Welcome to the conversation about religion and spirituality at Brown! Religion is a key facet of the identity of many students on campus. Supporting a vast array of religious groups and promoting various inter-faith activities, Brown offers plenty of opportunities to both nurture your own faith and to understand the faith of others. Come join Mitch Akutsu in his column Brown Spirit to be immersed in the soul of Brown.
Hey all!! I had never heard of the Baha’i faith before coming to Brown. I saw them in Brown Morning Mail (Brown’s daily e-mail for the campus filled with announcements and events) organizing activities like clothing the homeless and serving the community. However, I never really got to know the Baha’i community until I met Chris Lam, a super nice guy. We actually met through Interfaith Acappella, an idea incepted by some Baha’is on campus, including Chris. While I found out the hard way that acappella wasn’t for me, that didn’t stop me from continuing to have tons of conversations with Baha’is about faith. They’re a great group with big hearts. I decided to interview Chris Lam this week. Hope you enjoy!
Quick intro- Year, Concentration, Where you’re from, what religion do you identify with?
I’m a senior in the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) and I’m from Long Island. Although I declare myself to be a member of the Baha’i Faith I would say everyday that I am only striving to be an ideal Baha’i. Baha’is are people who are supposed to let their heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross their path which is a very hard thing to do. People of the Baha’i Faith believe that God has sent messengers throughout time to instruct the peoples of the earth on how to follow his ways in the form of religion. Such Messengers include Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Christ and Mohammed. Baha’is believe that the most recent Messenger of this Age is Baha’u’llah who proclaimed the message of unity of all mankind and the major religions. The Faith was started in 1844 in Persia and the number of declared Baha’is since then has grown tremendously; There are Baha’is in almost every nation in the world.
How active is the Baha’i community at Brown? How are you active in the community? Any particular activities?
There are currently six declared Baha’i university students on campus and though we come from different backgrounds and are of different races what is amazing is that we are all unified together by our Faith. I believe that each one of us really wants to see our own bond with God grow and we try hard to help each other in this process too. We organize weekly devotionals at Brown that Brown Students and members from around the Rhode Island community come to share prayers and sing songs of praise for humanity. The Baha’i club also has a study circle where we study a course from the Ruhi Institute that teaches us about themes such as the Baha’i writings, prayer and life after death. Other activities we have done in the past include collecting clothes for the homeless, starting an Interfaith Acappella, and conducting a spiritually themed mandala art project. Our current endeavor to is to work together with people in the local community to work on educating and leading their children and neighbors on how to live a virtuous life and cooperate together to fight the injustices of the world.
Is there a church nearby that you attend? What other churches are there in the area?
Although we do not have a Church, Baha’is meet almost anywhere for their activities. In the future as the Faith grows we expect to erect temples called Houses of worship in all major population centers so that all people can come and pray as a unified mankind. However right now in Rhode Island we meet in rooms on campus or in the homes of local Baha’is and friends of our faith we meet to study and deepen on the writings of our faith, or pray together. During our Holy Days we celebrate with prayers, music, and food! The Faith doesn’t have a clergy so people are expected to explore the revelation of God through prayer, reflection and consultation with others. Reading the Baha’i scriptures for oneself is also part of how all people can learn and grow in their Faith.
How has your faith grown or changed since coming to Brown?
Since becoming a Baha’i at Brown I feel like I’m always constantly learning new lessons about what it means to be a Baha’i. I have come to see religion unified with love as the solution towards uniting all the peoples of the earth, regardless of race, creed, gender or economic background towards establishing world peace. It forces me to override feelings of prejudice and try to see all people as children of God. I am also humbled everyday because at times I fail to be a Baha’i who lets deeds not words be his adorning and shows care to all the people who I meet. As a future physician I am inspired by the examples of Christ and Baha’u’llah who were selfless physical and spiritual healers and leaders.
How has your faith been challenged since coming to Brown?
My relationship with God and Baha’u’llah is challenged every day whenever I do not follow their laws. Nowadays I’ve been learning to also create a mentality of understanding if fellow Brown students steer away with anything to do with my religion. If individuals disagree with the teachings of my Faith, such as the station of Baha’u’llah or abstinence from premarital sex and alcohol while it is difficult to not take it personally I know that I should not make these differences a matter of conflict or hostility. Nevertheless it is a challenge to do so!
For most, Brown offers a pretty rigorous course load. How have you been able to balance your academics with your life of faith/relationship with God?
Baha’is are taught to live coherent lives. My studies will hopefully benefit the good of society one day when I am a doctor who is treating patients and Baha’u’llah says that work is worship! However I see involvement in nearly all Baha’i activities of teaching, devotionals and gatherings to be essential to my spiritual growth. Therefore I do not see academic coursework to be an excuse to prevent me from building a spiritual community. Although it is good for people to educate themselves, it is far better to be spiritually educated rather than intellectually educated because what good is an academic education if it does not give way or rise to serving others?
What resources have you used to help you with any spiritual aspects of your life?
My Baha’i friends at Brown are always sharing writings, prayers and words of encouragement with me. I have a collection of writings from Baha’u’llah that I read every morning and evening in accordance with His instructions so that I may have the chance to meditate and reflect on my day and see how I can improve. My parents who are Christians always share writings from the Bible with me and I relish the opportunity to share the love of Christ with them. I have attended Baha’i youth conferences and retreats that have revealed to me the incredible vitality of Baha’is in other parts of the United States. I also am a member of the Rhode Island Local Spiritual Assembly that gives me an opportunity to work with the eight other members in supervising the growth of the Baha’i community and the Friends of the Faith.
Any last comments about Faith and God and Brown? Words of encouragement or discouragement?
I hope that everyone may come to recognize that we are all one mankind and that we are all linked spiritually and physically on this planet. I hope that this means that we all rise above our individual differences to serve and help each other.
Thanks Chris for sharing! If you want to learn more about the Baha’i Faith, check out the website! Hope you learned lot and see you next week!
Thanks for reading! Have any questions at all about religion, spiritual life, or Brown in general? Feel free to shoot me an email at Takamichi_Akutsu@brown.edu with any of your questions or comments!