This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
The faith and its founders
The Times of India, Nov 12 2015
A K Merchant
Tribute to founders of the Baha'i faith
As Baha'is we believe that our life has a spiritual purpose and every time a spiritual luminary appears the human race or sections of it are called upon to align themselves to the new truths. When Rama came the most important teaching he gave was being true to one's promise; when Krishna came, it was justice; when the Buddha appeared it was the practice of compassion. In the same fashion Moses emphasised adherence to the Ten Commandments; Christ stressed the role of forgiveness; Prophet Muhammad taught of the brotherhood of man; for our age, the twin Divine Luminaries the Báb and Baha'u'llah have given a blueprint for the globalisation of humankind. The Báb, served as the “gate“ or “doorway to divine knowledge“. From childhood he exhibited unusual piety and knowledge. He lost his father at a tender age and was raised by his maternal uncle who provided for his upbring ing and education. His mother and uncle got him married thinking that once he got into his family responsibilities he would have no time for spiritual pursuit.The turning point came in May 1844, the same time when Samuel Morse transmitted the first telegraphic message from Baltimore, Maryland to Washington DC with the words from the Bible: “What God hath wrought.“ This was when the Báb disclosed his true identity as the avatara of a New Age. The Báb's teachings were very simple. He proclaimed the unity and truth of all the great religions, enjoined upon his disciples to break with past rites and ways of worship and to live in harmony with men of all beliefs, and prepared them for the coming of Bahá'u'lláh.
As the forerunner of Bahá'u'lláh his role was critical i Bahá'u'lláh his role was critical in preparing the people to understand and accept the dawning of a New Age.Bahá'u'lláh, means “the Glory of God“ His family could trace its ancestry back to the Sassanian dynasty of Iran's imperial past. Bahá'u'lláh led a princely life as a young man, receiving an education that focussed largely on calligraphy , horsemanship, classic poetry and swordsmanship.
Abdu'l-Bahá, said this His son, ` concerning his father's childhood: “Bahá'u'lláh, belonged to the nobility of Persia. From earliest childhood he was distinguished among his relatives and friends ... In wisdom, intelligence and as a source of new knowledge, he was advanced beyond his age and superior to his surroun dings. All who knew him were astonished at his precocity . It was usual for them to say , `Such a child will not live', for it is commonly believed that precocious children do not reach maturity.“
Bahá'u'lláh taught that all the divine educators such as Moses, Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Prophet Muhammad and the Báb have successively prepared humanity to reach its present state of development and now was the time for its collective maturity .
Bahá'u'lláh, therefore, formulated the blueprint of a new world order and wrote: “Let your vision be world-embracing ...Soon will the present-day Order be rolled up, and a new one spread in its stead.“ He clearly foresaw the disturbed equilibrium of Dharma and wrote: “The world's equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, new world order ... this wondrous system, the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.“ If we continue making the wrong decisions, squabbling over petty issues, destroying each other for a larger share of the planet's finite resources through ever more lethal weapons we shall only hasten the annihilation of present-day civilisation.
Ecological Balance and its Restoration: The Baha'i View
Over 150 years ago Baha'u'llah, founder of the Baha'i Faith, proclaimed: “Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.“ The worldwide Baha'i communi ty strongly support the UN's Agenda 2030 and its SDGs not only because of the many contributions it has made in the consultative process but more importantly due to its global educational programmes for inculcating the values of global citizenship and its overarching spiritual principle of unity in diversity.
The SDGs call for action by all countri es, to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They recognise that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and they address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection.
Since these goals are not legally binding upon governments it becomes imperative for civil society to seek recourse to moral and spiritual obligations inculcated by Dharma to get every individual and organisation to take ownership and establish suitable frameworks for achievement of the 17 goals.Baha'i writings state: “Because it is concerned with the ennobling of character and the harmonising of relationships, dharma could play a lead role in giving meaning to life. From its counsel rational soul has derived encouragement in overcoming limits imposed by the world and in fulfilling itself.“
Hence community initiatives like a Green Drive that encourages everyone to plant more trees, go a long way in helping restore good quality air, as trees are carbon sinks, besides having many other life-giving attributes.All religious scriptures and spiritual teachings promote living in harmony with the environment and suggest that we conserve rather than waste natural resources.
Far from being empty ideals, spiritual principles are essential foundation stones of healthy communities, and when they are not respected, social breakdown ensues, believe the Baha'is. For, the cause of societal disruption that daily batters our world is abandonment of healthy spiritual guidance that can help one see things in the right perspective. Otherwise, we tend to get carried away by prejudices and greed, and so forget the true purpose of existence on earth.
All leaders whether political, religious or spiritual need to promote the ideal of living in harmony with the environment. The buzzwords need to be: nurture, cherish, conserve, love and live together in peace. All countries, large or small, must support and help international bodies like the UN to efficiently achieve common goals that are directed towards improving the health of humankind as well as achieve sustainable development and economic security .
(The writer is secretary-general and national trustee, Lotus Temple & Baha'i Community of India.)
Love & Unity
Baha‘u’llah affirmed three fundamental, essential unities at different levels of being. First, he proclaimed the absolute unity of divine reality that is beyond the capacity of human understanding, incapable of expressing the unknowable divine unity. The being of humans is a reflection of that divine reality and a longing and love for recognition and attainment of God.
For Baha’is, all beings are signs and indications of the divine. The human mind can only understand the realm of the appearance, manifestations, and phenomena. But, by divine decree, there is mediation between God and humans because in the realm of the supreme manifestations of God, the invisible becomes visible. These are the prophets of God who appear in each age in accordance with the stages of human development to exemplify the highest perfection of humanity and the actualisation of the divine sign, which is latent in all humanity.
The second level of unity is related to the realm of the manifestations of God. According to Baha‘u’llah, all divine messengers and prophets – like Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha‘u’llah – are one and the same essence. Baha‘u’llah talked of the unity of all manifestations of God and unity of all religions, as the truth and the purpose of all religions are the same. Divine revelation is one but takes different forms in accordance with the stage of development of human cultures and their specific historical and social needs. Hence Baha‘u’llah talked about “progressive revelation” while emphasising the unity of divine revelation.
Similarly, Baha‘u’llah used the metaphor of the sun and horizons to convey the same idea. The divine reality of all different manifestations of God is one and the same, like the same sun that appears each time from a different horizon. Therefore, what differentiates Jesus and Buddha is not their essential reality but only their human appearance. They are different horizons from which the same divine reality is shining over the hearts of humanity. Baha‘u’llah’s rejected religious traditionalism, arguing for the thesis of progressive revelation and the renewal of divine teaching corresponding to the stage of development of human culture.
Thirdly, Baha‘u’llah also spoke of the unity of humankind – a metaphysical and essential reality and truth, since all humans are endowed with the reflection of divine attributes in their beings. For that reason, humanity is a sacred reality. We need to purify the mirror of our existence to allow divine unity to become visible at the individual, social, cultural, economic, political, and intellectual levels of human reality.
The divine essence of humanity can only be realised through history, human civilisation, and social progress. Therefore, the spiritual challenge of humanity is to create moral, spiritual, social, economic, and political cultures and institutions that make it possible for the latent sacred unity of humankind to be realised in people’s actual life and in the midst of the diversity of individuals and cultures.
Baha‘u’llah teaches us, it is now the historic mission of humanity to achieve the oneness of humankind on a global stage and in a higher form of culture and institutions to reflect the equality and unity of all human beings. Baha‘u’llah’s concept of the coming of age of humankind is precisely this same process of the manifestation of love and unity at a global institutional level. (Ridvan Festival of the Baha’is, April 21 to May 2).
The March 21 vernal equinox is the harbinger of a new season of sunshine and warmth in the northern hemisphere. It rings down the curtain on the cold winter, and ushers in a new seasonal cycle.
Soon the bare branches of trees will be garbed with delicate green foliage.The brown earth will, ere long, be carpeted with fresh green grass. Warm sunshine and fresh spring air will breathe new life into nature. Long dormant plants will spring forth and blossom into colourful and fragrant flowers. Hibernating creatures will emerge from their burrows to forage for food, squirrels will come out of their cosy nests to rummage for nuts, and birds will chirp gleefully , welcoming the sunshine.
Nature's festival of renewal culminates in summer with its rich harvests of grains, luscious fruits and fragrant flowers. In step with nature, humans too celebrate the occasion that ushers in a period of renewed energy , warmth and growth. And so the spring equinox is widely celebrated as the beginning of a new year. It is called Navroz in Persian, meaning New Day , and is celebrated on the first day of Farvardin, the first month of the Iranian solar calendar. Baha'is celebrate the vernal equinox on the first day of the first month of Baha of the Badi Calendar.
Navroz was first celebrated 2,500 years ago in ancient Iran, Persia, as a Zoroastrian festival during the reign of Shah Jamshid, to mark the end of a severe winter that took many lives.Hence Parsis in India celebrate the day as Jamshedi Navroz.Navroz transcends national boundaries, religious differences, and binds together communities and nations with bonds of goodwill. Navroz has a dual aspect in its observance. The first is spiritual, when celebrants attend places of worship to offer prayers of praise and gratitude to God, and to beseech God's bounties in the year ahead. The second aspect is of joyous celebrations that include visits to family and friends, exchange of gifts and attending parties.
Iranians traditionally extend the celebrations over 13 days of merry-making. For the Baha'i world community , Navroz has a deeper spiritual significance. It marks the end of a 19-day period of fasting, a period of abstinence, of reflection on the past, and prayers and plans for the future.
Baha'is compare the spring equinox with the advent of manifestations of God. As the former brings vibrant, life-quickening energy , light and into the material world, so the warmth into the material world, so the latter, as spiritual suns, illumine darkened horizons, awaken and resuscitate humanity with inspiring spiritual teachings. As spring ushers in a season of warmth and growth in the world of nature, awakening all creation, so God's manifestations herald the dawn of new dispensations, dispelling the darkness of prejudice, hatred and injustice, and instilling fresh hope and faith in all hearts.
All Prophets of God have spread the life-giving message of love and unity , and bridged chasms that divided mankind.As seasons follow one another in accordance with the charted course of the solar system, so also the appearance of God's Prophets in accordance with prophecies recorded in all Holy Scriptures.
Baha'is believe the awaited millennial Manifestation has appeared.He is Baha'u'llah, founder of their faith.The unifying teachings of Baha'u'llah have knitted together the hearts of millions from every background of race, religion, nationality and ethnicity into a world family .
For followers of the Bahá'í Faith, the festival of Ridván is a very signifi cant time in the annual calendar.Rid ván named after the garden in Baghdad in which the events unfolded commemorates the anniversary of the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh, declaring his mission to his followers.On April 1863, Bahá'u'lláh announced that he was God's latest Manifestation on Earth, bringing messages for this era of the oneness of God and mankind, the equality of all peoples, and the need for working towards world unity .
The 12-day period of Ridván representing the 12 days during which Bahá'u'lláh remained in Baghdad after his Declaration, before travelling to Istanbul contains three `Holy Days' on which Bahá'ís are encouraged not to work. It is a time of celebration, in commemoration of the greatness of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation; yet it is also a time of serious reflection, as Bahá'ís consider how to effect the mission articulated both in Bahá'u'lláh's Ridván Declaration and in his subsequent Writings.
As part of his Declaration in Baghdad's Garden of Ridván, Bahá'u'lláh made three announcements.The first of these was forbidding his followers from fighting to advance or defend their faith, and from using any force or violence in promoting their beliefs. The second was that there would not be another Manifestation of God for at least a thousand years, and the third was that God's attributes speak are present in all things. At a time when one of the largest global problems of any kind is religiouslymotivated violence, an unambiguous statement that any activity of such a nature is strictly prohibited makes the Bahá'í Faith stand out as an indis putable advocate of peace and unity of all types. Indeed, these ideals must be familiar to an Indian audience, as the Gandhian principle of non-violence stems from a similar tradition. Acts of horrific terror are carried out all over the world in the name of God, and no single religion is to be held culpable for this: violence is justified by self-declared adherents to many different religious faiths. A belief system in which this is explicitly forbid den, then, is the need of the hour.
Ridván highlights another aspect of the Bahá'í faith which makes it a faith for the modern age. During the Ridván period, Bahá'ís undertake a process of elections.
These elections in which campaigning and the formation of parties or factions are disallowed are for the `Spiritual Assemblies' (local and national) that administrate the affairs of Bahá'í communities. The members of National Spiritual Assemblies worldwide in turn elect the nine members of the `Universal House of Justice', which oversees the administration of the Bahá'í Faith globally .
The nature of this administrative system draws attention to another of the Bahá'í faith's major strengths. There is no clergy , or `religious leadership' of a traditional type which makes unilateral decisions concerning the religion's affairs. Rather, there are decisionmaking bodies functioning on the principle of consultation on all matters, consisting of members elected by the people and subject to regular re-election. This ensures that Bahá'í administration does not get caught up in dogma, but remains ready to deal with the exigencies of any time.