The Baha’i teachings revolve around the basic principle of the oneness of humanity.
The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, put it this way:
The principle of the Oneness of Mankind—the pivot round which all the teachings of Baha’u’llah revolve … implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 42-43.
I would like to explore this statement a bit and suggest that this recognition of our human unity has also been the purpose of every messenger of God since the dawn of human history. Not until now, though, has humanity been ready to explore this great principle, so central to the revelation of Baha’u’llah.
If we look to the field of mathematics as an example of this oneness, we understand that the purpose underlying the study of mathematics is to apply it to the betterment and advancement of the world. How does one study mathematics? Let’s explore its development in the life of a person from the initial understanding of numbers to the advanced practice of physics.
When a child is young, the first thing he or she learns is the rudimentary language of mathematics—the basic numbers and their use in counting. This main learning takes place until the age of about 5 or 6. Once a child grasps the understanding of the language of numbers and its basic structure from single digits to double digits to combinations of numbers, the child can comfortably count to one hundred and beyond.
After mastering the language of numbers, the child can learn arithmetic. He or she begins with addition, then subtraction and multiplication, and finally division. Following the mastery of arithmetic, the child has the foundation that enables learning the mathematics of algebra, geometry, solid geometry and finally calculus.
Once this has been accomplished, the young adult can embark on the final mission of mathematics—physics. The study of physics, whether as formulaic learning or conceptual learning, becomes a part of one’s awareness and apprehension of how the universe works. The field of mathematics is applied to every human advancement, either directly or indirectly, culminating in the role of physics in the understanding of the cosmos and the exploration of our Earth’s relationship to the vast universe.
The goal of all of this learning, from numbers to advanced mathematics, has been applied physics. One could say that the goal of each teacher and educator in the process of learning in the field of mathematics has been the central principle of the significance of the role of physics to the understanding and advancement of the human experience.
In a similar manner, the development and education of the human spirit occurs over time through the revelations of all of the messengers and prophets of God to humans from infancy to its present day entrance into maturity.
This collective stage of spiritual maturity will bring humanity to the awareness and acceptance of its essential unity and oneness—just as all mathematics culminates in an understanding of physics and the oneness of the universe:
The purpose underlying the revelation of every heavenly Book, nay, of every divinely revealed verse, is to endue all men with righteousness and understanding, so that peace and tranquillity may be firmly established amongst them. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 206.
The Baha’i teachings say that each of the messengers of God has been sent to humankind to further its education—from our infancy in the time of Adam to the development of the family in the time of Abraham to the development of the tribe in the time of Moses, followed by the understanding of a larger community beyond family whose understanding was central to the teachings of Christ, and followed by the development of nations with the revelation of Muhammad. In this present era—which the Baha’i writings call the age of maturity—we find ourselves at the adult stage in our collective growth, the goal of all of the messengers and prophets of the past:
The suckling babe passeth through various physical stages, growing and developing at every stage, until its body reacheth the age of maturity. Having arrived at this stage it acquireth the capacity to manifest spiritual and intellectual perfections. The lights of comprehension, intelligence and knowledge become perceptible in it and the powers of its soul unfold. Similarly, in the contingent world, the human species hath undergone progressive physical changes and, by a slow process, hath scaled the ladder of civilization, realizing in itself the wonders, excellencies and gifts of humanity in their most glorious form, until it gained the capacity to express the splendours of spiritual perfections and divine ideals and became capable of hearkening to the call of God. Then at last the call of the Kingdom was raised, the spiritual virtues and perfections were revealed, the Sun of Reality dawned, and the teachings of the Most Great Peace, of the oneness of the world of humanity and of the universality of men, were promoted. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 285-286.
A majestic and extraordinary transition in the recognition of man’s relationship with God accompanies the change in the designation of the messenger sent to humanity from God. In past revelations, these holy beings were known as prophets and messengers of God. Baha’u’llah’s teachings give us a more mature understanding of these prophets, these “Suns of Truth,” using the designation of “Manifestations of God.” In emphatic language throughout the writings of Baha’u’llah, he uplifts our recognition of these beings as the ones who manifest God’s teachings to humanity:
These Suns of Truth are the universal Manifestations of God in the worlds of His attributes and names. Even as the visible sun that assisteth, as decreed by God, the true One, the Adored, in the development of all earthly things, such as the trees, the fruits, and colours thereof, the minerals of the earth, and all that may be witnessed in the world of creation, so do the divine Luminaries, by their loving care and educative influence, cause the trees of divine unity, the fruits of His oneness, the leaves of detachment, the blossoms of knowledge and certitude, and the myrtles of wisdom and utterance, to exist and be made manifest. Thus it is that through the rise of these Luminaries of God the world is made new, the waters of everlasting life stream forth, the billows of loving-kindness surge, the clouds of grace are gathered, and the breeze of bounty bloweth upon all created things. It is the warmth that these Luminaries of God generate, and the undying fires they kindle, which cause the light of the love of God to burn fiercely in the heart of humanity. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, p. 33.
With this designation, we begin to approach the recognition that all of these holy beings are both one and the same and distinct. Each human temple that the manifestation of God inhabits is different from another. Each revelation that God brings differs from another in its expression. Yet, the fundamental, underlying message is a continuous unfoldment of the same message, and the spirit animating each manifestation is identical to one another.
The example of the unfoldment of the learning process in mathematics provides us a simplistic way of approaching this unapproachable theme of the oneness of all God’s manifestations.
The teachings of the Baha’i Faith encourage all people to live in harmony with the followers of other religions—but more importantly, the Baha’i teachings emphatically express that there is only one religion of God progressively revealed to humanity over millennia.
There are no multiple religions, just multiple concepts of the followers of past revelations. Just as there is only one field of mathematics, there have been and are many disciplines to study that one field—and our understanding and recognition unfolds as humanity unfolds:
Let there be no mistake. The principle of the Oneness of Mankind—the pivot round which all the teachings of Baha’u’llah revolve —is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. It does not constitute merely the enunciation of an ideal, but stands inseparably associated with an institution adequate to embody its truth, demonstrate its validity, and perpetuate its influence. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 42-43.