Re: Query - East Asian religious history from a Baha'i perspective -resources?

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Posted by Kendal ( on October 25, 2002 at 20:31:59:

In Reply to: Query - East Asian religious history from a Baha'i perspective -resources? posted by Peter Menear on October 24, 2002 at 22:54:52:

I read your post with interest. I don't know if I can help, but I would like to offer a few thoughts and some resources on the web that have been helpful to me in thinking about this issue. First, my own thoughts. Although we are accustomed to thinking about the Baha'i Faith within the Judeo-Christian-Islamic perspective, and that is certainly the "world-view" that Baha'u'llah and Abdul-Baha addressed, the fundamental spiritual and moral principles are universal. Baha'u'llah has told us that God is a reality fundamentally inexpressable in human terms except through use of metaphor. The same can be said for the human soul or spirit, the life after death, and even the nature of spirituality itself. We also have no real idea, nor may we ever, of how the spiritual world interacts with the physical.

Thus, when a Manifestation of God appears in the world, although He brings a message of pure spirit, the message takes on a particular garment or form. The words he uses, the metaphors or parables he draws, the entire conceptual scheme he presents about the spiritual world are necessarily, to some degree, culturally and linguistically defined. After all, if I want to tell you about something you have never seen before, I have to use analogies and terms you are familiar with. This would mean that the metaphysical schemes present in the various world religions are not as important as "the path" or the virtues, feelings, and spiritual attraction the Manifestation generates.

The Manifestations bring more than ideas though- they bring a "spiritual" message. I cannot personally express to you how Baha'u'llah makes me feel when I read His Writings. But it is something beyond the words I am reading or the concepts He is presenting. There is a power and a spirit there of which the words are only an outer form. I think the same "spirit" would have been felt by a Buddhist in the time of Buddha. On the surface, Buddhism is not a very attractive message. Indeed, it seems kind of depressing. But there is a beautiful spirit there that lies beyond the words and I think that is what East Asia responded to. It is purity and goodness and rightness and everything we would associate with God. The Buddha did not talk of God, but to me, he said more about God with his silence than any other religion. The spirit of God permeates the religion.

So I think that when we look for Manifestations in other cultures outside the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, we need to look more for a message about "purity" and all that is right than one that reflects the metaphysical scheme that developed in the Abrahamic tradition. Abdul Baha said the Confucius was not a prophet but that he "renewed ancient morals", presumably those that may have come from a previous Manifestation lost to history. When Abdul Baha says that Buddha taught the "oneness of God", I dont think we can expect to find that he taught it in the same way it was taught in ancient Judaism. After all, the concept of "God" did not exist in the same way at that time. But no religion is as "iconoclastic" as Buddhism. The Buddha completely destroyed all idols- not just the physical idols the people were worshiping, but also the idol of self and the idol of vain imaginations...etc. He made people confront head-on the reality of their existence, and destroyed any idol that would stand in their way to true spiritual growth. What does the "oneness of God" mean if not that?

Sorry to drone on. As for the resources, Dr. Moojan Momen's paper "Relativism- A Basis for Baha'i Metaphysics" was very illuminating to me. I also enjoyed his book- The Phenomenon of Religion. I am sure more people will write about this most interesting topic in the future. For me, studying other Faiths has really helped me to think less about the "words" that Baha'u'llah uses and more about the "spirit" he conveys using those words. I hope that is somewhat helpful. Much love, Kendal

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