21 and 22 October 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith. The event will be celebrated around the world. This is the first of what I hope will develop into 200 articles in the days until then.
Bahá’u’lláh has been my guide and inspiration for much of my life. And his teachings guide the work and lives of millions of members of the Baha’i Faith who are found in virtually every country. Yet most of humanity still hardly knows of Bahá’u’lláh’s life – let alone being familiar with the concepts embedded in his teachings. Perhaps someone may have heard that he founded the Baha’i Faith. Maybe they’ve heard or seen his iconic statement “the Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens“. Maybe they know Baha’is or have Baha’i friends. But beyond that, many won’t be familiar with what he wrote — or the events of his life. Bahá’u’lláh’s ideas are centrally relevant to human needs in our time. He freely offered them to the world and its leaders and urged their adoption:
“The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.
We can well perceive how the whole human race is encompassed with great, with incalculable afflictions. We see it languishing on its bed of sickness, sore-tried and disillusioned. They that are intoxicated by self-conceit have interposed themselves between it and the Divine and infallible Physician. Witness how they have entangled all men, themselves included, in the mesh of their devices. They can neither discover the cause of the disease, nor have they any knowledge of the remedy. They have conceived the straight to be crooked, and have imagined their friend an enemy.”
Bahá’u’lláh’s life is a story of transcendence over adversity. It is a story of voluntarily accepted suffering for the benefit of humanity:
“The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow, that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness. This is of the mercy of your Lord, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful. We have accepted to be abased, O believers in the Unity of God, that ye may be exalted, and have suffered manifold afflictions, that ye might prosper and flourish. He Who hath come to build anew the whole world, behold, how they that have joined partners with God have forced Him to dwell within the most desolate of cities!”
I’ll seek to weave these two dimensions of Baha’u’llah’s life in the articles that follow. Wish me luck! Doing this justice to this schedule and this theme is challenging to say the least.
A word of reflection is in order. The concepts found in Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings are not self-executing. For them to have effect it requires a human response. Despite all the undoubted inconsistencies and inadequacies of human behaviour, despite the self-evident struggles the world is facing, we live in unprecedented times. Humanity is approaching maturity and is fully capable of realising the higher vision set forth in Bahá’u’lláh’s writings.
It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action…. That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. In another passage He hath proclaimed: It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.