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Hinduism and the Bahá'í Faith

by Moojan Momen

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Chapter 2

The Dharma


The Dharma is, as noted in the Introduction, divided into a number of sub-sections. The Sanatana Dharma, is the eternal, universal law which does not change. However, the condition of man is always changing. And so the part of the Sanatana Dharma which applies to man also needs to change. This is why the Lord renews his message to man from time to time. For after a period of time a decline in the affairs of men sets in and there is a `decline in righteousness'. Whenever this occurs, the Lord `sends forth His spirit'; an Avatar of the Lord appears and renews the message. This is the meaning of the words of Krishna as recorded in the Bhagavad Gita and quoted above, as well as a similar verse in the Bhagavata Purana:

Whenever righteousness declines and evil-doing increases, the Almighty Lord, Hari, creates himself. (1)

Bahá'u'lláh teaches that the Avatars are the main way in which God communicates with man. Their main function is to bring mankind back to the path of true Dharma. But man's condition is always changing. It is a characteristic feature of the world of man that it constantly changes and develops. The society of today is greatly changed from that of 200 years ago or even that of 100 ago. The teaching that is suitable for mankind at one stage in its development may not be suitable at a later date. Therefore the supreme love and wisdom of the Lord results in the fact that each Avatar that comes to the world adapts his teaching. This is done so as to bring mankind to that part of the eternal Dharma (Sanatana Dharma) which is suited to the state of the world at the time that he appears. And so the message that each Avatar brings is in accordance with man's capacities at the time.

O Son of Beauty!
By My spirit and by My favour! By My Mercy and by My beauty! All that I have revealed unto thee with the tongue of power, and have written for thee with the pen of might, hath been in accordance with thy capacity and understanding, not with My state and the melody of My voice.(2)

Thus the Avatars come to renew the religion of the Lord. They bring a teaching that, in one sense, renews the former message, but it also develops it so as to be suited to the needs of mankind at that time. Thus Bahá'u'lláh states that his message is a renewal of the Hindu Dharma and also a development of it to suit the needs of the modern world. The message that each Avatar brings can be divided into two: the Sadharama Dharma, the general code of ethics, which is for the most part eternal and does not change; and the social part of the Dharma, which are the laws and principles that change according to the changes in the social condition of mankind from age to age.
 

a. Sadharama Dharma

The Sadharama Dharma is the part of Dharma that applies to all human beings. It involves the ethical and moral laws that govern our relationships with others. In this area there is not a great deal of change from one religious teacher to another. The Bahá'í teaching is very much the same as the teachings of Hinduism in this regard.

Let us consider the various ethical and moral teachings of Hinduism and the Bahá'í Faith. In order to show how similar they are, we will place them alongside each other:
 
 

HINDU

Beneficence

For the sake of the welfare of all, carry on thy task in life. (3)    Bhagavad Gita
 

BAHA'I

. . . the honour and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world's multitudes should become a source of social good... the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men... by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight. (4)    `Abdu'l-Bahá

Purity

Freedom from fear, purity of heart .... these are the qualities of the man who is born for heaven. (5)    Bhagavad Gita 

A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and severence from all save God, that the true sun may shine within it and the eternal morning dawn.(6)    Bahá'u'lláh
Detachment from the material world

Enjoy what He hath allotted to thee and set not your heart on another's wealth or possessions. (7)   Isa Upanishad 

Rejoice not in the things ye possess; tonight they are yours, tomorrow others will possess them. (8)   Bahá'u'lláh
Faith

He who has faith and subdues his sensual desires achieves wisdom... (9)    Bhagavad Gita

By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds. (10)   `Abdu'l-Bahá
Truth

Truth alone obtains victory, not falsehood; the path to the Divine is laid with truth and the wise travel that path until they reach the supreme treasure which is to be gained by truth. (11)    Mundaka Upanishad

When man speaks noble words with truth, then he speaks the highest truth. (12)   Rig Veda

The earth is propped up by truth. (13)    Rig Veda

Beautify your tongues, O people, with truthfulness, and adorn your souls with the ornament of honesty. Beware, O people, that ye deal not treacherously with any one.(14)    Bahá'u'lláh

Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity. (15)    `Abdu'l-Bahá

Non-injury and non-violence

A superior being does not render evil for evil; this is a maxim one should observe...One should never harm the wicked or the good or even criminals meriting death. A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even towards those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel deeds. (16)    Ramayana

Neither a man who lives unrighteously, nor he who acquires wealth by telling falsehoods, nor he who delights in injuring others, ever attains happiness in this world. (17)    Laws of Manu

He hath, moreover, ordained that His Cause be taught through the power of men's utterance, and not through resort to violence. (18)    Bahá'u'lláh

In every instance let the friends be considerate and infinitely kind. Let them never be defeated by the malice of the people, by their aggression and their hate, no matter how intense. If others hurl their darts against you, offer them milk and honey in return; if they poison your lives, sweeten their souls; if they injure you, teach them how to be comforted; if they inflict a wound upon you, be a balm to their sores; if they sting you, hold to their lips a refreshing cup. (19)    `Abdu'l-Bahá

Not stealing

Asteya, abstention from theft consists not only in refraining from the outward act of theft but also in inward uprightness or freedom from unlawful greed. (20)    Vyasa-bhashya

When [the yogin] is grounded in abstention from stealing, all [kinds of] jewels appear for him (i.e. he becomes aware of all kinds of treasures around him). (21)    Patanjali

They that ... lay hands on the property of others, and enter a house without leave of its owner, We, verily, are clear of them, unless they repent and return unto God...(22)     Bahá'u'lláh

The chief foundation of the prohibition of theft, treachery, falsehood... is reason. Every intelligent man comprehends that murder, theft, treachery, falsehood . . . are evil and reprehensible . . . (23)    `Abdu'l-Bahá

Self-control

He must persist in keeping his mind and his organs of sense under restraint. Restraint of mind implies restraint of the senses. One who has acquired complete compound over himself, gains this world and the next. (24)     Vishnu-Sutra

Consider the soul as riding in a chariot. The body is the chariot; the intellect is the chariot-driver; and the mind is the reins.

The senses, they say, are as the horses; and the objects of sensation are what they range over...

He who has not understanding, whose mind is not constantly held firm, whose senses are uncontrolled, this is like a bad charioteer with unruly horses.

He however who has understanding, whose mind is constantly held firm, whose senses are under control, this is like a good charioteer with trained horses. (25)    Katha Upanishad

He is not to be numbered with the people of Baha who followeth his mundane desires, or fixeth his heart on things of the earth. He is My true follower who, if he come to a valley of pure gold, will pass straight through it aloof as a cloud, and will neither turn back, nor pause. Such a man is, assuredly, of Me. From his garment the Concourse on high can inhale the fragrance of sanctity... And if he met the fairest and most comely of women, he would not feel his heart seduced by the least shadow of desire for her beauty. Such an one, indeed, is the creation of spotless chastity.(26)    Bahá'u'lláh

Pass beyond the narrow retreats of your evil and corrupt desires, and advance into the vast immensity of the realm of God, and abide ye in the meads of sanctity and of detachment, that the fragrance of your deeds may lead the whole of mankind to the ocean of God's unfading glory. (27)   Bahá'u'lláh

HINDU

Respect for parents

A man has three venerable superiors, his father, his mother, and his spiritual teacher. By honouring his mother, he gains the present world, by honouring his father, the world of gods, and by paying strict obedience to his spiritual teacher, the world of Brahman. (28)    Vishnu-Sutra

Let the son be devoted to his father, be of the same mind with his mother. (29)    Atharva Veda

BAHA'I
 

Say, O My people! Show honour to your parents and pay homage to them. This will cause blessings to descend upon you from the clouds of the bounty of your Lord, the Exalted, the Great. (30)   Bahá'u'lláh

Joy

Joy comes from God. For who could breathe, who could live, if the joy of God filled not the universe.(31)   Taittiriya Upanishad

. . . all the sorrow and the grief that exist comes from the world of matter - the spiritual world bestows only the joy! (32)   `Abdu'l-Bahá
Love

Only by Love can men see me, and know me, and come to me.(33)    Bhagavad Gita

Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. (34)   Bahá'u'lláh
Inner peace, tranquillity and contentment 

A man who surrenders all desires that come to the heart and finds the joy of God - he alone has indeed found peace. (35)   Bhagavad Gita
 

Let man seek to find the path of God: he who has found this path becomes free from the bonds of evil. 
He who knows this is self-collected; his is a calm endurance, and calm concentration. (36)     Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad

He who has found Brahman and knows Brahman does not rejoice when pleasure comes, nor become disquietened when evil befalls him. He stands at peace, unperplexed. (37)    Bhagavad Gita

Happiness and misery await all creatures therefore neither be elated by joy nor depressed by sorrow. (38)    Mahabharata

The greatest bestowal in the world of existence is a tranquil heart, and it is impossible for man to obtain a tranquil heart save through the good pleasure of the Lord. That is, a man may so adorn the temple of his being with lofty attributes and philanthropic deeds as to be pleasing at the Threshold of the Almighty. This is the only Path... Let all your thoughts, your ideals, your aims, and purposes revolve day and night around one common object - that is to live in accord with the good pleasure of the Lord... The tranquillity of the heart is only gained by living in accord with the Divine Teachings and Exhortations. When a person attains to this station he is contented and peaceful. (39)    `Abdu'l-Bahá

Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more.(40)     Bahá'u'lláh

Righteousness

For I am Brahman... The law of righteousness is my law.(41)      Bhagavad Gita

Clothe thyself with the essence of righteousness...(42)     Bahá'u'lláh
Silent contemplation

The wise see [God] shining forth in all things and contemplate this in silence.(43)    Mundaka Upanishad

. . . every man may thereby win hisway to the summit of realities, until none shall contemplate anything whatsoever but that he shall see God therein. (44)   Bahá'u'lláh
Work in the Spirit of Worship

Therefore dedicate thyself to thy work, with no thought as to its reward. For by working with no thought of reward, one attains to the Supreme. (45)   Bhagavad Gita

By dedicating his work to God, the source of all Being, a man attains perfection.(46)   Bhagavad Gita

It is enjoined upon every one of you to engage in some form of occupation, such as crafts, trades and the like. We have graciously exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship unto God, the True One. (47)    Bahá'u'lláh
Right speech

That word of his at which another would shudder, that word which is against he one should not utter. (48)    Manu Smriti

The tongue I have designed for the mention of Me, defile it not with detraction. (49)   Bahá'u'lláh

 
 
A summary of virtue

HINDU

Fearless, pure of heart, cultivating spiritual knowledge; charitable, self-controlled, performing sacrifice; studying the scriptures, austere and upright;

non-violent, truthful, free from anger; renouncing all, tranquil, averse to fault-finding, compassionate towards all beings, free from covetousness, gentle, modest, steadfast; never fickle;

ardent, patient, enduring, pure, and free from malice and pride - such are the virtues of one who is born for heaven. (50)    Bhagavad Gita
 

Absence of anger, of elation, of indignation, of avarice, of delusion, and of enmity; speaking truth, moderation in eating, refraining from exposing others' weak points, freedom from jealousy, sharing one's good things with others, sacrifice, straightforwardness, softness, quietude, self-control, friendliness with all beings, absence of cruelty, contentment - these form approved conduct for men in all stations of life; observing them duly, one becomes universally benevolent. (51)    Apastamba Dharma Sutra

BAHA'I

Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbour, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgement, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility. (52)   Bahá'u'lláh


 

However, even within Hinduism, many of the traditional social practices have changed with time. Some practices, which at one time were common, have almost disappeared. The practice of sati, the burning of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband, is one practice that has become almost unknown in India today. Even the rules of the caste system, jati, have become much less rigid. These changes have even become part of the law of India.

The laws and rules of jati were once very important as they acted to stabilize society and thus ensured prosperity and progress for all. But the Bahá'í Faith teaches that society is always changing. So what was once a factor that was of benefit to society may, at a later stage, become a block to the further progress of that society. Today, we see this happening in India. The system of jati, which was once a major source of order and stability in society, has now become a major factor holding back the progress and development of India. Many modern Hindu thinkers have also thought the same:

Radhakrishnan:

Though it [the caste system] has now degenerated into an instrument of oppression and intolerance, though it tends to perpetuate inequality and develop the spirit of exclusiveness, these unfortunate effects are not the central motives of the system. (53)

Mahatma Gandhi:

Caste has nothing to do with religion. It is harmful both to spiritual growth and national growth. (54)

Vivekananda:

The idea of caste is the greatest dividing factor... all caste either on the principle of birth or of merit is bondage. (55)

Ramakrishna:

The caste system can be removed by one means only, and that is the love of God. Lovers of God do not belong to any caste. (56)

The Hindu scriptures themselves acknowledge the changing nature of the application of the Dharma. In the Laws of Manu, we read that a different Dharma, a different set of duties, is applicable to man in each of the different yugas:

One set of duties [is prescribed] for man in the Krta Yuga; different ones in the Treta Yuga, and in the Dva Yuga, and another set in the Kali Yuga. (57)

Since Bahá'ís believe that with the coming of Bahá'u'lláh as the Kalki Avatar (click here for further information ), we are entering a new age, the Sat or Krta Yuga, then we must also expect a change in the nature of the social contents of the Dharma. It is this change which Bahá'u'lláh's teaching has brought to us.

The Bahá'í Faith stresses that, in the present day, it is important to break down the barriers that divide the various groups in a society. Every society in the world has to work on this. In the United States this may mean the breaking down of racial prejudices; in Britain it may mean the breaking down of class barriers; in India one of the major problems that divides society is the caste system, jati. The Bahá'í writings emphasize that we must put behind us these prejudices and social barriers and work towards a united society:

The Great Being saith: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. We cherish the hope that the light of justice may shine upon the world and sanctify it from tyranny. (58)

The unity of mankind is not just a social principle but rather it is a deep spiritual truth without which true spiritual progress is not possible.

O Children of Men!
Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory. (59)

Thus Bahá'u'lláh has brought a large number of teachings which are designed to bring together the peoples of the world in unity. These teachings will be dealt with in chapter 5.

With regard to the four stages of life given in the Ashrama Dharma, Bahá'u'lláh states that mankind has advanced to a further stage in its progress. Therefore what was previously the best way of achieving spiritual progress and the ordering of social life is no longer so. Previously, a person had to retire from social life and take up the life of renunciation (sannyasa) in order to have the chance to develop his spiritual life. In former times, almost everyone had to spend most of their time working hard on the land so as to grow enough to eat. There was no time or opportunity to study religious works and develop the spiritual life. As a result, people needed to retire from society in order to concentrate on spiritual matters. But modern progress in technology has meant that less time needs to be spent in the growing of food and in pursuing other means of livelihood. It is now quite possible to devote time and effort to the promotion of one's spiritual progress while still playing an active part in the community. This is why, Bahá'u'lláh states, mankind has now reached a new stage in its spiritual development. Now, in this stage, there is greater merit in trying to achieve spiritual progress while still living in the world and taking one's full part in social activities. This is a much more difficult task. But because it is more difficult, there are also greater spiritual benefits.

This is another example of the fact that as society evolves and changes over the years, the application of the Dharma is also in need of change. As we have noted above, Manu himself recognized this when he wrote that there is: `One set of duties for men in the Krta Yuga, a different one in the Treta Yuga, and in the Dvapara, and yet another in the Kali.' (60)

Many modern Hindu thinkers have accepted the new realities of the modern world. Mahatma Gandhi said, `Varnashrama of the shastras is today non-existent in practice,' (61)   while Swami Vivekananda wrote, `Social laws and customs likewise, being based on this karma-kanda (the ritual portion of the Vedas), have been changing and will continue to change hereafter.' (62)

What is more, Bahá'u'lláh teaches that today what is needed with regard to the things of this world is not the renunciation of the sannyasin, but rather detachment. Man should not be attached to the things of this world.

Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God... (63)

What is important is not so much the physical removal from the things of the world but rather the attitude of mind that does not allow the things of the world to predominate over spiritual matters.

They that tread the path of faith, they that thirst for the wine of certitude, must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly - their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth. (64)

Much more important than renunciation of physical things is to give up those vain imaginings and idle fancies that crowd our minds and hinder our spiritual progress.

. . . free thyself from the veils of idle fancies and enter into My court, that thou mayest be fit for everlasting life... (65)

NOTES
    (for details of books cited, see Bibliography)

1. Bhagavata Purana IV, 24:56; see also I, 10:25; III, 17:31.

2. Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic, no. 67.

3. Bhagavad Gita 3:20.

4. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 2-3.

5. Bhagavad Gita 16:1-3.

6. Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys, p. 21.

7. Isa Upanishad 1.

8. Bahá'u'lláh, Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 15.

9. Bhagavad Gita 4:39.

10. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'í World Faith, p. 383.

11. Mundaka Upanishad III, 1:6.

12. Chandogya Upanishad 7:16.

13. Rig Veda book 10, 85:1.

14. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, CXXXVI, p. 297.

15. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'í World Faith, p. 384.

16. Ramayana 6:115.

17. Laws of Manu, 4: 170.

18. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, CXXVIII, p. 278.

19. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, no. 8, p. 24.

20. Vyasa-bhasya quoted in Maitra, The Ethics of the Hindus, p. 222.

21. Patanjali, Yoga-Sutra, 2:37.

22. Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 23.

23. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 305.

24. Vishnu-Sutra 72: 1-3.

25. Katha Upanishad 3:3-6.

26. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, LX, p. 118.

27. Bahá'u'lláh quoted in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 26.

28. Vishnu-Sutra 31: 1, 2, 10.

29. Atharva Veda III, 30:2.

30. Bahá'u'lláh, Family Life, p. 2.

31. Taittiriya Upanishad 2:7.

32. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 110.

33. Bhagavad Gita 11:54.

34. Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic, no. 5.

35. Bhagavad Gita 2:55.

36. Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad IV, 4:23.

37. Bhagavad Gita 5:20.

38. Mahabharata, 12: Shanti Parva, 190:6, quoted in Bowker, Problems of Suffering, p. 224.

39. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Star of the West, vol. 16, p.401.

40. Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic, no. 52.

41. Bhagavad Gita 14:27.

42. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, CLIII, p. 323.

43. Mundaka Upanishad III, 1:4.

44. Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys, pp. 1-2.

45. Bhagavad Gita 3:19.

46. Bhagavad Gita 18:46.

47. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets, p. 26.

48. Laws of Manu 2, translated in Morgan (ed.), Religion of the Hindus, p. 329.

49. Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Persian, no. 66.

50. Bhagavad Gita 16:1-3.

51. Apastamba Dharma Sutra 8:1, quoted in Morgan (ed.), The Religion of the Hindus, pp. 324-5.

52. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, CXXX, p. 285.

53. Radhakrishnan, The Hindu View of Life, p. 93.

54. Bose, Selections from Gandhi, p. 265.

55. VivekanandaThe Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, vol. 6, p. 394.

56. See The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, pp. 85-6.

57. Laws of Manu, 1:85.

58. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, CXII, p. 218.

59. Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic, no. 68.

60. Laws of Manu, 1:85.

61. Bose, Selections from Gandhi, p. 265.

62. Vivekananda, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, vol. 6, p. 184.

63. Bahá'u'lláh quoted in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 28.

64. Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 3.

65. Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic, no. 63.

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