Commentary on the Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah
Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Manner of Its Revelation
Among the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words stands out as a mighty charter for the salvation of the human soul. It shines as a beacon of light to men lost in the world of darkness and materialism; it gives light to their eyes, enabling them to see the path to their Lord. It also warns them of the many pitfalls on their way and extends a helping hand at every turn.
The Hidden Words was revealed by Bahá’u’lláh about A.D. 1858 on the banks of the Tigris. In one of His Tablets, He states that certain of its passages were revealed on a single occasion and recorded in one Tablet. The rest, revealed at different times, were later added to these. In the early days of the Faith this compilation was known as the ‘Hidden Book of Fatimih’.
Fatimih was the daughter of Muhammad, the holiest and the most outstanding woman of the Islamic Dispensation. At a young age she was married to Ali, the successor to Muhammad, and bore him several children, two of whom, Hasan and Husayn, succeeded their father to become the second and third Imams, respectively, of the Shí’ah sect of Islam. Fatimih was a true and faithful believer and was much devoted to her Father. His death plunged her into a state of bitter anguish and grief.
According to the traditions of Shí’ah Islam, the Holy Spirit personified as the Angel Gabriel descended upon her and addressed certain words to her. These were dictated to Ali, her husband, and were revealed to bring consolation to her soul in her bereavement. She died soon after the passing of her illustrious Father, the Prophet of Islam.
Bahá’u’lláh has identified The Hidden Words with the verses which were revealed to Fatimih. He characterizes it as the essence of ‘...that which hath descended from the realm of glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might, and revealed unto the Prophets of old...’
This marvellous collection of heavenly counsels and admonitions can be described as a perfect guide-book for man on his journey to the spiritual worlds of God. The soul of man is not subject to the laws of nature as they operate in this physical world. Rather, it is animated, sustained and governed by the operation of the great, the eternal Covenant of God with man. The Hidden Words not only sets out the provisions of this universal and everlasting Covenant which binds man to his Creator, but also demonstrates the way in which he can be faithful to it.
To understand The Hidden Words one must appreciate the dual nature of man, namely, the association within him of two opposite forces, the spiritual and the physical, the soul and the body.
The soul originates from the spiritual worlds of God. It is exalted above matter and the physical kingdom. The individual comes into being when the soul, emanating from these spiritual worlds, becomes associated with the embryo before birth. But this association is far above material relationship such as egress or regress, entry or exit, since the soul does not belong to the world of matter. The relationship is like that of light to a mirror. The light which appears in the mirror is not inside it. The radiance comes from a source outside. Similarly, the soul is not within the body. It has a special relationship to the body and together they form the human being. But this relationship lasts only for the duration of mortal life. When that ceases, each returns to its origin, the body to the world of dust and the soul to the spiritual worlds of God. Having emanated from the spiritual realms to become an individual being created in the image and likeness of God, and capable of acquiring divine qualities and heavenly attributes, the soul will, after its separation from the body, progress for all eternity.
But the condition of the soul after death depends upon the extent to which it has acquired divine virtues in this life. If a child is born without a limb, he will never acquire it after birth and will remain handicapped as long as he lives. Similarly, the soul, if it does not turn to God in this life to become illumined with His guidance, will, though progressing, remain relatively deprived and in darkness.
The soul can take with it only good qualities to the next world. It cannot take bad ones. For bad is only the absence of good, as poverty is the absence of riches. Therefore, an evil person is a soul poor in divine virtues. He carries with him only a small measure of heavenly qualities. But a man who has led a virtuous life in this world carries a much greater measure. Through the bounty of God, however, both these souls will progress, but each on its own level.
In the next life, according to the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, there are different degrees of existence and, as in this life, those on lower levels will not be able to comprehend the attributes and qualities of the souls which dwell in higher realms.
The highest station destined for man is to be illumined by the ‘spirit of faith’, which comes through recognition of the Manifestation of God for the age and through obedience to His commandments. To attain this station is the very purpose for which God created man.
The vision of man in mortal life is greatly restricted. Like a prisoner in his cell who cannot see the vastness, the beauty and the order of a boundless universe which surrounds him, man is limited in his understanding of the spiritual worlds of God. His learning and knowledge, however deep, his intellect, however brilliant, cannot assure his comprehension of spiritual realities. Only through the recognition of Bahá’u’lláh in this day and by turning to Him, as a plant does to the sun, can the heart—the dawning-place of the attributes of God—be illumined. It is then that man can understand the inner meanings of the utterances of Bahá’u’lláh and so be enlightened and drawn to God.
Turning to Bahá’u’lláh is the key to spiritual growth. In his relationship to Bahá’u’lláh, the believer assumes a female role, submitting himself entirely to the will of the Manifestation of God and opening his heart to the influences of His Revelation. Then, as a result of this mystical intercourse, the soul of man may conceive, and eventually give birth to a child which is the ‘spirit of faith’. The ‘spirit of faith’—the fruit yielded by the soul—is especially precious because it is brought into being through the influences of Bahá’u’lláh upon the believer. He imparts to the soul a measure of His own power, His beauty and His light.
Once the ‘spirit of faith’ is born within the soul, it needs nourishment if it is to grow and mature. Again the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh and His Word provide this food. By reading His words and meditating upon them, and immersing himself in the ocean of His Revelation, a man can develop spiritual qualities and his spiritual perceptiveness will grow day by day. His mind will become illumined and even though he may be uneducated or illiterate, he is enabled to understand the inner spirit of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh and to unravel the mysteries enshrined within it.
When the soul attains the ‘spirit of faith’, it grows humble. Humility and self-effacement are the signs of spiritual growth, whereas pride in one’s self and one’s accomplishments is a deadly enemy.
Because of its attachment to this world, the soul is not always illumined with the ‘spirit of faith’. In one of His Tablets, Bahá’u’lláh, addressing His followers, has likened the soul of man to a bird:
"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."
The chief aim of Bahá’u’lláh in The Hidden Words is to detach man from this mortal world and to protect his soul from its greatest enemy, himself. The Hidden Words provides a means by which, in the terms of the above analogy, the bird of the human heart can cleanse its wings from the defilement of this world and resume its flight into the realms of God.
Attachment to this world can be described as anything which prevents the soul from drawing nearer to God. Bahá’u’lláh has taught that this world and all that is therein is created for the benefit of man. He is entitled to possess all the good things he can earn, and enjoy all the legitimate pleasures that life bestows upon him. But at no time must he become attached to them. Bahá’u’lláh further teaches that man must take a great interest in this life, work for the betterment of this world and assist in the building of a new world order for mankind.
In one of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh has made the following remarks:
"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."
On the other hand, Bahá’u’lláh has warned the rich in these words:
"O ye that pride yourselves on mortal riches!
Know ye in truth that wealth is a mighty barrier between the seeker and his desire, the lover and his beloved. The rich, but for a few, shall in no wise attain the court of His presence nor enter the city of content and resignation. Well is it then with him, who, being rich, is not hindered by his riches from the eternal kingdom, nor deprived by them of imperishable dominion. By the Most Great Name! The splendour of such a wealthy man shall illuminate the dwellers of heaven even as the sun enlightens the people of the earth!"
Whereas riches may become a mighty barrier between man and God, and rich people are often in great danger of attachment, yet people with small worldly possessions can also become attached to material things. The following Persian story of a king and a dervish [A Muslim, often a mystic, who renounces the world and communes with God, subsisting on the charity of his fellow men.] illustrates this. Once there was a king who had many spiritual qualities and whose deeds were based on justice and loving-kindness. He often envied the dervish who had renounced the world and appeared to be free from the cares of this material life, for he roamed the country, slept in any place when night fell and chanted the praises of his Lord during the day. He lived in poverty, yet thought he owned the whole world. His only possessions were his clothes and a basket in which he carried the food donated by his well-wishers. The king was attracted to this way of life.
Once he invited a well-known dervish to his palace, sat at his feet and begged him for some lessons about detachment. The dervish was delighted with the invitation. He stayed a few days in the palace and whenever the king was free preached the virtues of a mendicant’s life to him. At last the king was converted. One day, dressed in the garb of a poor man, he left his palace in the company of the dervish. They had walked together some distance when the dervish realized that he had left his basket behind in the palace. This disturbed him greatly and, informing the king that he could not go without his basket, he begged permission to return for it. But the king admonished him, saying that he himself had left behind his palaces, his wealth and power, whereas the dervish, who had preached for a lifetime the virtues of detachment, had at last been tested and was found to be attached to this world—his small basket.
The possession of earthly goods is often misunderstood to be the only form of attachment. But this is not so. Man’s pride in his accomplishments, his knowledge, his position, his popularity within society and, above all, his love for his own self are some of the barriers which come between him and God. To rid oneself of these attachments is not easy. It can be a painful process and may indeed prove to be a spiritual battle which lasts a lifetime.
The Hidden Words can exert a potent influence in freeing man from the fetters of materialism and enabling him to win the battle against his own self. In a Tablet to one of the teachers of the Cause—Mirza Abbas known as Qabil, a native of Abadihą—‘Abdu’l-Bahá urged him to peruse the verses of The Hidden Words by day and night, and to supplicate God to enable him to carry out the exhortations of the Blessed Beauty. In the same Tablet He makes it clear that The Hidden Words is not merely to be read. Rather, it was given to the believers by Bahá’u’lláh to enable them to put into practice His counsels and commandments.
Qabil’s life of service and dedication is clearly indicative of a potent and transforming influence on his soul, partly derived from his chanting of some passages of The Hidden Words every day.
He was a zealous and enthusiastic man, a poet of remarkable talent, a teacher of wide repute and, above all, devoted to Bahá’u’lláh. He lived to old age, after suffering many persecutions and spending much of his life in travel and teaching. He used to stay at home with his family only a few months each year; the rest of the time he travelled long distances on a donkey, riding from village to village and town to town. His enthusiastic spirit, coupled with his deep love for Bahá’u’lláh, cheered and uplifted the believers whom he met on his way. They would gather to meet him and he would often request them, whenever circumstances permitted, to chant in unison certain Tablets or poems of Bahá’u’lláh which lent themselves to collective chanting, and would teach them to sing together some of his own beautiful, soul-stirring songs composed in praise and glorification of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi.
In those days the playing of musical instruments was frowned upon by the Muslim clergy, and the Bahá’ís were careful not to upset a fanatical populace by playing them. But Qabil had a certain genius in clapping his hands to accompany their songs of love and praise. Where greater freedom prevailed, a homemade drum was a welcome accompaniment to his chant of love for Bahá’u’lláh. The believers, who were often oppressed and persecuted, always welcomed the few days that Qabil spent with them, for he created joy and enthusiasm wherever he went.
Bahá’u’lláh has referred to the revelation of The Hidden Words in these terms:
"The mystic and wondrous Bride, hidden ere this beneath the veiling of utterance, hath now, by the grace of God and His divine favour, been made manifest even as the resplendent light shed by the beauty of the Beloved. I bear witness, O friends! that the favour is complete, the argument fulfilled, the proof manifest and the evidence established. Let it now be seen what your endeavours in the path of detachment will reveal. In this wise hath the divine favour been fully vouchsafed unto you and unto them that are in heaven and on earth. All praise to God, the Lord of all Worlds."
In this book, within the compass of a few pages, Bahá’u’lláh has given to humanity a prescription which safeguards its well-being and happiness. Speaking with the voice of God, He addresses man and exhorts him to ‘possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart’; He stresses the importance of cleansing his heart, which is the dawning-place of the Revelation of God, from the influences of the ungodly; calls on him to ‘cast out ... the stranger, that the Friend may enter His home’; advises him not to seek fellowship with the ungodly as this would turn ‘the radiance of the heart into infernal fire’; and assures him of the immortality of the soul. He also affirms that God has placed within him ‘the essence’ of His ‘light’ which ‘shall never be extinguished’; He confidently asserts that God has ‘made death a messenger of joy’ to man; establishes a Covenant with him to love God; enjoins on him to cling to justice, forbearance and love; reminds him that the ‘healer’ of all his ills is ‘remembrance’ of God; and describes the merits of turning to God in prayer at the hour of dawn. He counsels man to detach himself from this world, and not to abandon God’s ‘imperishable dominion’ for a ‘fleeting sovereignty’; rebukes him for his heedlessness, his indulgence of self and passion; directs him to avoid covetousness, envy, pride and vainglory; declares that the tongue is designed for the mention of God, that it should not be defiled with detraction and backbiting; mentions that the ‘best of men are they that earn a livelihood by their calling and spend upon themselves and upon their kindred for the love of God’; denounces the ‘idle and worthless souls’ who ‘yield no fruit on earth’ as the ‘basest of men’; speaks of the greatness of His Revelation; grieves that only a few souls have been found receptive to His Call and that of ‘these few’ only a ‘handful hath been found with a pure heart and sanctified spirit’. He warns man to ‘withdraw’ his hand from ‘tyranny’; pledges ‘not to forgive any man’s injustice’ in this day; foreshadows ‘an unforeseen calamity’ and a ‘grievous retribution’ following man by reason of the deeds that he has committed; admonishes the rich to bestow their wealth upon the poor; states that ‘wealth is a mighty barrier between the seeker and his desire, the lover and his beloved’; exalts the station of a rich man who is detached from his wealth to such a position that his ‘splendour ... shall illuminate the dwellers of heaven even as the sun enlightens the people of the earth’; urges everyone to ‘show forth deeds that are pure and holy’;and describes the powers latent within man in these words:
"O Son of Spirit! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I moulded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting."
Interpretation of `Abdu'l-Bahá
There are a few passages in The Hidden Words which refer implicitly to the Covenant of Baha'ullah—a Covenant which later became explicit with the revelation of the Will and Testament of Bahá’u’lláh, designated by Him the Kitáb-i-’Ahdi (The Book of My Covenant).
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who is the Centre of that same Covenant and the appointed Interpreter of the words of Bahá’u’lláh, has explained the meaning of some of these passages. One instance is the following:
"O My Friends! Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all-glorious paradise? Awestruck ye listened as I gave utterance to these three most holy words: O friends! 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. 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."
The ‘true and radiant morn’, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stated, refers to the Revelation of the Báb, the ‘tree of life’ to Bahá’u’lláh, and the ‘hallowed and blessed surroundings’ to the heart of the individual. He further explained that the gathering referred to in this verse was not a physical but a spiritual one. The call of God was raised within the sanctuary of their hearts; but they did not respond and were bewildered and awestruck.
In other Tablets, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá interpreted the meaning of the gathering beneath the shade of the ‘tree of life’ as the establishment of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh. ‘The Lord, the All-Glorified,’ in the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘hath, beneath the shade of the Tree of Anisa [tree of life], made a new Covenant and established a great Testament...’ That this Covenant was established at so early a stage in the ministry of Bahá’u’lláh is one of the mysteries of Divine Revelation. Indeed, in a Tablet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stated that when the day-star of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh dawned upon humanity, the first ray which shed its light upon those gathered beneath the ‘tree of life’ was that of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh.
Another passage in The Hidden Words which refers to this Covenant is the following:
"O My Friends! Call ye to mind that covenant ye have entered into with Me upon Mount Paran, situate within the hallowed precincts of Zaman. I have taken to witness the concourse on high and the dwellers in the city of eternity, yet now none do I find faithful unto the covenant. Of a certainty pride and rebellion have effaced it from the hearts, in such wise that no trace thereof remaineth. Yet knowing this, I waited and disclosed it not."
‘Abdu’l-Baha has stated that the covenant upon Mount Paran refers to the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh which was written by the Exalted Pen in the Holy Land and which was announced there after His ascension.
Finally, the ‘wings’ and the ‘comb’ mentioned in the following verse are both interpreted by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh.
"O Son of Desire! How long wilt thou soar in the realms of desire? Wings have I bestowed upon thee, that thou mayest fly to the realms of mystic holiness and not the regions of satanic fancy. The comb, too, have I given thee that thou mayest dress My raven locks, and not lacerate My throat."
In The Hidden Words Bahá’u’lláh has mentioned certain Tablets such as ‘the fifth Tablet of Paradise’, and the ‘Ruby Tablet’, together with certain lines from them. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has clearly indicated that none of these Tablets or lines has been revealed in this world. They are preserved in the Kingdom of God and in the realms of heaven.
There is another passage in The Hidden Words which is of great significance inasmuch as it reveals the nature and intensity of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh and His exalted station. It is the following:
"O Son of Justice! In the night-season the beauty of the immortal Being hath repaired from the emerald height of fidelity unto the Sadratu’l-Muntaha, and wept with such a weeping that the concourse on high and the dwellers of the realms above wailed at His lamenting. Whereupon there was asked, Why the wailing and weeping? He made reply: As bidden I waited expectant upon the hill of faithfulness, yet inhaled not from them that dwell on earth the fragrance of fidelity. Then summoned to return I beheld, and lo! certain doves of holiness were sore tried within the claws of the dogs of earth. Thereupon the Maid of heaven hastened forth unveiled and resplendent from Her mystic mansion, and asked of their names, and all were told but one. And when urged, the first letter thereof was uttered, whereupon the dwellers of the celestial chambers rushed forth out of their habitation of glory. And whilst the second letter was pronounced they fell down, one and all, upon the dust. At that moment a voice was heard from the inmost shrine: ‘Thus far and no farther.’ Verily we bear witness to that which they have done and now are doing."
‘Sadratu’l-Muntaha’ in this passage literally means the tree beyond which there is no passing. The Arabs used to plant trees along certain roads and the last tree indicating the end of the road was known as ‘Sadratu’l-Muntaha’. This term which has been used by Bahá’u’lláh in many of His Writings is, in one sense, the symbol of the station of the Manifestation of God, a station which is beyond the reach and understanding of men. The ‘Maid of Heaven’ in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh is a symbolic term and assumes different meanings.
The two letters mentioned in the above passage, according to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s interpretation, are B and H of the word ‘Baha’. This means that only two letters out of three (B, H and A) have been revealed in this Dispensation, that the full significance and potency of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh which have been symbolically contained within the three letters of His name, have not been disclosed to mankind and that only a limited measure of His light and glory has been shed upon humanity in this age. To this Bahá’u’lláh has testified in one of His Tablets:
"Know verily that the veil hiding Our countenance hath not been completely lifted. We have revealed Our Self to a degree corresponding to the capacity of the people of Our age. Should the Ancient Beauty be unveiled in the fullness of His glory mortal eyes would be blinded by the dazzling intensity of His revelation."
Excerpt from The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh by Adib Taherzadeh