Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
.
>>   Published Articles
Abstract:
Scholarly analysis of the influence of the Baha'i Faith and the psychology of its followers.
Notes:
This paper is online in a variety of formats at archive.org.

Bahaism:
A Study of a Contemporary Movement

by Albert Ross Vail

published in The Harvard Theological Review, 7, pages 339-357
1914-07

1. PDF of image scans

Because this PDF is large — 19 pages and 2MB — it is not automatically displayed on this webpage.

Click here to download it: vail_bahaism_contemporary_movement.pdf.

2. Unformatted text

BAHAISM — A STUDY OF A CONTEMPORARY MOVEMENT 

ALBERT R. VAIL 

Ubbana, Illinois 

More and more there is being brought to our attention 
the news of a great spiritual awakening in Southwestern 
Asia, that home of the prophets and birthplace of relig- 
ions. At first it was called Babism, and centered around 
the brilliant youth, Mirza Ali Mohammed, the Bab, who 
after six years of teaching was martyred at Tabriz, 
Persia, in 1850. Later, most of his followers accepted 
the leadership of Mirza Husain Ali, generally known 
today as Bahá'u'lláh, and following his more universal 
teaching called themselves Bahais. Bahá'u'lláh after 
forty years of heroic teaching in exile and imprisonment 
closed his earthly existence at Acca, Syria, in 1892. The 
present leader of the movement, Abdul Baha (Abbas 
Effendi), under whose guidance the Bahai gospel has 
spread with remarkable rapidity into many countries, has 
recently spent more than a year in Europe and America, 
making its principles known, and through his great kind- 
ness, his words of wisdom, his sweet persuasiveness, has 
reflected its pure spiritual light. Apparently, it is not so 
much an organization as a spiritual attitude, not so much 
a new religion as religion renewed. Its followers are 
found in all sorts of ecclesiastical organizations. To be 
a Bahai a man need not sever his previous religious affili- 
ations; he may remain a Buddhist, or Hindoo Braman, 
a Parsee, a Mohammedan, or a Christian. He becomes 
one of the Bahai Movement when he catches the Bahai 
spirit. 



340 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

This is part of a world-wide movement, for without 
doubt we stand at the dawn of a great spiritual renais- 
sance. New religions are appearing and sweeping through 
the world with a vigor that makes the religious awaken- 
ing of our age, as William James has said, "analogous 
in many respects to the spread of early Christianity, 
Buddhism, and Mohammedanism." * William James 
referred merely to America. But clearly this is a more 
universal revival, a spiritual spring-time, as the Bahais 
call it, when the formalism and dogmatism of the ecclesi- 
astical winter give way to the flowers, the joy, and the 
gentle breezes of true and spiritual religion. For the 
reason that the flood of spiritual warmth and sunlight 
which appears in such an awakening is so great, estab- 
lished institutions, even though they be revived and en- 
larged, are unable to contain it all. Hence it clothes 
itself in scores and hundreds of new sciences, philanthro- 
pies, and reforms. It is an old truth that the newest 
and most active wine must often be put into brand-new 
bottles. 

Here is a fascinating opportunity for the study of the 
psychology of religion, when that mysterious force ap- 
pears, as now, in its innate freshness, vigor, and con- 
quering power. In fact, it is difficult to see how we can 
comprehend religious history in the past without the 
study of contemporary experience. It is easy enough 
to pronounce the heroes of ancient days illustrious when 
the world has with unanimous vote put them among the 
company of immortals, but the task of passing judgment 
on contemporary men, reforms, and visions, though 
harder and more adventurous, is far more interesting. 

What is the secret of the growth of this Bahai gospel? 
What makes such a religion, in the face of the most 
terrible persecution, spread like wild-fire until in a little 
more than fifty years it counts its followers by the mill- 

1 Memories and Studies; Longmans, Green, & Co., p. 259. 



BAHAISM 341 

ions? What inspires 20,000 men, women, and children 
to become willing martyrs in its path? These are ques- 
tions of universal interest, because they get at the heart 
of vital religion wherever it may appear. 

The Bahai Movement clearly supplies some rather 
universal need. Otherwise it could not win men of all 
classes, in all countries. This need is in part intellectual. 
The Bahai teaching presents a clear and beautifully 
ordered interpretation of the universe. But this is of 
course not a universal need. A few intellectually culti- 
vated men crave philosophical consistency. To the mass 
of men it is a secondary concern. They want not so 
much new and clear ideas as new life. They are worried 
and confused; they cry for peace. They are unhappy; 
they long for joy. They are dissatisfied with mere mate- 
rial pleasures; they pray for something that is satisfying. 
They feel the chains of self -centered living; they long 
for release. Their inner self is a prison; they would 
exchange it for a palace. To the multitude of mankind, 
as to our new philosophers, knowledge is primarily an 
instrument for the production of life. This truth is 
written all over the history of the world. Men value 
religious truth just so far as it gives them this life. In 
short, that religion grows and persists which gives to 
men regeneration. We have come to distrust this word 
"regeneration," because in the past it has been defined 
so largely in unethical terms. But seen in its true light 
the longing for redemption is simply the deep urge of 
an evolving universe, which, pressing through the minds 
of men, constrains them to climb from a merely physical 
existence to one that is spiritual. All men at a certain 
level of development feel this divine urge upward. The 
religion which helps them in that climb they greet with 
gladness. 

Many movements are popular today because they 
offer, with the spiritual, the more material redemption — 



342 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

release from sickness and poverty. The Bahai Movement 
offers no physical prizes. On the contrary, it declares 
the supreme height of spiritual attainment is revealed 
when man is enabled to meet sickness, poverty, and 
death with unclouded brow, "radiant acquiescence," 
perfect joy. The appeal is a purely spiritual one. It 
bids men come and "drink of the pure Wine which has 
no likeness, from the Chalice of everlasting Glory" 2 
— the wine of union with God. 

The Bahai teaching also differs from various spiritual 
movements of the day in its exaltation of social redemp- 
tion. The body of humanity is sick; it must be healed. 
"These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars, shall pass 
away and the 'Most Great Peace' shall come." 3 Ine- 
quality of opportunity must give way to justice, equality 
of the sexes be established, and the fiction of "inferior 
races" melt before the dawning light of universal broth- 
erhood. It takes for granted that the social conscious- 
ness is part of man's native endowment, that every man 
at his best wants not only individual regeneration but 
the redemption of the world. 4 

The Bahai Movement then makes its appeal to the 
high human instincts for spiritual, social, universal re- 
demption. It promises only the reward of spiritual joy 
for the individual and social welfare of the nations. 
It spreads with surprising rapidity because to such a 
large degree it is fulfilling these exalted promises. Its 
converts will often tell you of the power of the spirit 
they have won in this new teaching, how it opens the 
doors of inspiration within them while they speak, how 

2 Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 18; Bahai Publishing Society, Chicago. All 
references to the words of Bahá'u'lláh and Abdul Baha are English translations of the 
Persian and Arabic originals. 

3 Bahá'u'lláh quoted in A Traveller's Narrative, by Edward G. Browne, p. 
xxxviii; Cambridge, 1892. 

* The social gospel of the Bahai Movement is finely presented in The Modern 
Social Religion, by Horace Holley; Sidgwick & Jackson, London and Toronto, 
1913. 



BAHAISM 343 

it strengthens them to endure suffering, how it makes 
the rewards of the material world look like tinsel and 
ashes and sets them afire with the love of the wealth which 
is spiritual. 

Among the oriental Bahais the spiritual results are 
said to be the most remarkable. Mr. Charles M. Remey 
in his Observations of a Bahai Traveller' 1 ' describes the uni- 
versal spirit of hospitality and brotherly love which 
prevails in the Bahai communities of Persia and South- 
ern Russia. Bahais he had never met would travel a 
day's journey to see him on the train. Mr. Sydney 
Sprague tells us of the beautiful spirit of comradery 
which prevails among the Bahais of India and Burmah. 6 
They are gathered from half a dozen religions which 
formerly shunned each other as some dreadful poison. 
Professor Edward G. Browne describes the remarkable 
and unforgettable spiritual atmosphere at Acca. 7 Mr. 
Myron Phelps, after his visit to Palestine and the neigh- 
boring regions, dwells on the "pure and gentle spirit of 
the Bahais — of them all, so far as I have seen them." 
He declares there is a spiritual exaltation and certainty 
about them which makes it impossible to question the 
reality of the unseen in their presence. He tells how 
their devotion to each other is so perfect that if an officer 
seeking men for martyrdom takes the wrong Bahai, 
that Bahai will often not declare the mistake but gladly 
die in his friend's stead. 8 

In fact, nowhere does the spiritual dynamic in the 
movement appear more vividly than in its martyrdoms. 
A man of eighty when assaulted cried out, '"We are 
from God, and to Him we are returning,' and in the 
very moment of his expiration he called out in a loud 

6 Bahai Publishing Society, Chicago. 

6 A Year with the Bahais in India and Burmah; Priory Press, London. 

7 A Traveller's Narrative, p. xxxix. 

8 Abbas Eflendi [Abdul Baha], His Life and Teachings; Putnam's, 1902; pp. 
110, 140. 



344 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

voice with great joy and exultation, 'You have done us 
no harm! You are only transmitting us to our Lord!'" 9 
A child of eleven is tortured to death by his fanatical 
school-mates and teacher. They afterwards said: 
"When we were stabbing him he only cried out, 'Oh 
Most Glorious God! oh my Supreme Beloved!' never 
wavering for an instant, but with greatest joy and de- 
light he yielded up his life to his Beloved One." 10 A 
youth named Badi was present when Bahá'u'lláh asked 
for a volunteer to take a letter to the Shah of Persia 
on the chance that it would allay the horror of the mar- 
tyrdoms, though it would mean practically certain death 
for the bearer of the letter. Badi offered himself; and 
the bystanders declared that as he was granted the 
commission his face was transfigured. 11 He walked 
hundreds of miles, delivered his message in person to the 
Shah, was rewarded by being slowly burned to death 
during a period of three days, but every moment pre- 
served radiant joy. We need only imagine ourselves 
in such a position to realize that something has happened 
within the martyr's mind. A death like that requires 
a spiritual reinforcement most of us have not yet learned 
to rely upon. 

Abdul Baha gives a beautiful summary of the effects 
of this new teaching on the people of Persia, where it is 
said one person in every three is a Bahai, showing how 
already the movement is achieving its ideal of social 
redemption. In speaking to Miss Laura Clifford Barney, 
the author of Some Answered Questions, 12 who had spent 
a number of years studying the Bahai Movement, he 

9 Bahai Martyrdoms in Persia, by Mirza Husain Ali, p. 12; Bahai Publishing 
Society, Chicago, 1904. 

10 Bahai Martyrdoms in Persia, p. 9. 

11 Flowers from the Rose Garden of Acca, p. 81; Bahai Publishing Society, 
Chicago. 

12 Some Answered Questions, pp. 343-344; Kegan Paul, Trench, Trttbner, & 
Co., London, 1908. 



BAHAISM 345 

turns to her with the exclamation, "Praise be to God, 
you have been to Persia, and you have seen how the 
Persians, through the holy breezes of Bahá'u'lláh, have 
become benevolent toward humanity. Formerly, if 
they met any one of another race, they tormented him, 
and were filled with the utmost enmity, hatred, and 
malevolence; they went so far as to throw dirt at him. 
They burned the Gospel and the Old Testament, and if 
their hands were polluted by touching these books, they 
washed them. Today the greater number of them 
recite and chant, as is suitable, the contents of these 
two books in their reunions and assemblies, and they 
expound their teaching. They show hospitality to their 
enemies. These sanguinary wolves have become as gentle 
as gazelles in the plains of the love of God. You have 
seen their customs and habits, and you have heard them 
speak of the manners of former Persians. This trans- 
formation of morals, this improvement of conduct and 
of words, are they possible otherwise than through the 
love of God? No, in the name of God! If, by the help 
of science and knowledge, we wished to introduce these 
morals and customs, truly it would take a thousand years, 
and then they would not be spread throughout the masses. 
Today, thanks to the love of God, they are arrived at 
with the greatest facility." 

Here then is a religion which is succeeding in the 
undertaking to which all religion is committed, of edu- 
cating men out of the image of the earthly into that of 
the heavenly. It is demonstrating its power by enter- 
ing what are perhaps the darkest countries of the Orient 
and lifting their people toward the light. What is the 
secret? What is the method by which it accomplishes 
these transformations? 

It is all summed up in one word — education. Of 
course in outlining the way to the new social order, to 
the salvation of the nations, the Bahai teachers suggest 



346 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

certain laws, especially for the regulation of excessive 
fortunes, the prevention of poverty. In a hundred years, 
Abdul Baha believes, poverty will have disappeared from 
the civilized world. International laws will be neces- 
sary for the settling of international disputes. Laws 
should be framed to accomplish everything within the 
power of law to accomplish. But this power is limited. 
We cannot bring in the Kingdom of God by legislation 
alone. Furthermore, it requires education of the social 
conscience of men to pass the law and to enforce it. 
Hence the first and the last word in the regeneration of 
the world must always be — education. 

Abdul Baha distinguishes between education which is 
material and that which is spiritual. Both are needful. 
Material education builds up the body of our material 
civilization. Spiritual education, however, is the only 
power which can bring to birth that divine civilization 
which is its light and soul. Upon this heavenly educa- 
tion must the religious teachers concentrate, for therein 
lies the hope of humanity. 

Spiritual education is the proclamation of spiritual 
truth. Of contemporary thinkers none glorify Truth 
more than Bahá'u'lláh and Abdul Baha. To them, as 
to all liberals, it is the only power under heaven which 
can set men free. "The Sun of Truth is the word of 
God, upon which depends the training of the people in 
the country of thought. It is the Spirit of Reality and 
the Water of Life." It is "the Fire of God which, glow- 
ing in the hearts of people, burns away all things that are 
not of God." 13 

Religion in all lands and all ages sets men's spirits 
free in so far as it keeps pure this eternal Word of Truth. 
The great prophets have given it to men in all its pristine 
purity, dressed of course in garments fitted to their 
age and time. Their followers continually imprison it 

13 Hidden Words, pp. 58, 59. 



BAHAISM 347 

in the husks of barren and materialistic creed and 
ritual. Dogmatic imitations of celestial Truth always 
destroy its effectiveness in spiritual regeneration. Be- 
hold the history of Buddhism or Mohammedanism or 
Christianity. 

The truth therefore must be rediscovered and restated 
with each new age. The eternal in the message of 
the prophets must be dissevered from the merely material 
provisions and ordinances. This is possible only to those 
who are free from prejudice and possessed by a passion 
for Reality. 14 Today it is first necessary to recognize 
the value of reason and scientific method. "Weigh care- 
fully in the balance of Reason and Science everything 
that is presented to you as religion. If it passes this test, 
then accept it, for it is truth. If, however, it does not 
so conform, reject it, for it is ignorance." For "it is 
impossible for religion to be contrary to science even 
though some intellects are too weak or too immature 
to understand truth." 15 "Religion and science are the 
two wings upon which man's intelligence can soar into 
the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It 
is not possible to fly with one wing alone. Should a man 
try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly 
fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other 
hand with the wing of science, he would make no progress 
but fall into the despairing slough of materialism." 16 

Religious truth, however, comes primarily through 
spiritual insight. It is conformable to reason. It also 
transcends the measuring rod of our mere rationalistic 
processes and rests ultimately upon spiritual intuition. 
The Bahai teachers declare further that the validity of 
a man's intuition depends upon the purity of his heart. 
We may hear within us not the voice of the spirit but of 
the satanic ego. It is only in the spotless mirror of a 

14 Paris Addresses of Abdul Baha, p. 134. 

15 Ibid., p. 146. 16 Ibid., p. 143. 



348 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

pure heart that the rays of the Sun of Truth are reflected 
with unbroken clearness and splendor. The purest 
and most perfect of men, therefore, attain the highest 
degree of certainty in intuitive knowledge. These by the 
common testimony of mankind are the great prophets. 
To them we turn for the knowledge of Reality. The 
true seeker studies their utterances without prejudice, 
remembering that "light is good in whatever lamp it is 
burning. A rose is beautiful in whatever garden it may 
bloom. A star has the same radiance if it shines from 
the east or the west." 17 The words of the most illumined 
prophets, however, are often imperfectly reported and 
always need interpretation. Therefore traditional script- 
ure alone will not suffice as a criterion for truth. In fact, 
no one of the four accepted standards of truth — the sen- 
sory, the rationalistic, the intuitive, or the traditional — 
is in itself sufficient. When, however, all are combined 
and all agree, we may count their deliverance the truth. 
This is at least the nearest approach that the seeker 
possesses until, after long spiritual discipline, the voice of 
the assurance of the Holy Spirit speaks from the serene 
depths of his own pure and God-illumined heart. 18 

What then are the spiritual truths which, passing this 
test, stand forth as enduring certainty? Or, to narrow 
our quest, what are the truths by the teaching of which 
the Bahai Movement is effecting the transformation of 
its followers' lives? They are very few; in fact they can 
all be gathered under one supreme concept — the inherent 
unity of the universe. Written on almost every page of 
the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and Abdul Baha are the 
words, oneness, unity. Their supreme aim is to bring 
men to "the Tent of Unity," the "presence of single- 
ness," the "ocean of oneness." And "oneness, in its 
true significance, means that God alone should be real- 

17 Paris Addresses of Abdul Baha, p. 136. 

18 See Phelps' Abbas Effendi, p. 149; also Some Answered Questions, p. 886. 



BAHAISM 349 

ized as the One Power which animates and dominates all 
things, which are but manifestations of Its energy." 19 
All nature is one and reveals to the seeker the splendor 
of the "Ideal King." All the prophets speak one truth, 
declare one religion, manifest one God. The individual 
man is the potential manifestation of this one God. The 
immanence of God in the "servants" is taught with per- 
sistent intensity. Hence men of all classes and races 
are the "drops of one sea and leaves of one tree." 
Many a mystic has beheld God in his own soul. The 
Bahai teaching invites men to advance to the more 
universal view and behold His light in all humanity. 
Abdul Baha was asked, "Why do the guests that visit 
you come away with shining countenances?" He an- 
swered, "I cannot tell you, but in all those upon whom 
I look I see only my Father's face." By the inculcation 
of these few but sublime truths would this new gospel 
not only regenerate the individual but heal the disease 
of war, annul the blight of racial, creedal, and class antag- 
onisms, and bring in the "Most Great Peace." 

There are however many liberal thinkers in different 
parts of the world who are announcing these same truths 
of universal religion and universal brotherhood. The 
Bahais are part of a great world-movement. Their sig- 
nificance lies in the effectiveness of their teaching. 
Some teachers present these ideas, and their hearers say, 
"How true, how beautiful!" The Bahais proclaim the 
same truths, and often those who listen rise as from the 
dead, possessed by a new heart, aflame with the love 
which moves the world. There must be some dynamic 
in their method of presentation. 

What is it? Truth regenerates men when they really 
believe it. Belief is something far more vital than mere 
intellectual assent. We may in a vague way surround 
a truth with the light of our intellect; but if that is all, 

19 Hidden Words, p. 61. 



350 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

it has little effect upon us. The power comes when the 
truth surrounds us, grasps our will, kindles our heart, 
possesses our thought day and night, conquers and sub- 
dues our desires, our ambitions, our hopes, and our loves. 
When the truth shines through the horizon of our mind 
with such conquering brilliance that we cry, " Woe be to 
me if I do not do its bidding!" then we really believe. 
Such belief, as Abdul Baha says, invariably regenerates 
a man. "If his reality is dark, he will become enlight- 
ened; if he is heedless, he will become conscious; if he 
is sleeping, he will be awakened; if he is earthly, he will 
become heavenly; if he is satanic, he will become divine. 
This is the meaning of true belief." 

A teacher brings his hearers to this pitch of belief 
only when he in like manner believes the truth he is 
proclaiming. Belief is contagious. He who has it not 
can never transmit it. The Bahais succeed as teachers 
because of the intensity of their belief. To them, at 
their best, it is all in all — life for the world, the hope of 
the ages, the will of God. They die rejoicing, if their 
service to that Truth requires it. 

The fact of their absolute belief in what they teach is 
made apparent by what they have sacrificed to do its 
bidding. This is especially clear in the lives of their 
three great teachers — the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh, and Abdul 
Baha. These teachers say that material things count 
for nothing, are so much "water and clay." The whole 
material universe is to the spiritual man of no more 
consequence, says Abdul Baha, than an insect's wing. 
They show they believe it by giving up all physical 
comforts. Abdul Baha and Bahá'u'lláh lost all their 
property, lived in prisons most of their lives, endured 
privations and tortures, often in underground dungeons 
the horrors of which, to Western ears, are almost beyond 
belief. Yet every day, as Abdul Baha has declared, was 
a day of joy. They slept of their own choice on the 



BAHAISM 351 

floor that the poor might have their beds, ate the scan- 
tiest food that the hungry might share their meals, re- 
fused to flee from their imprisonment when the gate was 
open. Therefore when they declare the life of physical 
comfort, of self-centered ease, is nothing, the life of 
spiritual love is the one glory of existence, their hearers, 
beholding their life, believe them and toss away their 
fortunes, their homes, their lives, with the same perfect 
joy. Their teachers had put their gospel to the severest 
test and had lived it without wavering. Hence, when 
the followers heard their prophet proclaiming the word 
of God, "If My Will thou seekest, regard not thine own, 
that thou mayest die in Me, and I live in thee," 20 they 
knew he had proved it true in his own experience and 
were constrained to offer "what they had for the hope 
of what [God] had." 21 Bahá'u'lláh puts this law of 
spiritual education thus: "The effect of the word spoken 
by the teacher depends upon his purity of purpose and 
his severance." 22 "Guidance hath ever been by words, 
but at this time it is by deeds." 23 "The truth of words 
is tested by deeds and dependent upon life. Deeds 
reveal the station of the man." 24 "He whose words 
exceed his acts, know verily that his non-being is better 
than his being and death better than his life." 26 In 
short, they had power as teachers because they lived the 
truth they taught. "The spiritual teacher shows his 
belief in his own teaching by himself being what he 
recommends to others." He is the Truth. 

Here is one of the supreme laws in spiritual pedagogy. 
Religious truth is a life. It manifests itself in man as 
pure love, wisdom, joy, sublime vitality, peace, far- 
reaching service. This divine life in man is but an image, 
a reflection of the life of God, which is Reality. The 
divine life, therefore, whether in man or God is the same. 

20 Hidden Words, p. 5. 21 Ibid., p. 69. * Ibid., p. 62. 

» Ibid., p. 53. M Ibid., p. 62. * Ibid., p. 63. 



352 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

Now we may describe this life in essay or treatise. That 
is a word-picture or photograph of Reality; but it is 
quite different from the Life itself. The motive power in 
spiritual advancement is love. And we are so made that 
we love not abstractions but realities, not cold prin- 
ciples but the life incarnate. For that reason phil- 
osophic religions are always a failure. No mere "system 
of philosophy has ever been able to change the manners 
and customs of a people for the better." That is the 
reason all the greatest religions of the world gather 
around some noble personality — a Moses, a Confucius, 
a Buddha, a Zoroaster, a Jesus — who lives the creed he 
proclaims. The effect of the prophet in exalting the 
lives of the people lies in the degree in which he can say, 
"I am the Way, the Truth, the Life." True Buddhism 
is the life that was in Buddha; Christianity, the spirit 
which was in the Christ. Until he sees the "splendor 
of the life" incarnate in a human friend, not one man in a 
thousand is able to appreciate its glory and take the hard 
steps which lead to the summit of its transfiguration. 

Furthermore, this life seems actually to pass from 
teacher to listener. This experience has been recorded 
in all ages. It is the secret of every inspiring teacher. 
His inward glory breaks away and through his words, 
his face, his deeds, and enters the minds of those who 
hear or see him. In this experience it seems as though 
reality were transmissible, as if the divine light could 
pass from mind to mind awakening the slumbering divin- 
ity in the hearts of men by the warmth and brilliance 
of its shining. "The unusual intellects, for instance, of 
Plato, Aristotle, Pliny, and Socrates, have not influenced 
men so greatly that they have been anxious to sacrifice 
their lives for their teachings; whilst some simple men 
[have] so moved humanity that thousands of men have 
become willing martyrs to uphold their words." 26 A 

26 Paris Addresses of Abdul Baha, p. 167. 



BAHAISM 353 

carpenter, Jesus, was able to light the Roman world 
with a veritable spiritual conflagration. When the fire 
of the love of God and men blazed forth in his heart it 
needs must kindle the hearts of millions, for it is the 
nature of such fire that it spreads, and burns from the 
minds it touches all that is not of God. Only "such 
Fire of Love will assemble all the different peoples into 
one court." 27 Only by the transmission of this holy 
fire from man to man will the Kingdom of God appear on 
earth. 

Its penetrative and re-creative power lies in this: it 
is the light of God by which all things have come into 
being. It is creator of the world. It is an easy matter, 
therefore, for it to re-create man. This divine life in the 
good man is God. "He who desires to associate with 
God, let him associate with His beloved; and he who 
desires to hear the word of God, let him hear the words 
of His chosen ones." 28 God is incarnate in these "chosen 
ones" in the degree of their spiritual perfection. The 
sun shines on the stone and the polished mirror. But 
only the polished mirror reflects its real splendor. The 
Sun of Reality, which is God, shines on the hearts of all 
men, but only those which are pure, burnished by the 
spirit, reflect its Divine Glory. For instance: "Christ 
was the mirror; God was the Sun. The Sun appeared 
with all its effulgence and splendor in the mirror; that is, 
the virtues, the perfections, and the characteristics of 
God appeared in Christ. That is what is meant where 
it is written in the Bible that 'We have created man in 
our own image.' The perfect man is the visage and 
image of God, just as the mirror reflects the sun. We 
cannot say the sun has come down from heaven and 
taken a place in the mirror. The sun is eternal, living in 

27 Tablet of the World, from Tarazat and other Tablets, by Bahá'u'lláh, p. 27; 
Bahai Publishing Society, Chicago, 1918. 
*• Hidden Words, p. 72. 



354 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

its own station. It has no ascent or descent; but the 
rays and the heat of the sun have become fully reflected 
in the clear mirror." 29 The sun is in the mirror; God 
is in Christ. Therefore he that hath seen Christ hath 
seen the Father. 

The Bahais also emphasize an often forgotten truth. 
This Light, the Spirit, may be put into a book, clothed 
with the transparent garment of words. Some books 
contain ideas; others, ideas wrapped and drenched in the 
living spirit of Reality. These latter books awaken life, 
transmit the fire of love, usher one into God's very pres- 
ence, as did their author when he met men in the flesh. 
Jesus was incarnate not only in the body of the car- 
penter. He was incarnate also in the words of the Gos- 
pels. Reading their pages with pure and receptive heart, 
we may behold him rising from them in glory. The 
Bibles of the world have this power: they preserve as a 
living presence the spirit of their author for future gen- 
erations. They grasp men's hearts, stir their hopes, 
strengthen their wills, as did the prophet himself. They 
move the world. A few pages of the Gospels turned the 
course of history. 

The Bahais, who make a practice of reading as far as 
possible the sacred books of all religions, declare the words 
of the Bab, of Bahá'u'lláh, and Abdul Baha, possess this 
same re-creative power. They illumine, exalt them, re- 
veal to them the presence of God, and set them aflame 
with His love. They shake their soul awake with the 
divine thirst for the "immortal, everlasting chalice" of 
union with God. And that is the first aim of spiritual 
education in every land, every age. Inertia is the wall 
which blocks the pathway of men's spiritual advance- 
ment. They are asleep, they must be awakened; spir- 
itually dead, they must be called forth from the tombs. 
The teacher who can through deeds, through spoken or 

29 Abdul Baha in Star of the West, vol. Ill, no. 6, p. 8. 



BAHAISM 355 

written words, awaken that love of the divine life will 
save men. The first step in the Bahai method of spir- 
itual education is that of reading inspired words or meet- 
ing exalted teachers, until one is able for a moment "to 
taste of the honey of union with [God]. If we drink 
of this cup we shall forget the whole world." 30 

After this arousing from without, man must take the 
process into his own hands. His active co-operation is 
imperative. God puts great responsibilities upon our 
will. When once "the world-illuminating sun of long- 
ing dawns forth, and the fire of love becomes ablaze," 
we must quickly sever ourselves from all lower ambi- 
tions, from "aught else save God," turn our "face from 
the faces of all created beings unto the Holy Face of 
[His] Oneness," 31 and pray. Few religious teachers give 
to prayer a more central place than the Bahais. The 
good Bahais rise, if possible, at dawn with a prayer of 
awakening, turn to God in adoration as they dress, spend 
a half hour or so in earnest supplication and praise before 
breakfast, pray as they leave the house for the daily 
business, pray in the stillness of the evening, and drop 
away to sleep committing their bodies and spirits into 
the hands of God's care and protection. Prayer, they 
declare, is one of the chiefest pillars of all religion. With- 
out it the highest human life is impossible. To them 
prayer is "giving up the outward eye and opening the 
inward eye." It is the concentrating of the whole mind 
upon that "central radiance" of the universe which is 
God. Above all, it is cleansing our motives by absorp- 
tion in the thought of God. "A pure heart is like unto 
a mirror. Purify it by the polish of Love and Severance 
from all else save God, until the Ideal Sun may reflect 
therein and the Eternal Morn may dawn." 32 As such 

30 Seven Valleys, by Bahá'u'lláh, p. 10; Bahai Publishing Society, Chicago. A 
little treatise describing man's journey to union with God. 

31 Hidden Words, p. 72. 32 Seven Valleys, p. 28. 



356 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

prayer grows perfect, he who is traversing the valleys 
towards the "sea of nearness and union" attains a won- 
derful knowledge of God. "In an ocean he will see a 
drop, and in a drop he will detect the mysteries of an 
ocean." "The core of whatever mote thou mayest split, 
therein thou wilt find a sun." "He beholds the beauty 
of the Friend in everything. In fire he sees the face of 
the Beloved; in unreality he perceives the sign of the 
Reality." 33 He discerns the "goodness at the heart of 
things evil." " He finds life in death and glory in shame." 
His character is therefore transfigured. "If he experi- 
ences any oppression, he will endure it with patience, and 
if he sees any wrath, he will show forth affection." 34 
He passes on and on in the divine journey until the self- 
centered self vanishes as a shadow. He has "abandoned 
the drop of life and reached the Ocean of the Beloved 
One." Nay more, he has "plunged into the seas of 
Grandeur." He is of those who "swim in the sea of 
Spirit and roam in the sacred atmosphere of Light." 35 
"The Beauty of the Face unveils itself from the Orient 
of the Eternal World and the meaning of 'Everything 
is mortal save the Face of God' becomes manifest." 

Such is the height to which Bahá'u'lláh would lead his 
spiritual students through contact with inspired prophets 
and the intensive practice of prayer. But there is noth- 
ing approaching other-worldliness about this exalted state. 
He who sees God in everything will behold Him first of 
all in the neighbor who needs his service, in the great 
causes which make for the upbuilding of spiritual civiliza- 
tion. Abdul Baha declares that today the supreme con- 
firmations of the Holy Spirit come to those who rise to 
serve the "Most Great Cause" of universal religion and 
universal brotherhood. 36 Immersion in the "sea of 
union" is the final preparation for the service of such a 

33 Seven Valleys, p. 40. M Ibid., p. 17. » Ibid., p. 36. 

34 Tablets of Abdul Baha, passim. 



BAHAISM 357 

divine cause. It brings that baptism of fire which makes 
him in whom it is burning a light to illumine all those 
who hear his word or see his face. "The minds of the 
lovers are ever aflame with this fire." 37 It transforms 
character, destroys ignorance, quickens civilization. It 
made a few illiterate fishermen of Galilee the leaders of 
the Western world. It is at once the mightiest and the 
most contagious force known to man. The Bahai Move- 
ment is but a new statement and a new demonstration 
of the power of the Holy Spirit in the education of 
humanity. 

" Hidden Words, p. 59. 
Back to:   Published Articles
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
 
.
. .