Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Bahá'í Lotus Temple

October 17th 2009 afternoon continued

After the Qutb complex, we dodged the street sellers and filed back into the bus that took us through the weave of Delhi highways to the Bahá'í Lotus Temple. We walked the long brick path to the temple sharing what little we collectively knew about the Bahai faith. I will consult a higher authority on that now: Wikipedia.

In the Bahá'í Faith, religious history is seen to have unfolded through a series of divine messengers, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time and the capacity of the people. These messengers have included Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and others.

Bahá'í notions of progressive religious revelation result in their accepting the validity of most of the world's religions, whose founders and central figures are seen as Manifestations of God. Religious history is interpreted as a series of dispensations, where each manifestation brings a somewhat broader and more advanced revelation, suited for the time and place in which it was expressed.

Humanity is understood to be in a process of collective evolution, and the need of the present time is for the gradual establishment of peace, justice and unity on a global scale.

I like the idea that the world is collectively evolving and that each religion is a reflection of what populations and civilizations needed in their times. I like that Bahais are accepting of different religions. But what I find very interesting about the Bahai faith is that almost all of its followers are highly educated and are also usually well-off. This has nothing to do with the story, but I thought a little background might be interesting.

Once we reach the steps of the temple in our bare feet, we are instructed in multiple languages to not speak once inside. No cameras, no talking, just peace, prayer and meditation. Everyone is welcome to visit the temple, and sit, pray, meditate, or just absorb the tranquility after the maddening streets of the city.

The temple is built in the shape of a lotus, a reminder that one can rise from humble beginnings. The lotus flower grows out of mud, the stalk rising above the muck to end in a perfect bloom. This is an especially poignant image in India.

As we are driven around Delhi, women, babies and children tap on the bus windows and ask for money. Many make the graceful motions of putting imaginary food to their lips, almost like a dance of hunger. We see people living their lives on streets and under overpasses, but the homeless people here are very different from the ones I’ve seen in the U.S.
The U.S. homeless are almost always insane, mentally handicapped, emotionally disturbed and/or have drug addictions. They are mentally incapable of working. But the women here are young and beautiful. They are just uneducated. Their society, religion and background, everyone they’ve ever met, have told them that this is their lot in life and that’s it. Beth says the caste system, now officially banned but still evident, is largely to blame for that paradigm.
The first thought a westerner might have is “why doesn’t someone just go out and tell them they can do better, find a job, educate themselves, stop having so many children?” Because surely, if these women were told this, they would try to improve their lives. But imagine that someone with all the conviction of a zealot told you that your paradigm was wrong, and that you had no hope of ever changing your life situation. Being an American, or westerner, you would look at that person as if he were crazy, or an idiot. Reaching for success is so ingrained in our culture, particularly the American culture, that this mentality of passive helplessness is inconceivable to us. But, that’s India. Or at least, that is one part of India.


Anonymous said...

I don't know that most Baha'is are educated or financially well off. There are millions of Baha'is in India and many other similar countries who are are little different from the rest who live there. But being a Baha'i one is encouraged to keep learning and if a family cannot educate all the children, preference is given to the girls.
To help civilization advance is also part of being Baha'i and this can be done in many ways. Often the simplest is to help someone else.
The Temple is beautiful, they are a symbol that can bring people together.
Thanks for writing....

Lauren :) said...

I love the pictures! Nice job :)