Jainism Posted on: 2004/3/20 15:11
2004/3/26 7:04
From Nottingham, UK
Posts: 2069
Early History of Jain Dharma
Jainism traces its roots to a succession of 24 Jinas ("those who overcome", or conqueror) in ancient East India. The first Jina is traditionally believed to have been a giant who lived 8.4 million years ago. The most recent and last Jina was Vardhamana (a.k.a. Mahavira, "The Great Hero") He was born in 550 BCE) and was the founder of the Jain community. He attained enlightenment after 13 years of deprivation. In 420 BCE, he committed the act of salekhana which is fasting to death. Each Jina has "conquered love and hate, pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion, and has thereby freed `his' soul from the karmas obscuring knowledge, perception, truth, and ability..."

Jainism is a syncretistic religion, which contains many elements similar to Hinduism and Buddhism. The world's almost 4 million Jains are almost entirely located in India. There are about 1,410 in Canada (1991 census).

Jainist Beliefs and Practices
The universe exists as a series of layers, both heavens and hells. It had no beginning and will have no ending. It consists of: The supreme abode: This is located at the top of the universe and is where Siddha, the liberated souls, live.
The upper world: 30 heavens where celestial beings live.
Middle world: the earth and the rest of the universe.
Nether world: 7 hells with various levels of misery and punishments
The Nigoda, or base: where the lowest forms of life reside
Universe space: layers of clouds which surround the upper world
Space beyond: an infinite volume without soul, matter, time, medium of motion or medium of rest.

Everyone is bound within the universe by one's karma (the accumulated good and evil that one has done).
Moksha (liberation from an endless succession of lives through reincarnation) is achieved by enlightenment, which can be attained only through asceticism.
They are expected to follow five principles of living: Ahimsa: "non violence in all parts of a person -- mental, verbal and physical." 3 Committing an act of violence against a human, animal, or even vegetable generates negative karma which in turn adversely affects one's next life.
Satya: speaking truth; avoiding falsehood
Asteya: to not steal from others
Brahma-charya: (soul conduct); remaining sexually monogamous to one's spouse only
Aparigraha: detach from people, places and material things. Avoiding the collection of excessive material possessions, abstaining from over-indulgence, restricting one's needs, etc.

They follow Jains follow a vegetarian diet. (At least one information source incorrectly states that they follow a frutarian diet -- the practice of only eating that which will not kill the plant or animal from which it is taken. e.g. milk, fruit, nuts.)
They read their sacred texts daily.
Jains are recommended to pass through four stages during their lifetime: Brahmacharya-ashrama: the life of a student
Gruhasth-ashrama: family life
Vanaprasth-ashrama: family and social services
Sanyast-ashrama: life as a monk; a period of renunciation

Divisions among Jains
There are two groups of Jains:

The Digambaras (literally "sky clad" or naked): Their monks carry asceticism to the point of rejecting even clothing (even when they appear in public).

The Shvetambaras (literally "white clad"): their monks wear simple white robes. The laity are permitted to wear clothes of any color.
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shinto Posted on: 2004/3/20 15:09
2004/3/26 7:04
From Nottingham, UK
Posts: 2069
Brief history of Shinto:
Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion. Starting about 500 BCE (or earlier) it was originally "an amorphous mix of nature worship, fertility cults, divination techniques, hero worship, and shamanism." 4 Its name was derived from the Chinese words "shin tao" ("The Way of the Gods") in the 8th Century CE. At that time:

The Yamato dynasty consolidated its rule over most of Japan.
Divine origins were ascribed to the imperial family.
Shinto established itself as an official religion of Japan, along with Buddhism.

The complete separation of Japanese religion from politics did not occur until just after World War II. The Emperor was forced by the American army to renounce his divinity at that time.

Unlike most other religions, Shinto has no real founder, no written scriptures, no body of religious law, and only a very loosely-organized priesthood.

Shinto beliefs:
Shinto creation stories tell of the history and lives of the "Kami" (deities). Among them was a divine couple, Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto, who gave birth to the Japanese islands. Their children became the deities of the various Japanese clans. Amaterasu Omikami (Sun Goddess) was one of their daughters. She is the ancestress of the Imperial Family and is regarded as the chief deity. Her shrine is at Ise. Her descendants unified the country. Her brother, Susano came down from heaven and roamed throughout the earth. He is famous for killing a great evil serpent.
The Kami are the Shinto deities. The word "Kami" is generally translated "god" or "gods." However, the Kami bear little resemblance to the gods of monotheistic religions. There are no concepts which compare to the Christian beliefs in the wrath of God, his omnipotence and omni-presence, or the separation of God from humanity due to sin. There are numerous other deities who are conceptualized in many forms: Those related to natural objects and creatures, from "food to rivers to rocks." 2
Guardian Kami of particular areas and clans
Exceptional people, including all but the last of the emperors.
Abstract creative forces

They are seen as generally benign; they sustain and protect the people. 9

About 84% of the population of Japan follow two religions: both Shinto and Buddhism. (As in much of Asia, Christianity is quite rarely. 12 Fewer than 1% of adults are Christians.) Buddhism first arrived in Japan from Korea and China during the 6th through 8th centuries CE. The two religions share a basic optimism about human nature, and for the world. Within Shinto, the Buddha was viewed as another "Kami". Meanwhile, Buddhism in Japan regarded the Kami as being manifestations of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Most weddings are performed by Shinto priests; funerals are performed by Buddhist priests.
Shinto does not have as fully developed a theology as do most other religions. It does not have its own moral code. Shintoists generally follow the code of Confucianism.
Their religious texts discuss the "High Plain of Heaven" and the "Dark Land" which is an unclean land of the dead, but give few details of the afterlife.
Ancestors are deeply revered and worshipped.
All of humanity is regarded as "Kami's child." Thus all human life and human nature is sacred.
Believers revere "musuhi", the Kamis' creative and harmonizing powers. They aspire to have "makoto", sincerity or true heart. This is regarded as the way or will of Kami.
Morality is based upon that which is of benefit to the group. "Shinto emphasizes right practice, sensibility, and attitude." 2
There are "Four Affirmations"in Shinto:
Tradition and the family: The family is seen as the main mechanism by which traditions are preserved. Their main celebrations relate to birth and marriage.
Love of nature: Nature is sacred; to be in contact with nature is to be close to the Gods. Natural objects are worshipped as sacred spirits.
Physical cleanliness: Followers of Shinto take baths, wash their hands, and rinse out their mouth often.
"Matsuri": The worship and honor given to the Kami and ancestral spirits.

The desire for peace, which was suppressed during World War II, has been restored.

Shinto practices:
Shinto recognizes many sacred places: mountains, springs, etc.
Each shrine is dedicated to a specific Kami who has a divine personality and responds to sincere prayers of the faithful. When entering a shrine, one passes through a Tori a special gateway for the Gods. It marks the demarcation between the finite world and the infinite world of the Gods.
In the past, believers practiced "misogi,", the washing of their bodies in a river near the shrine. In recent years they only wash their hands and wash out their mouths in a wash basin provided within the shrine grounds.
Believers respect animals as messengers of the Gods. A pair of statues of "Koma-inu" (guard dogs) face each other within the temple grounds.
Shrine ceremonies, which include cleansing, offerings, prayers, and dances are directed to the Kami.
Kagura are ritual dances accompanied by ancient musical instruments. The dances are performed by skilled and trained dancers. They consist of young virgin girls, a group of men, or a single man.
Mamori are charms worn as an aid in healing and protection. They come in many different forms for various purposes.
An altar, the "Kami-dana" (Shelf of Gods), is given a central place in many homes.
Seasonal celebrations are held at spring planting, fall harvest, and special anniversaries of the history of a shrine or of a local patron spirit. A secular, country-wide National Founding Day is held on FEB-11 to commemorate the founding of Japan; this is the traditional date on which the first (mythical) emperor Jinmu ascended the throne in 660 BCE. Some shrines are believed to hold festivities on that day. Other festivals include: JAN 1-3 Shogatsu (New Year); MAR-3 Hinamatsuri (Girls' festival); MAY-5 Tango no Sekku (Boys' festival); JUL-7 Hoshi Matsuri (Star festival).
Followers are expected to visit Shinto shrines at the times of various life passages. For example, the Shichigosan Matsuri involves a blessing by the shrine Priest of girls aged three and seven and boys aged five. It is held on NOV-15.
Many followers are involved in the "offer a meal movement," in which each individual bypasses a breakfast (or another meal) once per month and donates the money saved to their religious organization for international relief and similar activity.
Origami ("Paper of the spirits"): This is a Japanese folk art in which paper is folded into beautiful shapes. They are often seen around Shinto shrines. Out of respect for the tree spirit that gave its life to make the paper, origami paper is never cut.

Forms of Shinto:
Shinto exists in four main forms or traditions:

Koshitsu Shinto (The Shinto of the Imperial House): This involves rituals performed by the emperor, who the Japanese Constitution defines to be the "symbol of the state and of the unity of the people." The most important ritual is Niinamesai, which makes an offering to the deities of the first fruits of each year's grain harvest. Male and female clergy (Shoten and Nai-Shoten) assist the emperor in the performance of these rites.
Jinja (Shrine) Shinto: This is the largest Shinto group. It was the original form of the religion; its roots date back into pre-history. Until the end of World War II, it was closely aligned with State Shinto. The Emperor of Japan was worshipped as a living God. Almost all shrines in Japan are members of Jinja Honcho, the Association of Shinto Shrines. It currently includes about 80,000 shrines as members. The association urges followers of Shinto
"To be grateful for the blessings of Kami and the benefits of the ancestors, and to be diligent in the observance of the Shinto rites, applying oneself to them with sincerity. brightness, and purity of heart."
"To be helpful to others and in the world at large through deeds of service without thought of rewards, and to seek the advancement of the world as one whose life mediates the will of Kami."
"To bind oneself with others in harmonious acknowledgment of the will of the emperor, praying that the country may flourish and that other peoples too may live in peace and prosperity." 5

Kyoha (Sectarian) Shinto (aka Shuha Shinto): This consists of 13 sects which were founded by individuals since the start of the 19th century. Each sect has its own beliefs and doctrines. Most emphasize worship of their own central deity; some follow a near-monotheistic religion.
Minzoku (Folk) Shinto This is not a separate Shinto group; it has no formal central organization or creed. It is seen in local rural practices and rituals, e.g. small images by the side of the road, agriculture rituals practiced by individual families, etc. A rural community will often select a layman annually, who will be responsible for worshiping the local deity.

These three forms are closely linked. An image may be installed by a member of one of the Sectarian Shinto sects who worships at a particular shrine. Shinto is a tolerant religion which accepts the validity of other religions. It is common for a believer to pay respect to other religions, their practices and objects of worship.

Shinto texts:
Many texts are valued in the Shinto religion. Most date from the 8th century CE:

The Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters)
The Rokkokushi (Six National Histories)
The Shoku Nihongi and its Nihon Shoki (Continuing Chronicles of Japan)
The Jinno Shotoki (a study of Shinto and Japanese politics and history) written in the 14th century

Number of adherents:
Estimates of the number of adherents are hopelessly unreliable. Some sources give numbers in the range of 2.8 to 3.2 million. One states that 40% of Japanese adults follow Shinto; that would account for about 50 million adherents. Others state that about 86% of Japanese adults follow a combination of Shinto and Buddhism; that would put the number of followers of Shinto at 107 million.

One source estimates 1000 followers of Shinto in North America. The Canadian Census (1991) recorded only 445 in Canada.

Essentially all followers of Shinto are Japanese. It is difficult for a foreigner to embrace Shintoism. Unlike most other religions, there is no book to help a person learn about the religion. It is transmitted from generation to generation by experiencing the rituals together as a group.
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Sikhs Posted on: 2004/3/20 15:07
2004/3/26 7:04
From Nottingham, UK
Posts: 2069

Sikh Origins:
No consensus exists on the origins of this religion.

Historians and specialists in Eastern religions generally believe that Sikhism is a syncretistic religion, originally related to the Bhakti movement within Hinduism and the Sufi branch of Islam, to which many independent beliefs and practices were added.
Some Sikhs believe that their religion is a re-purification of Hinduism; they view Sikhism as part of the Hindu religious tradition.
Many Sikhs disagree; they believe that their religion is a direct revelation from God - a religion that was not derived from either Hinduism or Islam.

Sikhism does contain many unique postulates and principles that are quite different from both Hinduism and Islam. Joseph D. Cunningham (1812-1851), the author of "A History of the Sikhs" (1848), observed: "It has been usual to regard the Sikhs as essentially Hindu... yet in religious faith and worldly aspiration, they are wholly different from other Indians, and they are bound together by an objective unknown elsewhere."

Sikh History:
The name of the religion means learner. It is often mispronounced 'seek' It should be pronounced 'se-ikh', with the final 'kh' sound like the 'kh' in Mikhail Gorbachev.

Its founder was Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, (1469-1538) who was born in the Punjab area of what is now Pakistan. At Sultanpur, he received a vision to preach the way to enlightenment and God. He is responsible for the saying "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim" which has since become one of the pillars of Sikhism. He taught a strict monotheism, the brotherhood of humanity. He rejected idol worship, and the Hindu concept of caste. Guru Nanak and Panth (his followers) later built the first Sikh temple at Katarpur.

A succession of nine Gurus (regarded as reincarnations of Guru Nanak) led the movement during the period from Guru Nanak's death until 1708. At that time, the functions of the Guru passed to the Panth and to the holy text, considered the 11th Guru.

Mogul emperors ruled a large area of South Asia from the 16th century until the end of the 18th century. They attempted to convert the Sikhs to Islam, but were unsuccessful. It has been said of one of the Sikh Gurus (considered by many Sikhs to have been the last guru) that "Had there been no Guru Gobind Singh, the entire country would have gotten circumcised" i.e. been converted to Islam.

In 1801, the Sikh state of Punjab was founded in Northern India by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. According to a historian Vincent Smith, "The Punjab State was neither a traditional Indian territorial State and monarchy, nor merely a dictatorship of one community over another. There was an element of partnership with other communities."

An invasion by Great Britain triggered the Sikh Wars (1845-1849). The British successfully gained control over all of India. After independence in 1947, occupied India was partitioned on religious grounds into a mostly Muslim Pakistan and mostly Hindu India. A mass migration of Sikhs from Pakistan to India and a reverse migration of Muslims resulted, with immense loss of life. Some Sikhs have been seeking an independent homeland since the late 1940's.

Sikhs number about 22.5 million worldwide. 1 Most live in the Punjab. Close to 500,000 live in North America, 1 of whom about 150,000 live in Canada. 2

Sikh Holy Texts:
The holy granth, the Shri Guru Granth, was initially compiled by the fifth guru, Shri Arjan Dev Ji. Subsequently, it was updated to include the writings of the sixth to ninth gurus. The tenth guru, Gobind Singh Ji assembled his writings separately into a number of books, including "Dasam Granth"

The holy granth consists of hymns and writings by the first nine Gurus, along with religious text from different Muslim and Hindu saints like: Kabir Ji, Baba Sheik Farid Ji, Bhagat Namdev, Bhagat Rav Dass Ji, etc. The Shri Guru Granth itself is considered the 11th and final Guru, and the Sikh's holiest religious text. It was made so by Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

At least two English translations are available online:

"The Khalsa Consensus Translation [of the Guru Granth Sahib]...is regarded by some Sikh scholars as being among the finest and most accurate English translation currently available." It is available online at http://www.sikhs.org/english/frame.html
Srigranth.org allows people to search the Sikh scriptures in English, Punjabi, Hindi and Transliteration.

Sikh Beliefs:
Beliefs include:

Goal: The goal of Sikhs is to build a close, loving relationship with God.
Deity: Sikhs believe in a single, Formless God, with many names, who can be known through meditation. This concept is similar to Islam whose followers believe in a single God who has 99 names. Only he can be worshiped. Rahras, a Sikh evening prayer states: "[O God] since I have fallen at your feet, I do not care for anybody else. I do not follow the religious ways preached by various religions believing in Ram, Mohammed, Puran or Qur'an. The Simritis, Shastras and the Vedas lay down different doctrines. But I do not recognize any of these. O God, I have written these hymns with your grace and kindness. All that has been said is in fact spoken by you." 7
Reincarnation: They believe in samsara (the repetitive cycle of birth, life and death), karma (the accumulated sum of one's good and bad deeds, and reincarnation the belief of a rebirth following death. These beliefs are similar to Hinduism.
Caste system: Sikhs have rejected the caste system of the Hindu religion. They believe that everyone has equal status in the eyes of God. This is a very important principle that permeates all Sikh beliefs, behaviors, and rituals.
Code of Conduct: During the 18th century, there were a number of attempts to prepare an accurate portrayal of Sikh customs. None received the support of most Sikhs. Sikh scholars and theologians started in 1931 to prepare the Reht Maryada -- the Sikh code of conduct and conventions. It is "the only version authorized by the Akal Takht, the seat of supreme temporal authority for Sikhs. It's implementation has successfully achieved a high level of uniformity in the religious and social practices of Sikhism" 4 throughout the world. It contains 27 articles. Article 1 defines who is a Sikh:
"Any human being who faithfully believes in
(i) One Immortal Being,
(ii) Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh,
(iii) The Guru Granth Sahib,
(iv) The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and
(v) the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh."

There are a number of traditions within Sikhism. Thousands of Sikhs, both in India and worldwide, follow living gurus who have lineages traceable back to Guru Gobind Singh. In Canada and elsewhere, major strains are becoming evident between liberal and conservative wings of the religion, as some Sikhs accommodate to the surrounding culture.

Sikh Practices:
Prayers: repeated multiple times each day.
Worship: Sikhs are prohibited from worshipping idols, images, or icons.
Temples: There are over 200 Gurdwaras (temples, shrines or holy places) in India alone. The most sacred is at Amritsar.
The Five K's: These are clothing practices followed by stricter Sikhs, called Khalsa saints:
Kesa (long hair, which is never cut)
Kangah (comb)
Kacha (short pants)
Kara (metal bracelet)
Kirpan (a ceremonial dagger)

The Khanda -- the Sikh symbol
The Khanda is the main Sikh symbol. It is seen at the top of this essay, used by permission of www.hatisoft.com 5 It is composed of five items, all traditional Sikh weapons:

A vertical double edged sword with a broad blade, also called a Khanda.
Two curved swords, called kirpans. They are called miri and piri, after the names given to his personal kirpans by Guru Hargobind.
A ring called a chakker (aka chakram). It is a very effective weapon, with a range of up to 50 meters (165 feet). This has been popularized in North America by the television series Xena the Warrior Princess.

The Khanda has been interpreted symbolically in many ways. one is:

"The Sikh emblem, Khanda, contains a ring of steel representing the Unity of God, a two edged sword symbolizing God's concern for truth and justice, and two crossed swords curved around the outside to signify God's spiritual power." 6

Sikh Dispute Concerning Furniture:
A serious dispute has broken out among Sikhs in Canada. This has been described in the media as a conflict between fundamentalists and moderates - terms that the media appears to have adapted from Christian terminology. Sikhs do not use these terms. For example, conservative Sikhs recognize:

Sikhs: those who accept and follow all Sikh beliefs and practices, and
Non-practicing Sikhs: those who follow only some Sikh beliefs and practices. For example, "third and fourth generation Sikhs in England and Canada are more likely to be into drinking beer, smoking, cutting their hair, and living a non-Sikh way of life than being a practicing Sikh." 3

Many persons considered by observant Sikhs as "non-practicing" believe that they have full status as Sikhs even though they have deviated from some of their faith's traditional practices. We will use the terms "conservative" and "liberal" in this essay to describe the two divisions within the Sikh faith group.

For 500 years, Sikhs had always sat on the floor, while eating after religious services. This practice emphasizes the teachings of the Guru that every person is of equal value. The Sikh religion strongly rejects elitism. A few decades ago, some Sikh Temples in Canada deviated from this practice, and introduced tables and chairs. The tables and chairs are made identical in order to preserve the concept of equality. Still, the practice of eating at tables is considered elitism in India, and by many conservative Sikhs.

In 1996, some Sikhs began calling for the removal of the tables and chairs, and a return to floor sitting during meals. Some claim that the dispute over the furniture is largely symbolic, and that the real reason for the dispute is that many Sikhs are weakening their faith by accommodating to modern practices. A riot broke out at the temple on 1997-JAN-11. Several Sikhs have been charged with various crimes, from mischief to attempted murder. Many were injured, but none died.

The Jathedar of the Akal Takhat Sahib is the individual who was elected to guide the modern affairs of the collective world-wide Sikh community. He is the final authority in any religious disputes within the faith. In 1998-APR, he issued a hukamnama (edict) against the use of furniture in Sikh Temples. They ruled that the furniture must be removed by 1998-MAY-29. This ruling was appealed. Those opposing the ruling cited a number of reasons why they prefer to not sit on the floor: the colder temperature in North America makes this uncomfortable, elderly people find the arrangement difficult, and younger members may refuse to be married in the temple if they had to sit on the floor. Some Sikh societies in the United States and England agreed to write to the Jathedar in support of the appeal. The Ontario Gurudawaras Committee, which represents all 25 of the province's temples, sent a letter to Bahai Ranjit Singh, Sikh's highest priest, calling his original ruling "praiseworthy."

Sikh leaders asked members to remain calm until the matter is resolved.

The Akal Takhat reaffirmed the original edict. Thousands of Sikhs in the Greater Vancouver area risked excommunication from their religion if they sat at tables to have the ceremonial meal after prayers on 1998-MAY-30. Leaders of 21 Sikh societies in British Columbia and Alberta vowed to keep the furniture.

By 1998-JUN-8, three reform priests had been suspended for defying the ban on tables and chairs. They have complained to the British Columbia Human Rights Commission, stating that they have been discriminated against on religious grounds. Meanwhile, most Sikh priests in the Vancouver area started a strike as of JUN-2 in order to persuade temple executives to remove temple furniture.

In mid 1998-JUL, five or six prominent liberal Sikhs were summoned to Amristar, India by JUL-25 to explain why they oppose a ban on tables and chairs. The group included a newspaper editor, a priest and three temple executives. They did not appear and were excommunicated. On JUL-26, a disturbance broke out at North America's oldest Sikh temple: the Ross Street Temple, established by the Khalsa Diwan Society in 1905. Conservative Sikhs tried to prevent a liberal, excommunicated executive member from addressing the congregation. On AUG-2, the police shut down the temple. It remained closed until the police chief, Bruce Chambers, was able to broker an agreement between conservative and liberal Sikhs.

On 1998-NOV-18, Tara Hayer was killed by an unknown assassin. He was an outspoken supporter of the liberal side, the publisher of a Sikh newspaper, and one of the 6 who had been excommunicated.

During 1998-NOV and DEC, members voted in favor of liberal slates of candidates for management positions within a number of Sikh temples in British Columbia. Jarnail Singh Bhandal now heads the Ross Street temple in Vancouver. He has called for a peacemaking conference of all Sikh factions - the first community-wide meeting in several years.

The current Sikh Jathedar (senior elected official) is Ranjit Singh. He had planned a visit to the United States in 1999-JAN. Liberal Sikhs appear concerned that his visit might inflame religious tensions in North America. They intervened with the U.S. authorities, pointing out that the Jathedar had served a lengthy jail term in 1980 for murdering the leader of a rival religious sect, and that he has never renounced the use of violence against religious opponents. His visa was canceled at the last moment. A large ad in the Washington Post called on the U.S. president to overrule the immigration authorities, comparing Mr. Singh's status among Sikhs as comparable to the pope among Roman Catholics. Actually, he cannot really be compared to the pope. He was elected to represent the Sikh community, but was granted no higher spiritual authority than any other Sihk.

The present Jathedar is Joginder Singh Vedanti
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Bahá'í Posted on: 2004/3/20 15:05
2004/3/26 7:04
From Nottingham, UK
Posts: 2069

Most religious historians believe that the Bahá'í Faith arose from Islam, similar to the way Christianity arose from Judaism. However, many Bahá'í's believe that it is a unique religion with no historical connections to other faiths. It has grown to be a worldwide faith. It is most commonly spelled Baha'i, although alternate spellings of Ba'Hai, Bahai, and Bah'ai are sometimes seen.

Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad (1819-1850 CE) assumed the title Bab which means the Gate. In 1844-MAY-23 He announced the "Declaration of the Bab." He explained that the purpose of His mission was to herald the arrival of "One greater than Himself", Who would fulfill the prophetic expectations of all the great religions. This date is regarded as the founding of the Bahá'í Faith. His followers became known as Babis. 20,000 were martyred for their beliefs. His movement caused much religious ferment. This led to His execution in 1850 by order of the Shah's chief minister and at the instigation of Muslim clerics, who saw His movement as a threat to orthodox Islam.

In 1863, one of the Bab's followers, Mirza Husayn-'Ali-i-Nuri (1817-1892), a prominent follower of the Bab to Whom the Bab had given several indications of His future station, confided to some of his followers and to His eldest son that He was the Manifestation predicted by the Bab. On 1863-APR-21, He began proclaiming his station openly and publicly to the world at large. His assumed title, Baha'u'llah, by which He is generally known, was the title the Bab used to refer to Him. The last forty years of Baha'u'llah's life were spent in prison or in exile. The last 22 years were spent in or near Acre, then a prison city. The world headquarters of the Bahá'í Faith is located in the Holy Land today as a result.

Baha'u'llah's son 'Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921), was appointed by His father to be leader of the movement after His father's death.

The religion came to North America in 1893. The Bahá'í Faith states that it currently has about 6 million members worldwide: about 2.5 million adherents in India and 140,000 in the US. The Canadian census found 14,730 in Canada in 1991. There have been many discussions on Bahá'í mailing lists which have tended to estimate a total of 1 million members worldwide. BSome claim that the US figure is grossly inflated, and that the number of active members might be much lower. Barry Kosmin and Seymour Lachman estimated 28,000 adult US Bahá'ís in their 1993 book "One Nation Under God." Fredrick Glaysher estimates 26,600. 1

According to the 1992 Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year, the Bahá'í Faith has established "significant communities" in more countries and territories than any other religion except for Christianity. They are organized in 205 areas vs. 254 for Christianity. According to The Baha'i World, this has increased to 235 countries and territories, including over 2,100 racial, ethnic and tribal groups. They number about 5 million members worldwide.

The official "Bahá'í Faith website" is at: http://www.bahai.org/ National pages are at http://www.us.bahai.org/ for Americans, and http://www.ca.bahai.org/ for Canadian.

Bahá'í faith is still looked upon by many Muslims as a breakaway sect of Islam. Bahá'ís are heavily persecuted in some countries because of this, in violation of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Bahá'ís believe that there is only one God who is the source of all creation.
God is transcendent and unknowable. However, He has sent, and will continue to send, great prophets to humanity, through which the Holy Spirit has revealed the "Word of God." The Great Manifestations of God up to this time have been:
Adam (? BCE)
Abraham (? BCE)
Moses (1456 BCE)
Krishna (1249 BCE)
Zoroaster (1000 BCE)
Buddha (757 BCE)
Jesus Christ (34 CE)
Mohammed (613 CE)
The Bab (1844 CE)
Baha'u'llah (1863 CE)

(Dates shown are common estimates from historical and Christian sources; BCE dates are very approximate) A new prophet is not expected for many centuries.

The Bahá'í's believe in an essential unity of the great religions of the world. However, this does not mean they believe the various religious creeds and doctrines are identical. Rather, they view all religions as having sprung from the same spiritual source. The social and outer forms of different religions vary due to the circumstances at the time that they were founded. Other differences in doctrine and belief can be attributed to later accretions, after the death of the founder.
Every person has an immortal soul. Unlike everything else in creation, it is not subject to decomposition. At death, the soul is freed to travel through the spirit world. The latter is viewed as a "a timeless and placeless extension of our own universe--and not some physically remote or removed place."
Some of Baha'u'llah's most famous sayings are: "The best beloved of all things in my sight is justice,"
"The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens"
"The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established."

Bahá'í beliefs promoted major social changes when originated in the 19th century: they supported gender and race equality; world government; freedom of expression and assembly; and world peace. In many ways, they were a century or more ahead of many other faiths. Followers are heavily involved in promoting these concepts today. Also, unlike many other religions, Bahá'ís view scientific inquiry as essential to expand human knowledge and deepen their members' faith. They feel that science needs to be guided by spiritual principle so that its applications are beneficial to all humanity. Notably missing from the Baha'u'llah's teachings is the acceptance of homosexuality as a normal, natural sexual orientation for a minority of humans. Neither the official Bahá'í website, 8 or the national web sites in Canada 19 or the U.S. 21 appear to contain any reference to homosexuality. The Canadian web site, for example, states:

"The Bahá'í teachings promote the elimination of all forms of prejudice and uphold equal dignity and respect for all peoples, regardless of their racial, ethnic, religious or national background. Equality of men and women, the elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth and economic justice for all peoples, universal education, and the dignity of the individual are central Bahá'í principles." 20

However, sexual orientation is notably absent from their list of protected classes of humans.

Another policy, which appears to contradict the faith's promotion of gender equality, is the exclusion of women from serving on its highest religious court.

They believe that there will eventually be a single world government, to be led by Bahá'ís, and based on the Faith's administrative framework.

The Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel, is the global governing body; its functions were set out by Baha'u'llah. It is an all-male body.
National Spiritual Assemblies (NSA) supervise affairs in each country. The American NSA is located in Wilmette IL at the site of a Bahá'í House of Worship, one of 7 worldwide.
In each locality where there are more than nine adult believers, affairs are administered by local spiritual assemblies. Each of these institutions has nine members and is elected, not appointed. Their functions have been defined by Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha in Bahá'í scripture.
Bahá'ís have no clergy, sacraments or rituals.
Members: pray each day
observe the 9 holy days
fast 19 days a year
work to abolish prejudice
regard work as a form of worship
make at least one pilgrimage, if they are able, to the Shrine of the Bab and the houses in which Baha'u'llah lived, which are situated near the Bahá'í world headquarters.
Reflecting their origins in Shiite Islam, Bahá'ís do not consume alcohol.

Sacred texts:
Bahá'í scripture comprises the writings of the Bab and Baha'u'llah, together with the writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha. Among the better known writings of Baha'u'llah are, The Most Holy Book, The Book of Certitude, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, The Hidden Words and The Seven Valleys. There are many others books of Bahá'í scripture.

Holy days:
The Bahá'ís have a new calendar. Its year begins on March 21, the spring equinox. Other seasonal days of celebration or commemoration are:

April 21, 29 & May 2: Baha'u'llah's public declaration of his mission
May 23: Bab's declaration of his mission
May 29: Passing of Baha'u'llah
July 9: Martyrdom of the Bab
October 20: Birth of Bab
November 12: Birth of Baha'u'llah

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Persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran:
There are about 350,000 Bahá'ís in Iran who are experiencing oppressive government persecution for their religious beliefs. They are looked on as heretics, because of Baha'u'llah's claim to be the latest prophet of God. Mohammed, the founder of Islam, declared himself to be the final prophet centuries earlier.

In 1996-APR, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights expressed concern about the state of religious freedom in that country for members of the Bahá'í and other minority faiths. On 1996-MAY-14, Reuters news service quoted the most senior judge in Iran, Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi, saying that the Bahá'í faith "is not a religion but an espionage establishment". Since the late 1970's, the government of Iran has accused Bahá'ís of spying for other countries. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States stated on 1996-MAY-15: "Since the Islamic regime took power, more than 200 Bahá'ís have been executed on account of their religion, and thousands have been imprisoned. Bahá'ís have systematically been denied access to education, jobs and pensions, and both personal and Bahá'í community properties have been confiscated."

Freedom of expression within the Bahá'í Faith:
Although Bahá'ís have been very active in the promotion of freedom of expression around the world, there are significant restrictions on freedoms of individual Baha'i members. These are enforced through shunning or expelling non-conforming adherents. Some examples are:

Gay males and lesbians in monogamous, committed relationships who have held union services to recognize their partnerships have had had their religious rights removed. Similarly, heterosexual Baha'i couples who were married in a non-Baha'i ceremony have had their rights removed.
The Bahá'í authorities have imposed pre-publication censorship on all material written by members about the Faith. Until recently, all such material has to be first scanned by a review committee of the Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly of the country in which the text is to be published. This was a temporary policy introduced many decades ago. It was slightly modified in 2001-JAN for U.S. materials. Censorship responsibility has been transferred to local authorities. No changes have been made elsewhere in the world.
The "Talisman" mailing list was closed down in 1996-MAY, after several of its prominent academic posters were investigated at the orders of the Baha'i World Center in Haifa, Israel. Several, including the list owner, were allegedly threatened with being shunned ("coming into conflict with the Covenant") if they did not fall silent. 2 Baha'i authorities have denied that they caused the list to close. Juan Cole was one of those allegedly threatened. He resigned from the faith in 1996-MAY, but declared his private belief in Baha'u'llah in 1999-FEB. He maintains a new talisman list. 3
The Bahá'í electoral process does not permit public nominations or discussion of the candidates. As a result, there has been no change in the nine person US National Spiritual Assembly since 1961, except for those caused by deaths, retirements, or a member leaving the country.
Michael McKenny, a Canadian fantasy writer was expelled from the church because of his views expressed in Emails.

Divisions within the Bahá'í Faith
All religions evolve. Followers of established religions break away and form new sects. Many schisms are triggered by the death of the founder of the religion, or a successor. Typically, the leaders of the splinter group follow most of the beliefs and practices of their religion of origin; they generally regard their own faith group as being the true representative of the religion. In this way, most observers believe that the Bahá'í Faith arose from Islam, and Christianity arose from Judaism, and the Mormons split away from Protestant Christianity. Sometimes, the sect becomes the dominant group. The Bahá'í Faith itself has experienced a number of schisms.

The founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Baha'u'llah, selected Abdu'l-Baha to interpret the Baha'i writings after his death. Some members refused to accept the authority of the new leader. After the death of Abdu'l-Baha, the authority passed to Shoghi Effendi, "the infallible Center of the Baha'i faith," the "Center of the Cause," the generally accepted sole interpreter of the Baha'i teachings. Again, some members refused to accept his authority. After his unexpected death in 1957, controversy developed over his successor. One webmaster 4 states that there are now 7 faith groups in the world who claim to be the "true" Bahá'í Faith. Of the six new groups, five were created shortly after the death of Shoghi Effendi, The sixth broke off later. All of the new groups have very small numbers of members compared to Bahá'í World Faith. All have been declared covenant breakers by the Universal House of Justice:

The World Faith is followed by the vast majority of believers. In the United States, it is headed by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States. Authority once exercised by Shoghi Effendi is now transferred to the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel.
Bahá'ís Under the Provisions of the Covenant who recognized Mason Remey as the guardian who succeeded Shoghi Effendi. They have organized a series of International Baha'i Councils (IBC). They claim a membership approaching 144,000. Their Baha'i Center is located in Missoula, MT. 5,6
Faith of God, (a.k.a. the House of Mankind and the Universal Palace of Order), who followed Jamshid Ma'ani. They "are no longer active (listed as 'defunct' in Gordon Melton's Encyclopedia of Religions)." 7
The Orthodox Bahá'í Faith," (a.k.a. Mother Bahá'í Council), who follow Joel Marangella.
The Orthodox Baha'i Faith Under the Regency, who follow Rex King.
The Charles Mason Remey Society, who follow Donald Harvey and Francis Spataro.
A dissident group organized around The Friends Newsletter.

Another group teaches that a Third Manifestation is coming in the immediate future
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