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Every human being alive today has holy spiritual ancestors—the prophets and messengers of the faiths, religions, and spiritual traditions that sustained our grandparents and their progenitors.
In the same way we have biological ancestors, we also have spiritual ones.
Those spiritual ancestors didn’t just provide religious teachings. They didn’t only reveal prayers and writings. They didn’t solely offer solace and peace of mind while worshipping. Instead, their teachings built entire civilizations, cultures, and human societies, which nurtured the very existence of the people who preceded us.
If you look back into the course of history, and study the impact of religion on humanity, you’ll start to see that the spiritual messengers who brought their religions to us had an incredibly outsized influence on the entire world. Their newly-revealed religions brought new laws, and those laws changed the way we interact with one another. These new interactions created opportunities for the establishment of religious and civil institutions that offered us new freedoms. Those new freedoms impelled education and knowledge development, which in turn caused the evolution of human thought, expanding our possibilities and our progress.
From where we all stand now, in a post-modern age of increasing interdependence and connection across continents, we can study the span of the past and identify a chain of spiritual teachers who have each made enormous contributions to humankind’s evolution.
In a similar way, we can now look at a photograph of our planet floating in space for the first time. This new perspective, never before available to us, changes the way we see the world, and the way we see ourselves.
Both of these fresh ways of seeing reality have led to an unprecedented new level of consciousness now dawning in the minds and spirits of people everywhere. Increasingly, we’ve become aware of our connection to one another, of our reliance on one another; of our common heritage as members of one human race living on one small planet. We’ve also become aware of the connections and commonalities between beliefs, of the historical succession of spiritual teachings, of the undeniable ecology of the great educators who have inspired and guided the human soul for millennia.
Religion: One Ongoing Reality
This new way of looking at human spiritual history—brought to humanity by Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith—regards religious dispensations and their messengers as one ongoing reality that expresses itself through a perennially-refreshed chain of successive and continuous prophets.
The Baha’i teachings point to this remarkable commonality as evidence of the connectedness and unity of all the prophets and messengers of God. In his Book of Certitude, Baha’u’llah wrote:
… all the Prophets of God, His well-favoured, His holy, and chosen Messengers, are, without exception, the bearers of His names, and the embodiments of His attributes. They only differ in the intensity of their revelation, and the comparative potency of their light.
Christ. Moses. Buddha. Krishna. Abraham. Zoroaster. The Bab. Baha’u’llah. These spiritual messengers, though connected, are not the same, not reincarnations of one another, not uniform in the impact of their dispensations. They vary in their wattage—a few established world-encircling Faiths have lasted for eons; while others spoke only to a specific and geographically circumscribed tribal or cultural group, their teachings rarely extending beyond those limitations of time and space.
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Today some of those messengers have millions or even billions of followers, while others inspire a relatively limited number of faithful believers. Some influenced entire civilizations over centuries; others had a significant impact on smaller groups of people for shorter lengths of time. While they each have similar attributes, principles, and missions, Baha’u’llah wrote, their impacts diverge according to the needs of the time and the exigencies of the age:
The measure of the revelation of the Prophets of God in this world, however, must differ. Each and every one of them hath been the Bearer of a distinct Message, and hath been commissioned to reveal Himself through specific acts. It is for this reason that they appear to vary in their greatness. Their Revelation may be likened unto the light of the moon that sheddeth its radiance upon the earth. Though every time it appeareth, it revealeth a fresh measure of its brightness, yet its inherent splendor can never diminish, nor can its light suffer extinction.
The sunlight reflected by the moon changes as it moves through the lunar cycle. At one point, the full moon shines its brilliant reflected light on half of our globe and into the heavens, so bright it casts shadows and floods the night. A few orbits later, the sliver of the new crescent moon briefly and barely illumines the dark pre-dawn sky. The entire full moon still orbits our planet each day, unchanged, but its light shines down on us with differing intensities at different times. In the same way, Baha’u’llah said, each one of the prophets and messengers has a variable intensity and a differing role:
It is clear and evident, therefore, that any apparent variation in the intensity of their light is not inherent in the light itself, but should rather be attributed to the varying receptivity of an ever-changing world. Every Prophet Whom the Almighty and Peerless Creator hath purposed to send to the peoples of the earth hath been entrusted with a Message, and charged to act in a manner that would best meet the requirements of the age in which He appeared.
So are the prophets related to each other? Since they fulfill the same essential mission, since they come from the same Creator, since they bring the same basic message, they’re definitely related — which means that we should regard all of them, Baha’u’llah clearly pointed out in “Gems of Divine Mysteries,” as one being:
If thou be of the inmates of this city within the ocean of divine unity, thou wilt view all the Prophets and Messengers of God as one soul and one body, as one light and one spirit, in such wise that the first among them would be last and the last would be first. For they have all arisen to proclaim His Cause and have established the laws of divine wisdom. They are, one and all, the Manifestations of His Self, the Repositories of His might, the Treasuries of His Revelation, the Dawning-Places of His splendour and the Daysprings of His light. Through them are manifested the signs of sanctity in the realities of all things and the tokens of oneness in the essences of all beings. Through them are revealed the elements of glorification in the heavenly realities and the exponents of praise in the eternal essences. From them hath all creation proceeded and unto them shall return all that hath been mentioned. And since in their inmost Beings they are the same Luminaries and the self-same Mysteries, thou shouldst view their outward conditions in the same light, that thou mayest recognize them all as one Being, nay, find them united in their words, speech, and utterance.