Course: Tabernacle of Unity: Bahá’u’lláh’s Letters to Zoroastrians (2020)
Faculty: Christopher Buck
Editor’s Note: What follows is Eric Stanton’s Learning Self-Assessment, submitted in September 2020 for the above-mentioned course.
Reflect on what you have learned in this course. Look again at your Personal Learning Plan. Did you accomplish these goals?
I read the majority of the assigned readings for this course in addition to the entire text of the Tabernacle of Unity. I was first introduced to these Tablets briefly in another Wilmette Institute course. One of my goals was to do a more systematic, in-depth study of these Writings. During the course, I was able to read the text of the Tabernacle of Unity twice. And through reading the supporting materials, I was able to gain a better understanding of the context in which it was written.
I tried to read most of the posts to each unit’s forum from my fellow participants. I also contributed a few posts with some of my own reflections during the course. I also meditated and pondered many of the concepts presented in this course.
Share some of the understandings and insights you have gained. Have you acquired or improved any skills?
Before taking this course, I knew very little about Zoroastrianism. Through the assigned readings and the introductory video, I was able to gain a basic understanding of the history, beliefs, practices, and prophecies associated with Zoroastrianism. When introducing seekers to the concept of progressive revelation, Bahá’ís often list the founders of the world’s great religions as being examples of known Manifestations of God. This list includes Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, the Báb, and Bahá’u’lláh. Zoroaster and Krishna are two of the Manifestations that I knew very little about before taking this course. Now, I feel confident that I can talk about Zoroaster and His teachings when engaging in this type of discussion. This experience will help me to better convey the concept of progressive revelation and not fear that someone will ask me about Zoroastrianism.
Have you experienced any new feelings or attitudes about this subject? Has there been a change in your values or beliefs?
When I registered for this course, my major goal was to glean a better understanding of the concepts presented in the Tablets which make up Bahá’u’lláh’s Tabernacle of Unity. However, the aspect of this course that had the most profound impact on me was learning of the trials endured by Zoroastrian converts to the Bahá’í Faith in 19th century Iran as they tried to embrace their new Faith. I was so touched by Susan Stiles’ (Maneck) article “Early Zoroastrian Conversions to the Bahá’í Faith in Yazd, Iran” (Studies in Bábí and Bahá’í History, Vol 2) that I reread it a couple of times.
I think this account has something to teach us as we try to promote the Faith in our own communities in 21st century America. Although they were not threatened with the same level of physical violence that Muslim-Bahá’í converts were, the tests for the Zoroastrian-Bahá’í converts were more psychological in nature. They had to figuratively “walk a tightrope” as they tried to conform to the laws and observances of their new Faith but also remain connected culturally to the Iranian Zoroastrian community. Again, although most of their difficulties weren’t in the form of violence, they nevertheless had to endure rejection and rebuke from the Zoroastrian clergy in their tight-knit community. As Bahá’ís they accepted the oneness of religion. They recognized Bahá’u’lláh as the promised Shah Bahram. They recognized that the prophecies that foretold the revitalization of Zoroastrianism by this promised Messiah were fulfilled figuratively and not literally by Bahá’u’lláh. They were subsequently able to see themselves as Bahá’í adherents who were still rooted in their Zoroastrian customs.
I feel that, as teachers of the Bahá’í Faith, we can learn some lessons from the Zoroastrian/Bahá’í experience. In most cases, in our contemporary society, those with whom we share our faith come from a Christian background. We have to be patient with those we encounter who are investigating the Bahá’í Faith because they may struggle to reconcile the teachings with the Christian beliefs and concepts that they were raised with or exposed to as a result of being reared in our culture. We also must realize that some of them may become dedicated Bahá’ís such as Ustad Javan-Mard. Others may become lifelong friends or admirers of the Faith such as Manikchi Sahib. Ultimately, both are acceptable paths because they are helping to infuse our world with healing teachings and principles espoused by Bahá’u’lláh.
Now that the course has ended, what are the ways you can apply or use what you have learned in the future?
Now that I am more familiar with the Tabernacle of Unity, I intend to continue to read, study, and ponder passages from its Tablets. As a Bahá’í who is involved in interfaith activities in my community, I want to keep in mind what I expressed in the previous question. When I encounter non-Bahá’ís in these activities, I need to be mindful that it is not necessary for them to become declared members of the Bahá’í community. By being a friend of the Faith and being involved in efforts to promote interfaith understanding and unity, they are doing their part to infuse the divine fragrances, the teachings and principles of Bahá’u’lláh, into the world. My take-away from this is that, as Bahá’ís, we need to continue to work hard to share the message of Bahá’u’lláh and also try to remain detached from the individual outcomes.