The Legacy of Baha’u’llah: Principle Teachings
By Pete Haug
My last column introduced Baha’u’llah, a messenger of God and founder of the Baha’i Faith. He lived in Persia in the 19th century, a time of great religious ferment throughout the world. Baha’u’llah’s writings offer guidance for creating a just, lasting peace for humankind far into the future. Today we’ll explore basics of that legacy.
The Bahá’í Faith can be viewed as a system of spiritual knowledge brought by Bahá’u’lláh to transform society by transforming individuals. He taught that God is an unknowable Essence responsible for creating the universe. Baha’u’llah’s role, like prophets before him, was that of spiritual teacher, a spokesperson for God.
History records that God has sent such messengers at different times in different places to guide the people where each messenger appeared. Baha’is consider this “progressive revelation” and refer to these prophets as “manifestations of God.” Such manifestations have included Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, and others. The latest is Bahá’u’lláh.
In Arabic, “Bahá’u’lláh” means “light, splendor, or glory of God.” Followers of Baha’u’llah are called “Baha’is,” not unlike followers of Christ being called “Christians,” or followers of Muhammad being called “Mohammedans.”
The Bahá’í Faith differs in many respects from earlier religions. For example, Bahá’ís have no clergy or other “authoritative” individuals, who interpret the sacred teachings according to their own understanding. Instead, Baha’is prayerfully elect, with no campaigning, members of governing institutions at local, national, and international levels. These institutions use the spiritual principles revealed by Baha’u’llah to guide the faith as it works toward building a peaceful, unified civilization.
- The Oneness of God, the Creator — There is only one God, an unknowable essence, creative source of all things in the universe.
- The essential oneness of all religions — Because all religions come from one source, they are essentially one. Differences have arisen over millennia because of different times, places, and cultures where those religions began. Scriptures of earlier religions derive from word-of-mouth accounts and traditions passed down for decades, even centuries, before being transcribed. Translations of those scriptures also differ, as do interpretations of those translations.
- The oneness of humankind — We are all sisters and brothers in the human race, created spiritually equal in the sight of God. This implies the need for certain moral and social principles if we are to have a just, unified world.
Implications of these onenesses
Baha’u’llah explains implications of these onenesses in terms of their applications:
- The equality of women and men — This teaching is unprecedented in scripture. Until humankind recognizes gender equality and acts accordingly, persistent inequities between women and men will impede development of an equitable, harmonious society.
- Elimination of all forms of prejudice — In the one family of humankind, all prejudice must be rooted out from society. Gender prejudice, prejudice of race, religion, social class, economic class, educational level, and many others must disappear.
- Need for universal, compulsory education — Parents are responsible for educating their children, with support of local governments. Where choices must be made, it is preferable that girls be educated because, as mothers, they will be the first educators of their own children. When people are properly educated to think independently, they will be less susceptible to prejudices.
- Independent investigation of truth — Bahá’u’lláh taught that each individual must investigate truth for herself or himself, particularly in matters of religious belief. Although Baha’is freely answer questions about their faith to the best of their abilities, they encourage others to investigate Baha’i teachings independently. The internet is a great place to do this. Such investigation is, of course, much easier when people are educated to think critically.
- The essential harmony of science and religion — There should be no conflict between religion and science because both seek, and purport to tell, truth. If a conflict appears, either the religion is superstition, or the science is in error. Well trained and educated minds are essential for reconciling such conflicts.
- Need for a world commonwealth governed by three autonomous branches — A world executive, a world legislature, and a world judicial system are necessary for arbitrating and resolving issues that arise among nations.
- This government would establish —A universal auxiliary language, to enable all inhabitants of earth to communicate with each other, while not abandoning their native tongues, which are intrinsic to their cultures; a common world currency; a universal system of weights and measures; a world economic system, based on spiritual principles, for controlling and distributing equitably the world’s entire resources; a universal peace among all humankind.
These goals constitute a minimal outline of ideals that the Bahá’í Faith considers essential for a peaceful world—a global civilization unified under a single Creator. Many of them are already being realized. Future columns will explore in more detail how these ideals apply in contemporary society.
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