(Tablet of Divine Unity)
Published May 7, 2016
The Lawḥ-i-Tawḥíd (لوح توحید) is a tablet revealed primarily in Persian by Bahá’u’lláh sometime during the ʻAkká period (1868–1892) of His exile. Among the recurring themes in this tablet are praise for, and adoration of, God; affirmations of His unknowability, inaccessibility, and unfathomably immense power; and exhortations to recognize the Manifestation of God. In addition, Bahá’u’lláh also stresses a fundamental truth of Bahá’í theology—that man can only know God to the extent he can perceive God in His Manifestation, and that recognition of the Manifestation, therefore, constitutes the highest level of man’s ability to know God, and is indeed the very fruit of his existence.
The English translation presented below is provisional (in other words, not official or authorized; see here for more) and actually a composite. Shoghi Effendi, the great-grandson of Bahá’u’lláh and Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, conducted a partial translation of this tablet, which has been published in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh as passage XXVI. I have conducted a provisional translation of the remainder of the tablet, and have combined it with Shoghi Effendi’s translation to create a composite translation of the complete tablet. To make the very important distinction between the two renderings, I have colored his in red and mine in black.
The original text of the tablet, which appears underneath the composite translation, has been published in Majmúʻiy-i-Alváḥ-i-Mubárakih (Cairo: Maṭbaʻát as-Saʻádah, 1920), pp. 307–315. This book is available for download (PDF and Microsoft Word) at this directory.
A recitation of this tablet in the original language, performed by Bijan Masumian—to whom I am grateful for reviewing my translation and offering helpful comments—is available at the Cyber Temple website. I am also grateful to Rhett Diessner for his suggestions, which helped me enhance the quality of this translation.
Composite English Translation:
Glorious, immeasurably glorious is He!
Praise be to God, the All-Possessing, the King of incomparable glory, a praise which is immeasurably above the understanding of all created things, and is exalted beyond the grasp of the minds of men. None else besides Him hath ever been able to sing adequately His praise, nor will any man succeed at any time in describing the full measure of His glory. Who is it that can claim to have attained the heights of His exalted Essence, and what mind can measure the depths of His unfathomable mystery? From each and every revelation emanating from the Source of His glory, holy and never-ending evidences of unimaginable splendor have appeared, and out of every manifestation of His invincible power oceans of eternal light have outpoured. How immensely exalted are the wondrous testimonies of His almighty sovereignty, a glimmer of which, if it but touched them, would utterly consume all that are in the heavens and in the earth! How indescribably lofty are the tokens of His consummate power, a single sign of which, however inconsiderable, must transcend the comprehension of whatsoever hath, from the beginning that hath no beginning, been brought into being, or will be created in the future till the end that hath no end. All the Embodiments of His Names wander in the wilderness of search, athirst and eager to discover His Essence, and all the Manifestations of His Attributes implore Him, from the Sinai of Holiness, to unravel His mystery.
A drop of the billowing ocean of His endless mercy hath adorned all creation with the ornament of existence, and a breath wafted from His peerless Paradise hath invested all beings with the robe of His sanctity and glory. A sprinkling from the unfathomed deep of His sovereign and all-pervasive Will hath, out of utter nothingness, called into being a creation which is infinite in its range and deathless in its duration. The wonders of His bounty can never cease, and the stream of His merciful grace can never be arrested. The process of His creation hath had no beginning, and can have no end.
In every age and cycle He hath, through the splendorous light shed by the Manifestations of His wondrous Essence, recreated all things, so that whatsoever reflecteth in the heavens and on the earth the signs of His glory may not be deprived of the outpourings of His mercy, nor despair of the showers of His favors. How all-encompassing are the wonders of His boundless grace! Behold how they have pervaded the whole of creation. Such is their virtue that not a single atom in the entire universe can be found which doth not declare the evidences of His might, which doth not glorify His holy Name, or is not expressive of the effulgent light of His unity. So perfect and comprehensive is His creation that no mind nor heart, however keen or pure, can ever grasp the nature of the most insignificant of His creatures; much less fathom the mystery of Him Who is the Day Star of Truth, Who is the invisible and unknowable Essence. The conceptions of the devoutest of mystics, the attainments of the most accomplished amongst men, the highest praise which human tongue or pen can render are all the product of man’s finite mind and are conditioned by its limitations. Ten thousand Prophets, each a Moses, are thunderstruck upon the Sinai of their search at His forbidding voice, “Thou shalt never behold Me!”; whilst a myriad Messengers, each as great as Jesus, stand dismayed upon their heavenly thrones by the interdiction, “Mine Essence thou shalt never apprehend!” From time immemorial He hath been veiled in the ineffable sanctity of His exalted Self, and will everlastingly continue to be wrapt in the impenetrable mystery of His unknowable Essence. Every attempt to attain to an understanding of His inaccessible Reality hath ended in complete bewilderment, and every effort to approach His exalted Self and envisage His Essence hath resulted in hopelessness and failure.
How bewildering to me, insignificant as I am, is the attempt to fathom the sacred depths of Thy knowledge! How futile my efforts to visualize the magnitude of the power inherent in Thine handiwork—the revelation of Thy creative power! How can mine eye, which hath no faculty to perceive itself, claim to have discerned Thine Essence, and how can mine heart, already powerless to apprehend the significance of its own potentialities, pretend to have comprehended Thy nature? How can I claim to have known Thee, when the entire creation is bewildered by Thy mystery, and how can I confess not to have known Thee, when, lo, the whole universe proclaimeth Thy Presence and testifieth to Thy truth? The portals of Thy grace have throughout eternity been open, and the means of access unto Thy Presence made available, unto all created things, and the revelations of Thy matchless Beauty have at all times been imprinted upon the realities of all beings, visible and invisible. Yet, notwithstanding this most gracious favor, this perfect and consummate bestowal, I am moved to testify that Thy court of holiness and glory is immeasurably exalted above the knowledge of all else besides Thee, and the mystery of Thy Presence is inscrutable to every mind except Thine own. No one except Thyself can unravel the secret of Thy nature, and naught else but Thy transcendental Essence can grasp the reality of Thy unsearchable being. How vast the number of those heavenly and all-glorious beings who, in the wilderness of their separation from Thee, have wandered all the days of their lives, and failed in the end to find Thee! How great the multitude of the sanctified and immortal souls who were lost and bewildered while seeking in the desert of search to behold Thy face! Myriad are Thine ardent lovers whom the consuming flame of remoteness from Thee hath caused to sink and perish, and numberless are the faithful souls who have willingly laid down their lives in the hope of gazing on the light of Thy countenance. The sighs and moans of these longing hearts that pant after Thee can never reach Thy holy court, neither can the lamentations of the wayfarers that thirst to appear before Thy face attain Thy seat of glory.
The doors to the recognition of, and reunion with, that immemorial Essence being thus closed, He hath, in every age and dispensation, shed the splendor of His grace upon all things from the dayspring of His favor as a token of His bounty. He chose that Beauty of the Sovereign Lord from among His servants to be invested with the robe of Messengership, that He may guide all beings to drink from the waters of everlasting life and from the fountainhead of His peerless holiness; that every atom may be cleansed and sanctified from the dross of heedlessness and desire; and that they may attain unto the realm of His glorious Presence, the realm of imperishable holiness. That Beauty is the primal Mirror, the everlasting Robe, the Splendor of the Invisible, the consummate Word, and the manifestation of all the revealed and concealed attributes of the King of eternal glory. Upon His entire creation He hath enjoined obedience to Him, which is even as obedience to God Himself.
The waves of the oceans of names have emerged at His behest, and the evidences of the seas of attributes were made manifest at His bidding. That which man hath been able to know and describe, from the beginning that hath no beginning to the end that hath no end, referreth to this station [the Manifestation of God]. The comprehension of none can transcend this lofty station—the station wherein one may recognize and attain the Presence of that Orb of Unity and Sun of Reality—inasmuch as reunion with the unknowable Essence is in no wise possible. Hence, the billowing waves of that inner Ocean are visible in the outer appearances of this divine Manifestation, and the effulgences of that hidden Sun emanating from the horizon of this unfading and resplendent Dawn can be unmistakably discerned.
He hath made these luminous Beings to appear from the morn of oneness with such convincing proof that all else besides Them have failed to produce a proof the like thereof. Thus were They sent down, that none would be able to protest or deny Them, for without the clearest proof, the testimony of God unto man would be incomplete. Confining, however, that clear testimony to the verses of Revelation, outward allusions, or any other such thing, hath been and will ever be dependent upon the bidding of that Primal Will, and none else besides Him.
O ye who seek the holy and immortal realm of nearness unto God! Strive with the utmost endeavor, and beseech the King of bounty and the Sovereign of the realm of the seen, that perchance, out of the billowing oceans of His grace and bounty, He may not withhold His life-giving waters from them who are sore athirst, inasmuch as every infinite degree of knowledge and the loftiest fruit of man’s existence have ever been the attainment of this sublime and most exalted Rank, and this noble and most glorious Station.
Bend every effort to rid thyself of the word of negation and its exponents, who have encompassed the world in this day, that thou mayest attain to the lofty and blessed Tree of God.* This is the very foundation of salvation, and the true meaning of victory—the beginning and the end thereof.
They must, moreover, recognize that Orb of Unity and Sovereign of Truth from the brilliant splendors which emanate from that Quintessence of Oneness, inasmuch as that Primal Essence hath ever been independent of all things and been known through His own Self, by Which His proof is made manifest. The proof of the splendor of the sun is that resplendent light which doth emanate, in all its brilliance, from its own self. In like manner, every servant must take it upon himself to recognize that Orb of Unity. Therefore, the denial or acceptance of His servants hath never been, nor will it ever be, sufficient proof for any one to embrace or reject Him.
O thou who believest in God! Fix thy gaze, in every dispensation, upon the Person of the Manifestation and the clear evidences which come from Him, that thou mayest not stray from the Divine Path. Consider man, for instance. Wert thou to know him by his own self, thou wouldst recognize him regardless of his attire. If, however, thou wert to disregard him and instead preoccupy thyself with his attire, thou wouldst be utterly barred from recognizing him when he cometh arrayed in new attire. Be thou mindful, then, of earthly limitations and attachment to names, and concentrate upon the Person of the Manifestation, lest thou remain, in the hour of His advent, held back from the Tree of Revelation, which would render all thy doings futile and void, and would—unbeknownst to thyself—revert thee from the station of certitude to that of denial. We take refuge with God from such a thing! Be vigilant, O People of the Bayán, that ye recognize this Revelation on Its own merit, and by that which is manifested from It, and not by aught else, for nothing else—even were it all that is in the heavens and on the earth—will profit you. This is My best counsel unto you, would ye but accept it.
Sanctify thine inner and outer eyes from beholding aught else but God, that thou mayest attain unto the Beauty of His Manifestation in every dispensation, and partake of His Presence, which is even as the Presence of God Himself. This is the utterance of truth, which can never be excelled or negated by any other utterance. This Beauty hath ever been enshrined in the lamp of His Word, even as the Divine Lamp hath always shone, and will continue to shine, luminous and resplendent. Well is it with the one who, of his own accord, is illumined with this holy and unfading light. Happy are they that have recognized this truth.
* A more literal translation of this sentence would read: “Bend every effort to rid thyself of ‘No’ and its exponents…that thou mayest attain to the lofty and blessed Tree of ‘But’” [Emphasis added]. This is a reference to the first part of the shaháda, or Muslim declaration of faith: “There is no god but God…”
In Arabic, this declaration begins with lá (لا), which means “no.” Observed in its proper context, we see that this construction was crucial for its time, in that the Prophet Muhammad was calling on pagan Arabs to forsake their false gods (“there is no god”) and embrace the One True God (“but God”).
In this passage from the Lawḥ-i-Tawḥíd, however, Bahá’u’lláh is proclaiming that the time has come for us to dispense with the letters of negation, and to embrace the language of affirmation instead. This proclamation is also repeated in Bahá’u’lláh’s other Writings, such as the Tablet of Salmán, as explained in the excerpt below by Adib Taherzadeh:
“Referring to the fore-mentioned phrase ‘There is no God but Him’, Bahá’u’lláh, in the Tablet of Salmán, proclaims in majestic and powerful language that He has removed the letter of negation which had been placed before that of affirmation. This phrase, which the Prophet of Islam, through His all-encompassing wisdom, regarded to be the cornerstone of His Faith, is now, in the Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh, symbolically replaced by the affirmative phrase ‘He is God’, signifying that the Revealer of the Cause of God holds within His hands the reins of authority, and, unlike the Dispensations of the past, no one has the power to wrest it from Him.”
(The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, vol. 2, p. 289)
(Juan Cole conducted a provisional translation of that tablet to Salmán, which is available online here.)
Because the word illá (الّا)—meaning “but”—is part of the phrase “but God” in the shaháda, we see that, in mentioning “the Tree of ‘But,’” Bahá’u’lláh is actually synonymizing the word “but” with “God,” since the latter immediately follows the former and is thus implied in its usage; hence, the decision to render that word interpretively here rather than literally. Such interpretive renderings have been done by other Bahá’í translators, such as Marzieh Gail, who rendered the literal phrase “the city of ‘But’” (مدینۀ الّا) in Bahá’u’lláh’s Seven Valleys as “the City of God” (p. 7).
I am grateful to Naeem Nabiliakbar, who provided me with much of the above information to assist me in explaining this subtle but important point, and to Hajir Moghaddam, who helped me revise this explanation for greater accuracy.
A typed version of the complete original text of this tablet appears below (Arabic vocalization mine).