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The Baha’i teachings explain that we humans all need an educator—that without education, we would never acquire “the means of comfort, civilization and human virtues:”
… education is of three kinds: material, human and spiritual. Material education aims at the growth and development of the body, and consists in securing its sustenance and obtaining the means of its ease and comfort. This education is common to both man and animal.
Human education, however, consists in civilization and progress, that is, sound governance, social order, human welfare, commerce and industry, arts and sciences, momentous discoveries, and great undertakings, which are the central features distinguishing man from the animal.
As to divine education, it is the education of the Kingdom and consists in acquiring divine perfections. This is indeed true education, for by its virtue man becomes the focal centre of divine blessings and the embodiment of the verse “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” This is the ultimate goal of the world of humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised version, p. 9.
Abdu’l-Baha explained that only a divine educator—a messenger of God—can provide this essential third kind of education:
He must also impart spiritual education, so that minds may apprehend the metaphysical world, breathe the sanctified breaths of the Holy Spirit, and enter into relationship with the Concourse on high, and that human realities may become the manifestations of divine blessings, that perchance all the names and attributes of God may be reflected in the mirror of the human reality …
It is clear, however, that mere human power is incapable of fulfilling this great office, and that the results of human thought alone cannot secure such bounties. How can a single person, with no aid or assistance, lay the foundations of such a lofty edifice? A divine and spiritual power is therefore needed to enable him to carry out this mission. – Ibid., pp. 10-11.
During the Stone Age, we humans received our initial material education, which produced relatively slow but important growth, as our wandering ancestors learned how to stand up and walk on their two hind legs, doubled their brain size, learned how to make fire, and began to communicate. During those millions of years their sustenance lifestyle intertwined with the animal world’s. Differences were difficult to discern as small bands of nascent humans focused on following grazing herds of animals searching for edible grasslands, sometimes hunting the animals for food, sometimes being food for the animals, while looking for fruits, berries, and other vegetation they could eat.
But then, after moving out of Africa to eventually populate all the livable continents, our ancestors obviously started to receive both human and spiritual education as they abandoned their migratory lifestyle for a more rooted one, where they produced their own food and began to live in small buildings and villages. In the process they invented a more unified tribal lifestyle that started around 8500 B.C.E. and continues up to the present time. With it came an increasing body of knowledge, art and human expression.
The Baha’i teachings indicate that our ancestors’ departure from Africa, their successful populating of all the livable continents, their domestication of plants, animals, and themselves likely came about as a result of the creative energy and the knowledge imparted to them by one or more divine prophets and messengers—who the Baha’i writings call “manifestations of God:”
… the entire universe, whether with respect to the realm of nature or the realm of man, proceeds through cycles of major events and occurrences.
When a cycle comes to a close, a new one is inaugurated, and the previous cycle, on account of the momentous events which transpire, vanishes so entirely from memory as to leave behind no record or trace. …
Each of the Manifestations of God has likewise a cycle wherein His religion and His law are in full force and effect. When His cycle is ended through the advent of a new Manifestation, a new cycle begins. …
In such a cycle, the Manifestations of God shine forth in the visible realm until a universal and supreme Manifestation makes the world the focal centre of divine splendours and, through His revelation, brings it to the stage of maturity. …
We are in the cycle which began with Adam and whose universal Manifestation is Baha’u’llah. – Ibid., pp. 182-183.
In the Western world, we’re used to thinking about Adam as the first man, the major character along with Eve, in the book of Genesis in the Torah. But Adam had a pivotal role in our development, and Abdu’l-Baha explained how human civilization can trace the beginnings of its spiritual development back to the revealed teachings of Adam:
From the days of Adam until today, the religions of God have been made manifest, one following the other, and each one of them fulfilled its due function, revived mankind, and provided education and enlightenment. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 51.
As described by Abdu’l-Baha, humankind’s spiritual education initially lagged behind our material and intellectual progress, and only started to make great advances with the revelation of Christ who appeared some 4,000 years after the time of Adam:
For the station of Adam, with regard to the appearance and manifestation of the divine perfections, was that of the embryo; the position of Christ was that of coming of age and maturation; and the dawning of the Most Great Luminary [Baha’u’llah] was the station of the perfection of the essence and of the attributes. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 139.
Just as we can trace our physical ancestors back to a common mother who lived 150,000 years ago in the northeastern part of Africa, similarly, we can trace the beginning of our spiritual development back to Adam, our collective spiritual father, and his role as a manifestation of God when he appeared so many thousands of years ago.
But what about the great religions of the East—Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism? In the next essay in this series, we’ll explore their impact on the maturation of humankind.