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Every faith on earth has a mythology contained in it of a “promised one.” The return of the spirit of Truth that will guide us unto all truth. That is who Baha’is believe Baha’u’llah is: the promised one. The Prince of Peace. The new messiah. Baha’u’llah teaches that it is time for humanity to heal itself, to mature, to seek love and unite. He says:
O ye children of men! The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. – Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, pp. 112.
He brings the word of God for today, Baha’is believe. And what is that word? That all prejudice, of race and class and every other stripe, be eliminated because we really are one human family. That women have a station equal to that of men and that their rights need to be upheld until gender equality and justice have been achieved. Baha’u’llah taught that science and religion are like two wings of the bird of humanity and need to be in harmony in order for humankind to thrive. Science without religion is materialism and religion without science is mere superstition.
Baha’u’llah professed that universal education is an essential component of the maturation of humanity and a crucial force for the elimination of the terrible radical extremes of wealth and poverty that plague our planet today. He encouraged Baha’is to promote social justice but stay away from the dead-end bickering and financial corruption of partisan politics.
The need for a clergy is now over, Baha’u’llah taught. Humanity can interpret the word of God for itself and doesn’t need any kind of intermediary who holds a special divine station. So the Baha’i Faith has no priests or mullahs or rabbis or gurus. Instead, the administrative affairs are governed by various democratically elected “Assemblies” that function on a local, national, and international level.
Baha’u’llah revealed moral laws to protect us, such as abstaining from drugs, alcohol, and gambling as well as backbiting and gossip. These rules are not a mere “code of laws” but are there for the benefit of our souls, to help us as we develop them in this material world. It is our spiritual qualities that we take with us when we move on to the next world (there is no hell or eternal damnation or any of that nonsense), and it is virtues like compassion, honesty, kindness, humility, and the like that we need to nurture and grow during this short life we’re given.
The metaphor that’s often used in the Baha’i Faith is the comparison of the growth of our souls on Earth to the growth of a baby in the womb. The baby has no idea why it’s growing its fingers and legs and eyelids and toes while hanging around in utero. Those things are pretty useless for it in the womb but absolutely crucial when it emerges into this world. In the same way, we’re growing spiritual fingers and eyelids and toes right here and now that we’ll need when we leave this plane of existence. Those qualities of God, the virtues perfectly manifested by Jesus and the Buddha and Baha’u’llah, like wisdom, service, and love, will be our spiritual arms and legs before too long. That’s why we need moral laws to protect us and why walking the spiritual path is crucial to our ultimate development and our deepest individual and collective flourishing.
Unfortunately, as all the great religious teachers tell us, it’s through tests and difficulties that our souls grow the most. The Buddha tells us, “Life is suffering.” He and Baha’u’llah both teach that it is our ego and our attachment to the material world that bring us the most distress. As our trials in this world release us from these attachments, ever reminding us that love, connection, service, and unity are what truly matter, we grow closer to God and more spiritually mature.
…I will end with one of my favorite quotes by Baha’u’llah. Here he describes something incredible to strive for, as difficult as it may seem.
Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face.
Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge… Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive.
Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring.
Be… a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility. – Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 93-94.
A “fruit upon the tree of humility”? Obviously, I’ve got some work to do.
This excerpt concludes our series of essays from The Bassoon King, the new memoir by Rainn Wilson, published this week by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015. Reprinted by permission.