Baha'u'llah and the New Era:
Chapter Five: What is a Bahá'í?
Man must show forth fruits. A fruitless man, in the words of His Holiness the Spirit (i.e. Christ), is like a fruitless tree, and a fruitless tree is fit for fire. -- BAHA'U'LLAH, Words of Paradise.

Herbert Spencer once remarked that by no political alchemy is it possible to get golden conduct out of leaden instincts, and it is equally true that by no political alchemy is it possible to make a golden society out of leaden individuals. Baha'u'llah, like all previous Prophets, proclaimed this truth and taught that in order to establish the Kingdom of God in the world, it must first be established in the hearts of men. In examining the Bahá'í teachings, therefore, we shall commence with the instructions of Baha'u'llah for individual conduct, and try to form a clear picture of what it means to be a Bahá'í.

Living the Life

When asked on one occasion: "What is a Bahá'í?" Abdu'l-Baha replied: "To be a Bahá'í simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood." On another occasion He defined a Bahá'í as "one endowed with all the perfections of man in activity." In one of His London talks He said that a man may be a Bahá'í even if He has never heard the name of Baha'u'llah. He added: --

The man who lives the life according to the teachings of Baha'u'llah is already a Bahá'í. On the other hand, a man may call himself a Bahá'í for fifty years, and if he does not live the life he is not a Bahá'í. An ugly man may call himself handsome, but he deceives no one, and a black man may call himself white, yet he deceives no one, not even himself.

One who does not know God's Messengers, however, is like a plant growing in the shade. Although it knows not the sun, it is, nevertheless, absolutely dependent on it. The great Prophets are spirits suns, and Baha'u'llah is the sun of this "day" in which we live. The suns of former days have warmed and vivified the world, and had those suns not shone, the earth would not be cold and dead, but it is the sunshine of today that alone can ripen the fruits which the suns of former days have kissed into life.

Devotion to God

In order to attain to the Bahá'í life in all its fullness, conscious and direct relations with Baha'u'llah are as necessary as is sunshine for the unfolding of the lily or the rose. The Bahá'í worships not the human personality of Baha'u'llah, but the Glory of God manifest through that personality. He reverences Christ and Muhammad and all God's former Messengers to mankind, but he recognizes Baha'u'llah as the bearer of God's Message for the new age in which we live, as the Great World teacher Who has come to carry on and consummate the work of His predecessors.

Intellectual assent to a creed does not make a man a Bahá'í, nor does outward rectitude of conduct. Baha'u'llah requires of His followers wholehearted and complete devotion. God alone has the right to make such a demand, but Baha'u'llah speaks as the Manifestation of God, and the Revealer of His Will. Previous Manifestations have been equally clear on this point. Christ said: "If any man come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it." In different words, all the Divine Manifestations have made this same demand from Their followers, and the history of religion shows clearly that as long as the demand has been frankly recognized and accepted, religion has flourished, despite all earthly opposition, despite affliction, persecution and martyrdom of the believers. On the other hand, whenever compromise has crept in, and "respectability" has taken the place of complete consecration, then religion has decayed. It has become fashionable, but it has lost its power to save and transform, its power to work miracles. True religion has never yet been fashionable. God grant that one day it may become so; but it is still true, as in the days of Christ, that "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." The gateway of spiritual birth, like the gateway of natural birth, admits men only one by one, and without encumbrances. If, in the future, more people succeed in entering that way than in the past, it will not be because of any widening of the gate, but because of a greater disposition on the part of men to make the "great surrender" which God demands; because long and bitter experience has at last brought them to see the folly of choosing their own way instead of God's way.

Search After Truth

Baha'u'llah enjoins justice on all His followers and defines it as: -- "The freedom of man from superstition and imitation, so that he may discern the Manifestations of God with the eyes of Oneness, and consider all affairs with keen sight." -- Words of Wisdom.

It is necessary that each individual should see and realize for himself the Glory of God manifest in the human temple of Baha'u'llah, otherwise the Bahá'í faith would be for him but a name without meaning. The call of the Prophets to mankind has always been that men should open their eyes, not shut them, use their reason, not suppress it. It is clear seeing and free thinking, not servile credulity, that will enable them to penetrate the clouds of prejudice, to shake off the fetters of blind imitation, and attain to the realization of the truth of a new Revelation.

He who would be a Bahá'í needs to be a fearless seeker after truth, but he should not confine his search to the material plane. His spiritual perceptive powers should be awake as well as his physical. He should use all the faculties God has given him for the acquisition of truth, believing nothing without valid and sufficient reason. If his heart is pure, and his mind free from prejudice, the earnest seeker will not fail to recognize the Divine Glory in whatsoever temple it may become manifest. Baha'u'llah further declares: --

Man should know his own self, and know those things that lead to loftiness or to baseness, to shame or to honor, to wealth or to poverty. -- Tablet of Tarazat.

The source of all learning is the knowledge of God, exalted be His Glory! and this cannot be attained save through the knowledge of His divine Manifestation. -- Words of Wisdom.

The Manifestation is the Perfect Man, the great Exemplar for Mankind, the First Fruit of the tree of humanity. Until we know Him we do not know the latent possibilities within ourselves. Christ tells us to consider the lilies how they grow, and declares that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. The lily grows from a very unattractive-looking bulb. If we had never seen a lily in bloom, never gazed on its matchless grace of foliage and flower, how could we know the reality contained in that bulb? We might dissect it most carefully and examine it most minutely, but we should never discover the dormant beauty which the gardener knows how to awaken. So until we have seen the Glory of God revealed in the Manifestation, we can have no idea of the spiritual beauty latent in our own nature and in that of our fellows. By knowing and loving the Manifestation of God and following His teachings we are enabled, little by little, to realize the potential perfections within ourselves; then, and not till then, does the meaning and purpose of life and of the universe become apparent to us.

Love of God

To know the Manifestation of God means also to love Him. One is impossible without the other. According to Baha'u'llah, the purpose of man's creation is that he may know God and adore Him. He says in one of His Tablets: --

The cause of the creation of all contingent beings has been love, as it is said in the well-known tradition, "I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known. Therefore I created the creation in order to be known."

And in the Hidden Words He says: --

O Son of Being!
Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant.

O Son of the Wondrous Vision!
I have breathed within thee a breath of My own Spirit, that thou mayest be My lover. Why hast thou forsaken Me and sought a beloved other than Me?

To be God's lover! That is the sole object of life for the Bahá'í. To have God as his closest companion and most intimate friend, his Peerless Beloved, in Whose Presence is fullness of joy! And to love God means to love everything and everybody, for all are of God. The real Bahá'í will be the perfect lover. He will love everyone with a pure heart, fervently. He will hate no one. He will despise no one, for he will have learned to see the Face of the Beloved in every face, and to find His traces everywhere. His love will know no limit of sect, nation, class or race. Baha'u'llah says: -- "Of old it hath been revealed: `Love of one's country is an element of the Faith of God.' The Tongue of Grandeur hath ... in the day of His manifestation proclaimed: `It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world.'" -- Tablet of the World. And again: -- "Blessed is he who prefers his brother before himself; such an one is of the people of Baha." -- Words of Paradise.

Abdu'l-Baha tells us we must be "as one soul in many bodies, for the more we love each other, the nearer we shall be to God." To an American audience He said: --

Likewise the divine religions of the holy Manifestations of God are in reality one though in name and nomenclature they differ. Man must be a lover of the light no matter from what day-spring it may appear. He must be a lover of the rose no matter what soil it may be growing. He must be a seeker of the truth no matter from what source it come. Attachment to the lantern is not loving the light. Attachment to the earth is not befitting but enjoyment of the rose which develops from the soil is worthy. Devotion to the tree is profitless but partaking of the fruit is beneficial. Luscious fruits no matter upon what tree they grow or where they may be found must be enjoyed. The word of truth no matter which tongue utters it must be sanctioned. Absolute verities no matter in what book they be recorded must be accepted. If we harbor prejudice it will be the cause of deprivation and ignorance. The strife between religions, nations and races arises from misunderstanding. If we investigate the religions to discover the principles underlying their foundations we will find they agree, for the fundamental reality of them is one and not multiple. By this means the religionists of the world will reach their point of unity and reconciliation.

Again He says: --

Every soul of the beloved ones must love the others and withhold not his possessions and life from them, and by all means he must endeavor to make the other joyous and happy. But these others must also be disinterested and self-sacrificing. Thus may this Sunrise flood the horizons, this Melody gladden and make happy all the people, this divine Remedy become the panacea for every disease, this Spirit of Truth become the cause of life for every soul.


Devotion to God implies also severance from everything that is not of God, severance, that is, from all selfish and worldly, and ever other-worldly desires. The path of God may lie through riches or poverty, health or sickness, through palace or dungeon, rose garden or torture chamber. Whichever it be, the Bahá'í will learn to accept his lot with "radiant acquiescence." Severance does not mean stolid indifference to one's surroundings or passive resignation to evil conditions; nor does it mean despising the good things which God has created. The true Bahá'í will not be callous, nor apathetic nor ascetic. He will find abundant interest, abundant work and abundant joy in the Path of God, but he will not deviate one hair's breadth from that path in pursuit of pleasure nor hanker after anything that God has denied him. When a man becomes a Bahá'í, God's Will becomes his will, for to be at variance with God is the one thing he cannot endure. In the path of God no errors can appall, no troubles dismay him. The light of love irradiates his darkest days, transmutes suffering into joy, and martyrdom itself into an ecstasy of bliss. Life is lifted to the heroic plane and death becomes a glad adventure. Baha'u'llah says:--

He that hath in his heart even less than a mustard seed of love for anything beside Me, verily he cannot enter My Kingdom. -- Suratu'l-Haykal
O Son of Man!
If thou lovest Me, turn away from thyself; and if thou seekest My pleasure, regard not thine own; that thou mayest die in Me and I may eternally live in thee.

O My Servant!
Free thyself from the fetters of this world, and loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more. -- The Hidden Words.


Devotion to God involves implicit obedience to His revealed Commands even when the reason for these Commands is not understood. The sailor implicitly obeys his captain's orders, even when he does not know the reason for them, but his acceptance of authority is not blind. He knows full well that the captain has served a thorough probation, and given ample proofs of competence as a navigator. Were it not so, he would be foolish indeed to serve under him. So the Bahá'í must implicitly obey the Captain of his Salvation, but he will be foolish indeed if he has not first ascertained that this Captain has given ample proofs of trustworthiness. Having received such proofs, however, to refuse obedience would be even greater folly, for only by intelligent and open-eyed obedience to the wise master can we reap the benefits of his wisdom, and acquire this wisdom for ourselves. Be the captain never so wise, if none of the crew obey him how shall the ship reach its port or the sailors learn the art of navigation? Christ clearly pointed out that obedience is the path of knowledge. He said: -- "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." -- St. John vii, 16-17. So Baha'u'llah says: "Faith in God, and the knowledge of Him, cannot be fully attained except ... by practicing all that He hath commanded and all that is revealed in the Book from the Pen of Glory." -- Tablet of Tajalliyat.

Implicit obedience is not a popular virtue in these democratic days, and indeed entire submission to the will of any mere man would be disastrous. But the Unity of Humanity can be attained only by complete harmony of each and all with the Divine will. Unless that Will be clearly revealed, and men abandon all other leaders and obey the Divine Messenger, then conflict and strife will go on, and men will continue to oppose each other, to devote a large part of their energy to frustrating the efforts of their brother men, instead of working harmoniously together for the Glory of God and the common good.


Devotion to God implies a life of service to our fellow- creatures. We can be of service to God in no other way. If we turn our backs on our fellowmen, we are turning our backs upon God. Christ said, "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me." So Baha'u'llah says: -- "O son of man! If thine eyes be turned towards mercy, forsake the things that profit thee, and cleave unto that which will profit mankind. And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself." -- Words of Paradise.

Abdu'l-Baha says: --

In the Bahá'í Cause arts, sciences and all crafts are counted as worship. The man who makes a piece of note- paper to the best of his ability, conscientiously, concentrating all his forces on perfecting it, is giving praise to God. Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. A physician ministering to the sick, gently, tenderly, free from prejudice and believing in the solidarity of the human race, is giving praise.


The real Bahá'í will not only believe in the teachings of Baha'u'llah, but find in them the guide and inspiration of his whole life and joyfully impart to others the knowledge that is the wellspring of his own being. Only thus will he receive in full measure "the power and confirmation of the Spirit." All cannot be eloquent speakers or ready writers, but all can teach by "living the life." Baha'u'llah says: --

The people of Baha must serve the Lord with wisdom, teach others by their lives, and manifest the light of God in their deeds. The effect of deed is in truth more powerful than that of words. -- Words of Paradise

The Bahá'í will, however, on no account force his ideas on those who do not wish to hear them. He will attract people to the Kingdom of God, not try to drive them into it. He will be like the good shepherd who leads his flock, and charms the sheep by his music, rather than like the one who, from behind, urges them on with dog and stick.

Baha'u'llah says in the Hidden Words: --

O Son of Dust! The wise are they that speak not unless they obtain a hearing, even as the cup-bearer, who proffereth not his cup till he findeth a seeker, and the lover who crieth not out from the depths of his heart until he gazeth upon the beauty of his beloved. Wherefore sow the seeds of wisdom and knowledge in the pure soil of the heart, and keep them hidden, till the hyacinths of divine wisdom spring from the heart and not from mire and clay.

Again He says, in the Tablet of Ishraqat: --

O people of Baha! Ye are the dawning-places of the Love and daysprings of the Favor of God. Defile not your tongues with cursing or execrating anyone, and guard your eyes from that which is not worthy. Show forth that which ye possess (i.e. Truth). If it be accepted, the aim is attained. If not, to rebuke or interfere with him who rejects is vain. Leave him to himself, and advance towards God, the Protector, the Self-Subsistent. Be not the cause of sorrow, how much less of sedition and strife! It is hoped that ye may be nurtured in the shade of the tree of Divine Bounty and act as God has willed for you. Ye are all leaves of one tree and drops of one sea.

Courtesy and Reverence

Baha'u'llah says: --
O people of God! I exhort you to courtesy. Courtesy is indeed ... the lord of all virtues. Blessed is he who is adorned with the mantle of Uprightness and illumined with the light of Courtesy. He who is endowed with Courtesy (or Reverence) is endowed with a great station. It is hoped that this Wronged One, and all, will attain to it, hold unto it and observe it. This is the Irrefutable Command which hath flowed from the pen of the Greatest Name. -- Tablet of the World.

Again and again He repeats: -- "Let all the nations of the world consort with each other with joy and fragrance. Consort ye, O people, with the people of all religions with joy and fragrance."

Abdu'l-Baha says in a letter to the Bahá'ís of America: --

Beware! Beware! Lest ye offend any heart!
Beware! Beware! Lest ye hurt any soul!
Beware! Beware! Lest ye deal unkindly toward any person!
Beware! Beware! Lest ye be the cause of hopelessness to any creature!
Should one become the cause of grief to any one heart, or of despondency to any one soul, it were better to hide oneself in the lowest depths of the earth than to walk upon the earth.

He teaches that as the flower is hidden in the bud, so a spirit from God dwells in the heart of every man, no matter how hard and unlovely his exterior. The true Bahá'í will treat every man, therefore, as the gardener tends a rare and beautiful plant. He knows that no impatient interference on his part can open the bud into a blossom; only God's sunshine can do that, therefore his aim is to bring that life-giving sunshine into all darkened hearts and homes.

Again, Abdu'l-Baha says: --

Among the teachings of Baha'u'llah is one requiring man, under all conditions and circumstances, to be forgiving, to love his enemy and to consider an ill-wisher as a well-wisher. Not that one should consider another as an enemy and then put up with him ... and be forbearing toward him. This is hypocrisy and not real love. Nay, rather, you must see your enemies as friends, your ill-wishers as well-wishers and treat them accordingly. Your love and kindness must be real ... not merely forbearance, for forbearance, if not of the heart, is hypocrisy.

Such counsel appears unintelligible and self-contradictory until we realize that while the outer carnal man may be a hater and ill-wisher, there is in everyone an inner, spiritual nature which is the real man, from whom only love and goodwill can proceed. It is to this real, inner man in each of our neighbors that we must direct our thought and love. When he awakens into activity, the outer man will be transformed and renewed.

The Sin-covering Eye

On no subject are the Bahá'í teaching more imperative and uncompromising than on the requirement to abstain from faultfinding. Christ spoke very strongly on the same subject, but it has now become usual to regard the Sermon on the Mount as embodying "Counsels of Perfection" which the ordinary Christian cannot be expected to live up to. Both Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha are at great pains to make it clear that on this subject They mean all They say. We read in the Hidden Words: --

O Son of Man!
Breather not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.

O Son of Being!
Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it.

Abdu'l-Baha tells us: --
To be silent concerning the faults of others, to pray for them, and to help them, through kindness, to correct their faults.

To look always at the good and not at the bad. If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.

Never to allow ourselves to speak one unkind word about another, even though that other be our enemy.

To an American friend He writes: --

The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting, more especially when it emanates from the tongues of the believers of God. If some means were devised so that the doors of backbiting could be shut eternally, and each one of the believers of God unsealed his lips in praise of others, then the teachings of His Holiness Baha'u'llah would be spread, the hearts illumined, the spirits glorified, and the human world would attain to everlasting felicity.


While we are commanded to overlook the faults of others, and see their virtues, we are commanded, on the other hand, to find out our own faults and take no account of our virtues. Baha'u'llah says in the Hidden Words: --

O Son of Being!
How couldst thou forge thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.

O Emigrants!
The tongue I have designed for the mention of Me, defile it not with detraction. If the fire of self overcome you, remember your own faults and not the faults of My creatures, inasmuch as every one of you knoweth his own self better than he knoweth others.

Abdu'l-Baha says: -

Let your life be an emanation of the Kingdom of Christ. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. ... In the religion of Baha'u'llah all are servants and maidservants, brothers and sisters. As soon as one feels a little better than, a little superior to, the rest, he is in a dangerous position, and unless he casts away the seed of such an evil thought, he is not a fit instrument for the service of the Kingdom.

Dissatisfaction with oneself is a sign of progress. The soul who is satisfied with himself is the manifestation of Satan, and the one who is not contented with himself is the manifestation of the Merciful. If a person has a thousand good qualities he must not look at them; nay, rather he must strive to find out his own defects and imperfections.

...However much a man may progress, yet he is imperfect, because there is always a point ahead of him. No sooner does he look up towards that point than he become dissatisfied with his own condition, and aspires to attain to that. Praising one's own self is the sign of selfishness. -- Diary of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, 1914.

Although we are commanded to recognize and sincerely repent of our sins, the practice of confession to priests and others is definitely forbidden. Baha'u'llah says in the Glad Tidings: --

The sinner, when his heart is free from all save God, must seek forgiveness from God alone. Confession before the servants (i.e. before men) is not permissible, for it is not the means or the cause of Divine Forgiveness. Such confession before the creatures leads to one's humiliation and abasement, and God -- exalted by His Glory -- does not wish for the humiliation of His servants. Verily He is Compassionate and Beneficent. The sinner must, between himself and God, beg for mercy from the Sea of Mercy and implore pardon from the Heaven of Forgiveness.

Truthfulness and Honesty

Baha'u'llah says in the Tablet of Tarazat: --

Verily, Honesty is the door of tranquillity to all in the world, and the sign of glory from the presence of the Merciful One. Whosoever attains thereto has attained to treasures of wealth and affluence. Honesty is the greatest door to the security and tranquillity of mankind. The stability of every affair always depends on it, and the worlds of honor, glory and affluence are illumined by its light. ...

O people of Baha! Honesty is the best garment for your temples and the most splendid crown for your heads. Adhere thereto by the Command of the Omnipotent Commander.

Again He says: -- "The principle of faith is to lessen words and to increase deeds. He who words exceed his acts, know verily, that his nonbeing is better than his being, his death better than his life."

Abdu'l-Baha says: --

Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of mankind. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the other divine qualities will also become realized.

Let the light of truth and honesty shine from your faces so that all may know that your word, in business or pleasure, is a word to trust and be sure of. Forget self and work for the whole. (Message to the London Bahá'ís, October 1911).


Baha'u'llah constantly urges men to realize and give full expression to the perfections latent within them--the true inner self as distinguished from the limited outer self, which at best is but the temple, and too often is the prison of the real man. In the Hidden Words He says:--

O Son of Being!
With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have doubt thereof.

O Son of Spirit!
I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.

O My Servant!
Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer's knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world.

O My Friend!
Thou art the day-star of the heavens of My holiness, let not the defilement of the world eclipse thy splendor. Rend asunder the veil of heedlessness, that from behind the clouds thou mayest emerge resplendent and array all things with the apparel of life.

The life to which Baha'u'llah calls His followers is surely one of such nobility that in all the vast range of human possibility there is nothing more lofty or beautiful to which man could aspire. Realization of the spiritual self in ourselves means realization of the sublime truth that we are from God and to Him shall we return. This return to God is the glorious goal of the Bahá'í; but to attain this goal the only path is that of obedience to His chosen Messengers, and especially to His Messenger for the time in which we live, Baha'u'llah, the prophet of the New Era.

Go on to Prayer, Chapter Six, or to the table of contents.

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