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Imagine, for a moment, that you lived 2000 years ago during the time of Christ—how do you think you would have reacted to his message then?
Initially only twelve apostles recognized Christ’s mission while he was alive. History doesn’t record the number of actual Christians at that point, but certainly no more than a small group of followers had formed by then, a relative handful of people willing to risk death for their beliefs.
Chances are you might not have even heard of Jesus Christ if you were around during his lifetime, since mass media didn’t exist and few people knew what went on in other places.
But by the year 200 A.D., two centuries after Christ’s martyrdom, probably most of the people in the general vicinity of the Roman Empire and its territories in Asia Minor (which made up about a fifth of the world’s population at the time) knew about Christ and his teachings. The number of his followers had certainly increased, and while persecutions of the Christians continued in certain parts of the Roman Empire, in other parts Christianity had begun to flourish and grow.
A little more than a century later, in 313 A.D., the Roman Emperor Constantine would issue the Edict of Milan, decriminalizing Christian worship and setting the stage for Christianity to become the state religion in 380 A.D.
In some ways, the growth of the Baha’i Faith parallels this early development of Christianity. The Baha’i Faith is now 154 years old, and its founder, Baha’u’llah, was born 200 years ago in 1817. During that time period, millions of people have become Baha’is, and have established Baha’i communities in literally every country on Earth. With mass media, many more people know about Baha’u’llah and his new Faith than ever before. More and more, this relatively rapid spread of the Baha’i teachings challenges those who come across the Faith to evaluate its truth.
So, now that you know about Baha’u’llah, what’s the best way to make that judgment? What criteria can a curious person use to evaluate the truth of this new belief system?
Here are four suggestions for making your own evaluation:
- First, read the Baha’i writings.
- Second, meditate on their meanings.
- Third, meet Baha’is and ask questions.
- Fourth, pray.
Every new prophet brings a book, a written testament to their mission. The Bible, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Qur’an—those holy books all created entire civilizations, set forth new teachings and laws and gave humanity guidance about how to live with one another. The Baha’i writings, contained in not just one book but in many, serve the same functions. But they also inspire the heart and soul in lyrical, poetic language. They offer clear, logical and scientific explanations about how to achieve unity and oneness in the world. They guide humanity toward a peaceful, positive future:
As the teachings of Baha’u’llah are combined with universal peace, they are like a table provided with every kind of fresh and delicious food. Every soul can find, at that table of infinite bounty, that which he desires. If the question is restricted to universal peace alone, the remarkable results which are expected and desired will not be attained. The scope of universal peace must be such that all the communities and religions may find their highest wish realized in it. The teachings of Baha’u’llah are such that all the communities of the world, whether religious, political or ethical, ancient or modern, find in them the expression of their highest wish. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 304.
But don’t just read the Baha’i writings—spend some time by yourself meditating on their meaning. Delve deeply into the ocean of Baha’u’llah’s teachings, and consider them fully. Examine them from not only your personal perspective, but in light of a broader human perspective.
Then, once you’ve familiarized yourself with and meditated on the Baha’i teachings, meet some Baha’is. Go to a Baha’i gathering in your area and experience the diversity, the closeness and the unity of the Baha’i community. Baha’is aren’t perfectly spiritual individuals—like all people, we each have flaws—but we’re all trying to lead good lives and live up to Baha’u’llah’s command to love one another. Each Baha’i has unique insights into the Baha’i teachings, so curiosity is definitely encouraged. Baha’is even have meetings for that purpose called firesides, where anyone can ask questions and hear the answers individual Baha’is offer in response.
Remember, though—no Baha’i has all the answers, and in fact the only authoritative source for answers is the Baha’i writings themselves.
Baha’u’llah’s major works cover a wide range of subjects: mystical treatises and aphorisms like The Seven Valleys, The Four Valleys and The Hidden Words; the proclamation of Baha’u’llah’s mission in books like The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah and The Summons of the Lord of Hosts; books on the subject of theology, progressive revelation and the essential unity of all Faiths like The Book of Certitude and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf; books on Baha’i law and the future state of society, especially The Most Holy Book, also known in Arabic as the Kitab-i-Aqdas; poetic, visionary volumes like Gems of Divine Mysteries; books of supplications to the Creator like Prayers and Meditations of Baha’u’llah; and compilations of various important letters, missives and tablets like Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah and Tablets of Baha’u’llah.
You can freely read all of these books here: www.BahaieBooks.org
Finally, Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha revealed hundreds of beautiful prayers. Anyone who wants to know more about the Baha’i teachings can learn an enormous amount just by saying those prayers, and feeling their impact on his or her soul:
Intone, O My servants, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men. Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul. Thus have the mysteries of the Revelation of God been decreed by virtue of the Will of Him Who is the Source of power and wisdom. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. ii.