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

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Posted by Peter Menear ( on October 24, 2002 at 22:54:52:

I'm doing some research on Buddhism and Asian religious history and was wondering if anyone new of any scholars or information sources on these fields from a Baha'i perspective. I've read and am well acquainted with Fozdar's works (The God of Buddha, etc.), but need to go into further depth. I'm interested in investigating the unity of religion, the divine source of world religions and the evolution of religion(s) from a Baha'i perspective. East Asian history provides an interesting challenge because it has such a rich religious heritage, which is not all attributable to any connection with a Manifestation of God. Buddhism spread eastward from about 100 AD, and the spread of Buddhism continued for several centuries. Prior to that, as far as a I can discern, the major religious/philosophical influences were Taoism and Confucianism (and more primitive religions like Shinto). China had many very sophistocated social and religious philosophers in ancient times. Confucious was a philosopher who developed a beautiful ethical system, but lacked a theology and religious framework. (With the influence of Buddhism, an imitation Confucian religion was developed later, but philosophical Confucianism was merely a moral teaching by a good man). Most historical references say that Confucious and Lao-Tzu lived at roughly the same period, though I don't know how that conclusion is arrived at. Lao-Tzu's Tao de Ching certainly had a spiritual message, and religion was a significant feature of life when Confucious lived. So there was an ancient, prexistent religion in China. But we don't know much about it or its source. There certainly is no manifestation in China that brought a religious message that we know of prior to the time of Confucious and Lao-Tzu. So where did these religious beliefs come from, what formed the basis of religion during the times of Confucious and Lao-Tsu, and what formed the spiritual basis of Chinese, pre-Buddhist philosophers? The Baha'i position is that God sent a succession of messengers, each with a specially tailored, and more advanced, message to humanity. That is quite neat and evident in the evolution of "occidental" religion; ie. Abraham,(Zoroaster), Moses, Jesus, Muhummad, the Bab and Baha'u'llah. The succession of prophethood and the relationship between divine revelation and socio-historical development in the Far East isn't so clearly discernable. One might think that there was no known manifestations of God or divine revelation which touched the ancient far east prior to Buddha. Yet a tremendously sophistocated society emerged, and the religious and philosophical ideas that came out of that region were stupendous. Personally, I think the Taoist teachings, the works of Confucious and the Chinese philosophers like Mencius and Mo-Tzu were really quite stupendous. I'd take the Confucian concept of unity in the family, community, nation, and world, or Mo-Tzu's belief in unconditional love, over the Judaic wrath of Yaweh any day. These developments took place during parallel historical periods. The (primitive) ancient Judaic beliefs came from a Manifestation. The (sophistocated - granted, my bias) Chinese beliefs emerged from an environment where there doesn't seem to be any trace of a Manifestation of God. This doesn't fit with the Baha'i concept of progressive revelation. I know there's a lot we don't know about history, and there have really been many more Manifestations that we are familiar with in history today. But I wish I could find out how to approach the study of religious evolution in Asia from a Baha'i perspective. I noticed in the Analects a reference to great teachers of humanity who occassionally come to the world (I can't remember the exact phrasing). Confucious (who supposedly wrote the Analects) did say that he had never known such a teacher, and I believe they had existed in the distant past - well, it's been years since I read the passage - but I thought he might be referring to the idea of a Manifestation. However, he may have also just fabricating his idea of a great golden age of the past which he idealized. That's the only hint of a possibility I've found that anyone at that time might have remotely known of a Manifestation of God. And it may be a long shot. After 100 AD, continuing through 900 or so, the influence of a Manifestation of God in the Far East becomes clearer. Do you know a Baha'i scholar who is knowledgable about Asian history and religion? Or does anyone have any insight. I either need a framework to investigate this field from a Baha'i perspective, or I'm going to have to do a lot of work to find some clues. I've just started to use the internet for Baha'i purposes, so I really don't know my way around. Actually, the same problem exists in the examination of classical history. At different times, there were some good and relatively true aspects of Roman, Greek and Egyptian religions. How did these religions evolve? What is the relationship between the Manifestations and classical civilization. I refuse to believe that great civilizations emerged out of religious foundations which were 'wrong, stupid, and bad', until Yahweh came along to whip everybody into shape. I understand there was a relationship between Judaic teachings and Greek philosophy, but it would be nice to get some information on how that relationship and interaction occurred historically. Pythagorus had a profound teaching; perhaps there is a clue there. If the Greek philosophers were influenced by the Judaic revelations, it would be interesting to find historical works that document this process. I've read about both modern, ancient and primitive religions, and certainly one can find strong parallels and commonalities of religions throughout the ages. I'd just like to know better how this process took place. The Baha'i writings on progressive revelation just provide a clue to what actually happened. It will no doubt take historians a long time to detail the actual process. Joseph Campbell argues that religion and culture began in the middle east and spread east and west, to the far east and beyond, ultimately to the Americas. There is archeological evidence for this theory. He proposes that high civilization in the middle east preceeded the Chinese, and there is strong evidence for sea travel across the Pacific. That could explain the flow of ancient religious ideas. Maybe the Far East had been influenced is the distant, pre-Confucian past by a Manifestation, or Manifestations, and religious thought underwent an evolution, as it does everywhere. The other alternative is that it emerged naturally out of primitive shamanic/animistic religion without the influence of a Manifestation. The problem is that one would have to conclude that Manifestations of God are not essential for the higher evolution of religion and culture (and therefore aren't essential), which undermines Baha'i theology altogether. I'm interested in finding a valid historical basis supporting the Baha'i view of history. But it is harder in Asia (Rome, Greece, the pre-Columbian Americas, etc.). Any help would be appreciated.

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