The Greatest Name

Glory be unto Thee, O Lord of the world and Desire of the nations, O Thou Who hast become manifest in the Greatest Name whereby the pearls of wisdom and utterance have appeared from the shells of the great sea of Thy knowledge, and the heavens of divine revelation have been adorned with the light of the appearance of the Sun of Thy countenance.1

Living as Bahá’ís, we hear the syllables of the Greatest Name pronounced very often. Either in the greeting “Alláh’u’Abhá”, or the phrase “People of Bahá”, or even in “the Abhá Kingdom”.

Exactly what is the Greatest Name? “Bahá” translates for us into the word “Splendor” or “Glory”, but just by changing the form of the word from one language to another, I don’t think we approach any closer to understanding its meaning.

I was thinking of this in connection with the ninety-five recitations of the Greatest Name, mentioned in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. To utter something so many times, which has so little meaning for me, can be a very troublesome thing.

Translating the word from “Bahá” to “Glory” put me no nearer to grasping the power of this word – after all, Bahá’u’lláh designated it as the Greatest Name. This implies that there is a deep, spiritual mystery surrounding the use of this word, which we must delve into to discover what it truly means.

Even the English word “glory” holds little meaning for me. I remember a Persian friend telling me once that the key difference, for him, between Persian and English words was that he could feel the meaning of Persian words. That is, if someone were to say “roshan” (meaning “bright”), he could feel his heart immediately flooded with the brightness of a white light. But the English word, “bright”, conveyed to him little more than an abstract sense of something being bright, as opposed to its being dim.

This is very close to my own experience. Merely uttering the words, “God is Most Glorious”, does not cause my heart to thrill; so it must be something else. The glory here intended must refer to something entirely different: alive, transforming, vibrating with power in the very heart of existence. This is the meaning I would like someday to understand.

Perhaps it would be worthwhile to begin by trying to grasp what the word is directly, without referring it to English. That is, let us not think of Bahá as meaning glory – and from that try to understand what glory is – but rather, let us accept this word “Bahá” as an independent creation, and develop with it an entirely separate relationship in our minds.

Bahá, then, seems to me to be possibly something like this: When the philosophers of old determined that life held a greater meaning than the commonalty often assumes, they decided it was worthwhile to give up all attempts at gratifying physical desires in pursuit of this higher meaning (since that was the only way that could keep their minds clear, and centered on the task). Their desire to pursue this course, and their faith that some prize lay at the end of it, seems to have originated with the influence that love has on the human soul when it apprehends beauty.

Let us imagine a youth, living in the city of Athens, who is gifted with a sensitive heart. He is “fresh from the mystery” – as Plato would say – his soul having only recently descended to Earth from the heavenly mansions (the Greek philosophers believed in the transmigration of souls, and hence those who were predisposed to appreciating fine virtues must have only just come from the processions of the gods).

This lad finds that he is enamored of all beautiful forms. Whether of a man or woman, he finds in the perception of physical beauty something to delight his soul. He therefore endeavors to spend great lengths of time with the objects of his affection, and spares no cost in setting aside as many days as possible for this pursuit.

However, in the course of time and education, he becomes aware of other things, by nature more intangible than physical forms, which he perceives as being more truly beautiful than human figures. That is, he graduates to seeking beauty in the images of art, or the sounds of music; or he searches out the great poets of the city, and sits by with wondering eyes as they remind him of the mansions from which he has only just arrived.

Yet this too, after a while, begins to pale. Now he looks for beauty in the complex interrelationships of life, or in the marvelous structures of nature. After this, he seeks beauty in the primacy of thought, and strives after education in the fields of geometry, language and philosophy.

Finally, by “scaling the ladder of beauty”, he passes beyond mere words and thoughts, and wings his way to the domains from which such lore proceeds. He becomes an acolyte of the subtle mysteries, wandering distracted in the plane of search, and roaming far beyond the skill of any language to recount his far-flung journeys.

Coming back to our discussion: We see there is a common thread here attracting the youth. It is this essential quality that is the true object of his search. At first he finds this aspect apparent only in physical forms, and then in less tangible works, and finally in just such nether regions as only the mystics tread.

Although the Greeks were predisposed to calling this quality “beauty”, they also gave it other names, such as Truth, Love or Virtue. In fact, it was a thing so awe-inspiring to them that they could not contemplate continuing life without it.

The name I would give to this essential quality of creation is “Bahá”. It is the generating heat that flows even as a life-blood into the nature of all wonderful things. Consider that in this same era the greatest fate for any man was to “die a glorious death”. Yet the act of dying itself was not what was desired, but a great, noble beauty in the act of dying.

This same attribute, ascribed of a worthwhile death, can likewise bring tears to our eyes when we witness an act of complete and loving sacrifice by one human being for another. Such as when, in times of war, a person is willing to lay down his or her life in order to save the lives of others. Do not such actions stir something deep within us that causes us to “believe in the human spirit” again?

This attribute I would call Bahá: a sort of incomparable luster that attends anything great, noble and beautiful. Not just the glory of a valorous death, but also the beauty of long friendship, the delights of knowledge, the peacefulness that comes from “following the Right Path”, the joy we experience when it seems that God’s presence is near. There is an aspect to all of these experiences which appears connected by a unifying thread; it is the culmination of everything splendorous and glorious that human life has to offer.

If Bahá is such a quality, then what must be Abhá? For in the Arabic language, Bahá is the attribute, and Abhá is its superlative expression. It is the difference between Glorious, and Most Glorious.

The phrase “Alláh’u’Abhá” literally means “God is Abhá”. What would it be like if the greatest manifestation of the name Bahá that we knew were to become magnified, in respect to that quality, by a thousand or a million-fold? And if, beyond that, after our souls had already expired from attempting to reckon it, this quality were to multiply yet more, and still infinitely more, until nothing whatsoever could possibly reflect the brilliance of such light?

Perhaps it is clearer, then, what might be signified by the cry “Ya Bahá’u’l-Abhá” – that is, “O, Bahá of the Abhá”. Herein the relationship of the Manifestation to the Unknowable Essence of God is clearly laid down. Note the use of the indefinite word Bahá, paired with the definite “al-Abhá” (that is, Bahá may appear severally, but only one Abhá is signified). Men can never know Abhá, even though it caused the foundations of creation to come into being. Bahá, then, is the reflection of that Essence as it appears to us in the world of the knowable. Even the title, “Bahá’u’lláh”, fits into this mold, for it signifies Him as the Bahá of God (Bahá’u’lláh), while God is Abhá (Alláh’u’Abhá): “Manifold and mysterious is My relationship with God. I am He, Himself, and He is I, Myself, except that I am that I am, and He is that He is.”2.

So, when I attempt to recite these foreign words ninety-five times in the privacy of my home, I think to myself that Alláh’u’Abhá is telling me something incredibly significant. It is informing me that God is the Ultimate Goal of my soul’s yearning; that everything I incline to in life is due to some attribute of His obtaining within it. Yet we can have no direct intercourse with His Essence. Hence the indescribable grace vouchsafed to us through the Manifestations of that Essence, Who exist in a form we can perceive (albeit dimly) through Their lives and works.

Alláh’u’Abhá is then a statement which represents the very essence of faith, since we can never verify it through our own understanding. Thus we direct our prayers toward the shrine of Him Who is the Remnant of God. He represents our only knowledge of Him, and our only access into the Kingdom of Abhá.

This would seem to indicate that the word Bahá signifies everything that our heart might desire in this world, for our aim in pursuing them is the fulfillment of some craving for God within us. Just as the moth, who was created with an inborn need to follow the light of moon, becomes distracted by the flickering candle lights from continuing its journey, so too we, who were molded from the “clay of love”3, whose very being is that of the “lover”, are asked by God: “how dost thou busy thyself with another?” It seems we have become distracted by these paler lights, and yet I think it only verifies that it is the essence of the light we seek, and not the poorer expressions of it we find here on Earth.

So we crave the attribute of Bahá, in whatever manner it express itself in the world of being. Whether it be the pleasure of relaxing in the sun, or the delights of fine music, or the self-immolation we experience in times of love – all these things attest something that is ultimately primary, and which has been fused into the very core of our being.

In this manner, Alláh’u’Abhá is a token of grace, for if it were a question of our own merit, we would never be permitted to approach such holy precincts. Then again Alláh’u’Abhá is an expression of the primal mystery, the “meaning of life”, the fundamental, unifying equation that all men of learning have sought. Or Alláh’u’Abhá indicates our essential unity with one another; that nothing exists outside of God; and therefore all things are rightly “merged into nothingness before the revelation of Thy splendor”. For who are we, of ourselves, alone? “How can utter nothingness gallop its steed in the field of preexistence, or a fleeting shadow reach to the everlasting sun?”

Through the words of Bahá’u’lláh, everything that is possible to our understanding here on Earth is made known to us. Or, that is to say, the potential for our learning it has thereby been created. Thus We have been invited through this gift to pursue as far as we can an appreciation of those subtle mysteries which have been enshrined by Him in the realms of divine creation.

Yet this is only my own, too simplified, preliminary glimpse into the deeper meanings which perhaps may lie within the Greatest Name of God. I hope your own attempts to bridge the gap of language separating us from the homeland of our Beloved are far more fruitful than mine have been.

Yes! This is the day of Bahá’u’lláh, the age of the Blessed Perfection, the cycle of the Greatest Name. If you do not smile now, for what time will you await and what greater happiness could you expect? This is the springtime of manifestation. The vernal shower has descended from the cloud of divine mercy; the life-giving breeze of the Holy Spirit is wafting the perfume of blossoms. From field and meadow rises a fragrant breath of thanksgiving like pure incense ascending to the throne of God. The world has become a new world; souls are quickened, spirits renewed, refreshed. Truly it is a time for happiness.4

  1. Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 33

  2. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 66

  3. Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 13

  4. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 210