The Universe of Palomar
The largest telescope yet designed has been raised by scientists on a mountain under the clear California sky. Its lens, measuring sixteen feet eight inches in diameter, gathers light with so much more intensity than the human eye that its reflected image discloses an endless heaven hung with brilliant orbs. Its power is so encompassing that it extends human vision to bodies whose distance from the earth, measured by the time required for the travel of a ray of light, is not less than one billion years.
Since the speed of light is 186,000 miles a second, no terrestrial system of measurement can contain this utter remoteness or translate it into ordinary human meaning.
The universe of Palomar engulfs the small and familiar worlds sustained by the imagination of the poet, the shepherd and the mariner of ancient times. Its infinity of space and time can never be subjective to hope or fear. It is a motion we cannot stay, a direction we cannot divert, a peace we cannot impair, a power we cannot control. Here existence realizes the fulness of its purpose. The design and the material, the means and the end, the law and the subject, seem wholly one.
At Palomar the mind of man, standing on tiptoe, can behold the cosmic spectacle and grow by the eternal majesty it feeds on, but searching east or west or north or south one finds here no candle lighted to welcome the errant human heart.
“This nature,” the Bahá’í teachings observe, “is subjected to an absolute organization, to determined laws, to a complete order and a finished design, from which it will never depart; to such a degree, indeed, that if you look carefully and with keen sight, from the smallest invisible atom up to such large bodies of the world of existence as the globe of the sun or the other great stars and luminous spheres, whether you regard their arrangement, their composition, their form or their movement, you will find that all are in the highest degree of organization, and are under one law from which they will never depart.
“But when you look at nature itself, you see that it has no intelligence, no will … Thus it is clear that the natural movements of all things are compelled; there are no voluntary movements except those of animals, and above all, those of man. Man is able to deviate from and to oppose nature, because he discovers the constitution of things, and through this he commands the forces of nature; all the inventions he has made are due to his discovery of the constitution of things …
“Now, when you behold in existence such organizations, arrangements, and laws, can you say that all these are the effects of nature, though nature has neither intelligence nor perception? If not, it becomes evident that this nature, which has neither perception nor intelligence, is in the grasp of Almighty God Who is the Ruler of the world of nature; whatever He wishes He causes nature to manifest.”1‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. p.3.
Another passage states: “Know that every created thing is a sign of the revelation of God. Each, according to its capacity, is, and will ever remain, a token of the Almighty . . . So pervasive and general is this revelation that nothing whatsoever in the whole universe can be discovered that does not reflect His splendor . . . Were the Hand of Divine Power to divest of this high endowment all created things, the entire universe would become desolate and void.’’2Bahá’í World Faith. p.97.
The Bahá’í teachings also declare: “Earth and heaven cannot contain Me; what can alone contain Me is the heart of him that believes in Me, and is faithful to My Cause.”3Bahá’í World Faith. p.98.
Man’s Inner World
From man’s inner world of hope and fear the cry for help has never been raised so desperately nor so generally across the whole earth. Civilization is in conflict with the man of nature. Civilization betrays the man of understanding and feeling. The individual has become engulfed in struggles of competitive groups employing different weapons to attain irreconcilable ends. The beginning and the end of his actions lie concealed in the fiery smoke of furious, interminable debate. His personal world has been transformed into an invaded area he knows not how to defend.
Sickness of soul, like physical ailment, manifests itself in many forms. It need not be a localized pain nor an acute sense of shock and disability. An ailment can produce numbness as well as torment, or it can spare the victim’s general health but deprive him of sight, hearing or the use of a limb.
Soul sickness that goes deep into the psychic organism seldom finds relief in hysteria or other visible adjustments to ill-being. It expresses itself in successive re-orientations to self and to society, each of which results in a conviction representing a definite choice or selection between several possibilities. When the conviction hardens, all possibilities but one are denied and dismissed. If individuals come to realize that effort to express certain qualities through their daily lives is continuously unsuccessful, they will, in the majority of cases, abandon the exercise of that quality and concentrate on others. If individuals find that their civilization makes demands on them for the exercise of qualities they personally condemn, in most cases the necessary adjustment is made.
The modern individual is in the same position as the mountain climber bound to other climbers by a rope. At all times he is compelled to choose between freedom and protection—to balance his rights and his loyalties, and compromise between his duty to protect others and his duty to develop something unique and important in himself. As long as the route and the goal are equally vital to all the climbers, the necessary adjustments can be made without undue strain. But modern life binds together in economic, political and other arrangements groups of people who never entered into a pact of mutual agreement, who inwardly desire and need diverse things. The rope that binds them is a tradition, a convention, an inherited obligation no longer having power to fulfill.
Here, in essence, is the tragic sickness of modern man. What he sows he cannot reap. What he reaps he cannot store until a new harvest ripens. He feeds on another’s desire, he wills to accomplish an alien task, he works to destroy the substance of his dearest hope. Moral standards stop at the frontier of the organized group. Partisan pressures darken the heavens of understanding.
Humanity is undergoing a complete transformation of values. The individual is being transplanted from his customary, sheltered traditional way of life to the vast and disruptive confusions of a world in torment. The institutions which have afforded him social or psychic well-being are themselves subject to the same universal dislocation. The label no longer identifies the quality or purpose of the organization. One cannot retreat into the isolation of primitive simplicity; one cannot advance without becoming part of a movement of destiny which no one can control nor define.
Where can a new and creative way of life be found? How can men attain knowledge of the means to justify their legitimate hope, fulfill their normal emotions, satisfy their intelligence, unify their aims and civilize their activities? The astronomer has his polished lens of Palomar to reveal the mysteries of the physical universe. Where can mankind turn to behold the will and purpose of God?
Conscience: The Mirror Hung in a Darkened Room
Many persons feel that in man there is a power of conscience that will unfailingly, like the compass needle, point to the right goal. If in any individual case, this conception believes, the power of conscience fails to operate, it is because the human being himself has betrayed his own divine endowment. He has heard the voice but refused to heed. He has seen the right course of action but preferred to take the evil path.
If we examine this contention as applied to ourselves and others familiar to us over a considerable period of time, we find that conscience, as a faculty, cannot be understood by reference to any such naive and conventional view.
The individual has no private wire to God. The dictates or impulses we call conscience indicate different courses of action at different times. The truth, the law, the appropriate principle or the perfect expression of love is not when wanted conveyed to our minds like a photograph printed from a negative developed in the subconscious self. No individual can afford to rely for guidance in all vital affairs on the testimony offered from within.
Individual conscience appears to be compounded of many ingredients at this stage of mass development: childhood training, personal aptitude, social convention, religious tradition, economic pressure, public opinion and group policy.
It is when we examine individual conscience in the area of social action and public responsibility that its limitations become clear. Public policy is the graveyard in which the claim to perfect personal guidance lies interred. In every competitive situation involving social groups, conscientious persons are found on both sides of the struggle. The conscience of one leads to a definition of value or a course of action which stultifies the other. Conscientious persons in the same group seldom agree on matters affecting the whole group. Individual conscience retreats to the realm of the private person when it cannot share or alter the conscience and conviction of others.
The result is that while theoretical exaltation of conscience is seldom abandoned, the operation of conscience, outside the small area controlled by personal will, is continuously suppressed. Policy is the conscience of the group, and dominant groups sanction collective actions frequently abhorrent to the individual. Our dominant groups are the successors to the primitive tribes in which the individual was once completely submerged. Like the primitive tribe, their basic policy is to survive.
So helpless has the individual become under pressure of world-shaking events that leaders of revolution dismiss his moral worth entirely from their considerations. The individual ceases to be a person. He is made subject to mass regulation under penalty of punishment for disobedience and, if obedient, under hope of his share of a mass award. Societies have arisen composed of this unmoral mass of human beings, the nature of which resembles the physical monsters terrorizing the earth aeons ago.
Between the naive spiritual conception of conscience as divine spark, and the naive rational view that conscience is automatic response to external stimuli, the actual truth undoubtedly lies.
Human conscience is a quality existing in different stages of development. In the child it makes for obedience to the power by which the child is protected. It can manifest as an expression of the instinct of self-survival or self-development. It can inspire loyalty to the group. It can subject the individual to complete sacrifice for the sake of his group or for the truth he most reveres.
Moral attitudes become established through social education and discipline conducted over long periods of time. The moral worth of the individual consists in his capacity to share in a process of endless evolution. Though at times he seems bogged down in the swamp of evil, the ladder of development stands close to his hand and he can ascend it rung by rung. His moral responsibility can never be disclaimed by him nor voided by others on his behalf, since the principle of cause and effect operates throughout all life. No man and no society exists in a universe shaped to the pattern of human desire.
Conscience is not a form of wisdom or knowledge. It cannot be dissociated from the development of the individual or from the condition of his society. But one may say that conscience is a mirror hung in a room. If the room is darkened the mirror reflects but dimly. Light is needed—the light of truth and love. Then will the mirror of spiritual awareness disclose to the individual the essential nature of his own problem of choice, and open for him the door that leads from the private person to mankind. The helplessness of the individual today is due to the absence of light.
“When man allows the spirit, through his soul, to enlighten his understanding, then does he contain all creation; because man, being the culmination of all that went before and thus superior to all previous evolutions, contains all the lower world within himself. Illuminated by the spirit through the instrumentality of the soul, man’s radiant intelligence makes him the crowning-point of creation.
“But on the other hand when man does not open his mind and heart to the blessing of the spirit, but turns his soul towards the material side, towards the bodily part of his nature, then is he fallen from his high place and he becomes inferior to the inhabitants of the lower animal kingdom. In this case the man is in a sorry plight! For if the spiritual qualities of the soul, open to the breath of the Divine Spirit, are never used, they become atrophied, enfeebled, and at last incapacitated; while the soul’s material qualities alone being exercised, they become terribly powerful, and the unhappy, misguided man becomes more savage, more unjust, more vile, more cruel, more malevolent than the lower animals themselves.
“If, on the contrary, the spiritual nature of the soul has been so strengthened that it holds the material side in subjection, then does the man approach the divine; his humanity becomes so glorified that the virtues of the celestial assembly are manifest in him; he radiates the mercy of God, he stimulates the spiritual progress of mankind, for he becomes a lamp to show light on their path.”4Compiled by Horace Holley. The Reality of Man. p.6.
In such words the Bahá’í teachings describe the two paths which open before each human being, choice of which he himself is free to make.
Sectarianism—From Creation to Chaos
If individual conscience cannot illumine from man’s inner world the nature of basic social problems, what of religion? Have the traditional faiths such command of spiritual truth that they can serve as the guide and conscience of mankind? Do these sects and denominations constitute the moral Palomar bestowing vision upon a divided, a desperate humanity? Has God spoken to our age from these minarets, these temples, mosques, chapels and churches which represent the meaning and purpose of religion to the masses in East and West?
The world of sectarian religion is not a universe, ordered by one central creative will, but the fragments of a world which no human authority has power to restore. There are the main bodies of ancient, revealed religion: Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Muhammadanism and Christianity, standing apart like continents separated by the salt, unplumbed sea. There are in each of these bodies a large number of independent, mutually exclusive subdivisions. Their diverse claims to organic sovereignty maintain in the realm of faith the same condition which exists among nations, principalities, kingdoms and empires. They deal with one another by treaty and truce; there are conquests and seizures, colonies and alliances, plans and strategies, wars and revolutions, all without control of the greater and vital movements of society or even foreknowledge of what was and is to come.
This is why mankind has suffered two world wars, social dislocation and a plague of immorality, faithlessness, materialism and discontent. No universal religious body has existed to stay the swift descent of our age into the gloom of savage strife. Events do not wait upon doctrinal readjustments. When peace does not exist in the world of the soul it cannot exist in any other realm of human intercourse and experience. The masses have been given no moral unity, no common purpose which, stamped with divine authority, could raise them above the fatal disunities and conflicts distilled by their economic and political institutions.
Yet each of these faiths was divinely revealed, imbued with a universal spirit, charged with a high creative mission, and established itself through the sacrifice and heroism of those early believers who beheld the Word of God. Each faith has reconsecrated human life and by its lifeblood nourished great progress in civilization. What has happened to the first, true vision? What has extinguished the flame upon the altar of worship?
The superhuman character of revelation has gradually undergone dilution and admixture. The human explanation of a truth has been substituted for the truth itself. The performance of ceremonial rites has come to occupy the place held by the mystery of spiritual rebirth. Obligation to a professionalized institution has weakened the duty laid upon individuals to serve society and mankind. The aim of a regenerated, righteous, peaceful civilization inspired by the founders of religion has become diverted into hope for the victory of the church. Sectarianism in essence is not freedom of religion. It is an opportunity to abandon the way of life revealed from on high and substitute belief for sacrifice, ritual for virtue, creed for understanding, and a group interest for the basic rights of mankind.
All things exist in a process of life and death, growth and development, extinction and renewal. The fact that what men devise as a counterfeit for truth is eventually destroyed, does not confirm the rejection of religion by the cynic or the materialist. On the contrary, the succession of faiths throughout the period of known history points to a complete vindication of faith in God, since He divides truth from error, the spirit from the letter. He punishes and He rewards. For every death He sends a new life.
“O army of life!” the Bahá’í teachings warn, “East and West have joined to worship stars of faded splendor and have turned in prayer unto darkened horizons. Both have utterly neglected the broad foundation of God’s sacred laws, and have grown unmindful of the merits and virtues of His religion. They have regarded certain customs and conventions as the immutable basis of the Divine Faith, and have firmly established themselves therein. They have imagined themselves as having attained the glorious pinnacle of achievement and prosperity when, in reality, they have touched the innermost depths of heedlessness and deprived themselves wholly of God’s bountiful gifts.
“The cornerstone of the Religion of God is the acquisition of the Divine perfections and the sharing in His manifold bestowals. The essential purpose of faith and belief is to ennoble the inner being of man with the outpourings of grace from on high. If this be not attained, it is indeed deprivation itself. It is the torment of infernal fire.”5‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. p.43.
And even more definitely: “Superstitions have obscured the fundamental reality, the world is darkened and the light of religion is not apparent. This darkness is conducive to differences and dissensions; rites and dogmas are many and various; therefore discord has arisen among the religious systems whereas religion is for the unification of mankind. True religion is the source of love and agreement amongst men, the cause of the development of praiseworthy qualities; but the people are holding to the counterfeit and imitation, negligent of the reality which unifies, so they are bereft and deprived of the radiance of religion.”6Bahá’í World Faith. p.237.
“When the lights of religion become darkened the materialists appear. They are the bats of night. The decline of religion is their time of activity; they seek the shadows when the world is darkened and the clouds have spread over it.”7Bahá’í World Faith. p.238.
“If the edifice of religion shakes and totters, commotion and chaos will ensue and the order of things will be utterly upset.”8Bahá’í World Faith. p.289.
“Religious fanaticism and hatred,” the Bahá’í teachings affirm, “are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine Power can alone deliver mankind from this desolating affliction.”9Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. p.288.
Internationalism: The End of an Era
When changes take place in the spiritual life of a people, they produce effects not only upon the realm of personal conscience or upon the definitions of denominational faith—their results flow forth throughout the civilization. Society, indeed, is the outer surface of human action, as religion is the inner surface. The persons who are impressed with certain values from the religious teaching of their childhood, strive to fulfill them as adults in their civilization. The nations of the world are not composed of a separate race of human beings called citizens or subjects; all this mass of humanity who serve as citizens or subjects are at the same time members of different racial groups and members of different religious bodies.
Since religious training has for the most part been based upon pre-rational states of childhood, the vital assumptions of faith or theology continue from generation to generation without analysis or investigation. The child assumes that his religion sets him off in some mysterious but inevitable and justifiable manner from those people who belong to a different religion. This pre-rational experience becomes an imperative directing his activities in other fields, all the more effective because it works behind his conscious and rational thought. Religion has thus prepared the way for the spirit of exclusive nationalism, class competition and other self-centered types of social institution. The pre-rational experience of justifiable division matures in the irrational attitudes of partisan loyalty which set people off from one another in political and economic matters, eventuating in strife and ruin.
The modern nation represents the most powerful and effective social unity ever achieved. It has coordinated the human qualities and possibilities to an unprecedented degree, liberating people from servitude to nature and laying the foundations of orderly progress by reconciling the political claims of the state with the social and cultural needs of the individual. But like every human institution, the nation cannot become an end unto itself. It cannot draw arbitrary lines and decree that human evolution must stop short at this line or that. The nation cannot reduce all questions of human relations to political principle, and solve them by a formal relationship to the state.
The movement of life is irresistible. When the modern nation had organized its area and completed the creation of the necessary institutions, it became mature and incurred obligation to establish useful relationships with other nations. The nation became more and more involved in activities and affairs outside its boundaries and beyond its jurisdiction. Internationalism has been the principle of civilization for more than a hundred years, but the nations could not realize themselves as means to an end, as instruments called upon, for the sake of humanity, to create a sovereignty of and for the entire world. This moral resolution has been lacking.
Denied fulfilment in world order, modern internationalism has organized the nations for their own destruction. The social organism made an end unto itself becomes self-consuming. First there has been an interval of spiritual blindness, a miscalculation of the essential nature of human life; then a denial of the obligation to join with other nations for the sake of peace, then a denunciation of some threatening foe, and, finally, a plunge into the maelstrom where every trend toward world unity is accelerated faster than the public intelligence can comprehend.
Power to make permanent and workable decisions has been temporarily lost. Our international relations rest upon formal agreements which have not yet become translated into world relationships and hence remain subject to abrupt dissolution if the strains of social dislocation go to the breaking point. In this condition of crisis humanity stands, unable to return to the simpler societies of the past and unable to generate sufficient power for true unity in a world civilization. The races and peoples meet in a fateful encounter, each cherishing its separateness as a duty and a right. One may say that humanity does not yet exist, for men are not directed by a world consciousness or impelled by a mutual faith.
“Today the world of humanity,” the Bahá’í teachings stated a generation ago, “is in need of international unity and conciliation. To establish these great fundamental principles a propelling power is needed. It is self-evident that unity of the human world and the Most Great Peace cannot be accomplished through material means. They cannot be established through political power, for the political interests of nations are various and the policies of peoples are divergent and conflicting. They cannot be founded through racial or patriotic power, for these are human powers, selfish and weak. The very nature of racial differences and patriotic prejudices prevents the realization of this unity and agreement. Therefore it is evidenced that the promotion of the oneness of the kingdom of humanity, which is the essence of the teachings of all the Manifestations of God, is impossible except through the divine power and the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Other powers are too weak and are incapable of accomplishing this.”10‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. p.5.
“Among the teachings … is man’s freedom, that through the ideal Power he should be free and emancipated from the captivity of the world of nature; for as long as man is captive to nature he is a ferocious animal, as the struggle for existence is one of the exigencies of the world of nature. This matter of the struggle for existence is the fountainhead of all calamities and is the supreme affliction.”11Bahá’í World Faith. p.288.
“Universal peace is a matter of great importance, but unity of conscience is essential, so that the foundation of this matter may became secure, its establishment firm and its edifice strong.”12Bahá’í World Faith. p.285.
In the Bahá’í writings, peace is revered because in essence it is a spiritual mystery in which humanity has been invited in our day, for the first time, to partake. Peace is a divine creation; a reconciliation of human and divine purpose. Peace appears first as a universal religion; as its influence gathers force and its principles spread then peace can permeate the body of society, redeeming its institutions and its activities and consecrating its aims.
“Universal peace,” these writings promise, “is assured … as a fundamental accomplishment of the religion of God; that peace shall prevail among nations, governments and peoples, among religions, races and all conditions of mankind. This is one of the special characteristics of the Word of God revealed in this Manifestation.”13Bahá’í World Faith. p.247.
Spiritual Education—The Instrument of Peace
The issues of human existence turn upon the axis of education. Education alone can overcome the inertia of our separateness, transmute our creative energies for the realization of world unity, free the mind from its servitude to the past and reshape civilization to be the guardian of our spiritual and physical resources.
The true purposes of education are not fulfilled by the knowledge conferred through civil education, since this knowledge ends with the purposes of the individual or the needs of the state. They are not fulfilled by sectarian education, since sectarian knowledge excludes the basic principle of the continuity and progressiveness of revelation. The true purposes of education are not achieved by independent pursuit of knowledge undertaken through study of the classics, the great philosophies or even the religious systems of the past. Such education enhances the individual capacity and deepens the insight of a group. It opens the door to a world of superior minds and heroic accomplishment. But that world is the reflection of the light of truth upon past conditions and events. It is not the rising of the sun to illumine our own time, inspire a unified world movement, and regenerate withered souls.
But that world is the reflection of the light of truth upon past conditions and events. It is not the rising of the sun to illumine our own time, inspire a unified world movement, and regenerate withered souls.
Nor may we hope that psychology can develop the necessary transforming power for a dislocated society, a scientific substitute for the primitive offices of religion. The explorer in the world of the psyche sees the projection of his own shadow, finds the answer determined by his own question. He can prove mechanistic determinism or demonstrate the freedom and responsibility of the soul. The area within which he works is suitable for the development of personal healing. He can learn the habitual reactions of persons in a group or of groups in a society, but this knowledge is statistical until applied by a comprehensive organ of intelligence on a world scale.
“The human spirit which distinguishes man from the animal,” the Bahá’í teachings state, “is the rational soul; and these two names—the human spirit and the rational soul—designate one thing. This spirit, which in the terminology of the philosophers is the rational soul, embraces all beings, and as far as human ability permits discovers the realities of things and becomes cognizant of their peculiarities and effects, and of the qualities and properties of beings. But the human spirit, unless assisted by the spirit of faith, does not become acquainted with the divine secrets and the heavenly realities. It is like a mirror which, although clear, polished and brilliant, is still in need of light. Until a ray of the sun reflects upon it, it cannot discover the heavenly secrets.”
This significant comment is also found: “With the love of God all sciences are accepted and beloved, but without it, are fruitless; nay, rather, the cause of insanity. Every science is like unto a tree; if the fruit of it is the love of God, that is a blessed tree. Otherwise it is dried wood and finally a food for fire.”
A new and universal concept of education is found in the literature of the Bahá’í Faith.
“When we consider existence, we see that the mineral, vegetable, animal and human worlds are all in need of an educator.
“If the earth is not cultivated it becomes a jungle where useless weeds grow; but if a cultivator comes and tills the ground, it produces crops which nourish living creatures. It is evident, therefore, that the soil needs the cultivation of the farmer …
“The same is true with respect to animals: notice that when the animal is trained it becomes domestic, and also that man, if he is left without training becomes bestial, and, moreover, if left under the rule of nature, becomes lower than an animal, whereas if he is educated he becomes an angel. …
“Now reflect that it is education that brings the East and the West under the authority of man; it is education that produces wonderful industries; it is education that spreads glorious sciences and arts; it is education that makes manifest new discoveries and laws. If there were no educator there would be no such things as comforts, civilization, facilities, or humanity. …
“But education is of three kinds: material, human and spiritual. Material education is concerned with the progress and development of the body, through gaining its sustenance, its material comfort and ease. This education is common to animals and man.
“Human education signifies civilization and progress: that is to say, government, administration, charitable works, trades, arts and handicrafts, sciences, great inventions and discoveries of physical laws, which are the activities essential to man as distinguished from the animal.
“Divine education is that of the Kingdom of God: it consists in acquiring divine perfections, and this is true education; for in this estate man becomes the center of divine appearance, the manifestation of the words, ‘Let us make man in our image and after our likeness.’ This is the supreme goal of the world of humanity.
“Now we need an educator who will be at the same time a material, human and spiritual educator, and whose authority will be effective in all conditions . . .
“It is clear that human power is not able to fill such a great office, and that the reason alone could not undertake the responsibility of so great a mission. How can one solitary person without help and without support lay the foundations of such a noble construction? He must depend on the help of the spiritual and divine power to be able to undertake this mission. One Holy Soul gives life to the world of humanity, changes the aspect of the terrestrial globe, causes intelligence to progress, vivifies souls, lays the foundation of a new existence, establishes the basis of a marvelous creation, organizes the world, brings nations and religions under the shadow of one standard, delivers man from the world of imperfections and vices, and inspires him with the desire and need of natural and acquired perfections. Certainly nothing short of a divine power could accomplish so great a work.’’14‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. p.8.
Who is this educator? “The holy Manifestations of God, the divine prophets, are the first teachers of the human race. They are universal educators and the fundamental principles they have laid down are the causes and factors of the advancement of nations. Forms and imitations which creep in afterward are not conducive to that progress. On the contrary these are destroyers of the human foundations laid by the heavenly educators.’’15Bahá’í World Faith. p.250.
“Religion is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive. If it be without motion and non-progressive it is without the divine life; it is dead. The divine institutes are continuously active and evolutionary; therefore, the revelation of them must be progressive and continuous.”16Bahá’í World Faith. p.224.
The Manifestation of God
The focal point of the Bahá’í teachings is clarification of man’s relationship to God. As long as peoples differ, or are unaware, or accept a substitute for this relationship, we cannot distinguish between truth and error, or discriminate between principle and superstition. Until we apprehend human beings in the light of the creative purpose, it is impossible to know ourselves or others. Social truth is merely experiment and hypothesis unless it forms part of a spiritual reality.
The founders of revealed religions, who have been termed prophets, messengers, messiahs and saviours, in the Bahá’í teachings are designated Manifestations of God. These beings, walking on earth as men, stand in a higher order of creation and are endowed with powers and attributes human beings do not possess. In the world of truth they shine like the sun, and the rays emanating from that sun are the light and the life of the souls of men.
The Manifestation is not God. The Infinite cannot be incarnated. God reveals His will through the Manifestation, and apart from what is thus manifested His will and reality remain forever unknown. The physical universe does not reveal the divine purpose for man.
“Every one of them,” the Bahá’í teachings state, “is the Way of God that connects this world with the realms above, and the standard of His truth, unto every one in the kingdoms of earth and heaven. They are the Manifestations of God amidst men, the evidences of His truth, and the signs of His glory.”17Bahá’í World Faith. p.21.
What almighty power is exercised by a will manifested through a person who has been flouted, denied, imprisoned, tortured and crucified? No human authority could survive such savage onslaughts as have greeted each messenger who has come from the heavenly realm to this lowest of worlds. The divine power expresses itself by compulsion in the kingdoms of nature. In the kingdom of man the divine power operates in such a manner that men are free to accept and adore, or repudiate and condemn. The divine power compels that from age to age men must come to a decision, but the decision itself is free. By that decision, when the prophet has revealed the will of God, men separate into two organic companies: those who believe and those who deny.
The whole pattern and process of history rests upon the succession of dispensations by which man’s innate capacities are developed and by which the course of social evolution is sustained. The rise and fall of civilizations proceed as the effect of prior spiritual causation. An ancient civilization undergoes moral decadence; by division of its own people and attack from without its power and authority are destroyed; and with that destruction collapses the culture and the religious system which had become parasites upon its material wealth. Concurrently, a new creative spirit reveals itself in the rise of a greater and better type of society from the ruins of the old.
The critical point in this process is the heroic sacrifice offered the Prophet by those who see in Him the way to God, and His official condemnation by the heads of the prevailing religious system. That condemnation, because men cannot judge God, recoils back upon the religion and the civilization itself. They have condemned themselves. In the same manner, the small and weak minority who have seen the Face of God in His Manifestation grow from strength to strength. The future is with them. In their spiritual fellowship the seeds of the new civilization are watered and its first, tender growth safeguarded by their heart’s blood.
Through the Manifestation of God the power of the Holy Spirit accomplishes the will of God. Nothing can withstand that power. Because its work is not instantaneous, a darkened age cannot perceive the awful process of cause and effect—the divine will as cause, and human history as effect—guiding human destiny from age to age.
But the Bahá’í teachings penetrate farther into the mystery when they affirm that in spirit and in aim the successive prophets are one being, one authority, one will. This teaching on the oneness of the Manifestations of God is the essential characteristic of a revelation which represents religion for the cycle of man’s maturity and the creation of world peace.
“There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements of the age in which they were revealed.”18Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. p.217.
Those who deny and condemn the Prophet, therefore, are not defending the divine purpose from sinister betrayal by one who introduces new laws and principles; on the contrary, since the Manifestation in Himself is one, they condemn their own Prophet when He returns to regenerate the world and advance the true Faith of God. Thus is the moral nature of human life, and man’s responsibility to God, sustained throughout the devious course of history. Faith is no mere belief, but a connection with the only power that confers immortality on the soul and saves humanity as a whole from complete self-destruction.
“A man who has not had a spiritual education,” the Bahá’í writings attest, “is a brute.”19‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. p.135. “We have decreed, O people, that the highest and last end of all learning be the recognition of Him Who is the Object of all knowledge; and yet behold how ye have allowed your learning to shut you out, as by a veil, from Him Who is the Dayspring of this Light, through Whom every hidden thing hath been revealed.”20Bahá’u’lláh. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. p.129.
The oneness of the Manifestations has been thus established in the Bahá’í writings: “In the Word of God there is … unity, the oneness of the Manifestations of God, His Holiness Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. This is a unity divine, heavenly, radiant, merciful; the one reality appearing in successive manifestations. For instance, the sun is one and the same but its points of dawning are various. During the summer season it rises from the northern point of the ecliptic; in winter it appears from the southern point of rising. Although these dawning points are different, the sun is the same sun which has appeared from them all. The significance is the reality of prophethood which is symbolized by the sun, and the holy Manifestations are the dawning-places or zodiacal points.”21Bahá’í World Faith. p.259.
The coming of the Manifestation in this age signalizes the termination of a long epoch in human history, the prophetic era in which mankind was gradually prepared for the promised day of universal peace. In Bahá’u’lláh the spirit of faith is renewed and given expression in teachings which affirm the organic unity of the whole human race. Nothing sacred and valid revealed in former dispensations is denied, but the spirit of faith has been endowed with a worldwide and universal meaning.
The Bahá’í teachings overcome prejudices of race, nation and sect by inspiring sentiment of brotherhood. They create not only a pure well of feeling but constitute also a unified body of knowledge in which the power of reason can be fulfilled. They connect social truth with the truth of worship, and broaden the field of ethics to include right relationships of races as well as individual persons. They formulate law and principle which will bring order into international affairs. “In this present age the world of humanity,’’ the teachings declared before the first World War (anticipating the conditions of today) “is afflicted with severe sicknesses and grave disorders which threaten death. Therefore His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh has appeared. He is the real physician bringing divine remedy and healing to the world of man.”22‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. p.12.
“The first teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the investigation of reality. Man must seek the reality himself, forsaking imitations and adherence to mere hereditary forms. As the nations of the world are following imitations in lieu of truth and as imitations are many and various, differences of belief have been productive of strife and warfare. So long as these imitations remain the oneness of the world of humanity is impossible. Therefore we must investigate the reality in order that by its light the clouds and darkness may be dispelled. If the nations of the world investigate reality they will agree and become united.”23Bahá’í World Faith. p.238.
“The source of all learning is the knowledge of God, exalted be His glory, and this cannot be attained save through the knowledge of His divine Manifestation.”24Bahá’í World Faith. p.140. This knowledge offers to men the substance of the education needed for the establishment of a society worthy of the blessings of justice and peace.