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A Brief Look at Buddhism and the Baha’i Faith

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

150 Years of Ridvan and Counting: Celebrating Like a Baha’i

“Going anywhere special for The Festival this year?”

“Usually we spend Paradise at home, but this year we’re going on a 12-day luxury cruise to Baghdad.”

“Really? Oh, I’m jealous. My husband just can’t miss the Ridvan golf junket in Las Vegas, so it’s going to be more reading and pomegranate tea by the pool for me…”

No, I haven’t heard many conversations like this at devotionals or reflection meetings, either! (And aren’t we lucky? Our Holy Days still focus on the holy part.) Still, it is the Most Great Festival, and who knows what it will be in futures that more or less distantly shine in our imaginations? As with the 19 Day Feast, so with Ridvan: we have only the barest notion of how to celebrate them. As with everything, we’re learning, and nothing stops our education more quickly than the thought that we know how to celebrate our festivals and nineteen-day spiritual gatherings. They will be “unimaginably glorious”, as the Guardian might have said, but for now we do the best we can. Continue reading

Baha’i Blog Quiz: Ridvan

The most holy time of year in the Baha’i calendar is almost here, so that means it’s also time for another Baha’i Blog quiz.

Ridvan is a time of celebration and jubilation for Baha’is around the world, and if you’re still trying to come up with ideas on how you can celebrate it with your community, then check out this Baha’i Blog post for some great ways to celebrate: 16 Novel Ideas for Your Next Holy Day

You may also want to have a read of these past two Baha’i Blog articles about Ridvan in order to brief yourselves on the significance of Ridvan before you jump head-first into the quiz!

  1. What is Ridvan and why does it have 12 days?
  2. The Two Gardens of Ridvan

We hope you enjoy the quiz, and of course, the team at Baha’i Blog would like to wish everyone a very happy Ridvan!

Kindle: An Interview with Natasha Chiang

One of the things I absolutely love discovering is new Baha’i inspired music, and one of the wonderful benefits of running Baha’i Blog is that we get to share these awesome musical discoveries with the rest of the Baha’i world!

A friend of mine recently introduced me to the beautiful music of Natasha Chiang, a new Baha’i artist in Australia who just released her debut album a few weeks ago entitled Kindle.

Kindle was produced and arranged by musical legend Louie Shelton, and the whole album is based on Baha’i prayers.

There are also a couple of tracks where Natasha sings in Mandarin, and it’s really great to hear the Baha’i Writings being sung in Chinese.

I decided to catch up with Natasha Chiang to find out more about her and her music.
Continue reading

Two Wings: Women, Men, and the Bird of Humanity

One of the most important principles of the Baha’i Faith is the oneness of religion, or the belief that all of the major world faiths teach the same fundamental truths and are entirely in agreement. Being raised Baha’i, this principle seemed so intuitive that I never really questioned it when I was young. But during my time as an undergraduate in university I was surprised to encounter a number of people who disagreed with the teachings of the Baha’i Faith precisely because of our belief in the principle of the oneness of religion. Oftentimes people of a particular faith would take issue with this principle because they were raised to believe that religions other than their own were inherently wrong. While I disagreed with their perspective, this didn’t necessarily surprise me as such views are somewhat common. But other times I would meet someone who wasn’t particularly religious, who loved all of the other teachings of the Faith, but who disagreed with the principle of the oneness of religion because it implied our acceptance of the principles from older religions that they disagreed with.

“How can you say you accept other religions when their teachings are the complete opposite of yours?” they’d ask. “Could you give me an example?” I’d reply, “I’m not sure exactly what you mean.”

One person’s response was particularly interesting: “Just look at how women have been treated in so many other religions,” He said. “I thought Baha’is believe in the equality of men and women. Other religions obviously don’t, right? How can you believe that all religions are in agreement when the status of women differs so much between them?”

It is absolutely true that the Baha’i Faith professes the complete and absolute equality of men and women. As Abdu’l-Baha states:

The world of humanity has two wings – one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.

Continue reading

Where to find Baha’i Sheet Music Online

In this day and age it’s become much easier to get a hold of new information and materials. Years ago, if you wanted to play an instrument like your guitar or keyboard at a gathering or camp, you’d have to get things like sheet music off other people and from books at Baha’i stores. Now, all you have to do is get online, grab the music yourself from the comfort of your own home and print it off!

Music is a important ingredient at feasts, firesides, devotionals, childrens classes, and many other Baha’i meetings, as it is a ladder to the soul. So getting those upbeat tunes to sing along with and liven up your events is a must!

As Baha’u’llah says,

We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high.
-Baha’u’llah, Kitab-i-Aqdas

Continue reading

Science and Religion: Best Friends Forever

Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

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

Kahlil Gibran and the Baha’i Faith

Kahlil Gibran (Jan 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931)

In 1912, Hudson Maxim, the one-handed American inventor of explosives, went to see Abdu’l-Baha at His hotel in New York. It’s possible that his morning interview with the “Prophet of Peace” was a kind of reconnaissance mission for the great scientist, research for his work of war: know thy enemy. Elements of their conversation read like a comedy of opposites:

“What do you think of modern warfare?” demanded Maxim.

“Everything that prevents war is good,” replied Abdu’l-Baha.

“Do you consider the next great national war necessary?” Maxim asked.

“Why not try peace for awhile?” Abdu’l-Baha answered. “If we find war is better, it will not be difficult to fight again.”

The combative approach Maxim took was met with a gentle, finding-the-good-ness spirit in Abdu’l-Baha, which Maxim seems to have found hostile in its mildness. He resorted to drawing a picture for Abdu’l-Baha of the range of an exploded bomb, to illustrate the physical limitations of its destruction.

This man was a product of his age, thoroughly believing and, in fact, invested in the vain imaginings of 19th-century theories about war. The Master turned to the light in Hudson Maxim, appealing to him to use his exceptional talents in instead “invent[ing] guns of love” that “God will be pleased with you and from every standpoint of estimation you will be a perfect man.”

This story serves as a contrast to the entirely different sentiments and circumstances surrounding the introduction, in the same city and during the same year, of our real subject: the meeting of a young Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran and that life-long Prisoner from Persia Abdu’l-Baha. Continue reading

Baha’i Blog Turns Two! …and Our Top 10 Posts of the Year are…

Baha’i Blog has just turned two years old (Yippee!) and the team at Baha’i Blog would like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone from around the world for their wonderful and continued support!

Over the last year Baha’i Blog has continued to soar – in fact, with thousands of readers located in 193 countries (we’ve literally had over 100,000 unique visitors!), we’ve been doubling our numbers in every way!

Our Calendar of Events and the Resource Directory also continue to grow, with users adding more and more content every week!

Our Facebook page followers and Mailing List subscribers have also more than doubled, so if you haven’t done so already, follow us on Facebook and join our mailing list if you want to be notified when we post something new.

So far we’ve published 193 original posts written by dozens of authors, and these posts continue to cover a wide variety of topics relating to the Baha’i Faith. We’re also always looking for good writers, so if you’re interested in writing for us, you can find out more about how you can write for us here.

Now, without further ado… (Drum roll please!) …Baha’i Blog is proud to present to you our 10 most popular posts of the year: Continue reading

Baha’i Blog Quiz: Naw-Ruz

Naw-Ruz has arrived, and the team at Baha’i Blog has come up with ten questions to test your knowledge of this Baha’i holy day.

Go ahead, take the Naw-Ruz quiz and see how you do!

If you don’t manage to get 100%, don’t fret. There’s always next year!

Feel free to familiarise yourselves with Naw-Ruz through these articles below – or see how you go without reading through them first.

1) A Time For Renewal

2) Is Naw-Ruz an Iranian Holiday or a Baha’i Holy Day?

3) Naw-Ruz: Spiritual Springtime

But most importantly, the team at Baha’i Blog would like to wish you all a very happy Naw-Ruz!

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