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Nutrition from a Bahá'í Perspective: Food for the Body, Food for the Soul

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Nutrition from a Bahá'í Perspective: Food for the Body, Food for the Soul

Margaret Tash, R.D.


Nutrition is an aspect of the Bahá'í Faith that may not seem to be ‘spiritual’ but has its roots deep in the Revelation given us by Bahá'u'lláh. This paper provides a brief introduction about food and the part it plays in our lives. It shows how the principles of the Faith relate to the food choices we make, and it suggests ways to put into action these spiritual principles.

The attachment with quotations is just a small sampling of what is available in the Bahá'í Writings on this topic. The last page of that attachment includes references and websites, as well as an ‘action plan’ component.

It is important to remember this is my personal understanding of one approach to food and nutrition based on the Bahá'í Writings. My thinking evolved drastically from my initial plan of approaching nutrition from a clinical point of view. As I deepened and studied on our relationship with food, I saw the unity and interconnectedness of all the Writings on this topic.

How do we approach food and nutrition from a spiritual angle? While there is not a Bahá'í ‘diet,’ we do have some guidelines about where we – as a civilization – will be heading in the future. It’s a process, individually and collectively, of moving towards health, not just for ourselves, but for every living thing on the planet.

We are not under any obligation to follow any of these suggestions, of course. But if we have the desire to explore more deeply these principles, we can move closer to understanding them in a new light.

This first section explores some ideas about food. We need food to survive, plain and simple. We can’t live without it. But, our relationship with food goes far beyond mere survival. Food encompasses feelings of love, community, and connection. Culturally, through the ages, food played a role in keeping a group bonded together, and social traditions were often passed down from generation to generation, usually centered around celebrations and feasts.

But now, beyond that, the food choices we make, in this day, have a huge impact on every living thing – on other people, on animals, on plants, and on the environment. We need to embrace global thinking in the food choices we make. We are not just a family or a tribe or a village … It’s not about us anymore!

We often think of food in self-centered ways. It might be to control our outward appearance – to be a certain weight; to fit into a certain size jeans; or to ‘look good’ to others. All of these thoughts are based on cultural and material perceptions from our culture. They are not based on our spiritual reality. So we tend to look at food from a self-centered view and not from a spiritual perspective.

We might ask ourselves for the first time:
Why do we eat?
What is the purpose of choosing the foods we do?

If it’s not to get 6-pack abs, then why should we care about what we eat? Here is a thought from 'Abdu'l-Bahá to answer that question:

“Looking after one’s health is done with two intentions. Man may take good care of his body for the purpose of satisfying his personal wishes. Or, he may look after his health with the good intention of serving humanity and of living long enough to perform his duty toward mankind. The latter is most commendable.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. VIII, No. 18, p. 230; The Throne of the Inner Temple, p. 19

Now we know why we should eat healthfully. But, what next? There’s no Bahá'í diet. However, 'Abdu'l-Bahá did give us some glimmerings of where we need to go, as in this quotation:

“The food of the future will be fruit and grains. The time will come when meat is no longer eaten. Medical science is yet only in its infancy, but it has shown that our natural diet is that which grows out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of taking only this natural food.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 296

Here 'Abdu'l-Bahá is referring not only to fruit and grains. In other writings, He speaks of legumes, nuts, oils, and vegetables as part of the diet humanity will move towards.

Further, 'Abdu'l-Bahá speaks about the bodily differences between carnivores and humans. He states that our teeth are shaped to grind grain or to bite into fruit, not to tear meat apart. Our digestive tracts are also very different from carnivores, and aid us to break down and absorb food thoroughly. Speaking to this aspect, He says:

"It is, therefore, quite apparent according to the implements for eating that man's food is intended to be grain and not meat. When mankind is more fully developed, the eating of meat will gradually cease.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 170

So how does this diet 'Abdu'l-Bahá addresses – less meat, more grains and fruits and vegetables, a simpler diet – how does this diet connect to the spiritual principles of Bahá'u'lláh’s Revelation?

The principles of the Faith are relevant to this style of eating that 'Abdu'l-Bahá encourages. One of the fundamental principles of the Bahá'í Faith is the independent investigation of truth. It’s our duty to investigate and search for truth our whole lives, so that we can integrate what we learn in the material world, into what we know from spiritual laws and principles we’ve been given.

This is our challenge! We, especially those of us in the Western world, live in a meat-heavy society. But we are encouraged by the Bahá'í Writings to move forward, away from current societal standards. Are we willing to investigate the truth as it relates to ourselves, our individual lives, and not simply reflect the values of society around us?

Another Bahá'í principle is unity and the oneness of humanity. This is not some abstract thought which Bahá'u'lláh gave us. We are one people. What does that have to do with what you eat? It means that our actions regarding our food choices have a profound effect on other people, often with negative results as discussed below.

If we really believe we are one people and we believe in the unity of the human race, then we would not want our actions to harm our brothers and sisters around the world. In fact, we would do everything we can to protect and assist them, wherever they live. We must consider how our actions can promote the oneness of humankind.

We are told in the Bahá'í Writings to show kindness to animals. Consider what happens to animals now who are raised in our farm factories. From the time they are born, they are raised in overcrowded conditions, and end their lives in horrific slaughterhouses. Their entire lives are spent in horrible circumstances. We buy meat in ‘pieces’ so we don’t have to think that some living creature died – often under terrible conditions – for us. Remember that, then listen to these words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá:

"Regarding the eating of animal flesh and abstinence therefrom, …he [man] is not in need of meat, nor is he obliged to eat it. Even without eating meat he would with the utmost vigour and energy. …Truly, the killing of animals and the eating of their meat is somewhat contrary to pity and compassion, and if one can content oneself with cereals, fruit, oil and nuts, … it would undoubtedly be better and more pleasing." – 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in a letter written to an individual believer; in Lights of Guidance, p. 294

The elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty is another principle of the Bahá'í Faith. How does that relate to the food choices we make? The U.N. World Food Program reports that 25,000 people die each day from hunger-related causes. Many of these are children under the age of 5.

Another one billion people do not have enough to eat. That is one-sixth of the earth’s population, more than the United States, Canada, and the European Union combined. There is a huge discrepancy between those who have too much to eat, and those who have nothing at all and who suffer the consequences.

Listen to what Adib Taherzadeh, who served on the Universal House of Justice, wrote about the people of the future:

"The nobility of man and his spiritual development will lead him in the future to such a position that no individual could enjoy eating his food or resting at home while knowing that there was one person somewhere in the world without food or shelter.” - Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 3, p. 126

This is surely a goal worthy of our efforts.

Do science and religion agree in respect to this new diet? Science is catching up with what 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote in the early 1900’s. In fact, since that time, our diet has worsened regarding the consumption of meat. After World War II until the present time, our meat intake has skyrocketed and a number of health problems now plague us because of this. Science has proven that a diet which contains less meat and has more grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, is associated with less obesity and a decrease in heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer, among other illnesses.

What does your body look like on the inside? How are you nourishing it? This is more important than your physical appearance. Taking good care of our health enables us to serve humanity more fully, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá tells us.

'Abdu'l-Bahá also speaks of foods being used to cure diseases in the future. Those quotations can be found in the attachment.

The love of nature and protection of the environment are other aspects of the Bahá'í Faith. Bahá'u'lláh loved and cherished nature deeply. The Bahá'í Writings are filled with exquisite testimony to the beauty of the world around us. Bahá'u'lláh wrote:

“Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world." - Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 142

Yet, Bahá'u'lláh also warns us to care for the environment, that we should not abuse it as we have:

“…ye walk on My earth complacent and self-satisfied, heedless that My earth is weary of you and everything within it shunneth you.” - Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words, Persian #20

The following statistics are from the World Resources Institute:
50% of all grains raised in the world are used for livestock feed.
30% of the land surface of the earth is devoted to animal agriculture.
70% of all fresh water is used for animal production (i.e., watering crops which are fed to livestock, water used to livestock, as well as water used in the slaughtering of animals and food production.

According to the U.N. Environment Program, 17% of the Amazon’s original forest has been lost to animal grazing and agribusiness. It is estimated that 50% of the rainforest will be lost in only 20 years.

The U.N. notes that “…the livestock sector emerges as one of the top 2 or 3 most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale, from local to global.”

It is now estimated that nearly one-fifth (18%) of the world’s greenhouse gases comes from methane produced by livestock. This is more than all the world’s planes, buses, cars, and trains … combined. Worse, global warming leads to climate changes, including droughts which often result in the starvation and death of many in other countries. Real people – our brothers and sisters – suffer the consequences of our food choices.

The Universal House of Justice, in 1989, wrote:

“…assisting in endeavors to conserve the environment in ways which blend with the rhythm of life of our community must assume more importance in Bahá'í activities.” - Letter from the Universal House of Justice, April 21, 1989, to the Bahá'ís of the World; in Conservation of the Earth’s Resources; in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. I, p. 86

Have you heard about the low-carbon diet? No, we’re not talking about the low-carb diet! The low-carbon diet seeks to decrease our ‘carbon footprint’ by the food choices we make. It emphasizes especially a lower meat intake to decrease methane production, as well as buying foods more locally to decrease consumption of petroleum products for transportation.

Producing one pound of beef causes as many carbon emissions as driving your car 440 miles. It’s been said that it’s better to drive a Hummer and eat a veggie dog, than to drive a Prius and eat a hot dog. I guess the best choice is to drive a Prius and eat a veggie dog!

Then consider some spiritual components. Do we think our physical actions – what we do and what we eat – affect our spiritual growth? Is that possible? Here is what 'Abdu'l-Bahá says:

“Between material things and spiritual things there is a connection. The more healthful his body the greater will be the power of the spirit of man.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. VIII, No. 18, p. 231; quoted in The Throne of the Inner Temple, pp. 19-20

Other virtues such as moderation, frugality, and simplicity are all encouraged in the Bahá'í Writings. You don’t have to live in sack cloth or work on a farm to embody these virtues. 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:

“Economy is the foundation of human prosperity.... It is more kingly to be satisfied with a crust of stale bread than to enjoy a sumptuous dinner of many courses, the money for which comes out of the pockets of others. The mind of a contented person is always peaceful and his heart at rest. How happily such a man helps himself to his frugal meals! How joyfully he takes his walks, how peacefully he sleeps!” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, p. 102

Other virtues we’re encouraged to apply include gratitude and mindfulness. How do we practice gratitude and mindfulness when we talk about food? The idea is to become more aware of the food choices we make, whether we are shopping, preparing our meals, or eating at home or in a restaurant.

We can take a few moments to be grateful, to think of the connections needed to have this food come to us. We’re not talking about a ritual but, instead, want to recognize all that it takes to bring food to us. We want to recognize the bounty of having enough to eat in a world where many do not. 'Abdu'l-Bahá often prayed at the beginning of a meal. When we stop for a moment in gratitude, we are remembering God’s bounty, and honoring what has been given us.

Finally, how do we put these principles into action? Bahá'u'lláh has given us guidance, to strive beyond merely reading or thinking about ways to change. He writes:

“It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written in reality and action.” – Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 165

You may ask: What can I do? What can one person do? Does it really make a difference? Yes, it does make a difference! First, we need to put spiritual principles into action, as Bahá'u'lláh tells us. This is a process. We don’t have to be perfect. We simply need to make a start. Any small change we make does matter.

Try to think of these changes as a positive process towards a goal, not as deprivation. After all, when we pray and meditate, we know we are ‘depriving’ ourselves of time to relax and play. Yet we know that this giving up of a material thing will result in greater benefit and then we do it for that reason. And so it is with changing our food habits. We are building healthier bodies, and building a healthier planet. Even more, it’s really about our souls being united, about our being willing to change our actions, for the betterment of the world, and not to be “complacent and self-satisfied,” as Bahá'u'lláh warns us.

To make a start, we can pray and study the Writings about this topic, consult with our friends, reflect on the part we play, and then take some action which moves us. There is not one ‘right’ way to do this. Simply make a start to change your habits, and you will be guided to continue this journey.

Eating less meat is not mandatory, at all. But it is encouraged in the Bahá'í Writings as well as by many other health and governmental agencies, including the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Like the concept of universal participation, where all contribute for the good of the community, the sum effect of each of us playing our part has an exponential effect on changing the world.

What can we do as individuals or in groups?

First, consider joining the many people who participate in Meatless Monday. Meatless Monday was started in World War I and used again in World War II, as a way to aid the war effort to support Allied troops. In 2003, Meatless Monday was initiated by the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health and endorsed by 20 major schools of public health. It was a response to the worsening health status of Americans, to reduce the incidence of preventable disease related to our high intake of saturated fat.

In 2009, Meatless Monday gained global support due to the increasing impact of meat consumption on the environmental health of the planet. Individuals and institutions have taken up the challenge to cut out meat one day a week.

Can you give up meat one meal a week? Or one day a week? Or more?
What else can we do? Here are some more suggestions:

Support local agriculture. Know some of the people who grow your food! Enjoy fruit, vegetables, honey, jam, bread, desserts, and more – all made where you live. Where do you find them? Try farmer’s markets; roadside fruit and vegetable stands; food cooperatives and natural food stores which carry local produce; look for ‘local’ produce at public grocery stores; support CSA’s (community-supported agriculture). When you connect on a personal level with the people who grow your food, it forges bonds of friendship and unity. It is another way to promote the oneness of humanity.

Buy organic or no-spray (no pesticides or herbicides) produce when you can.

If you drink coffee or tea or hot cocoa, buy ‘fair trade’ when you can. What is ‘fair trade’? Fair trade is a system of trading which promotes more equitable global trade, especially to sellers and producers in poorer areas, and it also supports the environment. Fair trade items are more expensive because they represent the actual value of these products. It is simply paying farmers the money which is due them, with justice and equity.

Decrease the amount of food you waste. Buy only what you can use. Depleting natural resources which are then discarded without being consumed is a worsening problem in our society. When our moms told us to clean our plates because people are starving, they were right! Be more aware of what you need and limit what you waste.

Increase your mindfulness and gratitude for all that you do have. This brings you greater awareness and spiritual benefits. Take a moment to express gratitude for all you do have. Feel connected to those who have less. What more can you do?

Consider other ways to help the environment. Need ideas? Buy cruelty-free (products which are not tested on animals) cosmetics, toothpaste, shaving cream, etc. Try natural cleaning products rather than chemical-based ones. Use recycled paper products. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

In addition to individual action, a broader concept is needed to effect lasting change. Collectively, the principles of the Bahá'í Faith promote the material and spiritual well-being of humankind. What is happening in the international community?

The Bahá'í International Community (BIC) was established in 1948 as an international NGO (non-governmental organization) with the United Nations. The BIC has consultative status or working relations with many UN agencies directly related to food, agricultural, and environmental issues, including UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), WHO (World Health Organization), the UN Environment Program, and the UN Development Program.

And there are many worldwide Social and Economic Development (SED) projects around the world, started by Bahá'ís, based on spiritual principles advocated in the Bahá'í Writings. One example of this is a garden project begun in the 1990’s in Mongolia, where the availability of fresh vegetables was scarce and vitamin-deficiency illness prevalent. The project, started by area Bahá'ís, was based on the principles of consultation, being of service to humankind, and promoting community development. They were able to successfully promote small vegetable gardens where none had existed before. This is a sterling example of how spiritual principles can change and empower an entire community.

Even the United Nations and other organizations now look at spiritual values to guide global initiatives:

“The concept of spirituality and spiritual values, once almost taboo in most UN development-related deliberations, is now being articulated at the highest levels.” - Bahá'í International Community, Valuing Spirituality in Development

On September 23, 2009, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, spoke at the BIC offices in New York City, emphasizing the moral and ethical dimensions of global warming. His comments came as part of the official launch of an appeal directed at world leaders gathered for the UN Summit on Climate Change. The appeal, drafted by the Bahá'í International Community and signed by 25 NGO’s, religious groups, and policy institutes, states in part: The quest for climate justice is not a competition for limited resources but part of an unfolding process towards greater degrees of unity among nations as they endeavor to build a sustainable, just and peaceful civilization.

What is really needed to make all of these changes we are talking about, whether as individuals or as a society? Consider this quotation from Shoghi Effendi who wrote, in 1932:

“We need a change of heart, a reframing of all our conceptions and a new orientation of our activities. The inward life of man as well as his outward environment have to be reshaped if human salvation is to be secured.” - Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, from a letter dated May 27, 1932, to an individual believer; in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1, p. 85

 


FURTHER READINGS
Nutrition from a Bahá'í Perspective: Food for the Body, Food for the Soul

“Looking after one’s health is done with two intentions. Man may take good care of his body for the purpose of satisfying his personal wishes. Or, he may look after his health with the good intention of serving humanity and of living long enough to perform his duty toward mankind. The latter is most commendable.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. VIII, No. 18, p. 230; The Throne of the Inner Temple, p. 19

"You should always bear in mind Bahá'u'lláh's counsel that we should take the utmost care of our health, surely not because it is an end in itself, but as a necessary means of serving His Cause.” - From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer July 17, 1937; in Lights of Guidance, p. 291

Diet of the Future

“The food of the future will be fruit and grains. The time will come when meat is no longer eaten. Medical science is yet only in its infancy, but it has shown that our natural diet is that which grows out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of taking only this natural food.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 296

"In regard to the question as to whether people ought to kill animals for food of not, there is no explicit statement in the Bahá'í Sacred Scriptures (as far as I know) in favor or against it. It is certain, however, that if man can live on a purely vegetarian diet and thus avoid killing animals, it would be much preferable. This is, however, a very controversial question and the Bahá'ís are free to express their views on it." - From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, July 9, 1931; quoted in Lights of Guidance, p. 296

“As humanity progresses, meat will be used less and less, for the teeth of man are not carnivorous. For example, the lion is endowed with carnivorous teeth, which are intended for meat, and if meat be not found, the lion starves. The lion cannot graze; its teeth are of different shape. The digestive system of the lion is such that it cannot receive nourishment save through meat. The eagle has a crooked beak, the lower part shorter than the upper. It cannot pick up grain; it cannot graze; therefore, it is compelled to partake of meat. The domestic animals have herbivorous teeth formed to cut grass, which is their fodder. The human teeth, the molars, are formed to grind grain. The front teeth, the incisors, are for fruits, etc. It is, therefore, quite apparent according to the implements for eating that man's food is intended to be grain and not meat. When mankind is more fully developed, the eating of meat will gradually cease.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 170

“As in so many other areas, the Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh in this regard follow the golden mean: kindness toward animals is definitely upheld, vegetarianism is encouraged, hunting is regulated, but certain latitude is left to individual conscience and in practical regard to the diversity of circumstances under which human beings live. For example, the indigenous peoples of the Arctic would be hard-pressed to subsist without recourse to animal products.” - Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, June 29, 1995

"Regarding the eating of animal flesh and abstinence therefrom, …he [man] is not in need of meat, nor is he obliged to eat it. Even without eating meat he would with the utmost vigour and energy. For example, the community of the Brahmins in India do not eat meat; notwithstanding this they are not inferior to other nations in strength, power, vigour, outward senses or intellectual virtues. Truly, the killing of animals and the eating of their meat is somewhat contrary to pity and compassion, and if one can content oneself with cereals, fruit, oil and nuts, such as pistachios, almonds and so on, it would undoubtedly be better and more pleasing." – 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in a letter written to an individual believer; in Lights of Guidance, p. 294

Oneness of Humanity

“The essential oneness of all the myriad forms and grades of life is one of the fundamental teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. Our physical health is so linked up with our mental, moral and spiritual health, and also with the individual and social health of our fellowmen, nay, even with the life of the animals and plants, that each of these is affected by the others to a far greater extent than is usually realized. There is no command of the Prophet, therefore, to whatever department of life it may primarily refer, which does not concern bodily health.” - Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, p. 101

Kindness to Animals

“Burden not an animal with more than it can bear. We, truly, have prohibited such treatment through a most binding interdiction in the Book. Be ye the embodiments of justice and fairness amidst all creation.” - Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book, p. 87

“Briefly, it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man. Man hath not grasped this truth, however, and he believeth that physical sensations are confined to human beings, wherefore is he unjust to the animals, and cruel.

“And yet in truth, what difference is there when it cometh to physical sensations? The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever. And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language, he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities. If a man inflict a thousand ills upon a beast, it can neither ward him off with speech nor hale him into court. Therefore is it essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man.

“…But to blessed animals the utmost kindness must be shown, the more the better. Tenderness and loving-kindness are basic principles of God's heavenly Kingdom. Ye should most carefully bear this matter in mind.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 158

“In regard to the question as to whether people ought to kill animals for food of not, there is no explicit statement in the Bahá'í Sacred Scriptures (as far as I know) in favor or against it. It is certain, however, that if man can live on a purely vegetarian diet and thus avoid killing animals, it would be much preferable. This is, however, a very controversial question and the Bahá'ís are free to express their views on it.” - From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, July 9, 1931; in Lights of Guidance, p. 296

“Your concern for the prevention of cruelty to animals and for restraint in exploiting them unduly for food and other purposes is indeed praiseworthy; however, the House of Justice is not aware of any absolute prohibition in any Holy Book against the use of animals for food and clothing. As the laws brought by Bahá'u'lláh become known and operative throughout the world, we believe that humanity will find the proper balance in adjusting itself to nature and to the world of animals.

“As in so many other areas, the Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh in this regard follow the golden mean: kindness toward animals is definitely upheld, vegetarianism is encouraged, hunting is regulated, but certain latitude is left to individual conscience and in practical regard to the diversity of circumstances under which human beings live.” - The Universal House of Justice, December 16, 1998, Traditional practices in Africa

Elimination of Extremes of Wealth and Poverty

“With the establishment of the Most Great Peace and the spiritualization of the peoples of the world, man will become a noble being adorned with divine virtues and perfections. This is one of the fruits of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, promised by Him. The nobility of man and his spiritual development will lead him in the future to such a position that no individual could enjoy eating his food or resting at home while knowing that there was one person somewhere in the world without food or shelter. It is Bahá'u'lláh's mission to create such a new race of men.” - Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 3, p. 126

“The arrangements of the circumstances of the people must be such that poverty shall disappear, and that every one as far as possible, according to his position and rank, shall be comfortable. Whilst the nobles and others in high rank are in easy circumstances, the poor also should be able to get their daily food and not be brought to the extremities of hunger”. – 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 'Abdu'l-Bahá in London, p. 29

“All the peoples of the world will enjoy like interests, and the poor shall possess a portion of the comforts of life. …the poor will have at least their comfortable and pleasant places of abode; …the needy shall have their necessities and no longer live in poverty. In short, a readjustment of the economic order will come about….” – ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 102

“We see amongst us men who are overburdened with riches on the one hand, and on the other those unfortunate ones who starve with nothing; those who possess several stately palaces, and those who have not where to lay their head. Some we find with numerous courses of costly and dainty food; whilst others can scarce find sufficient crusts to keep them alive. Whilst some are clothed in velvets, furs and fine linen, others have insufficient, poor and thin garments with which to protect them from the cold. This condition of affairs is wrong, and must be remedied.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 151

Health and Healing

“Now let us speak of material healing. The science of medicine is still in a condition of infancy; it has not reached maturity. But when it has reached this point, cures will be performed by things which are not repulsive to the smell and taste of man -- that is to say, by aliments, fruits and vegetables which are agreeable to the taste and have an agreeable smell. For the provoking cause of disease -- that is to say, the cause of the entrance of disease into the human body -- is either a physical one or is the effect of excitement of the nerves.” – 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 257

“… It is certain that in this wonderful new age the development of medical science will lead to the doctors' healing their patients with foods. …At whatever time highly-skilled physicians shall have developed the healing of illnesses by means of foods, and shall make provision for simple foods, and shall prohibit humankind from living as slaves to their lustful appetites, it is certain that the incidence of chronic and diversified illnesses will abate, and the general health of all mankind will be much improved. This is destined to come about. In the same way, in the character, the conduct and the manners of men, universal modifications will be made.” – 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 153

“It is, therefore, evident that it is possible to cure by foods, aliments and fruits; but as today the science of medicine is imperfect, this fact is not yet fully grasped. When the science of medicine reaches perfection, treatment will be given by foods, aliments, fragrant fruits and vegetables, and by various waters, hot and cold in temperature.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 258

Stewards of the Environment / Nature / Agriculture

“Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world." - Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh

“…ye walk on My earth complacent and self-satisfied, heedless that My earth is weary of you and everything within it shunneth you.” - Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words, Persian #20

“In relation to the economic and social development of the nations, the Universal House of Justice underlines the importance of ‘agriculture and the preservation of the ecological balance of the world.’" – The Universal House of Justice, Department of the Secretariat, from a letter dated March 31, 1985, to the Association for Bahá'í Studies; in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1, p. 81

While the world of nature stands in need of development, man's approach to such development must be tempered by moderation, a commitment to protecting the "heritage [of] future generations", and an awareness of the sanctity of nature that pervades the Writings of the Bahá'í Faith. For example, Bahá'u'lláh states: “Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified.” - Conservation of the Earth’s Resources, in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. I, p. 81

Bahá'u'lláh states that "Special regard must be paid to agriculture." He characterizes it as an activity which is "conducive to the advancement of mankind and to the reconstruction of the world". 'Abdu'l-Bahá asserts that “the fundamental basis of the community is agriculture, tillage of the soil.” In relation to the economic and social development of the nations, the Universal House of Justice underlines the importance of "agriculture and the preservation of the ecological balance of the world." - Conservation of the Earth’s Resources, in The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 81

“As trustees, or stewards, of the planet's vast resources and biological diversity, humanity must learn to make use of the earth's natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable, in a manner that ensures sustainability and equity into the distant reaches of time. This attitude of stewardship will require full consideration of the potential environmental consequences of all development activities. It will compel humanity to temper its actions with moderation and humility, realizing that the true value of nature cannot be expressed in economic terms. It will also require a deep understanding of the natural world and its role in humanity's collective development both material and spiritual.” - Bahá'í International Community, Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations Regarding the Creation of Spiritually Based Indicators for Development

“…assisting in endeavors to conserve the environment in ways which blend with the rhythm of life of our community must assume more importance in Bahá'í activities.” - Letter from the Universal House of Justice, April 21, 1989, to the Bahá'ís of the World; in Conservation of the Earth’s Resources; in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. I, p. 86

Physical and spiritual actions affect each other

“We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.” - Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, dated 17 February 17, 1933; in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. I, p. 84

“Between material things and spiritual things there is a connection. The more healthful his body the greater will be the power of the spirit of man, the power of the intellect, the power of the memory, the power of reflections will then be greater.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. VIII, No. 18, p. 231; quoted in The Throne of the Inner Temple, pp. 19-20

“I hope thou wilt become as a rising light and obtain spiritual health; and spiritual health is conducive to physical health.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Divine Art of Living, p. 58

Moderation / Simplicity / Frugality

“Economy is the foundation of human prosperity. The spendthrift is always in trouble. Prodigality on the part of any person is an unpardonable sin. We must never live on others like a parasitic plant. Every person must have a profession, whether it be literary or manual, and must live a clean, manly, honest life, an example of purity to be imitated by others. It is more kingly to be satisfied with a crust of stale bread than to enjoy a sumptuous dinner of many courses, the money for which comes out of the pockets of others. The mind of a contented person is always peaceful and his heart at rest. He is like a monarch ruling over the whole world. How happily such a man helps himself to his frugal meals! How joyfully he takes his walks, how peacefully he sleeps!” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, p. 102

One day 'Abdu'l-Bahá wanted to go from Akka to Haifa. He went to take an inexpensive seat in a regular coach. The driver was surprised and must have asked himself why 'Abdu'l-Bahá was so frugal as to ride in this cheap coach. “Surely, Your Excellency would prefer to travel in a private carriage,” he exclaimed. “No,” replied the Master, and He traveled in the crowded coach all the way to Haifa. As He stepped down from the coach in Haifa a distressed fisherwoman came to Him and asked for His help. All day she had caught nothing and now had to return to her hungry family. 'Abdu'l-Bahá gave her a good sum of money, turned to the driver and said, “Why should I ride in luxury while so many are starving?” - Story from Ruhi Book 3: Teaching Children’s Classes, Grade 1; pp. 43-44

A Persian friend arrived who had passed through 'Ishqabad. He presented a cotton handkerchief to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Who untied it, and saw therein a piece of dry black bread, and a shrivelled apple. The friend explained: "A poor Bahá'í workman came to me: 'I hear thou goest into the presence of our Beloved. Nothing have I to send, but this my dinner. I pray thee offer it to Him with my loving devotion.'" 'Abdu'l-Bahá spread the poor handkerchief before Him, leaving His own luncheon untasted. He ate of the workman's dinner, broke pieces off the bread, and handed them to the assembled guests, saying: "Eat with me of this gift of humble love.” - Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, p. 161

Gratitude / Mindfulness

“All that has been created is for man who is at the apex of creation and who must be thankful for the divine bestowals, so that through his gratitude he may learn to understand life as a divine benefit.” – 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 134

“God has conferred upon man the gift of guidance, and in thankfulness for this great gift certain deeds must emanate from him. To express his gratitude for the favors of God man must show forth praiseworthy actions. In response to these bestowals he must render good deeds, be self-sacrificing, loving the servants of God, forfeiting even life for them, showing kindness to all the creatures. “ - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 236

What is needed to make this change?

“We need a change of heart, a reframing of all our conceptions and a new orientation of our activities. The inward life of man as well as his outward environment have to be reshaped if human salvation is to be secured.” - Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, from a letter dated May 27, 1932, to an individual believer; in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1, p. 85

“Issues of food, nutrition, health and shelter are central to the challenge of providing an adequate standard of living for all members of the human family. These issues cannot, however, be tackled solely as technical or economic problems. Eliminating hunger and malnutrition; establishing food security; providing adequate shelter; and achieving health for all will require a shift in values, a commitment to equity, and a corresponding reorientation of policies, goals and programs.” - Baha'i International Community, Feb. 18,1998, Valuing Spirituality in Development

“It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written in reality and action.” – Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 165


REFERENCES

For the Betterment of the World: The Worldwide Bahá'í Community’s Approaches to Social and Economic Development; Bahá'í International Community, 2003

Health and Healing; compilation from the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice

Lights of Guidance, Section XXIV, “Health, Healing and Nutrition”

The Prosperity of Humankind; Bahá'í International Community

Selections from Bahá'í Writings on Some Aspects of Health, Healing, Nutrition and Related Matters; found in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1, pp. 459-489

The Throne of the Inner Temple, compilation by Eliaz Zohoori

Valuing Spirituality in Development, Bahá'í International Community


WEBSITES

Bahá'í International Community (BIC): http://bic.org/statements-and-reports

Ethics are ‘missing dimension’ in climate debate: http://news.bahai.org/story/729

International Environment Forum: http://iefworld.org/resource.htm#COMPILATIONS_QUOTATIONS

Meatless Monday: http://www.meatlessmonday.com


Last updated 2 September 2010