Questions about Baha'i Symbols on Reddit
Illustration, my non-artistic depiction of the Haykal pentagram. Maybe some artist can supply me with a better one.
jet nov 2023 response to this question in reddit:
I am a post-graduate student who is studying about Baha'i. There are so many questions arise in my mind when studying about the symbols of Baha'i Faith, which from what I know of, including the Ringstone symbol, The Greatest Name and the nine-pointed star. Could you recommend any academic study that related to these symbols (and may add in any other symbols if I'm missing) or anything I should read to know more about the faith? Also (do) these symbols have any spiritual or sacred meaning to Baháʼís' life or faith?
We've been studying the Tablet of the Temple, or haykal, and the Lawh-i-Maqsud, etc., and this is what I have learned about this over the past year.
The symbology of Sufism is taken directly from the Qur'an, and the symbols of Baha'u'llah are taken directly from Sufism, not unaltered, but at least nominally. The entire early Writing career of Baha'u'llah both roots into and separates itself off from Sufi thought. Thus the official or exoteric symbol of the Faith is the nine-point star, which simply means unity, the main goal of this religion. However, the "real" or esoteric symbol of the Faith is the five point star, or pentagon, or haykal, temple, or the Greatest Name. Taken all in all, this is a symbol of God as reflected in the heart. In material form, it is instantiated in the Mashriqu'l Adhkar or "Dawning Place of the mention of God," which we are building in communities around the world. The latest one to step out of planning to construction is here in Canada, in part of Toronto. "Adhkar" is the superlative form of Dhikr, or remembrance, or devotion, or worship of God. Baha'is repeat our Dhikr 95 times daily.
So yes, the haykal is extremely sacred and utterly central to the devotional life and service of every Baha'i. Ideally and eventually, every believer will say dawn prayers in the local Mashriq and then, often, serve the community through the several benevolent institutions that will one day surround it. So these are symbols and more than symbols, they lead through thought to active service in the most holistic way. It all starts and ends in the "master key" or symbol of the haykal star, which is a symbol of the knowledge of God.
When we "Grok" God -- the meaning of Heinlein's word "grok" is almost identical with the Baha'i (and other faiths') concept of knowledge of God, knowing God by becoming His image in the mirror of the heart. Baha'u'llah uses in several places the symbol of three "words" of God, creating us, bringing us to recognition of Him, and protecting the purity of that gift. Entranced by that knowledge of the divine and holding to His values utterly with passionate, self-sacrificing love, we pass it into a career of service to all humanity.
The pentagon reflects the five Sufi realms of God, the top point being Hahut, or "himness", for the Godhead, the originator of all, the One universal, inaccessible ruler. He, through His holy spirit and Manifestation, rules over creation with the same "sovereignty" that the brain rules over the body. This is symbolized in the next level down, the highest level possible for any but God, the realm of Láhút.
You can read all about this on the "Baha'i symbols" Wikipedia page that has already been pointed to, as well as here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bah%C3%A1%CA%BC%C3%AD_cosmology).
This is the realm of the Manifestation of God. Down under that, from our viewpoint, the left "leg" of the haykal, is the realm of nature, Nasut meaning humankind, or Ensan (humanity) in Arabic. We are children of the half light, the light of nature and the light of the Divine. If we are wise, we reflect the latter, and rule wisely over the natural realm, as Gen 1:26 says,
"Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over..." (NIV) basically the entire natural world. As Baha'u'llah says in several important places, God leaves all that external sort of rule up to us and our leaders. God's desire is only to rule over the Haykal, the heart, which is the best thing anyway. Hence the first Arabic Hidden Word, which tells us to "posses a pure, kindly and radiant heart" in order to gain the eternal and imperishable dominion bequeathed to mankind in Genesis 1:26. So, again, referring to your question,
"Also (do) these symbols have any spiritual or sacred meaning to Baháʼís' life or faith?"
There is a footnote in the article I pointed to that should not be ignored as most footnotes tend to be,
"Moojan Momen states that the "last four realms appear to be addressing the first realm in the Long Obligatory Prayer (salát-i kabír): "I testify unto that whereunto have testified all created things (násút), and the Concourse on high (malakút), and the inmates of the all-highest Paradise (jabarút), and beyond them the Tongue of Grandeur itself from the all-glorious Horizon (láhút), that Thou art God... " Bahá'u'lláh, Prayers and Meditations, No. CLXXXIII, https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/prayers-meditations/ (the terms in between brackets do not occur in the original text. The terms used are: ashyáʼ, al-maláʼ al-aʻlá, jannat al-ʻulyá, and al-ufuq al-abhá.)"
In mulling over this startling footnote over the past year, I have come to the entirely personal opinion that it is impossible to fairly "try out" the Baha'i Faith without correctly saying this long obligatory prayer over a given period. You can read a thousand books, but (I'm paraphrasing something Baha'u'llah said) saying that prayer right, even once, is enough.