Do Miracles Happen?
Prophets, and even saints and sages warn us not to be lured into accepting the so called holy men solely based on the performance of miracles, despite their impressive first appearances. A sincere person is thus left wondering whether the reports of these miracles are literally true or do they have some other meaning. Further, if all beings are under one universal law and organization from which they cannot deviate, how can miracles appear?
The Baháí Writings provide answers to these and other related questions. Although the answers may not be simple, they are very satisfying. Shoghi Effendi asserts: " miracles are always possible, even though they do not constitute a regular channel whereby God reveals His power to mankind. To reject miracles on the ground that they imply a breach of the laws of nature is a very shallow, well nigh a stupid argument, in as much as God Who is the Author of the universe can, in His Wisdom and Omnipotence, bring any change, no matter how temporary, in the operation of the laws which He Himself has created." 1
Miracles do occur, although we may not be able to explain them in our language with the help of contemporary science. These must, however, be differentiated from the magical tricks of jugglers, who, at times, pretend to be godmen. For example, even if all the myths associated with the lives of the Manifestations of God are not accepted as true, some events have no simple explanation. Glaring examples are: the virgin birth of Christ; the inability of a 750 strong firing squad to execute His Holiness the Bab2; and the fulfilment of Baháulláhs prophetic warnings to the kings and priests that their kingdoms would soon be brought to naught because they had turned away from the Word of God! 3
Abdul-Bahá affirms, "The Holy Manifestations are the source of miracles and the originators of wonderful signs. For Them, any difficult and impractical thing is possible and easy. For through a supernatural power wonders appear from Them; and by this power They influence the world of nature. From all the Manifestations marvellous things have appeared." 4 Hence, no matter how scientific or rational we may consider ourselves to be, it would be unreasonable to dismiss all the supernatural events in the lives of the Manifestations of God as mere imaginations of the authors of the Holy Books.
Having said this, it must be immediately stated that the miracles are absolutely of no importance to the Manifestations of God and They do not use miracles as proof of the truth of Their Mission. For, if the miracles are proofs for those who are present, according to Abdul-Bahá, they fail as proofs for those who are absent.5
Wonderful signs, mostly based on trickery, hypnosis or magic6, are continually associated with false gods. Many books have been written on this theme based on the testimony of those who suffered at their hands.. In almost all cases, when false godmen are challenged to perform under the penetrating eye of science, they withdraw into their shells. Many of them are constantly engaged in playing hide and seek game with the police. Once their game is exposed, their gullible victims are left repenting for the rest of their lives.
The work of Dr. Abraham Kovoor7 of the Rationalist Association is quite well known in this field. He challenged godmen, godwomen, saints, astrologers, palmists, yogis, sidhas, gurus, swamis and all others who claimed that they had acquired miraculous powers through spiritual exercises or divine boons. He promised an award of one lakh Sri Lanka rupees to any one who could demonstrate supernatural powers under fraud-proof conditions. Nobody was able to win one cent from him despite the challenge being published all over the world. The popular babas and bhagwans did not come forward to demonstrate their miraculous powers. During his life time, Dr. Kovoor was a terror to those who cheated the innocent masses in the guise of holy men or miracle performers.
A recently published sociological appraisal of the modern godmen in India8 throws more light on the phenomenon. The writer states the number of babas, swamis, gurus, bapus, bhagats and their ilk in India is legion. They evoke fierce loyalties and attract an expanding clientele for a while and then fade away. People rank these sects according to the number of their adherents, specially if among them are famous personalities and foreign disciples. Some of these godmen have established empires in foreign lands. They live in regal splendour and have radio and TV stations, planes and a fleet of expensive cars. All this adds to the prestige of the godman.
"These godmen," states a reviewer of Mehtas book, "are credited with performing miracles. The faithful implicitly believe in them and add their own embellishments to these tales, such as materializing gold rings and other gifts out of thin air. They are credited with foreknowledge of events distant in time and space, or with powers to fly in spirit long distances and return to their base in no time. Another common factor for all these sects is that they have pretty girls, and not rough men or plain women, to deal with [the] public. At the lower level, they have women in preference to men. Their sanyasis wear gorgeous silks and satins. They (godmen) are politicians playing dirty politics directly or indirectly."9 The book gives details of how godmen even finance elections of their favourite politicians and indulge in other shady deals with the help of their political patrons.
The religion being revived by these godmen does not emphasize prayer, meditation, penance, purity, charity, or the realization of God. Modern gurus show the path to worldly success, big wealth, good health, winning elections and name and fame.
Fortunately, the promotion of scientific thinking has helped to expose many godmen whom Dr. Kovoor aptly describes as "spiritual frauds". Occasionally their followers have lain bare their fraudulent practices. Despite this, con men still succeed in cheating the innocent masses in search of the miraculous by performing simple magical tricks or enticing talk promising great material riches.
What do we learn from this? There is nothing wrong with the belief that miracles are possible. However, in our quest of God, we should not be lured into believing in some so-called godman or spiritual master by seeing him perform certain tricks that our experience is unable to explain.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Lights of Guidance, compiled by Helen Hornby, Baháí Publishing Trust, New Delhi, India, 1983, p. 489.
2. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 52
3. ibid., p. 212. Refer to Proclamation of Baháulláh for original Tablets addressed to the kings, priests, leaders, and peoples of the world.
4. Abdul-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, compiled and translated by Laura Clifford Barney, Baháí Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois, 1984 (1990), p. 100.
6. Here, magical tricks.
7. Dr. Abraham Kovoor, Begone Godmen! Encounters with Spiritual Frauds, edited by V. A. Menon, Jaico Publishing House, Bombay. Fifth Edition, 1991, pp. ix-xi.
8. Uday Mehta, Modern Godmen in India, Popular Parkashan, Bombay, 1996.
9. The Sunday Tribune, Chandigarh, India, reviewer: P. D. Shastri, 31 March, 1996, p. 4 of the Sunday Reading section.