Bahá'u'lláh's Advice to Godmen
Significantly, in the only reference to India in the Most Holy Book (The Kitáb-i-Aqdas), Baháulláh beautifully comments upon the quest of the supernatural in India. He eloquently describes the real nature of godmen, such as fakirs, sadhus, mystics, ascetics, monks and priests, and exposes their hollowness. Baháulláh writes, "And among the people is he who layeth claim to inner knowledge, and still deeper knowledge concealed within this knowledge. Say: Thou speakest false! By God! What thou dost possess is naught but husks which We have left to thee as bones are left to dogs. By the righteousness of the one true God!" 1
Clearly, this is a reference to people who claim access to esoteric knowledge and whose attachment to such knowledge veils them from the spiritual teachings and precepts contained in the divinely revealed Holy Books. Baháulláh affirms: "They that are the worshippers of the idol which their imaginations have carved, and who call it Inner Reality, such men are in truth accounted among the heathen." 2
It is common knowledge that most godmen, bereft of divinity, adopt many postures to attract the masses. They wear such costumes and jewellery traditionally associated with saintly persons. Further to show their humility, they insist on sitting on the floor amongst the lowly. Baháulláh reveals that their real desire is to rule over those on whom they pretend to shower their blessings. "Amongst the people is he who seateth himself amid the sandals by the door whilst coveting in his heart the seat of honour. Say: What manner of man art thou, O vain and heedless one, who wouldst appear as other than thou art?" 3
He continues, "Were anyone to wash the feet of all mankind, and were he to worship God in the forests, valleys, and mountains, upon high hills and lofty peaks, to leave no rock or tree, no clod of earth, but was a witness to his worshipyet, should the fragrance of My good pleasure not be inhaled from him, his works would never be acceptable unto God. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Lord of all. How many a man hath secluded himself in the climes of India, denied himself the things that God hath decreed as lawful, imposed upon himself austerities and mortifications, and hath not been remembered by God, the Revealer of Verses." 4
Baháulláh amplifies these provisions in Words of Paradise. He records on the tenth leaf of this Tablet: "O people of the earth! Living in seclusion or practising asceticism is not acceptable in the presence of God. It behoveth them that are endued with insight and understanding to observe that which will cause joy and radiance. Such practices as are sprung from the loins of idle fancy or are begotten of the womb of superstition ill beseem men of knowledge. In former times and more recently some people have been taking up their abodes in the caves of the mountains while others have repaired to graveyards at night. Say, give ear unto the counsels of this Wronged One. Abandon the things current amongst you and adopt that which the faithful Counsellor biddeth you. Deprive not yourselves of the bounties which have been created for your sake." 5
Thus, in His Most Holy Book, Baháulláh prohibits asceticism, mendicancy, monasticism and undertaking of penances. He further abolishes the institution of priesthood, and disallows the use of pulpits and the kissing of hands.
In the Tablet of Bisharat, even while acknowledging the "pious deeds" of some monks and priests, Baháulláh still calls upon them "to give up the life of seclusion and direct their steps towards the open world and busy themselves with that which will profit themselves and others." 6 Living in the world, He tells them to seclude themselves in the stronghold of Gods love. This, truly, is the seclusion that befits them, could they but know it. Baháulláh emphasizes, "He that secludeth himself in his house is indeed as one dead. It behooveth man to show forth that which will benefit mankind. He that bringeth forth no fruit is fit for the fire." 7 Having thus brought the monks into the world from their secluded places, churches and cloisters; Baháulláh grants them leave "to enter into wedlock that they may bring forth one who will make mention of God, Lord of the seen and the unseen, the Lord of the Exalted Throne." 8
Indicating that many of the monks are a slave to their secret passions, He warns them, "We, verily, have forbidden you lechery, and not that which is conducive to fidelity. Have ye clung unto the promptings of your nature, and cast behind your backs the statutes of God? Fear ye God, and be not of the foolish." 9
Let it be understood that the aim of Baháulláh or His followers is not either to degrade or belittle the rank of the worlds religious leaders, whether Hindu, Christian, Muslim, or of any other denomination. It is extremely important, though, that the conduct of religious leaders should conform to their professions. They should be worthy of the positions they occupy.
In many of His Writings, Baháulláh makes mention of those godmen who "outwardly attire themselves with the raiment of knowledge, but who inwardly are deprived therefrom." 10 Such "divines" are described by Baháulláh in these words: "O ye that are foolish, yet have a name to be wise! Wherefore do ye wear the guise of the shepherd, when inwardly ye have become wolves, intent upon My flock? Ye are even as the star, which riseth ere the dawn, and which, though it seem radiant and luminous, leadeth the wayfarers of My city astray into the paths of perdition." 11
Likewise, He says: "O ye seeming fair yet inwardly foul! Ye are like clear but bitter water, which to outward seeming is crystal pure but of which, when tested by the Divine Assayer, not a drop is accepted. Yea, the sunbeam falls alike upon the dust and the mirror, yet differ they in reflection even as doth the star from the earth: nay, immeasurable is the difference!" 12
Baháulláh, admonishes the distinguished divines in the name of God, and summons them unto the Most Sublime Horizon, "that perchance they might, in the days of His Revelation, obtain their portion of the ocean of the utterance of Him Who is the Desire of the world, and remain not utterly deprived thereof." 13
He asks the so called godmen, "Say: O concourse of divines! Hear ye not the shrill voice of My Most Exalted Pen? See ye not this Sun that shineth in refulgent splendour above the All-Glorious Horizon? For how long will ye worship the idols of your evil passions? Forsake your vain imaginings, and turn yourselves unto God, your Everlasting Lord." 14
As in the times of Lord Krishna, there are always present religious leaders who outwardly spend their lives in prayer and worship, but do not recognize the Lord when He appears in human form. Many times, they oppose Him as is also reported in the Mahabharata. In our own days, Baháulláh has revealed, "Consider likewise, how numerous at this time are the monks who have secluded themselves in their churches, calling upon the Spirit, but when He appeared through the power of Truth, they failed to draw nigh unto Him and are numbered with those that have gone far astray. Happy are they that have abandoned them and set their faces towards Him Who is the Desire of all that are in the heavens and all that are on the earth." 15
The divines fail to apprehend the true meaning of the Word of God and cling to the literal interpretation of the words. They, therefore, become deprived of the streaming grace of the new Revelation and its showering bounties. The ignorant among the community, following the example of the leaders of their faith, are likewise prevented from beholding the beauty of the latest Manifestation of God.16 Baháulláh states, in this context, of His own Revelation, that: "The glory with which this Day is invested hath been explicitly mentioned and clearly set forth in most heavenly Books and Scriptures. However, the divines of the age have debarred men from this transcendent station, and have kept them back from this Pinnacle of Glory, this Supreme Goal.17
Baháulláh describes the condition of such godmen: "O concourse of divines! When My verses were sent down, and My clear tokens were revealed, We found you behind the veils. This, verily, is a strange thing. Ye glory in My Name, yet ye recognized Me not at the time your Lord, the All-Merciful, appeared amongst you with proof and testimony. We have rent the veils asunder. Beware lest ye shut out the people by yet another veil. Pluck asunder the chains of vain imaginings, in the name of the Lord of all men, and be not of the deceitful. Should ye turn unto God and embrace His Cause, spread not disorder within it, and measure not the Book of God with your selfish desires." 18
He further exhorts the divines to cast away the things they have composed with the pens of their idle fancies and vain imaginings. He calls upon them to turn to God and seek His protection so that they do not become veils between God and His creatures.
The divines take pride in their understanding of the Scriptures. However, they end up corrupting the scriptural text by interpreting Gods holy Book according to their idle imaginings and vain desires. They reject the Manifestation of God when He appears saying that His teachings do not conform to those contained in the previous Scriptures they accept. His Holiness, the Báb, warned the divines about His own revelation, "O concourse of divines! Fear God from this day onwards in the views ye advance, for He Who is Our Remembrance in your midst, and Who cometh from Us, is, in very truth, the Judge and Witness. Turn away from that which ye lay hold of, and which the Book of God, the True One, hath not sanctioned ." 19
All the Manifestations of God teach that the true interpretation of the Word of God or holy Scriptures can be given only by a subsequent avatar (Manifestation). For instance, when Arjuna was in doubt about the true meaning of the Vedas (literally knowledge), Lord Krishna revealed to him that He, Himself, was the Revealer as well as Knower of the Vedas.20 He also sought total obedience from Arjuna to His Commandments though they seemingly appeared to be in contradiction to the Vedic teachings as understood by most people at that time.
Religious leaders, godmen of the age and the wealthy, scorn and scoff at the Harbinger of every new Revelation. They say of the Divine Manifestation, "We see in Thee but a man like ourselves and we see not any who have followed Thee except our meanest ones of hasty judgment, nor see we any excellence in you above ourselves: nay, we deem you liars." 21 They cavil at the holy Manifestation, and protest saying: "None hath followed you except the abject amongst us, those who are worthy of no attention." 22 Their aim is to show that no one amongst the learned, the wealthy, and the renowned believe in the Messenger of God. By these and similar proofs they seek to demonstrate the falsity of Him Who speaks naught but the truth.23
People are also misled because they cannot believe that priests and divines, the exponents of learning, with all their authority, their pomp and pageantry, have erred, and failed to distinguish truth from falsehood. They think of the Divine Manifestations as ordinary men who are not fit even to be compared with the godmen. Baháulláh rightly comments on the situation: "If numbers and excellence of apparel be regarded as the criterions of learning and truth, the peoples of a bygone age, whom those of today have never surpassed in numbers, magnificence and power, should certainly be accounted a superior and worthier people." 24
In general, most divines, following their corrupt desires, rejected the claim of Baháulláh and described Him as an imposter, a sorcerer, etc., and schemed against Him. In His Wisdom, God divested such divines of all their powers: "O concourse of divines! Ye shall not henceforth behold yourselves possessed of any power, inasmuch as We have seized it from you, and destined it for such as have believed in God, the One, the All-Powerful, the Almighty, the Unconstrained." 25
Baháulláh states that He is none other than the Universal Manifestation of God promised in all the Holy Scriptures, and that His Revelation " is the Day when the loved ones of God should keep their eyes directed towards His Manifestation, and fasten them upon whatsoever that Manifestation may be pleased to reveal. Certain traditions of bygone ages rest on no foundations whatever, while the notions entertained by past generations, and which they have recorded in their books, have, for the most part, been influenced by the desires of a corrupt inclination. Thou dost witness how most of the commentaries and interpretations of the words of God, now current amongst men, are devoid of truth. Their falsity hath, in some cases, been exposed when the intervening veils were rent asunder. They themselves have acknowledged their failure in apprehending the meaning of any of the words of God." 26
It is clear that Baháulláh has come to renew the eternal religion of God. He is the Manifestation of that Universal Spirit that finds expression in all the previous dispensations. To the Jews He is "neither more nor less than the incarnation of the "Everlasting Father", the "Lord of Hosts" come down "with ten thousands of saints"; to Christendom Christ returned "in the glory of the Father"; to Shiah Islam the return of the Imam Husayn; to Sunni Islam the descent of the "Spirit of God" (Jesus Christ); to the Zoroastrians the promised Shah-Bahram; to the Hindus the reincarnation of Krishna; to the Buddhists the fifth Buddha. " 27 His aim is "to widen the basis of all revealed religions and to unravel the mysteries of their scriptures. He restates the eternal verities they enshrine, coordinates their functions, distinguishes the essential and the authentic from the non-essential and spurious in their teachings, separates the God-given truths from the priest-prompted superstitions ." 28
It is noteworthy that despite the widespread ignorance among the divines as to the true nature of the Religion of God, there were some learned divines in the days of Baháulláh who acknowledged the truth of His Revelation and followed Gods religion. Baháulláh thus speaks of them: "In this most resplendent Dispensation, however, this most mighty Sovereignty, a number of illumined divines, of men of consummate learning, of doctors of mature wisdom, have attained unto His Court, drunk the cup of His divine Presence, and been invested with the honour of His most excellent favour. They have renounced, for the sake of the Beloved, the world and all that is therein." 29 However, He hastens to add: "Let it be known, however, that none of these doctors and divines to whom we have referred was invested with the rank and dignity of leadership. For well-known and influential leaders of religion, who occupy the seats of authority and exercise the functions of leadership, can in no wise bear allegiance to the Revealer of truth, except whomsoever thy Lord willeth. But for a few, such things have never come to pass." 30
The godly persons who acknowledge the Manifestation of God receive divine blessings and are filled with true knowledge. Baháulláh says: "Whosoever among the divines of every age receiveth, in the Day of Reckoning, the testimony of faith from the Source of true knowledge, he verily becometh the recipient of learning, of divine favour, and of the light of true understanding. Otherwise, he is branded as guilty of folly, denial, blasphemy, and oppression." 31
The Baháís are required to respect such divines who follow the teachings of the Manifestations of God as elaborated in the Holy Scriptures. "Respect ye the divines and learned amongst you, they whose conduct accords with their professions, who transgress not the bounds which God hath fixed, whose judgments are in conformity with His behests as revealed in His Book. Know ye that they are the lamps of guidance unto them that are in the heavens and on the earth. They who disregard and neglect the divines and learned that live amongst themthese have truly changed the favour with which God hath favoured them." 32
"Those divines," Baháulláh has affirmed, " who are truly adorned with the ornament of knowledge and of a goodly character are, verily, as a head to the body of the world, and as eyes to the nations. The guidance of men hath, at all times, been and is dependent upon these blessed souls." 33
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 31.
2. ibid. Notes. p. 195.
3. ibid., p. 31.
5. Baháulláh, Tablets of Baháulláh, p. 71.
6. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Notes, p. 195.
7. Baháulláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf , p. 49.
8. Baháulláh, Tablets of Baháulláh, p. 24.
9. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf , p. 49.
10. ibid., p. 15.
11. ibid., p. 16.
13. ibid., p. 127.
14. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 34.
15. Baháulláh, Tablets of Baháulláh, p. 10.
16. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 26.
17. Baháulláh, Tablets of Baháulláh, p. 259.
18. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 79. Swami Vivekananda too came down heavily upon the priests who failed to see the truth. He writes, "Come, be men! Kick out the priests who are always against progress. Because they would never mend; their hearts would never become big. They are the offspring of centuries of superstition and tyranny. Root out priestcraft first. Come, be men. Come out of your narrow holes and have a look abroad. See how nations are on the march. Do you love man? Do you love your country? Then come, let us struggle for higher and better things, look not back, no, not even if you see the dearest and nearest cry. Look not back, but forward." [Extracted from Letters of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, Almora, Himalayas, Fourth Edition, 1948, p. 64.]
19. Báb, Selections from the Writings of The Báb, p. 44.
20. Bhagavad-gita, The Song Divine, Gita Press, Gorakhpur, India. 1994, p. 147 [Ch. 15:15].
21. Qurán 11:27.
22. Baháulláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, pp. 179-180.
23. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 222.
24. ibid., p. 165.
25. Baháulláh, Proclamation of Baháulláh, p. 80.
26. Baháulláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, pp. 171-2.
27. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Notes, p. 234.
28. Shoghi Effendi, Call to the Nations, p. 11.
29. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 222.
30. ibid., pp. 228-229.
31. ibid., p. 36.
32. Baháulláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 128.
33. Baháulláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf . pp. 16-7.