The creation principle—translation and commentary

Table of contents

Table of contents

Introduction

My translation of the creation principle

Sentence 1

Sentence 2a

Sentence 2b

Sentence 3

Sentence 4

Creation principle analogies

Sentence 5

Appendix 1

Introduction

As part of the work I am doing on my book, I have translated the paragraph from Tablet of Wisdom—paragraph 9 of the official translation—in which Baha’u’llah outlines the creation principle. While doing this translation, I was stunned by the amazing beauties in the Arabic. Surely, Baha’u’llah spoke the truth when he said “Meditate upon the Lawh-i-Hikmat; in every verse the Sea of Seas is concealed”.[1] In this blog entry, I set out my translation of the paragraph and discuss its meaning. In doing so, I also look at some of the Arabic text and try to show a little of the word play that Baha’u’llah used. The structure of my commentary is based on the order of my sentences, which closely follow the Arabic. I also include a section on interpretation and an analogy that is drawn from current understandings in quantum field theory. In my view, it stands to reason that a principle Baha’u’llah reveals as the most fundamental to the creation of existence should be reflected in the behaviour of phenomena fundamental to the physical world.

In the commentary, I have also included material relating to the writings of Shaykh Ahmad, whose metaphysics and cosmology are based around a fundamental structural unit that is very similar to Baha’u’llah’s creation principle. I have not gone into detail in this blog about the similarities between Shaykh Ahmad’s existence/essence pair and Baha’u’llah’s energising/responding pair, but there is no doubt in my mind that the similarities are real and extensive and can be traced through the writings of the Bab. I have also looked in detail at Abdu’l-Baha’s interpretation of the creation principle.

My translation of the creation principle

The paragraph I have translated is the equivalent to paragraph 9 of the official translation of Tablet of Wisdom.

 قَدْ كَانَ مَا كَانَ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ مِثْلَ مَا تَرَاهُ الْيَوْمَ وَمَا كَانَ تَكَوَّنَ مِنَ الْحَرَارَةِ الْمُحْدَثَةِ مِنْ امْتِزَاجِ الْفَاعِلِ وَالْمُنْفَعِلِ الَّذِي هُوَ عَيْنُهُ وَغَيْرُهُ.  كَذَلِكَ يُنَبِّئُكَ النَّبَأُ الأَعْظَمُ مِنْ هَذَا البِنَآءِ الْعَظِيمِ.  إِنَّ الْفَاعِلَيْنِ وَالْمُنْفَعِلَيْنِ قَدْ خُلِقَتْ مِنْ كَلِمَةِ اللهِ الْمُطَاعَةِ وَإِنَّهَا هِيَ عِلَّةُ الْخَلْقِ وَمَا سِوَاهَا مَخْلُوقٌ مَعْلُولٌ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ لَهُوَ الْمُبَيِّنُ الْحَكِيمُ.

“That which exists, existed before, and was not like what you see today. That which exists was formed out of heat originating from the mixing of the energising principle and the responding principle, which is the same as it and different from it. In that manner, the greatest announcement informs you about this immense structure. That which energises and that which responds—each itself a mix of the two principles—were created by the all-compelling Word of God. It is the cause of creation; whatever is other than the Word is created and an effect. Your Lord is truly the One who explains and is wise.”

Sentence 1

“That which exists existed before and was not like what you see today.”

I don’t intend to say much about this sentence. For my purposes here, it sets the scene for what comes after. It is interesting to note that, in the Arabic text (in the Baha’i Reference Library website), sentence 1 does not begin a paragraph, as it does in the English translation. Instead, in the Arabic, the paragraph begins at paragraph 8 of the English translation and goes through to the end of paragraph 13. I note this in order to provide context for the passage that I have translated. It runs straight on from paragraph 8. Paragraph 8 opens up with “As regards thine assertions about the beginning of creation….” In this paragraph, Baha’u’llah is, as I understand it, encouraging the reader to abandon notions of one beginning to creation as we know it, and steering the reader to think more in terms of relative beginnings. Paragraph 9 builds on this idea with sentence 1, which states that the existence we see today is actually the same existence that was before, except it doesn’t look the same. This introduces the concept of the evolution of existence, where existence just keeps on going by taking on new forms as it goes. The next sentence, sentence 2, which contains the creation principle, then explains how this evolution process occurs. It has two principal ideas, which I will deal with in two sections.

Sentence 2a

“That which exists was formed out of heat originating from the mixing of the energising principle and the responding principle…”

This is the first clause of the second sentence, and it is the meat in the sandwich. Note that the subject of the sentence “that which exists” is the same as the subject of the previous sentence. This is the way the Arabic is worded, and shows, as I see it, the train of thought in Baha’u’llah’s argument. Firstly, that which exists, existed before but looked different. Secondly, in order to explain how existence changes its appearance, Baha’u’llah says that that which exists came about through this mixing process.  

To begin, the word “mixing” translates the Arabic word imtizāj. The classical dictionary Lane’s Lexicon (p. 2710) says the fundamental concept of this root is to mix a thing with water. The word imtizāj is the verbal noun of form VIII of the verb, and it means “to be mixed, be mingled, be blended” (Hans Wehr). Form VIII is the reflexive medio-passive of form I, which means that the action of the verb, to be mixed, is happening to the self of the subject. In this context, this means that the two principles should be thought of as somehow mixing themselves with each other.

What about the two principles, fā`il and munfa`il, which I have called “the energising principle” and “the responding principle”? To help explain my thinking behind these terms, I will begin with a brief explanation about how Arabic words are put together. Arabic words are, for the most part, based on roots that usually consist of three letters. In the case of the two terms in question, the root is transliterated as f - ` - l, or in Arabic, fa, ayn, lam. Each root has associated with it a fundamental concept related to an action. For fa, ayn, lam, the fundamental concept is ‘to do’ or ‘to act’. Words whose meanings are related to this concept are then derived from this root. So, for example, from fa, ayn, lam, you get words like: to act, to perform some activity, to have an influence, to affect, to interact, to bring about, and so on. From the same root, you also derive nouns, adjectives and participles like: activity, doing, working, action, performance, function, effective, actual, factual, practical and so on. From this, it can be seen that the conceptual base of the Arabic language is verbal and not substantival. It is, if you like, a language based on motion rather than on ‘being’ or ‘things’. Nouns are generated as names and descriptions for actions or action states; for example, from the above root, you get: actor, agent, doer.

The words Baha’u’llah used to refer to the twin principles, fā`il and munfa`il, are derived from Form 1 of the verb fa`ala, ‘he did’ or ‘he acted’. In Arabic, there are 14 derived verb forms (Forms 2-15), which are all derived from Form 1, the ground form. The derived forms are assembled by adding prefixes and suffixes, and letters in between, to the three root letters. We are interested here in Form 1 and Form 7. Below is a table setting these two out. In the left-hand column is Form 1 and in the right-hand column is Form 7. You can see that Form 7 is a little different to Form 1 because it has the letters ‘in at the beginning. In the bottom row, I have given the basic meanings of each form.

Table 1: Forms 1 and 7 of fa`ala

Form 1: ground verb form

Form 7: medio-passive signification

Arabic: fa`ala

Arabic: ‘infa`ala

meaning: to do, to act (literally, he did, he acted)

meaning: to be done; to be or become influenced or affected; to be agitated, excited or upset (eg, The work was done. He became excited.)

Form 7 of the verb is an interesting one. The 7th form signifies the idea that an action is done to someone, or a state is produced in someone, without regard for who or what did it. So the emphasis is on the act done to the subject, or altered state induced in the subject, and not the agency: for example, The phone broke yesterday; The man angered and turned red; The flower opened out; The movie ended abruptly; The children learned how to read. God said “Be!” and the thing became.

The words that Baha’u’llah used to refer to the twin principles are the active participles of Forms 1 and 7. In other words, he used the active participle of Form 1 and the active participle of Form 7. Below is a table setting this out. Again, I have given indicative meanings.

Table 2: The active participles of Forms 1 and 7 of fa`ala

Baha’u’llah: fā`il 

Baha’u’llah: munfa`il

Form 1, active participle

Form 7, active participle

Taherzadeh et al transl: “active force”

Taherzadeh et al transl: “recipient”

Dictionary definitions: doing; doer; effective, efficient, active, busy; grammatical: the agent, acting person of the verb

Dictionary definitions: excited, agitated, upset, irritable; becoming, suffering, receiving, undergoing

My transl: “energising principle”

My transl: “responding principle”

Just as an aside, and for the sake of comparison, below is a table showing the two words that Shaykh Ahmad used for his equivalent pair of principles. The terms he used were fi`l and ‘infi`āl, which are translated by Idris Hamid as ‘acting’ and ‘becoming-in-yielding-to-acting’. (Idris Hamid is the world’s leading scholar on Shaykh Ahmad.) These two terms are the verbal nouns of Forms 1 and 7.[2] See Appendix 1.

Table 3: The verbal nouns of Forms 1 and 7 of fa`ala

Shaykh Ahmad: fi`l

Shaykh Ahmad: ‘infi`āl

Form 1, verbal noun

Form 7, verbal noun

Hamid transl: “acting”

Hamid transl: “becoming-in-yielding-to-acting”

Other definitions: deed, action, motion, origination of a thing, activity, doing; grammatical: the verb

Other definitions: (state of) being affected, acted upon or influenced, passivity, excitement;

Lanes: “the suffering, or receiving, the effect of an act, whether the effect is intended by the agent or not”

Idris Hamid has interesting things to say about the nature of verbal nouns and participles in Arabic grammar. The most important thing to remember about them is that their primary meaning is as verbal adjectives. This means that although, for example, you can translate the verbal noun and active participle of Form 1 as a substantive noun like “doer” or “actor”, this is not the primary meaning of the terms. The primary significance is that they are adjectives that describe an action. For Form 1, this means something like ‘acting’, ‘doing’ rather than a noun like ‘action’. For Form 7, this would mean that the primary significance of the active participle is more “receiving” than “receiver” or “recipient”. (Hamid p. 187) In order to capture the idea that the verbal noun describes an action, Hamid translated fi’l as “acting” and ‘infi`āl  as “becoming-in-yielding-to-acting” - with this second word, capturing the idea of yielding to existence and thereby becoming.

Idris Hamid also comments that “the original intension of the verb form ‘infa`ala is not one of receiving (qabūl), but of becoming-in-compliance (muṭāwa`at)” and “that compliance is an effective act, not a passive occurrence.” (Hamid p. 236) Therefore, it is important to note that Baha’u’llah’s second principle should not be thought of in simple passive terms, but more in terms of an act of response happening to the self of the responder. I think this fits with Baha’u’llah’s use of the active participle munfa`il for the second principle. For these reasons, I have translated munfa`il as “the responding principle”.

As to the question of what Baha’u’llah was referring to by the two terms fā`il and munfa`il, “energising principle” and “responding principle”, I will discuss this in section 4 and following.

Sentence 2b

“... which is the same as it and different from it.”

To clarify what is being said in this phrase, here it is written in full: “the responding principle is the same as the energising principle and different from the energising principle”.

What does this mean? No doubt, it has infinite applications. In this section, I will point out some beauties in the Arabic, which I think are illustrations of the meaning of the words. In other words, even as Baha’u’llah is explaining the idea, he is using it. In later sections, I will discuss interpretations and analogies.

For starters, let’s look again at the two terms for the two principles from clause 2a: fā`il and munfa`il. The energising principle, fā`il, is the active participle of the ground form of the verb, and the responding principle, munfa`il, is the active participle of Form 7 of the same verb. Looked at in the light of the principle Baha’u’llah outlines in phrase 2b, we can say that the second term, munfa`il, is the same as the first term, fā`il, because it is based on the same verb root, and also different from it because it is Form 7 and not Form 1.

Looking now at the wording of phrase 2b, the same thing happens but with different words. To see this in the Arabic, I transliterate the phrase in full and ask readers to try to sound it out:

allādhī  huwa  `aynuhu  wa-ghayruhu

To keep things simple for those who do not read Arabic, the first two words allādhi huwa can be thought of as saying “which is”. The last two words `aynuhu wa-ghayruhu can be thought of as three words saying “same (as it) and different (from it)”. The hu on the end of each word is a pronoun, which I have translated as “as it” and “from it”. The Arabic wa, which stands in the middle, means “and”. It does not usually stand on its own, but is attached to the beginning of words. I have added a hyphen after it to indicate this. Ignoring the wa, we are left with two rhyming word combinations: `aynuhu and ghayruhu.

Here is Baha’u’llah’s playful brilliance: the second word, ghayruhu, is the same as the first word, `aynuhu, and different from it. The two words are the same because their spelling is based on the same pattern, CayCuhu, and they are different in the first two consonants. These similarities and differences may be easier to see if I spell out the words. I have marked in red the differences in the consonants.

` - ay - n - u - hu   and   gh - ay - r - u - hu 

Moreover, there is another same and different pattern hidden in there. The first letter of the first word is ع, `ayn. It is transliterated using the little symbol `. The first letter of the second word is غ, ghayn. It is transliterated as gh. If you look at the Arabic symbol for each letter, you can see that they are the same and different:  ع and غ. The ghayn is exactly like the `ayn except that it has a dot over the top of it. In addition, the spelling of the names of the two letters, `ayn and ghayn, is the same except for the initial letter.

But here’s the super intriguing thing: not only are these two words the same and different in their spelling and sounds, they are the words that Baha’u’llah has used to explain the concept of the same and different! In other words, the two words both convey the meaning of the concept and illustrate it. This use of sound to allude to meaning is an example of what the poet, Ezra Pound, called ‘melopoeia’. Wiki defines melopoeia in this way: “when words are ‘charged’ beyond their normal meaning with some musical property which further directs its meaning, inducing emotional correlations by sound and rhythm of the speech.”

I have more to say about the concept of the same and different, but I will explore that in section 4. In the meantime, I will go on to the next sentence because it contains more examples of what I have been discussing here.

Sentence 3

“In that manner, the greatest announcement informs you about this immense structure.”

As if sentence 2 was not enough, the Arabic of sentence 3 is another example of Baha’u’llah’s brilliance and playfulness.

First of all, “in that manner”: this translates the words ka-dhālika—literally, “like that”. This phrase can also be translated as ‘thus’ or ‘likewise’. I have chosen “in that manner” because it alludes to the fact of the melopoeia. That is, not only has Baha’u’llah explained the concept of the creation principle in the previous sentence, he has illustrated it in the very words he has chosen.

Here is the transliteration of the main clause of sentence 3, with the literal English below.

yunabbi’uka   l-nabā’u  l-’a`ẓamu  min  hadhā  l-binā’i  l-`aẓīmi

informs-you  the-announcement  the-greatest  about  this  structure  immense

I won’t go into the details, because they may be overwhelming, but take it from me that the nuts and bolts of this sentence plays on Arabic roots, and this results in assonance throughout the sentence. Leaving out the two words min hadhā “about this”, you are left with the basic elements of the sentence:

verb + noun + adjective + noun + adjective

informs + announcement + greatest + structure + immense

Here is the Arabic of the five elements, stripped down so you can see the patterns:

nabbi’u  +  nabā’u  +  ’a`ẓamu  +  binā’i  +  `aẓīmi

The two adjectives, “greatest” and “immense”, ’a`ẓamu and `aẓīmi, use the same root `-ẓ-m, which means to be great, magnificent, huge, etc. The same and different.

The verb and subject, “informs” and “announcement”, nabbi’u and nabā’u, use the same root n-b-’, which means to be high, raised, elevated etc. The same and different.

The second noun, “structure”, binā’i, uses the root b-n-y. It responds to the other noun, nabā’u (announcement) through the long ā sound and the fact that the first two consonants, n and b, are swapped around. The same and different.

In short, Baha’u’llah’s mastery is everywhere. I have only hinted at it.

The use of rhyme, assonance and other poetic techniques, produced through the repetition and manipulation of Arabic roots, is not unique to this passage on the creation principle. Baha’u’llah does this throughout his writings. Well, let’s put it this way: I have encountered it in the small amount of translating that I have done, and I have heard others testify to the beauty of Baha’u’llah’s words for the same reason. Arguably, then, the creation principle can be witnessed at work in all Baha’u’llah’s writings, which helps us to understand one reason why it is referred to as ‘the creative Word’.

Sentence 4

“That which energises and that which responds—each itself a mix of the two principles—were created by the all-compelling Word of God.”

Now, we come to a tricky sentence. I’m going to justify this translation because it is not literal and is, on the face of it, an innovation. The difficulty is in the subject of the sentence, in the Arabic text, which is written like this:

الْفَاعِلَيْنِ وَالْمُنْفَعِلَيْنِ  al-fā`ilayni wa-l-munfa`ilayni

This is the Arabic for what I have translated as “That which energises and that which responds—each itself a mix of the two principles…” Literally, the Arabic text appears to say, using my terms, “the two energising ones and the two responding ones”. Using the terms of the official translation, it would read “the two active forces and the two recipients”. Using Keven Brown’s translation of Vahid Ra’fati’s paper on this passage, it reads “the two agents and the two patients”.[3] You get the idea: Baha’u’llah has put into the Arabic dual the two active participles that he used in sentence 2 to refer to the twin principles. The big question is why. What follows is my commentary on why, which leads into why I have chosen the wording above.

In fact, Baha’u’llah has, in some alchemical writings, interpreted these two terms himself. In the paper “A Baha’i Perspective on the Origin of Matter”, Keven Brown writes his summary of the creation principle and ends it by saying that Baha’u’llah, in other tablets, identifies these two terms with the four elements.

“Bahá’u’lláh calls that which first results from the active force and its recipient, prior (in the sense of priority, not time) to the generation of the world, al-fá`ilayn, the twin active agents, and al-munfa`ilayn, the twin passive agents, and affirms that they “are indeed created through the irresistible Word of God” (Tablets 140). In other Tablets He identifies them with the four elements.” (pp. 27-28)

Then on page 37 of the paper, Keven says: “Two of the elements, fire and water, according to Bahá’u’lláh, are active agents, and two, air and earth, are passive agents (unpublished Tablet, Bahá’í International Archives).”

Based on the above, one interpretation of the two terms, al-fā`ilayni and al-munfa`ilayni, is the four elements. But I think that this is not the end of the story. For starters, the Tablet of  Wisdom is not an alchemical tablet as such, and I think it would be odd semantically for Baha’u’llah to suddenly use terms tied to specific alchemical meanings, particularly in the context of this passage outlining the general principles of creation. Moreover, in another tablet, Baha’u’llah has defined the energising principle in a different way and makes it clear that the term has multiple meanings: "The intention of the active force is the lord of the species, and it hath other meanings".[4] This is an example of how Baha’u’llah would interpret his writings in accordance with the capacity of his reader and thereby make different statements about a subject. Based on this, I argue that the two terms, al-fā`ilayni and al-munfa`ilayni, are capable of other meanings, which I think are heralded in basic principles of Shaykh Ahmad’s metaphysics and are particularly important for a modern audience and understandings in quantum physics.

My translation is based on the idea that, in sentence 2, Baha’u’llah is referring to the energising principle and the responding principle as principles but, in sentence 4, he is referring to them as actual entities. This would mean that, in sentence 2, Baha’u’llah is explaining the conceptual underpinnings of each principle, then in sentence 4, he is referring to them as entities created by the Word of God. But—and here’s the issue—each one, in reality, is not a simple entity. Each one is a composite of both. One cannot exist without the other. Therefore, referring to one inevitably involves referring to the other, and one must put any reference to one into the dual in order to reflect this reality. Consequently, Baha’u’llah’s use of the dual does not necessarily mean that he is referring to two energising ones and two responding ones, or two active forces and two recipients, or two agents and two patients. It could mean that, when referring to either one in actuality, it is necessary to use the dual because the two are codependent. To my mind, this is the most straightforward and elegant argument for the use of the dual. To capture this, I have translated the two terms in the following way: “That which energises and that which responds—each itself a mix of the two principles...”

With regard to the idea that one cannot exist without the other, this idea is fundamental to the philosophy of Shaykh Ahmad. I will not try to argue this here, as it is a complex subject, but I will cite the following from Idris Hamid’s PhD dissertation on Shaykh Ahmad’s metaphysics. Here, Hamid outlines “the ontological polarity principle”, which Hamid has distilled from Shaykh Ahmad’s metaphysical system.

“The ontological polarity principle. This principle states that every created, contingent thing is a complex of acting (fi`l) and becoming-in-yielding-to-acting (‘infi`āl). That is, everything is composed of an act of existence and an act of becoming or essence…. A polar dialectic obtains between them so that there can be no question of a separate entity called ‘existence’ and a separate entity called ‘essence’”. (Hamid p. 136)

I pointed out in section 2 that Shaykh Ahmad’s twin terms of fi`l (acting) and ‘infi`āl (becoming-in-yielding-to-acting) are equivalent to Baha’u’llah’s twin terms of fā`il (energising principle) and munfa`il (responding principle). Also, in footnote 3 below, I show that the terms ‘existence’ and ‘essence’, which are used in the above passage, are also synonyms for the twin principles.

Moving on, Hamid’s outline of the ontological polarity principle makes it clear that the two principles cannot exist independently of each other. For something to be a thing, it must be a composite of both. The theological basis for the ontological polarity principle in the Shaykh’s metaphysics is this tradition from Imam Rida:

“Allah definitely did not create any single thing subsisting through itself and without something else. [This is a point] for whoever desires an indication of Him and the affirmation of His existence.” (Hamid p. 137)

The following is a passage from Shaykh Ahmad in which he explains that a thing is a composite pair. Readers may not be able to follow all that he says, but don’t worry, because I am including it only as an example of what Shaykh Ahmad said on the subject:

“It [a thing] is thus a composite of both of them because the condition for existence’s generation, by way of emanating and perduring, is essence; the condition for essence’s becoming-generated, by way of becoming-emanated and perduring, is existence. As long as each is existent and conjoined with the other, then the thing is existent. There is no ‘thingness’ to a thing with the absence of either one or the other of them. Existence is its own matter; its own form is the attachment of essence to it. Essence is its own matter; its own form is the connection of existence to it….So they both make up a given thing. Thus, it is forever a composite of both of them.” (Hamid p. 308)

Here, also, is the Bab making the same point. This verse is quoted by Nader Saiedi on page 203 of his book Gate of the Heart.

“For, verily, when a thing is made mention of, it becometh invested with the station of existence, and it is impossible for the thing to exist except through the station of essence, which is the agent of the acceptance of existence. And the affirmation of duality requireth the affirmation of the link between the two.”

In fact, on pages 202-204 of his book, Saiedi discusses this issue, and related issues, from the perspective of the Bab’s writings.

I also argue that my translation of Baha’u’llah’s two dual terms is consistent with the principle of the same and different. If a thing is necessarily a composite, or mix, of the energising one and the responding one, then there are two ways to look at it and refer to it, both of which are accurate. It is possible to look at a thing from the point of view of its being the energising one, in which case the Arabic dual term for it would be al-fā`ilāni, and it is possible to look at it from the point of view of its being the responding one, in which case, the Arabic dual term for it would be al-munfa`ilāni. In both cases, the same thing is being referred to, but from different perspectives.

A metaphor that Baha’u’llah frequently uses in his writings is that of light and the interaction that takes place when light shines on or in things, such as when a light shines in a light bulb or on a mirror. The point Baha’u’llah emphasises when he uses these metaphors is that the light is one, but the way that it appears on or in things depends on the thing and its characteristics. If the sun shines on a clear mirror, the mirror will reflect the sun perfectly. If a light shines in a blue bulb, the light will appear blue, and so on. In all cases, the light is the same thing, but it looks different in each case. This means that there are two ways to look at the light: from the point of view of the light source and from the point of view of its final form in the thing. This is another example of how a thing can be viewed from two perspectives and be regarded as the same and different.

Creation principle analogies

In this section on analogies, I will focus on two things: an interpretation of the creation principle from Abdu’l-Baha and an analogy from quantum field theory.

On page 28 of his paper “A Baha’i Perspective on the Origin of Matter”, Keven Brown quotes a passage in which Abdu’l-Baha interprets Baha’u’llah’s creation principle. Here is Keven’s translation of the passage from Abdu’l-Baha:

“the substance and primary matter of contingent beings is the ethereal power, which is invisible and only known through its effects, such as electricity, heat, and light—these are vibrations of that power, and this is established and proven in natural philosophy and is known as the ethereal substance (máddíy-i-athíríyyih). This ethereal substance is itself both the active force and the recipient; in other words, it is the sign of the Primal Will in the phenomenal world.... The ethereal substance is, therefore, the cause since light, heat, and electricity appear from it. It is also the effect, for as vibrations take place in it, they become visible. For instance, light is a vibration occurring in that ethereal substance. (Má’idiy-i-Ásmání 2:69)”

I will break this down into numbered statements.

  1. The opening statement tells us that the substance and primary matter of contingent beings is the ethereal power. I understand this to say that contingent beings derive their existence from the ethereal power. I argue later that the ethereal power is the same thing as the Word.
  2. The ethereal power is known only through its effects, which means that its reality transcends the physical realm. Examples of its effects are electricity, heat and light.
  3. These effects are vibrations of the ethereal power. (This is proven in natural philosophy.)
  4. The vibrations, or effects, of the ethereal power are known as the ethereal substance.
  5. The ethereal substance is both the active force and the recipient—in other words, it is the sign of the Primal Will in the phenomenal world.
  6. The ethereal substance is the cause, since light, heat and electricity appear from it.
  7. The ethereal substance is also the effect, because vibrations occur in it and become visible.
  8. (Example of 7) Light is a vibration in the ethereal substance.

What to make of this? To begin, statements 1 to 4 go from the starting point, which is the ethereal power, and take us to the ethereal substance. Here is the flow of thought: No 1 introduces the ethereal power. No 2 tells us that it is invisible and known only by its effects (eg. electricity, heat and light). No 3 says that the effects of the ethereal power are vibrations in that power. No 4 says that these vibrations are called the ethereal substance.

I understand this series of statements to be an example of the creation principle. This is the line of reasoning: vibrations (responding principle) in the ethereal power (energising principle) produce effects (heat), and these are known as the ethereal substance. It is important to remember that the ethereal power (the energising principle) and the ethereal substance (responding principle) are the same and different. Hence, the ethereal substance is the same as the ethereal power, except that it is a vibration in it. You will also recall from section 2 that the responding principle is an active complying, or receiving, response to the stimulus of the energising principle. Hence, the ethereal substance is a vibration of the ethereal power. The entire line of reasoning seems to explain how, in no 1, the ethereal power is “the substance and primary matter” of things: the ethereal power vibrates, which produces effects and these are the ethereal substance, which is the primary matter of things.

Moving on, statements 5-8 focus on the nature of the ethereal substance. Here is the flow of thought: No 5 says that the ethereal substance is both the active force and its recipient. No 6 says that it is the cause (energising principle), because the effects appear from it. No 7 says it is also the effect (responding principle), because it vibrates and thereby displays the effects. No 8 says that light is an example of a vibration in the ethereal substance.

Statements 5-7 outline how the creation principle is operating in the ethereal substance. No 5 states that the ethereal substance is both principles (energising and responding). You will recall from section 2 that all things are made up of both principles. No 6 says the ethereal substance causes effects; in other words, it is the energising principle. No 7 says it vibrates and displays effects; in other words, it is the responding principle, and it is displaying heat. Putting these ideas together, you get this scenario: the ethereal substance, being both principles, vibrates within itself as it responds to its own energising motion, and this vibrating response produces effects such as light.

As I see it, Abdu’l-Baha’s description of the creation principle also describes the creation of subatomic particles in a quantum field. I am not a physicist, and so I will cite a short explanation by physicist and Nobel prize winner Frank Wilczek, which I have taken from a video on Youtube. In the transcript below, Wilczek explains, in general terms, the way that particles are created in a field. He says that the fundamental building blocks of reality are not ‘particles’. Instead, what we think of as ‘space’ is in fact filled with fundamental building blocks called ‘fields’. What we call ‘particles’ are created by fields, in that they are “disturbances” in fields.

“In the standard model, the fundamental building blocks are usually described as being ‘particles’; but really, when you examine what the equations look like, the fundamental building blocks are not particles. The fundamental building blocks are things we call ‘fields’, which are entities that fill all space, that have a life of their own, and that can create and destroy particles. Particles are kind of disturbances in these fields. And this is not just a metaphor, this what the equations mean, this is really how the equations work. Since they [fields] fill all space and are the primary reality, it’s really tempting to say, and not misleading to say, that it’s space itself that’s the primary reality. They are space. You can’t say that they’re space and that’s different without this stuff, that space has this stuff, it’s part of what space is. A lot of what we see is a kind of epiphenomena, small ripples on a much more dynamic reality that we don’t sense directly, but that we use in our deepest description of nature, that our equations tell us is underneath it.”

Frank Wilczek is saying that space is not empty; it is made up of fields. These are a dynamic—that is, moving or energising—reality, and particles are “disturbances” or “small ripples” in this dynamic reality. As I understand it, the technical term for “disturbances” is “excitations”. In other words, particles are created from excitations in fields, and this process is ultimately responsible for the reality that we see around us.

In my view, what Frank Wilczek is saying is the same as what Abdu’l-Baha is saying in his interpretation of the creation principle. What Wilczek refers to as “fields”, Abdu’l-Baha refers to as “the ethereal substance” (the energising principle). What Wilczek refers to as “disturbances” in the fields, Abdu’l-Baha refers to as “vibrations” in the ethereal substance (the responding principle). And what Wilczek refers to as “particles” (disturbances in fields), Abdu’l-Baha refers to as “effects” (heat).

Sentence 5

“It [the Word] is the cause of creation; whatever is other than the Word is created and an effect.”

A person could write a book on this one sentence. In fact, Nader Saiedi’s Gate of the Heart is such a book. But here are some brief comments on it.

The Bab makes it clear that the Will of God, which is the same reality that Baha’u’llah is referring to above as “the Word”, has two stations: the station of Lordship, or God, and the station of Servitude.

“Verily the Point [ie, the Word of God] possesses two stations. One is the station that speaketh from God. The other is the station that speaketh from that which is other than God, a station whereby He expresseth His servitude for the former station. By virtue of the former, the latter worshippeth God in the daytime and in the night season, and glorifieth Him at morn and at eventide.” (Gate p. 46)

This shows that even the Word itself manifests as a pair, in a pattern resembling the energising and responding principles. That is, the station of God speaks and the station of Servitude responds by worshipping and expressing servitude to its Lord. The Bab equates these two stations of the Word with the first two stages of the seven-stage divine creative Action (Gate p. 47). The divine creative Action is a process involving seven stages, which follows the creative action of God all the way from the Word, at the beginning, down to the creation of a thing in the physical world. Saiedi discusses this seven-stage process in detail in his book. For my purposes here, I just want to point out that the two stations of the Word, as explained by the Bab above, constitute the first two stages in the descent of the divine creative Action into the whole of creation. From these two initial stages of the Word, the divine creative Action generates the realities of all things, at all levels of existence, in accordance with the process Baha’u’llah outlined in the creation principle. In other words, the Word, or the divine creative Action, creates all things at all levels of existence in accordance with the creation principle.

Going back to Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the “ethereal power” in the previous section, in my view, by the term “ethereal power”, Abdu’l-Baha is referring to the divine creative Action and explaining how it generates the primary matter of our universe in accordance with the creation principle. The ethereal power might also be thought of as the names and attributes of God, which Abdu’l-Baha says are the cause of all things at all levels of creation.

“He [God] hath ordained these Names and Attributes to be the first and foremost origin and cause of being in the world of creation and the source of the different grades of realities in the degrees of existence.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet of the Universe)

Finally, I will say a word about the term “lord of the species”. I mentioned in section 2 that Baha’u’llah interpreted the term “energising principle” as “the lord of the species”. Keven Brown explains the philosophical origin of this term in section 3 of his Creation paper. It goes back to the philosopher Suhrawardi, who referred to the eternal archetypes, or Platonic Forms, as the "lords of the species" (arbáb al-anwá‘).[5][6] In Baha’i terms, the lords of the species are the names and attributes of God. They are like laws of nature in that they create all things in accordance with fundamental laws, which are responsible for the patterns that we see manifested in nature.

I want to finish up with a short transcript from a talk about the origin of the universe by physicist Alexander Vilenkin, in a video on YouTube called “A Universe from Nothing”. In a scenario akin to the transcript I cited above, Vilenkin is explaining that the universe could have come into existence simply through a process he puts down to “spontaneous nucleation” or quantum tunnelling. He goes on to explain that what is behind this spontaneous creative action at the level of quantum phenomena are the laws of physics and mathematics, which seem somehow to exist independently of the universe.  

“So it appears that the question of [the] origin of the universe does not have a satisfactory answer. Suppose I tell you what happened before inflation [of reality immediately following the Big Bang], then you could ask me what happened before that. There is one scenario that breaks out of this infinite regress of questions, and this is the idea that the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing. This is a pretty strange proposition for a physicist to make because you know that there are laws about the conservation of energy for example, and how can you create something out of nothing?… However, it is a mathematical fact that a closed universe—that is, if you have a universe which closes in on itself like a sphere for example closes—so in such a universe, the positive energy of matter is exactly compensated by the energy of gravity, which is always negative. So the total energy of a closed universe is necessarily zero. There is no conservation law that forbids [the] creation of a closed universe out of nothing. In quantum mechanics, anything that is not forbidden by conservation laws necessarily happens with some probability. So quantum mechanics allows for a spontaneous nucleation, you could say, of a closed universe out of nothing, where by ‘nothing’ I mean a state that has not only no matter but also no space and no time. It is a great mystery of how this [quantum] tunnelling of the universe happens. And the mystery is that the same laws of physics that describe the evolution of the universe once it has appeared, the same laws describe this process of quantum creation of the universe. This seems to suggest that these laws were there even before the universe. The laws are somehow more fundamental than the universe and have some Platonic existence. You might think when a mathematician proves some theorem, did he invent this theorem? Most of them think they don’t invent the theorem, they discover the theorem. It is a mathematical truth, which is there whether we know about it or not. Just like we discover the laws of physics, we discover some mathematical facts. And it seems as if these facts would have existed even if there were no universe.”

A final word for those interested in the latest theories from theoretical physicists about the origin of the universe. I was fascinated to hear the latest theory from Neil Turok, which he explains in the 2018 World Science Festival video: “The Matter of Antimatter: Answering the Cosmic Riddle of Existence” (1:20:10-1:32:43). I do not fully understand what he is describing, but I think what he says is exciting, given what I understand of the principles of creation in the writings of Shaykh Ahmad, the Bab and Baha’u’llah. Turok begins with the best example in nature of something being created out of nothing—in this case, an electron pair (positron and electron) generated from an energised electric field. He goes on to say that this electron pair can be looked at as one particle going backwards and forwards in time as it goes in and out of a quantum reality and manifests at a classical level. Turok says that this analogy of the electron is the closest we have in nature to the formation of a universe. He likens the creation of the universe at the Big Bang to the creation of the electron from the electric field. This assumption results in a symmetric universe, which exactly mirrors itself, with the ‘origin’ being a quantum region in the middle, in which there is no such thing as time. In this model, the universe causes itself (just as the Word is its own cause) and has no beginning.

Appendix 1

Shaykh Ahmad also brought other important distinctions into line with this basic pair. I have created the table below to show how the paired terms fit into his metaphysical system. He equated existence with matter, the process of acting, and the Primal Will, which is the first stage of the seven stages of creation. He equated essence with form, being receptive (or, as Hamid translates it “becoming-in-yielding-to-acting”), and Determination, which is the second stage in the seven stages of the creation process.

Table showing equivalent pairs

Shaykh Ahmad: fi`l

Shaykh Ahmad: ‘infi`āl

Hamid transl: “acting”

Hamid transl: “becoming-in-yielding-to-acting”

Existence

Essence

Matter

Form

Will (Primal Will)

Determination

First stage of the seven stages of creation

Second stage of the seven stages of creation

Kaf

Nun

Be!

And it was.

This line-up of paired terms and their shared co-extensions is also used by the Bab, as shown in the following quote from Gate of the Heart.

“The writings of the Bab explain the stages of divine creative Action in many other symbolic ways as well, but they are all parallel to the definition of Will and Determination as the agents of existence and essence. In a passage discussing the stages of creation, the Bab speaks of Will, Determination, and their union, in terms of matter and form: ‘For, verily, a thing hath specific aspects, The aspect of matter, the aspect of form, and the aspect of combination.’” (Gate p. 204)

On the basis of this table of equivalent terms, I think the existence-essence distinction is behind the distinction Baha’u’llah makes, in the Tablet of Wisdom, between “the energising principle” and ”the responding principle”.


[1] Translated by Keven Brown and found in his “A Baha’i Perspective on the Origin of Matter”, Journal of Baha’i Studies 2.3.1990, p17. Keven sourced the quote from Vahid Ra’fati, ‘Andalib, 5.19:36.

[2] Idris Samawi Hamid: "The Metaphysics and Cosmology of Process According to Shaykh Ahmad Al-Ahsāʾī̕: Critical Edition, Translation, and Analysis of Observations in Wisdom", p. 164ff. Download available at Walaya.org.

[3] Vahid Rafa’ti: Lawh-i-Hikmat: The Two Agents and the Two Patients, translated by Keven Brown.

[4] Quoted and translated by Keven Brown in his “Creation: The nature of God and the creation of the universe in Baha’i cosmology”, section 3. The quote from Baha’u’llah is from Áthár-i-Qalam A‘lá, vol. 7, p. 113. I will discuss the term “lord of the species” in section 5.

[5] Keven gives the source for this as Harawi, Anváriyyih, pp. 41-42.