Answers to the question:
"What new teachings are there in the Bahá'í religion which are lacking in the other religions?"
Excerpts from "The Brilliant Proof" (1911)
by Mirzá Abu'l-Fazl
(Published and copyrighted in Chicago in 1912)
(Editorial Commentary and Footnotes by Gregory D. Watson)
November 1988 ©
Speaking to the Bahá'ís, `Abdu'l-Bahá has written the following tribute to Mirzá Abu'l-Fazl's "Brilliant Proof :"
"His Honor Mirzá Abu'l-Fazl has written a treatise answering the criticisms of a London preacher. Each one of you should have a copy. Read, memorize and reflect upon it. . . " (H.M. Balyuzi, `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 326.)
Footnotes and commentary of editor are at the bottom of each page (i.e., beneath horizontal lines)
or are within [brackets] inside the text.
(click here to skip preface and jump to text)
This is not a comprehensive list of new teachings. A number of new teachings are not highlighted here. For example, Baha'u'llah has nullified a number of teachings from past dispensations that have been so misinterpreted by the followers of religion that they need to be abolished. For example, [The Qur'an, Sura -- Immunity] “If ye assist not your Prophet ...” Muslims have interpreted this blessed verse to mean that they must fight all the "infidels." Baha'u'llah has said: "He is God, exalted be His glory! It is clear and evident that the one true God — glorified be His mention! — is sanctified above the world and all that is therein. By 'rendering assistance unto God', then, it is not meant that any soul should fight or contend with another.... Sedition hath never been pleasing unto God, nor were the acts committed in the past by certain foolish ones acceptable in His sight. Know ye that to be killed in the path of His good pleasure is better for you than to kill." (The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 108)
"...Indeed thou didst grasp the significance of rendering assistance unto God and didst arise to achieve this through the power of wisdom and utterance. Say: To assist Me is to teach My Cause. This is a theme with which whole Tablets are laden. This is the changeless commandment of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future. Comprehend this, O ye men of insight. They that have passed beyond the bounds of wisdom fail to understand the meaning of assisting God as set forth in the Book. Say: Fear ye God and sow not the seeds of dissension amongst men. Observe ye that which hath been enjoined upon you by your Lord, the Almighty, the All-Knowing." (Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 196)
Likewise: and Our Word is the
truth : 'Consort with the followers of all religions in
a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.' Whatsoever hath led the
children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and
divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words,
been nullified and abolished. From the heaven of God's Will, and for
the purpose of ennobling the world of being and of elevating the minds
and souls of men, hath been sent down that which is the most effective
instrument for the education of the whole human race. The highest
essence and most perfect expression of whatsoever the peoples of old
have either said or written hath, through this most potent Revelation,
been sent down from the heaven of the Will of the All-Possessing, the
Ever-Abiding God. Of old it hath been revealed: 'Love of one's country
is an element of the Faith of God.' The Tongue of Grandeur hath,
however, in the day of His manifestation proclaimed: 'It is not his to
boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world.'
Through the power released by these exalted words He hath lent a fresh
impulse, and set a new direction, to the birds of men's hearts, and
hath obliterated every trace of restriction and limitation from God's
holy Book." (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 94)
"It is incumbent upon every man, in this Day, to hold fast unto whatsoever will promote the interests, and exalt the station, of all nations and just governments. Through each and every one of the verses which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed, the doors of love and unity have been unlocked and flung open to the face of men. We have erewhile declared
and Our Word is the truth
: 'Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.' Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished. From the heaven of God's Will, and for the purpose of ennobling the world of being and of elevating the minds and souls of men, hath been sent down that which is the most effective instrument for the education of the whole human race. The highest essence and most perfect expression of whatsoever the peoples of old have either said or written hath, through this most potent Revelation, been sent down from the heaven of the Will of the All-Possessing, the Ever-Abiding God. Of old it hath been revealed: 'Love of one's country is an element of the Faith of God.' The Tongue of Grandeur hath, however, in the day of His manifestation proclaimed: 'It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world.' Through the power released by these exalted words He hath lent a fresh impulse, and set a new direction, to the birds of men's hearts, and hath obliterated every trace of restriction and limitation from God's holy Book." (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 94)
The following is a selection from a work which has a special literary style consistent with its theme and with the phraseology of religious scripture. It is NOT Scripture, but often derives its language therefrom. It is the language of exegesis which one would expect from a believer and a scholar who expresses an air of reverence. It should be read with the inner as well as the outer eye, the heart as well as the mind. If the phraseology at first seems strange, so too does the phraseology of all writing which is worthy of the name "Scripture." If this kind of writing (with its special phrases and terminology) seems unfamiliar to you, it may be from the weight of the spiritual meaning the words intend to convey. It may at times seem to suffer from the want of a modern translation (which it may someday have), but that gives it a certain charm.
Language has always been a potential veil (or a pathway--depending upon the individual and the circumstances) for the seeker striving to apprehend the reality behind the words. For some, the special language of earlier religious scripture makes little or no sense at all. To others, the realities behind the words ring clearly through them, though some meanings in the Bible were so veiled as to intentionally obscure them (see Daniel 12:4-10 and Isaiah 6:9-10. Also, see footnote #16 next page)."In Isaiah 29:11 we read: "When men give it to one who can read, saying, 'read this,' he says, 'I cannot, for it is sealed.'" Also, in Isaiah 6:9-10 we find: "...make the ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed."In a wonderful collection of table conversations with Abdu'l-Bahá (SAQ, p. 83), we find an explanation of the necessity of "outward symbols" and "metaphors" to convey inner meaning. My paraphrase is as follows: One kind of knowledge we get through our senses. Another kind is intellectual or abstract knowledge--that is to say that, it is a reality of the intellect; it has no outward form and no place--so it is not perceptible to the senses. For example, the power of intellect is not sensible; none of the inner qualities of man is a sensible thing; on the contrary, they are intellectual realities. So love is an intellectual or mental reality and not sensible; for this reality the ear does not hear, the eye does not see, the smell does not perceive, the taste does not discern, the touch does not feel. Even the forces of nature, as described by physics and chemistry are said to be intellectual realities. In the same way, the human spirit is an intellectual, not a sensible reality. In explaining these intellectual realities, one is obliged to express them by sensible figures because in exterior existence there is nothing that is not material.
For example, grief and happiness are intellectual things; because when you wish to express those spiritual qualities you say: "My heart is oppressed; my heart is dilated," though the heart of man is neither oppressed or dilated. This is an intellectual or spiritual state, to explain which you are obliged to have recourse to sensible figures. Another example: you say, "such an individual made great progress," though he is remaining in the same place; or again, "such a one's position is exalted," although, like everyone else, he walks upon the earth. This exaltation and this progress are spiritual states and intellectual realities, but to explain them you are obliged to have recourse to sensible figures because in the exterior world there is nothing that is not sensible.
So the symbol of knowledge is light, and of ignorance, darkness; but reflect, is knowledge sensible light, or ignorance sensible darkness? No, they are merely symbols. These are only intellectual states, but when you desire to express them outwardly, you call knowledge light, and ignorance darkness. You say: "My heart was gloomy, and it became enlightened." Now, that light of knowledge, and that darkness of ignorance, are intellectual realities, not sensible ones; but when we seek for explanations in the external or actual world, we are obliged to give them a sensible form. In other words, some outward symbols are necessary to convey inward realities and spiritual conditions. That the words are symbolic does not devoid them of the true meanings or reality they convey. For example, it is a Persian and Arabic expression to say that the earth was asleep, and the spring came, and it awoke; or that the earth was dead, and the spring came and it revived. These kinds of expressions are metaphors, allegories, mystic explanations in the world or language and signification.(1)
The metaphysical and spiritual worlds (or dimensions) are the worlds of essences, and thus they transcend the world of language, since the world of language is the world of names and attributes only. Even mathematics and chemistry are attributive or ascriptive languages. Science recognizes this. This is a recognition of the limitation of empirical science. Science has never claimed to be able to penetrate the world of essence. Scientists say we can never know anything in its essence--there is always something smaller (or larger), at the heart of every "matter." Science understands it and describes it only by its properties, or that which we can attribute to it. Although some forms of scientific vision enable us to penetrate abstract realities and predict future events, they are a property of the human mind. Mind is an emanation of spirit. Human understanding can transcend the knowledge of science because it can result from the understanding which comes from a spiritual condition or state. Each of us "knows" the existence of love, but no empirical science can define love or prove and validate its existence. How much less is it able to define or to prove the existence of God--the Essence of essences? Each of us must prove that Reality for ourselves--within ourselves--through our own experience. Then will the mere "knowledge of the existence of God," become transformed into the "knowledge of God" and the distinction between these two levels of awareness disappear in certitude.
Bahá'u'lláh has written:"The purpose of God in creating man hath been, and will ever be, to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence. To this most excellent aim, this supreme objective, all the heavenly Books and the divinely-revealed and weighty Scriptures unequivocally bear witness. Whoso hath recognized the Day Spring of Divine guidance and entered His holy court hath drawn nigh unto God and attained His Presence, a Presence which is the real Paradise, and of which the loftiest mansions of heaven are but a symbol..." (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 70)As to the common usage of terms, words such as He and Thou may require some special comment. The Bahá'i writings declare that God is above human limitations, or what we might ascribe to Him--that corporeality and gender have no applicability to God's nature, unless we wish to say that it is impossible to get something from nothing (i.e., we cannot imagine that God creates an attribute unless He contains that attribute within Himself. Thus we ascribe to God "personality," albeit through anthropomorphic convention.) Therefore it might seem just as appropriate (except for the preservation of literary conventions and elevated styles) to refer to God by the other third person pronouns: "She" or "It". Likewise, in the English rendering of scriptural language, the second personal pronoun is elevated (the language of scripture is superlative), and not archaic, to replace "you" with "thou," as it is more personal--thou, being the "familiar" form of second person pronoun, just as "tu" in contemporary Spanish is the familiar form of "usted."(2) The use of "He" for God in the English translation of the Bahá'i Writings may be merely the convention of English rendering. (It may also represent some continuity for the English readership since "He" has, for hundreds and hundreds of years, been a standard reference to God.) In the original Persian--the language of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation--the third person singular pronoun shows no gender; makes no reference to it at all.
Excerpts from "The Brilliant Proof" (1911)
by Mirzá Abu'l-Fazl
(Edited by Gregory Watson by adding footnotes and commentary.)
As to the fourth and greatest point, he(3) says: "What new command is there in the Bahá'í religion which is lacking in Christianity?"
Although this question is an abstruse one which cannot be fully comprehended by a person unless he be well versed in the books of the two peoples, yet we will expound it clearly in such a way as to be easily understood by every soul, and we will explain the specific features of this great movement and prove the necessity of this Most Holy Manifestation for the comfort and upbuilding of the world. Thus may disinterested persons attain insight and every just one arise in thanksgiving for this great bestowal of God, the All-Glorious.(4)
It is evident to every perceiving soul that the world of humanity will attain perfection, and that happiness and welfare, the desire of nations and goal of all hearts, will be insured when religious differences and sectarianism, the cause of alienation and estrangement of the people, are utterly removed from the world, and all estrangements and schisms, such as racial, patriotic and political divisions, etc., are dispelled from among men. Thus may men become brothers, loving and kind toward each other. These terrible wars, which are the greatest catastrophes of humanity and civilization, will disappear. The vast sums, the expenditure of which is undoubtedly the cause of impoverishing men and destroying the world, will no longer be devoted to destructive pursuits and infernal machinery. This question is so clear and lucid that the most deficient mind can pass judgment upon it. Nevertheless this condition has been confirmed by the Divine Glad-tidings and established by heavenly prophesies. For the Holy Books contain explicit record that in the Great Day which has been exalted by various names, such as "The Last Day," "the time of the end," " the latter day," "the day of the Lord," etc., the Glorious Lord will descend and will unite all nations in the worship of the One God. He will so train all men in lofty and spiritual qualities that warfare and conflict will be uprooted, rancor and hatred will be replaced by sociability and peace, and implements of war be changed into farming and trading tools.(5) This is a brief statement of the promises of the prophets concerning the "latter day."
(Footnotes and commentary of editor are within or beneath horizontal lines and numbered in parenthesis.)
(1) Major portions of this reasoning were derived from Abdu'l-Bahá's Some Answered Questions, p. 83.
(2) Words such as "didst" and "sheddeth" also reflect this style of elevated literature.
(3) Peter Z. Easton, a Christian clergyman who asked the question.
(4) The first part of Mírzá Abu'l-Fazl's answer (which begins right after this above paragraph) is not simply background for the list of new teachings which are present for the first time in religion. Rather it demonstrates a fundamental difference between the Bahá'í Faith and the revelations which preceded it. His preliminary explanation is not merely a prelude to the answer-- it is central to it.
Of course another answer to the question is that there is nothing new, insofar as the essential teachings regarding the nature of God, the brotherhood of man, etc. are concerned. In other words, the Bahá'í Faith is a restatement of the Divine purpose (not a call to a new religious path) expressed in words which meet the needs of a modern age. It is the ancient path cleared of the debris of superstitions and dogmas, so that the sincere seeker may find a clear path and discover that the Word of God is one Word, though the speakers were many.
Finally, a third answer to the question is that Bahá'u'lláh, Himself, is NEW (though in another sense He can be considered the "return" of the former--in prophesy, the "return" and "the coming of another" refer to one and the same event). That is to say that He has appeared in the world. This is an appropriate answer when, by asking the above question, people really mean, "I have my religion, and it serves me well. What need have I of another?" One answer is that every time a new Manifestation of God appears in the world, humanity is obliged to listen to Him. That is man's responsibility to the ancient covenant of God. Expressed in the Old Testament, it simply is like a contract: God's part is His promise to send His messengers, and man's responsibility is to receive them. And why not? The believer can argue: Is it not to our benefit to have such remedies as will cure our society's ills? Has not every previous messenger of God foretold the coming of the next Messenger? Even if it were to be of no benefit to us, does not our Creator have the right to require anything of us He wills? In short, the previous religious dispensations were ones of prophesy or promise. This new Revelation is one of fulfillment. The followers of the previous religions, if true to their promise, must investigate the possibililty of fulfillment. This claim sets them apart.
(5) Isaiah 2: 2-4.
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