Rashh-i-'Amá and the "Cloud of Unknowing" (Christian Mystical Text)

Sep 2010
2,106
United Kingdom
The Rashh-i-'Amá (literally the "Sprinkling of the Cloud of Unknowing") is the first extant tablet written by Bahá’u’lláh in 1852. It is a poem of 20 verses in Persian, written when Bahá’u’lláh was imprisoned in the Síyáh-Chál in Tehran, after he received a vision of a Maid of Heaven, through whom he received his mission as a Messenger of God and as the One whose coming the Báb had prophesied. It is also the only text of his known to have been composed in Persia.

What struck me about the name was that it had essentially the same title as the greatest and most time-honoured of all Western Christian mystical texts: The Cloud of Unknowing. The term "Cloud of Unknowing" does not have, as far as I am aware, any basis or history in Islamic or Persian tradition. I thus found it incredibly fascinating that Baha'u'llah's first tablet was entitled after a concept that really only had relevance before then to Christians. The Arabic term 'ama literally means "cloud," and its theological significance derives from the hadith in which Muhammad, upon being asked "Where was our Lord before He created the heavens and the earth," replied "In a cloud, above which was air and below which was air." However the title bares a much more readily reconizable affinity to Christian tradition rather than Islamic since as I have explained the phrase "Cloud of Unknowing" was coined by Christians and has no history in Islamic cultures as far as I am aware.

While there almost certainly is no connection between the two texts, I find their very real similarity utterly compelling.

I found an article by Jonah Winters which says this: "The Christian *Cloud of Unknowing* says that the "cloud of unknowing" which separates us from God can't be penetrated by the intellect, but only by love. However, God sometimes bestows mystical inspiration which allows humans a glimpse of His secrets. This could be seen as being analogous to Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet, which calls humanity to recognize the "divine outpouring" of God's revelation."

The Cloud of Unknowing is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century.

The book counsels a young student to seek God, not through knowledge and intellection, but through intense contemplation, motivated by love, and stripped of all thought. This is brought about by putting all thoughts, except the love of God, under a "cloud of forgetting", and thereby piercing God's cloud of unknowing with a "dart of longing love" from the heart. This form of contemplation is not directed by the intellect, but involves spiritual union with God through the heart:

"For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens."

In a follow-up to The Cloud, called The Book of Privy Counseling, the author characterizes the practice of contemplative unknowing as worshiping God with one's "substance," coming to rest in a "naked blind feeling of being," and ultimately finding thereby that God is one's being.

What is interesting for me is that The Cloud of Unknowing draws on the mystical tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, which focuses on the via negativa road to discovering God as a pure entity, beyond any capacity of mental conception and so without any definitive image or form. This same tradition has inspired generations of mystical searchers from John Scotus Erigena, Nicholas of Cusa and St. John of the Cross to Teilhard de Chardin (the latter two of whom may have been influenced by "The Cloud" itself). Arguably the most important Christian mystic of his age, Pseudo-Dionysius advocated an apophatic (or “imageless”) spirituality anchored in the sheer mystery and unknowability of the Divine. Following Pseudo-Dionysius, this “negative” spirituality that stresses the unknowability and supra-rational darkness and transcendence that prevents us from ever knowing God fully has remained a crucial stream in the mystical heights of the Christian experience. Following Pseudo-Dionysius, mystics such as Meister Eckhart and John of the Cross and — of course — The Cloud of Unknowing all fall within this magnificent vein of spirituality.

As a lover of both John of the Cross and Nicholas of Cusa (whom I quote in my signature) I find their deep connection with, and indeed descent from, The Cloud of Unknowing very interesting. What makes it more interesting is this connection to Baha'u'llah's first work. In previous threads the similarity between many of the theological ideas of John of the Cross and Nicholas of Cusa with Baha'u'llah has been well established by myself and others. What intrigues me is that this mystical tradition beginning with Pseudo-Dionysius, through to the Cloud of Unknowing and then onto Nicholas of Cusa and John of the Cross, which focuses on the via negativa road to discovering God as a pure entity, beyond any capacity of mental conception and so without any definitive image or form, is essentially the same as the Baha'i belief that God is unknowable to an extent in essence. Nicholas of Cusa called God in my signature below, "incomprehensible and inexpressible".

I will provide more thoughts on the similarities between the via negativa mystical strand in Christianity, the Cloud of Unknowing, Nicholas of Cusa, John of the Cross and the Rashh-i-'Amá later on.

I welcome your thoughts on this too.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: vranjbar
Sep 2010
2,106
United Kingdom
Here is a few excerpts from an article on the Cloud of Unknowing that I love (I have not been able to find much on Rashh-i-'Amá apart from a provisional translation :sad: any help would be appreciated!):

Apophatic mysticism seeks to find the Holy at a level deeper (or higher) than any physical thing — or even beyond any word or mental image. For the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, this meant that God cannot be grasped by the intellect; he can only be approached in a context of profound humility and love. Therefore, The Cloud’s author advocates contemplation: prayer steeped not in language or the imagination, but in cultivated inner silence. The author describes at length the virtue of putting all thoughts, all images, all concepts beneath a metaphorical “cloud of forgetting” found within, and then single-heartedly seeking to love God, without concept or control, allowing the naked intent of our love to flourish, even though God remains hidden from our finite awareness by a “cloud of unknowing.” To pierce that cloud, the author instructs the reader to send “sharp darts” of “longing love” — for while we may never fully know God, at least we are able to the best of our ability to love God.

One remarkable feature of The Cloud of Unknowing is that it advocates the use of a single-syllable “prayer word” to effectively discipline the mind and to keep it focused while the heart attempts to grow in its supramental task of loving God. This spiritual exercise involves repeating a short word like “God” or “love” repeatedly, in order to help surrender all extraneous thoughts and seek the place of inner silence, where one may “be still and know” the God who is lavish love. This practice of using a prayer word has been adapted in our own day by the monks who developed the method of centering prayer, a form of meditation which again relies on the repeated single-syllable word as a tool of “centering” or allowing the mind and body to come to a place of resting in the Divine presence.

The author of The Cloud is a true teacher, and displays a rich and nuanced relationship with the youth to whom the book is addressed. By turns encouraging and gentle, then harsh and demanding, this spiritual guide has inspired countless readers to seriously engage with the contemplative life. But his overall tone remains positive and optimistic. Consider this statement, made on the last page of the book and in some ways a summation of its hopeful theology:

It is not what you are nor what you have been that God sees with his all-merciful eyes, but what you desire to be.

Considering that it is written for one who desires to plumb deeply the contemplative life, this is a wonderful and inspiring sentiment: we who aspire to drink deeply from the wells of Divine silence can do so knowing that God sees us not in terms of our failings or our foibles, but in light of that deepest desire of our hearts. In the eyes of God, we are already mystics and contemplatives. All we have to do, now, is to learn how to simply allow that to unfold. Even within the mysterious mists of the cloud of unknowing.
 
Sep 2010
2,106
United Kingdom
The Cloud of Unknowing gives its own definition of what its title means: (Essentially, that God is "unknowable")

Cloud
Do not suppose that because I have spoken of darkness and of a cloud I have in mind the clouds you see in an overcast sky or the darkness of your house when your candle fails…. When I speak of darkness, I mean the absence of knowledge. If you are unable to understand something or if you have forgotten it, are you not in the dark as regards this thing? You cannot see it with your mind's eye. Well, in the same way, I have not said "cloud," but cloud of unknowing. For it is a darkness of unknowing that lies between you and your God.

Baha'u'llah

To every discerning and illumined heart it is evident that God the unknowable essence the divine being. (Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings pg. 49)

"So perfect and comprehensive is His creation that no mind or heart, however keen or pure, can ever grasp the nature of the most insignificant of His creatures; much less fathom the mystery of Him Who is the Day Star of Truth, Who is the invisible and unknowable Essence..."
 
Jun 2006
4,322
California
Yeshua,

What we have is provisional translations thus far in English.. What that means for Baha'is especially Englsih speaking ones is that we cannot be sure of the translation until it is authorized..


"Finally, further to Dr. Savi's erudite discussion of the Rash-i Ama, I would clarify that there is no authorised translation of it, and that the language is very abstruse and mystical, dealing with His experience in indirect and allusive terms, and emphasising the mysterious and ineffable nature of God."

Source:

Sprinkling from a Cloud (Rashh-i-Amá)

So it's probably premature to draw too many conclusions about similarities to other works such as the "Cloud of Unknowing".
 
Last edited:
Sep 2010
2,106
United Kingdom
Yeshua,

What we have is provisional translations thus far in English.. What that means for Baha'is especially Englsih speaking ones is that we cannot be sure of the translation until it is authorized..


"Finally, further to Dr. Savi's erudite discussion of the Rash-i Ama, I would clarify that there is no authorised translation of it, and that the language is very abstruse and mystical, dealing with His experience in indirect and allusive terms, and emphasising the mysterious and ineffable nature of God."

Source:

Sprinkling from a Cloud (Rashh-i-Amá)
Thank you Arthra :yes:

I referred to the inadequacy of this in my above post when I said:

I have not been able to find much on Rashh-i-'Amá apart from a provisional translation :sad: any help would be appreciated!
It is a hurdle but I will have to make do with the provisional so it seems.

Love in Christ :)
 
Last edited:
Aug 2010
728
New Zealand mainly
The Rashh-e `Amma is probably not the oldest extant tablet: there's the Lawh-e Shaykh A`zim, also written in Tehran, and quoted in Mazandarani, Zuhur al Haqq vol 4, pp. 14-17.

There's a translation & detailed commentary by Stephen Lambden in the Bahai Studies Bulletin 3:2 September 1984 4-114.
Sprinkling of the Cloud of Unknowing

A translation by Ramin Neshati, with the title Tablet of the Mist of the Unknown is on the same site:
Tablet of the Mist of the Unknown

Lambden comments on it in his 'Sinaitic Mysteries' in Studies in the Babi and Bahai Religions vol 5 109. Adib Teherzadeh gives a brief commentary in 'Revelation' vol. 1 45-46, 51 and in 'Covenant' 52-53. David Ruhe has a description of it in, 'Robe' 164. There's a detailed discussion in Juan Cole 'Baha'u'llah and the Naqshbandi Sufis,' in Studies in the Babi and Bahai Religions vol. 2, and a specific discussion of the role of the Maid of Heaven in it, by Kamran Ekbal, in 'The Zoroastrian Heritage of the 'Maid of Heaven,' see Studies in the Babi and Bahai Religions vol. 3 129.

There are two commentaries on the Bahai-library site:
Sprinkling from a Cloud (Rashh-i-Amá) (by Ismael Velasco and Julio Savi)
Sprinkling from a Cloud (Rashh-i-Amá) (by Jonah Winters)

Just looking at the first line of Lambden's translation, I see a mistake:

On account of Our Rapture the Sprinkling of the Cloud of Unknowing raineth down;
The Mystery of Fidelity poureth forth from Our Melody.

Jadhb means attraction, and in mysticism the attraction leading to a vision of God. It is used to describe an instantaneous process, as distinct from the growing towards God through effort. So when a soul is attracted in this way, it is called in English rapture, the term Lambden used. But in this case, Baha'u'llah is saying that the sprinkling of the cloud is attracted to pour downwards, by attraction to Baha'u'llah. I would translate,

Drawn as it is to me, moisture has poured from the cloud.
The mystery of faithfulness poured from my song.

Neshati translates:

Our charm bids waft the Mist of Unknown
Mystery of fidelity thus flows from Our tone

which has correctly understood the term 'attraction', but inserts "thus" which is not there (in an English poem, the two half-lines would have to have a logical connection; in a Persian poem this is not necessarily so). Neshati also uses two different verbs when the Persian repeats one verb (giving the rhyme), and inserts "unknown" which I would place in the commentary - it is not explicit in the text and the author's intention is that this realisation, of what this "cloud" means, should grow on the reader progressively, not be given in the first line. For the same reason, I think "the tablet of the cloud" would be a better title.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2010
2,106
United Kingdom
The Rashh-e `Amma is probably not the oldest extant tablet: there's the Lawh-e Shaykh A`zim, also written in Tehran, and quoted in Mazandarani, Zuhur al Haqq vol 4, pp. 14-17.

There's a translation & detailed commentary by Stephen Lambden in the Bahai Studies Bulletin 3:2 September 1984 4-114.
Sprinkling of the Cloud of Unknowing

A translation by Ramin Neshati, with the title Tablet of the Mist of the Unknown is on the same site:
Tablet of the Mist of the Unknown

Lambden comments on it in his 'Sinaitic Mysteries' in Studies in the Babi and Bahai Religions vol 5 109. Adib Teherzadeh gives a brief commentary in 'Revelation' vol. 1 45-46, 51 and in 'Covenant' 52-53. David Ruhe has a description of it in, 'Robe' 164. There's a detailed discussion in Juan Cole 'Baha'u'llah and the Naqshbandi Sufis,' in Studies in the Babi and Bahai Religions vol. 2, and a specific discussion of the role of the Maid of Heaven in it, by Kamran Ekbal, in 'The Zoroastrian Heritage of the 'Maid of Heaven,' see Studies in the Babi and Bahai Religions vol. 3 129.

There are two commentaries on the Bahai-library site:
Sprinkling from a Cloud (Rashh-i-Amá) (by Ismael Velasco and Julio Savi)
Sprinkling from a Cloud (Rashh-i-Amá) (by Jonah Winters)

Just looking at the first line of Lambden's translation, I see a mistake:

On account of Our Rapture the Sprinkling of the Cloud of Unknowing raineth down;
The Mystery of Fidelity poureth forth from Our Melody.

Jadhb means attraction, and in mysticism the attraction leading to a vision of God. It is used to describe an instantaneous process, as distinct from the growing towards God through effort. So when a soul is attracted in this way, it is called in English rapture, the term Lambden used. But in this case, Baha'u'llah is saying that the sprinkling of the cloud is attracted to pour downwards, by attraction to Baha'u'llah. I would translate,

Drawn as it is to me, moisture has poured from the cloud.
The mystery of faithfulness poured from my song.

Neshati translates:

Our charm bids waft the Mist of Unknown
Mystery of fidelity thus flows from Our tone

which has correctly understood the term 'attraction', but inserts "thus" which is not there (in an English poem, the two half-lines would have to have a logical connection; in a Persian poem this is not necessarily so). Neshati also uses two different verbs when the Persian repeats one verb (giving the rhyme), and inserts "unknown" which I would place in the commentary - it is not explicit in the text and the author's intention is that this realisation, of what this "cloud" means, should grow on the reader progressively, not be given in the first line. For the same reason, I think "the tablet of the cloud" would be a better title.
Thank you very much Sen! :yes: Scholarly as ever! I have a lot to think over and ponder now :cool:
 
Dec 2018
1
United States
I know this is a very old thread. But I wanted to thank Yeshua for his post. I just discovered the The Christian Mystical work "The Cloud of Unknowing" and immediately thought of Baha'u'llah's work. It's very thrilling to see how they seem connected and address some similar ideas. I personally don't think there is any accident to this and in the worlds of God they are intimately connected.