Introduction by Alison Marshall


Countenance of Love was probably written while Baha'u'llah lived in Edirne (Adrianople), sometime after he broke off relations with his half-brother, Mirza Yahya (Subh-i-Azal). Professor Juan Cole has suggested that the statements in the tablet to those who "opposed" God and "disbelieved" in God could be interpreted as referring to Mirza Yahya. The recipient of the tablet is not known.

Baha'u'llah begins the tablet by confirming that his reader has drawn near to God and attained God's presence. The recipient of the tablet has arrived at the spiritual "sanctuary of beauty" and, in that place, "visited the kaaba of holiness". The kaaba is the sacred structure in Mecca that Muslims circumambulate when they go on pilgrimage. But Baha'u'llah is referring here to the celestial kaaba, a cosmic point of adoration, which is himself.

Baha'u'llah advises his reader not to be troubled by anything that happens in the physical world. This is a common theme throughout Baha'u'llah's revelation. He counsels believers not to concern themselves with the things of the physical world, which are transient. He tells the reader to focus on the things of God's Kingdom, which are everlasting. This will safeguard the reader's spiritual well-being in the worlds of immortality.

At the beginning of the second paragraph, Baha'u'llah continues to counsel his reader to listen with the heart’s ear to the dove – that is, Baha'u'llah - whose melodies teach the paths of truth. In Iranian mysticism, the "pole", on which the dove is singing, symbolises the direction of cosmic north.[1] This is the spiritual orientation that our soul uses like a compass to keep itself on the straight path. The reader should listen only to Baha'u'llah and pay no attention to anyone who opposes him or disbelieves in him, even if the whole world should rise up in opposition.

The tablet ends with Baha'u'llah explaining that the path he has laid out will lead to a spiritual state that is beyond sorrow. Moreover, if his reader is able to smell the divine fragrances coming from Baha'u'llah's "shirt", this will lead the reader to discover the breezes of God's essence, and to overflow with yearning for God and become insightful about God's Cause. Baha'u'llah's use of the word "shirt" is an allusion to the biblical story of Joseph's coat, which his father, Jacob, had made for him. When Joseph failed to return home one day, Jacob was deeply grieved and clung to the coat, which carried the sweet 'fragrance' of his son's memory.

[1] Henry Corbin: The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism (New York: Omega Publications, 1994) p 2.