This introduction to Bahá'u'lláh is based on the statement of the same name prepared by
As the year 2000 approaches, it is crucial that foundations are laid for the collective future of the human race. These must be based on an understanding of the nature of man and society, as well as an awareness of the direction and purpose of human development. Such a unifying vision unfolds in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh.
Bahá'u'lláh was born in Persia on November 12th, 1817, and claimed to bring the message from God to mankind, which was promised in all the earlier religions, and which would lead to the unification of the peoples of the world.
His writings cover an enormous range of subjects, from social issues, such as racial integration, the equality of the sexes and disarmament, to those questions that affect the innermost life of the human soul. The central body of these writings is now translated into over 800 languages, and is accessible to people everywhere.
The number of Bahá'u'lláh's followers has rapidly increased and now includes several million people from virtually every race, culture, class and nation on earth. There is almost no area in the world where the pattern of life taught by Bahá'u'lláh is not taking root. The result is the emergence of a global community which can already claim to represent a microcosm of the human race.
The early nineteenth century was a period of great expectation among religious groups throughout the world. In Europe and America many Christians believed that they had found in the Christian scriptures evidence that history had ended and the return of Jesus Christ was at hand. There was even greater excitement in the Middle East where it was believed that various prophesies in the Qur'án and Islamic Traditions were to be fulfilled.
The greatest expectation centred around the person and teachings of a young Persian merchant, known as the Báb. He said that humanity stood on the threshold of an era that would witness the restructuring of all aspects of life. The human race was called by God to embrace these changes through undertaking a transformation of its moral and spiritual life. His own mission was to prepare humanity for the coming of the Messenger of God 'awaited by the followers of all religions.'
This claim had caused violent hostility from the Muslim clergy and the Persian authorities. Thousands of followers of the new faith were massacred and the Báb publicly executed in 1850.
Birth of a New Revelation
Bahá'u'lláh was born into a noble family, but He declined the career of wealth and fame open to Him, and chose instead to devote His energies to helping others, and became widely known as 'Father of the Poor'.
In 1844 He became one of the leaders of the new movement centred around the teachings of the Báb.
Because of His support of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh was arrested and cast into the Síyáh-Chál, the 'Black Pit', a deep, vermin-infested dungeon which had been created in one of Teheran's abandoned underground reservoirs. No charges were made but He and some thirty companions were kept in the darkness and filth of this pit. Around Bahá'u'lláh's neck was clamped a cripplingly heavy chain, which left marks on His body to the end of His life. Each day guards would descend the three steep flights of steps to the pit, seize one or more of the prisoners, and drag them out to be executed.
It was in this foul place, and faced with the prospect of His own sudden death, that Bahá'u'lláh received His first awareness of the great mission entrusted to Him by God.
Eventually, still without trial, Bahá'u'lláh was banished from His native land to the neighbouring territory of Iraq, then under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. This expulsion was the beginning of forty years of exile, imprisonment and bitter persecution. Two of the most important volumes of Bahá'u'lláh's writings date from this first period of exile. The first is a small book which He named 'The Hidden Words'. This volume represents the ethical heart of Bahá'u'lláh's message. Bahá'u'lláh describes it as a distillation of the spiritual guidance of all the Revelations of the past. Through it the voice of God speaks directly to the human soul:
'O Son of Being! With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof.'
'O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbour. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.'
The second of the two major works composed by Bahá'u'lláh during this period is the 'Book of Certitude', explaining the nature and purpose of religion. In it the Messengers of God are depicted as agents of a single unbroken process, the awakening of the human race to its spiritual and moral potential.
To the dismay of the Persian authorities who wanted to remove Bahá'u'lláh from public attention, the community of exiles gradually became a respected and influential element in the capital of Iraq and in neighbouring towns. Many dignitaries and princes of the royal family called on Bahá'u'lláh in the simple room He occupied. One, deeply moved by this experience reported that: '...were all the sorrows of the world to be crowded into my heart they would, I feel, all vanish, when in the presence of Bahá'u'lláh. It is as if I had entered Paradise...'
Declaration in the Ridván Garden
Fearing that Bahá'u'lláh was gaining too much popularity and respect from influential Persian visitors to Iraq, the authorities decided that He should be removed to Constantinople. In April 1863, on the eve of His departure, Bahá'u'lláh called together individuals among His companions, in a garden to which was later given the name Ridván (Paradise), and told them the central fact of His mission. By this time, when He left Baghdad for Constantinople, Bahá'u'lláh had become an immensely popular and cherished figure. Eyewitnesses to the departure have described in moving terms the respect with which He was treated and the tears of the many onlookers.
As repeatedly emphasised in Bahá'u'lláh's writings, the primary purpose of God in revealing His will is to bring about a transformation in the character of humankind so that those who respond will develop the moral and spiritual qualities that are latent within human nature.
The aggressive proselytising that had been used in the past to promote the cause of religion was forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh and declared to be unworthy of the Day of God. He told His followers: '... if ye be slain it is better for you than to slay ...' and in spite of the background of bloody events in Persia, He told them: 'In any country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness.'
The Manifestation of God
Throughout history there has been confusion and dissension regarding the station of the Manifestation of God.[*] The followers of each religion regard their Founder as being unique.
Bahá'u'lláh clarifies this by using a simple analogy: The sun emits its own light. Each of the planets has its own individual characteristics, but shines with the light it reflects from the sun. The planets revolve around the sun which is the source of the light, and each planet is reflecting that identical light. In the same way each Prophet is manifesting the same light from the same source, which is God, while at the same time bringing a Revelation which has individual characteristics:
'(The) Manifestations of God have each a twofold station. One is the station of pure abstraction and essential unity. In this respect, if thou callest them all by one name, and dost ascribe unto them the same attributes, thou hast not erred from the truth ....
* The Manifestations of God appear in the world at intervals of around five hundred to a thousand years. Each brings new laws and has the power to transform the hearts of men for generations. Bahá'u'lláh has named some of them: Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. [BACK]
The Changeless Faith of God
Following the declaration of His mission in the Ridván garden, Bahá'u'lláh began to elaborate a theme already introduced in 'The Book of Certitude'. The time has come, He said, when humanity is able to see the whole of its spiritual development as one single process.
The followers of the different religions must understand what He called 'the changeless faith of God'. The central spiritual truths of all the religions are unchanging although different laws and concepts have been revealed throughout history to meet the needs of an ever-changing human society:
'The Prophets of God should be regarded as physicians whose task is to foster the well-being of the world and its peoples, that, through the spirit of oneness, they may heal the sickness of a divided humanity .... Little wonder, then, if the treatment prescribed by the physician in this day should not be found identical with that which he prescribed before. How could it be otherwise when the ills affecting the sufferer necessitate at every stage of his sickness a special remedy?'
'Be ye assured .... that the works and acts of each of these Manifestations of God, nay whatever pertaineth unto them, and whatsoever they may manifest in the future, are all ordained by God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose ...'
Bahá'u'lláh compares the coming of each of the Manifestations of God with the return of spring. The spirit of their words, together with the example of their lives, has the capacity to change the hearts of mankind. Without this intervention from the world of God, man's spiritual qualities would remain latent and human nature would remain the captive of instinct. Every individual is created in the image of God but these spiritual qualities can only be developed through the teachings and influence of the Manifestations of God.
He asserts that the reality of God is, and always will remain, unknowable. Man is able to understand only the attributes, or qualities, of God, which are revealed through each Manifestation.
An Ever Advancing Civilisation
One of the functions of the Manifestation of God, Bahá'u'lláh tells us, is to supply to mankind the motive power of civilisation. When a new Revelation occurs it has such a transforming effect on the hearts and souls of men that a new society slowly emerges. New scientific discoveries are made, the arts and music are freshly inspired, new fields of learning are developed and there is a resurgence of morality resulting in new codes of civil law and conduct. The Word of God creates new possibilities within both the individual consciousness and in human relationships:
'Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God is endowed with such potency as can instill new life into every human frame ... All the wondrous works ye behold in this world have been manifested through the operation of His supreme and most exalted Will ...'
The sequence of the Divine Revelations, the Báb tells us, 'is a process that hath had no beginning and will have no end.' Each Manifestation of God brings a new stage in the progressive unfoldment of God's Will and Purpose.
Eventually, at each stage in history, civilisation exhausts its spiritual source and a process of disintegration sets in. The institutions of society begin to collapse, moral vitality diminishes and religion appears to lose its relevance. Uncertainty about the meaning of life generates anxiety, confusion and loss of direction.
It is at this stage that a new Manifestation of God appears with a fuller measure of Divine inspiration for the advancement of civilisation.
Mankind is One
Bahá'u'lláh tells us that human consciousness is constantly evolving.
Within the context of the ever-advancing civilisation of humanity, the goal of this evolutionary process is the awareness of all people that the human race is one, and must collectively take responsibility for its global future:
'The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.'
In later writings, addressed to humanity collectively, Bahá'u'lláh urged the people to take the steps He had prescribed to ensure the achievement of 'The Most Great Peace'. He explained that adoption of these measures would minimise the suffering and dislocation which He saw lying ahead of the human race.
The Promised One of All Ages
Bahá'u'lláh had dedicated His entire life to the achievement of world peace and unity. In pursuit of this mission all His material wealth had been lost, His health undermined, His cherished younger son had lost His life, He had suffered imprisonment, torture and exile. And none of this had been through His own will. Bahá'u'lláh had surrendered His entire will to the Will of God.
Like the Manifestations of God gone before Him He is both the mouthpiece of God and Its human channel:
'When I contemplate, O my God, the relationship that bindeth me to Thee, I am moved to proclaim to all created things, "Verily I am God!" and when I consider my own self, lo, I find it coarser than clay.'
As the Manifestation of God to the age of fulfilment, Bahá'u'lláh is the One promised in all the scriptures of the past: He is the 'Desire of the Nations' and the 'King of Glory'. To Judaism He is the 'Lord of Hosts'; to Christianity, the Return of Christ in the Glory of the Father; to Islam, the 'Great Announcement'; to Buddhism, the 'Maitreya Buddha'; to Hinduism the new incarnation of Krishna; to Zoroastrianism the advent of 'Sháh-Bahrám'.
Unity in Diversity
By achieving true unity, humanity will be able to develop to the full the differences of race and culture which are the enrichment of all.
All the Manifestations of God have served as agents of the one Divine Will. Therefore their Revelations are the collective legacy of the entire human race. Each person on earth is heir to that spiritual tradition.
'The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers.'
'Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.'
The Coming of Age of Mankind
Bahá'u'lláh explains that humanity has been moving through the same stages of infancy, childhood and adolescence that each individual experiences in his own life. Humanity is now poised on the edge of its collective maturity. It is endowed with new capacities and opportunities of which we have only the dimmest awareness.
Humanity's coming of age must entail a total transformation of the social order.
The chief instrument for the transformation of society and the achievement of world unity is justice. Justice has a central place in His teachings: 'The light of men is Justice ... The purpose of Justice is the appearance of unity among men. The ocean of divine wisdom surgeth within this exalted word.'
Bahá'u'lláh has revealed a code of Divine Justice. It includes such principles as:
Bahá'u'lláh tells us: 'All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.'
Announcement to the Kings
The writings of Bahá'u'lláh were revealed mostly in conditions of persecution and suffering. Having moved Him to the city of Constantinople, the Ottoman authorities, under pressure from the Persian leaders who were concerned that He would have too much influence, decided to transfer the exiles to Adrianople. The move was made in the depths of an extremely severe winter. The exiles endured a year of extreme suffering, lacking adequate shelter, clothing and provisions.
During this period Bahá'u'lláh began to send the announcement of His mission to the 'Kings and Rulers of the World.' He invited each of them to assist in bringing about what He called 'The Most Great Peace' – a world order based upon unity and justice.
Imprisonment in the Holy Land
Within a year of His arrival in Adrianople, Bahá'u'lláh had attracted first the interest and then the admiration of prominent figures. The government decided to banish Him permanently to a place where He could have no further influence. The place chosen for this final banishment was the grim fortress town of 'Akká (Acre) on the coast of the Holy Land. This notorious prison city was infamous for its foul climate and terrible diseases. The most dangerous criminals were imprisoned there and were not expected to survive for long. Here, in 1868, Bahá'u'lláh and His family were locked away. Several members of the small group of exiles died from the lack of clean water and food. In these grim conditions Bahá'u'lláh continued to address the rulers of the world.
Religion as Light and Darkness
Bahá'u'lláh acknowledged the great contribution which organised religion has brought to civilisation, and the great benefit the world has derived from the self-sacrifice and love of humanity of some religious leaders of all faiths. But He severely condemned the way in which religion has become a source of hatred and warfare. Over a century ago He warned:
'Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction.'
The original impulse of religion has been corrupted and over the past century the relationship between man and God has broken down:
'The vitality of men's belief in God is dying out in every land; nothing short of His wholesome medicine can ever restore it.'
The Covenant of God with Mankind
In 1877 Bahá'u'lláh at last emerged from the strict confinement of the prison city of 'Akká and moved with His family to a small estate a few miles North of the city, and after a further two years, to the Mansion of Bahjí where He was to spend the remaining years of His life.
Throughout the Near and Middle East the nucleus of a community was beginning to take shape amongst those who had accepted His message. Bahá'u'lláh had revealed a system of laws and institutions designed to put into effect the principles in His Writings. Provision was made to prevent a clerical élite from arising, and authority was given instead to democratically elected councils. Methods were laid down for group decision making based on principles of Bahá'í consultation.
At the heart of the system was what Bahá'u'lláh termed a 'new Covenant' between God and humankind. The result of humanity's coming of age is that the entire human race is involved in the awareness of its own oneness and of the earth as a single homeland. This awareness opens the way to a new relationship between God and mankind. A new race of men will emerge as the result of this relationship, and the work of building a global civilisation will begin.
The growing international Bahá'í community is a demonstration of Bahá'u'lláh's assurance that the human race, in all its diversity, can learn to live and work as one people, in a common global homeland. Alone among the world's independent religions, the Bahá'í Faith and its community of believers have passed successfully through the critical first century of their existence with their unity firmly intact and undamaged by schism and faction.