In this series of essays, we’ve discussed how Baha’is worship—but now, in the final essay, we’ve come to the ultimate form of worship: selfless service to humanity.
The Baha’i teachings say that the highest and most spiritual stage of human development—and the most worshipful one—is selfless, altruistic service to others. The Baha’i writings challenge us all to do as the prophets and messengers of God have done, which involves transcending the personal and advancing to the universal:
Human undertakings are divided into two kinds – universal and personal.
Those efforts which create general interest are universal; their results are likewise universal for humanity has become interdependent. …. Therefore, let us say that every universal cause is divine and every personal matter is human or limited. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 141.
As long as we focus solely on ourselves, on only our personal needs and desires, we cannot fully develop as spiritual beings. Instead, we must activate our worship by our deeds, striving to transcend the personal and become universal, unlimited and uplifted to a spiritual station that brings us nearer in our actions and attributes to the Creator:
… nearness to God is possible through devotion to Him, through entrance into the Kingdom and service to humanity; it is attained by unity with mankind and through loving-kindness to all; it is dependent upon investigation of truth, acquisition of praiseworthy virtues, service in the cause of universal peace and personal sanctification. In a word, nearness to God necessitates sacrifice of self, severance and the giving up of all to Him. Nearness is likeness. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 148.
Abdu’l-Baha exemplified this ethic of selfless service throughout his entire life. The embodiment of every Baha’i ideal, Baha’u’llah named Abdu’l-Baha the true exemplar of the Baha’i cause, not only because he proclaimed the universal truths of the Baha’i teachings, but because he lived them. In 1914, The Christian Commonwealth magazine wrote this about Abdu’l-Baha:
It is wonderful to see the venerable figure of the revered Baha’i leader passing through the narrow streets of this ancient town [Akka] where he lived for forty years as a political prisoner, and to note the deep respect with which he is saluted by the Turkish officials and the officers of the garrison from the Governor downward, who visit him constantly and listen with deep attention to his words. … he goes about doing good, and the Mohammedans and Christians alike share his benefactions. From sunrise often till midnight he works, in spite of broken health, never sparing himself if there is a wrong to be righted or a suffering to be relieved. To Christians who regard Abdu’l-Baha with impartial and sympathetic eyes, this wonderful selfless life cannot fail to recall that life whose tragic termination on Calvary the whole Christian world recalls.
At an extensive talk he gave at Temple Emmanu-el in San Francisco in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha called service to humankind “the paramount motive of all existence:”
Praise be to God! The medieval ages of darkness have passed away and this century of radiance has dawned, this century wherein the reality of things is becoming evident, wherein science is penetrating the mysteries of the universe, the oneness of the world of humanity is being established, and service to mankind is the paramount motive of all existence. The age has dawned when human fellowship will become a reality. …
The century has come when all religions shall be unified.
The dispensation is at hand when all nations shall enjoy the blessings of international peace.
The cycle has arrived when racial prejudice will be abandoned by tribes and peoples of the world.
The epoch has begun wherein all native lands will be conjoined in one great human family.
For all mankind shall dwell in peace and security beneath the shelter of the great tabernacle of the one living God. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 368-369.
These teachings strongly resonate with the conclusions of many psychologists and philosophers. One of the most influential, Abraham Maslow, wrote that the human self can only find its full expression—which he called self-actualization—by giving its energies to a transcendent, higher and more universal goal:
Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos. – Abraham Maslow, Farther Reaches of Human Nature, p. 269.
We human beings are made, the Baha’i writings say:
… for binding hearts together, for service to the world of humanity, for the promulgation of humanitarian and altruistic realities, for the advancement and advocating of international peace, for the illumination of the whole world. … Therefore, we should offer thanks to God, for He has … appointed us servants of the human world, advocates of peace and unity among the religions, heralds of universal agreement among the races and nations, founders of divine reconciliation among all peoples. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 419-420.
The Baha’i teachings exalt this elevated goal of selfless service to humanity, classify it as the highest form of worship, and encourage all people to mature and develop spiritually so they can attain it:
Let your acts be a guide unto all mankind, for the professions of most men, be they high or low, differ from their conduct. It is through your deeds that ye can distinguish yourselves from others. Through them the brightness of your light can be shed upon the whole earth. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 305.
All that are on earth shall pass away, while good deeds alone shall endure; to the truth of My words God doth Himself bear witness. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, pp. 44-45.
Exalt your thought. Reflect over all your affairs. Magnify your endeavours. Enlarge the circle of your ideals. Open the wings of spiritual wisdom. Let your hope be the accomplishment of most great deeds, the results of which may immortalize your names. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 99.