"What is the Baha'i Faith?"
My answer to GeoCities survey
by Gregory Watson
Recently an interview/survey on the Baha'i Faith was conducted by Athens City Times,
a monthly online newspaper at GeoCities.com
Conversations in Religion is a regular section in the newspaper.
The Baha'i Faith is the feature article of the month
of the Athens City Times,
beginning July 15th, 1998.
Here are their questions and my answers:
“The present topic is Baha’i. This feature will attempt to introduce people to the Baha’i Faith...
Please share your knowledge of Baha’i with us.”
Your Name: Gregory Watson
Your Site URL: http://. . . .
Your Tradition: The Baha’i Faith, which began over 150 years ago.
A Baha'i is a lover of humanity who tries to serve it, while striving to improve his own character each day. Baha’i literally means “follower of the Light” or “follower of the Glory.” A Baha’i is a follower of the Divine "Light," no matter the Lamp from which it shines-- whether it be the Lamp of Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Christ, Buddha, Muhammed, or God’s latest Messenger, Baha’u’llah. Baha’is have recognized this “Light” in the person of Baha’u’llah, the Messenger of God for this new age in which we are living. Baha’is accept Him as the Promised One of all Religions--foretold by prophesies in the Holy Books as the One Who would come at the so-called “end of time.”
Those who wish to investigate this great eschatological claim in the context of prophesy may wish to refer to:
Prophesies from various Holy books:
or Millennial zeal in anticipation of the Promised One:
or Christian expectations in the middle 1800's:
or Promises of Christ found in the Bible:
http://. . . . ./station.htm
Baha’u’llah’s teachings, given over 100 years ago, form the basis of the independent world religion called the Baha’i Faith, established in more than 200 countries throughout the world, making it the second-most widespread of the world religions.
Your Concept of God/Divine Nature:
The Divine Reality is incomprehensible to our finite mind, therefore, we say "He" or "It" is "unknowable" in Its essence. Love, too, is indefinable or unknowable in the sense that we cannot actually say what it is, and yet we know it is real because we can experience it. It is also possible to experience the Presence of God in our lives even though we cannot define what God is with our limited human concepts. Such experience can be subtle, or it can be dramatic, miraculous and profound. This is one of the ways we “know” God, and it usually means a lot to us as individuals having the experience, but rarely constitutes guidance for anybody else.
Another way for us to know God is through the Prophets or “Messengers.” These Messengers are the Mediator between God and man, providing guidance to a collective humanity through social teachings and laws. The Prophets of God teach us of the Divine Nature, because they exist in a plane or intermediary state between the Divine and the human. They are the “place of the Divine Appearance.” As the channel of Divine Revelation, they sometimes speak as a man, and at other times as the Voice of God Himself. The Prophet or Messenger of God, chosen as a "Mouthpiece" of God, speaks to us from that center of Realities--the "Holy of Holies"--and presents humanity with the “revealed Word.” This message is renewed from age to age according to the needs of humanity at the time, and is thus termed "progressive." Each Messenger starts a new religious dispensation and teaches us more about the nature of God--or what we can “attribute” to Him. The Prophet teaches us about God’s qualities of love, kindness, compassion, justice, mercy, forgiveness, omniscience, etc. The Prophet Himself is a mirror of the Divine qualities or attributes of God, just as a mirror facing the physical sun reflects its heat and light. (Biblical expression of this truth is seen in John 12:45) However, the sun has not descended into the mirror, but remains in the heavens. Likewise God does not incarnate His essence in a man, but remains exalted above entrance and exit, ascent and descent, egress and regress. (John 5:37) About every 1000 years a "Manifestation of God" appears on earth to renew this process called "Revelation," and each Messenger before Him foretells His coming, with signs or prophesies.
Baha'u'llah is the Messenger of God for this day and has given new teachings befitting our modern era, providing solutions to many of our present day problems, both personal and global. His life was like that of Christ's, except that it is fully documented, having occurred within the last 150 years. His Writings present the first directly written Revelation, through the hand of the Prophet Himself, and thus we have access to more authoritative knowledge about the nature of God than ever before in history. He wrote over 100 volumes from His Prison in Akka, Israel. The proof of Moses was His staff, the proof of Baha'u'llah was His Pen. One needs only to examine His Writings to see the miracle of this Revelation called Baha’i. The Supreme Divine Intelligence which designed this universe has always been interested in communicating His Will to us through Written Revelation. It is the stuff of history. Every Prophet of God is the bringer of a Book, the inauguration of a new religious dispensation and the impetus for social change. God speaks to man from age to age. God has spoken again through the Pen of Baha’u’llah. This is the nature of the Divine.
Your Concept of Human Nature:
Human nature is also a reflection of the Divine nature. Just as the essence of God is unknowable, there are deep and mysterious aspects in our nature, which in some ways make our own nature "unknowable" to us. Each of us reflects something of the Divine, and yet we all have our lower, more selfish and egotistical qualities. When these lower qualities are bad enough we call them "evil." Our challenge in life is to struggle against our lower nature as we reach for the higher. The Divine teachings help us approach God, as we "overcome" ourselves. Every human being has the potential to overcome himself, and thus transcend the material world. Ultimately human nature is "spiritual," but the degree to which we can perfect ourselves, or improve ourselves in many ways depends on the extent to which we have access or exposure to the teachings of the Prophets, the Founders of the world's major religions. These teachings have provided the ennobling and civilizing influences in our world, down through history, despite the terrible things humans have done in the name of religion. The influence of the Prophets is direct if you study their teachings, and the concepts of virtue and nobility in every society can be traced back to some Divine Teacher or Educator. The latter is an indirect influence, but it has enabled civilizations to distinguish between right and wrong, establish laws and human rights, etc.. Without these divine Eduacators, the human conscience alone cannot make these distinctions. Every society has had these divine Teachers sent to them. God has never left humanity-- His creation-- alone, without guidance.
Human nature is like a garden in need of a gardener. Without this Educator, it becomes overrun with weeds and debris. That is why God sends His Teachers. The human heart is the seat of inner mysteries, potentially the home of God's Revelation. Even as He hath said: "Man is My mystery, and I am his mystery." Manifold are the verses that have been repeatedly revealed in all the Heavenly Books and the Holy Scriptures, expressive of this most subtle and lofty theme. Even as He hath revealed: "We will surely show them Our signs in the world and within themselves." Again He saith: "And also in your own selves: will ye not, then, behold the signs of God?" And yet again He revealeth: "And be ye not like those who forget God, and whom He hath therefore caused to forget their own selves." In this connection, He Who is the eternal King -- may the souls of all that dwell within the mystic Tabernacle be a sacrifice unto Him -- hath spoken: "He hath known God who hath known himself." (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 177) The "kingdom of heaven" and the "image of God" are within the human nature--hidden until actualized. The human being has the potential to become the reflection and likeness of God, but only if he comes under the shadow of one of the divine Educators and acquires noble attributes and heavenly virtues. This is how the meaning of the verse "image of God within us" becomes fulfilled or actualized. That is why the Christ has said, "no one cometh unto the Father except through Me." (No one's "image" can become illuminated except through the mediation of the Prophets of God. See next section.) No one can become saintly unless enobled by the divine teachings. Otherwise man can become lower than the beasts of the field. Every child is potentially the light of the world at at the same time its darkness. Therefore education is of the utmost importance. "Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty." (Baha'u'llah) "Dost thou think thyself only a puny form, when the universe is folded up within thee?" (The Imam Ali.)
Your Concept of Enlightenment:
Enlightenment is personal, yet universal. The experience can be either gradual or sudden, and is never finished. I suspect that the reason Buddha said He gained nothing through His enlightenment was because the "kingdom of heaven" is within each one of us all the time. The "rebirth" of the human spirit and personality is a transcendence of the material world, resulting in a kind of detachment from it. An enlightened being is awake in ways he was previously asleep. Of course he can fall back asleep if he is not careful. "Light" is the symbol used to convey knowledge, truth and awareness, but higher consciousness experience is more than symbolic or intellectual. There is something possible which reaches us visibly, perceptually on this physical plane--ultimately improving our daily life. The human heart is like a mirror. Whatever you set before it is reflected in it. Through the faculty of meditation or reflection, we can turn our heart towards earthly things and become informed of those, or we can turn it heaven-wards and become enlightened. Where is the heaven, or direction to which we should turn? Enlightenment depends on turning the mirror of our hearts to the Sun of Reality (God), appearing in the Messenger of God, from age to age. (This is because an intermediary is necessary in order to bring two "extremes" into relation with each other.) The Holy Spirit is the intermediary power radiating from the Sun of Reality. Just as the rays, or sunshine, of the physical sun are the intermediary power bringing its light and power to the earth, so too the Holy Spirit shines the Light of God upon us-- and that light can become reflected in the mirrors of our hearts, revealing the "image of God" within us. No one can approach the sun, or receive the bounty of its light except through its rays. (If a man went directly to the sun to receive its bounties he would be burnt up. Nor can the sun come to the earth directly since earth and sun are "extremely" different.) The Sun of Reality appeared in Christ through the intermediary power of the Holy Spirit. (As a perfectly polished Mirror facing the Sun of Reality, Christ perfectly reflected the Image of God.) Wherefore He said, "No one comes to the Father except through Me," (John 14:6) meaning that no one can approach God except through His intermediary power (Holy Spirit), made visible through the Mirror of His Messenger. (A full explanation of this is on the web at http://. . . . ./station.html#Intermediary )
The Holy Spirit not only appears in the reality of the Messenger, but speaks to the heart of man--inside each one of us. The Holy Spirit is the cause of the enlightenment of every enlightened man. Even the wondrous works of art and science in this modern age are inpired by the Holy Spirit, based on new capacities infused into the human capacity in this day. Subjectively, on a higher plane, something in us calls us to the objective search for spiritual enlightenment or divine knowledge, or else a human being would not respond to the Messenger and His outward message. This is a form of grace. "But for Thee, we had not known Thee, nor attained Thy presence." (Seven Valleys. . . , p: 23)
“In this connection, He Who is the eternal King -- may the souls of all that dwell within the mystic Tabernacle be a sacrifice unto Him -- hath spoken: ‘He hath known God who hath known himself.’ . . . ‘And be ye not like those who forget God, and whom He hath therefore caused to forget their own selves.’” (Gleanings from... Baha'u'llah, p: 178) “However, let none construe these utterances to be anthropomorphism, nor see in them the descent of the worlds of God into the grades of the creatures.” (Seven Valleys..., p: 22 )
"If thou wishest the divine knowledge and recognition, purify thy heart from all beside God, be wholly attracted to the ideal, beloved One; search for and choose Him and apply thyself to rational and authoritative arguments [proofs]. For arguments [proofs] are a guide to the path and by this the heart will be turned unto the Sun of Truth. And when the heart is turned unto the Sun, then the eye will be opened and will recognize the Sun through the Sun itself. Then man will be in no need of arguments (or proofs), for the Sun is altogether independent, and absolute independence is in need of nothing, and proofs are one of the things of which absolute independence has no need. Be not like Thomas; be thou like Peter. I hope you will be healed physically, mentally and spiritually." (Baha'i World Faith - Abdu'l-Baha Section, p. 383)
For a comparison of Biblical and Baha’i scriptures explaining the role or "station" of the Messenger, see my web page at http://. . . . . /station.html#Bibleteachingstation
The concepts of enlightenment, "rebirth" and “subjective faith” are explained more fully at the following web address: http://. . . . ./rebirth.html
Your Concept of an After-life:
In the state of sleeping we sometimes experience what it is like to transcend the physical limitations of the body, through the dream. Without eyes we see, and without ears we hear. Sometimes we can fly, or instantly arrive in a far away city. Some human beings also have had so-called "near death" experiences, through which we touch the higher spiritual plane. Only a veil of unawareness separate the two worlds: here and beyond. In essence these two worlds are one, and we are ultimately spiritual beings evolving towards the immortal realm. Many proofs exist, both traditional and rational (or scientific). One of the reasons the Prophets have willingly suffered in this world, is to prove the existence of everlasting life. Life after this life is an evolution, from this lower state to a higher degree. “It is only a man without intelligence who, after considering these things, can imagine that the great scheme of creation should suddenly cease to progress, that evolution should come to such an inadequate end” as the few short years of a man's life -- man being the crown of all the evolutionary processes on the planet. There are things a man can do to prepare for the next world, just as the fetus in the womb of the mother is preparing to enter this world. We must acquire spiritual limbs and members, if we do not expect to be crippled in the next world. Heaven and hell are conditions of the spirit, not a matter of geography--not places to which we must go.
Your Concept of the Purpose of Life
The purpose of this life is to discover God--to come to know and love God. Then we must acquire virtues, divine qualities or attributes, as the means of perfecting ourselves; thus becoming more spiritual, in preparation for the life to come, and so we can better serve our fellow beings here. These "heavenly" qualities and "divine" attributes of character (such as justice, mercy, kindness, compassion, etc.) are the spiritual limbs and members mentioned in the paragraph above. Service is the highest station for a human being. Every human being has been created to help carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. This is both our collective and individual reality.
“Having created the world and all that liveth and moveth therein, He, through the direct operation of His unconstrained and sovereign Will, chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him--a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation.... Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty.”(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p: 65)What should everyone know about your Tradition?
In 1908 Leo Tolstoy wrote: "We spend our lives trying to unlock the mystery of the universe, but there was a Turkish prisoner, Bahá'u'lláh, in Akka, Palestine, who had the key. . . Bahá'u'lláh's teachings now present us with the highest and purest form of religious teaching. . . Very profound, I know of no other so profound."
The Baha'i Faith has no clergy. Individuals have no authority. All decisions which affect the world-wide community of Baha'is are made through consultation, by representative bodies of nine persons elected at the local, national and international level. The World Center of the Baha'i Faith was established in Haifa, Israel because Baha'u'llah was taken there as a prisoner and His teachings spread throughout the world from there.
See http://www.ee.pdx.edu/~pamela/bahai/tour.html for pictures of the World Center in Haifa, Israel.
Also: http://www.princeton.edu/~sdphelps/phototr.html for the recent contruction going on there.
"The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves. That the divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men, is, in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion. These principles and laws, these firmly-established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are the rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated."(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah: Pages: 287-288)The essence of the Baha'i teachings is the Oneness of Humanity. Baha'is strive to promote the recognition of this oneness and believe that it can lead to the world's peace. Baha'is believe in the Oneness of God, the Oneness of religion (all religions come from one Source), and the Oneness of humanity. Peace on earth cannot be achieved unless and until the unity of the human race is first established, and this unity depends on the recognition of our oneness.
Oneness is not sameness. The watchword for Baha'is is "unity in diversity." Baha’i belief goes beyond the mere appreciation of cultural diversity, however. Appreciation of diversity is sometimes limited because it still focuses on differences, to the point of separation and disunity. While these differences are what makes the world so interesting and beautiful, they must not be allowed to fool us into some false perception. Humanity is one reality, one race -- the human race.
To quote Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha'i Faith: "The principle of the Oneness of Mankind -- the pivot round which all the teachings of Baha'u'llah revolve -- is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance..."
"... It represents the consummation of human evolution -- an evolution that has had its earliest beginnings in the birth of family life, its subsequent development in the achievement of tribal solidarity, leading in turn to the constitution of the city-state, and expanding later into the institution of independent and sovereign nations. The principle of the Oneness of Mankind, as proclaimed by Baha'u'llah, carries with it no more and no less than a solemn assertion that attainment to this final stage in this stupendous evolution is not only necessary but inevitable, that its realization is fast approaching, and that nothing short of a power that is born of God can succeed in establishing it." (see http://. . . . ./oneness.html for the full quote)
There are two processes transforming our world: one can be characterized as fundamentally disruptive or disintegrative, and the other as an "integrating" process. Baha'is are identified with the latter, because they are promoting the construction of new institutions and ideas which can take the place of the older, outworn institutions and doctrines which are crumbling and falling away, after having outlived their usefulness. Each of these processes "in its own way and with an accelerated momentum, [tends] to bring to a climax the forces that are transforming the face of our planet." (see http:/. . . . /GreatPeace.html for full quote.)
In the mid 1800s a new breath of life was infused into the entire creation. The Divine Spirit released new energies, inspired new ideas into human minds and gave birth to the new era in which we now live. By any standard one must admit that a revolution of thinking and science has occurred in the last 100 years. This new age has been called the atomic age, the industrial revolution, the modern era, the scientific age, the age of enlightenment, the age of Aquarius, the twentieth century, etc.. Whatever you wish to call it, there can be no doubt that we have, in the words of Baha'u'llah announcing its beginning more than 100 years ago, "entered a new cycle of human power." If you plot the curve of human progress it shoots up from the time Samuel Morris stepped up to the telegraph in 1844 and sent the first message, “What hath God Wrought?" Forseeing the future as Prophets do, Baha'u'llah fortold many of the events which would happen in this century as he announced the birth of this new modern and scientific age.
In words such as these, Baha'u'llah announced the new era and called the world to peace, "This is the Day in which God's most excellent favors have been poured out upon men, the Day in which His most mighty grace hath been infused into all created things. It is incumbent upon all the peoples of the world to reconcile their differences, and, with perfect unity and peace, abide beneath the shadow of the Tree of His care and loving-kindness."
"... Through the movement of Our Pen of glory We have, at the bidding of the omnipotent Ordainer, breathed a new life into every human frame, and instilled into every word a fresh potency. All created things proclaim the evidences of this world-wide regeneration."
"... Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God is endowed with such potency as can instill new life into every human frame, if ye be of them that comprehend this truth. All the wondrous works ye behold in this world have been manifested through the operation of His supreme and most exalted Will, His wondrous and inflexible Purpose. Through the mere revelation of the word 'Fashioner,' issuing forth from His lips and proclaiming His attribute to mankind, such power is released as can generate, through successive ages, all the manifold arts which the hands of man can produce."
"Unity," He states, is the goal that "excelleth every goal" and an aspiration which is "the monarch of all aspirations." "The world," He proclaims, "is but one country, and mankind its citizens." He further affirms that the unification of mankind, the last stage in the evolution of humanity towards maturity is inevitable, that "soon will the present day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead," that "the whole earth is now in a state of pregnancy," that "the day is approaching when it will have yielded its noblest fruits, when from it will have sprung forth the loftiest trees, the most enchanting blossoms, the most heavenly blessings." He deplores the defectiveness of the prevailing order, exposes the inadequacy of patriotism as a directing and controlling force in human society, and regards the "love of mankind" and service to its interests as the worthiest and most laudable objects of human endeavor. He, moreover, laments that "the vitality of men's belief in God is dying out in every land," that the "face of the world" is turned towards "waywardness and unbelief"; proclaims religion to be "a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world" and "the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world"; affirms its fundamental purpose to be the promotion of union and concord amongst men; warns lest it be made "a source of dissension, of discord and hatred"; commands that its principles be taught to children in the schools of the world, in a manner that would not be productive of either prejudice or fanaticism; attributes "the waywardness of the ungodly" to the "decline of religion"; and predicts "convulsions" of such severity as to "cause the limbs of mankind to quake."
The only Westerner to meet Baha'u'llah and record His words, Prof. E.G. Browne of Cambridge, recounts Baha’u’llah’s words as follows: " ...Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile.... We desire but the good of the world and happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment.... That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled — what harm is there in this?... Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the 'Most Great Peace' shall come.... Is not this that which Christ foretold?... Yet do we see your kings and rulers lavishing their treasures more freely on means for the destruction of the human race than on that which would conduce to the happiness of mankind.... These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family.... Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind...."
"The Revelation which, from time immemorial, hath been acclaimed as the Purpose and Promise of all the Prophets of God, and the most cherished Desire of His Messengers, hath now, by virtue of the pervasive Will of the Almighty and at His irresistible bidding, been revealed unto men. The advent of such a Revelation hath been heralded in all the sacred Scriptures. Behold how, notwithstanding such an announcement, mankind hath strayed from its path and shut out itself from its glory...." (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p: 99-100)
". . . If ever the name of Bahá'u'lláh or Abdu'l-Bahá comes to your attention, do not put their writings from you. Search out their books, and let their glorious peace-bringing, love creating words and lessons sink into your hearts as they have into mine."
-- Queen Marie of Rumania (renowned granddaughter of Queen Victoria)
Please suggest other on-topic web sites which might be of interest to our readers.
Your Recommended Site URLs :
Who was Baha'u'llah?
http://. . . ./Baha.htm
Bulgarian Baha'is home page
Stephen Hawking, scientist extraordinaire
http://. . . . /hawking.html
Who was Abdu'l-Baha?
http://. . . . Abdu'l-Baha.html
Baha'u'llah's tablets to the kings & rulers
http://. . . ./kings.html
The promise of world peace
http://. . . ./GreatPeace.html
Baha'i views on science
http://. . . . ./science.html
Tributes from leaders of thought
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