What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Baha’i and Jain observances and remembering global hopes for peace


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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(October 19 to 25, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

TUESDAY is the Birthday of the Bab. Baha’is around the world celebrate the birth on October 20, 1819, of
Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the prophet and herald of the Baha’i faith. Sometimes referred to by the longer phrase “the gateway to truth,” he took the title Bab, which means “gate” in Arabic. He also carried the title Sayeed or Siyyid (spellings vary), which indicates that his family descended from the Prophet Muhammad. From an early age, the Bab had a special focus for his life.
Then, one night in 1844, after long dialogues with a man who would become his first disciple, the Bab’s spiritual significance was revealed and his larger religious role began. This unfolded in a room in the Bab’s home in Shiraz, Persia. (The image of the room, at right, comes from Baha’i sources.)
For a few years, a religious movement now called Babism flourished, despite persecution. Looking back, Baha’is see this as a stage in the founding of the Baha’i faith—similar to John the Baptist in Christian scriptures opening up an alternative Jewish movement 2,000 years ago that played a role in Jesus’ ministry and the eventual founding of Christianity.
A Baha’i Web site describes customs for the Birthday of the Bab this way: “Baha’is observe the Holy Day by abstaining from work and holding joyous meetings open to all. There are no prescribed ceremonies but gatherings usually involve prayers, devotional readings, music, and fellowship.”
(Second photo at right shows the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, Israel.)

WEDNESDAY is the anniversary of the massive anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Washington D.C. that defined the confrontation between youth and American military power at that time. This took place 42 years ago on October 21, 1967—not a nice round anniversary number, but then there aren’t a lot of other holidays this week and we are trying to emphasize compassion and global awareness this month at ReadTheSpirit.
The indelible image from that march, which numbered 100,000 Americans—many of them young people—was the moment when 30,000 marched to the Pentagon and rallied there. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were among those urging the crowd to action. Finally, after an earlier idea of dropping flowers from the air fell through—some brave protesters approached MP’s and placed flowers in the barrels of their rifles.
The photo at right became an iconic image of anti-war sentiment. Norman Mailer described these days of protest in “Armies of the Night.”

FRIDAY is Gyan (or Gyana) Panchami for Jains. It’s the fifth day of the Festival of Lights, Diwali, and is devoted especially to appreciation of sacred books. One translation of the holiday’s name is “Knowledge Day” and customs celebrate not only books themselves, but the transcendent spiritual wisdom they can convey. Some communities even bless and distribute paper and pencils on this day as an encouragement to study.
Gyan (or Gayana) means “knowledge” in the form of an inner light that comes from the human soul. This sacred wisdom allows people to discern right from wrong, truth from falsehood, Jains teach.

SATURDAY is United Nations Day, the day each year that the UN encourages people around the world to think about their international obligations. To focus the theme, in 1972, the UN also declared October 24 to be World Development Information Day—hoping that people would focus their reflections on the desperate need for aid in many countries around the world.
The date was chosen, because it marks the date in 1945, when the United Nations Charter went into full force.
Depending on your background and political viewpoint, you might regard the UN as a noble spiritual force in our world—or perhaps as a confusing and meddlesome place. Nevertheless, in lifting up this holiday, today, think about some of the UN’s nobler goals: The photo at right, for example, shows the famous Knotted Gun sculpture at the UN, a symbol of global efforts to reduce weaponry.
We opened our Season column today with a photo of the “Golden Rule Mural” at the UN. The work of promoting awareness of the Golden Rule is back in global headlines this autumn, thanks to the Charter for Compassion movement. ReadTheSpirit is a partner in the Charter effort. Here’s a link to the official Charter Web site, launched recently by Karen Armstrong, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama from Vancouver. In November, the Charter partners will unveil this text that has received input from religious voices around the world for more than a year.


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