Throughout history, God has sent to humanity a series of divine Educators—known as Manifestations of God—whose teachings have provided the basis for the advancement of civilization. These Manifestations have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Baha’u’llah, the latest of these Messengers, explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.
Baha’is believe the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the future of society and of the nature and purpose of life. Such a vision unfolds in the writings of Baha’u’llah.
On Thursday, June 8, we concluded our Spring Exploring Our Religious Landscapes program with a fascinating program about the Baha’i faith.
Since we are not close to a Baha’i temple, we gathered at the Farmington Public Library, where, instead of a tour of the house of worship, we were treated to a slide show of some of the envelope-pushing architecture of the 8 major Baha’i temples around the world, including the 135 foot high dome of the Wilmette, Illinois temple, pierced to allow the light in, with columns that incorporate symbols from the world’s major religions to illustrate the universality of the Baha’i faith and how it sees the world’s faith traditions as building on one another rather than separate. We saw the Lotus Flower-shaped temple in New Delhi, India. Santiago, Chile’s dramatic new temple was designed to be translucent so that it can, like the human heart, both allow light in and emanate light, and we saw the renowned gardens of the Baha’i world headquarters in Haifa, Israel.
During the slide show, Bob Shneeweis, who later participated on the discussion panel, played piano, and our organizers provided a wonderful buffet dinner. Presenter Janet Pound opened the program by presenting Marcela Valdivieso, who shared a beautiful Baha’I song, accompanying herself on guitar.
After breaking bread together, the educational piece of the program started with a short CBS film from the What They Believe series that outlined the history of the Baha’i faith, beginning with the declaration of a young Persian named the Bab in the mid-nineteenth century. The Bab proclaimed that another prophet would come, heretical teachings that resulted in his persecution and death. But, one of his disciples, known as Baha’u’llah, spread the Bab’s teachings, and they eventually evolved into the Baha’i faith.
Baha’u’llah was also persecuted for these heretical teachings and jailed in Acco in Israel, which eventually became the home of the Baha’i World Headquarters.
His son, Abdul Baha came to the United States and encouraged followers to come together around service, beginning the North American Baha’I community.
During a short break, we had home-baked cookies made by our dear friend and WISDOM board member Paul Drewek, and long-time professor of world religions, who took the stage to give us additional information about Baha’ism. Following that, our panel, David Henderson, Bob Schneeweis, Jerry Royster, Sital Patel, convened to share their personal Baha’i journeys and answer questions about Baha’i beliefs and practices, and topics such as conversion, the meaning of life, and reincarnation. The Q & A went on for an entirely fascinating hour, with great questions and thoughtful and thought-provoking answers.
We learned that essential Baha’i theological tenets include the unity of humanity and the unity of all religions with the ultimate goal of creating a unified humanity without racial, ethnic, class, or religious prejudice. Baha’i has spread to virtually every country in the world, and Baha’i temples can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Baha’i worship generally takes place in the home, with no clergy, bound together locally and internationally by elected assemblies.
One is not born a Baha’i, but into a Baha’i family. Baha’is choose their own spiritual path, “declaring” after age 15. There is an emphasis in Baha’i on individual examination of scripture and self-guided study. When an individual chooses to become a Baha’i, if they were brought up in another tradition, they do not need to reject that tradition. Baha’i is open to all who accept the teachings of Baha’u’llah.
Baha’i religious practices and rituals include daily prayer and devotions. The Baha’i month is 19 days and Bahai’s gather every 19 days to pray, discuss issues and concerns, and share a feast and socialize. Baha’i followers fast for nineteen days leading up to the new year, or spring equinox.
After the discussion, we closed with another musical presentation by Marcella Valdivieso.
This fall, please join us for our next Exploring Our Religious Landscapes series, a journey into Christianity through Catholicism, Presbyterianism, Evangelical Christianity, and Universal Unitarianism.