If you’ve just begun to learn about the Baha’i teachings, you’ll probably have a few questions: What is the Baha’i Faith? Where did it come from? What do Baha’is believe?
These questions all have simple and uncomplicated answers—on one level. But the most simple truths are often the most profound, and each question’s answer often leads to another question. Investigating the Baha’i teachings, then, can and often does turn into a lifelong quest.
Let’s start with the basics, though. The Baha’i teachings can be summarized with three ideas, each of them centered on unity:
The Unity of God
Baha’is believe in only one God—even though the followers of various religions address God with different names and worship God in different ways. The Baha’i writings say that all of the peoples of the world worship the same God, an infinite and unknowable Supreme Being:
God, the Almighty, has created all mankind from the dust of earth. He has fashioned them all from the same elements; they are descended from the same race and live upon the same globe. He has created them to dwell beneath the one heaven. As members of the human family and His children He has endowed them with equal susceptibilities.
All people worship the same God and are alike His servants. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 297-300.
The Unity of Humanity
Baha’is believe that all people are one. Perhaps the most profound and challenging of all Baha’i teachings, this idea involves the need for a new human identity. All the old barriers that have divided people from one another—our lesser identities of race, culture, language, nationality, caste, rank, class, gender, religion, and so forth—Baha’is believe we must set aside in the larger quest for unity among all people.
The Baha’i teachings pivot around this principle of the oneness of humanity. No mere expression of sentiment or just some pious hope for a happy future, the implications of the oneness of humanity go very deep. They ask that each one of us, actively and in the present, accept all peoples of the world as members of one human family, that we seek world peace through world law, that we abandon prejudices of all kinds, and that we act always in ways that benefit the whole human race. Baha’is believe that humanity has never faced a greater opportunity or challenge than accepting and acting on these profound principles:
The principle of the Oneness of Mankind … is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 42-43.
The Unity of all Religions
Baha’is believe that all of the world’s great Faiths come from God. For many people, this simple principle challenges what they have believed about religion—that religions compete with each other. For Baha’is, there is no such thing as only one true religion. Instead, all are inter-related in one great chain of being.
All religions teach deep spiritual truths. Baha’is accept the divine origins of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and all of the other great Faiths. Baha’is revere the sacred scriptures of these faith traditions as holy, inspired books. Baha’is believe that the spiritual practices of all religions—their traditions of prayer, meditation, service, and sacrifice—will all lead to growth and enlightenment. Ultimately, Baha’is understand that there are many paths to the light:
God has revealed his light many times in order to illumine mankind in the path of evolution, in various countries and through many different prophets, masters and sages. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 8.
Most importantly, Baha’is believe that all of the great world Faiths were sent by God, at different times, and to different places with teachings tailored to the needs of the people. This core Baha’i principle, called progressive revelation, teaches that all of these religions have brought spiritual guidance for the individual and social teachings to carry forward an advancing civilization.
The Baha’i teachings say that the spiritual teachings of all Faiths have an enormous amount in common—each of them teaches us to love, to be kind and generous, to pray and to reflect on our lives. All of the world’s religious traditions share the teachings of mercy, compassion, generosity, trustworthiness, honesty, truthfulness and love for all.
Of course, all religions differ according to the needs of the society and humanity during the time in which they appeared. But these differences exist in the non-essential areas of language, ritual, clothing, teachings about food, social customs, etc. These outward differences should not blind us to the deeper spiritual unity to be found among all religions. All of the prophets of God appeared in the world for the education of humanity: to develop our souls to maturity, to teach spiritual truths, to exalt moral principles, and to quicken the conscience and consciousness of humankind. The Baha’i teachings accept them all equally.
Baha’u’llah: the Founder of the Baha’i Faith
These three primary ideas, and many more, all come from the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah.
The Baha’i Faith is not just a collection of philosophical principles or an attempt to combine or conflate religions. The global Baha’i community is not just a group of well-meaning people. Baha’is are followers of the teachings of Baha’u’llah, who brought an entirely new, worldwide Faith to humanity.
Baha’is believe that God has given the world a new messenger to guide humanity in this modern age. Baha’u’llah stands at the center of Baha’i belief. Like Christ for the Christians or Buddha for the Buddhists, Baha’is believe that this new divine teacher, this manifestation of God, the successor to the founders of the great Faiths, has brought us the spiritual tools we need to construct a new world based on the principles of unity—the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of humanity.