The Bahá’í Faith
Throughout history, God has sent to humanity a series of divine Educators—known as Manifestations of God—whose teachings have provided the basis for the advancement of civilization. These Manifestations have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Bahá’u’lláh, the latest of these Messengers, explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.
As Bahá’ís, we believe the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the future of society and of the nature and purpose of life. Such a vision unfolds in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh.
Who was Bahá’u’lláh
What Bahá’ís Believe
The Bahá’í Faith is based on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’u’lláh, whose name translates as the “Glory of God,” taught that the world’s people are all part of one human family, and that the time has come for unity among the diverse peoples of the earth. While the movement of the world from its present state to one in which peace, justice and equal opportunity are the standards may seem impossible, Bahá’u’lláh has assured us that this is the destiny of the human race.
On an individual level, this is accomplished through two interrelated processes. The first is the personal spiritual development of the individual. This is accomplished through obedience to Bahá’í laws, prayer, meditation, and action in the form of service to other people. Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct” (insert reference here).
The second is to actively promote community and societal development using the spiritual teachings and principles that Bahá’u’lláh brought.
Bahá’u’lláh taught that the purpose of each individual soul is to know and to love God, and that of humanity is to carry forward and ever-advancing civilization. He has amplified eternal spiritual truths and brought new teachings that will unite humanity into the long-promised age of peace and unity. Among those teachings are:
The responsibility of each person to independently search for truth
The recognition of the oneness of the human family
The recognition of the essential unity of the world’s religions
The recognition that true religion is in harmony with reason and the pursuit of scientific knowledge
The abandonment of all forms of prejudice
The assurance to women of full equality of rights and opportunity with men
The elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth
The realization of universal education
The establishment of a global commonwealth of nations
Several of these principles have gained ground in the past century while the truth of others has yet to be fully recognized. Bahá’ís believe that if a truly harmonious, global society is to emerge, these principles, among others, must be adopted by a majority of the world’s peoples and governments.
As human spiritual, moral and intellectual capacities develop over the ages and centuries, God sends new Messengers to reaffirm basic spiritual truths, modify certain laws according to the needs of the time and advance our understanding of God and our relationship to Him. Bahá’ís believe that the Bahá’í Faith is the latest of these religions. The Bahá’í Faith reaffirms the Divine origins of many of the world’s religions, including: Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.
Just as we develop physical attributes and capacities in this life, we will need spiritual capacities in our new existence. Because of this inevitable transition, it is of the utmost importance that we spend time and energy developing our spiritual qualities and capacities. While there are many different opinions and perspectives on what constitutes a spiritual quality, the Bahá’í writings address this question specifically. Essentially, spiritual qualities are those traits and motivations that positively affect personal character and lead to the betterment of communities and society at large. These include: justice, kindness, honesty, truthfulness, compassion, generosity, courage, forbearance, selflessness and patience, to name a few. These capacities are developed through a combination of prayer and action.
At the same time, we cannot ignore the very pressing and practical issues that face us in our everyday lives. We must also devote ourselves to building careers, setting up households and taking care of a seemingly endless number of small tasks that require our attention. Even in these pursuits, there are many opportunities to develop spiritual qualities, if we take the time to look for them. From the Bahá’í perspective, spiritual and material development go hand in hand. Material problems present opportunities for the development of spiritual qualities. The development of spiritual qualities make material problems easier to handle, if not solve.
When our body dies, our soul moves to a spiritual plane of existence. Bahá’u’lláh describes the life of the soul after death in these terms:
“Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty. The movement of My Pen is stilled when it attempteth to befittingly describe the loftiness and glory of so exalted a station. The honor with which the Hand of Mercy will invest the soul is such as no tongue can adequately reveal, nor any other earthly agency describe. …If any man be told that which hath been ordained for such a soul in the worlds of God, the Lord of the throne on high and of earth below, his whole being will instantly blaze out in his great longing to attain that most exalted, that sanctified and resplendent station….”
The spiritual path, then, is about increasingly aligning ourselves with the will of God. The Bahá’í writings certainly speak of a judgment process in which the individual is called to account for their deeds in this life. But the end result of this process is not eternal salvation or damnation, but rather a continuation of an ongoing process of spiritual growth, by which we become gradually more perfect and closer to our Creator.
Creating a better family life is no small task and requires constant attention on the part of all of the family members. In the Bahá’í experience, this is accomplished over time through the application of such principles as the equality of men and women, the control and reduction of anger and argumentation, and the practice of consultation. Also important is an individual focus on the development of personal character and qualities such as patience, love, kindness and justice, as well as the practice of prayer. The expectation is that, as we align ourselves to the principles and practices of the Bahá’í Faith, there will be a commensurate improvement in family life.
While premarital sex is taken for granted and even celebrated in western culture, it is considered inappropriate and unwise from the Bahá’í point of view. A number of difficulties can result from premarital sex, including the obvious issues of unwanted pregnancy and disease. Additionally, in a sexually permissive society, people can easily engage in sexual activity before they are emotionally prepared to do so, can begin to view other people in physical and sexual terms alone, and can develop a very casual attitude about sex in general. These experiences and attitudes often exert a complicating and destabilizing effect on marriage
It should be noted that no one in the Bahá’í Faith is under the illusion that this standard of purity and self-control is an easy one to meet. As with other patterns and practices, we are challenged to increasingly align our behavior with the will of God. The objective is to recognize the truth of the standard and, as with so many other areas of our lives, move towards it through a combination of prayer, discipline and effort.
Bahá’u’lláh also prohibits calumny and fault-finding and distinguishes them from backbiting. Calumny differs from backbiting in that it is an attack on another person’s character regardless of whether or not the person is aware of the attack. As a result, it is a more comprehensive concept than backbiting, covering all slander and attacks on character. Fault-finding is the foundation of both calumny and backbiting, and is condemned by Bahá’u’lláh. In one of His earliest works, the Hidden Words, He wrote:
“O Son of Being!
How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.”
The language used here is very strong, as the word accursed means doomed or damnable. It is important to note that the act of busying thyself with the faults of others does not necessarily mean actively speaking to others about those faults. A quiet preoccupation with other people’s flaws would seem to fall within this prohibition. Avoiding backbiting, calumny and fault-finding are very challenging, particularly for people raised in cultures of criticism. Nonetheless, these behaviors have a corrosive effect on personal relationships and erode the foundations of unity. They should be consciously avoided for their destructive effects on both the soul of the individual and the spiritual health of the larger community.
“It is made incumbent on every one of you to engage in some occupation, such as arts, trades, and the like. We have made this—your occupation—identical with the worship of God, the True One.”
This is not to say that all work is, necessarily, worship. It is fairly easy to think of situations in which the motivations for work are completely self-centered and run counter to well-being of others, and the Bahá’í writings are careful to make this distinction:
“In the Bahá’í Cause arts, sciences and all crafts are (counted as) worship…. Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people.”
In the Bahá’í Faith, engagement in an occupation, service to others and the worship of God are not separate and distinct activities that occur in separate spaces. All of these things can and should occur simultaneously.
While our personal affairs and the affairs of the world at large certainly need our care and attention, it is not enough to devote ourselves exclusively to our material needs. Human beings occupy a material form for only a brief time. In the longer view, the development of spiritual qualities and perfections is much more important, because those attributes are critical to our well-being in the eternal spiritual realms we will inhabit after death. From the Bahá’í perspective, the primary purpose of this life is acquire spiritual qualities, to develop a knowledge and love of God and to assist and serve other people in an effort make their lives better. The acquisition of personal wealth and comforts are of distant, secondary importance.
In addition, the Baha’i writings make it clear that there are grave spiritual consequences associated with drug use. Regarding opium, the Baha’i writings state, “…it is foul and accursed. God protect us from the punishment He (God) inflicteth on the user.” They go on to say that its use, “…layeth in ruins the very foundation of what it is to be human, and which causeth the user to be dispossessed for ever and ever.”
While the Baha’i writings refer specifically to opium and hashish, these and other passages have been authoritatively interpreted as including the wide range of recreational drugs currently in use throughout the world. From the Baha’i perspective, these substances exert a highly destructive influence on both the material and spiritual well-being of individuals and the society at large, and should be strongly avoided.
There should be love, fellowship, respect and harmony among the people consulting. If these characteristics are absent, the consultation will not yield constructive results.
The individuals involved in the consultation should ask for the aid and assistance of God.
The individuals must be interested discovering truth rather than furthering their own agendas. Ideas and suggestions should be offered freely, and candid and polite discussion should take place. The process of consultation does not tolerate self-promotion, hidden agendas, power plays or displays of ego. Those individuals who share ideas or perspectives must detach themselves from their suggestions, as the outcome of the consultation may differ substantially from any and all of the ideas shared by the individual members of the group.
If a unanimous decision cannot be arrived at, the majority view prevails. Everyone in the group must accept and support the majority decision. It is not permissible to later criticize or cast doubt on the decision reached.
These principles are expected and followed in the deliberations of the Baha’i administrative institutions. While the process may not be as formal and structured when individuals engage in consultation in their private lives, the same ideas still apply.
Prayer and Meditation
The Baha’i conception of prayer is that it is, first and foremost, communion with God. While we are certainly free to ask our Creator for help, healing, protection and material assistance, we must keep in mind that God knows what we want and what will best aid our spiritual development. As a result, the Baha’i approach to prayer is that it is a means to draw closer to God and to align ourselves with His will.
From the Baha’i perspective, prayer and action go hand in hand. It is not enough to pray and hope for a solution to emerge. When we are faced with a problem or challenge, we should pray and meditate on a solution or course of action. We should then act with complete faith that we will either be confirmed in our efforts or guided towards a better approach. In the end, we are striving for an acceptance and trust that, regardless of our apparent situation and regardless of whether we succeed or fail, God knows what is best for us and is actively assisting us in our efforts to grow and improve.
There are hundreds of Baha’i prayers, covering many different subjects. We have selected prayers from four different categories: Healing, Tests and Difficulties, Unity and Prayers for Children. In general, Bahá’ís find these prayers to be powerful and very helpful, and we hope you do too.
– The Báb