Purpose of Religion
Modern man1, bombarded with mundane details pertaining to his daily life, has lost touch with religionthe only agency that helps him to be in touch with his real self and his Creator. Hence, it is not surprising that very few people in the world have any real understanding of either what religion is or what its functions are in governing an individual's life. Scriptures teach us that the purpose of human life is spiritual development of the individual. Individual transformation ultimately results in bringing order in human society. However, not many people view religion in this light. For most people, religion is shrouded in mystery, ritual, and tradition. This makes religion very hard to understand.
Mercifully, God always comes to the aid of man and renews His eternal religion through a fresh Manifestation at such times. Lord Krishna has promised in the Bhagavad Gita that whenever righteousness is on the decline, and unrighteousness is in the ascendant, then God, though birthless and deathless, and the Lord of all beings, manifests Himself through His own Yogamaya (divine potency) keeping His Nature (Prakrti) under control. 2 He says, "For the protection of the virtuous, for the extirpation of evil-doers, and for establishing Dharma (righteousness) on a firm footing, I am born from age to age." 3 Similar promises and prophecies do exist in all religions of the world.
The Word of God is thus taught to human beings through the Chosen Mouthpiece in every age. In our times, the Baháís consider the Revelation of Baháulláh (a title meaning the Glory of God or Vishnu Yasha) as fulfillment of the prophecies contained in all the Holy Scriptures regarding the appearance of a Universal Manifestation.
The five million followers of Baháulláh throughout the world believe that He is the One to Whom the Hindu Scriptures referred as the "Most Great Spirit", the "Tenth Avatar", the "Immaculate Manifestation of Krishna." 4
He alone is the One indicated by the prophecy attributed to Gautama Buddha Himself, that "a Buddha named Maitreye, the Buddha of universal fellowship" should in the fullness of time arise and reveal "His boundless glory." 5
To Him Jesus Christ had referred as the "Glory of God," as "Alpha and Omega", "the Beginning and the End", and "the First and the Last".6
The Apostle of God, Muhammad, alluded to Him in His Book as the "Great Announcement" and declared His Day to be the "Day of Judgment".7
Baháulláh educates us about the aims of true religion. "The religion of God and His divine law," Baháulláh has revealed, "are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men. The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquillity of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God. Religion bestoweth upon man the most precious of all gifts, offereth the cup of prosperity, imparteth eternal life, and showereth imperishable benefits upon mankind." 8 He exhorts the chiefs and rulers of the world to endeavour to their utmost to safeguard the position of religion, promote its interests and exalt its station in the world.
The Baháí teachings on the aims and purposes of religion are an eye opener. Whereas today most religious leaders have made religion a cause of strife and contention, Baháulláh proclaims that the " fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men." 9 He hopes that the religious leaders and the rulers of the world will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. He advises them to counsel together, meditate on the needs of the people and exercise their authority in moderation. As for religion, He strongly advises them not to make it "a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity." 10
Baháulláh explains that the origin of all divinely revealed religions lies in the same divine source. In the manner of Lord Krishna, He has revealed " that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process." He teaches that " religious truth is not absolute but relative, 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, that their functions are complimentary, that they differ only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society." 11
Therefore, Baháulláh asserts " the divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men ." 12 This is the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion. Baháulláh describes religion as an instrument of unity. Of the different religious systems of the world, He says, "These principles and laws, these firmly-established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated." 13
Thus, religion at the social level is seen in the Baháí Writings as " the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world, and of tranquillity amongst its peoples." 14 Baháulláh emphatically states "The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strengthened the foolish, and emboldened them, and made them more arrogant. Verily I say: The greater the decline of religion, the more grievous the waywardness of the ungodly. This cannot but lead in the end to chaos and confusion. Hear Me, O men of insight, and be warned, ye who are endued with discernment!" 15
At the individual level, according to Baháulláh, the purpose " of the one true God in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves." 16 "Throughout, it is the relationship of the individual soul to God and the fulfilment of its spiritual destiny that is the ultimate aim of the laws of religion." 17 "Think not," is Baháulláhs own assertion, "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." 18
Apart from stating the purpose of religion, the Baháí Writings throw light on its nature. Religion is seen as an adorning for the body of humanity. Baháulláh explains, "Know thou that they who are truly wise have likened the world unto the human temple. As the body of man needeth a garment to clothe it, so the body of mankind must needs be adorned with the mantle of justice and wisdom. Its robe is the Revelation vouchsafed unto it by God. Whenever this robe hath fulfilled its purpose, the Almighty will assuredly renew it. For every age requireth a fresh measure of the light of God. Every Divine Revelation hath been sent down in a manner that befitted the circumstances of the age in which it hath appeared." 19
The process of Revelation is a great mystery which human mind finds very hard to penetrate and accept. Nevertheless, the history of religions proves beyond any shadow of doubt that whatever the Manifestations of God, whether Krishna, Buddha, Abraham, Zoroaster, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Báb and Baháulláh revealed, was ultimately fulfilled and widely accepted.
The trouble, however, is that purity of the teachings of the divine Messengers is diluted as Their message is passed on from one generation to another and at times it is totally forgotten.
Baháulláh has come to renew the fundamental truths enshrined in all religions. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baháí Faith asserts that there is no place for " any misgivings as to the animating purpose of the worldwide Law of Baháulláh. Far from aiming at the subversion of the existing foundations of society, it seeks to broaden its basis, to remould its institutions in a manner consonant with the needs of an ever-changing world. It does not ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit " 20
If at all, the Message of Baháulláh is directed against all forms of provincialism, all insularities and prejudices. The outdated rituals, customs and traditions have no place in the Baháí Faith. The beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, states, "If long-cherished ideals and time-honoured institutions, if certain social assumptions and religious formulae have ceased to promote the welfare of the generality of mankind, if they no longer minister to the needs of a continually evolving humanity, let them be swept away and relegated to the limbo of obsolescent and forgotten doctrines." 21
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. The word man is used throughout this book as a generic term to include both man and woman.
2. The or The Song Divine, Gita Press, Gorakhpur, India, 1994, IV:6.
3. ibid., IV:8.
4. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Baháí Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois, 1965, p. 95.
5. ibid., p. 95.
6. ibid., p. 95.
7. ibid., p. 96.
8. Baháulláh, Tablets of Baháulláh, pp. 129-130.
9. Baháulláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baháulláh, translated by Shoghi Effendi, Baháí Publishing Committee, Wilmette, Illinois, 1946, p. 215.
10. Baháulláh, Proclamation of Baháulláh to the Kings and Leaders of the World, Baháí World Centre, Haifa, 1972, p. 112.
11. Shoghi Effendi, Call to the Nations, Extracts from the writings of Shoghi Effendi, Baháí World Centre, New Delhi, 1977, p. xi.
12. Baháulláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 13.
14. ibid., p. 28.
16. Baháulláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 287.
17. Baháulláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book), Baháulláh, Baháí Publishing Trust, New Delhi. 1992: Other Sections, pp. 2-3.
18. ibid., p. 21.
19. Baháulláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 81.
20. Shoghi Effendi, Call to the Nations, p. 28.
21. ibid., p. 29.