While we were in India, at the end of January we attended a Memorial Meeting for a lifelong devoted follower of our faith. The meeting, at the Bahá’í centre in Mumbai, consisted of prayers, readings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, and stories of how Shahnaz Furudi’s life had touched the hearts of those whose paths crossed with hers. At the request of the family the following address was also given. It seems worth sharing it on this blog to give some sense of the vision that inspired her life.
This is a time of sorrow for all who love Shahnaz and our hearts go out to her family. At the same time it is important to remember and celebrate her life. To help us do this, it seems only right that I try to explain the vision that inspired her life.
As you all know, Shahnaz was a Bahá’í, a follower of Bahá’u’lláh.
What might that have meant to her?
The light that shone on the path she trod to guide her steps showed her that there is only one God, no matter how many names we use. The same Great Being has inspired all the great religions of the world.
We do not seem to understand this easily. It’s as if, when the sun rises in autumn, because it rose in a different place in spring, I say it cannot be the same sun. But it is the same sun, and when at different times and in different places God has sent His Messenger amongst us it is the same God who speaks to us through them.
Why then do the messages we hear seem so different? This is partly because different times need different social rules. But even more importantly, at different times and in different cultures we understand reality in different ways and in different words.
Messengers of God, wherever They may live, are like a one-eyed person in a country of the blind.
Let’s suppose They are trying to explain the colour red.
In the land of where people enjoy their food and cooking is important, They say red is like chilli. In the land of gardens filled with lovely flowers They say it’s like the perfume of the rose. And if They were in a frozen land of icy wastes where fires burn the whole year round They would say red is like fire.
It is the best They can do because someone blind from birth will never really know what colour is.
If this were so what purpose would be served if the cooks fought with the icelanders and the gardeners fought with the cooks because each was convinced the other was wrong, when in reality they are all talking about the same thing but do not realise it?
Red, like all colour, to those blind from birth is as hidden from them as spiritual reality is from us. We can only understand it indirectly. The words each religion uses to describe the spiritual realm may differ, because they have to match the understanding of that place and time, but what they are seeking to describe is the same spiritual reality.
It follows then that this guiding light also revealed to dear Shahnaz that all the great religions of the world have at their heart the same spiritual truths. They all tell us in one way or another that this material world is not all there is. It is not even the most important aspect of reality, in spite of all its vivid but deceptive richness. The realm of the spirit is the deepest reality and the greatest truth. We are fatally mistaken if we believe otherwise. We will be sleep walking. We will be in a dream.
Bahá’u’lláh writes: ‘If ye be seekers after this life and its vanities you should have sought them while you were still enclosed in your mother’s womb for at that time ye were continually approaching them, could ye but perceive it. You have, on the other hand, ever since you were born and attained maturity, been all the while receding from the world and drawing closer to dust. Why then exhibit such greed for amassing the treasures of the earth when your days are numbered and your chance is well-nigh lost? Will ye not then, O heedless ones, shake off your slumber?’
And her guiding light also showed her that, just as there only one God and the core of all the great religions is the same, humanity is also one. We are all brothers and sisters of the same divine parent, leaves of the same tree, flowers of the same garden.
As Bahá’u’lláh explains: ‘Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.’ We are all linked together spiritually so that this world, this whole planet, is in reality one country. This means that we are all required to take responsibility for the welfare of all humanity.
It follows then, as Bahá’u’lláh instructs us, that we must not lay ‘on any soul a load that [we] would not lay on [ourselves]’ and we must not desire for anyone the things that we would not desire for ourselves.
Even more than all this, Shahnaz’s steps were guided by the understanding that we cannot solve any of the problems the world is facing now if we do not deeply understand our spiritual connection with every other soul on earth, regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality.
To express this understanding in action requires more than being kind to our neighbours or performing individual acts of charity, important as these are. We also need the coordinated action of large numbers of people across the world from every different background.
We can only rise to the challenges now confronting us worldwide by working together, and this requires us to find a way of remembering at all times everywhere that we are one, and of remembering always wherever we are that we must be united in our efforts, regardless of our apparent differences, all of us joining hands in our service to all humanity. We will never create peace and prosperity without this kind of unity in diversity that transcends all differences and makes collective action possible across the whole world. The Bahá’í World Centre spelt it out in 2001 in no uncertain terms:
Humanity’s crying need will not be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or another of the countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age. It calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family. Commitment to this revolutionizing principle will increasingly empower individual believers and . . . . institutions alike in awakening others to the Day of God and to the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.
Only in that way, everyone joining hands together across all cultures, can we build a better world and create a secure future for our children even though this will be the work of centuries. I believe that this is what Shahnaz’s life can show us. This is what her life can inspire us to keep on working to achieve even if it takes us many generations.
And we should not think that she has done all that she can to help us. Bahá’u’lláh writes: ‘When it leaveth the body, however, [the soul] will evince such ascendancy, and reveal such influence as no force on earth can equal. Every pure, every refined and sanctified soul will be endowed with tremendous power, and shall rejoice with exceeding gladness.’ Bahá’ís believe that those who have passed on are still standing by to assist us. In that sense dear Shahnaz is at our side empowering us to follow in that same path of service which distinguished her in life.