Baha’u’llah’s City of Radiant Acquiescence is about a spiritual state of the soul – that of radiant acquiescence. The tablet discusses what radiant acquiescence means, why it is important and how believers can attain it.
The tablet was written during the decade Baha’u’llah and his family lived in Baghdad, 1853 to 1863.
Baha’u’llah’s principal discussion on radiant acquiescence begins at the fourth paragraph. In the introductory paragraphs before that, he makes a general appeal to the people to listen to what he has to say. He says that his “Book” – that is, this tablet – contains guidance from the “kingdoms of the spirit” and will teach the people how to bring themselves near to God. He explains that, if the people listen to what he has to say, their souls will become like crystal, which “ignites fires when the sun shines on it.” The people need to sanctify their souls; that is, shift their attention from the physical world to what Baha’u’llah is saying. When they do this, divine light will shine on their crystal-like souls, the “fire of nearness” will be ignited and their entire beings will become illumined. Baha’u’llah again exhorts the people to listen to him and walk the paths of radiant acquiescence, for this grace, which is now being offered to them, is better for them than the treasures of the earth.
Baha’u’llah’s description of the states of radiant acquiescence is found in paragraphs four and five. He begins by saying that radiant acquiescence has infinite stages, but confines himself to describing three aspects of it: contentment with God, contentment with oneself and contentment with the believers. He begins with a statement of the general principle: that we must be content with God and whatever God has ordained for us. He then tells us that we must also be content with ourselves. To achieve this, we must be detached from the heavens and the earth. This, in turn, requires that we commit no iniquity within ourselves, for we cannot be content within ourselves if we commit a wrong. Baha’u’llah says that he is explaining these things so that we might achieve the state of contentment and find ourselves in a place where we see honey and poison as the same, because God has decreed them both. Baha’u’llah gives the example of a person who worships God all their life, but complains about the adversities they experienced in the path of God. Such a person cannot be said to be content with God, for a person who claims to love God could not hate what was willed by their Beloved. Baha’u’llah then outlines the third aspect of radiant acquiescence, which is being content with the believers and humble before them. Considering oneself to be above the believers is the same as being haughty before God. We prove our satisfaction with God through our satisfaction with the believers who have detached themselves from all but God.
Baha’u’llah then counsels the people of the Bayan – that is, the Babis – to be patient and wait for the one the Bab promised would come after him. When the promised one appears, he will throw open the gates of paradise. The believers should hasten to him without hesitation, for this is the true basis of radiant acquiescence. Baha’u’llah warns the Babis not to delay, because being in the presence of the promised one is better than possessing the heavens and earth. Baha’u’llah testifies that his correspondent has already arrived at the city of radiant acquiescence. It is situated on “the shore of eternity along the crimson sea” and is visited by the people of eternity at morning and evening. All beings who come to that city have removed their sandals. This is a reference to Exodus 3:5, where Moses was told by God to remove his sandals when the burning bush appeared to him.
Baha’u’llah returns to his description of the state of radiant acquiescence with a remarkable summation of its essential reciprocal nature: that our love for God is God’s good pleasure with us and our good pleasure with God. Baha’u’llah emphasises that this is the religious path that never changes. All the prophets teach it. It is a trust that God has “deposited in the hearts of the sincere” and it suffices us “above all else”.
Baha’u’llah then moves away from his description of radiant acquiescence to counsel his correspondent on what to do. He underlines the principle that a person must first revive their own spirit with Baha’u’llah’s words, and only then attempt to revive others. He tells the reader to undergo this transformation process and then return home to remind the people of these teachings. Baha’u’llah mentions a few people that the correspondent should visit, identifying each person by one initial only. The full names of believers were often not written down for safety reasons. The Ottoman and Persian authorities were always on the lookout for people carrying letters from Baha’u’llah.
In the next paragraph, Baha’u’llah makes his final comments on the subject of radiant acquiescence. Addressing the believers, he counsels them to be patient about their persecution. He points out that their current circumstances will pass away and that their persecutors will have their final end in the “fire” – that is, hell. He points to the ever-changing nature of this physical world and asks: given this constant change, what is it that people can rely on? If they rely on anything in this world, then they are like a person who is “resting in the shade of a tree”. It is ephemeral and will one day pass away. He exhorts people to put their confidence in what is eternal. He explains that the contradictions in the physical world have been created to remind us of our impermanence, so that we might wake up to what is in our best interests.
The last six paragraphs of the tablet contain a prayer in which Baha’u’llah speaks to God about the sufferings of his followers, which have been caused by people who have rejected and opposed his revelation. He meditates on God’s patient response to the situation and expresses concern that such patience will result in the divine cause being completely wiped out. Baha’u’llah asks God to take a more decisive stand against the enemies, for the sake of those who are suffering in the path of God’s love.
Further discussion on City of Radiant Acquiescence is found in Adib Taherzadeh: The Revelation of Baha’u’llah. Baghdad, 1853-63 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1974) p 108.