Herbert Spencer once remarked that by no political alchemy is it possible to get golden conduct out of leaden instincts, and it is equally true that by no political alchemy is it possible to make a golden society out of leaden individuals. Bahá’u’lláh, like all previous Prophets, proclaimed this truth and taught that in order to establish the Kingdom of God in the world, it must first be established in the hearts of men. In examining the Bahá’í teachings, therefore, we shall commence with the instructions of Bahá’u’lláh for individual conduct, and try to form a clear picture of what it means to be a Bahá’í.
When asked on one occasion: “What is a Bahá’í?” ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá replied: “To be a Bahá’í simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.” On another occasion He defined a Bahá’í as “one endowed with all the perfections of man in activity.” In one of His London talks He said that a man may be a Bahá’í even if He has never heard the name of Bahá’u’lláh. He added:—
The man who lives the life according to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is already a Bahá’í. On the other hand, a man may call himself a Bahá’í for fifty years, and if he does not live the life he is not a Bahá’í. An ugly man may call himself handsome, but he deceives no one, and a black man may call himself white, yet he deceives no one, not even himself.
One who does not know God’s Messengers, however, is like a plant growing in the shade. Although it knows not the sun, it is, nevertheless, absolutely dependent on it. The great Prophets are spiritual suns, and Bahá’u’lláh is the sun of this “day” in which we live. The suns of former days have warmed and vivified the world, and had those suns not shone, the earth would not be cold and dead, but it is the sunshine of today that alone can ripen the fruits which the suns of former days have kissed into life.
In order to attain to the Bahá’í life in all its fullness, conscious and direct relations with Bahá’u’lláh are as necessary as is sunshine for the unfolding of the lily or the rose. The Bahá’í worships not the human personality of Bahá’u’lláh, but the Glory of God manifest through that personality. He reverences Christ and Muḥammad and all God’s former Messengers to mankind, but he recognizes Bahá’u’lláh as the bearer of God’s Message for the new age in which we live, as the Great World teacher Who has come to carry on and consummate the work of His predecessors.
Intellectual assent to a creed does not make a man a Bahá’í, nor does outward rectitude of conduct. Bahá’u’lláh requires of His followers wholehearted and complete devotion. God alone has the right to make such a demand, but Bahá’u’lláh speaks as the Manifestation of God, and the Revealer of His Will. Previous Manifestations have been equally clear on this point. Christ said: “If any man come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” In different words, all the Divine Manifestations have made this same demand from Their followers, and the history of religion shows clearly that as long as the demand has been frankly recognized and accepted, religion has flourished, despite all earthly opposition, despite affliction, persecution and martyrdom of the believers. On the other hand, whenever compromise has crept in, and “respectability” has taken the place of complete consecration, then religion has decayed. It has become fashionable, but it has lost its power to save and transform, its power to work miracles. True religion has never yet been fashionable. God grant that one day it may become so; but it is still true, as in the days of Christ, that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” The gateway of spiritual birth, like the gateway of natural birth, admits men only one by one, and without encumbrances. If, in the future, more people succeed in entering that way than in the past, it will not be because of any widening of the gate, but because of a greater disposition on the part of men to make the “great surrender” which God demands; because long and bitter experience has at last brought them to see the folly of choosing their own way instead of God’s way.
Bahá’u’lláh enjoins justice on all His followers and defines it as:—“The freedom of man from superstition and imitation, so that he may discern the Manifestations of God with the eyes of Oneness, and consider all affairs with keen sight.”—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Words of Wisdom.
It is necessary that each individual should see and realize for himself the Glory of God manifest in the human temple of Bahá’u’lláh, otherwise the Bahá’í Faith would be for him but a name without meaning. The call of the Prophets to mankind has always been that men should open their eyes, not shut them, use their reason, not suppress it. It is clear seeing and free thinking, not servile credulity, that will enable them to penetrate the clouds of prejudice, to shake off the fetters of blind imitation, and attain to the realization of the truth of a new Revelation.
He who would be a Bahá’í needs to be a fearless seeker after truth, but he should not confine his search to the material plane. His spiritual perceptive powers should be awake as well as his physical. He should use all the faculties God has given him for the acquisition of truth, believing nothing without valid and sufficient reason. If his heart is pure, and his mind free from prejudice, the earnest seeker will not fail to recognize the Divine Glory in whatsoever temple it may become manifest. Bahá’u’lláh further declares:—
The Manifestation is the Perfect Man, the great Exemplar for Mankind, the First Fruit of the tree of humanity. Until we know Him we do not know the latent possibilities within ourselves. Christ tells us to consider the lilies how they grow, and declares that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. The lily grows from a very unattractive-looking bulb. If we had never seen a lily in bloom, never gazed on its matchless grace of foliage and flower, how could we know the reality contained in that bulb? We might dissect it most carefully and examine it most minutely, but we should never discover the dormant beauty which the gardener knows how to awaken. So until we have seen the Glory of God revealed in the Manifestation, we can have no idea of the spiritual beauty latent in our own nature and in that of our fellows. By knowing and loving the Manifestation of God and following His teachings we are enabled, little by little, to realize the potential perfections within ourselves; then, and not till then, does the meaning and purpose of life and of the universe become apparent to us.
To know the Manifestation of God means also to love Him. One is impossible without the other. According to Bahá’u’lláh, the purpose of man’s creation is that he may know God and adore Him. He says in one of His Tablets:—
The cause of the creation of all contingent beings has been love, as it is said in the well-known tradition, “I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known. Therefore I created the creation in order to be known.”
To be God’s lover! That is the sole object of life for the Bahá’í. To have God as his closest companion and most intimate friend, his Peerless Beloved, in Whose Presence is fullness of joy! And to love God means to love everything and everybody, for all are of God. The real Bahá’í will be the perfect lover. He will love everyone with a pure heart, fervently. He will hate no one. He will despise no one, for he will have learned to see the Face of the Beloved in every face, and to find His traces everywhere. His love will know no limit of sect, nation, class or race. Bahá’u’lláh says:—“Of old it hath been revealed: ‘Love of one’s country is an element of the Faith of God.’ The Tongue of Grandeur hath … in the day of His manifestation proclaimed: ‘It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world.’”—Tablet of the World. And again:—“Blessed is he who prefers his brother before himself; such an one is of the people of Bahá.”—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Words of Paradise.
Likewise the divine religions of the holy Manifestations of God are in reality one though in name and nomenclature they differ. Man must be a lover of the light no matter from what dayspring it may appear. He must be a lover of the rose no matter what soil it may be growing. He must be a seeker of the truth no matter from what source it come. Attachment to the lantern is not loving the light. Attachment to the earth is not befitting but enjoyment of the rose which develops from the soil is worthy. Devotion to the tree is profitless but partaking of the fruit is beneficial. Luscious fruits no matter upon what tree they grow or where they may be found must be enjoyed. The word of truth no matter which tongue utters it must be sanctioned. Absolute verities no matter in what book they be recorded must be accepted. If we harbor prejudice it will be the cause of deprivation and ignorance. The strife between religions, nations and races arises from misunderstanding. If we investigate the religions to discover the principles underlying their foundations we will find they agree, for the fundamental reality of them is one and not multiple. By this means the religionists of the world will reach their point of unity and reconciliation.
Every soul of the beloved ones must love the others and withhold not his possessions and life from them, and by all means he must endeavor to make the other joyous and happy. But these others must also be disinterested and self-sacrificing. Thus may this Sunrise flood the horizons, this Melody gladden and make happy all the people, this divine Remedy become the panacea for every disease, this Spirit of Truth become the cause of life for every soul.
Devotion to God implies also severance from everything that is not of God, severance, that is, from all selfish and worldly, and even other-worldly desires. The path of God may lie through riches or poverty, health or sickness, through palace or dungeon, rose garden or torture chamber. Whichever it be, the Bahá’í will learn to accept his lot with “radiant acquiescence.” Severance does not mean stolid indifference to one’s surroundings or passive resignation to evil conditions; nor does it mean despising the good things which God has created. The true Bahá’í will not be callous, nor apathetic nor ascetic. He will find abundant interest, abundant work and abundant joy in the Path of God, but he will not deviate one hair’s breadth from that path in pursuit of pleasure nor hanker after anything that God has denied him. When a man becomes a Bahá’í, God’s Will becomes his will, for to be at variance with God is the one thing he cannot endure. In the path of God no errors can appall, no troubles dismay him. The light of love irradiates his darkest days, transmutes suffering into joy, and martyrdom itself into an ecstasy of bliss. Life is lifted to the heroic plane and death becomes a glad adventure. Bahá’u’lláh says:—
Whoso cherisheth in his heart the love of anyone beside Me, be it to the extent of a grain of mustard seed, shall be unable to gain admittance into My Kingdom.—The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, Súriy-i-Haykal
Devotion to God involves implicit obedience to His revealed Commands even when the reason for these Commands is not understood. The sailor implicitly obeys his captain’s orders, even when he does not know the reason for them, but his acceptance of authority is not blind. He knows full well that the captain has served a thorough probation, and given ample proofs of competence as a navigator. Were it not so, he would be foolish indeed to serve under him. So the Bahá’í must implicitly obey the Captain of his Salvation, but he will be foolish indeed if he has not first ascertained that this Captain has given ample proofs of trustworthiness. Having received such proofs, however, to refuse obedience would be even greater folly, for only by intelligent and open-eyed obedience to the wise master can we reap the benefits of his wisdom, and acquire this wisdom for ourselves. Be the captain never so wise, if none of the crew obey him how shall the ship reach its port or the sailors learn the art of navigation? Christ clearly pointed out that obedience is the path of knowledge. He said:—“My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”—St. John vii, 16–17. So Bahá’u’lláh says: “True belief in God and recognition of Him cannot be complete save by acceptance of that which He hath revealed and by observance of whatsoever hath been decreed by Him and set down in the Book by the Pen of Glory.”—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of Tajallíyát.
Implicit obedience is not a popular virtue in these democratic days, and indeed entire submission to the will of any mere man would be disastrous. But the Unity of Humanity can be attained only by complete harmony of each and all with the Divine will. Unless that Will be clearly revealed, and men abandon all other leaders and obey the Divine Messenger, then conflict and strife will go on, and men will continue to oppose each other, to devote a large part of their energy to frustrating the efforts of their brother men, instead of working harmoniously together for the Glory of God and the common good.
Devotion to God implies a life of service to our fellow-creatures. We can be of service to God in no other way. If we turn our backs on our fellowmen, we are turning our backs upon God. Christ said, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me.” So Bahá’u’lláh says:—“O son of man! If thine eyes be turned towards mercy, forsake the things that profit thee, and cleave unto that which will profit mankind. And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.”—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Words of Paradise.
In the Bahá’í Cause arts, sciences and all crafts are counted as worship. The man who makes a piece of notepaper to the best of his ability, conscientiously, concentrating all his forces on perfecting it, is giving praise to God. Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. A physician ministering to the sick, gently, tenderly, free from prejudice and believing in the solidarity of the human race, is giving praise.
The real Bahá’í will not only believe in the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, but find in them the guide and inspiration of his whole life and joyfully impart to others the knowledge that is the wellspring of his own being. Only thus will he receive in full measure “the power and confirmation of the Spirit.” All cannot be eloquent speakers or ready writers, but all can teach by “living the life.” Bahá’u’lláh says:—
It behoveth the people of Bahá to render the Lord victorious through the power of their utterance and to admonish the people by their goodly deeds and character, inasmuch as deeds exert greater influence than words.—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Words of Paradise.
The Bahá’í will, however, on no account force his ideas on those who do not wish to hear them. He will attract people to the Kingdom of God, not try to drive them into it. He will be like the good shepherd who leads his flock, and charms the sheep by his music, rather than like the one who, from behind, urges them on with dog and stick.
O Son of Dust! The wise are they that speak not unless they obtain a hearing, even as the cup-bearer, who proffereth not his cup till he findeth a seeker, and the lover who crieth not out from the depths of his heart until he gazeth upon the beauty of his beloved. Wherefore sow the seeds of wisdom and knowledge in the pure soil of the heart, and keep them hidden, till the hyacinths of divine wisdom spring from the heart and not from mire and clay.
O people of Bahá! Ye are the dawning-places of the love of God and the daysprings of His loving-kindness. Defile not your tongues with the cursing and reviling of any soul, and guard your eyes against that which is not seemly. Set forth that which ye possess. If it be favorably received, your end is attained; if not, to protest is vain. Leave that soul to himself and turn unto the Lord, the Protector, the Self-Subsisting. Be not the cause of grief, much less of discord and strife. The hope is cherished that ye may obtain true education in the shelter of the tree of His tender mercies and act in accordance with that which God desireth. Ye are all the leaves of one tree and the drops of one ocean.
O people of God! I admonish you to observe courtesy, for above all else it is the prince of virtues. Well is it with him who is illumined with the light of courtesy and is attired with the vesture of uprightness. Whoso is endued with courtesy hath indeed attained a sublime station. It is hoped that this Wronged One and everyone else may be enabled to acquire it, hold fast unto it, observe it, and fix our gaze upon it. This is a binding command which hath streamed forth from the Pen of the Most Great Name.—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of the World.
Beware! Beware! Lest ye offend any heart! Beware! Beware! Lest ye hurt any soul! Beware! Beware! Lest ye deal unkindly toward any person! Beware! Beware! Lest ye be the cause of hopelessness to any creature! Should one become the cause of grief to any one heart, or of despondency to any one soul, it were better to hide oneself in the lowest depths of the earth than to walk upon the earth.
He teaches that as the flower is hidden in the bud, so a spirit from God dwells in the heart of every man, no matter how hard and unlovely his exterior. The true Bahá’í will treat every man, therefore, as the gardener tends a rare and beautiful plant. He knows that no impatient interference on his part can open the bud into a blossom; only God’s sunshine can do that, therefore his aim is to bring that life-giving sunshine into all darkened hearts and homes.
Among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is one requiring man, under all conditions and circumstances, to be forgiving, to love his enemy and to consider an ill-wisher as a well-wisher. Not that one should consider another as an enemy and then put up with him … and be forbearing toward him. This is hypocrisy and not real love. Nay, rather, you must see your enemies as friends, your ill-wishers as well-wishers and treat them accordingly. Your love and kindness must be real … not merely forbearance, for forbearance, if not of the heart, is hypocrisy.
Such counsel appears unintelligible and self-contradictory until we realize that while the outer carnal man may be a hater and ill-wisher, there is in everyone an inner, spiritual nature which is the real man, from whom only love and goodwill can proceed. It is to this real, inner man in each of our neighbors that we must direct our thought and love. When he awakens into activity, the outer man will be transformed and renewed.
On no subject are the Bahá’í teachings more imperative and uncompromising than on the requirement to abstain from faultfinding. Christ spoke very strongly on the same subject, but it has now become usual to regard the Sermon on the Mount as embodying “Counsels of Perfection” which the ordinary Christian cannot be expected to live up to. Both Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá are at great pains to make it clear that on this subject They mean all They say. We read in the Hidden Words:—
To look always at the good and not at the bad. If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.
The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting, more especially when it emanates from the tongues of the believers of God. If some means were devised so that the doors of backbiting could be shut eternally, and each one of the believers of God unsealed his lips in praise of others, then the teachings of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh would be spread, the hearts illumined, the spirits glorified, and the human world would attain to everlasting felicity.
While we are commanded to overlook the faults of others, and see their virtues, we are commanded, on the other hand, to find out our own faults and take no account of our virtues. Bahá’u’lláh says in the Hidden Words:—
O Emigrants! The tongue I have designed for the mention of Me, defile it not with detraction. If the fire of self overcome you, remember your own faults and not the faults of My creatures, inasmuch as every one of you knoweth his own self better than he knoweth others.
Let your life be an emanation of the Kingdom of Christ. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.… In the religion of Bahá’u’lláh all are servants and maidservants, brothers and sisters. As soon as one feels a little better than, a little superior to, the rest, he is in a dangerous position, and unless he casts away the seed of such an evil thought, he is not a fit instrument for the service of the Kingdom.
Dissatisfaction with oneself is a sign of progress. The soul who is satisfied with himself is the manifestation of Satan, and the one who is not contented with himself is the manifestation of the Merciful. If a person has a thousand good qualities he must not look at them; nay, rather he must strive to find out his own defects and imperfections.… However much a man may progress, yet he is imperfect, because there is always a point ahead of him. No sooner does he look up towards that point than he become dissatisfied with his own condition, and aspires to attain to that. Praising one’s own self is the sign of selfishness.—Diary of Mírzá Aḥmad Sohrab, 1914.
When the sinner findeth himself wholly detached and freed from all save God, he should beg forgiveness and pardon from Him. Confession of sins and transgressions before human beings is not permissible, as it hath never been nor will ever be conducive to divine forgiveness. Moreover such confession before people results in one’s humiliation and abasement, and God—exalted be His glory—wisheth not the humiliation of His servants. Verily He is the Compassionate, the Merciful. The sinner should, between himself and God, implore mercy from the Ocean of mercy, beg forgiveness from the Heaven of generosity…
Verily it [trustworthiness] is the door of security for all that dwell on earth and a token of glory on the part of the All-Merciful. He who partaketh thereof hath indeed partaken of the treasures of wealth and prosperity. Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquillity and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it. All the domains of power, of grandeur and of wealth are illumined by its light.…
O people of Bahá! Trustworthiness is in truth the best of vestures for your temples and the most glorious crown for your heads. Take ye fast hold of it at the behest of Him Who is the Ordainer, the All-Informed.
Again He says:—“The principle of faith is to lessen words and to increase deeds. He whose words exceed his acts, know verily, that his nonbeing is better than his being, his death better than his life.”
Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of mankind. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the other divine qualities will also become realized.
Bahá’u’lláh constantly urges men to realize and give full expression to the perfections latent within them—the true inner self as distinguished from the limited outer self, which at best is but the temple, and too often is the prison of the real man. In the Hidden Words He says:—
O Son of Being! With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have doubt thereof.
O Son of Spirit! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.
O My Servant! Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world.
O My Friend! Thou art the daystar of the heavens of My holiness, let not the defilement of the world eclipse thy splendor. Rend asunder the veil of heedlessness, that from behind the clouds thou mayest emerge resplendent and array all things with the apparel of life.
The life to which Bahá’u’lláh calls His followers is surely one of such nobility that in all the vast range of human possibility there is nothing more lofty or beautiful to which man could aspire. Realization of the spiritual self in ourselves means realization of the sublime truth that we are from God and to Him shall we return. This return to God is the glorious goal of the Bahá’í; but to attain this goal the only path is that of obedience to His chosen Messengers, and especially to His Messenger for the time in which we live, Bahá’u’lláh, the prophet of the New Era.