The engine of human progress, the Baha’i teachings say, runs on the fuel of our collective concern for one another.
Without that selfless, altruistic dedication to the ongoing spiritual and material development of each other and each culture, we cannot achieve the unity and harmony the world so desperately needs. Without love for each person, expressed not just in words but in deeds, the essential message of the prophets and founders of the world’s great Faiths will go unrealized:
The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God’s holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. The religion of God and His divine law are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men. The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquillity of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 129-130.
Our concern for the community, and for the collective good of all people, takes the true measure of our spirituality. Inner spiritual development always starts at the level of the individual, but if it engenders love for others, the circle inevitably widens out to include all of humanity:
Note ye how easily, where unity existeth in a given family, the affairs of that family are conducted; what progress the members of that family make, how they prosper in the world. Their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquillity, they are secure, their position is assured, they come to be envied by all. Such a family but addeth to its stature and its lasting honour, as day succeedeth day. And if we widen out the sphere of unity a little to include the inhabitants of a village who seek to be loving and united, who associate with and are kind to one another, what great advances they will be seen to make, how secure and protected they will be. Then let us widen out the sphere a little more, let us take the inhabitants of a city, all of them together: if they establish the strongest bonds of unity among themselves, how far they will progress, even in a brief period and what power they will exert. And if the sphere of unity be still further widened out, that is, if the inhabitants of a whole country develop peaceable hearts, and if with all their hearts and souls they yearn to cooperate with one another and to live in unity, and if they become kind and loving to one another, that country will achieve undying joy and lasting glory. Peace will it have, and plenty, and vast wealth.
Note then: if every clan, tribe, community, every nation, country, territory on earth should come together under the single-hued pavilion of the oneness of mankind, and by the dazzling rays of the Sun of Truth should proclaim the universality of man; if they should cause all nations and all creeds to open wide their arms to one another, establish a World Council, and proceed to bind the members of society one to another by strong mutual ties, what would happen then? There is no doubt whatsoever that the divine Beloved, in all His endearing beauty, and with Him a massive host of heavenly confirmations and human blessings and bestowals, would appear in His full glory before the assemblage of the world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 278.
Think about it this way: what are your deepest, most profound hopes for your fellow human beings? Do you want peace, prosperity and progress? Most of us would answer yes to that question. The obvious next question then becomes “What are you willing to personally do to achieve those hopes?”
From a Baha’i perspective, human progress depends on applying the principles Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha elucidated, which outline a vision for a unified, peaceful planet. Would you like to see growing bonds of unity in the world; a developing sense of the possibility of peace; and a collective global system that protects our environment? Would you be happy if the world could increase racial harmony, religious understanding and military disarmament? Do you support the equality of women and men, the elimination of prejudice, the essential agreement of science and religion? Can you envision the progress that could lead to upholding the human rights of every person?
If you answered yes to those questions, then the Baha’i teachings advise you to first put them into practice on an individual level:
You must become the means of lighting the world of humanity. This is the infallible proof and sign. Every progress depends on two things, knowledge and practice. First acquire knowledge, and, when conviction is reached, put it into practice. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 108.
Know ye verily that the happiness of the world of humanity is dependent upon the unity and solidarity of mankind, and that material and spiritual progress both rest upon universal friendliness and love among human individuals. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 66.
Once you’ve begun that individual process, you’ll inevitably reach a point where your own inner happiness, peace and contentment grow. Then, the next step becomes clear—you begin to ask yourself “How can I bring light to the world of humanity? What can I do to make this world a better place?”
The Baha’i teachings outline our individual responsibility in this striking passage from Abdu’l-Baha:
May you develop so that each one of you shall become imbued with all the virtues of the human world. May you advance in all material and spiritual degrees. May you become learned in sciences, acquire the arts and crafts, prove to be useful members of human society and assist the progress of human civilization. May you be a cause of the manifestation of divine bestowals—each one of you a shining star radiating the light of the oneness of humanity toward the horizons of the East and West. May you be devoted to the love and unity of mankind, and through your efforts may the reality deposited in the human heart find its divine expression. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 91.