The Realms of Divine Existence
as described in the Tablet of All
By Bijan Ma'sumian, Ph.D.
Published in Deepen magazine 3.2.2 (Summer 1994), p. 11-17
The rampant political, religious, and social corruption of the 19th century Persia
provided fertile grounds for the revolutionary ideology and messianic claims of
the young Siyyid 'Alí-Muhammad of Shiraz (1817-1850), known as the
Báb (Gate). Persians of all social strata quickly began to respond to the
prophetic call of the young messenger of Shiraz, which was raised in 1844.
Rapid proliferation of the Báb's teachings throughout the country alarmed
the Persian government officials and the country's ecclesiastics to the extent that
the two decided to join forces in suppressing the nascent Bábí
community at all costs. Beginning in summer of 1848, the Persian government
orchestrated a series of military campaigns against the Bábís
which eventually culminated in public execution of the Báb Himself on July
Prior to this, the Báb, who knew His days were numbered, appointed
Mírzá Yahyá (c. 1830-1912) as His nominal successor.
Referred to by the Báb as Subh al-Azal (Morn of Eternity), Yahyá
was the younger half-brother of Bahá'u'lláh. As attested to by
Bahá'u'lláh's full-brother Mírzá Musá
(Aqáy-i-Kalím) and a certain Mullá Abdu'l-Karím-i-
Qazvíní, this appointment was suggested by
Bahá'u'lláh, apparently to divert the attention of the enemy from
Himself who, in absence of the Báb, was becoming the focal point among
After the martyrdom of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, accompanied by
His family, was exiled to Baghdad, where He was later joined by Azal and a number
of other Bábís. Although Azal's seclusive nature began to frustrate
many Bábís, Bahá'u'lláh continued to support Azal's
sagging leadership. Nevertheless, many well-known Bábís of Persia
and Iraq began to question Azal's authority and his writings, which they found
uninspiring and inadequate. Some went as far as making counterclaims and
distributing their own materials. Yet, through all this, Bahá'u'lláh
continued to lend His support to Azal both publicly and in His Writings.
As early as 1852, Bahá'u'lláh had begun to have messianic
experiences and occasionally expressed these, albeit in veiled language, in some of
His correspondence to the Bábís. The Tablet of All Food (Lawh-i Kull
al-Ta'ám), which was revealed in late 1853 or early 1854, clearly
demonstrated the superior insight of Bahá'u'lláh, while providing
clear evidence of how He, despite growing factionalism within the
Bábí community of Persia and knowledge of His own station, was
continuing to support Azal.
The Context of Revelation
The recipient of the Tablet of All Food was a certain Hají
Mírzá Kamál al-Dín Naráqí (died c.
1881). He had traveled to Iraq in the hope of meeting Azal and receiving a
commentary from him on the Qur'ánic verse 3: 87, which states:
"All food was lawful to the children of Israel (Jacob) save what Israel
made unlawful to himself (or itself) before the Torah was sent down. Say: Bring
you the Torah now, and recite it, if you are truthful."
Azal prepared a commentary for Naráqí, which is evidently not
extant today. Naráqí, however, was not impressed with this
commentary and he proposed the same task to Bahá'u'lláh. In
response, the latter revealed the Tablet of All Food. Upon reading this work,
Naráqí became a devoted admirer of Bahá'u'lláh and,
in later years, received many Tablets from Him.
This verse, which might have biblical roots (see Genesis 32: 32), was revealed to
establish Islam's desire to do away with the plethora of Jewish food prohibitions
which, as stated by Muhammad, were not divine in origin. In asking for a
commentary on Qur'án 3: 87, Naráqí was perhaps attempting
to get official clarification from a recognized Bábí leader regarding
an issue which was causing much friction among the Persian Bábís.
In all likelihood, the issue at hand was whether, as certain gnostic and elitist
Bábís in Persia were claiming, the followers of the Báb
could interpret Qur'án 3: 87 figuratively to mean that they, as "true
Israelites" for this age, could allow themselves "all food" (freedoms).3
The tendency toward "liberation" from divine laws likely came from those
Bábí leaders who were at the time making exalted claims for
themselves to fill the leadership vacuum left by the absence of the Báb and
Azal's seclusive nature. These elements probably found themselves in the dilemma
of having to live with the pain of the Báb's absence and want of leadership
which was destroying the Bábí community, yet they had to continue
to follow the Báb's strict legalistic pronouncements. In the Tablet of All
Food, Bahá'u'lláh shows His concern about the rising tide of
antinomian tendencies among certain Bábí factions by denouncing
the libertine elements and their attempts to "free" the Báb's community
from the "bondage" of divine law. He invites all the faithful to demonstrate unity
and the strict observance of the Báb's ordinances, directs the community to
follow Azal, claims nothing but servitude and lowliness for Himself, rejects and
laments about the accusations by certain Bábís that He is
attempting to usurp Azal's leadership, and expresses His desire to withdraw.2
The Style and Content of the Tablet
In revealing His commentary, Bahá'u'lláh does not take the
traditional Muslim approach of focusing on the actual circumstances of the
revelation of Qur'án 3: 87. Instead, He follows a methodology similar to
earlier commentaries revealed by the Báb which is reminiscent of the style
of certain Muslim sufis such as the renowned Ibnul 'Arabí (1165-1240 AD).
A particular characteristic of this style is the conviction that the meanings of the
Word of God revealed in holy scriptures can never be exhausted. Thus, every key
word or phrase contained in Qur'án 3: 87 has an infinity of meanings in
different levels or stations (maqámát) of existence for
Bahá'u'lláh. Many of these meanings can apply to past historical
figures, events, and circumstances. In elaborating on the significance of this
verse, Bahá'u'lláh chooses two key terms "food" (ta'ám) and
"Israel", and one key phrase "the Children of Israel", and gives each of these
multiple meanings in different stations. [note: original article had a chart here,
which was lost in conversion. -J.W.]
Foundation for a Bahá'í Theology?
Five of the nine interpretations that Bahá'u'lláh provides for the
term "food" (ta'ám) refer to a hierarchy of existence that ranges from
absolute existence which is the sole property of God's inner essence (realm of
Háhút) to subsistence which characterizes the transitory life of
physical beings in the material realm (Násút). While the roots of
this hierarchy can be traced back to the cosmology of neo-platonic philosophers
such as Plotinus, it closely resembles similar hierarchies of metaphysical realms
found in the works of Jewish, Christian, and particularly Muslim mystics such as
Ibnul 'Arabí and al-Jili, a student of his writings. Interestingly, the
Báb's Writings also identify certain esoteric correspondences between
various colors, precious stones, elements of creation, human life, and terrestrial
existence which might be associated with Bahá'u'lláh's hierarchy of
metaphysical realms. This hierarchy might eventually serve as a foundation for
developing an elaborate Bahá'í theology in the future.
"Food" in the Realm of the Háhút
While Bahá'u'lláh confirms that the worlds of God are countless in
their number and infinite in their range, He only identifies five of these realms in
the Tablet of All of Food and gives distinct meanings for the term "food" in each of
He begins by elucidating the meaning of "food" at the highest level of His
hierarchy the Throne (arsh) of Háhút. Háhút is the
realm of "Divine Oneness" where, from time immemorial, God's unmanifested
essence has been in a perfect, changeless, formless, and absolute state of
existence. The word Háhút is formed according to the same pattern
as similar Arabic words with spiritual connotations such as "Láhút"
(Divinity). Its meaning is probably based on the first letter Ha, which stands for
"Huwiyyah" or God's self-identity.6
The realm of Háhút is the realm of the "Absolute Unknown," where
God's essence has been hidden from time immemorial and will continue to remain
so for eternity. Háhút is the realm of "HE" (huwa /¶) where "the
Mystery of Mysteries" enjoys the one and only type of absolute existence. "The way
(to this realm) is barred and to seek (entry to or any knowledge of it) is
'Abdu'l-Bahá likens this realm to a black spot of ink the divine darkness on
paper which potentially contains all the letters and words (His creation), although
no trace of these letters and words can be seen in the black spot, nor can they be
differentiated from the spot in this state of potentiality.8
Háhút is the realm of God without attributes, the realm of God
unrevealed.9 From time immemorial, He, the Divine Being, 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..."10 No part of His
creation, including His most exalted creatures the supreme Manifestations can
ever hope to attain to even an infinitesimal knowledge of this realm.
Thus, all statements about God can only refer to His attributes as embodied by His
Manifestation (Mazhar-i-Iláhí) or Prophet (nabí or
rasúl). It cannot refer to the Essence of God because God at the
Háhút level is a hidden God who transcends everything and is, thus,
sanctified from any mention, knowledge, or attribution by any part of His creation.
"Consequently, with reference to this plane of existence (Háhút),
every statement and elucidation is defective, all praise and all description are
unworthy, every conception is vain, and every meditation is futile."11 Even the
names, attributes, and perfections that we ascribe to God such as "merciful,"
"forgiving," "loving," "just," "all-powerful," and so forth can only refer to the
Prophet, as God's Essence is unknowable and no one but He Himself has any
knowledge of His own innermost Essence.
As stated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "...all that the human reality knows, discovers
and understands of the names and attributes and the perfections of God refer to
these Holy Manifestations."12 Why, then do we give such appellations to God?
'Abdu'l-Bahá explains that we give God positive names and attributes to
simply deny any imperfections in Him:
"We affirm these names and attributes not to prove the perfections of
God, but to deny that He is capable of imperfections."13
Here, 'Abdu'l-Bahá is following the well-established tradition of negative
theology (or apophasis), which Buddha took to the extreme by adopting virtual
silence about God. While many have interpreted this silence as atheism, others
such as the comparative religionist Reimundo Pannikar view it as a, "sublime sign
of the Buddhá's reverence for the mysterious and the ineffable."14
This negative theology also resembles a teaching of the Hindú mystic
Sankará (788-820 AD) who pointed to an impersonal God without definable
attributes as a higher order of being and a God with definable attributes as the
Personal Lord Ishvara who was of a lower order of being.15
Thus, in regard to the unknowable nature of the hidden God (Háhút),
the Bahá'í concept could be said to agree with certain Buddhist and
Hindú traditions which adopt an apophatic position bordering on
"Food" in the Realm of Láhút
Bahá'u'lláh then proceeds to explain the meaning of the term "food"
in the next lower realm, the realm of Láhút (Divinity).
Láhút, He notes, is the realm of God revealed, or God manifest. God's
knowledge of His own perfections and His love for sharing these perfections with
others results in the manifestation of Divine Essence to Himself. Thus, the
attributes and perfections of God which were concealed and in a stage of
unrevealed potential in the realm of Háhút find existence in the
realm of Láhút as God the Absolute reveals His inner Self to
Himself.16 The result is the emanation of "the archetypal forms and essences of
all created beings."17
Yet, since this event is entirely mystical and takes place within the Godhead,
these archetypal forms and essences cannot be said to have yet achieved external
existence. Thus, even in Láhút, the one and only form of existence is
that of God manifest or God revealed to Himself. In the station of
Láhút, manifestations can claim identity with God beyond duality.
In other words, they are allowed to identify their higher nature with all the names
and attributes of God (God manifest) but they are unable to claim any independent
existence for themselves before the throne of God (the hidden God). Perhaps the
following Islamic tradition best describes the relationship between the realms of
Háhút and Láhút:
"Thou [Hidden God] art He [God Manifest] and He [God Manifest) is Thou
[the Hidden God]."
Háhút and Láhút are the most elevated spiritual
heights. However, while Háhút is totally unknowable,
Láhút is the highest "knowable realm" in which only God is
disclosed to Himself and all other beings and stations are subsumed in Him.
Láhút or the realm of God manifest can also be imagined as the
lofty sphere of the reality of divine Manifestations and chosen ones. This reality is
God's first emanation. Following the Shaykhí-Bábí tradition,
Bahá'u'lláh calls this emanation the Primal Will (al mashiyya al-
awalíya). The Primal Will is the first and only direct creation of the hidden
God (God at the Háhút level). Everything else including the physical
universe and all of its beings were generated through the Primal Will (God
manifest) . 'Abdu'l-Bahá attributes the act of creation to the "Primal
Will."18 Elsewhere, Bahá'u'lláh Himself affirms that the agent of
creation was the Manifestation or Word of God.19
In the words of one scholar, "It would appear, therefore, that the Primal Will
originates with or is present in the Manifestation of God, and in this sense they
'Abdu'l-Bahá's cosmology identifies only three stations of existence: God,
Kingdom (Manifestation/Revelation), and Creation.21 Thus, the Primal Will can not
be classified above or be thought of as independent of the Manifestation.22
Therefore, "food" at the Láhút level refers to the God manifest or
the Primal Will and His critical role as the agent of physical creation.
From a Bábí-Bahá'í perspective, one can find a
plethora of terms used in both philosophy and religion throughout history which
applies to the Primal Will this first emanation who forever remains the one and
only direct creation of God's Essence. Some of these terms are the Logos, the Only
Begotten (directly generated) Son, the Word, the Word of God, the Speech of God,
the Command of God, Jehovah or Yahwah, the First Mind, the First Will, the
Universal Intellect, the Throne, the Most Mighty Spirit, Sophia, the Origin of the
Universe, the Prime Matter, the Absolute Reality, the Simple Reality, the Holy
Emanation, the Manifestation of God, the Manifestation of the Self of God, the
Perfect Man, the Lord of Lords, and the Holy Spirit. The Báb and
Bahá'u'lláh have also used more poetic appellations for the "Primal
Will" such as "the Tongue of Grandeur," "the Speaker on Sinai," "the Ancient
(Preexistent) Beauty," "Pen of the Most High," and the "Maid of Heaven."
Another well-known term that Bahá'u'lláh employs throughout His
ministry to refer to the Primal Will as the agent of revelations to Him is the "Most
Exalted Pen" (al Qalamu'l A'lá) a term He borrowed from the Muslim mystic
Ibnul 'Arabí.23 A number of Bahá'u'lláh's Writings contain
dialogues between the Primal Will (whom He frequently images as the "Maid of
Heaven," which is simply a reference to His higher Self) and His lower, human self.
A well-known example of this is the Fire Tablet.
"Food" in the Realm of Jabarút
The next lower world that Bahá'u'lláh identifies is the realm of
Jabarút (Divine Power). Whereas in the realm of Láhút, the
Manifestation is seen as the agent of creation, in the realm of Jabarút He
takes on a transhistorical role and becomes the agent of spiritual sustenance
(food) and salvation to man. Also at this level, as God's Vicegerent (al
Khalífih), the Manifestation who enjoys a unique relationship with God is
allowed to use theophanic language and identify Himself with God on the level of
His attributes. Whereas in the realm of Láhút, the Manifestation
does not claim any existence for Himself (by using the pronoun "I"), in the realm of
Jabarút, He occupies the lofty station of the Godhead and can make the
exalted claim to divinity for Himself before the world of creation:
"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!"24
Certain Islamic traditions affirm this type of relationship between God and the
Manifestation at the Jabarút level. For instance:
"I (God manifest) verily am He (the hidden God) and He (the hidden God)
is I (God manifest)."
"I (God manifest) verily am He (the hidden God) and He (the hidden God) is I Myself
(God manifest), except that He is what He is and I am what I am."
In another tradition, the Prophet Muhammad affirms a unique tie between Himself
and the unknowable God which presumably applies to the station of Jabarút:
"Manifold is Our (the Prophet Muhammad's) relationship with God. At
one time We are He Himself, and He is We Ourself. At another, He is that He is, and
We are that We are."
The realm of Jabarút is then the, "realm of the affirmation of Divinity on
the part of exalted beings one level below that of the realm of the claim of
identity with God beyond duality (Láhút.)"25 The Bábí
and Bahá'í writings, however, confirm that this affirmation of
divinity on the part of prophets should not be viewed as a claim of identify with
God at the Háhút level or the incarnation of God's unknowable
essence in the mortal temples of prophets and chosen ones:
"These Manifestations have each a two-fold 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 to them the same attributes, thou hast not erred from
the truth. Even as He hath revealed: "No distinction do We make between any of His
Messengers." (Qur'án 2: 285)
They, one and all, summon the people of the earth to acknowledge the unity of God,
and herald unto them the Kawthar of an infinite grace and bounty.26 The first
station of the manifestations the station of pure abstraction and essential unity
would thus refer to their transhistorical roles as our saviors. To highlight this
essential unity among the prophets at the Jabarút level, we can use the
term Manifestation (with a capital M) to refer collectively to the founders of all
the divine religions.
"Food" in the Realm of Malakút
While Jabarút accentuates the essential unity of the prophets,
Malakút points to the distinctions among them. The transhistorical role of
the Manifestation in Jabarút transforms into a historical role in the lower
realm of Malakút. The Manifestation (with a capital M) now projects
distinct personalities, receives specific missions, and brings a particular set of
teachings to predetermined places at fixed times.
"The other station (of prophets) is the station of distinction, and
pertaineth to the world of creation, and to the limitations thereof. In this respect,
each Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed
mission, a predestined revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each one
of them is known by a different name, and is characterized by a special attribute,
fulfills a definite mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation."27
The esoteric food (spiritual guidance) that these prophets bring to mankind
nourishes and sustains man's soul and prepares him for life on his true plane of
existence, which is Malakút or the Abhá Paradise; the paradise of
"justice." It is called the paradise of "justice" because God's justice necessitates
that in all but a few cases (such as that of unborn children) only those who have
willfully chosen to receive the spiritual food and lived a holy life can enter this
abode or attain this station.
"Food" in the Realm of Násút
Whereas in the realm of Malakút God's "justice" rules, in the realm of
Násút His "bounty" is the cause of the creation and sustenance of
the physical beings. Physical life in the realm of Násút has been
given to diverse forms of matter through the grace of God. Although no part of this
creation has done anything to deserve this life, God, through His bounty and the
instrumentality of the Primal Will, has given the physical beings undeserved life.
Yet, for man, this form of life is inherently inferior to the life of the spirit in
Malakút, as the former would assuredly be followed by death and
decomposition while the latter is everlasting.
Man exists between the realms of Malakút and Násút. While
his physical body lingers in the realm of Násút (on earth), the true
plane of existence for his soul is in the Malakút. The realms of
Malakút and Násút are also indicative of the dual natures of
man angelic and animal. A life of attachment to the world and its vainglories
would strengthen man's animal nature and result in his failure to achieve his lofty
station. A chaste and holy life, on the other hand, would reinforce his angelic side,
enabling him to experience life in the Malakút while still on earth:
Those souls that in this day, enter the divine kingdom and attain everlasting life,
although materially dwelling on earth, yet in reality soar in the realm of heaven.
Their bodies may linger on earth but their spirits travel in the immensity of
transcendent space. For as thoughts widen and become illumined, they acquire the
power of flight and transport man to the Kingdom of God.28
Bahá'u'lláh read this commentary to Naráqí, but did
not give it to him. While it is not precisely known why He did so, His purpose may
have been to avoid further hostilities between Himself and Azal and greater
divisions among the Bábís. This, however, did not dishearten
Naráqí. Evidently, he was so impressed with
Bahá'u'lláh's commentary that he immediately pledged allegiance to
Him. The news of this event further damaged Azal's credibility and increased
Azal, who was alarmed by the rising prestige of his half-brother, aided by a close
companion Siyyid Muhammad-i-Isfahání initiated an organized
campaign to regain his credibility and to portray Bahá'u'lláh as a
"usurper." In His turn, Bahá'u'lláh who wanted to prevent further
hostilities abruptly left Baghdad for the mountains of Sulaymániyyih on
April 10, 1854.
For a number of reasons, the Tablet of All Food occupies a special place among
Bahá'u'lláh's Writings. Beyond its obvious purpose, it played a
distinct role in defining the leadership of the Bábí community
during the first year of Bahá'u'lláh's stay in Iraq and its perusal
sheds light on a number of events.
- First, this Tablet further enhanced Bahá'u'lláh's credibility
as an alternative Bábí leader.
- Second, it provided a vehicle by which Bahá'u'lláh underscored,
albeit in veiled language, His own leadership role without necessarily challenging
Azal's position. This countered the growing opposition from other leading
Bábís who had begun to accuse Him of attempting to usurp what
was rightfully Azal's, and thereby prevented further divisions among the
- Third, it provided contextual insights into why Bahá'u'lláh
chose to remove Himself from Baghdad and withdraw to the mountains of
- Also, Bahá'u'lláh's denunciation in this Tablet of extremist
Bábís who were seeking "liberation" from divine law points to
growing factionalism among the Bábís in early 1850s.
Furthermore, this work provides valuable insights into Bahá'u'lláh's
state of mind in the turbulent decade of the 1850s. For instance, in one place,
Bahá'u'lláh expresses his longing for Quddús, his
companionship, and the comfort his presence would have given Him had he been
alive. His anguish was perhaps due to the intense pressure resulting from the
martyrdom of the Báb and His heroes and heroines; the rise of factionalism
among the Bábís, Azal's failure to unify the faithful and
accusations leveled against Him; and a life of exile in a foreign land. Lastly,
though no authoritative translation of this Tablet is yet available, it must be
classified among the richest theological works of Bahá'u'lláh and
will no doubt be an invaluable resource to future Bahá'í scholars
who will help define a clear Bahá'í theology.
3) Lambden, Stephen. "A Tablet of Mírzá H.usayn 'Alí
Bahá'u'lláh of the Early Iraq period: The Tablet of All Food,"
Bahá'i Studies Bulletin, vol. 3, no. 1 (June 1984), p. 7
4) Ibid., pp. 8-10
5) Ibid., pp. 11-12
6) Cole, Juan R. "Bahá'u'lláh and the Naqshbandi Sufis in Iraq." In
Cole, Juan R. & Moojan Momen. From Iran East & West: Studies in
Bábí & Bahá'i History. Los Angeles: Kalimát Press,
1984, pp. 12-13
7) McLean, J. A. "Prolegomena to a Bahá'í Theology." The Journal of
Bahá'í Studies, vol. 5, no. 1 (March-June 1992)," p. 58.
8) Momen, Moojan. "Relativism: A Basis for Bahá'í Metaphysics," In
Momen, Moojan (Editor), Studies in the Bábí and
Bahá'í Religions (Volume Five). Los Angeles: Kalimát Press,
1988, p. 190.
9) McLean, pp. 55-56.
10) Táhirzádeh, Adíb. The Revelation of
Bahá'u'lláh, Vol. I. Oxford: George Ronald, Publisher, 1974, p. 58.
11) 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions. Wilmette:
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981, p. 147.
12) Ibid., p. 148.
14) McLean, p. 54.
15) Ibid., p. 55.
16) Momen, p. 191
18) 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 203.
19) Bahá'u'lláh. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh. Haifa, Israel:
Bahá'í World Center, 1978, p. 141.
20) McLean, p. 59.
21) 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 295.
22) McLean, p. 59.
23) Afifi, A. E. The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Dín-Ibnul 'Arabí.
New York: AMS Press, Inc. 1974, p. 66.
24) Táherzádeh, p. 59.
25) Lambden, p. 44.
26) Momen, P. 193.
27) Momen, P. 194.
28) 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Selections From the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
Haifa, Israel: Bahá'í World Center, 1978, p. 202.
29) Lambden, pp. 64-65.