The independent investigation of truth is one of the fundamental teachings of the Baha’i Faith. On the surface the idea that each of us should investigate the truth for ourselves instead of blindly adopting a belief simply because it is held by those around us sounds logical and fairly self-explanatory. It is hard to make one’s faith one’s own without researching the truths upon which it is founded and assessing whether these resonate with who we are and the values that are most important to us. Instead of attempting to explain my elementary understanding of this topic, which I am coming to realize is constantly evolving, I thought perhaps the best approach might be to share my personal process of investigation, and what I have gleaned from my effort to find answers in the Baha’i Writings.
I began with the following six questions:
- What is truth and where do we find it?
- What tools and methods can we use to investigate truth?
- How do we know when we’ve reached the truth?
- What if there are contradictions in what we know to be true?
- Is independent investigation of truth a single event or a life-long process?
- Where can we look to find out more about this teaching?
1. What is truth?
Truth is an honest representation of reality. Since the Baha’i Writings tell us that our true reality is spiritual, truth is a faithful reflection of spiritual reality. In Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Baha says that “truth is in all and truth is one.”1 He goes on to say that “no one truth can contradict another truth.” The Baha’i Writings tell us that the Word of God is the truth, and since we receive the word of God through the Writings of the Manifestations, Baha’is believe that the teachings, laws and principles shared with us by the Founders of the world religions are the truth. As the Baha’i teachings also tell us that science and religion are simply different approaches to a single truth, we know that scientific and religious explanation of reality should be in agreement. If they aren’t, further scientific advancement or a better understanding of religious principles is needed.
2. What tools and methods can we use to investigate the truth?
Baha’u’llah tells us that we are to independently investigate the truth. While there are no doubt endless methods by which we can do so, the use of the word “independent” implies that we are to do so with a heart that is unencumbered by the beliefs, prejudices and superstitions of our family or community. In The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Abdu’l-Baha says that we must “forget all hearsay and examine truth” for ourselves. This implies that an individual’s search for truth should be free from any preconceived notions about there being a right and wrong way to investigate the messages of the Manifestations of God. How each of us comes to the truth will be unique. The use of the word “investigation” indicates to me a thorough questioning of reality and seeking for answers everywhere until one finds a truth that is in line with intellectual reason and the intuition of the heart. In The Seven Valleys, Baha’u’llah identifies certain attributes that should characterize our independent investigation of the truth. He says that we must have patience; that we should cleanse our heart from every marking, turn away from imitation and seek the truth with intense ardor. He continues:
The true seeker hunteth naught but the object of his quest, and the lover hath no desire save union with his beloved. Nor shall the seeker reach his goal unless he sacrifice all things. That is, whatever he hath seen, and heard, and understood, all must he set at naught, that he may enter the realm of the spirit…2
There does not seem to be one single way of reaching the truth. Baha’u’llah encourages us to search everywhere with the faith that if our intention is pure we will eventually find the truth we are seeking.
3. How do we know when we have arrived at the truth?
Based on my study of the Baha’i Writings, we know that we have arrived at the truth when, having used all the faculties given to us by God, we come upon a truth that is logical, rational and in line with the guidance that the Manifestations of God have given us. If a religious claim is not supported by scientific investigation and proof, then according to the teaching of the oneness of reality, we should discard our understanding of the claim as untrue. And likewise if a scientific claim does not support the essential oneness of all things we should question its current validity and instead seek out an explanation that can coexist with the indivisibility of reality.
4. What if there are contradictions in what we know to be true?
It is also common to find contradictions in something known to be true, or for two truths to contradict each other. The Universal House of Justice clarifies:3
In attempting to understand the Writings, therefore, one must first realise that there is and can be no real contradiction in them, and in light of this we can confidently seek the unity of meaning which they contain.4
We must take the teachings as a great, balanced whole, not seek out and oppose to each other two strong statements that have different meanings; somewhere in between there are links uniting the two. That is what makes our Faith so flexible and well balanced.5
Likewise he is constantly urging them [the Baha’is] to really study the Baha’i teachings more deeply. One may liken Baha’u’llah’s teachings to a sphere; there are points poles apart, and in between the thoughts and doctrines that unite them. We believe in balance in all things; we believe in moderation in all things…6
5. Is independent investigation of truth a single event or a life-long process?
The Baha’i Writings explain that we are on a spiritual journey which begins in this physical world, and continues eternally through the worlds of the spirit after death. To me, this indicates that we continue to investigate and deepen our understanding of the truth through all the worlds of God. The truth does not change, but our understanding of it will be constantly revised and re-shaped as we grow and develop.
6. Where can we look to find out more about this teaching?
There is enough literature about this subject to fill many lifetimes of reading, but I have found Abdul-Baha’s reflections on truth and investigation in Paris Talks and the mystical poetry of The Seven Valleys to both be particularly helpful in my research into the independent investigation of truth. You can find these texts, and other Baha’i Writings, on the Baha’i Reference Library. The online resource Ocean is another reference tool that I have turned to for access to books, tablets and articles from various faith traditions and authors.
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 42 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p.7 [↩]
- Khazeh Fananapazir, S. Fazel, and Sen McGlinn pull together the following three quotations on this topic in their paper “Some Interpretive Principles in the Baha’i Writings“ [↩]
- The Universal House of Justice, 7 December 1969 letter to an individual, retrieved from: https://bahai-library.com/fananapazir_fazel_interpretive_principles [↩]
- Shoghi Effendi, 19 March 1945 to an individual believer, retrieved from: https://bahai-library.com/fananapazir_fazel_interpretive_principles [↩]
- Shoghi Effendi, 5 July 1949 to an individual believer, retrieved from: https://bahai-library.com/fananapazir_fazel_interpretive_principles [↩]