and the New Era:
Chapter Eleven: Various Ordinances and Teachings
the Tablet to Napoleon III we read: --
Does it not seem strange that Christian sects should have instituted the monastic life and celibacy for the clergy, in view of the facts that Christ chose married men for His disciples, and both He Himself and His apostles lived lives of active beneficence, in close association and familiar intercourse with the people?
the Muhammadan Qur'an we read: --
justification there may have been for the monastic life in ancient times and bygone
circumstances, Baha'u'llah declares that such justification no longer exists;
and, indeed, it seems obvious that the withdrawal of a large number of the most
pious and God-fearing of the population from association with their fellows, and
from the duties and responsibilities of parenthood, must result in the spiritual
impoverishment of the race. The
Bahá'í teachings enjoin monogamy, and Baha'u'llah makes marriage conditional on
the consent of both parties and of their parents. He says in the Book of Aqdas:
The Bahá'í teachings enjoin monogamy, and Baha'u'llah makes marriage conditional on the consent of both parties and of their parents. He says in the Book of Aqdas: --
On this point Abdu'l-Baha wrote to an inquirer: -- "As to the question of marriage, according to the law of God: First you must select one, and then it depends on the consent of the father and mother. Before your selection they have no right of interference."
Abdu'l-Baha says that as a result of this precaution of Baha'u'llah's the strained relations between relatives-in-law which have become proverbial in Christian and Muhammadan countries are almost unknown among the Bahá'ís, and divorce is also of very rare occurrence. He writes on the subject of matrimony: --
Bahá'í marriage is union and cordial affection between the two parties. They must, however, exercise the utmost care and become acquainted with each other's character. This eternal bond should be made secure by a firm covenant, and the intention should be to foster harmony, fellowship and unity and to attain everlasting life. ...
Bahá'í marriage ceremony is very simple, the only requirement being that the groom
and the bride, in the presence of at least two witnesses, each say: "We will all,
verily, abide by the Will of God."
In the matter of divorce, as in that of marriage, the instructions of the Prophets have varied in accordance with the circumstances of the times. Abdu'l-Baha states the Bahá'í teaching, with regard to divorce, thus: --
The friends (Bahá'ís) must strictly refrain from divorce unless something arises which compels them to separate because of their aversion for each other; in that case, with the knowledge of the Spiritual Assembly, they may decide to separate. They must then be patient and wait one complete year. If during this year harmony is not reestablished between them, then their divorce may be realized. ... The foundation of the Kingdom of God is based upon harmony and love, oneness, relationship and union, not upon differences, especially between husband and wife. If one of these two become the cause of divorce, that one will unquestionably fall into great difficulties, will become the victim of formidable calamities and experience deep remorse. (Tablet to the Bahá'ís of America).
the matter of divorce, as in other matters, Bahá'ís will, of course, be bound
not only by the Bahá'í teaching, but also by the laws of the country in which
Among different peoples and at different times many different methods have been adopted for the measurement of time and fixing of dates, and several different calendars are still in daily use, e.g., the Gregorian in Western Europe, the Julian in many countries of Eastern Europe, the Hebrew among the Jews, and the Muhammadan in Muslim communities.
The Bab signalized the importance of the dispensation which He came to herald, by inaugurating a new calendar. In this, as in the Gregorian Calendar, the lunar month is abandoned and the solar year is adopted.
The Bahá'í year consists of 19 months of 19 days each (i.e. 361 days), with the addition of certain "Intercalary Days" (four in ordinary and five in leap years) between the eighteenth and nineteenth months in order to adjust the calendar to the solar year. The Bab named the months after the attributes of God. The Bahá'í New Year, like the ancient Persian New Year, is astronomically fixed, commencing at the March equinox (usually March 21), and the Bahá'í era commences with the year of the Bab's declaration (i.e. 1844 A.D., 1260 A.H.).
In the not far distant future it will be necessary that all peoples in the world agree on a common calendar.
It seems, therefore, fitting that the new age of unity should have a new calendar free from the objections and associations which make each of the older calendar unacceptable to large sections of the world's population, and it is difficult to see how any other arrangement could exceed in simplicity and convenience that proposed by the Bab.
months in the Bahá'í Calendar are as follows:
Before Abdu'l-Baha completed His earthly mission, He had laid a basis for the development of the administrative order established in Baha'u'llah's Writings. To show the high importance to be attributed to the institution of the Spiritual Assembly, Abdu'l-Baha in a tablet declared that a certain translation must be approved by the Spiritual Assembly of Cairo before publication, even though He Himself had reviewed and corrected the text.
By Spiritual Assembly is meant the administrative body of nine persons, elected annually by each local Bahá'í community, in which is vested the authority of decision on all matters of mutual action on the part of the community. This designation is temporary, since in future the Spiritual Assemblies will be termed Houses of Justice.
Unlike the organization of churches, these Bahá'í bodies are social rather than ecclesiastical institutions. That is, they apply the law of consultation to all questions and difficulties arising between Bahá'ís, who are called upon not to carry them to the civil court, and seek to promote unity as well as justice throughout the community. The Spiritual Assembly is in no wise equivalent to the priest or clergy, but is responsible for upholding the teachings, stimulating active service, conducting meetings, maintaining unity, holding Bahá'í property in trust for the community, and representing it in its relations to the public and to other Bahá'í communities.
The nature of the Spiritual Assembly, local and national, is described more fully in the section devoted to the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha in the final chapter, but its general functions have been defined by Shoghi Effendi as follows: --
The matter of Teaching, its direction, its ways and means, its extension, its consolidation, essential as they are to the interests of the Cause, constitute by no means the only issue which should receive the full attention of these Assemblies. A careful study of Baha'u'llah's and Abdu'l-Baha's Tablets will reveal that other duties, no less vital to the interests of the Cause, devolve upon the elected representatives of the friends in every locality.
possibilities inherent in Bahá'í institutions can only be estimated when one realizes
how rapidly modern civilization is disintegrating for lack of that spiritual power
which can alone supply the necessary attitude of responsibility and humility to
the leaders and the requisite loyalty to the individual members of society.
The essential joyousness of the Bahá'í religion finds expression in numerous feasts and holidays throughout the year.
In a talk on the Feast of Naw-Ruz, in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1912, Abdu'l-Baha said: --
In the sacred laws of God, in every cycle and dispensation there are blessed feasts, holidays and workless days. On such days all kinds of occupations, commerce, industry, agriculture, etc., should be suspended.
The Feasts of Naw-Ruz (New Year) and Ridvan, the Anniversaries of the Birth of the Bab and Baha'u'llah, and of the Bab's Declaration (which is also the birthday of Abdu'l-Baha) are the great joy-days of the year for Bahá'ís. In Persia they are celebrated by picnics or festal gatherings at which music, the chanting of verses and tablets, and short addresses suitable to the occasion are contributed by those present. The intercalary days between the eighteenth and nineteenth months (that is, February 26 to March 1 inclusive) are specially devoted to hospitality to friends, the giving of presents, ministering to the poor and sick, et cetera.
anniversaries of the martyrdom of the Bab and the departure of Baha'u'llah and
Abdu'l-Baha are celebrated with solemnity by appropriate meetings and discourses,
the chanting of prayers and Tablets.
The nineteenth month, following immediately on the hospitality of the intercalary days, is the month of the fast. During nineteen days the fast is observed by abstaining from both food and drink from sunrise to sunset. As the month of the fast ends at the March equinox, the fast always falls in the same season, namely, spring in the Northern, and autumn in the Southern, Hemisphere; never in the extreme heart of summer nor in the extreme cold of winter, when hardship would be likely to result. At that season, moreover, the interval between sunrise and sunset is approximately the same all over the habitable portion of the globe, namely, from about 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. The fast is not binding on children and invalids, on travelers, or on those who are too old or too weak (including women who are with child or have babes at the breast).
is much evidence to show that a periodical fast such as is enjoined by the Bahá'í
teachings is beneficial as a measure of physical hygiene, but just as the reality
of the Bahá'í fast does not lie in the consumption of physical food, but in the
commemoration of God, which is our spiritual food, so the reality of the Bahá'í
fast does not consist in abstention from physical food, although that may help
in the purification of the body, but in the abstention from the desires and lusts
of the flesh, and in severance from all save God. Abdu'l-Baha says: -- Abdu'l-Baha attaches the greatest important to regular
meetings of the believers for united worship, for the exposition and study of
the teachings and for consultation regarding the progress of the Movement. In
one of His Tablets He says: -- In
the spiritual meetings of Bahá'ís contentious argument and the discussion of political
or worldly affairs must be avoided; the sole aim of the believers should be to
teach and learn Divine Truth, to have their hearts filled with Divine Love, to
attain more perfect obedience to the Divine Will, and to promote the coming of
the Kingdom of God. In an address given at New York in 1912, Abdu'l-Baha said:
Abdu'l-Baha attaches the greatest important to regular meetings of the believers for united worship, for the exposition and study of the teachings and for consultation regarding the progress of the Movement. In one of His Tablets He says: --
In the spiritual meetings of Bahá'ís contentious argument and the discussion of political or worldly affairs must be avoided; the sole aim of the believers should be to teach and learn Divine Truth, to have their hearts filled with Divine Love, to attain more perfect obedience to the Divine Will, and to promote the coming of the Kingdom of God. In an address given at New York in 1912, Abdu'l-Baha said: --
the development of the Bahá'í administrative order since the ascension of Abdu'l-Baha,
the Nineteen Day Feast, observed on the first day of each Bahá'í month, has assumed
a very special importance, providing as it does not only for community prayer
and reading from the Holy Books, but also for general consultation on all current
Bahá'í affairs and for the association of the friends together. This Feast is
the occasion when the Spiritual Assembly makes its reports to the community and
invites both discussion of plans and suggestions for new and better methods of
Baha'u'llah left instructions that temples of worship should be built by His followers in every country and city. To these temples He gave the name of "Mashriqu'l-Adhkar," which means "Dawning Place of God's Praise." The Mashriqu'l-Adhkar is to be a nine-sided building surmounted by a dome, and as beautiful as possible in design and workmanship. It is to stand in a large garden adorned with fountains, trees and flowers, surrounded by a number of accessory buildings devoted to educational, charitable and social purposes, so that the worship of God in the temple may always be closely associated with reverent delight in the beauties of nature and of art, and with practical work for the amelioration of social conditions.2
In Persia, up till the present, Bahá'ís have been debarred from building temples for public worship, and so the first great Mashriqu'l-Adhkar was built in Ishqabad,1 Russia. Abdu'l-Baha dedicated the site of the second Bahá'í House of Worship, to stand on the shore of Lake Michigan a few miles north of Chicago, during His visit to America in 1912.2
In tablets referring to this "Mother Temple" of the West, Abdu'l-Baha writes as follows: --
Praise be to God, that, at this moment, from every country in the world, according to their various means, contributions are continually being sent toward the fund of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar in America. ... From the day of Adam until now, such a thing has never been witnessed by man, that from the furthermost country of Asia contributions were forwarded to America. This is through the power of the Covenant of God. Verily this is a cause of astonishment for the people of perception. It is hoped that the believers of God may show magnanimity and raise a great sum for the building. ... I want everyone left free to act as he wills. If anyone wishes to put money into other things, let him do so. Do not interfere with him in any way, but be assured that the most important thing at this time is the building of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar.
Life After Death
Baha'u'llah tells us that the life in the flesh is but the embryonic stage of our existence, and that escape from the body is like a new birth through which the human spirit enters on a fuller, freer life. He writes: --
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. Blessed is the soul which, at the hour of its separation from the body, is sanctified from the vain imaginings of the peoples of the world. Such a soul liveth and moveth in accordance with the Will of its Creator, and entereth the all-highest Paradise. The Maids of Heaven, inmates of the loftiest mansions, will circle around it, and the Prophets of God and His chosen ones will seek its companionship. With them that soul will freely converse, and will recount unto them that which it hath been made to endure in the path of God, the Lord of all worlds. 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 nature of the soul after death can never be described, nor is it meet and permissible to reveal its whole character to the eyes of men. The Prophets and Messengers of God have been sent down for the sole purpose underlying their revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High. The light which these souls radiate is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples. They are like unto leaven which leaveneth the world of being, and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest. Through them the clouds rain their bounty upon men, and the earth bringeth forth its fruits. All things must needs have a cause, a motive power, an animating principle. These souls and symbols of detachment have provided, and will continue to provide, the supreme moving impulse in the world of being. The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother. -- Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, pp. 155-157.
Similarly, Abdu'l-Baha writes: --
The mysteries of which man is heedless in the earthly world, those will he discover in the heavenly world, and there will he be informed of the secrets of the truth; how much more will he recognize or discover persons with whom he has been associated. Undoubtedly the holy souls who find a pure eye and are favored with insight will, in the kingdom of lights, be acquainted with all mysteries, and will seek the bounty of witnessing the reality of every great soul. They will even manifestly behold the Beauty of God in that world. Likewise will they find all the friends of God, both those of the former and recent times, present in the heavenly assemblage.
Heaven and Hell
Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha regard the descriptions of Heaven and Hell given in some of the older religious writings as symbolic, like the Biblical story of the Creation, and not as literally true. According to Them, Heaven is the state of perfection, and Hell that of imperfection; Heaven is harmony with God's will and with our fellows, and Hell is the want of such harmony; Heaven is the condition of spiritual life, and Hell that of spiritual death. A man may be either in Heaven or in Hell while still in the body. The joys of Heaven are spiritual joys; and the pains of Hell consist in the deprivation of these joys.
When they [men] are delivered through the light of faith from the darkness of these vices, and become illuminated with the radiance of the sun of reality, and ennobled with all the virtues, they esteem this the greatest reward, and they know it to be the true paradise. In the same way they consider that the spiritual punishment
Oneness of the Two Worlds
The unity of humanity as taught by Baha'u'llah refers not only to men still in the flesh, but to all human beings, whether embodied or disembodied. Not only all men now living on the earth, but all in the spiritual world as well, are parts of one and the same organism and these two parts are intimately dependent, one on the other. Spiritual communion one with the other, far from being impossible or unnatural, is constant and inevitable. Those whose spiritual faculties are as yet undeveloped are unconscious of this vital connection, but as one's faculties develop, communications with those beyond the veil gradually become more conscious and definite. To the Prophets and saints this spiritual communion is as familiar and real as are ordinary vision and conversation to the rest of mankind.
Abdu'l-Baha says: --
The visions of the Prophets are not dreams; no, they are spiritual discoveries and have reality. They say, for example: "I saw a person in a certain form, and I said such a thing, and he gave such an answer." This vision is in the world of wakefulness, and not in that of sleep. Nay, it is a spiritual discovery. ...
While admitting the reality of "supernormal" psychic faculties He deprecates attempts to force their development prematurely. These faculties will unfold naturally when the right time comes, if we only follow the path of spiritual progress which the Prophets have traced for us. He says: --
To tamper with psychic forces while in this world interferes with the condition of the soul in the world to come. These forces are real, but, normally, are not active on this plane. The child in the womb has its eyes, ears, hands, feet, etc., but they are not in activity. The whole purpose of life in the material world is the coming forth into the world of Reality, where those forces will become active. They belong to that world. (from Miss Buckton's notes, revised by Abdu'l-Baha).
Intercourse with spirits of the departed ought not to be sought for its own sake, nor in order to gratify idle curiosity. It is both a privilege and duty, however, for those on one side of the veil to love and help and pray for those on the other. Prayers for the dead are enjoined on Bahá'ís. Abdu'l-Baha said to Miss E. J. Rosenberg in 1904: "The grace of effective intercession is one of the perfections belonging to advanced souls, as well as to the Manifestation of God. Jesus Christ had the power of interceding for the forgiveness of His enemies when on earth, and He certainly has this power now. Abdu'l-Baha never mentions the name of a dead person without saying `May God forgive him!' or words to that effect. Followers of the prophets have also this power of praying for the forgiveness of souls. Therefore we may not think that any souls are condemned to a stationary condition of suffering or loss arising from absolute ignorance of God. The power of effective intercession for them always exists. ...
"The rich in the other world can help the poor, as the rich can help the poor here. In every world all are the creatures of God. They are always dependent on Him. They are not independent and can never be so. While they are needful of God, the more they supplicate, the richer they become. What is their merchandise, their wealth? In the other world what is help and assistance? It is intercession. Undeveloped souls must gain progress at first through the supplications of the spiritually rich; afterwards they can progress through their own supplications."
Again He says: -- "Those who have ascended have different attributes from those who are still on earth, yet there is no real separation.
"In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you!" -- Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 97.
Asked whether it was possible through faith and love to bring the New Revelation to the knowledge of those who have departed from this life without hearing of it, Abdu'l-Baha replied: -- "Yes, surely! since sincere prayer always has its effect, and it has a great influence in the other world. We are never cut off from those who are there. The real and genuine influence is not in this world but in that other." -- Notes of Mary Hanford Ford: Paris, 1911.
the other hand, Baha'u'llah writes: --
Abdu'l-Baha was asked how it was that the heart often turns with instinctive appeal
to some friend who has passed into the next life, He answered: -- "It is a law
of God's creation that the weak should lean upon the strong. Those to whom you
turn may be mediators of God's power to you, even as when on earth. But it is
the One Holy Spirit that strengthens all men." -- Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 98.
According to Bahá'í philosophy it follows from the doctrine of the unity of God that there can be no such thing as positive evil. There can only be one Infinite. If there were any other power in the universe outside of or opposed to the One, then the One would not be infinite. Just as darkness is but the absence or lesser degree of light, so evil is but the absence or lesser degree of good -- the undeveloped state. A bad man is a man with the higher side of his nature still undeveloped. If he is selfish, the evil is not in his love of self -- all love, even self-love, is good, is divine. The evil is that he has such a poor, inadequate, misguided love of self and such a lack of love for others and for God. He looks upon himself as only a superior sort of animal, and foolishly pampers his lower nature as he might pamper a pet dog -- with worse results in his own case than in that of the dog.
one of His letters Abdu'l-Baha says: --
In creation there is no evil; all is good. Certain qualities and natures innate in some men and apparently blameworthy are not so in reality. For example, from the beginning of his life you can see in a nursing child the signs of desire, of anger, and of temper. Then, it may be said, good and evil are innate in the reality of man, and this is contrary to the pure goodness of nature and creation. The answer to this is that desire, which is to ask for something more, is a praiseworthy quality provided that it is used suitably. So, if a man has the desire to acquire science and knowledge, or to become compassionate, generous and just, it is most praiseworthy. If he exercises his anger and wrath against the bloodthirsty tyrants who are like ferocious beasts, it is very praiseworthy; but if he does not use these qualities in a right way, they are blameworthy. ...
Evil is always lack of life. If the lower side of man's nature is disproportionately developed, the remedy is not less life for that side, but more life for the higher side, so that the balance may be restored. "I am come," said Christ, "that ye may have life and that ye may have it more abundantly." That is what we all need -- life, more life, the life that is life indeed! Baha'u'llah's message is the same as Christ's. "Today," He says, "this servant has assuredly come to vivify the world" (Tablet to Ra'is), and to His followers He says: "Come ye after Me, that We may make you to become quickeners of mankind." (Tablet to the Pope.)
1. (Pronounced Azkar). back
2. In connection with the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar it is interesting to recall Tennyson's lines: --
I dreamed That stone by stone I reared a sacred fane, A temple, neither Pagodo, Mosque nor Church, But loftier, simpler, always open-doored To every breath from heaven, and Truth and Peace And Love and Justice came and dwelt therein." Akbar's Dream, 1892back
1. This first House of Worship was seriously damaged in an earthquake in 1948 and had to be demolished some years later. back
2. This Temple was completed in 1953. Since then other Bahá'í Temples have been constructed in Kampala, Uganda; Sydney, Australia; Frankfurt, Germany; Panama City, Panama; and two more are being built in India and Samoa. At the present time, 1979, sites for 123 others have been purchased. (See Epilogue) back
Go on to Religion and Science, Chapter Twelve, or to the table of contents.