The government and the Muslim clergy hoped that imprisoning Baha’u’llah in the Black Pit would put an end to his life, his faith, or both—but the dungeon helped create him.
Those who knew Baha’u’llah had always expected some future greatness from him. Baha’u’llah’s father had been a prominent minister at the court of the Shah. When his father died, he was offered a position at the court. Upon hearing that Baha’u’llah had declined the offer, Persia’s Prime Minister remarked:
Leave him to himself. Such a position is unworthy of him. He has some higher aim in view. I cannot understand him, but I am convinced that he is destined for some lofty career. His thoughts are not like ours. Let him alone. – as recounted by J.E. Esselmont in Baha’u’llah and the New Era, pp. 29-30.
Now, in the black darkness of the Pit, there dawned within Baha’u’llah a revolutionary vision so intense that its light would spread from this dungeon in Tehran over the course of time to virtually every location on Earth.
Baha’u’llah later wrote about his spiritual state while in the Black Pit:
During the days I lay in the prison of Tihran, though the galling weight of the chains and the stench-filled air allowed Me but little sleep, still in those infrequent moments of slumber I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain. Every limb of My body would, as a result, be set afire. At such moments My tongue recited what no man could bear to hear. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 22.
Further describing this mystical, revelatory vision, Baha’u’llah used the symbol of a maiden sent from heaven—a sign of intuitive wisdom, spiritual insight, and universal truth:
While engulfed in tribulations I heard a most wondrous, a most sweet voice, calling above My head. Turning My face, I beheld a Maiden—the embodiment of the remembrance of the name of My Lord—suspended in the air before Me … She was imparting to both My inward and outer being tidings which rejoiced My soul, and the souls of God’s honored servants. Pointing with her finger unto My head, she addressed all who are in heaven and all who are on earth, saying: “By 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. This is the Mystery of God and His Treasure, the Cause of God and His glory unto all who are in the kingdoms of Revelation and of creation, if ye be of them that perceive. – Baha’u’llah, quoted in Shoghi Effendi’s God Passes By, pp. 101-102.
Throughout history, great souls who we call prophets, messengers and manifestations of God have experienced an unrelenting desire to spiritually uplift their people. There came in each of those messenger’s lives a crucial moment, such as this one, when that calling, that profound vision, made itself known and could not be denied.
Examples of these revelatory moments occur in every great Faith. Moses experienced such a moment. Fear and trembling engulfed him when he found the Burning Bush and spoke with the voice of God. When Jesus rose from his baptism in the river Jordan, the Gospel tells us that the heavens opened. A heavenly dove—like the maiden, another symbol of the pure spirit—spoke to him and announced his destiny. Before the Buddha’s enlightenment under the bodhi tree, he was lost in questions: Why is there so much suffering? What is the point of living, knowing that it will result in old age, pain, and death? When Buddha’s enlightenment came, he knew the answers to those questions and set about trying to transmit them to humanity. Muhammad saw an angel while he prayed in the mountains near his home. He ran and hid after the terror of seeing a vision of Gabriel, who commanded him to recite the verses given to him by God.
These revelations contain deep reservoirs of mystical truth, which the prophet then brings as a message from God to humanity. We can never understand the full meaning of these powerful, visionary events, nor of Baha’u’llah’s vision of the maiden—but those revelations have guided humanity, resulted in great civilizations and brought enormous outpourings of knowledge and wisdom to us all.