Translations

Sprinkling of the Cloud Beyond Being

Baha'u'llah

Introduction to the Sprinkling of the Cloud Beyond Being (Rashh-i `Ama)

Sprinkling of the Cloud Beyond Being is a 19-verse poem, which Baha置値lah composed in late 1852, during his four-month imprisonment in the Siyah Chal. Of the writings of Baha置値lah that have survived to the present day, this poem is unique because it is the only work composed before Baha置値lah was exiled from Iran. This makes it the earliest of the writings still in existence.

Baha置値lah was imprisoned in the Siyah Chal as part of a wave of violence against the Babi community ordered by Nasiru'd-Din Shah. The persecution began after a small group of Babis reacted to the government痴 execution of the Bab by attempting to assassinate the Shah. While Baha置値lah was in prison, he experienced the first of many visions he had of the celestial woman who was to bring him his revelation. Describing that first vision, he says that he heard a sweet voice above him and, when he looked up, he saw a celestial woman in the air in front of him. She was so full of joy that her soul shone and her cheeks glowed. She pointed to his head and called to everyone in heaven and earth, saying: 釘y God! This is the Best-Beloved of the worlds, and yet ye comprehend not. This is the Beauty of God amongst you, and the power of His sovereignty within you, could ye but understand.納1] The Sprinkling of the Cloud Beyond Being is about these visions and their spiritual significance.

At the time Baha置値lah was exiled to Iraq, the Babi community was dispersed and demoralised. It had suffered the tragic loss of its prophet, the Bab, and the subsequent massacre by the Iranian government, and was without an effective leader. The Bab had appointed a successor, Mirza Yahya, but he was in hiding and failed to provide the rallying point the community desperately needed. Further uncertainty was generated by the fact that the community eagerly anticipated the appearance of 践im Whom God will Manifest; that is, the prophet that the Bab promised would come after him. During the upheaval following the Bab痴 martyrdom, several Babis claimed to be the Promised One, and the Sprinkling of the Cloud Beyond Being can be interpreted as a veiled claim on the part of Baha置値lah. This is how the poem is understood by Baha段s today, who see it as the first work in the Baha段 revelation. However, the poem does not contain an open declaration by Baha置値lah to be the Promised One, and it is likely that the Babis understood the poem to be a work of divine inspiration and not divine revelation. Baha置値lah did not make a public declaration to be Him Whom God will Manifest until a decade later.

The reference to a 祖loud (Arabic: 疎ma) in the title of the poem originates from a tradition, or saying, attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. Someone asked Muhammad where God was before creating the heavens and earth. Muhammad is reported to have said: 的n a cloud, above which was air and below which was air. By the time Baha置値lah wrote this poem, the word 祖loud (疎ma) had a special meaning in Sufism, where it referred to the innermost essence of God.[2] In both the Baha段 and Islamic revelations, the essence of God is a reality that no one can access, not even the prophets. The phrase 鼎loud Beyond Being, used in the title of the poem, is an attempt to capture in English this special meaning of the word 祖loud. Another translation offered for this difficult concept is given by Stephen Lambden, who has translated the title as 全prinkling of the Cloud of Unknowing and 全prinkling of the Divine Cloud.[3]

Understanding this special meaning of the word 祖loud is crucial for understanding the meaning of the poem. The first verse tells us that Baha置値lah痴 spiritual passion is of such significance that it causes the very essence of God to rain down its realities. The announcement that God has been moved to share this exceptionally rare and precious favour with the world is the central theme of the poem. And the vehicle through which this favour is brought into the world is Baha置値lah and, by implication, the Bab, through his declaration in 1844. The poem is crammed full of allusions to the extraordinary bounty that God has caused to rain down on the world. One important image Baha置値lah uses is the appearance of the Houri, who is mentioned in verse 14: 釘ehold the visage of divinity, set your gaze on the heavenly houri. Obviously, this verse refers to the image of the Houri appearing in front of Baha置値lah in the Siyah Chal. But it also signifies the beginning of the Baha段 revelation in the world. The Houri is the celestial woman who was to bring the revelation to Baha置値lah, in the same way that the Angel Gabriel was the agent of divine revelation for Muhammad.

Another theme Baha置値lah uses to allude to this new outpouring of divine bounty is that of the Day of God. Baha段s believe that the Babi and Baha段 dispensations have ushered in the Day of God; that is, the Last Day or Day of Judgement, which the divine scriptures promised would come in the fullness of time. For example, in the Qur誕n, chapter 40, verse 16, Muhammad describes the Day of God as: 典he Day whereon they will all come forth: not a single thing concerning them is hidden from God. Whose will be the Kingdom that Day? That of God, the One, the Overpowering! Verse 9 of the poem announces the beginning of the Day of God, telling us that the countenance of the Lord has been revealed. Baha置値lah is saying that the appearance of himself and the Bab has fulfilled the Day of God, implying that their appearance is, effectively, the same as the appearance of God. However, the verse should not be understood to mean that they manifest the essence of God, only God痴 qualities.

The idea that the appearance of Baha置値lah fulfills the promise of the Day of God is also found in verse 7, which reads: 徹ur face began the age of 選 am He. Our breath started the cycle 践e is He.樗 The word 践e is a translation of the Arabic word 蘇uwa, which in Arabic means 蘇e and also 賎od. Therefore, in saying 選 am He, Baha置値lah is effectively saying, 選 am God. The Bab also declared 選 am God; for example, he said: 典he Lord hath, in truth, inspired Me to proclaim: Verily, verily, I am God, He besides Whom there is none other God.納4] Baha置値lah explained the background of the phrase 選 am He in a letter to a believer. In it, he says that a Shi誕 tradition prophesied that the Promised One would utter a 層ord that would put the leaders of religion to flight. Baha置値lah goes on to say that this 層ord is this: 淘He hath now appeared in the raiment of I. He Who was hidden from mortal eyes exclaimeth: Lo! I am the All-Manifest.納5]

Now that we know that the word 践e also means 賎od, we can read the second half of verse 7, 徹ur breath started the cycle 践e is He樗 to mean 徹ur breath started the cycle 践e is God [or] 賎od is He.樗 In fact, the poem begins with the phrase 践e is God. This phrase is found throughout the writings of the Bab and Baha置値lah. Its meaning mystified the Baha段s in the West and they asked Abdu値-Baha about it. He explained that human beings cannot access the essence of God, therefore we must turn to Baha置値lah, who manifests the Deity to us; in other words, 践e, or Baha置値lah, is God. Abdu値-Baha says:

典hou hast asked regarding the phrase, 践e is God! written above the Tablets. By this Word it is intended that no one hath any access to the Invisible Essence. The way is barred and the road is impassable. In this world, all men must turn their faces toward Him Whom God Shall Manifest [that is, Baha置値lah]. He is the 船awning-place of Divinity and the 閃anifestation of Deity. He is the 繕ltimate Goal, the 羨dored One of all and the 糎orshipped One of all.納6]

Another allusion to Baha置値lah痴 divine station is found in verse 16, which uses imagery associated with Moses - the burning bush, and the white hand and bosom of Moses. The meaning of verse 16 is perhaps easier to grasp in a more literal translation than the one by Juan Cole. Stephen Lambden translates the verse as: 徹bserve the Fire of Moses! Behold the Snow-White Brightness! See thou that the Sinaitic Bosom raineth down from the Radiant Palm. The imagery used here is from Exodus, chapter 4, verse 6. Moses asks God to give him a sign that he can use to convince the people that his message is from God. God instructs Moses to put his hand into his bosom. When Moses pulls it out, it comes out 斗eprous as snow. In the first sentence of the poem, 徹bserve the Fire of Moses, Baha置値lah is claiming to be the voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. In the second sentence, 釘ehold the Snow-White Brightness, Baha置値lah is claiming to be Moses痴 snow-white hand. And in the third sentence, Baha置値lah is saying that the fire in the bosom, or self, of Moses (鍍he Sinaitic Bosom) originated from the radiance of Baha置値lah痴 own palm, meaning his Pen or Word.[7]

The final allusion that should be noted is in verse 18. Again, using the more literal translation from Stephen Lambden, the verse reads: 徹bserve the letter H like Rosebud. Behold the letter B like Ringlet. See thou that the Timbre of the Flute reverberateth through the hollow reed of Baha! Baha置値lah is saying that the Arabic letter 蘇a looks like a rosebud. This letter has the following shape: ? . The second letter 礎a looks like a ringlet. It has the following shape: ?. When the two images of the rosebud and the ringlet of hair are put together, and hence the two letters B and H are put together, they form the Arabic word 腺aha (Glory) and the name of Baha置値lah (Glory of God).

[1] Baha'u'llah: 鉄uriy-i-Haykal, in Summons of the Lord of Hosts. Tablets of Baha置値lah (Haifa, Israel: Baha段 World Centre, 2002) para 7, p 6

[2] Juan Cole: 釘aha置値lah and the Naqshbandi Sufis, in From Iran East and West, Studies in Babi and Baha段 History, Vol 2, edited by Juan Cole and Moojan Momen (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1984), pp 10-11

[3] See note 7 and the references below for Stephen Lambden痴 translations.

[4] The Bab: Selections from the Writings of the Bab, translated by Habib Taherzadeh (Haifa, Israel: Baha段 World Centre, 1976) p 67

[5] Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas, translated by Habib Taherzadeh (Haifa, Israel: Baha段 World Centre, 1978) p 258

[6] `Abdu'l-Baha: Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha, Vol 3, (Wilmette, Illinois: Baha段 Publishing Trust, 1930) p 485

[7] Stephen Lambden: 鉄inaitic Mysteries: Notes on Moses/Sinai Motifs in Studies in Honour of the Late Hasan M Balyuzi, Studies in the Babi and Baha段 Religions, Vol 5, edited by Moojan Momen (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1988) pp 109-110

For further discussion on the Sprinkling of the Cloud Beyond Being, see:

  • Juan Cole: 釘aha置値lah and the Naqshbandi Sufis, in From Iran East and West, Studies in Babi and Baha段 History, Vol 2, edited by Juan Cole and Moojan Momen (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1984), pp 10-12
  • Stephen Lambden: an introduction and translation of the Sprinkling of the Cloud of Unknowing is at http://bahai-library.com/?file=bahaullah_rashh_ama_lambden
  • Ramin Neshati: an introduction and translation of the Tablet of the Mist of the Unknown is at http://bahai-library.com/?file=bahaullah_rashh_ama_neshati
  • Adib Taherzadeh: The Revelation of Baha置値lah. Baghdad, 1853-63 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1974) pp 45-46, 51.