Hinduism and the Bahá'í Faith
by Moojan MomenOxford: George Ronald, 1990
For the sake of the welfare of all, carry on thy task in life. (3)
. . . 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
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|
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 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)
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)
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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 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|
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)
Let man seek to find the path of God: he who has found this path becomes
free from the bonds of evil.
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)
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
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|
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|
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
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)
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
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:
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)
Caste has nothing to do with religion. It is harmful both to spiritual growth and national growth. (54)
The idea of caste is the greatest dividing factor... all caste either on the principle of birth or of merit is bondage. (55)
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)
(for details of books cited, see Bibliography)
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!
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 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 Son of Being!
My love is My stronghold; he that entereth therein is safe and secure, and he that turneth away shall surely stray and perish.(5)
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!
Thou art but one step away from the glorious heights above and from the celestial tree of love. Take thou one pace and with the next advance into the immortal realm and enter the pavilion of eternity. Give ear then to that which hath been revealed by the pen of glory. (8)
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
(for details of books cited, see Bibliography)
6. See, for example, Bahá'í prayer
Bahá'ís consider that Bahá'u'lláh has fulfilled the prophecies of the Lord Krishna when he said:
Whenever there is a decline in righteousness, O Bharat, and the rise of irreligion, it is then that I send forth My spirit.
For the salvation of the good, the destruction of the evil-doers, and for firmly establishing righteousness, I manifest myself from age to age. (1)
Hindus are awaiting the coming of the Kalki Avatar at the end of this present age, Kali Yuga. Bahá'ís believe that we are already at this time. We are at the end of the Kali Yuga and Bahá'u'lláh is the Kalki Avatar. This age in which we live is an age of the decline of righteousness. And, as promised in the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord has manifested Himself again, this time with the name Bahá'u'lláh. This name means `the Glory of Bhagwan' or `the Splendour of Ishvara'. The coming of Bahá'u'lláh is therefore the start of the Sat or Krta Yuga (Golden Age). It is the time when people will return to righteousness and the world will be at peace.
Bahá'ís have pointed to the prophecies in the Hindu scriptures and stated that all of these have been fulfilled in this age. There are many passages in the Hindu writings which describe the condition of the world at the end of the Kali Yuga (Dark or Iron Age). Bahá'ís would say that what is described in the Hindu books is exactly what we are seeing in the world today. Among the most striking of these passages from the Hindu holy books are the following:
In the Kali Yuga, wealth alone will be the deciding factor of nobility [in place of birth, righteous behaviour or merit]. And brute force will be the only standard in establishing or deciding what is righteous or just.
Mutual liking [and not family pedigree, social status, etc.] will be the deciding factor in choosing a partner in marriage; cheating will be the order of the day in business relations; satisfaction of sexual pleasure will be the only consideration of male or female excellence and worthiness; and the wearing of the sacred thread (Yajnopavita) [and not pious behaviour or Vedic or Shastric learning] will be the outward index of being a Brahmin.(2)
In the Kali Yuga, only one quarter of each of the four feet of Dharma [penance, truthfulness, compassion and charity] remains. And that too goes on decreasing day by day while the `feet' of Adharma [unrighteousness] increase greatly. So that in the end Dharma becomes extinct.
In that [Kali] age, people will be greedy. They will take to wicked behaviour. They will be merciless, indulge in hostilities without any cause, unfortunate, extremely covetous for wealth and women. High social status will be attained by Sudras, fishermen and such other classes...
When deceit, falsehood, lethargy, sleepiness, violence, despondency, grief, delusion, fear, and poverty prevail, that is the Kali Yuga...
... mortal beings will become dull-witted, unlucky, voracious, destitute of wealth yet voluptuous, and women, wanton and unchaste.
Countries will be laid waste by robbers and vagabonds; the Vedas will be condemned by heretics; kings will exploit their subjects, and twice-borns like Brahmanas will only think of the gratification of their sexual desires and other appetites.
Celibates [of the Brahmacarya ashrama] will cease to observe their vows of study, purity and celibacy; householders will take to begging [instead of giving alms]; hermits [of the vanaprastha ashrama] will resort to villages [leaving their retreats in the
forests]; and Sannyasins will be extremely greedy for money. [In short, the whole system of the Varnashrama Dharma will have broken down.]
Petty-minded people will conduct business transactions and merchants will be dishonest.
In the Kali Yuga, men will abandon their parents, brothers, friends, and relatives. They will establish their friendships on a sexual basis.
People who are ignorant of religion will occupy high seats [and pulpits] and will [pretend to] preach religion.
People will have their minds weighed down with constant anxiety and fear. This will be due to devastating famines and heavy taxation. The land will not grow food-crops, and the people will always be in fear of impending droughts.(3)
There are similar prophesies in many other passages of the Hindu scriptures such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Vishnu Purana.(4) Bahá'ís believe that all of the conditions described in these books have come about today. And so we are living in the age prophesied in these books. Bahá'u'lláh describes the condition of the world at present thus:
The world is in travail, and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned towards waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly. Its perversity will long continue. (5)
Prominent contemporary Indian writers have also agreed with this assessment of Bahá'u'lláh. Swami Vivekananda wrote, for example:
But greater than the present deep dismal night...no pall of darkness had ever before enveloped this holy land of ours. And compared with the depth of this fall, all previous falls appear like little hoof-marks. (6)
There are also prophecies of the breakdown of the caste system that we are seeing today and the abandonment of religion:
The observance of caste, order, and institutes will not prevail in the Kali Yuga; nor will that of the ceremonials and rituals enjoined by the Sama, Rig and Yajur Vedas. Marriages, in this age, will not conform to the ritual; nor will the rules that connect the guru and his disciple be in force. The laws that regulate the conduct of husband and wife will be disregarded; and oblations to the gods with fire will no longer be offered ... The doctrines and dogmas of anyone will be held to be scripture... In the Kali Yuga, those who practise fasting, austerity and liberality will do so in whatever way they please [and not according to the Law]. And men will call this righteousness... Men of all degrees, filled with conceit, will consider themselves to be equal with Brahmins...
In the Kali Yuga, men, corrupted by unbelievers, will refrain from adoring Vishnu, the lord of sacrifice, the creator and lord of all. They will say: `Of what authority are the Vedas? What are gods, or Brahmins? What need is there for purification with water?' (7)
All the Hindu scriptures are agreed that when conditions have reached this point, when things have deteriorated and mankind has sunk to the lowest depths of moral degradation, then the Lord will again manifest Himself as the Kalki Avatar:
When Vedic religion and the dharma of the law books have nearly ceased and the Kali Yuga is almost exhausted, then a part of the creator of the entire universe...the blessed Lord Vasudeva [Vishnu], will become incarnate here in the universe in the form of Kalki.(8)
Some Bahá'í scholars have even demonstrated that the prophecies in the Manu Srmiti and other books indicate the exact date of the end of the Kali Yuga and the coming of the Kalki Avatar. This date, 1844, is also the year of the beginning of the Bahá'í Faith (see Chapter 8).(9)
Therefore Bahá'ís believe that, faithful to the promises and prophesies recorded in the Hindu holy books, the Lord has now manifested Himself again in the form of the Kalki Avatar. Bahá'ís believe that this is Bahá'u'lláh. The purpose of Bahá'u'lláh's coming is to fulfil the prophecies in the Hindu scriptures and to give us the teachings that will bring in the new Sat or Krta Yuga (Golden Age). As foretold in the Vishnu Purana:
He will then establish righteousness upon the earth and the minds of the people will be awakened and become pure as crystal. And these men, the remnant of mankind, will thus be transformed... And these offspring will follow the ways of the Krta Age. (10)
Bahá'ís believe that through the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, which
are described in this book, these prophecies will be fulfilled. As a result
the Sat or Krta Yuga (Golden Age) will be established.
(for details of books cited, see Bibliography)
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.
For the salvation of the good, the destruction of the evil-doers, and for firmly establishing righteousness, I manifest myself from age to age. (1)
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)
Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye with one another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship... So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. (5)
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)
O contending peoples and kindreds of the earth! Set your faces towards unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you. Gather ye together, and for the sake of God resolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you. (7)
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.
Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues. (10) (Bahá'u'lláh)
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)
Racism, one of the most baneful and persistent evils, is a major barrier to peace. Its practice perpetrates too outrageous a violation of the dignity of human beings to be countenanced under any pretext. Racism retards the unfoldment of the boundless potentialities of its victims, corrupts its perpetrators, and blights human progress. Recognition of the oneness of mankind, implemented by appropriate legal measures, must be universally upheld if this problem is to be overcome. (13) (Universal House of Justice)
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 )
Let there be no misgivings as to the animating purpose of the worldwide Law of Bahá'u'lláh. Far from aiming at the subversion of the existing foundations of society, it seeks to broaden its basis, to remould its institutions in a manner consonant with the needs of an ever-changing world... Its purpose is neither to stifle the flame of a sane and intelligent patriotism in men's hearts, nor to abolish the system of national autonomy so essential if the evils of excessive centralization are to be avoided. It does not ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. It calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race. (15) (Shoghi Effendi)
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)
That the divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men, is, in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion. These principles and laws, these firmly-established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are the rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated. (17)
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)
And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is the equality of women and men. The world of humanity has two wings - one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be. (19) (`Abdu'l-Bahá)
. . . the principle of religion has been revealed by Bahá'u'lláh that woman must be given the privilege of equal education with man and full right to his prerogatives. That is to say, there must be no difference in the education of male and female in order that womankind may develop equal capacity and importance with man in the social and economic equation. Then the world will attain unity and harmony. In past ages humanity has been defective and inefficient because it has been incomplete. War and its ravages have blighted the world; the education of woman will be a mighty step toward its abolition and ending, for she will use her whole influence against war. (20) (`Abdu'l-Bahá)
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)
The primary, the most urgent requirement is the promotion of education. It is inconceivable that any nation should achieve prosperity and success unless this paramount, this fundamental concern is carried forward. The principal reason for the decline and fall of peoples is ignorance. (22) (`Abdu'l-Bahá)
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)
Bahá'u'lláh has proclaimed the adoption of a universal language. A language shall be agreed upon by which unity will be established in the world. Each person will require training in two languages: his native tongue and the universal auxiliary form of speech. This will facilitate intercommunication and dispel the misunderstandings which the barriers of language have occasioned in the world. (24) (`Abdu'l-Bahá)
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)
(for details of books cited, see Bibliography)
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.
In the previous chapter, an outline was given of the social teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. But these are not just ideas that he has put forward and then left the Bahá'ís to put them into practice as best they can. Bahá'u'lláh has also given an outline of the social structures that will enable these principles to be put into practice. As we have discussed previously, the social structures that now exist in Hinduism (as well as in the other religions and countries of the world) are no longer adequate. They now hold mankind back from progress and development. The present social structures tend to reinforce those factors that divide society. They give strength to caste and race differences. They increase the gap between the poor and the rich. They often mean that only the most wealthy and influential have a say in the running of the affairs of the 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.
The Bahá'í Faith does differ from Hinduism to a great extent in the matter of laws, rituals and festivals. Every religion has its own laws, rituals and festivals and this applies to the Bahá'í Faith as well. The Bahá'í Faith claims to be an independent world religion. Therefore it does not seek to impose the laws and rituals of any particular previous religion on the whole world but rather it has its own. In general, however, compared to other religions, the Bahá'í Faith has very little in the way of law and ritual laid down.
The lack of personal laws, apart from the few that will be mentioned below, means that the activities of Bahá'ís are guided more by moral principles than by laws.
The comparative lack of ritual means that major personal events, such
as weddings, can be arranged by Bahá'ís as they wish. They may wish to
incorporate elements of local tradition. This is permissible as long as
these do not imply adherence to another religion.
Bahá'u'lláh has said that all Bahá'ís must pray every day. He has given three prayers to the Bahá'ís. They can choose which one of them to say daily. There is a very short one that must be said between noon and sunset, a medium one which must be said three times a day, and a long one that is said once daily at any time during the day. The following is the short prayer:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth.
There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. (1)
There are many other prayers revealed by Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá.
These may be said at any time that a person feels a desire to pray.
All Bahá'ís should fast during the month preceding the New Year (`Ala,
2nd - 20th March). Fasting for Bahá'ís means that no food and drink should
be taken between sunrise and sunset. The following are excused from the
fast: anyone who is ill or travelling more than an hour's journey; women
who are pregnant or nursing; children under the age of 15 and people over
Reading the scriptures
All Bahá'ís should try to learn to read so that they can read the holy writings for themselves. Bahá'u'lláh has commanded the Bahá'ís to read a part of the holy writings every morning and evening. The aim of reading these passages should be to achieve a better and deeper understanding of them. A small portion read with understanding is better than a great deal read with no understanding. If a person cannot read the writings then some of them can be committed to memory.
All of the prayers and readings should be said in the language which
the person knows best. Therefore the Bahá'í writings have been translated
into over 800 languages including over 50 Indian languages.
The family is the basis of society and so marriage is given great importance in the Bahá'í teachings. Each man may only have one wife and each woman may have only one husband. Both the man and the woman must agree to a marriage. The parents of both sides must also agree.
Contraception is permitted if it is used to space out the children in a marriage but not for preventing the birth of children altogether.
Sexual activity is only allowed within marriage.
Divorce is allowed in the unfortunate event that the marriage breaks
down completely. But it is discouraged and every effort must be made to
enable the couple to be reconciled.
Bahá'ís are permitted to eat any food. Vegetarian food has been recommended
by `Abdu'l-Bahá as being the most natural food for mankind. He states that,
in the future, when the study of diet and nutrition is more advanced, all
human beings will become vegetarians. But Bahá'ís are free at present to
be vegetarian or non-vegetarian.
Drugs, alcohol and tobacco
Bahá'ís are forbidden to take any of the mind-altering and habit-forming
drugs such as opium, heroin and marijuana (bhang). Alcohol is also a mind-altering
and habit-forming drug and is forbidden. The smoking of tobacco is strongly
discouraged as a filthy and unhealthy habit but it is not forbidden.
Death and burial
All Bahá'ís should make a will so that their wishes may be known. In this will they should ask that they be buried in accordance with Bahá'í law.
Bahá'í law states that the body should be buried within one hour's travelling distance of the place of death. Cremation is forbidden as it breaks the natural cycle and is, for the soul, too abrupt a decomposition of the body.
A Bahá'í funeral is simple and dignified. A programme of prayers and
passages from the holy books may be chosen. There is also a special prayer
for burial which should be recited.
Involvement with politics
Bahá'ís should not involve themselves in party and factional politics,
nor even express a preference for a particular party. All such party political
activity causes division. It runs counter to the Bahá'í aim of uniting
Obedience to the government and to the law
Bahá'ís must obey the Government of the country in which they live and
must not break any of the laws of that country. The only exception to this
is if the government asks a Bahá'í to renounce the Bahá'í Faith. In that
case a Bahá'í must refuse to comply. But even then active opposition to
the government is not permitted.
Gambling, begging and back-biting
Gambling is forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'ís are encouraged to earn their own living and not to beg. Talking about the faults of others is very strongly condemned. Bahá'u'lláh considers this one of the greatest of human faults as it harms all: the speaker, the hearer and the victim of such talk.
There are no Bahá'í laws that need to be followed in the matters of dress or the giving of names. There is only the advice of Bahá'u'lláh that a Bahá'í should be moderate in all such things.
In the Bahá'í Faith, there is also no requirement for oblations or sacrifices. In Hinduism, oblations are often given to gods, for parents, for friends, and so on. In the Bahá'í Faith, these are replaced by prayers. For example, `Abdu'l-Bahá has given this prayer for one's father:
Bahá'í calendarO Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents. This is one of the special infinite bestowals of this Dispensation. Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love. Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Forgiver and the Kind! (2)
The Bahá'í Faith has its own calendar beginning from 1844 AD.
The calendar uses solar years and consists of 19 months of 19 days each.
The Bahá'í months are named after various spiritual qualities or divine
There are four additional days before the last month of the year (`Ala')
which make the number of days up to 365. These are increased to five days
in a leap year. These days are specially set aside for hospitality and
the giving of presents.
Bahá'í s celebrate a number of festivals that commemorate particular sacred events. For historical information on these events, see Chapter 8.
Naw-Ruz (New year) 21 March
Ridvan - first day 21 April
Ridvan - ninth day 29 April
Ridvan - twelfth day 2 May
The Bab's declaration of his mission 23 May
Passing of Bahá'u'lláh 29 May
Martyrdom of the Bab 9 July
Birth of the Bab 20 October
Birth of Bahá'u'lláh 12 November
Bahá'í Houses of Worship
At present, Bahá'ís in most local communities have no special place of worship. They meet either in each other's homes or at a Bahá'í centre.
It is envisaged, however, that in the future in each town there will
be built a house of worship (Mashriqu'l-Adhkar). This will become
the spiritual centre of the community. Around it will be built schools,
libraries, medical facilities, orphanages and so on. At present Bahá'ís
prefer to use their money on other projects and therefore only seven of
these have been built around the world. The latest of these is a beautiful
building in the shape of a lotus flower in Delhi.
Bahá'í shrines and pilgrimages
The majority of the holy places of the Bahá'í world are at the Bahá'í
world centre in the Haifa-`Akka area and in Iran and Iraq. These are places
linked to the lives of the central figures of the religion. The shrines
of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá are all in the Haifa-`Akka area.
Those Bahá'ís who can afford to do so without difficulty are encouraged
to perform a pilgrimage to them. But the holy places in Iran and Iraq cannot
at present be visited due to persecutions of the Bahá'í Faith in those
countries. In India many Bahá'ís travel to New Delhi to see the Bahá'í
House of Worship but this is not a religious requirement.
(for details of books cited, see Bibliography)
It is not, of course, possible in a small work like this to give a full account of Bahá'í history. Those who wish to have further information must refer to the larger histories. Here we will just present a brief outline. Emphasis will be given to those points that may be of special interest to readers from a Hindu background.
Bahá'u'lláh was the founder of the Bahá'í Faith. He was born into a family of the nobility of Iran. His family traced its ancestry back to the original Aryan tribes that settled in Iran and India. It was from these tribes that the Indian Avatars such as Rama, Krishna and the Buddha as well as the Persian prophet Zoroaster were descended.
Many prodigies and wonders are recorded of all of the Avatars or Manifestations of God. This was also the case with Bahá'u'lláh. On one occasion, while still a child, he appeared before the Shah to argue a case on behalf of his father.
When Bahá'u'lláh was a young man, there arose in Iran a movement begun by another young Iranian called the Bab. This was called the Babi movement. It holds a very special place in Bahá'í history. This is because Bahá'u'lláh regarded the Bab as an Avatar and considered the Babi movement to be the forerunner of the Bahá'í Faith. As a result, Bahá'ís date the start of their religion from the year in which the Bab announced his mission, 1844 AD (5065 of the Shri Krishna Samvat; 1900 of the Vikram Samvat). One of the first prominent disciples of the Bab was an Indian and several other Indians are recorded as having joined the movement.
The Prime Minister of Iran at that time, Hajji Mirza Aqasi, was particularly opposed to the Babi movement. He did everything that was in his power to defeat it. Therefore, in the history of the Babi movement, he is said to be like Ravana who opposed Rama or to Duryodhana who opposed Krishna. Later, the Shah of Iran with the full might of the army of Iran arose against the Babis and there was much bloodshed. The Bab himself fell a martyr during this period. Bahá'u'lláh, who had been closely associated with the Babi movement, was thrown into a foul Black Pit called the Siyah Chal of Tehran. After a few months, he was forced to leave Iran and go into exile. This is, of course, the same thing that happened to Krishna who, together with Arjuna and Yudhishthir, was forced to leave the court in exile as a result of the treachery of Duryodhana. Rama also was forced into exile, by the intrigues of Queen Kaikei.
Having lost all of his wealth and possessions, Bahá'u'lláh and his immediate family left their native land as exiles. They travelled in harsh conditions in the midst of winter to Baghdad. This was a distance of some 500 miles over high mountain passes. Here Bahá'u'lláh settled and many of the Babis came to this city also.
About one year after his arrival in Baghdad, Bahá'u'lláh suddenly left his home and went up into the remote mountains to the north of Baghdad. For two years, Bahá'u'lláh wandered as a sannyasin (ascetic) in these mountains. He states that he had no thought of returning to the world at this time. But he was persuaded to return to Baghdad because the Babi community had become divided and was degenerating morally. Bahá'u'lláh feared that the work of the Bab would perish and the thousands of Babis who had been killed would have died in vain. It was for this reason that Bahá'u'lláh agreed to give up the sannyasin life and return.
The climax of Bahá'u'lláh's stay in Baghdad came at the very end of this time. In 1863 he was informed that the Sultan of Turkey had decreed that he should go to Istanbul. Before he began this journey, Bahá'u'lláh spent twelve days in a garden outside the city of Baghdad. This garden is called by Bahá'ís the Garden of Ridvan. It was here that Bahá'u'lláh revealed to the Babis that he was the Avatar that the Bab had told them would come. Indeed in his later writings, Bahá'u'lláh claims to be the one promised by all of the religions of the world. Therefore Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh is for the Jews the expected Messiah, for the Christians the return of Christ, for the Muslims the Mahdi, for the Zoroastrians (Parsees) the Saoshyant, for the Hindus the Kalki Avatar, and for Buddhists the Maitreya Buddha.
These twelve days that Bahá'u'lláh spent in the Garden of Ridvan are celebrated each year by Bahá'ís as the festival of Ridvan. As Bahá'u'lláh left the Garden of Ridvan to proceed on the journey to Istanbul, he was met with moving scenes. The people tried to express their sorrow at his departure from their city:
`The great tumult,' wrote an eye-witness, `... we beheld on that occasion. Believers and unbelievers alike sobbed and lamented. The chiefs and notables who had congregated were struck with wonder. Emotions were stirred to such depths as no tongue can describe, nor could any observer escape their contagion.'
Mounted on His steed, a red roan stallion of the finest breed, the best His lovers could purchase for Him, and leaving behind Him a bowing multitude of fervent admirers, He rode forth on the first stage [of His journey]... `Numerous were the heads,' Nabil himself a witness of that memorable scene, recounts, `which, on every side, bowed to the dust at the feet of His horse, and kissed its hoofs, and countless were those who pressed forward to embrace His stirrups.' `How great the number...,' testifies a fellow-traveller, `who, casting themselves before that charger, preferred death to separation from their Beloved! Methinks, that blessed steed trod upon the bodies of those pure-hearted souls.' (1)
After a few months in Istanbul, Bahá'u'lláh was exiled once again to Edirne. It was while he was here that a great crisis arose. The story of this crisis has great similarity to an episode in the Ramayana. In that book, Manthara, the nurse of Bharat (the half-brother of Rama) urged Kaikei (Bharat's mother) on and caused her to plot and plan against Rama so that Bharat would become king (2) . One of those who accompanied Bahá'u'lláh to Edirne was his half-brother Mirza Yahya. And a certain Siyyid Muhammad urged Mirza Yahya to plot and plan against Bahá'u'lláh. The aim was that Mirza Yahya would be the leader of the religion. Mirza Yahya even went to the extent of trying to poison Bahá'u'lláh.
The result of Mirza Yahya's intrigues was similar to the result of Kaikei's. Just as Rama had been sent into exile, so Bahá'u'lláh was once more sent into exile. Once again scenes similar to those that took place at Baghdad occurred as Bahá'u'lláh left Edirne.
`The inhabitants of the quarter in which Bahá'u'lláh had been living, and the neighbours who had gathered to bid Him farewell, came one after the other,' writes an eye-witness, `with the utmost sadness and regret to kiss His hands and the hem of His robe, expressing meanwhile their sorrow at His departure. That day, too, was a strange day. Methinks the city, its walls and its gates bemoaned their imminent separation from Him.' `Most of those present were weeping and wailing...' (3)
This account is reminiscent of the scenes recorded in the Ramayana when Rama was forced, as a result of the intrigues of Kaikei, to leave Ayodhya:
Man and boy and maid and matron followed Rama with their eye,
As the thirsty seek the water when the parched fields are dry,
Clinging to the rapid chariot, by its side, before, behind,
Thronging men and wailing women wept for Rama good and kind. (4)
The exile of Bahá'u'lláh on this occasion was on the orders of the Sultan of Turkey acting in concert with the Shah of Iran. Just as the powerful king of Lanka, Ravana, had plotted against Rama, and Duryodhana had opposed Krishna, so now these powerful kings sought to confine Bahá'u'lláh in a far-off prison. They thought that they would be able to put an end to his influence. Bahá'u'lláh was sent to the prison-city of `Akka in Syria, where he arrived in 1868.
It was the intention of these kings to wipe out all traces of Bahá'u'lláh's teaching. But in fact, these teachings spread and many pilgrims made long journeys of over a thousand miles to come to `Akka and hear his teachings. In the end, Bahá'u'lláh's influence became so great that the governor of the city of `Akka could no longer keep Bahá'u'lláh in prison. He allowed Bahá'u'lláh to live where he pleased. Bahá'u'lláh spent the last years of his life in a large mansion outside the city of `Akka, where he received the hundreds of pilgrims who came to see him.
On the instructions of Bahá'u'lláh, one of his prominent followers, Jamal Effendi, came to India in 1872. He spent many years travelling the length and breadth of the country teaching the Bahá'í Faith. Together with a handful of other enthusiastic teachers, he succeeded in gaining adherents for the Bahá'í Faith. These came from all walks of life in India, from Maharajahs to simple workers, from the Hindu, Muslim, Parsee and Sikh communities of India. (5) In this way the Bahá'í community in India was formed.
When Bahá'u'lláh passed away in 1892 AD, he left instructions that his eldest son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, was to be regarded by all Bahá'ís as the leader of the Bahá'í community. `Abdu'l-Bahá was the only person authorised by Bahá'u'lláh to interpret the Bahá'í teachings. Bahá'u'lláh gave very strict instructions about this matter. This was in order that the Bahá'í Faith should not be split up into hundreds of sects as other religions are. Since the primary aim of the Bahá'í Faith is to bring about unity, Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá devoted a great deal of time and effort towards ensuring that the religion did not break up into sects. They explained and established what is called the Covenant. This is an agreement that every Bahá'í enters into: that he or she will not be diverted away by the opinions of others but will always look towards the Centre of the Religion for guidance.
As we have seen previously (p. 00), Bahá'u'lláh has referred to the station of the Avatars and of himself in particular as the Tree of Life or the Tree beyond which there is no passing. In Hinduism there is also the concept of a cosmic tree. In the Bhagavad Gita it is written:
There is an eternal [holy] tree (Asvattha), with roots above in the highest and branches here below. Its leaves are sacred verses. He who knows it knows the Vedas. (6)
In his Most Holy Book and his Book of the Covenant, Bahá'u'lláh refers to himself as the Ancient (Pre-existent) Root of the Divine Tree; while `Abdu'l-Bahá is the Most Mighty Branch, to whom all must turn after the passing of Bahá'u'lláh:
`When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.' The object of this sacred Verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [`Abdu'l-Bahá]. (7)
Thus in the Bahá'í writings, as in the Hindu, there is the concept of a cosmic holy tree (beyond which there is no passing); its root (Bahá'u'lláh) is in heaven; its branches (`Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, see below) stretch down towards earth; from this tree come sacred verses. The passage from the Bhagavad Gita quoted above indicates the importance of knowledge of this tree (the Covenant). It is the foundation of all religious knowledge.
`Abdu'l-Bahá passed away in 1921. He appointed his grandson, Shoghi Effendi as the Centre of the Religion. After Shoghi Effendi's death in 1957, the Universal House of Justice (see Chapter 6) was elected. This is now the Centre of the Religion and thus the focal point of loyalty to the Covenant for all Bahá'ís.
Both `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi made every effort to spread the Bahá'í Faith to all parts of the world. `Abdu'l-Bahá sent numerous teachers from other parts of the Bahá'í world to India in order to strengthen the Indian Bahá'í community. He was planning to travel to India himself when unfortunately his death cut short these plans.
Just as in Hinduism, there is a concept of cycles and ages, there is a similar concept in the Bahá'í Faith. Bahá'ís believe that the coming of Bahá'u'lláh has started a new cosmic cycle.
Although mankind has entered the Sat or Krta Yuga (Golden Age) foretold
in Hindu prophecy, the full culmination of this Golden Age will only be
achieved in stages similar to the Hindu ages. During this cycle, the Bahá'í
Faith will pass through various ages. At present, the Bahá'í Faith is in
its Transitional Age. This will lead in the end to the Bahá'í Golden Age,
the full expression of the Sat or Krta Yuga. This Golden Age will see mankind
in a prosperous state, with no more war and the establishment of social
justice. Eventually, Bahá'u'lláh teaches that there will come another Avatar,
another Manifestation of God. But this will not occur for at least a thousand
years. In the meantime, the responsibility of mankind is to put the teachings
of Bahá'u'lláh into effect.
The Bahá'í world today
The Bahá'í world has expanded very greatly, especially in the last 30 years. There are now Bahá'ís in almost every country of the world. The structure of the Bahá'í administration has been described in Chapter 6. National Spiritual Assemblies have been formed in 151 countries of the world; there are now almosty 20,000 Local Spiritual Assemblies and over 112,000 places where Bahá'ís reside. There are almost five million Bahá'ís in total.
Bahá'ís are active with many agencies of the United Nations. The Bahá'í International Community has consultative status with the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and Children's Fund (UNICEF). It is affiliated with the Environment Program (UNEP) and various other bodies. Bahá'ís regularly participate in UN conferences on such subjects as human rights, social and economic development, narcotic drugs, disarmament, and so on.
As one may gather from the Bahá'í social principles, Bahá'ís are very involved in a large number and variety of social and economic development projects. In 1988, 1482 of these were listed worldwide. The majority of these are educational projects involving the setting up of simple village schools. But there are also health, agricultural and community development projects.
India has the largest Bahá'í community in the world. It has about two
million Bahá'ís. The majority of Bahá'ís are from a Hindu background but
there are also appreciable numbers from Muslim, Parsee, Sikh and Jain backgrounds.
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India has its headquarters
in New Delhi. There are also State Assemblies in each state and about five
thousand Local Spiritual Assemblies. There are about three hundred tutorial
schools and several academic schools throughout the country. Around Panchgani
in Maharashtra, there are several Bahá'í institutions which it is hoped
will eventually be merged and turned into a college of human service. The
pride of the Indian Bahá'í community is, however, the beautiful lotus-shaped
temple at Bahapur on the outskirts of New Delhi. This building, which has
won a number of international awards, is the spiritual centre of the Indian
Bahá'í community. It is attracting about one million visitors each year.
(for details of books cited, see Bibliography)
Hindu Myths. Translated by Wendy O'Flaherty. Harmondsworth: Penguin
Books, repr. 1982.
The Bhagavad Gita
Bhagavadgita, The. Translated by Kees W. Bolle. Berkeley: University of California, 1979.
Bhagavadgita, The. Translated by W. Douglas P. Hill. London: Oxford University Press, 1928.
Bhagavad Gita, The. Translated by Juan Mascaro: Harmondsworth: Penguin, repr. 1984.
Bhagavadgita, The. Translated by Kashinath T. Telang. Sacred Books of the East, vol. 8. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1882.
Bhagavad-gita, The. Translated by R.C. Zaehner. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969.
Bhagavad-gita as It Is. Translated by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
New York: MacMillan, 1972.
Mahabharata, The. Edited by Manmatha N. Dutt, 18 vols. in 11. Calcutta: H.C. Dass, 1895-1905.
Mahabharata, The. edited by Pratapa Chandra Ray, 19 vols. in 11. Calcutta: Bharata Press, 1884-94.
Mahabharata. Translated by Kamala Subramaniam, Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1977.
Ramayana and The Mahabharata, The. Translated by Romesh C. Dutt,
London: Dent, Everyman's Library, repr. 1978.
Agni Puranam, The. Translated by Manmatha N. Dutt. Chowhamba Sanskrit Series, vols. 54 and 55. Varanasi: Chowhamba Sanskrit Series Office, repr. 1967.
Agni Purana, The. Translated by N. Gangadharan. Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology Series, vols. 27-30. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984-7.
Bhagavata-Purana, The. Translated by Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare. Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology Series, vols. 7-11. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1976-8.
Srimad-Bhagavatam, The. Translated by J.M. Sanyal. 5 vols. Calcutta: Oriental Publishing Company, no date.
Vishnu Purana, The. Translated H.H. Wilson. 5 vols. in 6. London:
Ramayan of Valmiki, The. Translated by Ralph T.H. Griffiths. 5 vols. London: Trubner, 1870-4.
Ramayan of Valmiki, The. Translated by Makhan Lal Sen. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1978.
Ramayana of Valmiki, The. Translated by Robert Goldman and Sheldon Pollock. 2 vols. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984-6.
Ramayana of Valmiki, The. Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri. 3 vols. London: Shanti Sadan, 1952-9.
Ramayana and The Mahabharata, The. Translated by Romesh C. Dutt.
London: Dent, Everyman's Library, repr. 1978.
Brihad-Ankaraya Upanishad. Translated by Swami Mahavananda. Mayavati, Almora: Advaita Ashrama, 1950.
Katha Upanishad. Translated by Joseph N. Rawson. London: Oxford University Press, 1934.
Katha Upanishad, Taittriya Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad. Translated by Swami Sharvananda. 3 vols. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Matt, 1949-50.
Sacred Books of the Hindus, ed. Maj. Basu. Allahabad: Panini Office vol. 1: Isa Upanishad, Katha Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, etc. Translated by Srisa Chandra Vasu, 1909.
--- vol. 3: Chandogya Upanishad. Translated by Srisa Chandra Vasu, 1910.
--- vol. 14: Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad. Translated by Rai Bahadur Srisa Chandra Vasu Vidyarnava and Pandit Ramaksya Bhattacharya, 1916.
--- vol. 18: Svetasvatara Upanishad. Translated by Siddheshvar Varma Shastri, 1916.
--- vol. 30: Taittriya Upanishad. Translated by Rai Bahadur Srisa Chandra Vidyarnava and Pandit Mohan Lal Sandal, no date.
Thirteen Principal Upanishads, The. Translated by Robert E. Hume. London: Oxford University Press, 1931.
Upanishads, The. Translated by Juan Mascaro. Harmonsworth: Penguin, 1965.
Upanishads, The. Translated by Max Muller. Sacred Books of the East,
vols. 1 and 15. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879, 1884.
Atharvaveda, The. Translated by Devi Chand. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1982.
Atharva-veda Samhita. Translated by William D. Whitney. Harvard Oriental Series, vols. 7 and 8. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1905.
Heart of the Rigveda, The. Translated by Mahuli R. Gopalacharaya. Bombay: Somaiya, 1971.
Hymns of the Atharva-veda. Translated by Maurice Bloomfield. Sacred Books of the East, vol. 42. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897.
Hymns of the Atharva-veda, The. Translated by Ralph T.H. Griffiths. 2 vols. Benares: E.J. Lazarus, 1895-6.
Hymns of the Rigveda, The. Translated by Ralph T.H. Griffiths. 4 vols. Benares: E.J. Lazarus, 1889-92.
Rigveda, The. Translated by Acharya Dharma Deva Vidya Martanda. 3 vols. Delhi: Sarvadehik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, 1974.
Rig Veda, The. Translated by Wendy D. O'Flaherty. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981.
Vedic Hymns. Part I. Translated by Max Muller. Sacred Books of the East, vol. 32. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1891.
Vedic Hymns. Part II. Translated by Hermann Oldenberg. Sacred Books
of the East, vol. 46. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897.
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The author would like to express his gratitude to the following for reading the manuscript of this work and giving valuable suggestions: Phillip Smith, Geeta Gandhi Kingdon and Nalina Jiwnani.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Hinduism and the Bahá'í Faith.