So the true goal of meditation is achieved through a dialectical process that alternates between dissolving into flowing nothingness and detecting subtler and subtler instances of solidified somethingness. - Shinzen Young
In my opinion, the Baha’i community is exceptionally well developed in two important ways.
The first way has to do with thinking about and acting in the world. It has a comprehensive system of morality - with laws and principles that guide personal conduct and attitude; it has a brilliant evolving mechanism for interacting in the world and trying to make it better - the institute process; it has a universal and unique system of governance; and it is philosophically and theologically rich and modern.
The second is along a mode of spiritual practice: prayer and contemplation. There are countless prayers revealed by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l Baha, and clear instructions for ideal practice, for example in the long obligatory prayer. The writings are poetic and intriguing and, by both the content and the very structure of the language, evoke positive spiritual feelings, mystical inclinations, and realizations of oneness.
However, relative to Buddhism, I also feel that it is underdeveloped in a second mode of spiritual practice: meditation and systematic exploration of consciousness and "insight" (I will explain what I mean by "insight" in the next post). This isn’t due to lack of motivation from the founders. Baha’u’llah wrote the Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, which is a guide through higher consciousness and "insight". Abdu’l Baha extolled meditation as:
“the key for opening the doors of mysteries. 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.”
Yet in the contemporary Baha’i community I have found that these things are rarely discussed and practiced on a pragmatic level. This can change (I will discuss why I think it should in the next post). For example, a Ruhi book or something similar could be developed that taught the different types of meditation and prayer, provided a guide through the states (or Valleys) of consciousness and "insight", and contained a discussion of the modern cognitive science of it. This wouldn't have to be developed from scratch.
For thousands of years the Hindus and then the Buddhists have developed an advanced technology of meditation that corresponds at each stage with detailed phenomenological maps of shifting consciousness and "insight". In addition, a recent more secularized science of meditation has begun to develop that strips away the cultural context and theological baggage and integrates it with psychology and cognitive science, making it more applicable to people of any background, with any belief.
An example of this is the work of Shinzen Young, a long time practitioner of many Buddhist traditions (including Zen and Theravada) and a science enthusiast. He has produced an audio series called “The Science of Enlightenment” and a handbook called “The Five Ways to Know Yourself”, both of which are excellent.
In Part 2 I will discuss how Buddhism categorizes spiritual life into the "Three Trainings", how this maps to the Baha'i community life, and why this categorization is useful in understanding why meditation is important and where it fits into the larger scheme of things.
In the final post I will discuss one of the Buddhist maps of "insight", called by some as "The Progress of Insight" and relate it to the Seven Valleys referred to by Baha'u'llah.