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I’ll admit it–when I first became a Baha’i at 18, the Baha’i writings intimidated me terribly.
Written in a lyrical, mystical and metaphorical style, with a complex vocabulary, an elevated tone and a formal grace far beyond my grasp, I had a hard time comprehending them. But the spiritual beauty of those writings haunted me, especially in the powerful Baha’i prayers. They touched my soul. Like a moth to a flame, I felt drawn to those prayers and books, and found myself turning to them for refuge and solace and inspiration every day.
Then, drafted and sent to war in Vietnam a year later, I literally wore out two Baha’i prayer books during my fourteen-month sojourn in a combat zone. I relied on the Baha’i prayers to get me through one traumatic experience after another. When a close friend didn’t make it; in the midst of agony, dying and destruction; when I saw horrible human savagery; when I came close to death myself, I turned to those prayers as my refuge, my sustenance and my hope. They literally—and I’m not exaggerating here—kept me alive. I’m absolutely convinced that without the Baha’i prayers to sustain me, I might not have made it.
So beyond every other piece of heartfelt advice I can ever give anyone, I deeply and sincerely offer you the life-sustaining gift of the Baha’i writings.
When I give that advice to friends and seekers, it usually results in a single question: But Baha’is have many holy books, not just one—so where do I start?
That’s not an easy question to answer, I’ll admit, since the Baha’i writings constitute a vast ocean of knowledge and inspiration. I don’t know of any other Faith that offers humanity such an overwhelming volume of pure, original revelatory content. Most other major religions have holy books and scriptures that contain historical accounts and some quotes from that religion’s founder. Many of those scriptures were compiled from second-, third- and twelfth-hand accounts long after their original founders had passed on. Scholars estimate, for example, that only about 10% of the New Testament of the Bible contains actual quotes from Christ. Oral histories, the words of others and accounts written down many years later make up the other 90%.
The Baha’i writings, by contrast, come straight from the source. Written directly by the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith—Baha’u’llah—they extensively and powerfully cover a wide variety of subjects. His writings include books of mysticism (The Seven Valleys, The Four Valleys); collections of letters, tablets and essays on Baha’i social and ethical teachings (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah); compilations of beautiful scriptures (Gems of Divine Mysteries); books that explain the Baha’i concept of progressive revelation (The Book of Certitude); books of prayers (Prayers and Meditations); a book of Baha’i laws (The Most Holy Book); a small book of immensely potent spiritual and ethical teachings (The Hidden Words), and maybe a hundred more.
You can add to that prodigious output the prolific writings, public talks and addresses of Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah’s son and the exemplar of the Baha’i teachings; and the voluminous writings of Shoghi Effendi, Abdu’l-Baha’s grandson and the Guardian of the Faith for 46 years.
No global Faith has ever witnessed such a generous outpouring of written scripture. Baha’is believe that the resonance, the stimulus and the creative power unleashed by the revelation of Baha’u’llah has changed and will continue to change the future of humanity:
The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System — the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.
Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 136.
You can go to pretty much any bookstore or library and find Baha’i books. You can get them online, too. Many countries around the world have Baha’i Publishing Trusts and independent Baha’i publishing houses, so Baha’is have more publications daily, in English and in just about any other language you can name. I have a few favorite English-language resources myself:
Ocean, the remarkable free online compilation and search tool put together by my friend Chad Jones. (http://bahai-education.org/) Download Ocean and you’ll have a remarkable resource at your fingertips—a searchable database of the Baha’i writings (and the holy writings of the other major Faiths, too!)
Baha’i eBooks Publications, the completely free source for the Baha’i sacred writings. This absolute treasure trove of primary Baha’i literature (http://www.bahaiebooks.org/) makes the writings of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi available in their published form—at no cost–for all to read and ponder.
The United States Baha’i Publishing Trust, perhaps one of the largest and most complete sources of Baha’i literature, music, audio and ebooks in the world (http://www.bahaibookstore.com). On this robust site you can find podcasts, wonderful Baha’i music from just about every genre, and books for children and adults that cover a broad spectrum of perspectives and interests.
George Ronald Publications, the independent British Baha’i publisher (www.georgeronald.com), which offers a fascinating range of secondary Baha’i literature, including in-depth books on the relationship of the Baha’i Faith to Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese religions, Judaism and Islam.
The UK Baha’i Publishing Trust—at www.bahaibookstore.org.uk, you’ll find multiple sources for the authentic writings of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith—Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, and Shoghi Effendi—as well as a wide realm of thoughtful literature on Baha’i history and principles.
I hope you’ll read and fall in love with the Baha’i writings, just like I have. But don’t take my word for it—take a look for yourself.