The Dharma, from a Baha'i perspective, is divided into a number of sub-sections. The Sanatana Dharma, is the eternal, universal law which does not change. However, the condition of man is always changing. And so the part of the Sanatana Dharma which applies to man also needs to change. This is why the Lord renews his message to man from time to time. For after a period of time a decline in the affairs of men sets in and there is a `decline in righteousness'. Whenever this occurs, the Lord `sends forth His spirit'; an Avatar of the Lord appears and renews the message. This is the meaning of the words of Krishna as recorded in the Bhagavad Gita and quoted above, as well as a similar verse in the Bhagavata Purana:
Whenever righteousness declines and evil-doing increases, the Almighty Lord, Hari, creates himself. (1)
Baha'u'llah teaches that the Avatars are the main way in which God communicates with man. Their main function is to bring mankind back to the path of true Dharma. But man's condition is always changing. It is a characteristic feature of the world of man that it constantly changes and develops. The society of today is greatly changed from that of 200 years ago or even that of 100 ago. The teaching that is suitable for mankind at one stage in its development may not be suitable at a later date. Therefore the supreme love and wisdom of the Lord results in the fact that each Avatar that comes to the world adapts his teaching. This is done so as to bring mankind to that part of the eternal Dharma (Sanatana Dharma) which is suited to the state of the world at the time that he appears. And so the message that each Avatar brings is in accordance with man's capacities at the time.
O Son of Beauty!
By My spirit and by My favour! By My Mercy and by My beauty! All that I have revealed unto thee with the tongue of power, and have written for thee with the pen of might, hath been in accordance with thy capacity and understanding, not with My state and the melody of My voice.(2)
Thus the Avatars come to renew the religion of the Lord. They bring a teaching that, in one sense, renews the former message, but it also develops it so as to be suited to the needs of mankind at that time. Thus Baha'u'llah states that his message is a renewal of the Hindu Dharma and also a development of it to suit the needs of the modern world. The message that each Avatar brings can be divided into two: the Sadharama Dharma, the general code of ethics, which is for the most part eternal and does not change; and the social part of the Dharma, which are the laws and principles that change according to the changes in the social condition of mankind from age to age.
Here are a few points of comparison:
For the sake of the welfare of all, carry on thy task in life. (3) Bhagavad Gita
. . . the honour and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world's multitudes should become a source of social good... the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men... by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight. (4) `Abdu'l-Baha
Freedom from fear, purity of heart .... these are the qualities of the man who is born for heaven. (5) Bhagavad Gita
A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and severence from all save God, that the true sun may shine within it and the eternal morning dawn.(6)
Detachment from the material world
Enjoy what He hath allotted to thee and set not your heart on another's wealth or possessions. (7) Isa Upanishad
Rejoice not in the things ye possess; tonight they are yours, tomorrow others will possess them. (8) Baha'u'llah
He who has faith and subdues his sensual desires achieves wisdom... (9) Bhagavad Gita
By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds. (10) `Abdu'l-Baha
Truth alone obtains victory, not falsehood; the path to the Divine is laid with truth and the wise travel that path until they reach the supreme treasure which is to be gained by truth. (11) Mundaka Upanishad
When man speaks noble words with truth, then he speaks the highest truth. (12) Rig Veda
The earth is propped up by truth. (13) Rig Veda
Beautify your tongues, O people, with truthfulness, and adorn your souls with the ornament of honesty. Beware, O people, that ye deal not treacherously with any one.(14) Baha'u'llah
Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity. (15) `Abdu'l-Baha
Non-injury and non-violence
A superior being does not render evil for evil; this is a maxim one should observe...One should never harm the wicked or the good or even criminals meriting death. A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even towards those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel deeds. (16) Ramayana
Neither a man who lives unrighteously, nor he who acquires wealth by telling falsehoods, nor he who delights in injuring others, ever attains happiness in this world. (17) Laws of Manu
He hath, moreover, ordained that His Cause be taught through the power of men's utterance, and not through resort to violence. (18) Baha'u'llah
In every instance let the friends be considerate and infinitely kind. Let them never be defeated by the malice of the people, by their aggression and their hate, no matter how intense. If others hurl their darts against you, offer them milk and honey in return; if they poison your lives, sweeten their souls; if they injure you, teach them how to be comforted; if they inflict a wound upon you, be a balm to their sores; if they sting you, hold to their lips a refreshing cup. (19) `Abdu'l-Baha
1. Bhagavata Purana IV, 24:56; see also I, 10:25; III, 17:31.
2. Baha'u'llah, Hidden Words, Arabic, no. 67.
3. Bhagavad Gita 3:20.
4. `Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 2-3.
5. Bhagavad Gita 16:1-3.
6. Baha'u'llah, Seven Valleys, p. 21.
7. Isa Upanishad 1.
8. Baha'u'llah, Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 15.
9. Bhagavad Gita 4:39.
10. `Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 383.
11. Mundaka Upanishad III, 1:6.
12. Chandogya Upanishad 7:16.
13. Rig Veda book 10, 85:1.
14. Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, CXXXVI, p. 297.
15. `Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 384.
16. Ramayana 6:115.
17. Laws of Manu, 4: 170.
18. Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, CXXVIII, p. 278.
19. `Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, no. 8, p. 24.
With thanks to: Moojan Momen, Hinduism & the Baha'i Faith, George Ronald, London.
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