So you’ve become a Baha’i. Now what?

So You've become a Bahai So Now WhatWhen I made the decision to become a Baha’i nearly five years ago, it was definitely a highlight in my spiritual journey. I’d always been interested in matters of spirituality and had been raised in a religious family by parents who placed our faith at the centre of individual and family life.

As such, the year leading up to my decision to become a Baha’i was marked by a period of intense exploration of the proofs of Baha’u’llah, a deep reflection on my personal beliefs and the application of His teachings in my own life. This period of independent investigation, which Baha’u’llah encourages us to undertake, was exhilarating and when I finally took the seemingly enormous step of calling myself a Baha’i, it was merely a personal affirmation of what I believed and an acceptance that Baha’u’llah’s teachings are divinely inspired.

It was the happiest and most challenging decision I’d ever made, but in hindsight I can see how that decision, rather than being a destination, was merely the beginning of an entirely new phase in my spiritual journey.

So, what changes when you become Baha’i? In one sense, everything, but in another, not very much. Depending on your background, you might find that certain practices and habits are new to you, but on some level you will find that most things will resonate with your soul – although not always, not necessarily completely – and will make intuitive sense, on some level.

This article is not an exhaustive discussion of what it means to live as a Baha’i – my perspectives only come from my own, very limited experiences – but perhaps some of these experiences might be common to others.

Your daily spiritual practice as an individual

As Baha’is, we pray daily as a way of remembering that we are – first and foremost – spiritual beings, and that the vicissitudes of life are merely physical and ephemeral.

We are reminded to reflect on our thoughts and deeds each day, so that our life becomes a constant journey of spiritual growth rather than stagnation.

Once a year, in the period leading up to the Baha’i New Year, we fast for 19 days as a means of spiritual renewal.

In our daily lives, we try to live the Teachings of the Baha’i Faith which were revealed for the betterment of all humanity. We strive to to achieve unity and eschew prejudice of all forms. We avoid practices such as gambling and the consumption of alcohol. We try to steer clear of anything that creates division in society, such as partisan politics, believing instead in consultation as a means of civic participation. We try our best not to engage in backbiting, a practice that is so engrained into our social fabric.

Being part of a community

When I joined the Baha’i community, a friend of mine jokingly said, “Don’t worry about all the acronyms, it’s not as complicated as it seems!”. It’s true, there are a fair few acronyms to get your head around, but to me, it all points to the vibrant community life and the way Baha’i communities all over the world organise themselves as a spiritual collective in the absence of an ordained clergy.

Every nineteen days, Baha’is gather in their local communities to commemorate the Nineteen Day Feast. This gathering gives Baha’is the opportunity to worship together, to consult on administrative matters of relevance to their local community as well as the international Baha’i community, and also to socialise and strengthen bonds of friendship.

The LSA (or Local Spiritual Assembly), a council of nine members elected from the local community to administer its affairs, provides a report to the community and receives suggestions from community members.

Feast is also the time where similar reports from the NSA (or National Spiritual Assembly) and International House of Justice are also disseminated, discussed and acted upon as necessary. The NSA and the Universal House of Justice are the national and international equivalents of the Local Spiritual Assembly, and are each a council of nine members elected to administer the affairs of the national and international Baha’i communities, respectively. (See? It’s not so confusing!)

Apart from meeting every nineteen days to worship, socialise and administer community affairs, local Baha’i communities all over the world are actively engaged in community development activities. In particular, there are four “core activities” – devotional gatherings, children’s classes, junior youth groups and study circles – identified by the Universal House of Justice as having the potential in countries all over the world, to bring people in communities together, and to increase their capacity to contribute to the betterment of society. These core activities are not just for Baha’is but for people of all religions, and Baha’is and those involved frequently gather to reflect on their involvement in these core activities in order to share learnings and see how to become more effective in these efforts for social transformation.

Don’t get overwhelmed!

In the years after deciding to become a Baha’i, I learnt a great deal about what it means to live as part of a community of people who are committed to the same teachings of love, unity and service; people like myself who, while aiming to achieve these lofty ideals, were grappling with the challenges of human imperfection in others and ourselves.

It’s sometimes easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged by tests and difficulties, and those tests can come in many forms.

In times of difficulty in your own life, spirituality and service can sometimes seem like the last thing you want to focus on. But often, maintaining a spiritual perspective on life’s tests, is precisely what you need to keep you afloat. The same is true of service. A quote attributed to Abdu’l-Baha states:

Be not the slave of your moods, but their master. But if you are so angry, so depressed and so sore that your spirit cannot find deliverance and peace even in prayer, then quickly go and give some pleasure to someone lowly or sorrowful, or to a guilty or innocent sufferer! Sacrifice yourself, your talent, your time, your rest to another, to one who has to bear a heavier load than you.

Sometimes, your tests could also be in the form of other Baha’is! Baha’is, regardless of the high standards they strive towards, are human and Shoghi Effendi reminds us that the tests which Baha’i communities face, though seemingly terrible at times, are all “due to the frailty of human nature, to misunderstanding, and to the growing pains which every Baha’i community must experience”.

Shoghi Effendi addresses this difficult issue with this counsel:

Perhaps the greatest test Baha’is are ever subjected to is from each other; but for the sake of the Master [Abdu'l-Baha] they should be ever ready to overlook each other’s mistakes, apologize for harsh words they have uttered, forgive and forget.

Regardless of the form that your tests take, know that your spiritual journey will have its highs and its lows - its moments of pure euphoria and spiritual ecstasy, and its moments of confusion and doubt. Be patient and kind with yourself, and with those around you, drawing comfort from those around you and recognising that ultimately, each one of us is on this spiritual journey together.

A Baha’i once expressed discouragement to Abdu’l-Baha, saying that they could not possibly acquire all the qualities and perfections that Baha’is are taught to strive for. To this, Abdu’l-Baha simply replied with a phrase in Persian that sums up what it means to live as a Baha’i:

Kam kam, ruz beh ruz.

That is: little by little, day by day.

 

About the Author

Having spent the best years of her youth holed up in the library of her law school, she is now beginning her journey on a career path that is looking suspiciously unrelated to law. She is passionate about children's rights and international development. She asks for your patience and that you oblige her as these interests become evident in her contributions to this blog. It's not so much didacticism as it is her unbridled enthusiasm for the concepts of social action and service to humanity which are enshrined in the Baha'i Faith, so she apologises if she comes across as a bleeding-heart, tree-hugging, kumbaya-singing, fisherman-pants-wearing hippie at times. (She's really not. Ask her friends.)

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Discussion 6 Comments

  1. This is amazing! If that sounds overly gushy then I apologise. But this is such a brilliant insight into what being a Baha’i is all about. I especially love the ‘little by little, day by day’ quote and the poetry of the original language in which it is expressed. This is a very ‘human’ appraisal of the aspiring soul.
    Thank you!

  2. When I made the decision to become a Baha’i, my teacher told me, “It’s not going to be easy!” She was right, however I have never regretted one moment or one step of treading this wonderful path full of adventure, and the company of exemplary souls at every turn. I am profoundly grateful for the gift of ”becoming a Baha’i” for the last 43 years. Thank you for this wonderful post!

  3. I look forward to reading more from Ms. Fisherman-Pants-Wearing Hippie (not!) Preethi. This was fun, honest and wise, useful even to somebody like me who boarded the ship long ago. My rather different take on becoming a Baha’i might be interesting for some of you; I ran it recently (and so did another fine Baha’i website, actually) here: http://jameshowden.com/2014/07/for-a-change/
    Thanks again to Baha’i Blog and to Preethi.

  4. Wonderful article, but you have not mentioned the sacred obligation of teaching the Baha’i Faith. This and studying the faith, is a fundamental part of being a Baha’i.
    “The Pen of the Most High hath decreed and imposed upon every one the obligation to teach this Cause…. God will, no doubt, inspire whosoever detacheth himself from all else but Him, and will cause the pure waters of wisdom and utterance to gush out and flow copiously from his heart. Verily, thy Lord, the All-Merciful, is powerful to do as He willeth, and ordaineth whatsoever He pleaseth.”
    Baha’u’llah (Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CXLIV)

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