present hour recall that place and those
surroundings, and the truth of My utterance should be made evident unto all of
you (P19)'. Anyone who has attained unto such a goal has reached the goal of
faithfulness. And the Bab wrote that `God hath ... taken upon Himself the task
of ensuring ... the domination of one thousand of the faithful over all the
peoples and kindreds of the earth'. Upon such foundation the future World Order will be
erected and the highest human hopes for peace and justice will be
`Abdu'l-Bahá'. Paris Talks: Addresses Given by
`Abdu'l-Bahá in Paris in 1911-1912. 11th edn. London:
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1969.
The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Talks Delivered by
`Abdu'l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912.
Comp. Howard MacNutt. 2nd edn. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá'í
Publishing Trust, 1982.
`Recent Tablets from `Abdu'l-Bahá' in Star of the West,
vol.2, nos.7-8, pp.11-12.
Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá. Transl. Marzieh
Gail. Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978.
Some Answered Questions. Transl. Laura Clifford-Barney. 3rd edn.
Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981.
ALIGHIERI, DANTE. The Portable Dante. Edited by Paolo Milano.
Penguin Books, rpt 1977.
BÁB, THE. Selections from the Writings of the Báb. Trans.
Habib Taherzadeh. Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1976.
Bahá'í Studies. A publication of the Association for
the Bahá'í Studies. Ottawa, Canada.
Bahá'í World, The. An International Record. Vol.3,
1928-1930. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá'í Publishing Trust,
BAHÁ'U'LLÁH. Gleanings from the Writings of
Bahá'u'lláh. Transl. Shoghi Effendi. Wilmette, Illinois:
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983.
The Hidden Words. Trans. Shoghi Effendi. Wilmette, Illinois:
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1975
The Kitáb-i-Íqán. Trans. Shoghi Effendi.
Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1989.
The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys. Trans. Marzieh Gail. Rev.
Edn. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1991.
COLLINS, William P. `Sacred Mythology and the Bahá'í Faith'
The Journal of Bahá'í Studies, vol.2, no.4,
HATCHER, William S. `The Concept of Spirituality.' Bahá'í
Studies no.11. Ottawa: Association for Bahá'í Studies,
Journal of Bahá'í Studies, The. A quarterly magazine
published by the Association for Bahá'í Studies.
Nicholson, R.A. Selected Poems from the Divan Shamsi Tabrizi.
SHOGHI EFFENDI. God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois:
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, rev. edn. 1974.
The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá'í Community.
The Messages from the Guardian to the Bahá'ís of the British
Isles. London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981.
Star of the West. The first Bahá'í magazine in the
Western World, published from 1910 to April 1924. 8 vls. rpt Oxford: George
TAHERZADEH, ADIB. The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh.
Oxford: George Ronald, 1992.
The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. Oxford: George
Ronald: vol.1, 1974; vol.2, 1977.
TOWNSHEND, GEORGE. `The "Hidden Words" of Bahá'u'lláh.
A Reflection.' in Bahá'í World, vol.3, p.274.
Published in Scripture and Revelation edited by Moojan Momen.
Oxford: George Ronald, 1997. pp. 283-307.
 Those Islamic holy traditions in which God speaks in
the first person.
Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p.456.
 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By,
 Throughout this paper, the abbreviation
`P' will stand for the Persian Hidden Words and `A' for the Arabic
Hidden Words, each followed by the number of the Hidden Word.
Collins, `Sacred Mythology', pp.11-12. This passage in the original paper
refers to all the writings by Bahá'u'lláh.
Townshend, `Hidden Words', p.274.
 See, for example, `Abdu'l-Bahá,
 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By,
The Bible had already stated a similar concept in other words: `And God
said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have
dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the
cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth
upon the earth' (Gen. 1:26).
 Nafs, A4, A44, A57; jan,
P1, P19, P40.
 Rúh., A59, A71; P1.
 Qalb, A1, 2, 36, 54, 59, 63,
71; dil, P3, 6, 8, 10, 11, 16, 17, 26, 27, 31, 32, 33, 33, 36, 41, 42,
44, 56, 57, 68, 78.
 See Gen. 1:26; Qur'án
 `Tablet' translates the Arabic
lawh., which means a surface (of stone, wood, metal, etc), on which
something may be written.
 In our material nature, we are
addressed as `son of the Earth (P6, 31)', `of dust (P5, 11, 27, 36, 57, 62; cf.
39; 21, 68)'; `son of desire (P10, 22, 79; cf. P28; 45)'; `of passion (P55; cf.
P50)'; `of negligence (cf. P16, 52, 75)'; `heedless ones (P59)', `that are
lying as dead on the couch of heedless-ness (P20)'; `son of worldliness (P70)'
or `bond slave of the world (P30)'; child `of fancy (P67)' or `of vainglory
(P74)'; `emigrants (P66)' (in Arabic muhájirán, literally
`emigrants'. The soul born from the divine worlds emigrated to the earthly
world), and `fleeting shadow (P9)'; `rebellious ones (P65)', and `My friend in
 In our spiritual nature, we are
addressed as children `of the divine and invisible essence (A66)'; `son of
being (A5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 26, 29, 31, 38, 43, 45, 53, 54, 55, 59)' or `of the
Supreme (A23, 32)'; `son of Him that stood by His own entity in the kingdom of
His Self (A70)' or `son of utterance (A10, 15)'; `of the Throne (A44)' or `of
spirit (1, 2, 8, 13, 18, 20, 22, 25, 28, 33, 34; P2, 15, 38)'; `son of man (A3,
4, 7, 14, 17, 21, 24, 27, 30, 35, 36, 37, 39, 40, 41, 42, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50,
51, 52, 56, 57, 58, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 71; P61)'; the spiritual meaning of
this title may be better understood in the light of the fact that Christ often
called Himself `Son of Man', as for example in Matt. 8:20), and `of Adam
(P69)'; in the Bahá'í texts Adam is viewed as he first
Manifestation of the prophetic cycle, and in this sense is the prototype of the
Perfect Man, the Manifestation of God; `son of the wondrous vision (A19)', or
`man of two visions (P12; cf. P1)'; `son of love (P7)', `of glory (P8)', `of
bounty (P29)', `of light (A16)', `of beauty (A67)' `of justice (P4, 77)'; `My
servant (P37, 40, 42, 72, 80, 81, 82)' or `son of My handmaid (P41, 51, 58, 76,
78)'; `My son (P56, cf. P13)', `My brother (P33; cf. P48)', brother `in the
path (P46)'; `friend (P3; cf. P14, 17, 43)', `befriended stranger (P32)',
`companion of My throne (P44)'; dweller `in the highest paradise (P18; cf.
P34)' or `in the city of love (P23)'.
 `Abdu'l-Bahá explains that in
the holy scriptures of tradition `This lower nature in man is symbolized as
Satan' (`Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation, p.287) and that therefore
satan is only `the evil ego within us, not an evil personality outside'
`Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p.90.
 cf. Taherzadeh, Revelation of
Bahá'u'lláh, vol.1, p.72.
Also `fragrances of holiness (A70; cf. P46)'.
 2. `Abdu'l-Bahá describes
these Divine gifts as Holy Spirit - a `mediator between God and His creatures'
(`Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.145), that bestows upon
them the divine light - and spirit of faith - `the power which makes the
earthly man heavenly' (ibid. p.144).
cf. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, no.88, p.175.
 cf. Bahá'u'lláh,
 Rumi, in Nicholson, Selected
 Taherzadeh, Revelation of
Bahá'u'lláh, vol.2, p.233.
The meeting with the Manifestation of God is not intended only as a
physical event, possible only to those who are alive in His lifetime but also
means meeting Him through his words and teachings.
 `Abdu'l-Bahá explains that
detachment from the self requires also sanctification from `inordinate desires,
... selfish purposes and the promptings of ... human self'; it implies for man
that he should seek out `the holy breathings of the spirit', follow `the
yearnings of [the] higher self' (`Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections,
p.207), and also `that he should not seek out anything whatever for his own
self in this swiftly-passing life, but that he should cut the self away,
that is, he should yield up the self and all its concerns on the field of
martyrdom, at the time of the coming of the Lord' (ibid. p.207).
cf. Taherzadeh, Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh,
 cf. Bahá'u'lláh,
Seven Valleys, pp.21-2.
The famous verses by Dante are here recalled: `Love, that in gentle heart
so quickly wakes' (`Inferno', canto 5, v.100) and: `Love and the gentle heart
are one same thing' (Vita Nova, cap. 20).
 Lovable is defined as `gifted with
traits and qualities that attract affection' (Webster's Third New
International Dictionary, v.`lovable', p.1340).
`Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation, p.236.
This concept is thoroughly explained in Hatcher, `The Concept of
Spirituality', Bahá'í Studies, No. 11.
`Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation, pp.204-5.
 ibid. p.148.
 Lights of Guidance, no.1635,
 The Báb, Selections,