Wisdom-Ḥokmāh... Ḥikmah - World Religions and Babi-Baha'i Concepts of Wisdom





Stephen N. Lambden 1996-07

Being revised and updated 20-02-2017,

Frequently mentioned in Bahā'ī scripture, "wisdom" (Ar. ḥikma[t]; Per. khirad, danā etc), may indicate spiritual insight, prudence or a balanced, mature, sense of judgement. It can also refer to various dimensions of philosophy, science and theology. All these and other senses of "wisdom", are present in Bahā'ī scriptural texts.

 Concepts of "wisdom" are common to all cultures and have played an important part in the history of religions. Most of the major world religions prize Divine, transcendent or human "wisdom". Texts representative of a `wisdom literature' are widely held sacred. According to the Buddhist scholar Edward Conze, "There was a time when wisdom was more prized than almost anything else" (Conze, 1988:9). Kurt Rudolph writes that "wisdom" has taken "these broad forms: an anthropological ability to cope with life; a rational system; a personification, hypostasis, goddess, or attribute of God" (p.12). Significant wisdom traditions have existed in the major Semitic and Asian religions as well as in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and China.

 Wisdom, knowledge and insight (jnāna) were important in the ancient Indian tradition. Aspects of this tradition are reflected in such Hindu texts as the Bhagavad Gītā where we read, "A man of faith, intent on wisdom (jnāna), his senses (all) restrained, wins wisdom; and wisdom won, he will come right soon to perfect peace" (IV:39, trans. Zaehner, 1973).

 Teachings regarding or relating to "wisdom" (khrad) figure prominently in Zoroastrianism. In certain sacred texts the heavenly Being "Spirit of Wisdom" (Menog ī Khrad) is considered one of the "Bountiful Immortals" (Av. Amesha Spenta). The Zoroastrian corpus of `wisdom/advice/instruction (andarz) literature' includes, for example, the "Book of Judgements of the Spirit of Wisdom" (Dādistan ī Menog ī Khrad). In book Vl of the ninth century CE (Pahlavi) "Acts of Religion" (Denkard) we, at one point read, "Wisdom is manifest in work, character in rule, and a friend in hardship." (Denkard  Vl:24 Shaked tr.13; see further Rudolph, 19-20).

 "Wisdom" (Sanskrit, prajnā; lit. `consciousness',`understanding') is a central concept of Mahāyāna Buddhism. It often refers to a non-conceptual awareness, "an immediately experienced intuitive wisdom that cannot be conveyed by concepts or in intellectual terms" (Rider Enc., 274). There are more than forty Mahāyāna "perfection of wisdom" (prajnāpāramitā) texts written over a millennium or so from around the first century BCE (dating uncertain)? Such early Mahāyāna Wisdom Sūtras as the highly influential "Diamond Cutter Sūtra" and the "Heart Sūtra" (dating after c. 175 CE?) provided the philosophical basis of much developed Buddhist thought (Conze, 1988; Hajime, 1989:222f, Williams, 1989:40f).

 "Wisdom" (Heb. ḥokmā) is quite frequently mentioned, and has a variety of senses, in the Bible. Primarily, "Wisdom" belongs to God (Dan. 2:20-23) from Whom it should be sought. In Proverbs 1:7 (+ 9:10) it is said that "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God" (for details see Von Rad Ch.IV ; this is often reflected in Islamic and Bahā'ī texts). The `Wisdom Books' of the Hebrew Bible include the books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (see also the book of Ben Sira [Sirach] and the Wisdom of Solomon). In Judaism personified Wisdom was sometimes identified with the substance of the Torah or Law. In Proverbs 8, personified wisdom is "an instrument of God in the planning and implementation of the created order" (Scott, JE16:563). The personification of "Wisdom", important in Judaism, is also reflected in various New Testament and post-Biblical Christologies. The name "Wisdom" was applied to the "Logos" or "Word" (analogous with Gk. "Sophia") which was incarnate in Jesus Christ (John 1:3). Modern analysis of the Gospel sayings reckons Jesus a teacher of wisdom (Mark 6:2), "one greater than Solomon" (Matt 12:42), the Jewish paragon of wisdom (see also Luke 2:40, 52; 7:35). The transcendent Wisdom of God was manifest in Christ. Compared to it human wisdom is but folly (I Cor 1:18ff).

 In the Greek rationalist tradition "wisdom", the developed, properly functioning intellect, was reckoned the cause of true happiness (Peters, 520-521). It was in Greece that philosophy as the `love of wisdom' took shape (Rudolph, 11). Bahā'-Allāh had a very high regard for the Greek sages and philosophers of antiquity; including the Athenian philosopher Socrates (469-399 BCE), Plato (429-347 BCE) who regarded wisdom as the supreme virtue (Republic 441c-d), and Aristotle (384-322 BCE) who distinguished mundane practical wisdom from that speculative wisdom (sophia) which became philosophy. Of Greece Bahā'u'llāh wrote, "We made it a seat of ḥikmah [wisdom, philosophy...] for a prolonged period" (TB:149).

The term "wisdom" (ḥikma ) is quite frequently found in the Qur'ān (around nineteen times). It often signifies that "wisdom" which "implies knowledge of high spiritual truths" (Goichon, 377). "Wisdom" and divine revelation are intimately related. In the Islamic holy Book, references to "Wisdom" are often found in conjunction with references to "the Book" (e.g. 2:129, 151, 231, 251, etc). Divine "wisdom" was granted to various Israelite prophets and other sages and Messengers of God; including, Abraham, Luqman, David, Jesus, and Muhammad. In the ethical and intellectual history of Islam concepts of "wisdom" (hḥikma ) are centrally important. During the Islamic centuries, "wisdom" not only indicated aspects of religious piety but also the "foreign" (non-Islamic) sciences. It came to be virtually synonymous with philosophy (falsafah) and at times included spiritual, theosophical or gnostic branches of inspired learning distinct from rational dimensions of knowledge (`ilm, see Peters, 740). Among the various Islamic dimensions of "wisdom" are to be counted ḥikmat ilāhiyya ("divine philosophy", "metaphysics"), ḥikmat ishrāqiyya ("oriental, illuminationist theosophy") and ḥikmat lanuniyya ("inspired wisdom" e.g. Hermetic gnosis; see Corbin 1993:125). In one of his Tablets Bahā'u'llāh sets forth quite a number of different Islamic understandings of that "Wisdom" mentioned in Qur'ān 2:269 (272), "whoso is given the Wisdom (al-ḥikmah), has been given much good.." (trans. Arberry). Bahā'-Allāh records that this "Wisdom" has been taken, among other things, to signify the Divine decrees, medical knowledge and alchemical gnosis (Mazandarānī, Asrar 3:120-121).

As in the Qur'ān the Bahā'ī scriptures frequently accord God the attribute, the All-Wise (al-ḥakīm). He is the ultimate Source of "Wisdom" which is communicated by divine revelation to His Messengers and thence to mankind. From the Bahā'ī point of view the "wisdom" of the true, spiritual philosopher, is ultimately rooted in the "wisdom" of the Word of God.

 "Wisdom" has a variety of ethical, spiritual and metaphysical significances within Bābī and Bahā'ī scripture. Most of the Islamic senses of "wisdom" are present, though ethically based dimensions are paramount. In his "Words of Wisdom" (aṣl-i kull al-khayr) Bahā'-Allāh defines the "essence of wisdom (ulu al-ḥikmat)" as "the fear of God (al-khashiyatu `an Allāh), the dread of His scourge and punishment, and the apprehension of His justice and decree" (MAM., 25 tr. TB,155). True wisdom is essentially based upon that relationship with God in which there is a receptive consciousness of His ultimately equitable control of human destiny. In his Words of Paradise (Kalimāt-i firdawsiyyih) Bahā'-Allāh writes that God's "greatest gift and most wondrous blessing hath ever been and will continue to be wisdom (Per. khirad)."

In the Tablet of Medicine (Law-i ṭibb c.1871) Bahā'-Allāh highlights the importance, in this Dispensation, of "two decrees" which are beloved and desired of God. The first decree consists of the qualities of "wisdom and eloquence" (ḥikmat va bayān). These twin qualities are regarded as the basis of successful Bahā'ī teaching activity and the avoidance of difficulties, tests or trials (Fananapazir & Lambden, 1989:24). Within the Tablet of the Proof (Lawḥ-i burhān) Bahā'-Allāh also exhorts his followers to "wisdom" (ḥikmat); which is again, in the following terms, linked with "eloquence",

"O ye loved ones of God! Drink your fill from the wellspring of wisdom, and soar ye in the atmosphere of wisdom, and walk ye in the garden of wisdom, and speak forth with wisdom and eloquence (ḥikmat wa'l-bayān)." (TB:213).

It is befitting that in a response to a question about his latter day advent as the expected Zoroastrian messiah figure Shāh Bahrām, Bahā'-Allāh states that it is "insight" (bīnā'ī) which leads to "wisdom" (dānā'ī) and results in that true faith which is "salvation". "The quintessence of wisdom (dānā'ī-yi khirad; lit. `the wisdom of wisdom') he further teaches, derives from "insightful vision" (bīnā'ī-yi-baṣar) (Daryā-yi danish, 68f). Similar statements are found, among other places, at the end of Bahā'u'llāh's "first arāz" where we read, "in the estimation of men of wisdom (sāibān-i ḥikmat) keenness of understanding (again, dānā'ī-yi khirad) is due to keenness of vision" (see TB:35 and the Persian original). True "wisdom" indicates prudence; the wise and learned communication of the Bahā'ī teachings to prospective converts. On occasion it implies the holding of a `noble silence' (cf. the Islamic taqīya, `prudent dissimulation'). In a large number of Tablets Bahā'u'llāh exhorts his followers to "wisdom" when in circumstances of possible martyrdom, persecution or strife.

Bahā'u'llāh's Tablet of Wisdom (Law-i-ḥikmat) may be considered the centerpiece of Bahā'ī `wisdom literature'. Shoghi Effendi reckoned this Arabic Tablet to be a work in which Bahā'u'llāh "sets forth the fundamentals of true philosophy" (GPB:219). Therein Bahā'u'llāh equates the "beginning of Wisdom (ḥikmat) and the origin thereof" with the human acknowledgement of Divine revelation (see TB:150). There are many Tablets in which Bahā'u'llāh himself or his revelation are counted the fountainheads of "Wisdom".


Arberry, A.J. The Koran Interpreted. Oxford:OUP, 1986; Bahā'-Allāh, Tablets of Bahā'u'llāh Revealed after the Kitāb-i-Aqdas, [=TB] Haifa: Bahā'ī World Centre, 1978; Daryā-yi- danish New Delhi: Bahā'ī Publishing Trust, 1985; Conze, Edward. Buddhist Wisdom Books, The Diamond and the Heart Sutra Rev. Ed. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1988. Corbin, H. A History of Islamic Philosophy. London, New York: Kegan Paul International, 1993; Lambden, S. and Fananapazir, K., `The Tablet of Medicine (Lawḥ-i ṭibb) of Bahā'u'llāh: A Provisional Translation with Occasional Notes' BSB 6:4-7:2 (October 1992), pp. 17-65. Goichon, A.M. ḥikma . EI2 III: 377-8. Mazandarānī, Fāḍil-i, Āthār al-asrār vol. 3 n.p. [Tehran]: BPT, 128 BE. Hajime, Nakamura. Mahāyāna Buddhism, in Kitagawa, J. M. and Cummings, M.D. (Eds.), Buddhism and Asian History.. (London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1989), pp. 214-239. JE = Encyclopedia Judaica. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House Ltd. 1972; Peters, R.E. Allah's Commonwealth. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. The Rider Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion... London: Rider Books, 1989. Scott, R.B.Y. `Wisdom; Wisdom Literature' JE 16:557-563. idem, The Way of Wisdom in the Old Testament London: Collier Macmillan, 1971. Shaked, Saul (tr.), Wisdom of the Sassanian Sages (Denkard VI).. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1979. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By Wilmette, Illinois: BPT., 1974; Von Rad, Gerhard, Wisdom in Israel. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1972. Williams, P. Mahāyāna Buddhism. London/New York: Routledge, 1989.


Appendix HAFT PURSISH and other alwah of Baha'-Allah.

The fourth question: "Our books have announced the [future] appearance of Shāh Bahrām with manifold signs for the guidance of mankind..."

O friend!

"Whatsoever hath been announced in the Books hath been revealed and made clear. From every direction the signs have been manifested. The Omnipotent One [yazdān] is calling, in this Day, and announcing the appearance of the Supreme Heaven [mānā-yi a`ẓam]" [PDC:77]."

The world is illumined by the lights of His appearance, yet rare indeed are the eyes endowed with insight. Ask of the one true God to bestow insight upon His servants. Insight leadeth to wisdom (dānā'ā) and hath ever been the cause of salvation. Keenness of wisdom (dānā'ā-yi khirad) is derived from insightful vision. Were the peoples of the world to gaze with their own eyes, they would see that the world is, in this Day, illumined with a new radiance. Say: the Day-Star of Wisdom (khurshād-i dānā'ā) is manifest and the Sun of Knowledge (āftāb-i dānish) evident. Happy the one who attaineth thereunto, who seeth clearly and hath recognised Him."  (BSB)

See also 1st Taraz etc.