“…strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers.”
Bahá’ís believe that humankind is currently at a unique historical moment, in which it is poised on the threshold of collective maturity, when its essential oneness will be realized and translated into new structures that befit an interdependent world. This belief has implications for how all the different processes of human life are understood, including worship. Inspired by this vision of the oneness of humankind, Bahá’ís strive to contribute to building a new global civilization, one which will be characterized by spiritual as well as material prosperity.
Bahá’ís in their individual and community endeavors strive to connect the spirit of devotion and prayer with concrete actions for the betterment of the entire population that give expression to this spirit. Worship, in this context, must then be connected with service, for service to the community is the channel for expression of the spirit of devotion to God and love for His Creation.
In communities all over India, and indeed throughout the world, groups of people inspired by the Bahá’í teachings come together regularly for devotional gatherings in order to share and intensify their connection with the Creator, as well as to engage in meaningful conversations on the implications of the soul-stirring words in the Holy Scriptures. Collective devotion and study of the sacred writings leads to efforts to share the edifying influence of these words with others, in the form of conversations, or through the means of classes for the moral education of children, groups for the empowerment of junior youth or circles of study for youth and adults. Members of the community that are engaged in this pattern of worship and service to provide spiritual education to others, are helping to spread the edifying influence of the Creative Word to a growing number of those around them, going on to inspire a range of different projects for social and economic betterment of their communities, as well.
It is within the above context of community life, where worship and service are woven together, that the role of the Baha’i house of Worship can be best understood. Like a Temple, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár – which means ‘dawning place of the mention of God’ – is a physical structure in which people of all walks of life come together to pray, meditate, and commune with their Creator. Yet the influence of the House of Worship extends to helping worshippers translate this spirit of devotion into acts of service, as well. Each Bahá’í House of Worship is to support social, humanitarian, educational and scientific pursuits through ‘dependencies’ established on its grounds.
“The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá’u’lláh … religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth…”
– Bahá’í Writings
Bahá’ís believe in the common foundation of all religions. All divine revelations to humanity have come from the same Divine source and they serve the same educational purpose. Although every religion bears the distinct stamp of its particular history and the geographical setting in which it appeared, the essential spiritual and moral teachings of all religions are one. All religions have come with the purpose of developing the moral and spiritual capacities latent in human nature and in building societies where these capacities can flourish and be channelized to advance society’s well-being. Although the social teachings, laws and rituals of different religions have differed based on changing historical needs and circumstances, they ultimately can be seen to serve the same purpose of advancing humanity’s collective maturity. This understanding of the essential oneness of religion provides the foundation on which people of all religions can learn to draw upon a common spiritual heritage to strive for the advancement of civilization.
“…The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.”
The Bahá’í House of Worship is dedicated to the oneness of humanity. It also displays in symbol and action this vital principle by welcoming all to come together in prayer to the common Creator.
The conviction that we belong to one human family is at the heart of the Bahá’í Faith. The principle of the oneness of humankind is “the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve”.
Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, compared the world of humanity to the human body. Within this organism, millions of cells, diverse in form and function, play their part in maintaining a healthy system. The principle that governs the functioning of the body is cooperation. Its various parts do not compete for resources; rather, each cell, from its inception, is linked to a continuous process of giving and receiving.
Acceptance of the oneness of humanity demands that prejudice—whether racial, religious, or gender related—must be totally eliminated.
“Every created thing in the whole universe is but a door leading into His knowledge…”
– Bahá’í Writings
Throughout the ages, human beings have pondered and marveled with awe at the majesty, grandeur and beauty of Creation– from the exquisite perfection evident in the arrangement of the petals of a flower to the mysterious order that pervades the behavior of galaxies in the Universe, from the realm of thoughts and feelings to the subtle and ineffable realities of the spirit. The only befitting response the human heart and mind has found to the overwhelming perfection and beauty of the world of existence has been to worship and adore the Intelligence that lay behind its creation. The relationship between this Being who has been called God, Ishwar or Allah and the individual soul has been the fundamental theme of all the religions of the world. It is in the context of this loving relationship that the Founders of the great religions have been able to inspire their followers to discipline animal tendencies and to cultivate divine attributes and virtues such as love, generosity, compassion and justice that are needed for harmonious social existence. Not only has this connection with the divine provided a sense of meaning, security and moral orientation to the individual, it has also served as the basis for the consciousness of the oneness of humankind as people see each other as children of one God who embody in their essential nature the same set of divine attributes and qualities.
The Bahá’í Writings explain that the reality of God is beyond the understanding of any mortal mind, though we may find expressions of His attributes in every created thing. Throughout the ages, He has sent a succession of Divine Messengers, known as Manifestations of God, to educate and guide humanity, awakening in whole populations capacities to contribute to the advancement of civilization to an extent never possible before.
“There is nothing sweeter in the world of existence than prayer…The most blessed condition is the condition of prayer and supplication.”
– Bahá’í Writings
Man is a spiritual being. Just as our bodies require nourishment to develop properly, we need regular prayer for our spiritual sustenance and health. Prayer is food for the soul; it deepens the love of God in our hearts and draws us closer to Him. The Bahá’í writings say, “There is nothing sweeter in the world of existence than prayer…The most blessed condition is the condition of prayer and supplication…It creates spirituality, creates mindfulness and celestial feelings, begets new attractions of the Kingdom and engenders the susceptibilities of the higher intelligence.” To live in a state of prayer entails not only uttering sacred verses in moments of devotion; it suggests, too, that throughout the day we should turn our hearts towards God.
Prayer in its highest form is a pure expression of loving praise for God. “The true worshipper, while praying, should endeavour not so much to ask God to fulfil his wishes and desires, but rather to adjust these and make them conform to the Divine Will. Only through such an attitude can one derive that feeling of inner peace and contentment which the power of prayer alone can confer.” Yet it is also natural that we would often beseech and supplicate God for assistance. After such prayer, we would reflect and act upon what appears to be the best way forward and then see if our efforts are confirmed. We need to have complete trust in the mercy of God and be certain that He will grant that which is best for us.
God grant that the light of unity may envelop the whole earth, and that the seal, “the Kingdom is God’s,” may be stamped upon the brow of all its peoples.
O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God, in their endeavor, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God! Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord.