What does it mean to be a Bahá’í?

Notes from a Talk given by Mr. Gustavo Correa (member of the Universal House of Justice)

These are personal notes taken while listening to this talk. They do not reflect the whole talk, may very well include misunderstandings, for sure does not cover all that was said during the talk, conveys the subjects and his reasoning in a much more condense form than the talk itself, and the text is my text reflecting what I understood to have been conveyed.


Mr. Correa began the talk by asking the question “What does it mean to be a Bahá’í?”

In its simple form, he said, it is perhaps to accept Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for this day and try to live according to the Teachings He has given us.

He then continued that we could also say that it is to increase spirituality i.e. to strive to become increasingly more spiritual. We know that we all have the “capacity” to recognize the Manifestation of God. We also know that we have we have different capacities, each one of us having a different measure. However, we don’t know how much this capacity is. However much we develop, we should remember that there is more room for becoming spiritual and as we grow, we also develop and increase our capacity.

But, we cannot develop and increase our capacity in the abstract, with just reflection or just reading texts. It needs to take place in action. As such, we do it today by being part of building a new world order, by building a new civilization. So, to be Bahá’í is also active and conscious participation in building a new civilization.

We can engage in the process of building a new civilization out of obedience, i.e. just carry out our acts of service out of obedience. However, we can see it from another perspective, that we are part of something bigger and see our role in the larger picture. If we see it this way, it will give our actions a meaning; it adds significance to our acts, however small the act may be. We see ourselves as part of the process of serving humanity and we do it, not in isolation, but by participating in our community. We are not individually isolated beings but part in a larger community. Participation in our community means for instance, contribution to the funds, participating in the ND feasts, involvement in collective projects and so on.

So we are working in the dynamics of being and doing. Both aspects are needed. We can read the writings, we can deepen ourselves but if we do not implement what we have read, we don’t understand the concepts. Action or implementation is required for understanding. For instance, consider the Five Year Plan. If one does not participate in the plan, one cannot understand what we are involved in.

A concept we are trying to understand better is that of “building capacity”. It is an interesting question. How can we transform society if we do not develop our own capacity? We have to develop capacity to advance, but this cannot be done haphazardly but must be carried out systematically. The Universal House of Justice presented a system for building capacity and in the past 10 – 15 years, we have been engaged in building individual capacity to be able to do more and more complex acts of service. In this, the institute has been a key instrument. The institute is not only an instrument for building capacity for the Bahá’í s, but also an instrument that can empower all the members of the community and the masses of humanity.

For instance, considering building capacity, another instrument is the Junior Youth Program.  These programs are building capacity in the junior youth so they can serve their own communities and therefore humanity. Raising capacity is to part of the army who creates a better society. So we need more, we need everyone, because it is a big global enterprise we are engaged in. So, to be a Bahá’í is to be in this army, engaged in the spiritual conquest of the planet.

In the Hidden Words it says:

O MY SERVANTS! Ye are the trees of My garden; ye must give forth goodly and wondrous fruits, … Trees that yield no fruit have been and will ever be for the fire.

This is a nice metaphor as it says that we are all trees of His garden. Consider the image of a tree. It begins with a seed, and under proper conditions (soil, water, sunlight and so on), it can start to grow. It will gradually grow to become stronger and stronger. Its growth will continue and finally it will bear fruit. We are all like these trees as we can develop. Just as there are different types of trees (some producing mangos, other apples) at different stages of development, we all have different capacities and we all produce different “fruits”. We just don’t, naturally, want to be that tree that yields no fruit and is ready for the fire.

But we must also remember that God also does not want mediocrity from us. We need to exert effort and be very determined. The Guardian says:

“The chosen ones of God … should not look at the depraved conditions of the society in which they live, nor at the evidences of moral degradation and frivolous conduct which the people around them display. They should not content themselves merely with relative distinction and excellence. Rather they should fix their gaze upon nobler heights by setting the counsels and exhortations of the Pen of Glory as their supreme goal. Then it will be readily realized how numerous are the stages that still remain to be traversed and how far off the desired goal lies-a goal which is none other than exemplifying heavenly morals and virtues.”

Once someone asked the Master about how one can live a Bahá’í Life. The Master responded that we have to have thirst for spirituality and this is achieved by praying every day, reading the writings and, reflecting on life after death. You will recognize these as sections in Ruhi Book 1, which builds the basic spiritual identity of individuals.

Praying should be a habit of our lives, a habit of such character that if one does not pray one day, one will miss and notice that something was different. From the writings we know that payer creates mindfulness and produces an effect. In the long obligatory prayer, it is described as

“to make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils which have shut me out from Thy beauty, and a light that will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence.”

“Make my prayer, O my Lord, a fountain of living waters whereby I may live as long as Thy sovereignty endureth, and may make mention of Thee in every world of Thy worlds.”

So to be Bahá’í is to have God in the center of our lives, and we do this with prayer.

The Writings are as an ocean, it is not only very big but also very difficult to grans or contain. However, the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh are full of pearls. We cannot find all the pearls but we can find a few, take them, read about them, reflect upon them, meditate and implement what we learn in order to understand. For instance, one of the many pearls that can be found is truthfulness. We can take this pearl and this peals, as with all other peals has many questions we can reflect on. We can read about truthfulness, reflect and meditate and implement it in our lives and gradually increase our understanding.

Individually we have and are putting God in the center of our lives. However, it is not only the individual that must put and have God in the center of their lives. Collectively, as a community, we also need to have God in the center of community life.

With the local temples, we are taking this step and it is a new experience for the Bahá’í community. The local temples are the physical expression of God in the center of the community life. Temples combine prayer and service and we are eager to see what we learn from this in terms of social transformation.

We are collectively putting God in the center of our communities and it is very exciting.

Mr. Correa concluded by saying that every one has a place in the Five Year Plan. We all can and should participate as it is about universal participation. It could be by contributing to the fund, praying for the progress of the Faith, or by giving our time and effort for the development of our community. We all have to find our place in this process. Our own limitations cannot be limitations for service. What we do for God, however small it is, is significant.