“Faith Matters” is published weekly in The Sentinel newspaper. This page reproduces the contributions made by the St. Helena Bahá’ís.
Teaching children how to lead happy lives
Discussions on local radio and television a few months ago were about the importance of a good education for all of our children when they are at school, and this is very important. However, in the early stages of their lives, the mother is the first educator of her children, and she can talk to them about God and teach them to say prayers from a very early age, so that Love of God will be an important part of their upbringing and this will help them as they grow up.
In this day and age of upheaval in the world, many people are more and more unsure of what they believe, and so, because they are confused, have decided that they will leave their children to find out for themselves about the purpose of life and the part that religion should play in it. Children cannot do this alone. In the recent past, religion was an integral part of most children’s lives here and elsewhere. Children continue to need lots of guidance in this area of their lives as well as in learning to read and write.
In our homes and in our schools, we can guide our children so that they can face the array of pitfalls that were unknown to us only a generation or two ago. Otherwise they will not know where to turn when in trouble. A talk given by the island’s psychiatrist, Dr. Brian Robertson, on one of his visits reinforced the basic fact that children are naturally spiritual beings. They WANT to learn about God. We should not deprive them of this bounty. Indeed it should become an integral part of their lives, as a protection for them in the future. If they don’t learn moral behaviour and Love of God when they are young, they will not have protection from many of the temptations which destroy people’s lives when they are older.
We hear complaints of the manners of the young these days, especially in the Western world where attitudes of some children towards adults and authority have changed in recent years. It is the parents who can teach good qualities from an early age, so that children would be ashamed to do the things we want to protect them from as they grow. Teachers of course also play a big part in ensuring good behaviour as the children get older, and Moral Education should be an essential part of the school curriculum. We must remember that every child is a precious gift, and all need to be nurtured, so that their innate qualities may develop and they may be happy.
How can we do this?
Here is some guidance from the Bahá’í Writings on helping children to acquire qualities of the spirit that will help them throughout their lives, to know in which direction they should go
Love and kindness have far greater influence than punishment upon the improvement of human character
If a pupil is told that his intelligence is less than his fellow pupils, it is a very great drawback and handicap to his progress. He must be encouraged to advance.
Therefore it is incumbent upon the mothers to rear the little ones even as a gardener tendeth his young plants
Basically we are talking about acquiring the tools of honesty, justice, courtesy, kindness, self control and so on, which are so necessary for their happiness in life. Is it not a lack of knowing what life is about that leads people into bad behaviour patterns? Remember that children want to know about God, and we should not deprive them of this knowledge. To be happy we all need to strive to be more in tune with our spiritual nature, and not so attached to the material world. Children need to know that each life - their life - is special, and that we are here on earth to try to help others and make the world a better place.
It is incumbent upon every father and mother to counsel their children over a long period, and guide them unto those things which lead to everlasting honour
Know that this matter of instruction, of character rectification and refinement, of heartening and encouraging the child, is of the utmost importance, for such are the basic principles of God
O God! Educate these children. These children are the plants of Thine orchard, the flowers of Thy meadow, the roses of Thy garden. Let Thy rain fall upon them; let the Sun of Reality shine upon them with Thy love. Let Thy breeze refresh them in order that they may be trained, grow and develop, and appear in the utmost beauty.
Our Creator is known by many different names all over the world, with people from many religious backgrounds in different parts of the world calling Him by names which may be unfamiliar to us, but there is only One God who created all of us.
The different names come from the different backgrounds and countries where Manifestations of God have appeared over time, countries which were at one time unknown to each other, distant and where people spoke different languages. However that does not mean that there is more than one Creator. God is One. Now that people can travel the world, learn languages other than their own, explore the history and customs in person or on the Internet, more and more of us are understanding that people are people wherever you go, and their religions taught them to love each other, just as our own religions do. There is now a Parliament of World Religions, a World Council of Religious leaders, advising the United Nations, a World Religion Day, and many publications confirm that the basic teachings of all the World Religions are the same while only the social teachings which were laid down at different times in the history of mankind differ. This is why, gradually, many enlightened religious leaders feel happy to worship together.
There are many ways to worship God. Bahá’ís around the world honour and include many cultural and ethnic traditions when they worship together, because their members come from many countries and many religious backgrounds.
The Bahá’í writings praise the diverse contributions of the peoples of the world.
“The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. In an orchestra, each instrument provides its own unique sound. Working together the result is one symphony.”
“We verily have made music a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up into the realm on high------“
Bahá’u’lláh also taught that work performed in a spirit of service is a form of worship.
“All effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity.”
“Concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity ---- Let your hearts be filled with the strenuous desire that tranquillity and harmony may encircle this warring world.”
A prayer for all who believe in God:-
Blessed is the spot, and the house,
World religion day
“O ye that dwell on earth! The religion of God is for love and unity; make it not the cause of enmity or dissension.”.Bahá’u’lláh.
The third Sunday in January has been designated World Religion Day by the United Nations, so this article focuses on this topic All the recognised World Religions come from the same God, so we can ask why, in the name of religion, are some of them fighting and causing such misery to others in different parts of the world?
God is Love, so violence has no place in any true religion, yet history shows many instances of it being used to intimidate those who do not believe what others do. People over the centuries have used religion to gain power and incite others to violence which is the opposite of what the original Messengers taught.
Here are some quotations from the world’s great religions on Unity and Peace
• Hindu Faith (Prophet: Krishna; 2000 B.C. in India)
I desire only the deliverance from grief of all those afflicted by misery.---- May there be peace on earth.----
• Jewish Faith (Moses 1300 B.C. in Egypt)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths
May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace,
• Zoroastrian Faith (Zoroaster 1000B.C. in Persia)
This is true religion; to cleanse oneself with pure thoughts, pure words, and pure deeds
Seek ye for a store of good deeds, men and women! For a store of good deeds is full of salvation
• Buddhist Faith (Prophet Gautama Buddha 560 B.C. in India)
If these ways of action are pure he can make progress on the path of the wise.
Trust in the Lord and He will guide you aright. One who has this trust need fear nothing. He can be at perfect peace and happiness for he will be guided aright
• Christian Faith (Jesus Christ 1 A.D. in Palestine)
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be known as the Children of God
-- and as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
• Moslem Faith (Mohammed; 622 A.D. in Arabia)
May the Message of God reach far and wide, illuminating and making the whole humanity as one single brotherhood in the Fatherhood of God.”
• Bahá’í Faith (The Báb 1844 A.D. in Persia; Bahá’u’lláh 1863 in Persia)
O ye children of men!
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.
God, through His Messengers and their teachings has given all peoples of the world guidance for their spiritual and moral development. In all the World Religions quoted the central message is one of Peace, Love and Unity
O Thou kind Lord! Unite all. Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home.
Looking at the state of the world at present, where there is so much misery, as wars, political disputes, oppression of the weak, and innumerable other disasters never seem to stop, the goal of World Peace for which people have prayed for millennia, seems very far away.
However if we look at some of the more caring things that are happening as the world becomes more accessible to more people, we can be more hopeful that one day this goal could be realised. Now, through the Internet, in no time we can find out what is happening in different parts of the world and offer help quickly, as when St. Helena joined the rest of the world to help Haiti after that terrible earthquake. Enough people here on our tiny island felt moved to put on a concert to raise money to help people on another island many miles away.
Both Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leaders of many millions of Christians around the world, appealed for Peace in their recent inaugural addresses, recognising that “Unity, Peace and Love” are the way to a brighter future for all. Reported also on the world news there was a small but significant item of hope - a minister of the United Church of Scotland had noticed that the congregation of the Mosque next door to his church in Aberdeen had become too large and people were having to pray outside on the pavement, so he offered his church as extra space for their daily prayers. A neighbourly gesture, but with huge significance illustrating the fact that Prayer is universal and that we all pray to the same God, our Creator, the Unknowable Essence, the Almighty - whatever name we call Him.
Surely these are indications of the true meaning of religion - to unify, not divide. The forms and customs which have become part of the religions over the centuries should not hide the basic fact that the religion itself, in its pure form, at its time and in its place in the world, came from God, and taught people how to love each other. The story of the Good Samaritan is well known, and Jesus told that story over 2000 years ago!
I quote from a letter presented in 1985 to all the Leaders of the World, from the Universal House of Justice of the Bahá’í Faith: -
The Great Peace towards which people of good will throughout the centuries have inclined their hearts, of which seers and poets for countless generations have expressed their vision, and for which from age to age the sacred scriptures of mankind have constantly held the promise, is now at long last within the reach of nations. For the first time in history, it is possible for everyone to view the entire planet, with all its myriad diversified peoples, in one perspective. World Peace is not only possible but inevitable. It is the next stage in the evolution of the planet - in the words of one great thinker, ‘the planetization of mankind’.
This statement was written 27 years ago and many more terrible conflicts have continued, and many more people have died as a result. Obviously, we, the people of the world have not yet taken the steps necessary to establish peace on earth.
Bahá’ís believe that world peace is inevitable. They work with others to hasten its establishment and reduce this time of such violence and sorrow.
Bahá’u’lláh wrote: -
“The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God’s holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife.”
Is There Life After Death?
We all must accept that the only certainty is that Life on this earth ends in Death. Many believe that is indeed the end, but those of us who have Faith in God, whatever our particular religion, believe, as all His Messengers have taught since time began, that this life is a journey and that there is a life beyond the death of the physical body.
It was fascinating to read in a recent copy of Reader’s Digest, about a leading scientist - a very skilled brain surgeon - who also believed that death was the end, until he experienced an illness which caused him to re-think.
In November 2008, he had a near-death experience in a Virginia hospital. This took place after bacterial meningitis had shut down his brain completely. The experience contradicted everything that he as a man of science thought he knew - including his scepticism about religion.
He is risking the scorn of his peers by writing a book about it. He says: -
“My entire neuro-cortex - the part of the brain that makes us human - was shut down. In essence absent. When your brain is absent, you are absent too”
He had previously reasoned that the stories he had heard of near-death experiences from patients, usually after cardiac arrest when the neuro cortex is not too seriously damaged, were purely fantasy, and he thought he knew that they were brain based. He had believed that if you don’t have a working brain you can’t be conscious.
His own experience showed him that “the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness, that human experience continues beyond the grave. More important, it continues under the gaze of a God who loves and cares about each one of us and about the universe itself.”
“This life isn’t meaningless. But we can’t see that from here - at least most of the time.”
Bahá’u’lláh also teaches that this life here is a preparation for the next:-
“The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother.”
Before a child is born, its whole world is the womb. It has no idea of the world waiting outside into which it will be born. It is the same with this material world. The next spiritual world surrounds us but we are unable to understand this until the spirit leaves this world and is born into the next.
“Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God. His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes and will reveal His loving-kindness and bounty.” Bahá’u’lláh
This reassurance should encourage all of us to review our lives if we remember that, as the surgeon found out, “life continues under the gaze of a God who loves and cares about each one of us and about the universe itself.”
Bahá’í Houses Of Worship
The Bahá’ís offer their Houses of Worship, currently one on each continent, to all peoples of whatever persuasion for praise of God, prayer and reflection. Bahá’ís also worship with other faith groups, since all are turning to the same God. It is interesting to note that the “Incredible India” campaign, presenting the wonderful features of the country, uses the symbol of the Bahá’í House of Worship at New Delhi for its advertising campaign and states that it is the only place of worship where people of all religions are welcome to enter and pray. Its doors are open to all nations and people of all faiths. Friends who have visited one of the Bahá’í temples have remarked on the beauty, peace and tranquillity they experienced.
The unique structure of each Bahá’í House of Worship stands for Unity and invites prayer to God. While each temple has its own distinctive design, they all conform to a consistent theme: an area of gardens encircles a nine-sided structure covered by a single majestic dome, symbolising the unity of all people and religions under God
The buildings and gardens form a single sacred space where all people are invited to pray to God and meditate in an atmosphere of beauty and light. The Bahá’í Faith recognizes the value of beauty. The Word of God revealed in every age is both beautiful and practical - creating a vision for the renewal of civilisation. Neither of the East nor of the West, the design of the Bahá’í temples transcends any specific culture, forming a unique structure where the world’s inhabitants can be united in prayer. The symbol at the top of the dome is an arrangement of Arabic words meaning “O Glory of the All Glorious”.
Temples as Houses of Worship are prominent in the Bible. Moses, after His exodus from Egypt pitched a tent in the desert wherever they abode as a travelling temple and worshipped in it. Likewise during the time of Christ, the first institute by the disciples was a Temple. A church was planned in every country, as a temple for the gospel
The Bahá’í House of Worship is a symbol of the spiritual preceding the material. The central edifice is the spiritual heart and gradually “institutions of social service as shall afford relief to the suffering, sustenance to the poor, shelter to the wayfarer, solace to the bereaved and education will be erected and function around them. When these institutions, college, hospital, hospice, university for the study of higher sciences and other philanthropic buildings are built, its doors will be open to all the nations and religions. There will be drawn absolutely no line of demarcation---. Its gates will be flung wide to mankind; prejudice toward none, love for all. The central building will be devoted to the purpose of prayer and worship--.”
As to the worship in the Temples, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith instructed that no forms, no rituals, no set customs be introduced. “The nature of the gatherings is for prayer, meditation and the reading of the writings from the Sacred Scriptures of our Faith and other Faiths; there can be one or a number of readers. The gatherings should be simple, dignified and designed to uplift the soul and educate it through hearing the Creative Word. No speeches may be made, no extraneous matter introduced.” The generally recognised scriptures of the world religions may also be read, and their Holy Books are in each Temple. Within each of these Holy Books we are reminded of the importance of God in our lives and how we should treat others as shown in the Lord’s Prayer when we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” - to treat others as we would want to be treated
There is an inscription from the Holy Writings of Bahá’u’lláh Founder of the Bahá’í Faith above each of the nine entrances to each temple and in each alcove. We close with one of them:-
“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”
The Unity Of The Peoples Of The World
We can all agree that the world is in turmoil, not only with natural disasters - floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and so on, but wars and rumours of wars continue, while ordinary people undergo unimaginable distress as a result of struggles for power and control.
For more than a century, Bahá’í communities around the globe have been working to break down barriers of prejudice and have collaborated with other like-minded organisations to promote the goal of a global society. At the heart of our belief is the conviction that humanity is one family whose diverse members share a common destiny of unity and peace. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh, “the Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”
Bahá’ís work towards overcoming prejudices of all kinds through prayer, education and deeds of service to others. They are also actively engaged in efforts towards world peace and the establishment of a united global commonwealth of nations.
When Bahá’u’lláh’s son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited Europe in 1911 and again at the end of 1912, he was invited to give talks to many religious and humanitarian groups in his travels. Here is an extract from one of these talks, given 100 years ago in Paris:-
The Creator of all is One God.
Visitors to the island remark on how good it is to see people of different faiths come together. Working together with peoples of different religions, backgrounds and cultures for the good of all people is central to Bahá’í teachings.
Each one of us is a member of the human family. Each of us is unique and different from all others. Each of us is a fiftieth cousin to every other member of the human family.
As God has the whole world in His hands, so do we. Each one of us has the capacity to affect the world with our thoughts and our actions. The question is how to do it as one united family. What can each one of us do?
Everyone has talents and skills, our personal gifts for the world, bestowed upon us by a loving God. Yet we often feel alone, incapable of bringing peace to the world or helping the hungry millions. The desires of our hearts are often crushed by the weight of the problems we see. How can one person have an effect?
“Concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Let your hearts be filled with the strenuous desire that tranquility and harmony may encircle this warring worlds. In reality we are one family and each of us is a member of this family” Bahá’í Scripture.
A bond of love connects us all. This message of hope for humanity can be found in the Bahá’í Faith.
Blessed is the spot, and the house,
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