Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Baha’u’llah. For Baha’is, these teachers are among a series of divine Messengers, and Their teachings share a spiritual basis. These divine beings’ human lives also share certain features. Nearly all divine messengers have been rejected by most of Their contemporaries, persecuted harshly, if not killed. But for these four, Their persecutions took a particular form: forced migration. They and Their families were pushed from Their native cities into perilous journeys. Continue reading
One of the things we often get asked about as Baha’is is our conviction of the principle of the oneness of religion. As it is one of the central teachings laid down by Baha’u’llah, it is of great importance that we are able to understand the implications of seeing all religions, in essence, as being as one. This way we are able to answer common questions we are asked, such as, “How can all religions be true when they appear to disagree in the ways they are practised?” or, “Sure, different religions can get along, but clearly they advocate for different things, no?”
A response to these questions will be inherently based upon the concept of Progressive Revelation, a core concept that suggests that religious truth is, in essence, one, and that it is progressively revealed by God through a series of divine Messengers. Christ, Muhammad, Moses, Krishna, Baha’u’llah and the Bab are some examples of these Messengers that are like perfect mirrors that reflect and manifest the perfections and attributes of God and reveal His Word. Through the lens of Progressive Revelation we are able to clearly see how all the great religions of the world are divine in origin and regard their founders as divine Manifestations of God. Continue reading
While busy preparing for their Christmas festivities with their friends and family, many of my friends ask me whether Baha’is believe in Christ.
Indeed we do. Baha’u’llah refers to Christ as the…
Lord of the visible and invisible.
And in a letter to a Christian, Abdu’l-Baha explained that…
to be a Christian is to embody every excellence there is.
Although throughout history, individuals have often used religion for their own gain and used it as an instrument for segregation and war, one cannot downplay the beauty and profound impact the revelation of Christ has had on earth. Christ’s message of love continues to vibrate throughout the world, and one could argue that one of the proofs of His divine message is the fact that His revelation, although written down and compiled some 50 years after His passing, continues to transform the hearts of millions around the globe – even today – some 2,000 years later. Continue reading
In order to discuss the Baha’i Covenant, we first need to understand what a covenant is. Conventionally speaking, a covenant is a pact or binding agreement, but in the religious sense, it’s more than that. As the Universal House of Justice wrote:
A Covenant in the religious sense is a binding agreement between God and man, whereby God requires of man certain behaviour in return for which He guarantees certain blessings, or whereby He gives man certain bounties in return for which He takes from those who accept them an undertaking to behave in a certain way.
Wonderful! Now we have a primer for the word “covenant” as it applies to religious discourse. So, what is the Baha’i Covenant? Continue reading
Once upon a time, during my wide-eyed twenties, I did my Baha’i Year of Service in the tropical island of Sri Lanka. Not only was it the first exposure this Persian-Finnish cross-breed had to the serenity and beauty of golden beaches and swaying palm trees, but it was there when I first realized that Buddha and Baha’u’llah spoke the same language. And no, I don’t mean Pali and Persian.
It is all too easy to pinpoint the obvious differences between the modern practices of Buddhism and the Baha’i Faith. But it isn’t all that difficult to draw profound parallels either. After all, Abdu’l-Baha described the Buddha as “the cause of the illumination of the world of humanity”, and for the Baha’is, Buddha was nothing less than an earlier Messenger of God — a notion that will not be quite as easily swallowed by your average Buddhist monk.
Yet it turns out that one can even draw parallels between the lives of these two Manifestations of God. Both the Buddha and Baha’u’llah came from families of nobility, and were guaranteed positions of wealth and power in the societies in which They lived, but Both forfeited the ‘good life’ in order to be among the poor and to share with others Their higher calling.
But there’s more. No two bodies of scripture emphasize detachment from the impermanent as much as the Pali Canon (an ancient collection of suttas or ‘discourses’ attributed to the Buddha) and the Writings of Baha’u’llah.
Thus shall ye think of this fleeting world; a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream. – The Buddha Gautama, Diamond Sutta
Live then the days of thy life, that are less than a fleeting moment, with thy mind stainless, thy heart unsullied, thy thoughts pure, and thy nature sanctified… – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words
The Four Noble truths of Buddhism are simple yet profound. In a nutshell, they state that the cessation of suffering (dukkha) is the ultimate goal of human existence, and detachment from transient things is the only way to attain it. The attainment of complete detachment from selfish attachment is called ‘nirvana’ — a term that is frequently likened to a state of bliss and happiness which the freedom from attachments gives rise to.
Luminous is this mind, brightly shining, and it is free of the attachments that visit it. This the noble follower of the way really understands. – The Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya
The fourth noble truth is unique. For it is in fact an eight-step path of eight virtues — such as right thinking, right speech and right action — the disciplined observance of that which is instrumental to attaining nirvana. The similarities to the Message of Baha’u’llah are striking.
Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah
The Baha’i Faith, of course, suggests there is no way to become detached from the impermanent unless there is something permanent and eternal to put our trust on instead. But in fact the famous Udana passage in the Pali scriptures also states the same thing. This passage is a favourite among theists who wish to demonstrate that Buddhism may also have had a monotheistic origin, as indeed Abdu’l-Baha unequivocally affirms.
There is, O monks, an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. Were there not, O monks, this Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, created, formed. Since, O monks, there is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, therefore is there an escape from the born, originated, created, formed. What is dependant, that also moves; what is independent does not move. – The Buddha, Udana 8:3
Yet the fact remains that Buddhism, in its current ‘official’ forms, is non-theistic. It regards the existence of God or gods as irrelevant to the achievement of its central goal. ‘Non-theism’ is not to be confused with ‘atheism’. According to most current forms of Buddhism, a Buddhist is free to believe in God, or to disbelieve, if one or the other helps him on his path to reduce suffering in the world. Again, this is not entirely unlike the Baha’i Writings in which it is written:
If religion becomes the cause of enmity and bloodshed, then irreligion is to be preferred. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace
Furthermore, as in the Baha’i Faith, a significant level of religious tolerance is apparent in Buddhism. Although one could perhaps qualify the Buddhist brand of religious tolerance as a kind of a “cool tolerance” as opposed to a more active and world-embracing tolerance prompted by Baha’u’llah. The latter brand involves a commandment, from God none other, to consort with all religions with friendliness, to establish their essential unity, and to regard them all as absolutely necessary historical revelations of the same world-civilizing Truth. Yet, despite its non-theism, traditional day-to-day Buddhism in the rural areas of most Buddhist-majority countries continues to be palpably theistic in character. Villagers across South-East Asia and South Asia treat Buddha, Himself, as a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering being in much the same way as the so-called Abrahamic religions regard God.
So I ended up bringing much more back home with me from Sri Lanka than vibrant-coloured batiks and a mouth numbed by the hottest curries known to man. Owing to our shared principles of tolerance and rational examination of all truth-claims, I discovered how easy it was, as a Baha’i, to find a common language of constructive dialogue with Buddhists well-versed in their own scripture. Indeed, in the present global turmoil, I cannot think of more natural partners in the promotion of interfaith harmony than Buddhists and Baha’is. Yes, what a privilege it is to have such elder brothers.
Put away all hindrances, let your mind full of love pervade one quarter of the world, and so too the second quarter, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around and everywhere, altogether continue to pervade with love-filled thought, abounding, sublime, beyond measure, free from hatred and ill-will. – The Buddha, adapted from the Digha Nikaya
Last year, when NASA’s robotic rover, Curiosity, successfully made its way to our planetary neighbor, everyone celebrated. Unsurprisingly, on the Internet, some people tweaked: “Dear Religion, While you were debating what chicken sandwiches were okay to eat, I just landed on Mars. Sincerely, Your Pal Science.”
To be fair, Science and Religion have been taking jabs at each other for some centuries now. Continue reading
Christmas is probably the time at which the theme of peace and goodwill seems to be most deeply embedded into society’s collective consciousness. For Christians, who celebrate it as a religious holiday, Christmas is a reminder of the biblical promise of peace found in the Old Testament.
For the many others who merely celebrate it as a cultural holiday, the story of the birth of Jesus as found in the gospels and depicted in the ubiquitous Christmas artwork captures the imagination and imbues many with a determination to practice charity and generosity.
The gospels tell the tale of the shepherds who were watching over their flocks out in the countryside, when an angel appeared to them bearing the good news of the birth of the Promised One.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone roundabout them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2: 8-14, The Holy Bible
Beyond this beautiful and enchanting narrative of peace and goodwill, however, comes the stark reality of what we see in our world.
Over the past week, Christians have been commemorating Easter (which fell on 8 April this year) and Jews have been commemorating Passover (which goes from 6 to 14 April this year). Just as Easter is of great theological significance to Christians, Passover is of deep spiritual and historical significance to Jews. Passover commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery. For Christians, Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus three days after his crucifixion.
For Jews, Easter crystallizes the religious differences between them and Christians. The week leading up to Easter is filled with important historical events from Jesus’ life. From the commemoration of the Last Supper on Thursday, through observance of the crucifixion on Good Friday, to celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday, Christians reflect on the foundation of their beliefs — beliefs that separate them from Jews. Moreover, the legacy of anti-Semitism, rooted in beliefs of some Christians that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, can make Easter a particularly difficult holiday for Jews.
While people very often do prefer to focus on the beliefs that distinguish them from followers of other religions, the truth is that these religions have an incredible amount in common – more than most people realise!
Additionally, a careful study of the various traditions and commemorations which seemingly serve to highlight differences in beliefs – such as in the case of Passover and Easter – can actually, in my opinion, be a starting point to reflect on the shared heritage that all religions share.
The fasting period is a special time for Bahá’í’s, but Bahá’í’s of course are not the only ones who fast. Fasting is also observed in various ways by other religions and belief systems as well, so I thought it would be interesting to take a brief look at how some of these religions and belief systems practice fasting.
Please keep in mind that this is only a mere glimpse of some of the belief systems of the world, and I am aware that there are many, many more not included here. Each one could definitely have its own dedicated article (which we may do in future), however, for the time being and for the purposes of this article, I’m just going to give you all a quick overview of a handful of fasting practices. Continue reading
A few nights ago, I invited three of my friends over for dinner. At some point, the topic of religion came up and the conversation that ensued was very interesting, given the diversity of religious backgrounds represented in the room, but also incredibly challenging. Firstly, there was me, a Baha’i who had been brought up as a Christian in an Eastern Orthodox church with a strong – and very, very old – religious tradition of its own. And then there were my three friends – one of Druze heritage, another with a somewhat secular Anglican upbringing, and the last of Jewish descent. All three of them, however, are self-professed “militant atheists” with a profound disdain for religion that was only kept in check that night by their long friendship with me and their unwillingness to offend me (too much).
For the first ten minutes of the conversation, I found myself feeling incredibly relieved that my role as dinner hostess was keeping me occupied in the kitchen, where I could hear the conversation but be spared the unpleasant task of having to be the sole defender of religion! For the next ten minutes (after I ran out of dinnerware to fiddle around with), I sat with them, feeling a mixture of amusement, discomfort, defensiveness, guilt and indecision as to what the prudent thing to say was. However, as I kept listening, I felt more at ease, realising one very important thing: for the most part, I agreed with them!
It became quickly apparent, as the conversation unfolded, that my friends and I had many values in common and that much of their discomfort with religion came from a strong commitment to the very principles that I cherish as a Baha’i: justice, compassion, honesty and integrity – just to name a few. The only point of difference between us, however, was that while they felt dismayed and despondent about the problems that religion has caused in the history of humanity, I remained optimistic about the transformative power of religion.