Baha'i World Center, seat of government for the Baha'i Faith, Haifa, Israel/Genmer.net

Sacred Texts: Exploring the Baha’i scriptural canon

Sacred Texts: Exploring the Baha’i scriptural canon

Editor’s Note: FāVS has launched a new series on Sacred Texts. In most religious traditions they are considered sacred because it is believed they were divinely revealed or inspired, and they form part of an authoritative canon. In this series we ask how scripture is used in particular traditions and if it’s necessary or dispensable. Is it subject to interpretation? What is its purpose? How have scriptures been used to promote or justify certain types of behavior? And, do ancient scriptures have any relevance today?

By Pete Haug

Baha’is believe that God has spoken again.

Religious teachings prescribe how humans should interact and otherwise live their lives. Exploring and understanding those teachings requires historical awareness. For example, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha’u’llah are historical figures. Each, claiming a direct revelation from God, founded a religion that spread worldwide. This line of prophets, along with Buddha, Zoroaster, and others, are regarded by Baha’is as “Manifestations of God.”

Baha’is believe all Manifestations were inspired by a single Source, one God, who imbued each, at different times in different locations, with teachings designed to advance the civilizations where they appeared. They reiterated certain constants, like the Golden Rule, and brought new teachings commensurate with the understanding and abilities of their contemporaries.

In most cases, Holy Scriptures were first distributed anecdotally and written down much later. Modern translations now approximate the languages in which religious teachings first appeared, along with their scriptural interpretations. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have splintered into groups that can’t agree on what their own scriptures mean.

Muhammad’s revelation, transcribed in Arabic as he spoke, is an exception. Muslims believe the Quran, “recitation” in Arabic, is an authoritative compilation of Muhammad’s 23-year oral revelation. Islam’s major divisions, Sunnism and Shi’ism, arise from questions of authoritative succession.

Abundant outpourings from twin Manifestations

The Bab and Baha’u’llah, twin Manifestations of the Baha’i Faith, were Shiite Muslims. In 1844, the Bab (Gate) revealed to a seeker that he fulfilled certain Islamic prophecies. His role was to prepare the way for one greater than himself, a universal Manifestation who would fulfill promises and expectations of religions the world over. In 1863, as confirmed by independent, contemporaneous eyewitness accounts, Baha’u’llah, a follower of the Bab, proclaimed he was that Manifestation.

The Baha’i canon includes original scriptures handwritten by the Bab and Baha’u’llah, as well as authoritative interpretations by Baha’u’llah’s son ‘Abdu’l-Baha and great-grandson, Shoghi Effendi. Much of this canon was written in Arabic and Farsi.

These original writings are available for research by scholars. Because the Baha’i Faith places great value on independent investigation, Baha’i administration oversees authorized translations into both mainstream and indigenous languages globally.

This canon is indispensable to Baha’is living their daily lives. Individual responsibility is paramount. Although some canonical ideals are challenging to live up to, sincere effort goes a long way. There is no clergy. Authority is vested in institutions elected by secret ballot. No individual has any authority unless delegated by an institution on a specific matter.

The governing institution for Baha’is worldwide is the Universal House of Justice, first established in 1963 on the centenary of Baha’u’llah’s proclamation. Ordained by God “as the source of all good and freed from all error,” it is “elected by universal suffrage” from among the believers.

With no clergy, individual Baha’is take responsibility for internalizing and applying Baha’i teachings in their daily lives, sometimes assisted by learned individuals. For example, each believer is exhorted to pray, deepen understanding of Baha’i teachings and share those teachings with others who are truly interested. Baha’is are encouraged to make our “own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh.”

What are Baha’i principles?

Earlier columns elaborate in more detail on those principles. For those seeking to investigate independently, authoritative English translations are available at https://www.bahai.org/library/. Keep in mind, this canon contains tens of thousands of original documents, many untranslated, that Baha’is consider authoritative.

The purpose of religion, Baha’u’llah wrote, “is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men.” This brief overview surveys Baha’u’llah’s life and teachings, and why they matter.

So, why so many different religions? Or are there? God speaks to man in many ways; all revealed religions are, at their roots, from the same unknowable Source. Through Baha’u’llah, that Source mandated some fundamental changes in human attitudes and behavior, even while confirming teachings of earlier Manifestations.

Baha’is believe these principles are to guide humankind through a changing world for at least a millennium. This means we not only must internalize, from Baha’i scriptures, this divinely inspired wisdom, but also must apply those teachings in our daily lives as we constantly adapt to a world transitioning environmentally, politically and spiritually.

In 1890, Baha’u’llah spoke these words to a British scholar: “We desire but the good of the world and happiness of the nations; … these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come…”

A century later, the Universal House of Justice wrote, “The Great Peace towards which people of goodwill throughout the centuries have inclined their hearts … is now at long last within the reach of the nations.” 

How might we implement this promise?

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[…] Scripture: Exploring the Baha’i scriptural canon – October 10, 2022 […]

[…] No comments Categories: Spirituality Pete Haug 10 hours ago Commentary, Features 1 Comment 190 Views Editor’s Note: FāVS has launched a new series on Sacred Texts. In most religious […]

[…] No comments Categories: Spirituality Pete Haug 19 hours ago Commentary, Features 2 Comments 233 Views Editor’s Note: FāVS has launched a new series on Sacred Texts. In most religious […]

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