I wrote an essay recently about Bahá'í which I thought was going to be a boring and short paper. I kept finding more and more cool ideas to put in
and it grew in length. I think it turned out pretty good and hopefully is a good introduction to the fascinating faith known as Bahá'í. The random
numbers throughout are my source references.
Bahá'í is one of the newest religions on the planet, yet it integrates so much from other faiths that it seems to be a syncretic blend of old and
moldy traditions. However, unlike Hinduism (which is happy to adopt religious ideologies so long as they proclaim, or even just admit, that Brahman is
the ultimate reality and their own gods are merely manifestations of Brahman), Bahá'í does not lump varied and opposing traditions under its
umbrella. Instead, it subscribes to the idea of progressive revelation – that past religions and religions figures (including Krishna and other
Hindu godhead incarnations, Zoroaster, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, etc) are all divinely connected revelators whose messages were crafted for a
specific region, culture, and time on this planet. Each next Manifestation of God therefore exists to revise the divine message such that it works for
that culture and time. It is necessary for the varied contexts of history to be paired with varied spiritual systems in the Bahá'í tradition:
“Ask a Bahá'í to deny any of the great Prophets, to deny his faith or to deny Moses, Muḥammad or Christ, and he will say: I would rather
die. So a Muḥammadan Bahá'í is a better Christian than many so called Christians.
A Bahá'í denies no religion; he accepts the Truth in all, and would die to uphold it.
The religion of God has two aspects in this world. The spiritual (the real) and the formal (the outward). The formal side changes, as man changes from
age to age. The spiritual side which is the Truth, never changes. The Prophets and Manifestations of God bring always the same teaching; at first men
cling to the Truth but after a time they disfigure it. The Truth is distorted by man-made outward forms and material laws. The veil of substance and
worldliness is drawn across the reality of Truth.”
This concept of progressive revelation is a reflection of the most central Bahá'í ideas of the Unity of God, Unity of Religion, and Unity of
Humankind. In this essay, we will be exploring these central ideas and their philosophical and theological consequences. A brief history will be
helpful in this investigation.
This history the Bahá'í faith is much like Christianity. Christianity began as a radical Jewish group with Jesus (mirrored by the Báb), a new
self-proclaimed prophet who started the party, and then Paul (mirrored by Bahá'u'lláh) who officially gave everybody name tags and pumped the keg.
It's beginnings are found in a group of Shi'a Muslims known as the Twelvers. The Twelvers believe that the the final, twelfth Imam (twelve predicted
Messengers who would follow Muhammad as in guiding Islam through the ages) had already come and gone into (physical and spiritual) hiding in the late
800s CE. As the twelfth Imam went into hiding, mediators known as Bábs (meaning “gates”) were necessary to communicate divine messages between
Muslims and the Imams (and therefore God). In the early to mid 1800s, about 1000 years later, a sect of Shi'a in Persia, the Shaykhis, were expecting
the imminent re-arrival and revealing of the twelfth Imam, who would begin a new reign of justice.
The leader of the Shaykhis instructed his disciples to seek out this returning twelfth Imam, who would come in the form of the Qa'im, He Who Will
Arise. One night, the Báb (born Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi) invited the seeker to his home and revealed his status as what Muslims would call a
Messenger of God, and what the Bahá'í would call a Manifestation of God. Over the months, a number of other Shaykhis and Muslim figures verified the
Báb's status and his message began to spread.
The new Persian Prime Minister did not approve of this new religion and violently opposed it. The Báb was captured and sentenced to execution by
firing squad. On July 9, 1850, he and a disciple were hung by rope about three meters off the ground as a reported 750 (!) soldiers steadied their
rifles and fired their shots. There was a huge cloud of smoke, and when it cleared, all were able to see that the Báb and his disciple were unharmed,
in fact the Báb was nowhere to be seen. Some report a divine intervention, others report bad marksmanship, but whatever the cause, everybody seems to
be in agreement that the executioner's bullets merely cut the Báb's bonds, allowing him to escape. He was found back in his jail cell, finishing a
conversation with a disciple he hadn't finished earlier in the day. His executioners, fearing divine smiting, refused to haul him back out to the
killing grounds and give the execution another go, saying they had fulfilled their contracted duty – even though the Báb let them know that he was
done with his conversation and they were allowed to execute him now. A squad of Armenian soldiers was brought in to finish the execution. This time,
the Báb and his disciple were totally blown to bits.
However, this was not the start of Bahá'í – this was just the start of a sub-sect of Islam called Bábism, which was very similar the
proto-Christian groups in action shortly after the time of Jesus. The Báb himself is said to have revealed (mostly dictated revelations) about
seventy times the Qur'an's verbal volume. Bábism included three main sections – Commentary and interpretation of the Qur'an and other Islamic
literature, Metaphysical theories of being and creation, and Legislative treatises on mystical and historical principles.
Shortly before the Báb's death, he was encouraged by followers to formally announce or recommend a successor. He sent a letter to a man named Mirza
Husayn Ali Nuri very casually suggesting that he was to be the successor. Fifteen years after the Báb's death, this man took the name Bahá'u'lláh
and was officially recognized as the predicted successor to the Báb. It is from the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh that Bahá'í was born. Along with the
Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá (b 1844 – d 1921) were the three principle leaders of Bahá'í, and their writings are considered canon.
Central Ideas – Unity and Diversity of God, Religion, and Humankind
The most important idea in Bahá'í is Unity. The universe is not equatable with God, however - pantheism is explicitly denied by Shoghi Effendi, the
Guardian/Head of Bahá'í from 1921 to 1957.1 As is very common in Bahá'í, Unity must be harmonized with Diversity for proper existence.6 The
universe is infinitely varied, and all variations are necessary parts of the unified whole. All systems within the universe (physical, social,
spiritual, etc) can be likened to the leaves and branches of a great, primal tree, the species of which is identifiable from any twig or leaf, but
among whose never-ending growths there are none exactly alike. The basic message of God is present in all the universe, in all uncorrupted religions
(of which there are few – in fact none were rejected by Bahá'í in my research, they were only assigned to a specific cultural era), and in all
mankind. The nature of Creation, however, necessitates diversity.
The Creator/God itself is described by Effendi as a “personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient,
omnipresent and almighty...”.7 However, this does not mean that the God of Bahá'í is personal in the Christian sense of a personal God. As Effendi
has elucidated, the personal aspect of God refers to the conscious quality of God, who has a mind, will, and purpose in creation. Indeed, the original
idea and purpose of the universe and existence was for the Creator to better know and love itself. The Creator, at the beginning, in Bahá'í
tradition, was a unified whole, homogenous and not unlike a singularity. The Creator desired to know itself better and love itself more thoroughly,
and the way to accomplish this was to split itself into the unbounded creation we know as the universe, to allow the single whole to fragment into
smaller holonic (a holon is a whole unit which is simultaneously a non-whole part of a larger unit – for example, each organ in our bodies is its
own whole unit as well as a part of the whole unit of our bodies) consciousnesses which would then have a unique perspective of the Creator and
Creation because of their unique experiences. And so the Creator assimilates their unique awareness and experience and knows itself more thoroughly.
Allowing the fragmented consciousnesses nested within the infinite Creator to love each other also allows the Creator to love itself more
Even though we are all spawned of the Creator, we are all our own individual souls and will never totally dissolve into the Creator. This differs
greatly from the complete unification of moksha and nirvana of Hinduism and Buddhism, respectively. And since that Supreme Being is greater than any
human, since we are all parts of this Creator God, it is impossible for us to know it in totality and reality. Nearness to god is possible, though -
by the human powers of rational though and love we might develop a closeness to the essence of God and the divine intention.8 This reminds me of
Taoism, where closeness to God is essentially closeness to the Tao (the Natural Way) or allowing one's consciousness to assume the same flow as the
Just as we and God are unified but also diverse, so are the religions of the world. In Bahá'í, there is but one God and all religions (past,
present, and future) praise that same boundless entity. This seems paradoxical in that no religions agree with any other (they would be the same
religion if that was the case). However, we can resolve this contradiction by taking a wider perspective. Just as the physical form of mankind evolved
over time, so have mankind's religious traditions. `Abdu'l-Bahá was a supporter of the theory of evolution, saying that man's physical form is always
changing, from “an inmate of the sea” to “an invertebrate, then a vertebrate and finally a human being standing erect”, but his distinctly
human spiritual potential has always been present.9 Religions evolve similarly. Their structure (like our physical bodies) changes in response to the
changing physical world, but the essential teachings and message (like our spiritual bodies) are the same throughout each religion and divine
revelation. The most important point here is that all religions (and their Gods) are prisms of their time and place, filtering the same pure divine
light into different hues to best illuminate the peoples of that culture. The unity is inherent, the diversity necessary to accommodate the motion of
Another very interesting unity asserted by `Abdu'l-Bahá is that of religion and science. He describes them as akin to the two wings of the human
bird, both of which are necessary to fly. Not only must we have both wings to soar, but they must be balanced and harmonized as well. He spoke
publicly in 1911:
“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 alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism.”
`Abdu'l-Bahá also makes the observation that all current major religions at the time had “fallen into superstitious practices, out of harmony alike
with the true principles of the teaching they represent and with the scientific discoveries of the time” rendering them useless for spiritual or
scientific development. Here is one last quote from that same 1911 speech:
“If religion were contrary to logical reason then it would cease to be a religion and be merely a tradition.”
Some other topics which deal with unity and which are more or less self-explanatory include total equality between men and women (all positions in
Bahá'í are open to both sexes excepting the nine members of the Universal House of Justice, all of which must be male – Bahá'u'lláh stated that
the reason for this would reveal itself in the future10), elimination of all prejudice (social and economic), world peace, individual and independent
truth-seeking (everybody must find truth themselves and understand the rationale themselves for it to be truth), compulsory education (women get
preferential educational treatment because they will likely be first to teach their children), and obedience to government unless doing what the law
says equates to a denial of the Bahá'í faith. Bahá'í does not advocate that all people be reduced to the same muddy, indistinguishable blobs of
carbon, but instead says that we must maintain our uniqueness while achieving unity.
The Seven Valleys
All quotes in this section are from The Seven Valleys [by Bahá'u'lláh] unless otherwise noted.
One of the most important literary works in Bahá'í is The Seven Valleys, written by the founder of Bahá'í, Bahá'u'lláh. Effendi considered this
work to be Bahá'u'lláh's greatest mystical work, full of poetic passages, plays on words, and references to the Qur'an and Islam. The book describes
a seven-part spiritual journey that takes its traveler to realms of existence ever-closer to God. Each of the seven stages is a spiritual and
philosophical valley. The journey has no end comparable to the end of a journey from our limited human perspective – the final stages do not include
time as a relevant factor of existence, they describe an existence so close to the Creator that time simply is not.
The idea of cycles of time and history are also established in this work. These cycles are similar to the Hindu yugas and Mayan time cycles. There
are references to a (more) enlightened new age, or a new cycle, beginning after an age of darkness and ignorance. These great cycles in time are
reflected (or fractalized) in each individual's own journey and search. These valleys are also closest thing to Bahá'í afterlife as
post-life-on-Earth spiritual realms in which spiritual development never halts, but is always reaching new levels of awareness.
Our souls may go through many incarnations as they progress through these stages, as `Abdu'l-Bahá writes:
“Had the life of a man in his spiritual being been only confined to his life in this world, the creation would have proved useless; the
divine qualities would have no result and effect; nay, all things, created beings and the world of creation would have proved
Reincarnation is not explained much further than to say that it is a part of the journey through the Seven Valleys. The Bahá'í do not concern
themselves with the mechanics behind reincarnation, but only with the general understanding that the eternal soul goes through various lives of sorts
in various realms as it learns. It should be said here also that the Manifestations of God (officially recognized, verified, and authenticated
Bahá'í prophets) may have had past lives on Earth. For example, Effendi suggests that the Báb was an incarnation of the Prophet Elijah.7
All souls begin their journey in the Valley of Search. This first stage is a stage of beingness, of rejection of any non-independently-considered
ideas, like the traditions of one's parents, in favor of finding one's own path. This is the most primal spiritual existence. It is the cleansing of
the heart and soul in preparation for the next valley, the Valley of Love.
In the Valley of Love, the seeker is now unaware of himself. He “seeth neither ignorance nor knowledge, neither doubt nor certitude; he knoweth not
the morn of guidance from the night of error.” The seeker is ignorant of his or her own free will, and lacks the ability to make decisions of moral
value. He merely exudes love unconditionally. However, this love is foolish, it burns, and indeed it must burn the seeker so that he can learn the
lessons of this valley and proceed to the Valley of Knowledge.
Bahá'u'lláh relates a story in the opening of the chapter on Valley of Knowledge. A lover who has not seen her in many years, decides his life is
not worth living without his habibi (Arabic for “beloved”, I learned that at a hookah bar). That night, as he ponders what to do with his life, he
walks by a watchman or policeman who gives chase. The lover runs away, and the watchman calls in some backup. Soon, the lover is cornered, and climbs
the wall at his back. At the top, he looks down to the other side to find his beloved searching in a garden for a ring she had lost. The lover
proclaims that the watchmen he had early declared to be the angel of death, he now praises for guiding him to his lover (who as also found what she
was looking for – her ring and lover).
This story illustrates the lessons to be learned in the Valley of Knowledge. Here, the seeker begins to realize the consequence of his actions. He is
no longer a mindless reflection of love or pain, but sees the love and pain brought on by his own life. Furthermore, he perceives the paradoxical way
that love blossoms from fear, hate, and pain, and that negative feelings come from the decay of love. The watchmen's transformation in the lover's
mind from the harbinger of death Izra'il into Gabriel shows how our actions have consequences unexpected, and that love and fear/hate/pain are both
necessary balances on the scale of life. The seeker understands that there are no beginnings or ends. Once this understanding is fully comprehended,
the seeker knows that there are no limits in this world.
The Valley of Knowledge is thus the “last plane of limitation”. The seeker now finds himself in the Valley of Unity, understanding Creation not
by focusing on its limits or the differences between things, but by knowing its limitlessness and seeing the attributes of God in all things. He sees
that the diversity of the universe exemplifies the unity of God. The rays of light are pure in their radiance, but each thing in creation “sheddeth
its bounty according to the potentialities of that place.” That is to say, the same rays of love and light bath all Creation, illuminating with
unity the diversity of the universe. The self and ego begin to lose importance in this stage.
In the fifth valley, the Valley of Contentment, the seeker “burneth away the veils of want” such that he is independent of outward attachments
and all things. He is materially poor and undesiring of temporary things, instead looking inward to find peace. He is spiritually wealthy and
powerful, but like ascetic monks, appears physically to be frail. The fourth, fifth, and sixth valleys cannot be described, as the “tongue
faileth” and “speech falleth short”:
“Only heart to heart can speak the bliss of mystic knowers;
No messenger can tell it and no missive bear it.
I am silent from weakness on many a matter,
For my words could not reckon them and my speech would fall short.”
[Arabian Poem quoted in the Seven Valleys, author unknown]
In this Valley of Contentment, the seeker sees divine beauty and God in everything. `Abdu'l-Bahá writes that “...even in fire, he seeth the face of
the Beloved.” He also writes “There was God and there was naught beside Him.” These words illustrate how the seeker's spiritual vision gaining
bandwidth and widening perspective to the point that he cannot help but see God everywhere and be purely contented with this vision.
The sixth stage is known as the Valley of Wonderment. Here, the seeker is awestruck and dumbfounded by the vastness and infinite diversity of
Creation, left basking in the beauty of it all. Again, this stage is not quite able to be described accurately in human terms as it is beyond anybody
who is reading this essay. `Abdu'l-Bahá attempts to convey how vast this stage is, but as this valley is one of the indescribable three, all
descriptions will necessarily fail. The seeker is exposed to the mysteries of Creation, given audience to the awesome and varied glories of Creation.
Time has effectively become irrelevant at this point.
The Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness is the seventh of the Seven Valleys. It is simultaneously the essence of true poverty and
nothingness, where nothing material may exist. All that is left are the spiritual possessions of our seeker, who has converged with the Creator in
Unity. The seeker's self still exists as a distinct entity, despite the total union with God. He has “abandoned the drop of life and come to the sea
of the Life-Bestower.” This is the closest concept in the Bahá'í faith to heaven or nirvana. It is not eternal, because eternity implies the
passage of time does exist, but continues forever. This valley exists outside of time and space, and as the seeker arrives at this stage, he is no
longer subject to time in any way, nor is he constrained by spatial limitations.
These stages are something that each individual experiences independently, but also as something that society on a whole gradually progresses
through. Manifestations of God, according to Bahá'í, are incarnations on this planet of souls who are further along in the Seven Valleys than the
rest of humankind. One is not required to go travel through the Seven Valleys in sequence, however. The seeker “may cross these seven stages in
seven steps, nay rather in seven breaths, nay rather in a single breath, if God will and desire it.” Thus, the seeker may experience a satori-like
epiphany allowing him to spiritually evolve all the way from the first to the last valley with a single breath, with a single thought. Given enough
time, all souls will fully traverse these metaphysical planes and end up perfectly aligned with the Creator.
Everyday Life as a Bahá'í
Members of the Bahá'í faith are currently estimated to be between five and ten million in number, with the majority living in Asia. Despite the
lower number of adherents, Bahá'í is extremely well-represented in terms of the number of countries and cultures of its members, established in
nearly 250 countries.13 Additionally, Foreign Policy Magazine ranked the Bahá'í faith as the world's second-fastest growing religion by percentage
growth in 2007.13 The Universal House of Justice, the principle governing body of Bahá'í, is located in Haifa Israel, where the religion is
structurally centered. However, as per the Bahá'í belief of unity, there is no most holy place for Bahá'ís.
A law-book written by Bahá'u'lláh, called the Kitab-i-Aqdas, sets forth many laws and observances. A few important basics are as follows: Daily
obligatory prayer (the same prayer every day) and devotional prayer or meditation (free form), no gossiping or spreading of rumors, no intoxicating
substances unless they are prescribed by doctors, no gambling, no sexual intercourse outside of heterosexual marriage (thus homosexuality is not
approved of – however, the Bahá'í faith welcomes gay and lesbian members and makes no exclusions on this basis, or any other basis), no rituals,
no partisan politics, and no fanaticism (social, religious, political, or otherwise). Unless suffering from illness or some sort of bad health, every
Bahá'í adult should take a nineteen day sunrise-to-sunset fast each year, beginning on March 2nd and ending on March 20th.
Being a very practical religion, monasticism is forbidden in Bahá'í. There are no Bahá'í monks, no beggars, and no ascetics. Working and ordinary
daily life should be done in loving and joyous service of society, and these activities also function as forms of worship. Service to humanity is an
essential part of the tradition and all Bahá'í are encouraged to “be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your
deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”16 Thus the life of begging homeless monks in many eastern religious traditions is looked down on.
The cushy life of Christian bishops, the pope, and company would all also be considered less valuable to Bahá'ís than the life of a regular man
feeding his community. That's not to say that leaders with specifically and exclusively religious purpose are not acceptable within Bahá'í, only
that often, a more down-to-earth life and work might be more valuable than setting on a religious throne in gold threads for years at a time.
The extremely progressive and relatively fresh religious tradition of Bahá'í opens up new interpretations of ancient traditions, relieving much
tension between various religions. It provides a mechanism and explanation for the diversity of divine messages divinely received by messengers and
prophets, uniting them all as necessary ideologies, each presented by the Creator for specific peoples at specific times. It allows for no spiritual
paradoxes, as the scope of consciousness expands in the Seven Valleys until it is one infinitesimal step away from Godhood and all contradictions are
The Bahá'í are dedicated to unifying the globe in preparation for the next age. Their laws, and general principles of Unity of God, Religion, and
Humankind hint at a globalized planet Earth. The idea of the Unity of Religion is particularly notable here. A ancient tradition when compared to
Bahá'í, but relatively recent in the grand scale, Islam was the first step towards progressive revelation as Muslims view Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad
all as divine or divinely inspired. The Bahá'í take this one step further, saying that all past major prophets have been necessary for the continued
spiritual evolution of humankind (A similar concept is seen in the Theosophical Society, who believe that all religions have messages which might not
currently have any truth, but which in their own time were indeed true and relevant). Bahá'u'lláh even thought past unifying planet Earth,
considering life on other planets:
“The learned men, that have fixed at several thousand years the life of this earth, have failed, throughout the long period of their
observation, to consider either the number or the age of the other planets. Consider, moreover, the manifold divergencies that have resulted from the
theories propounded by these men. Know thou that every fixed star hath its own planets, and every planet its own creatures, whose number no man can
Even more fascinating is the story of the execution of the Báb in which by all accounts, even those skeptical, the Báb somehow escaped 750
nearly-simultaneously fired bullets. The Bahá'í faith, however, is clearly far deeper than this perhaps miraculous or perhaps accidental incident.
It threatens to offend all major religions by accepting their teachings as vestiges of a bygone era where they had relevance. At the same time, if the
citizens of the world, especially young people, continue on the path of relativism, then the Bahá'í faith could become extremely popular. The New
Age movement (which the Theosophical Society helped to kick-start) provides a large potential base of converts who all already hold similar beliefs to
Bahá'ís. One only needs to lose count of “COEXIST” bumper stickers to see that the next generation to be in charge very well may adopt the
Sources / References
1 - An Introduction to the Bahá'í Faith. Peter Smith. Cambridge University Press. 2008.
2 - `Abdu'l-Bahá in London. `Abdu'l-Bahá. Bahá'í Reference Library (BRL). reference.bahai.org...
3 - Hidden Words. Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'í Library. www.bahai-library.com...
4 - The Seven Valleys. Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'í Library. www.bahai-library.com...
5 - Gems of Divine Mysteries. Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'í Library. bahai-library.com...
6 – Unity in Diversity – Acceptance and Integration in an Era of Intolerance and Fragmentation. Roxanne Lalonde. Carleton University.
7 – God Passes By. Shoghi Effendi. Bahá'í Publishing Trust. 1944.
8 – Journey of the Soul: Life, Death, and Immortality. Terrill G Hayes. Bahá'í Publishing Trust. 2006.
9 – Some Answered Questions. `Abdu'l-Bahá. Bahá'í Reference Library. reference.bahai.org...
10 – Universal House of Justice. Peter Smith. From A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford Oneworld Publications. 2000.
11 – Paris Talks. `Abdu'l-Bahá. Bahá'í Publishing Trust. 1972.
12 – Bahá'í World Faith. `Abdu'l-Bahá. Bahá'í Computer and Communication Association. bcca.org...
13 – World Almanac and Book of Facts. 2004.
14 – The List: The World's Fastest-Growing Religions. Foreign Policy Magazine.
15 – The Kitab-i-Aqdas. Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'í World Centre and Bahá'í Library. bahai-library.com...
16 – Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'í Publishing Trust. reference.bahai.org...
17 – Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'í Publishing Trust.
edit on 22-4-2011 by tetsuo because: (no reason given)