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Meditation and the Baha’i Faith: A Personal Exploration
Prayer and meditation are often jointly mentioned as one of the primary requisites for spiritual growth. For example, the Universal House of Justice tells us:
In His Writings, Baha’u’llah states clearly the essential requisites for our spiritual growth, and these are reiterated and amplified by Abdu’l-Baha in His talks and Tablets. They can be summarized briefly as prayer and meditation, the endeavor to conform one’s behavior to the exalted standard set forth in the Baha’i Teachings, participation in the life of the Baha’i community, teaching the Faith and contributing to the Baha’i Fund. Different individuals, according to their natures, will follow these paths in varying ways, but all are essential to spiritual growth. 1
I personally have had many conversations about prayer, but very little about meditation and so I wanted to explore what the Baha’i Writings say about meditation.
I’ve organized the sacred Writings below according to the following three questions:
Who should meditate?
What is meditation?
How should we meditate?
1. Who should meditate?
According to our sacred texts, meditation is enjoined upon everyone, man and woman alike — basically anyone who harbors a human soul.
You cannot apply the name “man” to any being void of this faculty of meditation; without it he would be a mere animal, lower than the beasts. 2
This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God. 3
Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit—the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation. 3
With this in mind, let’s move forward to look deeper into what meditation actually is.
2. What is meditation?
In His talks Abdu’l‑Baha describes prayer as “conversation with God,” and concerning meditation He says that “while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed. 4
The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food. 2
The way I interpret Abdul-Baha’s definition of meditation of posing a question to your own spirit and waiting for its answer is equivalent to that of Dhyana (focused attention on inner awareness) according to the yogic scriptures. Dhyana is the 7th step in the Eight Steps of Enlightenment, right before the 8th step Samadi, meaning enlightenment.
Although neither Abdul-Baha nor any other Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith ever elaborated further on exactly how you put certain questions to your spirit and wait for its answer, from the perspective of yoga, it is not necessarily a challenging activity to pose questions to your spirit or receive Divine inspiration, nor are there too many formulas for “self-inquiry,” as they call it.
However, what is pervasively understood as challenging in the yogic world in reference to Dhyana, is to sustain focuslong enough to maintain a conversation with your soul, in order for the light to break forth and reality reveal itself.
Traditionally, before a yogi is even allowed to practice Dhyana, focused attention on inner awareness, they are asked to master the following in consecutive order:
Step 1: Yamas — master the cultivation of virtue to the outside world
Step 2: Niyamas — master the cultivation of virtue within one self
Step 3: Asana — health, healing and alignment of the body (yoga postures)
Step 4: Pranayama — awareness of breath and life force (breathing practices)
You’ll notice there is a distinct step that precedes the 7th step Dhyana (focused attention on inner awareness), which is Dharana, intermittent concentration; the step that includes the gradual building up of sustained focused. With Dharana, there is focus, but the difference with Dhyana is that it is not sustained. Only when sustained focus has been practiced, could a yogi reach enlightenment.
Thankfully as Baha’is,sthese many steps are not required from us, as we will learn below from our Sacred Writings that we don’t have a fixed way of meditating.
However, what I did want to illustrate from the example provided above is the amount of effort that yogis go through in order to refine the ability of attentive focus and ability to hold a conversation of an inward nature – this takes practice, and is a faculty of meditation that we have to hone.
Many people I have encountered in my role as an integrative yoga therapist (in training) get stuck on meditation, or prayer for that matter, because of the lack of ability to focus, and stop there; circumambulating around personal inadequacies, or perceived lack of spirituality.
Whereas in reality, meditation is a spiritual faculty that needs to be cultivated and disciplined in order to build the capacity to hold that conversation with your own spirit or God.
I think it can be helpful to ask ourselves: what quality of attention and focus can we bring to our prayers and meditation, regardless of the human circumstances that we are going through at any given moment, at any particular place, or time in order to enter into that communion without interruption?
If our minds wander, there is a certain level of discipline that is required to constantly bring one’s attention back to God, back to the question posed to your own spirit, back to the conversation – and hopefully without going down the rabbit hole of feelings of shame, personal judgment, guilt, doubt, fear, worry etc.
3. How should we meditate?
Baha’u’llah has specified no procedures to be followed in meditation, and individual believers are free to do as they wish in this area, provided that they remain in harmony with the Teachings, but such activities are purely personal and should under no circumstances be confused with those actions which Baha’u’llah Himself considered to be of fundamental importance for our spiritual growth. Some believers may find that it is beneficial to them to follow a particular method of meditation, and they may certainly do so…
Baha’u’llah says there is a sign (from God) in every phenomenon: the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time—he cannot both speak and meditate. It is an axiomatic fact that while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed.
It would seem that there are in Norway many believers who draw particular benefit from meditation. The House of Justice suggests that for their private meditations they may wish to use the repetition of the Greatest Name, Allah-u-Abha, ninety-five times a day which, although not yet applied in the West, is among the Laws, Ordinances and Exhortations of the Kitab-i-Aqdas. 5
It is my understanding based on the quotations above that there really isn’t any prescribed way of meditating, other than the sign or prerequisite of it as being “in silence.” The other suggested way to meditate is to repeat the Greatest Name, Allah-u-Abha, ninety-five times a day.
In hopes of contributing to the world-wide celebrations of the bicentenary anniversary of the Birth of the Bab, I have created and am host of the Bicentenary Meditation Project, where my friends, colleagues and I will be aiming to create 365 diverse meditations and styles centered on the message, sacred Writings, Divine Personage, stories, sufferings and purpose of the Bab and Baha’u’llah throughout the bicentenary year, for anyone who is personally interested in developing their meditative faculties (and if you’d like to get involved, you can take a look at the submission requirements here, or submit inquiries to [email protected]).
There is a Chinese idiom that translates as: “sharpening your knife doesn’t take time away from wood cutting.” In the case of meditation, whether it be one of the meditations I’ve shared, or anything else, I believe that sharpening your spiritual faculties will not delay your conversations with your own spirit or God.
Footnotes & Citations
Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual dated 22 April 1996[↩]
Abdu’l-Baha. Paris Talks. #54 54. Address by Abdu’l‑Baha at the Friends’ Meeting House, St. Martin’s Lane, London, W.C.[↩][↩]
Nahal is a Integrative Yoga Therapist (in training) who provides online yoga and meditation classes. Her educational background is in the control of tropical infectious diseases and has worked in global pandemic outbreaks such as H7N9, MERS-CoV and Ebola.