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Among the many Baha’i writings, one book has always held great importance and meaning for me – a wonderful compendium called “Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah.”
When I first embraced the Baha’i Faith, our community of college students used to study the meaning of various passages of this book with a sense of wonderment and joy at the new insights we gained. I still often return to its pages when selecting writings to read daily or to share with others. No other book has had more impact on my beliefs and actions than this one.
“Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah” — known simply as “Gleanings” — is one of the earliest collections of Baha’i writings. It contains some of the most important letters, tablets, or parts of books written by Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, over the course of his nearly forty-year ministry.
These writings were originally revealed in either the Persian or Arabic, but they were masterfully translated into English by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, and published in 1935. It was one of the first collections of authentic writings of Baha’u’llah available to the English-speaking world.
Shoghi Effendi understood that people wanted to deepen their knowledge of the Baha’i teachings, so he carefully chose from the vast writings of Baha’u’llah to include as much information as he could in the book. In the introduction to “Gleanings,” W. Kenneth Christian, a Baha’i scholar and writer, noted how the themes of the selections of writings can be divided into 5 sections:
- Proclamation of this age as the “Day of God.”
- The nature of the Manifestation of God and how they represent the attributes of God.
- Basic questions concerning the soul and its immortality.
- Spiritual aspects of world order and the “Most Great Peace.”
- The duties of the individual and the spiritual meaning of life.
Of course, it is not possible to say what part of “Gleanings” is most important, but those who have read and meditated on the book’s contents will find certain passages especially relevant and inspirational, and return to them time and again.
Below are a few quotes from each of the 5 sections of “Gleanings” that I find to be especially meaningful. Meditating on them helps me develop my understanding of Baha’i philosophy, and brings me a deep sense of joy and peace as I discover some of the spiritual truths that they contain.
Day of God
One of the most important themes of “Gleanings” is the importance of the Baha’i revelation in the history of religion and the development of humanity. Numerous writings by Baha’u’llah refer to this day as the Day of God. For example, he wrote:
Great indeed is this Day! The allusions made to it in all the sacred Scriptures as the Day of God attest its greatness. The soul of every Prophet of God, of every Divine Messenger, hath thirsted for this wondrous Day.
He also wrote:
All glory be to this Day, the Day in which the fragrances of mercy have been wafted over all created things, a Day so blest that past ages and centuries can never hope to rival it…
The Manifestations of God
The central principle of the Baha’i Faith is the unity of mankind. For that to happen, racial, national, and cultural prejudices must be completely eradicated. The barriers that have caused religious disunity must also be broken down.
Baha’u’llah asserted that the essence of religion is the same, and that the Manifestations of God all perfectly reflect God’s attributes. He explained:
The purpose of the one true God in manifesting Himself is to summon all mankind to truthfulness and sincerity, to piety and trustworthiness, to resignation and submissiveness to the Will of God, to forbearance and kindliness, to uprightness and wisdom. His object is to array every man with the mantle of a saintly character, and to adorn him with the ornament of holy and goodly deeds.
The respective revelations of the founders of the world religions represent what the world needed at the time of their coming. Baha’u’llah wrote:
Beware, O believers in the Unity of God, lest ye be tempted to make any distinction between any of the Manifestations of His Cause, or to discriminate against the signs that have accompanied and proclaimed their Revelation… Be ye assured, moreover, that the works and acts of each and every one of these Manifestations of God, nay whatever pertaineth unto them, and whatsoever they may manifest in the future, are all ordained by God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose.
The Soul and its Immortality
“Gleanings” deals with some of the most perplexing and mystical aspects of what it means to be a human. Everyone ponders the meaning of dreams, whether there is life after death, the nature of our souls, and many other spiritual questions. Although the details of these mysteries cannot be completely understood, Baha’u’llah revealed more than the Manifestations of God of the past on these vital subjects.
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For example, he explained the journey of the soul after death in these words:
Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter… The honor with which the Hand of Mercy will invest the soul is such as no tongue can adequately reveal, nor any other earthly agency describe…When the soul attaineth the Presence of God, it will assume the form that best befitteth its immortality and is worthy of its celestial habitation.
He also explained that the human soul “is, in its essence, one of the signs of God, a mystery among His mysteries. It is one of the mighty signs of the Almighty, the harbinger that proclaimeth the reality of all the worlds of God.”
The World Order and the Most Great Peace
One of the distinguishing aspects of the Baha’i Faith is that Baha’u’llah laid out a blueprint for a unified and just world of the future. In some of the writings in “Gleanings,” he addresses the Kings and religious leaders of the nineteenth century, offering guidance and often pointing out their failures to rule justly.
In the following passage, Baha’u’llah described some of the requirements needed for a peaceful world to be established — long before an organization like the United Nations was even conceivable:
The time must come when the imperative necessity for the holding of a vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men will be universally realized. The rulers and kings of the earth must needs attend it, and, participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means as will lay the foundations of the world’s Great Peace amongst men… Should any king take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him. If this be done, the nations of the world will no longer require any armaments, except for the purpose of preserving the security of their realms and of maintaining internal order within their territories. This will ensure the peace and composure of every people, government and nation… The day is approaching when all the peoples of the world will have adopted one universal language and one common script. When this is achieved, to whatsoever city a man may journey, it shall be as if he were entering his own home.
Spiritual Meaning of Life
In the last pages of “Gleanings,” Baha’u’llah describes the path that those who seek to grow closer to God can take. He explains what constitutes a virtuous life, the meaning of detachment from the material world (and no, it does not mean depriving oneself of all earthly pleasures!), standards of morality, and much more. He wrote:
Be pure, O people of God, be pure; be righteous, be righteous… Whoso ariseth, in this Day, to aid Our Cause, and summoneth to his assistance the hosts of a praiseworthy character and upright conduct, the influence flowing from such an action will, most certainly, be diffused throughout the whole world.
Any attempt to summarize the book “Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah” would be incomplete; it is like trying to empty an ocean into a pint container! Every person has their own favorite passages, and only a repeated reading of the book and meditation on the many gems of wisdom found in its pages could do it justice.
You can find “Gleanings” here. I hope you’ll read it with the same sense of joy it has given me.