Hinduism and the Bahá'í Faith
by Moojan Momen
The Social Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh
Up to this point, it may appear to the reader that the Bahá'í Dharma does not differ in any essential way from the Hindu Dharma. The teachings about Reality and the nature of man seem to be very similar; the ethical and moral teachings seem to be almost the same. So why is it that the Bahá'ís call themselves by a different name? What teachings does Bahá'u'lláh bring that are not already present in Hinduism? Why do Bahá'ís think that there was a need for a new Avatar to appear in the world?
As was mentioned before, the main way in which the Bahá'í Faith differs from Hinduism is that Hinduism began many thousands of years ago whereas the Bahá'í Faith began less than 150 years old. The Hindu holy books were all written many centuries ago. The life of mankind then was very different to what it is now. Many changes have taken place over the centuries and our way of living today is completely different to the past. For example, all the people of the world now live in close contact with each other. This state did not exist before. So those social institutions that were a source of benefit at the time they began, for example jati or the varnashrama, have become obsolete. In some cases they have even become a block to progress. It is these reasons that make it necessary to have a new set of social teachings, a new Dharma.
Of course many modern Hindu thinkers have seen this also. They have tried to introduce reforms into Hinduism in order to make it more in accord with the modern world. But these are the efforts of men and therefore there are other Hindus who oppose them. These modern Hindu reformers do not even agree among themselves about what reforms are needed and in what way these reforms are to be introduced. Bahá'ís believe that this why the Lord Krishna stated that:
Whenever there is a decline in righteousness, O Bharat, and the rise of irreligion, it is then that I send forth My spirit.
It is only the authority of a new message from God that can dispel all of the disagreements and re-establish the true Dharma. Only God can point the way out of the present difficulties of the world. The words of a mere man are not enough. All around us there are many people who seem to have good ideas about the way forward. But Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh is not just another thinker with another new set of ideas. They consider that his message has the authority of God behind it. Bahá'u'lláh states that he is like a divine doctor who is able to diagnose the illness of the world and to prescribe the remedy:
The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements. (2)
We will now consider some of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh with respect
to the present state of the world.
1. World peace - the unity of mankind
Bahá'u'lláh states that the main purpose of his message, the main fruit of the Sat Yuga, is the establishment of the unity of the world. In the last hundred years there have been many advances in science and technology. As a result, mankind has progressed to the point that the world is now physically united by modern means of travel and communication. This age is the first time in human history that the unity of the world has been a possibility.
In cycles gone by, though harmony was established, yet, owing to the absence of means, the unity of all mankind could not have been achieved. Continents remained widely divided, nay even among the peoples of one and the same continent association and interchange of thought were wellnigh impossible. Consequently intercourse, understanding and unity amongst all the peoples and kindreds of the earth were unattainable. In this day, however, means of communication have multiplied, and the five continents of the earth have virtually merged into one. And for everyone it is now easy to travel to any land, to associate and exchange views with its peoples, and to become familiar, through publications, with the conditions, the religious beliefs and the thoughts of all men. In like manner all the members of the human family, whether peoples or governments, cities or villages, have become increasingly interdependent. For none is self-sufficiency any longer possible, inasmuch as political ties unite all peoples and nations, and the bonds of trade and industry, of agriculture and education, are being strengthened every day. Hence the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. Verily this is none other but one of the wonders of this wondrous age . . . (3) (`Abdu'l-Bahá)
Yet, the world is still very disunited at the social and political level. Bahá'u'lláh states that this situation must cease. Mankind must come together in unity.
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. (4)
Among the proposals put forward by Bahá'u'lláh is that an assembly of the nations of the world should be convened. Its purpose would be to discuss how a permanent peace can be brought to the world. This idea is now being earnestly advocated by the Bahá'ís of the world.
The Great Being, wishing to reveal the prerequisites of the peace and tranquillity of the world and the advancement of its peoples, hath written: The time must come when the imperative necessity for the holding of a vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men will be universally realized. The rulers and kings of the earth must needs attend it, and, participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means as will lay the foundations of the world's Great Peace amongst men. Such a peace demandeth that the Great Powers should resolve, for the sake of the tranquillity of the peoples of the earth, to be fully reconciled among themselves. Should any king take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him. If this done, the nations of the world will no longer require any armaments, except for the purpose of preserving the security of their realms and of maintaining internal order within their territories. This will ensure the peace and composure of every people, government and nation. (6)
The ultimate aim of the Bahá'í Faith is to bring about a world at peace, a world civilisation.
A world community in which all economic barriers will have been permanently demolished and the interdependence of Capital and Labour definitely recognized; in which the clamour of religious fanaticism and strife will have been forever stilled; in which the flame of racial animosity will have been finally extinguished; in which a single code of international law - the product of the considered judgement of the world's federated representatives - shall have as its sanction the instant and coercive intervention of the combined forces of the federated units; and finally a world community in which the fury of a capricious and militant nationalism will have been transmuted into an abiding consciousness of world citizenship - such indeed, appears, in its broadest outline, the Order anticipated by Bahá'u'lláh, an Order that shall come to be regarded as the fairest fruit of a slowly maturing age. (8) (Shoghi Effendi)
Most of the rest of the social teachings of Bahá'u'lláh can be seen
as ways of bringing about the peace of the world and the unity of mankind.
These teachings can be divided between those undesirable tendencies that
need to be eliminated from the world and those goals that need to be achieved
to assist the establishment of peace. In addition, each of these goals
needs to be worked for on the level of the individual as well as on the
level of national and international effort.
2. Eliminating the disparity between the rich and the poor
This is one of the most important causes of the present world instability. Bahá'ís consider that it must be addressed by the governments of the world, each of them individually and all of them collectively.
. . . under present systems and conditions of government the poor are subject to the greatest need and distress while others more fortunate live in luxury and plenty far beyond their actual necessities. This inequality of portion and privilege is one of the deep and vital problems of human society. That there is need of an equalization and apportionment by which all may possess the comforts and privileges of life is evident... The rich too must be merciful to the poor, contributing from willing hearts to their needs without being forced or compelled to do so. The composure of the world will be assured by the establishment of this principle in the religious life of mankind. (9) (`Abdu'l-Bahá)
On the level of the individual, this same idea becomes a spiritual principle:
Bestow My wealth upon My poor, that in heaven thou mayest draw from stores of unfading splendour and treasures of imperishable glory.
One of the key factors that keeps so many people poor in the world is the amount of money that governments are spending on armaments. Some of the very poor countries in the world spend large amounts of their money buying weapons. Even the economies of the richer countries are suffering as a result of this excessive expenditure on arms. Over one hundred years ago, `Abdu'l-Bahá was pointing out the folly of this:
3. Eliminating racism. . . night and day they are all straining every nerve to pile up more weapons of war, and to pay for this their wretched people must sacrifice most of whatever they are able to earn by their sweat and toil. How many thousands have given up their work in useful industries and are labouring day and night to produce new and deadlier weapons which would spill out the blood of the race more copiously than before. (11)
Bahá'ís consider that racism is a major barrier to peace. It destroys human dignity as well as the unity of every society that it affects.
4. Eliminating unbridled nationalismGod maketh no distinction between the white and the black. If the hearts are pure both are acceptable unto Him. God is no respecter of persons on account of either colour or race. All colours are acceptable unto Him, be they white, black, or yellow. (12) (`Abdu'l-Bahá)
Pride for one's own country is something that can be beneficial. But at present in the world, we see it too often being carried to excess. It then becomes a cause of disunity and conflict. From a Bahá'í viewpoint:
5. Eliminating religious strifeThat one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. In another passage He hath proclaimed: It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. (14) (Bahá'u'lláh )
Religion, at its best, is a source of great comfort and joy to people. But too often today it has become a source of conflict and hatred. Bahá'u'lláh writes:
6. Promoting the emancipation of women`Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.' Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished. (16)
In most parts of the world, women have a lower place in society than men. The Bahá'í Faith teaches that this is one of the important blocks to the path towards peace. Religion has in the past been an important cause of this inequality. It has put women in a lower place than men. But this is one of the teachings of religion that must change in this age.
7. Promoting universal educationWomen and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God. The Dawning-Place of the Light of God sheddeth its radiance upon all with the same effulgence.(18) (Bahá'u'lláh)
One of the main barriers to peace is the fact that the majority of the people of the world do not receive an adequate education. This means that they are not able to play a full role in the affairs of the world. This makes it much easier for others to manipulate them into hatred and conflict. This is why there is a great stress on education for all in the Bahá'í teachings.
8. Promoting communication between peoplesMan is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess... Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. (21) (Bahá'u'lláh)
It is important that the people of the world, as well as their governments, should be able to communicate with each other easily and with no misunderstandings.
Other Bahá'í teachings include:From the beginning of time the light of unity hath shed its divine radiance upon the world, and the greatest means for the promotion of that unity is for the peoples of the world to understand one another's writing and speech. (23) (Bahá'u'lláh)
9. The importance of agriculture
Many of the poorer countries of the world have taken the industrial nations of the West as their example. They have assumed that the best way of improving the standard of living of their peoples is to put all of their effort into developing their industry. The Bahá'í view however is that agriculture is the basis of any nation. Therefore it must be given priority in the allocation of resources. In one of his writings, Bahá'u'lláh gives a list of several of his most important social teachings. After listing four of these, he writes:
Fifth: Special regard must be paid to agriculture. Although it hath been mentioned in the fifth place, unquestionably it precedeth the others.(25) (Bahá'u'lláh)
`Abdu'l-Bahá paid particular attention to the problems of village economies. He set out a system for solving some of the problems of villagers through co-operation in the building up of a village store-house. This store would then be used to cushion the effects of hard times and to support the needy of the village. It would give the village a degree of self-sufficiency and independence. (26)
In a statement to the World Food Council, the Bahá'í International Community wrote:
10. The harmony of religion and scienceThe inadequate level of food production in certain parts of the world, particularly in peasant agriculture in developing countries, should most fundamentally be countered by according higher social prestige to the agricultural sector and paying more attention to the needs and desires of peasant farmers. It should be noted that agriculture is in a sense the backbone and foundation of the economy and that this must be fully taken into account both in designing overall public policies and in implementing them. (27)
Many people think of religion and science as being two forces in human society that always oppose each other. It is often considered that the advances of science always mean that the influence of religion will diminish. But according to the Bahá'í teachings, science and religion must go hand in hand.
11. The independent investigation of realityWe may think of science as one wing and religion as the other; a bird needs two wings for flight, one alone would be useless. Any religion that contradicts science or that is opposed to it, is only ignorance - for ignorance is the opposite of knowledge. (28) (`Abdu'l-Bahá)
In many of his writings, Bahá'u'lláh has stressed the need for every person to investigate the truth, particularly religious truth, for himself and not to rely on the words of others. For relying on the word of others leads to stagnation and decay in society, while independence of thought leads to progress and the welfare of humanity.
Man must cut himself free from all prejudice and from the result of his own imagination, so that he may be able to search for truth unhindered. Truth is one in all religions, and by means of it the unity of the world can be realized.
All the peoples have a fundamental belief in common. Being one, truth cannot be divided, and the differences that appear to exist among the nations only result from their attachment to prejudice. If only men would search out truth, they would find themselves united. (29) (`Abdu'l-Bahá)
27. Bahá'í International Community statement to Eleventh Ministerial Session of the World Food Council, Paris, France, 10-13 June 1985, p. 2. The Bahá'í International Community is the name under which the Bahá'í Faith is represented at the United Nations.