I’ve been meditating one way or another as a Baha’i for nearly 40 years and recently someone told me, quite adamantly, that the things I thought of as meditation were not in fact, meditation. According to her, the only valid form of meditation was focusing on the breath. I was taken aback and quite defensive, so I did what I always do in moments of confusion and turned to the Writings for guidance. Here is what I found.
In one short (unauthenticated) verse we learn the who, what, how and why of meditation for Baha’is:
It is incumbent on all who have ears and clear insight to meditate and ponder carefully upon these supreme words, in each of which oceans of meanings and distinct explanations are hidden, that the revelation of the Possessor of all religions may cause all His creatures to attain the desire and that supreme station which is the dawning of the horizon of this Declaration. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 122-123)
We all have ears, so we all meditate. We focus on the oceans of meanings and explanations of the Words of God, in order to draw closer to God and reach the station He has destined for us.
When do we Meditate?
. . . specifically at least each morning and evening . . . (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 540)
How do We Meditate?
Although we have free latitude in finding our own way of communion with God and there are no set forms, it’s wiser if we use the meditations given by Baha’u’llah:
There are no set forms of meditation prescribed in the teachings, no plan, as such, for inner development. The friends are urged — nay enjoined — to pray, and they also should meditate, but the manner of doing the latter is left entirely to the individual. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 455-456)
He thinks it would be wiser for the Bahá’ís to use the meditations given by Bahá’u’lláh, and not any set form of meditation recommended by someone else; but the believers must be left free in these details and allowed to have personal latitude in finding their own level of communion with God. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 457)
Bahá’u’lláh has specified no procedures to be followed in meditation, and individual believers are free to do as they wish in this area, provided that they remain in harmony with the Teachings, but such activities are purely personal and should under no circumstances be confused with those actions which Bahá’u’lláh Himself considered to be of fundamental importance for our spiritual growth. (Universal House of Justice, Meditation, Prayer, and Spiritualization, 1 Sept. 1983)
We guard against superstitious or foolish ideas:
Meditation is very important, and the Guardian sees no reason why the friends should not be taught to meditate, but they should guard against superstitious or foolish ideas creeping into it. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 455)
Our meditation need not follow practices such as those advocated by proponents of yoga or other forms of Hindu mysticism:
It is apparent that you are well aware of the importance of daily prayer and meditation, but we are asked to point out that the manner in which meditation is done need not follow practices such as those advocated by proponents of yoga or other forms of Hindu mysticism. (From a letter dated 16 September 1982 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)
Other methods can be used, but should not be taught at Baha’i gatherings such as Summer School:
Some believers may find that it is beneficial to them to follow a particular method of meditation, and they may certainly do so, but such methods should not be taught at Bahá’í Summer Schools or be carried out during a session of the School because, while they may appeal to some people, they may repel others. They have nothing to do with the Faith and should be kept quite separate so that enquirers will not be confused. (Universal House of Justice, Meditation, Prayer, and Spiritualization, 1 Sept. 1983)
It’s an individual activity, done in private:
It is striking how private and personal the most fundamental spiritual exercises of prayer and meditation are in the Faith. Bahá’ís do, of course, have meetings for devotions, as in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar or at Nineteen Day Feasts, but the daily obligatory prayers are ordained to be said in the privacy of one’s chamber, and meditation on the Teachings is, likewise, a private individual activity, not a form of group therapy. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 540)
We sit in silence, paying attention to the verses of God:
Let him sit in silence to hearken to the verses of God, the Sovereign, the Almighty, the All-Praised. (Bahá’u’lláh, Synopsis and Codification of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 61)
Bahá’u’lláh says there is a sign (from God) in every phenomenon: the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time — he cannot both speak and meditate. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 174)
We sat in silence for some time and then a message came. (H.M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 236)
When the [members of the Society of] Friends assemble in their Meeting House, they sit in silence and contemplate. Their leader proposes a certain problem, saying to the assembly, “This is the problem on which to meditate.” Then, freeing their minds from everything else, they sit quietly and reflect, and before long the answer is revealed to them. Many abstruse divine questions are solved by means of this illumination. (Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 322)
We meditate profoundly
Meditate profoundly . . . (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitab-i-Ian, p. 8)
With clear insight:
Meditate with clear insight and keenness . . . (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 120)
With reverence, attention and thought:
. . . with reverence, attention and thought. (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 540)
Prayerfully, using the prayers of the Manifestations and followed by silence:
Prayerful meditation on the teachings . . . (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 540)
First Step [of prayers for solving problems] – Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 90)
We can use the Greatest Name:
The Greatest Name should be found upon the lips in the first awakening moment of early dawn. It should be fed upon by consistent use in daily invocation, in trouble, under opposition, and should be the last word breathed when the head rests upon the pillow at night. It is the name of comfort, protection, happiness, illumination, love and unity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Wisdom of the Master, p. 58)
Or by repeating the Greatest Name, Alláh-u-Bahá, ninety-five times a day:
The House of Justice suggests that for their private meditations they may wish to use the repetition of the Greatest Name, Alláh-u-Bahá, ninety-five times a day. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 541)
We focus on a single point:
So long as the thoughts of an individual are scattered he will achieve no results, but if his thinking be concentrated on a single point wonderful will be the fruits thereof. If once the sun shineth upon a concave mirror, or on a lens that is convex, all its heat will be concentrated on a single point, and that one point will burn the hottest. Thus is it necessary to focus one’s thinking on a single point so that it will become an effective force. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 110-111)
The meditative faculty is akin to the mirror; if you put it before earthly objects it will reflect them. Therefore if the spirit of man is contemplating earthly subjects he will be informed of these. But if you turn the mirror of your spirits heavenwards, the heavenly constellations and the rays of the Sun of Reality will be reflected in your hearts, and the virtues of the Kingdom will be obtained. Therefore let us keep this faculty rightly directed — turning it to the heavenly Sun and not to earthly objects — so that we may discover the secrets of the Kingdom, and comprehend the allegories of the Bible and the mysteries of the spirit. May we indeed become mirrors reflecting the heavenly realities, and may we become so pure as to reflect the stars of heaven. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 175)
We’re empty and pure from every mention and thought and our hearts are attracted wholly to the Kingdom of God:
I now assure thee, O servant of God, that, if thy mind become empty and pure from every mention and thought and thy heart attracted wholly to the Kingdom of God, forget all else besides God and come in communion with the Spirit of God, then the Holy Spirit will assist thee . . . (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 369)
We’re withdrawn from all outside objects and immersed in the ocean of spiritual life:
In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves. To illustrate this, think of man as endowed with two kinds of sight; when the power of insight is being used the outward power of vision does not see. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 175)
We put questions to our own spirit and the spirit answers:
It is an axiomatic fact that while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 175)
In His talks ‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes prayer as ‘Conversation with God’, and concerning meditation He says that ‘while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 540)
We follow our meditation by taking action:
It is not sufficient to pray diligently for guidance, but this prayer must be followed by meditation as to the best methods of action and then action itself. Even if the action should not immediately produce results, or perhaps not be entirely correct, that does not make so much difference, because prayers can only be answered through action and if someone’s action is wrong, God can use that method of showing the pathway which is right. (Shoghi Effendi, Guidelines for Teaching, p. 325)
Prayer and meditation are very important factors in deepening the spiritual life of the individual, but with them must go also action and example, as these are the tangible result of the former. Both are essential. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 455)
The below five steps were suggested by the beloved Guardian Shoghi Effendi to a believer as a means of finding a solution through the use of prayer.
This statement belongs to the category of statements known as “pilgrims notes”, and as such has no authority, but since it seems to be particularly helpful and clear it was felt that believers should not be deprived of it.
1st Step: Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes.
2nd Step: Arrive at a decision and hold this. This decision is usually born during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of accomplishment but if it seems to be as answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem, then immediately take the next step.
3rd Step: Have determination to carry the decision through. Many fail here. The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and instead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.
4th Step: Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle, or the right book will be given to you. Have confidence and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the 5th step.
5th Step: Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you.
Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it. Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need.
But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered? How true are these words? Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 91)
On What Do We Focus our Meditation?
On the clear texts and supreme Words:
Meditate . . . upon the clear texts, the supreme Words, and that which hath been manifested in these days . . . (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 120)
On Sacred scriptures:
The regular reading of the Sacred Scriptures . . . (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 540)
We ponder and meditate on His words:
It is incumbent upon you to ponder in your hearts and meditate upon His words, and humbly to call upon Him, and to put away self in His heavenly Cause. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 241)
We can use the Hidden Words or other of Baha’u’llah’s Writings:
For example, the reading of the “Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh” or other of His Writings, and subsequent meditation on the wisdom they contain, can be an effective way of meditating. (From a letter dated 16 September 1982 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)
What are the Benefits of Meditation?
We can’t measure the benefits:
The inspiration received through meditation is of a nature that one cannot measure or determine. God can inspire into our minds things that we had no previous knowledge of, if He desires to do so. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 456)
It opens the doors of mysteries:
Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 175)
It’s the source of crafts, sciences and arts and promotes the well-being and harmony of all the kindreds of the earth:
The source of crafts, sciences and arts is the power of reflection. Make ye every effort that out of this ideal mine there may gleam forth such pearls of wisdom and utterance as will promote the well-being and harmony of all the kindreds of the earth. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 72)
The Holy Spirit will assist us with a power which will enable us to penetrate all things; it will teach us the facts of the universe and of divine doctrine; it will reveal the mysteries and make us competent in science; the pictures of the Supreme World will be printed in our hearts and the secrets of the Kingdom of God will shine before us:
I now assure thee, O servant of God, that, if thy mind become empty and pure from every mention and thought and thy heart attracted wholly to the Kingdom of God, forget all else besides God and come in communion with the Spirit of God, then the Holy Spirit will assist thee with a power which will enable thee to penetrate all things, and a Dazzling Spark which enlightens all sides, a Brilliant Flame in the zenith of the heavens, will teach thee that which thou dost not know of the facts of the universe and of the divine doctrine. Verily, I say unto thee, every soul which ariseth today to guide others to the path of safety and infuse in them the Spirit of Life, the Holy Spirit will inspire that soul with evidences, proofs and facts and the lights will shine upon it from the Kingdom of God. Do not forget what I have conveyed unto thee from the breath of the Spirit. Verily, it is the shining morning and the rosy dawn which will impart unto thee the lights, reveal the mysteries and make thee competent in science, and through it the pictures of the Supreme World will be printed in thy heart and the facts of the secrets of the Kingdom of God will shine before thee. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 369)
It will make us signs of guidance to all mankind:
These are the things that will make of you signs of guidance unto all mankind, and brilliant stars shining down from the all-highest horizon, and towering trees in the Bahá Paradise. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 241)
It will provide tranquility:
Further, the daily study of the writings of our Faith and contemplation of the inspiration to be found therein should prove to be most gratifying and provide the tranquillity that one seeks through meditation. (From a letter dated 16 September 1982 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)
Why do we Meditate?
We meditate to learn the secret of things unseen; to inhale the sweetness of spiritual fragrance; to separate truth from darkness, right from wrong, guidance from error and happiness from misery:
. . . that the secret of things unseen may be revealed unto you, that you may inhale the sweetness of a spiritual and imperishable fragrance, and that you may acknowledge the truth so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses from thorns. (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitab-i-Ian, p. 8)
To discover the hidden mysteries and use them to guide people:
. . . that thou mayest discover the hidden mysteries in the Books, and to the uttermost exert thine energy in guiding the people. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 120)
To understand them more deeply, fulfil them more faithfully, and convey them more accurately to others:
Prayerful meditation on the teachings, so that we may understand them more deeply, fulfil them more faithfully, and convey them more accurately to others. (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 540)
To inform and strengthen our spirits, to unfold the affairs of which we know nothing; to receive Divine inspiration and receive heavenly food:
The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 175)
To free us from our animal nature; to put us in touch with God; to bring forth sciences, arts and inventions; to undertake colossal undertakings; to help governments run smoothly and to enter into the Kingdom of God:
This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God. This faculty brings forth from the invisible plane the sciences and arts. Through the meditative faculty inventions are made possible, colossal undertakings are carried out; through it governments can run smoothly. Through this faculty man enters into the very Kingdom of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 175)
To attain eternal life:
Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit — the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 175)
Can I trust what comes from meditation?
If we don’t know Bahá’u’lláh or don’t believe in God, the results may be coming from our ego:
Through meditation the doors of deeper knowledge and inspiration may be opened. Naturally, if one meditates as a Bahá’í he is connected with the Source; if a man believing in God meditates he is tuning in to the power and mercy of God; but we cannot say that any inspiration which a person, not knowing Bahá’u’lláh or not believing in God, receives is merely from his own ego. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 455)
We can trust it, if our faculty of meditation is bathed in the inner light and characterized with divine attributes:
Nevertheless some thoughts are useless to man; they are like waves moving in the sea without result. But if the faculty of meditation is bathed in the inner light and characterized with divine attributes, the results will be confirmed. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 175)
Here’s a story to end with:
One day the Guardian said to a prominent pilgrim in Haifa, “Do you pray?” “Of course, beloved Guardian, I pray every morning.” “Do you meditate?” The man paused a bit and said slowly, “No, I guess I do not.” The Guardian replied that prayer is of no use without meditation and that meditation must be centered on the Writings. He continued very earnestly that meditation is of no use unless it is followed by action. He thus made clear another step to this most important process in the life of the soul.
The Guardian then explained further that meditation is not just sitting down, closing your eyes, keeping silent in a silent atmosphere, and being blank. That is not meditation. We must concentrate on the teachings, concentrate on their implications and how they can be used. Prayer is of no consequence if it remains the murmur of syllables and sounds—of what use is that? God knows already. We are not saying the prayers for God, we are saying them for our own selves. If the words do not strengthen us, if we do not reflect upon the Writings we read, if we do not make the Writings part of our daily action, we are wasting our time.
Shoghi Effendi, in a letter written on his behalf, makes clear that the “inspiration received through meditation is of a nature that one cannot measure or determine. God can inspire into our minds things that we had no previous knowledge of, if He desires to do so.”  In another letter written on his behalf, the Guardian emphasizes that “prayer and meditation are very important factors in deepening the spiritual life of the individual, but with them must go also action and example, as these are the tangible results of the former. Both are essential.”  (Ruth Moffett, Du’á: On Wings of Prayer, p. 29)
 Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual, 25 January 1943, cited in Spiritual Foundations, p. 17
 ibid., 15 May 1944, p. 17
In summary, I’d like to share the following process we can use to teach our children (and ourselves) how to meditate:
To teach your children about meditation, demonstrate to them how you meditate. Walk them through the process. So, for example, after your morning prayers, read a verse from the Writings out loud. Then take one of the sentences and ask yourself what it means and how you can apply it in your day-to-day life. Share out loud the thoughts that come to mind as you put questions to your spirit. Your child will witness the unfolding of your understanding. Encourage your child to do the same, perhaps by helping him or her formulate questions about the verse just read and suggesting possible answers. Similarly, if you are considering a knotty question in your own life and have been meditating about it, share the problem with your children and then recount to them the questions you put to your own spirit after prayer and the answers you felt your received. Then encourage them to spend a few minutes in silence after they have said their prayers and seek answers to their own questions and problems. Be available to respond to your child’s request for assistance. (Sovaida Ma’ani Ewing, Creating a Bahá’í Identity in Our Children)
So to go back to my original question, the best form of meditation is to commune with our spirits individually, silently, prayerfully, using the Words of God, twice a day and feel the peace, tranquility and new insights that God has in store for those who use our meditative faculties.
What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation? I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!
If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Consult Effectively