New Religious Movements, Tolkien, Marriage
To: The Universal House of Justice
From: Research Department
The Research Department has studied the questions about various aspects of the Bahá'í Teachings raised by Mr. ... in his letter dated 27 May 1994 to the Universal House of Justice. We provide the following comment.
1. New Religious Movements
1.1 Station of founders
Mr. ... enquires about the Bahá'í perspective on such founders of religious groups and movements as the Reverend Moon (the Unification Church), Sai Baba, 'Maitreya (London)', the founder of Brahma Kumaris, Madame Blavatsky (Theosophy) and Alice Bailey (the Arcane School and the School of Esoteric Studies). He asks whether they are to be considered as false prophets or people who were influenced by the spirit released by the coming of Bahá'u'lláh and hence are fulfilling some special function like bringing more love and unity to the world.
As Mr. ... is, no doubt, aware, Bahá'ís do not expect the coming of a new Manifestation of God before the lapse of a thousand years. In this regard, the Universal House of Justice in a letter dated 11 May 1993 written on its behalf to a National Spiritual Assembly provided the following guidance concerning the Bahá'í view of the founder of the Sai Baba movement:
Bahá'ís, of course, cannot accept the claim of the founder of the movement, or his successor, that he is the equivalent of what we understand to be the Manifestation of God, even though he may have been inspired with the spirit of the age. It is clear in the Bahá'í Writings that such an august Figure is not to appear before the expiration of at least a full thousand years after the coming of Bahá'u'lláh.
As to the founders of the other groups, the Research Department has not been able to locate any specific references in the Bahá'í Writings to them. Mr. ... might be interested to know tat in God Passes By Shoghi Effendi indicates that the prophecy concerning 'Maitreye, the Buddha of universal fellowship' (as distinct from 'Maitreya (London)'), is a reference to Bahá'u'lláh (1). Further, when the Guardian was asked about the status of a number of different religious groups and movements, his secretary, writing on his behalf, responded:
Truth is found everywhere. It would be indeed difficult to find a creed or a doctrine of any sort in this world that did not possess some facet of truth; this is what Bahá'u'lláh believed and taught. But everything has a source or focal centre; the focal centres of truth are not broken up or distributed at random, but, like the sun, are concentrated in one mighty source whom we call a Prophet or Manifestation of God. What we find in each other, and in various creeds, are rays from this source — but the source is the all-important thing, and to recognize and turn to it gives one an infinitely greater degree of strength and enlightenment than to try to find its rays, one here and one there, scattered about among our fellow men.
(7 July 1942 to an individual believer)
Regarding Mr. ... The Guardian is not familiar with his name or his works. There are such mighty forces at large in the world today that many people, unaware of their origin and true purpose, get swept off into all kinds of ... religious convictions and start new cults and societies. Often their intention is very high, and they are intensely sincere. What they do not, of course, realize is that they have caught a ray or glimmer from the Sun of Bahá'u'lláh and not the whole truth at all, but a tiny, distorted fragment of it.
(3 August 1942 to an individual believer)
While we have not located any references to Madame Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, there are a number of statements, in letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, on Theosophy itself. For example:
The idea of Masters as expounded by the Theosophists is contrary to the Teachings. The doctrine of 'return' as set forth by Bahá'u'lláh in the Iqán is essentially different, implying no incarnation or return of the essence, but simply the return of the attributes and qualities. It is just like the return of fragrance and colour in flowers. The individuality is neither lost nor identified. It is untransferable.
It is therefore sheer superstition to believe that holy souls can voluntarily return to this world and serve the people.
(22 April 1939 to an individual believer)
Many theosophists accept Bahá'u'lláh as a Prophet, but we have no special relation to theosophy.
(4 October 1950 to an individual believer)
1.2 Relating to the followers
Mr. ... requests guidance in relating to the followers of the various groups mentioned above and in finding ways to help them to understand the station of Bahá'u'lláh. In general, when presenting the Faith, a Bahá'í endeavours, in the first instance, to build a bridge of agreement to the individual whom he or she is trying to reach. This bridge serves as the basis for further communication and the foundation for a more detailed discussion of the Teachings. It is suggested that it might be helpful for Mr. ... to consult with his Local Spiritual Assembly or an Auxiliary Board member for specific ideas about how to proceed. We would also like to call attention to the following extract from a letter dated 23 June 1948 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi concerning teaching:
We should never insist on teaching those who are not really ready for the Cause. If a man is not hungry you cannot make him eat. Among the Theosophists there are, no doubt, many receptive souls, but those who are satisfied should be just associated with in a friendly way, but let alone.
Although the guidance is specifically directed towards teaching theosophists, it would appear to have more general relevance.
2. Indian Letter of the Living
Mr. ... states that he was informed by an Indian Bahá'í that Sai Baba of Shirdi was the Indian Letter of the Living, Shaykh Sa'id-i-Hindí. He asks whether the information he has received can be confirmed. The available historical information about Shaykh Sa'id-i-Hindí is extremely fragmentary.(2) Likewise, very little is known about Sai Baba of Shirdi. The date of his birth is in question, with some writers asserting that he was not born until around the turn of the twentieth century. Given the paucity of information currently available, it is not possible for the Research Department to confirm whether any connection whatever exists between Shaykh Sa'id-i-Hindí, the Letter of the Living from India, and Sai Baba of Shirdi.
3. J.R.R. Tolkien
Mr. ... enquires whether Shoghi Effendi might have met the author, J.R.R. Tolkien, and whether Tolkien might have read The Dawn-Breakers. He points to parallels between Tolkien's books and events in The Dawn-Breakers and to his use of concepts that reflect certain Bahá'í Teachings, and he mentions that both the Guardian and Tolkien attended Oxford. The Research Department has not been able to locate any information concerning a possible meeting between Shoghi Effendi and Tolkien or concerning Tolkien's contact with the Faith.
4. The Marriage Bond
Given the fact that, from the Bahá'í perspective, marriage is an eternal bond, Mr. ... asks whether a Muslim with four wives will have an eternal bond with all four wives, and whether divorce severs the bond. The Bahá'í Writings do not deal directly with these issues. The following extract from a letter dated 4 December 1954, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in response to a question about the appropriateness of remarriage in light of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's statements about the spiritual nature of marriage, might assist Mr. ... in thinking about this subject:
There is no teaching in the Bahá'í Faith that 'soul mates' exist. What is meant is that marriage should lead to a profound friendship of spirit, which will endure in the next world, where there is no sex, and no giving and taking in marriage; just the way we should establish with our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters and friends a deep spiritual bond which will be everlasting, and not merely physical bonds of human relationship.
There is nothing against a person remarrying, the implication of unity in marriage being meant as a spiritual bond which will be everlasting, and not a sexual thing, in the quotation you cited.
It is suggested that Bahá'í marriage does not automatically 'lead to a profound friendship of spirit, which will endure in the next world'. Further, it would appear that the possibility of such an enduring 'friendship' is not limited to the relationship between husband and wife. Rather, it is dependent on the nurturance and development of 'a deep spiritual bond', which transcends the 'merely physical bonds of human relationship' and is conditional on the establishment of 'unity' in the particular relationship.
5. Illumination of Bahá'u'lláh's Tablets
There is no record to suggest that Bahá'u'lláh, Himself, illuminated His own Tablets. The decoration and illumination of His Tablets was undertaken by a number of experts in this field, including Mishkín-Qalam.Notes:
1. God Passes By (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1987), p. 95.
2. See, for example, The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Revelation (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974), pp. 588-89; pp. 651-53, and H.M. Balyuzi, Eminent Bahá'í's in the time of Bahá'u'lláh (Oxford: George Ronald, 1985), pp. 116-19.