by Gussie Fauntleroy
If you think of the history of humanity as a continuous process of collective maturation, we are now reaching the phase that in an individual would be called the coming of age, according to the beliefs of the Bahá’i Faith. Humanity is ready to put aside the divisions, conflicts, and limited identities that have characterized much of life throughout the millennia. Bahá’is around the world believe we are ready to come together in the awareness of our unity as a human community on a single path, ever evolving into the glorious potential that has been God’s plan all along.
And just as different teachers and methods of teaching are appropriate for each stage in a person’s development, so the whole of humanity has been given a series of divine revelations, each one utterly appropriate for humankind’s level of maturity and understanding at the time. All of these revelations have been sent by the same Source, the same God, and have been given form through a series of prophetic, holy messengers.
Bahá’is call this ongoing process progressive revelation. It began probably before recorded history and continued through the wisdom teachings of such figures as Zoroaster, Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. The most recent in this venerable lineage, Bahá’is believe, is Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), a Persian nobleman who left a comfortable life in Tehran and experienced 40 years of persecution, imprisonment, and exile while bringing his expression of the divine revelation to the world. The heart of this message is summed up in Bahá’u’lláh’s words: “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”
Today there are more than 5 million Bahá’is around the world, representing virtually every country, race, ethnic background, age, profession, and socio-economic class. Among the most distinctive characteristic of the Bahá’i Faith is that, as instructed by Bahá’u’lláh—whose name in Arabic means “Glory of God”—the religion has never split into schisms or sects. It has remained unified in its vision, beliefs, and approach to the understanding and sharing of sacred truths.
One reason this has been possible is that the teachings communicated through Bahá’u’lláh were passed down in writings from his own hand, the equivalent of more than 100 books—rather than his words having been written down and interpreted by others, sometimes years or centuries later as is often the case with religious texts. The Bahá’i Faith also has no clergy or hierarchical structure. Instead, Bahá’is encourage individuals to seek their own understanding through independent investigation of the truth. “There’s not a lot of dogma, but very clear truth in writings of the central figures of the faith,” notes Crestone area resident and Bahá’i member Martha Schmidt. “We don’t interpret the Holy Word. We are each obligated to decide if we accept Bahá’u’lláh’s words as divine revelations. No one can tell us that—it has to be here,” she adds, pointing to her heart.
Martha and her husband, Bill Schmidt, have both been members of the Bahá’i Faith for more than 30 years. First drawn to the beauty of Bahá’u’lláh’s language and prayers and to the fundamental teachings of Bahá’i, Martha and Bill over the years have experienced an ever-deepening unfoldment of spiritual understanding and faith. Part of this unfolding, they both say, is a greater respect for all religions as expressions of the same sacred truths. “I so appreciate my mother’s (Catholic) faith now—the beauty of her devotion and the fundamentals of her system,” Martha reflects. “Bahá’u’lláh has given me a deep respect and understanding of the divinity behind the teachings.”
In the Bahá’i understanding of progressive revelation, Bahá’u’lláh’s life on earth was foreseen in the prophesies of many religions. The Persian-born messenger is not the final human manifestation of God, Bahá’is believe. But the timeframe between divinely sent figures is long. “We understand it will be at least thousands of years before the next one,” Martha says.
Meanwhile, a central component of the Bahá’i Faith is adherence to a set of social principles that include equality between women and men, the value of universal education, the elimination of prejudice, and the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty. Bahá’i groups around the world are active in grass-roots programs promoting community health, microcredit lending, environmental stewardship, vocational training, and literacy and education initiatives.
“Social teachings based on the spiritual principles of Bahá’u’lláh are giving us the tools to become a united species,” Martha explains. In the Bahá’i vision, these tools eventually will also include the establishment of a global commonwealth of nations and a shared worldwide language and script (augmenting the world’s diverse languages) for better communication.
Rather than proselytize or attempt to convert others to their faith, Bahá’is rely on the divine power of the truth itself, as expressed in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh and those close to him, to bring seekers to an acceptance of the Bahá’i worldview, the Schmidts point out. “We believe we’re all spiritual pilgrims and explorers,” Martha says. “And we do believe that for this day and age, this is what people are seeking. This is the next part of God’s gift to mankind in order to create the kind of heaven on earth that Jesus spoke about.”
The Schmidts host a Bahá’i study group every Friday at 6pm and welcome anyone interested in learning about the faith. For information and directions, call 719-480-0933. You can also visit www.bahai.org.