What is a Bahá’í?
What is a Bahá’í? What differentiates a Bahá’í from anyone else in society? Or a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim? Is it moral behavior, a set of high ideals, particular characteristics, certain beliefs? These are shared in common by many groups, both religious and not. So when we think of a Bahá’í, what are the identifying qualities?
Christ referred to His disciples as “the salt of the earth”. What is the meaning of this salt? When we look at the material world, everything it possessed comes from dust. All the time, money, ideas, institutions, resources, etc., are generated or mined by the bodies and intellects that abound on the Earth. There has never been a shortage of these.
There is a quality which has nothing whatsoever to do with the dust. It does not issue from it, and does not return to it. It is not part of our animal heritage, is not found in a perfect body, or heart, or mind. It is a quality that cannot exist in nature unless a pure heart manifests it. This quality Christ called “salt”.
Bahá’u’lláh describes human reality as a mirror. Its capacity to shine is what makes possibility the manifestation of divine realities in the world. He writes:
O My Brother! A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and severance from all save God, that the true sun may shine within it and the eternal morning dawn. Then wilt thou clearly see the meaning of “Neither doth My earth nor My heaven contain Me, but the heart of My faithful servant containeth Me.”1
Human beings are thus capable of bringing into reality, and worldly projects, a quality which can appear in any other way. Those who bring this quality into the world are regarded as the beloved of God. In each age and century they have varying names, but such have been called Jew, Buddhist, Bahá’í.
Our gift to the world
If this is our unique capacity, it also represents our power, our gift, the one thing needed by the world above all else, which the world cannot acquire by itself. Even the social and ethical teachings of the Manifestations are not enough in themselves. Shoghi Effendi wrote:
Laws and institutions, as viewed by Bahá’u’lláh, can become really effective only when our inner spiritual life has been perfected and transformed. Otherwise religion will degenerate into a mere organization, and becomes a dead thing.2
It is this quality of spirit that deserves our focus, because nothing can proceed without it, while all things will find their way to solution when it appears. The National Spiritual Assembly said, “The millions of Americans who are searching for spiritual truth are searching for traces of God’s love.”3
This spirit is of the nature of all things good, joyful, loving, true. All sadness and misery come from the material, as `Abdu’l-Bahá spoke:
If we suffer it is the outcome of material things, and all the trials and troubles come from this world of illusion.4
Whereas He told us “the spiritual world bestows only the joy!” So joy and radiance are the signs, the tokens of this spirit. They become the measure by which we can judge the success of our spiritual endeavors. And they relate directly to the value of what we achieve in this life.
The material world, being the abode of dust, abounds in dust. All the wealth mankind could ever need springs from the ground itself. There is nothing we can add that will not in the end decay and return. The world does not need more wealth, or an ever finer parade of forms displaying that wealth. It needs what it lacks, the salt. And if we neglect to bring it, Christ asks, “And if the salt hath lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?” In this sense, we are the bringers of light, the bearers of glad-tidings, the heralds of grace; we reflect by our hearts the true wealth from God, the “manna from heaven”.
If this spirit, this joy and love and warmth is so profound – the defining characteristic of the servants of God, by whatever religious name – then our discussion should revolve around it, and aim toward it. Worldly problems will never cease; sometimes discussing them makes them worse! Whereas when we have joy, happiness, it is often the case that the material gives way:
If we suffer it is the In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness.5
The present culture
Does our present culture foster joy, engender the spirit? This would define a “Bahá’í” atmosphere, according to the previous discussion. We know that prevailing social norms affect us, but do we understand how? The current culture might be called a Christian culture with a slight Bahá’í twist.
Changing the pattern of activity
Doing less can result in achieving more, in the mathematics of joy. Spirituality is not like weighing ingredients to measure the recipe; this was shown in the example of the loaves and the fish. When there is true spirit, even raw flour is a king’s meal.
Although to outward view, the wayfarers in this Valley may dwell upon the dust, yet inwardly they are throned in the heights of mystic meaning; they eat of the endless bounties of inner significances, and drink of the delicate wines of the spirit.6
My recommendation is that we follow closely Bahá’u’lláh admonition:
Lay not upon your souls that which will weary them and weigh them down, but rather what will lighten and uplift them, so that they may soar on the wings of the Divine verses towards the Dawning-place of His manifest signs; this will draw you nearer to God, did ye but comprehend.7
The prevailing culture of guilt and perfection retard our growth. The soul has wings; in joy let it fly.