Hinduism and the Bahá'í Faith
by Moojan Momen
a. Karma (the way of deeds)
This path to salvation is the path pursued by a large number of people. It means the performance of right actions. The law of Karma is the law of cause and effect. This means that one's present state is the consequence of one's past actions. So by making one's actions conform with the laws and precepts of the Dharma, the fruits of these actions will bring spiritual benefits. Many people think of the Karma-marga very narrowly in terms of the correct performance of rituals. But Bahá'u'lláh stresses the importance of right moral and ethical actions:
Holy words and pure and goodly deeds ascend unto the heaven of celestial glory. Strive that your deeds may be cleansed from the dust of self and hypocrisy and find favour at the court of glory. . . (1)
Bahá'ís should strive to make certain that they do not just talk about high moral and ethical values but rather that their actions match their words.
b. Jnana (the path of enlightenment)Guidance hath ever been given by words, and now it is given by deeds. Every one must show forth deeds that are pure and holy, for words are the property of all alike, whereas such deeds as these belong only to Our loved ones. Strive then with heart and soul to distinguish yourselves by your deeds. In this wise We counsel you in this holy and resplendent tablet.(2)
Some of the most important schools of Hinduism have taught that one can know Reality directly through jnana, enlightenment. Various approaches to jnana are advocated in the Hindu books. The different schools of Yoga believe that it is possible to attain to jnana through systems of meditation and exercises. The philosophical basis for this approach has been formulated by teachers such as Shankara.
Many Hindu scholars have written on this subject. They state that it is man's task to overcome maya, the illusion that the physical world is real, and to see Absolute Reality beyond this. And so it is avidya (ignorance) that keeps man back from liberation. Bahá'u'lláh also writes of the need to strive to see through the illusion and unreality that surround us in the world:
We cherish the hope that through the loving-kindness of the All-Wise, the All-Knowing, obscuring dust may be dispelled and the power of perception enhanced, that the people may discover the purpose for which they have been called into being. In this Day whatsoever serveth to reduce blindness and to increase vision is worthy of consideration. This vision acteth as the agent and guide for true knowledge. Indeed in the estimation of men of wisdom keenness of understanding is due to keenness of vision. (3)
`Abdu'l-Bahá has also written of the illusory nature of this physical world. He likens it to a mirage in a desert:
c. Bhakti (the path of love and worship)Know ye that the world is even as a mirage rising over the sands, that the thirsty mistaketh for water. The wine of this world is but a vapour in the desert, its pity and compassion but toil and trouble, the repose it proffereth only weariness and sorrow. Abandon it to those who belong to it, and turn your faces unto the Kingdom of your Lord the All-Merciful, that His grace and bounty may cast their dawning splendours over you... (4)
This path is the one followed by the majority of Hindus. It is the path of love and devoted worship of the Deity. Among the means used are prayer, meditation, rituals and constant awareness of God. This total surrender to God will attract God's grace and love, which in turn will lead to liberation.
Bahá'u'lláh also teaches the importance of this path:
The Path To MokshaO Son of Being!
Each school of Hinduism has given a different emphasis to these various paths to Moksha. But the many schools in Hinduism can be divided into two main groups: those who follow the Vedanta which stresses the path of jnana or wisdom; and the bhakti cults, whether they be followers of Vishnu or Shiva, which have stressed the path of love and devotion.
Bahá'u'lláh teaches, however, that the best path to Moksha is to combine these two paths of love and knowledge. Indeed the very purpose of man's life in this world is stated to be both to know God and to worship Him.(6) These two paths of love and knowledge work together. Each way is able to strengthen and reinforce the other. Love leads one to want to know more about the object of one's love and the more that this knowledge grows, the greater becomes the love for the loved one. God is both the source and the object of all true knowledge and love.
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 moulded 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.(7)
Bahá'u'lláh teaches that the best path to Moksha is to live in the world, not apart from it. What is more, it is achieved partly through man's efforts and partly by God's grace. If man will make the first move towards God then God will come to man's help.
The Goal of Liberation - What occurs after death?O Son of Love!
In Hinduism, the ultimate goal for human beings is liberation (Moksha or Mukti). Different schools in Hinduism have given various descriptions of this state. Those schools that tend towards the Advaita school of philosophy describe it as a non-dual union with Brahman. The more theistic schools speak of a perpetual existence in relation to God. Each of the theistic schools describes a particular form of eternal abode, heaven, in relation to its own deity - Vishnu or Shiva for example. For sinners there is a hell.
This state of liberation can be achieved while still on earth. In the Bhagavad Gita, for example, we read of the joy of this state:
One who has inner happiness and inner joy, and has found inner light - such a person (Yogi) has attained the Nirvana of Brahman; he is one with the Supreme and attains to the Supreme.
Those who reach the Nirvana of Brahman; their sins are no more; their doubts are dispelled; their soul is at peace; their pleasure is in the welfare of all.
Those who reach the Nirvana of Brahman; they are free from desire and anger; they are self-controlled; they know their own soul.(9)
The Bahá'í teachings state that, since the existence after death has no similarity to this world, there are no adequate words to describe it. Attempts have been made to describe it in all of the religions of the world. Words such as heaven, paradise, and hell have been used. But these attempts fall far short of the reality. They are trying to describe a truth that in the end cannot be adequately depicted.
The mysteries of man's physical death... have not been divulged, and still remain unread. By the righteousness of God! Were they to be revealed, they would evoke such fear and sorrow that some would perish, while others would be so filled with gladness as to wish for death... (10)
What the Bahá'í teachings do assure us is that the person who has achieved a state of liberation (moksha), attains to a state of joy and inner gladness. This is a state of inner and outer harmony which goes on for ever, even beyond death.
Death profferreth to every confident believer the cup that is life indeed. It bestoweth joy, and is the bearer of gladness. It conferreth the gift of everlasting life. (11)
This is also what the above quotation from the Bhagavad Gita
shows. This state is open to all and can be attained in ways as indicated
in the section on The Path to Moksha above.
Samsara - The cycle of rebirth
Most of those who follow Hinduism believe in the cycle of rebirth. It is not a concept that is found in the earliest Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, but occurs in the later Upanishads. There are moreover a number of Hindus who disagree with this idea. Among these are such modern Hindu thinkers as Rammohan Roy and Debendranath Tagore as well as a number of modern Hindu movements, such as Brahmo Samaj and Prarthana Samaj. Those who have disagreed with the concept of rebirth have argued that there is no point in rebirth if one cannot remember one's former lives: there is no opportunity for the soul to build up on its previous progress nor is the soul able to avoid its former mistakes. And so it is hard to see how any progress can be made on the path to moksha in this way.
Bahá'u'lláh teaches, however, that there is some element of truth in the concept of rebirth. But it has been misunderstood by those who believe in a literal rebirth of the self-same individual. Bahá'u'lláh states that what has happened in mankind's spiritual history is that certain types of people have come to the world again and again.
The clearest examples are in the stories of the Avatars themselves. Whenever an Avatar such as Rama or Krishna comes to the world, his coming sets off a cosmic cycle in which we can witness the return of certain types of persons. For example, the coming of the Avatar will usually ignite the fires of envy and hatred in some who will attack and try to destroy the Avatar. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita:
The foolish deride Me when I am clad in a human body; they know not My supreme nature, that I am the great Lord of all being.(12)
Bahá'u'lláh has written at length about this theme in his work, the Book of Certitude. The following is a brief extract:
Consider the past. How many, both high and low, have, at all times, yearningly awaited the advent of the Manifestations of God in the sanctified persons of His chosen Ones... And whensoever the portals of grace did open, and the clouds of divine bounty did rain upon mankind, and the light of the Unseen did shine... they all denied Him, and turned away from His face - the face of God Himself. Refer ye, to verify this truth, to that which hath been recorded in every sacred Book. (13)
Thus there have been those who have opposed the Avatars whenever they have appeared upon the earth. In the time of Rama, it was his step-mother Kaikei who plotted against him. She was able to deprive him of his rights and drive him into exile. Also there was Ravana, the king of Lanka, who abducted Sita, Rama's wife, and fought against Rama. In the time of Krishna, it was Duryodhana, the cousin of Arjuna and Yudhishthir, who warred against Krishna and his allies. In the time of Buddha, it was his own cousin, Devadatta, who plotted and schemed against him. In Bahá'u'lláh's time, it was his own half-brother, Mirza Yahya, who tried to destroy him. Each of these person represents envy and hatred of the truth, the spirit of revolt against the Lord. In this way, it can be said that Mirza Yahya was the return of Devadatta who was in turn the return of Duryodhana who was the return of Kaikei or Ravana.
It is the same with those who supported and became the disciples of the Avatar. It can be said that the companions of Bahá'u'lláh were the return of the disciples of the Buddha. These were in turn the return of such persons as Arjuna and Yudhishthir, who were the supporters of Krishna. And these were the return of such persons as Lakshman, the brother and supporter of Rama. These figures represent the spirit of faithfulness and obedience to the Lord.
Similarly, in each religious cycle there is a main female figure who also represents faithfulness and obedience but from a feminine point of view. In the case of Rama this was his wife, Sita. In the case of Krishna, it was Draupadi or Radha. In the case of Bahá'u'lláh, it was His eldest daughter, Bahiyyih. These women can also each be thought of as being the return of the previous one.
Thus Bahá'u'lláh teaches that this concept of return does not mean the
return of the self-same person and the same soul, but rather it means the
return to this earth of a person with the same mind-type, the same spiritual
6. See, for example, Bahá'í prayer