Hinduism and the Bahá'í Faith
by Moojan Momen
The Bahá'í Community
Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh has given mankind the plans for a new way of organizing society. This way is designed to lead to a society in which there will no longer be any extremes of poverty and wealth and in which all people will be more involved in the affairs of the community. Above all, it will lead to greater social justice. Bahá'ís around the world are at present trying to put these plans into effect within their Bahá'í communities.
Membership of the Bahá'í community in any area is open to all. It does
not matter what a person's race, sex, caste or religious background is.
The Bahá'í community of an area consists of all adults who have voluntarily
stated their belief in Bahá'u'lláh. They are registered as Bahá'ís together
with their children. In the Bahá'í Faith there are no castes. All Bahá'ís,
men and women, young and old, are equal within the community. The only
difference lies in that children under the age of 15 are not obliged to
fulfil the personal laws (see Chapter 7) and that
anyone under the age of 21 is not able to vote or to be voted for in elections.
In the Bahá'í community, there are no priests or leaders. No individual person has authority by virtue of his or her learning, sanctity or birth. The source of authority in each local Bahá'í community rests entirely with elected councils called Local Spiritual Assemblies. A Bahá'í election is carried out by secret ballot. There are no parties, candidates or electioneering. At the local level, all of the adult Bahá'ís of an area, male or female, are eligible to vote and to be voted for. The Local Spiritual Assembly consists of the nine persons who receive the highest number of votes.
Bahá'ís from several neighbouring communities gather at area conventions once a year. This is to elect delegates to a National Convention which then elects a National Spiritual Assembly. Once again, the system of election involves no candidates, no parties and no electioneering. All of the adult Bahá'ís in the country are eligible to be elected. India also has Regional Conventions to elect State Spiritual Assemblies. All of these institutions are elected to serve for one year. But once every four years the members of all of the National Spiritual Assemblies in the world meet for an International Convention. At this they elect the Universal House of Justice, which is the highest authority in the Bahá'í world.
It is these institutions that have authority in the Bahá'í Faith. No person, even if elected onto these institutions, has any individual authority.
There are a small number of individuals, called Counsellors and Auxiliary
Board members, who have a responsibility to advise and encourage the Bahá'í
community. They have no administrative role however. At present they are
appointed for terms of five years.
Nineteen Day Feasts
As noted below, the Bahá'í month consists of nineteen months of nineteen
days. Once every Bahá'í month, in other words every nineteen days, the
whole Bahá'í community in each area meets. The meeting is held in three
parts: the first part consists of prayers, chants and other devotional
activity; the second part is administrative when the Local Spiritual Assembly
reports to the community and the community consults gives its suggestions
to the Assembly; the third part consists of food and social activities.
Authority is vested in the institutions of the Bahá'í Faith. But at all levels of the Bahá'í administration the key factor that forms the basis for the making of decisions is consultation. The steps in the process of consultation are as follows:
- the Bahá'ís must gather together in a spiritual atmosphere with prayer
- the facts relating to the situation that requires a decision must be presented
- the spiritual principles involved in the situation must be found and discussed
- there must be a free and frank discussion of the issue, taking care that all present their opinions and that no one dominates the proceedings
- a decision is arrived at preferably by consensus but otherwise by majority vote
- the decision is carried out by all in complete unity - in other words, with no regard to whether one voted for or against the decision.
Bahá'ís believe that this process of consultation is able to tap the
full resources of knowledge, wisdom and capabilities in the community.
Spiritual guidance and leadership
We have already noted above that there are no priests or gurus
in the Bahá'í community. What then do Bahá'ís do when they have spiritual
problems or need guidance? The Bahá'í teachings indicate that this age
in which we are living is the age in which humanity has reached its spiritual
maturation. Therefore human beings should become more and more able to
deal with these matters for themselves instead of needing to rely on others.
But there is help with this in two ways. First, education for all is one
of the social teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. All Bahá'ís should try hard to
become literate so that they can read the scriptures for themselves. Through
this, together with prayer and meditation, they can obtain divine guidance
directly. Second, Bahá'ís are encouraged to bring any problems that they
cannot deal with by themselves to their Local Spiritual Assembly. The method
of consultation described above can be used not only for the administration
of the community but also for spiritual guidance. In this way, each Bahá'í
is able to draw on and use the collective wisdom of the group to help him
The Bahá'í World Centre
The world centre of the Bahá'í Faith is in the Haifa-`Akka area to which Bahá'u'lláh was exiled by the Turkish Sultan. At that time it was part of the Turkish province of Syria. Now it is part of the state of Israel. This is both the spiritual and administrative centre of the Bahá'í Faith.
Haifa and `Akka are two towns that face each other across a bay. Behind Haifa there rises Mount Carmel. On Mount Carmel are situated the shrines of the Bab and `Abdu'l-Bahá. There will also be a group of buildings on Mount Carmel, two of which have already been built. These two are the Seat of the Universal House of Justice and the International Archives Building. Three other buildings remain to be built. These form the world administrative centre of the Bahá'í Faith. In Indian belief, Mount Meru is the cosmic mount at the centre of the world. For Bahá'ís, the spiritual centre of the world is Mount Carmel. Shoghi Effendi has written of the shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel as the centre of a number of concentric spiritual centres that radiate out to the rest of the world.