The Tabernacle of Unity is a beautiful volume containing five tablets (or letters) revealed by Baha’u’llah to people of Zoroastrian background, among which are many familiar passages previously translated by Shoghi Effendi.
In 2006 the Universal House of Justice compiled this book of authorized translations and now the tablets that those passages were excerpted from are available in full in English. You might be familiar with Baha’u’llah’s powerful words “Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch” and the volume gets its title from this quote in the book’s opening tablet:
The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Verily I say, whatsoever leadeth to the decline of ignorance and the increase of knowledge hath been, and will ever remain, approved in the sight of the Lord of creation. Say: O people! Walk ye neath the shadow of justice and truthfulness and seek ye shelter within the tabernacle of unity.1
The first two tablets are addressed to Manikchi Sahib, a well-respected Indian Zoroastrian diplomat and emissary who greatly improved the living conditions of the heavily persecuted Zoroastrians living in Iran. While the thread that ties the volume together is the fact that the tablets it contains are all addressed to people of Zoroastrian background who were asking similar questions, it remains highly relevant today to any reader. The introduction concludes with these words of the Universal House of Justice:
It is hoped that the publication of this volume will enable a deeper appreciation of the fundamental principle of the oneness of religion and lend a fresh impetus to the efforts of those who strive to promote its understanding in an age that needs it more acutely with every passing day.2
Manikchi greatly admired the principles of the Faith and in 1854 he attained the presence of Baha’u’llah in Baghdad. His respect of the Faith prompted him to ask Baha’u’llah nine questions that he had about religious issues, but he boldly asked that the reply be strictly in Persian. The Tabernacle of Unity begins with the Lawh-i-Manikchi Sahib (or the Tablet to Manikchi Sahib) which answers Manikchi’s questions and “is celebrated for its striking and well-known passages epitomizing the universality of Baha’u’llah’s prophetic claim”.3 It defines religion by the remedy it supplies, and explains progressive revelation in terms of diagnosing humanity’s ever-changing ailments. Baha’u’llah states:
The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require.4
While the tablet is theological, it is also about ethics and how to practice religion. The quote goes on to say:
Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.5
Manikchi was only human and he wasn’t completely happy with Baha’u’llah’s answers to his questions. Manikchi had employed Mirza Abu’l-Fadl, a renown Baha’i scholar, as his personal secretary and as a lecturer of Persian literature in one of his schools for Zoroastrians. Manikchi expressed his concerns to Mirza Abu’l-Fadl, who wrote to Mirza Aqa Jan, Baha’u’llah’s amanuensis. The second tablet in the book, titled “Responses to questions of Manikchi Sahib from a Tablet to Mirza Abu’l-Fadl”, is exactly that but Baha’u’llah clarifies that no answers had been omitted from His first clear and concise tablet and that in His wisdom He chose not to answer all of Manikchi’s questions directly.6 The voice of this tablet changes – sometimes Baha’u’llah is speaking directly and other parts are revealed in the voice of Mirza Aqa Jan. Baha’u’llah quotes Manikchi’s original questions and further expands His answers. These questions range from “what is the role of intellect and reason when following divine laws?”, to “what is the correct practice regarding eating pork and beef?”, to “how do we understand the relationship of God to the world?”.
The third tablet in The Tabernacle of Unity is the Lawh-i-Haft Purish, or the Tablet of the Seven Questions. In some of the early Baha’i World volumes, Shoghi Effendi listed the best-known works of Baha’u’llah and this tablet is among them. It was written to Ustad Javan-Mard, a teacher of Zoroastrian background who became a Baha’i.7 In this tablet, Baha’u’llah renames him Shir-Mard, which means “Lion of a man”. The seven questions that Baha’u’llah answers relate to the nature of prayer and worship, how to associate with followers of other religions, heaven and hell, and the nature of the soul, among other topics.
The concluding two tablets discuss similar themes and are rousing calls to action. One of my favourite quotes is this:
O servants! Ye are even as saplings in a garden, which are near to perishing for want of water. Wherefore, revive your souls with the heavenly water that is raining down from the clouds of divine bounty. Words must be followed by deeds.8
The Tabernacle of Unity holds a special place in my heart because my husband’s ancestors were Zoroastrian before they became Baha’is. My husband’s late grandmother loved to conduct research and she wrote a paper all about Manikchi Sahib that was published in the Journal of the Association of Baha’is Studies in December of 1980, long before The Tabernacle of Unity was translated, compiled and published. The Baha’i Faith is ever-changing and progressing and I am so grateful to the Universal House of Justice to be able to hold in my hands newly available words of God in my native tongue.
You can read the entirety of The Tabernacle of Unity online at the website of the Baha’i Reference Library, or purchase a copy of the book from your local Baha’i bookshop.