“You won’t be going to heaven if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ.” Had my Uber driver just condemned me to hell?
“Of course I believe in Jesus, but I also believe in Moses, Buddha, Muhammad, Baha’u’llah, and every other messenger of God,” I responded.
As a Baha’i, I value all religions and their teachings. I believe in the principle that each prophet comes from the Creator – and that Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, is the most recent of those holy educators and messengers. Baha’is strive to achieve the oneness of humanity and the elimination of all prejudice – including religious prejudice.
But as an American kid, all I saw in my religion was the fact that we didn’t celebrate Christmas. As a result, I disliked the whole month of December – the smiling snowmen on people’s front lawns, Costco’s tree sale, the Santa hats everyone wore to school, and most of all, the question of how many presents I got. I hated feeling left out from what, in my eyes, looked like the most fun thing ever. Regardless, at 15, I signed a card declaring my belief in the Baha’i teachings. My parents consistently reminded me that I didn’t have to, but I signed it anyway, although I still hadn’t come to terms with the fact that this would officially deem me different from my peers.
To be completely transparent, although my father came to the United States after being smuggled through the Iranian desert alone at 16 with $70 in his pocket, he became very successful and I have grown up surrounded by materialism. My joy was found in a comfortable life, and it wasn’t until later that I realized this form of happiness was only transitory. I know now that I was greedy – I expected the spiritual benefits of my Faith without living a life that fully oriented myself toward God’s teachings.
As a result, I developed an overall frustration with life as I was living it.
Then, about a year ago, I attended a women’s retreat at Lake Arrowhead in California with my mom and several of her Baha’i friends. Many of those friends had recently become Baha’is, and I had the opportunity to hear their moving stories of how they truly found themselves within their spiritual journey. I could see that they were all in love with Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i teachings, and suddenly I found myself wanting to integrate myself, not only into their conversations, but into their experiences of faith.
As I connected with these women, I felt the purest form of joy that I have ever known. They made me feel welcome, and finally, the thing that had always differentiated me allowed me to feel the greatest sense of belonging. I realized how many of my adolescent hours I had wasted treating my religion as a chore.
Among these teachings was the independent investigation of reality so that the world of humanity may be saved from the darkness of imitation and attain to the truth; may tear off and cast away this ragged and outgrown garment of a thousand years ago and may put on the robe woven in the utmost purity and holiness in the loom of reality. As reality is one and cannot admit of multiplicity, therefore different opinions must ultimately become fused into one.
The independent investigation of truth explains why Baha’is have no clergy. We’ve come to a time in human history when we can each investigate reality and decide for ourselves. We are all on our own unique path, and find God at different points in our life, but at the end of this retreat, I knew that I had found my path to God. I had finally discovered my own inner truth in a religion that I had been a part of for over 15 years.
As I’ve tried to follow the teachings of the Baha’i Faith as a result of my own will, I’ve begun to understand the purpose they serve – because of the inner peace that I feel. As I started to pray and meditate regularly I felt cleaner and happier. My heart was gladdened. I realized that religion not only exists to eliminate strife in the world, but strife within yourself.
We human beings, the Baha’i writings assure us, are created noble in a world full of discord and calamity. Once I became more aware of my higher nature, I could feel myself starting to evolve and mature spiritually in all aspects of my life. We are but a speck of dust in the process of the world, but it takes the harmony of our intersectionality to achieve a world where we coexist as global citizens.
I now feel love for not only myself, but for all who may cross my path.