Mysticism is often a confused term. To many people it conjures up thoughts of the magical and fanciful. However, most mysticism is concerned with experiencing the ultimate truth in life. There have been mystics from many different religions. Some have used the term “God” to signify the ultimate reality while others have used other terms such as the Absolute, Brahman, Nirvana, the Tao. But what seems to underlie all mysticism is the transcendence from everyday experience and attainment of a higher state of being.
Let me say from the outset that I’m certainly no mystic. At best I’m a mystical aspirant, a mystical wannabe. My investigations into the topic are not based on my own personal experience; they are my reflections on the Bahai Writings, which I strive to put into practice. So, I’d like to share my thoughts on the place of mysticism in the Baha’i Faith. Continue reading
Religion has but one single noble purpose, and it is defined by the word itself. “Religion”, from the root religare “to bind fast”, speaks of a bond between man and God. Within religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i Faith, the close, immediate bond of communion of man and God is extolled in psalms, prayers, admonitions, and art. Continue reading
Trusting in God is important and potentially challenging for Baha’is. We might think this is particularly true because, every now and then, we face tests and difficulties and life gets rough.
But this raises a question: what does it mean to trust in God? To trust in someone, as I understand it, is to expect some action or inaction from them. When I trust that Jeff will tell me if a particular piece of clothing makes me look fat, I expect something from him – in this case, an honest opinion.
But what should we expect God to do when we trust in Him?
Some might think this question sounds odd. We’re not God, so how blasphemous is it to then think that we can expect God to do things as if we know what God would will? Continue reading
There is surely something beyond fascinating characters and an exciting if familiar story that has been attracting people by their millions to see the new Star Wars movie.
My feeling is that a big part of the appeal is “the force”, the ongoing theme in the Star Wars series that gives the latest film its name: The Force Awakens.
In the Star Wars movies, the force seems to me to be roughly equivalent to the creative energy that pervades the universe, but there is also a dark side to it.
What might that mean in Baha’i terms? We are fine with the idea of a creative force and are familiar with the concept that “good has a positive existence; evil is merely its absence”. We could view the “dark side” of the force as the absence of the creative energy, a black hole of evil.
So, apart from the other factors mentioned, why do millions of people get attracted to a movie that has “the force” as an ongoing theme in the story?
Hard-wired into us all is a desire to transcend the mundane, the temporary physical realties of our lives. In my view, that desire is intended to motivate us to seek and ever approach the ultimate, everlasting reality, God. Continue reading
“Thou art what Thou art.”
Let’s face it. I know nothing about the Mystery of Mysteries. Yet somehow my heart rests in deep satisfaction born of my utter cluelessness. It’s even strangely liberating. Blissfully ignorant though I may be of Its nature, yet I am stirred to my depths when Baha’u’llah, in words at once mind-boggling and awe-inspiring, hints at that “Unknowable Essence” which is shrouded behind an impenetrable veil. I am led to humbly acquiesce in the compelling truth that there is ‘Something’ that exceeds everything that I can ever hope to muster in Its praise — the most lyrical verses of poetry, the most mystical of meditations, the most soul-stirring of human experiences, the most awesome of spiritual feelings. Even the abstrusest of allegories. The great prophets, holy ones and sages of old have given that undefinable Something, that hidden Essence, a veritable catalogue of labels that have steadfastly withstood the test of time. Allah, YHVH, Brahman, Atman, The Buddha-dhatu, The Great Spirit.
When reading prayers revealed by the Central Figures of the Bahá’í Faith, you quickly notice that nearly every prayer ends with a list of the names and attributes of God. He is described as the “All-Merciful,” the “Ever-Forgiving,” the “Lord of bounty,” the “Provider of all mankind,” and with dozens of other titles and qualities that help us understand, albeit imperfectly, some of the characteristics of God. Many of these descriptions create an image of God as a parent who watches over humanity with infinite love, mercy, and kindness. Indeed, in both the Bahá’í Faith and other religions God is often described as “the Father” for this very purpose. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states:
God is the Father of all. He educates, provides for and loves all; for they are His servants and His creation. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 267).
But while God is repeatedly described as full of love, grace, and bounty in the Bahá’í Faith, dozens of passages also emphasize the importance of the “fear of God.” Bahá’u’lláh exhorts us to “fear God” or have the “fear of God” more than a dozen times in the Kitab-i-Aqdas (known as the Most Holy Book) alone, and in various places He describes the fear of God as “the essence of wisdom” (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 155), “the fountain-head of all goodly deeds and virtues” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 135), “the weapon that can render him victorious” and “the primary instrument whereby he can achieve his purpose” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 272).
What should we make of such passages, and what does “fear” even mean in this context? If God’s relationship with humanity is like a loving and merciful parent, why does Bahá’u’lláh repeatedly warn us to fear God? And if the fear of God is an important attribute, how do we inculcate it in ourselves and others, such as our children? I’ll return to these questions in a moment, but it may be beneficial to first discuss other principles of the Bahá’í Faith related to the nature of spiritual development and the afterlife to place this topic of the fear of God in the broader scope of the teachings of the Faith. Continue reading
Image be floridapfe (Flickr)
Ever so often, we’ll be putting up posts for our ‘Common Questions Series’. As the name suggests, these are questions about the Faith that we often get. You know those ones – where you kinda, sorta, maybe know the answer but aren’t sure if you know enough to give the asker a full response? Yeah, those ones. Baha’i Blog has decided to make a collection of those questions, which will hopefully be as helpful to you, our readers, as it is to us!
The question of God’s existence is fundamental to a number of life’s bigger questions. Where do we come from? What is the purpose of life? What happens when we die? Belief in some sort of spiritual realm has been present in human societies from about 130,000 years ago and has persisted through the ages in all human cultures.
Different religious teachings have presented us with different understandings of God. In Christianity, God is understood as the ‘Heavenly Father’. In Judaism, God’s attributes as a life-giver, authority figure and protector are emphasised. In Zoroastrianism, God is understood as the omniscient creator of truth and guardian of justice. In some understandings of Hinduism, there are many different personal gods, all representing a different attribute of one supreme, universal Spirit.
In modern times, however, growing scientific knowledge about our universe and its origins, along with the clash of religious beliefs and growing religious fanaticism, have seen a renewed questioning of the existence of God. Traditional religious explanations of the origin of our life and the purpose of our existence no longer satisfy people as these ideas are increasingly scrutinised in the context of our modern societies. Where we formerly lacked scientific knowledge and used God to “fill the gaps”, science is now beginning to replace religion as a source of answers. Many people are now turning wholly to science, and not religion, to understand the nature of our reality.