The Eighth Reflection: The Three Principles of Baha’i Revelation Nader Saiedi
Baha’u’llah writes: Incline thine ear and hear! This is the voice of My pen raised before mystics, then divines, and then kings and rulers . (Iqtidarat)
The writings of Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) extend from 1852, the year of the inception of the Baha’i Faith, to 1892, the year of His ascension. Both the Bab (1819-1850), the Prophet Who paved the way for the coming of Baha’u’llah, and Baha’u’llah are characterized by an unprecedented ocean of revelation. That is why the Baha’i scriptures constitute almost an entire library, rather than only one or a few books. In addition, there is no historical or objective doubt about the authenticity of these writings. The writings of Baha’u’llah alone would be equivalent to one hundred books. These writings address all kinds of issues in a variety of styles. However, despite the amazing diversity and plurality of His writings, they all represent a grand divine order and unity. The statement of Baha’u’llah, quoted above, unveils this order and unity. As He notes, His writings are revealed in three stages. The first stage is addressed to the mystics, the second to the divines and clerics, and the third to the kings and rulers of the world. This order is not accidental. The logical and dialectical structure of this order is itself another testimony to the primordial unity, originality, novelty and purity of Baha’u’llah’s consciousness. In this reflection, we will explore these three stages, the corresponding principle announced by each of the stages, and the logical connection and unity of the three principles. The principle explained in the first stage is the mystical consciousness, that reality is ultimately spiritual. The second stage emphasizes historical consciousness and extends that dynamism to the realm of religion and the Word of God. The third principle emphasized in the final stage of His revelation is the global consciousness and its twin requirements of the oneness of humankind and universal peace. Together, these three principles constitute an organic unity, and this unity defines the uniqueness of Baha’u’llah’s message. 1. Mystical Consciousness The first stage of His revelation (1852-1860) took place during much of His exile in Baghdad. Some of the principal works of this stage are the Hidden Words , the Four Valleys, The Ode of the Dove , and the Seven Valleys . The principle emphasized in these writings is the spiritual interpretation of reality. According to the writings of Baha’u’llah, all of reality is ultimately a diverse manifestation of divine names and attributes. All beings, therefore, are sublime mirrors in which the divine revelation is manifest. This radical affirmation of the sacredness of all beings and the cosmic solidarity and unity of all things is based upon the idea that the ultimate truth of all beings is the very divine revelation that is enshrined within their inmost heart. History is a spiritual journey towards the realization and unfoldment of this all-encompassing inherent divine revelation in the lives of human beings. In His Hidden Words , we read: O Son of Man! Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not, wherefore fearest thou thy perishing? Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished, why dost thou dread
extinction? Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not; thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn. Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of Glory. The principle of the spiritual nature of all beings differentiates the viewpoint of Baha’u’llah from all materialistic worldviews and all social theories that divest sociocultural order from spiritual values and moral orientation. Thus, according to Baha’u’llah, one of the most important foundations of social order is the commitment of society to moral and spiritual values. Such spiritual orientation means that we should observe reality as an interconnected unity, rather than as a set of fragmented and independent solid things. The truth of everything is the divine revelation, meaning that all beings are interconnected and one. However, this same spiritual understanding of reality implies an opposite principle as well. Consciousness is always a unique and individual reality. Therefore, humans, as spirit, are characterized by the duty to think for themselves. The metaphysics compatible with this mystical consciousness is, therefore, unity in diversity. 2. Historical Consciousness Although Baha’u’llah’s first principle differentiates His message from any materialistic worldview, the second constitutive principle of His worldview differentiates His vision from all religious forms of traditionalism. This second principle is the principle of historical consciousness or the historicity of life. In the second stage of His revelation (1860-1867), during the last years of His stay in Baghdad, and continuing during His banishment to Istanbul and to Adrianople, Baha’u’llah spoke in terms of issues that relate to sacred scriptures. Here the divines and the learned of various religious persuasions were the direct addressees of His writings. Chief among these works are the Book of Certitude and the New Wondrous Book . This dynamic conception is particularly relevant to the realm of human culture and society. Social reality is a perpetually advancing and dynamic phenomenon. Such dynamism applies not only to the realm of human cultural institutions but also to the realm of the revelation of the divine Word itself. This all-encompassing and radical affirmation of historical consciousness in the writings of Baha’u’llah is usually called the principle of progressive revelation. Culture and society are defined by perpetual change and transformation. Therefore, the revelation of the eternal Will of God becomes something historical and dynamic as well. Baha’u’llah, therefore, sees in all diverse religions the same eternal truth. That the creative divine Will reflects itself in the form of new laws and doctrines, in different ages, according to the level of the development of humanity and their specific needs at that particular stage of advancement. Thus, for Baha’u’llah, all prophets of God are the same eternal reality, appearing in different ages as diverse and historically-specific human persons with different laws as required by the needs of the material and spiritual development of society in that stage of human development. In other words, the message of this second principle is the unity in diversity of all religions. The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which the subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements. (Gleanings 213)
Although historical consciousness is present in the philosophical systems of many philosophers, like Hegel and Marx, Baha’u’llah’s principle is qualitatively different. First, this historical dynamic never ends in an ultimate state of the end of history. Thus, for Baha’u’llah, even the truth of His own revelation is relative to the present stage of the development of humanity, and, therefore, His revelation is not the last divine revelation. Divine revelation, on the contrary, is eternal and everlasting. Secondly, Baha’u’llah applies this historical logic not only to the realm of human culture but also to the realm of the revelation of the divine Word as well. 3. Global Consciousness The unity of the first and second principles implies the third principle of the worldview of Baha’u’llah. The first two principles together declare the necessity of the renewal of spiritual order at this stage of the development of humanity in ways that accord with the fundamental challenge of historical development in this age. The third principle of Baha’u’llah’s worldview is the principle of the oneness of humankind and the imperative of universal peace. According to this vision, an effective and just solution to the diverse problems of humanity at this stage of its development requires the adoption of a global consciousness that is based upon the fundamental premise of the essential unity of the entire human race. This global approach is not simply a cult of brotherly love or a utopian fantasy. Emphasized through His letters to the rulers of the world in 1867-8, and elaborated in the rest of His life, Baha’u’llah’s third principle calls for the emergence of a new culture of peace and unity, new consultative and democratic international structures, and new consultative and just social institutions. He wants to create a social order that is defined by the principle of unity in diversity. He writes: That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. In another passage He hath proclaimed: It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens . (Tablets 167) One can see the amazing dialectical nature of the three stages. The first stage emphasizes the abstract and mystical unity of humanity. The second stage negates that abstraction and affirms the historical diversity and the dynamic nature of the spirit. The third stage affirms the concrete, historically-specific unity of humankind.