do baha’is believe in ghosts?

Another older question here from the Reddit Baha’i group, /r/bahai. This time, someone (presumably a Baha’i) asked the question: “Do we believe in ghosts?” Here’s the answer I gave.

This is a good question, and to me, there are a few different ways of looking at it. One is, is there an afterlife that follows our physical death? The answer is, yes, there is, most definitely. A quick look through Ruhi Book 1 will reveal a number of insightful quotes from the Writings on this subject, including this one, which tells us that this physical world is, in fact, a way of preparing us for the life beyond:

“In the beginning of his human life man was embryonic in the world of the matrix. There he received capacity and endowment for the reality of human existence. The forces and powers necessary for this world were bestowed upon him in that limited condition. In this world he needed eyes; he received them potentially in the other. He needed ears; he obtained them there in readiness and preparation for his new existence. The powers requisite in this world were conferred upon him in the world of the matrix …

“Therefore, in this world he must prepare himself for the life beyond. That which he needs in the world of the Kingdom must be obtained here. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the matrix by acquiring forces necessary in this sphere of existence, so, likewise, the indispensable forces of the divine existence must be potentially attained in this world.”

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace)

Another way of looking at the question is: Are there “spirits”, or souls, who are bound to the material world? The answer to this question, according to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, is no:

“There are no earth-bound souls. When the souls that are not good die they go entirely away from this earth and so cannot influence anyone. They are spiritually dead. Their thoughts can have influence only when they are alive on the earth… But the good souls are given eternal life and sometimes God permits their thoughts to reach the earth to help the people.”

(Questions answered by Abdu’l-Bahá in Akka: Daily Lessons, Received at Akka, 1979 ed., pp. 35-36)

Yet another way of looking at the question is: Have people who report seeing “visions” or apparitions of people who have passed away, or somehow communicating with those people, actually seen or heard those souls? The answer, according to Shoghi Effendi, is “probably not, but possibly, in very rare circumstances”:

“Regarding your question: In His chapter on ‘Visions and Communications with Spirits’ in ‘Some Answered Questions’, the Master evidently desires to point out that there can be, under certain rare circumstances, such as those experienced by the Prophets, communion with some soul gone before into the invisible world, but that most of this type of experience which people often claim to have with departed souls is nothing but the product of their own imaginations–however real it may seem to them to be. […]

“Truly mystical experiences based on reality are very rare, and we can readily see how dangerous it is for people to go groping about in the darkness of their imagination after the true thing. That is why, as you point out, we are warned against all psychical practices by the Master.

“If we are going to have some deeply spiritual experience we can rest assured God will vouchsafe it to us without our having to look for it.”

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated October 25, 1942, to an individual believer)

It’s also worth noting that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi both recommend against trying to tamper with or even to give undue consideration to supernatural or psychic forces, as mentioned in the quote above, as doing so can actually be harmful to us spiritually and retard our soul’s progress.

For a good treatment of the subject of everything supernatural in the Bahá’í Faith, you might want to take a look at the book Miracles in Religion: A Study of the miraculous in religion in context of the Bahá’í Faith by Anil Sarwal.

why is the baha’i faith so prominent in the pacific?

Here’s an older question, but an interesting one which I thought I’d share here. Again from Reddit, this one was posted on the /r/AskSocialScience subreddit: “Why has the Baha’i faith become so prominent in the Pacific island-states?”

The original question was as follows:

“I was reading a Wikipedia article on religious demographics and read that large percentages of the populations of small island-states in the Pacific are Baha’i. So why?”

There are a few reasons that I’ve been able to dig up after some searching. Much of the in-depth research I’ve found has been published by Dr. Graham Hassall of Victoria University of Wellington, NZ. Here are two good references:

Hassall mentions in (1992) that much of the growth of the Bahá’í Faith began after 1953, as part of a systematic “Global Crusade” to establish communities in a number of areas where no Bahá’ís lived at the time, of which fifteen were islands in the Pacific. From the settlement of “pioneers” to the conversion of individuals and groups and eventually the establishment of institutions, this phased, methodical approach laid roots in a number of these islands simultaneously, aided by international support from Bahá’ís in many countries worldwide.

As for why the peoples of the Pacific islands were attracted to the religion, Hassall notes in (2006) several reasons why new converts in the Gilbert Islands abandoned their existing churches to join the Bahá’í Faith: aversion to financial and other obligations from the churches; a quest for education; and attraction to the lifestyle offered by the Bahá’í Faith and other “new religious movements”.

As for the question of percentages, we might bear in mind that many of the Pacific nations listed in OP’s link have relatively low populations to begin with (Wikipedia, via national census). Top-ranked Nauru, for instance, has a population of 10,000; 9.22% makes 922 Bahá’ís. Tuvalu and Tokelau, also in the top five, have similarly low population. Tonga, with its population of 104,000, has 6.09% = 6333 Bahá’ís. If we look at sheer population of Bahá’ís (again, in OP’s link), India dominates with over 1.8 million, though the proportion compared to the nation’s total population is much lower at below 0.15%.

The overall answer is probably a combination of these: the systematic approach to mission work adopted by the worldwide Bahá’í community, as well as its relative attractiveness to the islanders, helped the Bahá’í Faith to gain a strong foothold there early on and build a relatively large population of converts, which, as compared with the low population of the islands, tends to stand out more than in other places in the world, which have much higher populations.

Finally, something I didn’t include in my original post, of course, was that perhaps the peoples of the Pacific islands were attracted to the Baha’i Faith because they saw in it great spiritual confirmations and truths that had been lacking in their previous religious experience.

all about entry by troops

And here’s another question from our jargon-busting session on Reddit’s Baha’i group, this time asking about the term “entry by troops”. What’s it all about? And does it mean the same thing as “mass conversion”?

First off, I’ve been reminded several times that the expression “entry by troops” is actually echoed in the Qur’an:

The Day when the Trumpet will be blown; then you will come up in troops… (Qur’an 78:18)

When comes the victory of Allah, and the Conquest, and you see mankind entering the Religion of Allah in troops… (Qur’an 110:1-2)

Generally, the term seems to be used to describe the Day when God will be victorious over the forces of unbelief, and humanity will recognize His religion and so enter it in multitudes. So this isn’t a concept that’s exclusive to the Bahá’í Faith; it’s grounded in the Scriptures of previous Revelations.

There’s an interesting compilation on entry by troops that was published in 2000, but unfortunately, it doesn’t spell out the leaps of evolution in thinking and capacity that have come about in the Bahá’í World in the past 17 years, the real examples of mass conversion that have happened in certain communities around the world in that time, and so on.

My understanding of entry by troops is that it largely has to do with the spiritual perception and receptivity of populations. When people are ready to accept God, they will do so in great numbers. We have already seen this in places where people have suffered greatly, such as Cambodia (civil war for ~30 years, with a major genocide in the 70s), Colombia (civil war for ~50 years), or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (war off and on for ~30 years). These are places where the Faith has not only grown in numbers, but also played a huge role in regenerating society, leading to a strong and vibrant community life. The more people suffer, it seems, the more ready they will be ready to turn towards God and embrace His Cause.

Now, as to whether “entry by troops” means exactly the same thing as “mass conversion”: According to the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, the two are different parts of the same process. Simply put, “entry by troops” (i.e., a time when a lot of people will start entering the Faith) is properly seen as a “prelude” to mass conversion (i.e., a time when A REAL LOT of people will start entering the Faith).

From Citadel of Faith:

This flow [of reinforcements], moreover, will presage and hasten the advent of the day which, as prophesied by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, will witness the entry by troops of peoples of divers nations and races into the Bahá’í world—a day which, viewed in its proper perspective, will be the prelude to that long-awaited hour when a mass conversion on the part of these same nations and races … will suddenly revolutionize the fortunes of the Faith, derange the equilibrium of the world, and reinforce a thousandfold the numerical strength as well as the material power and the spiritual authority of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.

choice wine

Yet another question from our jargon-busting session on Reddit’s Baha’i group, asking for the definition of “choice wine”.

Taken literally, a choice wine is a wine that you would choose above all others. In a Bahá’í context, the phrase “choice wine” is probably best known from its use near the beginning of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, where Bahá’u’lláh issues this warning:

Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power. To this beareth witness that which the Pen of Revelation hath revealed. Meditate upon this, O men of insight!

In the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Bahá’u’lláh uses this same metaphor in an admonition to the Epistle’s recipient, Shaykh Muhammad Taqi:

O Shaykh! Verily I say, the seal of the Choice Wine hath, in the name of Him Who is the Self-Subsisting, been broken; withhold not thyself therefrom.

Volume 4 of the book “The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh” gives an explanation of this metaphor, which I’ll quote here:

‘The seal of the Choice Wine hath…been broken.’ The reference to choice wine, sealed, may be found in the Qur’án (see 83:22-6). The significance of ‘sealed’ is that the true meanings of the Words of God in former Dispensations were not disclosed until the advent of Bahá’u’lláh (see vol. 1, pp. 160-61, on this prophecy of Daniel). The unsealing of the Choice Wine signifies the revelation of the Word of God in this age, disclosing to mankind new teachings and new laws. Bahá’u’lláh declares in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ‘Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay rather We have unsealed the Choice Wine with the fingers of might and power.’ [The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ¶5]

So, tl;dr: It’s not literally wine, but a figurative wine that symbolizes the Word of God for this age, which Bahá’u’lláh has revealed.

are all religions equal?

Another question coming from Reddit here, this time from the /r/AskReligion subreddit: “Why do some people believe all religions are equal?” And this one has a pretty simple answer, at least, from a Bahá’í perspective.

Bahá’ís believe that all the world’s great religions are, in fact, one religion that has been revealed progressively over time by different Manifestations of one and the same God—Abraham, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh.

The fact that these Manifestations have differed from each other doesn’t mean that God changed; instead, it means that they each revealed God’s word in a way that was suited to the capacity and to the reality of the people to whom they appeared. The fact that the great religions differ from one another, then, is due to them being revealed at different times to different peoples, as well as to the rituals that human beings have built up around the essential spiritual message they were given.

This is why you’ll often hear Bahá’ís talk about all the great religions being paths to God: They’ve all been part of a long process of education that has spanned all of human history, and that will continue into the future.

If you’re interested, there’s a lot to read about this process of progressive revelation on the official website of the Bahá’í Faith.

good books to help you start learning about the bahá’í faith

People often come to visit /r/bahai (Reddit’s Bahá’í group) to ask questions. Every now and then, people drop by with the question: “Where do I start learning about the Bahá’í Faith?”. Here’s my answer to a recent thread, specifically asking for books to read to get a good overview of the Bahá’í Faith.

A good place to start if you’re looking for Baha’i books is the Baha’i Reference Library, which has a number of authoritative Baha’i texts. You can also find all of these for purchase at the Baha’i Bookstore online, and for free in e-book form.

The order you read them in kind of depends on your own background and what you’re interested in, but a good place to start is with Bahá’u’lláh’s Hidden Words, which is like a distillation of the spiritual teachings that lie at the core of all of the world’s great religions.

If you have a strong mystical bent, you might want to follow that up with Bahá’u’lláh’s Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, or Gems of Divine Mysteries. Both of these are essentially letters to individuals who had asked about certain spiritual truths, such as the path taken by a soul on its spiritual journey.

If you’re really interested in Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings on the evolution of religion throughout history, and His interpretation of past religious prophecies, you should definitely read the Book of Certitude, aka the Kitáb-i-Íqán. I’ve known a lot of people who’ve started learning about the Bahá’í Faith through this book; it really delivers some penetrating spiritual insights.

There are also more general introductory books about the Bahá’í Faith that are available. Two commonly recommended books for those interested in reading about the Bahá’í Faith are A Short History of the Bahá’í Faith by Peter Smith, and A Short Introduction to the Bahá’í Faith by Moojan Momen. If you want a very quick foretaste of both books, you can check out this combined review. Smith has also published a newer book, An Introduction to the Baha’i Faith, which you might want to consider as well.