June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
I find that sometimes having a question in the forefront of my mind can make certain answers more apparent — like when you close your eyes, think of the colour blue, and then open them again. Everything blue pops out in sharper contrast than before. What was muted becomes vibrant, and impossible to ignore.
These days I am wondering about oneness and am trying to keep the question in the fore of my personal deepening. What does “oneness” truly mean? The Merriam-Webster dictionary tells us that it is “the state of being completely united with or a part of someone or something” but what does that mean in practical terms? What effect does it have on our spiritual lives?
I have often explained the Baha’i Faith in terms of believing in the three onenesses: the oneness of humanity (that we are all equal despite differences in culture, ethnicity, gender, and our physical bodies), the oneness of the Manifestations (that They are all divine in origin), and the oneness of God (regardless of whether we call Him Dieu, Allah or Jehovah, He is one in essence). These words have rolled off my tongue without deeper, significant thought but recently I have been contemplating these five points:
1. The intrinsic oneness of all phenomena
There is a oneness with the whole world within each and every one of us, as we are composed of the kingdoms of God that rank below us. We are made of the mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms. Abdu’l-Baha calls this the “intrinsic oneness of all phenomena”. He says:
Man is the noblest of the creatures. In his physical organism he possesses the virtues of the mineral kingdom. Likewise, he embodies the augmentative virtue, or power of growth, which characterizes the kingdom of the vegetable. Furthermore, in his degree of physical existence he is qualified with functions and powers peculiar to the animal, beyond which lies the range of his distinctive human mental and spiritual endowment. Considering this wonderful unity of the kingdoms of existence and their embodiment in the highest and noblest creature, why should man be at variance and in conflict with man? Is it fitting and justifiable that he should be at war, when harmony and interdependence characterize the kingdoms of phenomenal life below him? The elements and lower organisms are synchronized in the great plan of life. Shall man, infinitely above them in degree, be antagonistic and a destroyer of that perfection? God forbid such a condition!
Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 351
2. Our differences
In a different tablet, Abdu’l-Baha explains how our differences are evidence of our oneness and the oneness of our Creator. He explains that:
the signs of oneness are evident and plain in all existence. If thou shouldst gather all existent beings, thou wouldst be unable to find two alike in all states and qualities; of necessity there is a difference. Thus the signs of oneness are manifest and evident in all things. How much more is the Creator of all things!
Abdu’l-Baha. Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha Abbas, p. 514
3. The oneness of our reality
My understanding is that it is our spiritual duty to become attuned to the oneness of our reality. Abdu’l-Baha explains how that can be done. He says:
When the divine and fundamental reality enters human hearts and lives, it conserves and protects all states and conditions of mankind, establishing that intrinsic oneness of the world of humanity which can only come into being through the efficacy of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is like unto the life in the human body, which blends all differences of parts and members in unity and agreement.
Abdu’l-Baha. Promulgation of Universal Peace. p. 324
The efficacy of the Holy Spirit is demonstrated through daily prayer and meditation, through acts of service, and through obedience to the Centre of the Covenant. “The pivot of the oneness of mankind,” Baha’u’llah tells us, “is nothing but the power of the Covenant.” 1
4. The Manifestations of God
The Holy Spirit finds expression through the Manifestations of God who are one because Truth is one. Abdu’l-Baha states that,
Baha’u’llah has announced that the foundation of all the religions of God is one, that oneness is truth and truth is oneness which does not admit of plurality. This teaching is new and specialized to this Manifestation.
Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.455
Even what has been divided into a Holy Trinity in Christianity, is a proof of oneness. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha explains:
…the Reality of Christ was a clear and polished mirror of the greatest purity and fineness. The Sun of Reality, the Essence of Divinity, reflected itself in this mirror and manifested its light and heat in it; but from the exaltation of its holiness, and the heaven of its sanctity, the Sun did not descend to dwell and abide in the mirror. […]The Holy Spirit is the Bounty of God which becomes visible and evident in the Reality of Christ. […] It has now become clear, from this explanation, what is the meaning of the Three Persons of the Trinity. The Oneness of God is also proved. 2
5. Ultimate mystery
Ultimately, however, there is a mystery to the oneness of God that we will never be able to fathom, regardless of how hard we try. The Blessed Beauty tells us:
All who adore Thy unity have been sore perplexed to fathom the mystery of Thy oneness, and all have confessed their powerlessness to attain unto the comprehension of Thine essence and to scale the pinnacle of Thy knowledge.
Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations of Baha’u’llah, p.131
The Bab also explains:
God’s existence in itself testifieth to His Own oneness, while every created thing, by its very nature, beareth evidence that it hath been fashioned by God. Such is the proof of consummate wisdom in the estimation of those who sail the ocean of divine Truth.
The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p.126
I am curious: what is your understanding of oneness?
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.
Sonjel, I think you have wonderfully analyzed and introduced several different expressions of oneness in existence. It’s no easy task! Indeed, we so often teach oneness of mankind, to mention a highly timely and relevant form of oneness described as the “cornerstone of all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh”, as a simplistic slogan for universal love and equality, a love of our neighbour as ourselves despite of all outward differences.
Neighbourly love is a love between component parts (horizontal) and indeed an eternal law. But love for one’s family, tribe, nation and the global community in our time is a vertical and holistic love for the society/community one is a part of. Both are needed. It is my understanding that the latter is the newer teaching.
Bahá’u’lláh calls for both, a horizontal love between all men and women as brothers and sisters, as well as a vertical love by a member of mankind for mankind as a unit. As a whole. As a unique and glorious expression of God that is more than merely the sum of its parts. That has the potential to be a Kingdom of God on earth, a divine civilization harnessing its cultural diversity and excellence in a concerted effort in arts, sciences, education, economy, politics, recreation, worship, you name it. The Golden Rule is horizontal love between all mankind’s individuals or (if interpreted loosely) communities. The best analogy to what Bahá’u’lláh is calling for on a global scale is genuine and passionate patriotism on a national scale. Patriotism is not merely all citizens loving their fellow-citizens as themselves. It’s not merely equality. It’s a love of a whole, including its members. For instance some of the greatest things about our native countries did not come about merely because individuals or communities loved each other, but because they believed and loved the societal idea that is India, America or Canada.
The foregoing love of mankind as a planetary community is for the first time being issued as an explicit commandment of God, and not just as a political theory or a dream-like longing which lacks the power of commitment of religious obedience. Longings and theories are bound to succumb when turn really dicey. The unity of mankind is described by Bahá’u’lláh as “the monarch of all aspirations” just like Jesus considered loving one’s neighbour as the Great Commandment.
I’ve always felt it important as a Bahá’ís to highlight that these noble principles are related but not identical.
Sam (June 6, 2015 at 2:14 PM)
Thank you for a great article and point of view. To answer your question of what is my understanding of oneness is that I feel united, as one with others, nature, and the universe. It is very difficult to describe with words, because I can describe what it feels like but it is going to miss the essence, which is my personal, intimate feeling of belonging with everyone and everything.
C (June 6, 2015 at 12:44 AM)
The author and previous comments in this discussion deserves our full appreciation for bringing out this topic to our attention after making efforts to bring Baha’i perspective on oneness of humanity or mankind in this time of chaos, division, discrimination of all kinds based on religion, caste, creed, nationalities, materialism etc. This has been question of so simplicity yet so complexity since time immemorial. The answer to this question after having understanding of Baha’i writings and as quoted by author from Baha’i central figures that we have originated from mineral kingdom to animal kingdom starting journey from single cell organism to mammoth mammals and finally to human beings. This fact is in accordance with modern science as well. From physical point of view life seems very diversified and interesting too, however if we look very deep inward and that too deep in meditative/reflective state then we can feel One in all i.e. oneness of mankind in its truest form, in union with our Creator/God. The person of that realisation cannot do no wrong or harm but emanate/exuberate happiness or harmony all around him at least while he remains in that state of being. In Veda’s that state of being has been called ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ (That thou art). Service built on that strong foundation is supreme feeling that there is no other but only One.
It is very hard to explain and difficult to understand as until one tries his/her best. We can all have that kind of feelings if we are in the right frame of mind and with prayerful attitude submit to Him Almighty God. Sages and saints of all hues and colours have proved that this is possible to achieve with the help of meditative and prayerful mindset. In fact this realisation is need of our modern time or civilisation.
Bharat Gauba (June 6, 2015 at 7:28 AM)
As a relatively new Baha’i, I wanted to express my gratitude and pure appreciation to all the authors on this post, and blog in general. To me the concept of oneness begins with the simplicity of a pure heart filled with Love of all things great, small; animal, vegetable, and mineral. But when the true blessings of oneness, are explored through the Holy Writings and all things Baha’i, my heart peels open with excited (and sometimes perplexed) anticipation for the joyous unity this understanding can bring to not only me but to all inhabitants of our Nobel Kingdom.
Susannah Cameron (June 6, 2015 at 9:33 PM)
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on “oneness”.
I particularly appreciate the paradoxical aspects of oneness that appear in the quotes. Oneness exists in our individual uniqueness as well as the cumulative expression of all levels of creation within in us. Thus, oneness is not sameness. Rather, it is the capacity in man to express the unity of all the attributes of God and to do so in a manner that is particular to each of us. “O’ What a wonder, this Oneness!”
Oneness also connotes wholeness. We are complete and completed in our love of God. “From God we came and unto Him shall we return.” Our brief journey through this plane of existence gives us the opportunity to be consciously and actively involved in the process of being and becoming one.
“In this day Baha’u’llah, talking to the world about oneness!”
Alan (June 6, 2015 at 11:39 AM)
Thank you for your wonderful thoughts and contributions, and for enriching my ongoing quest to understand “oneness”. The diversity of your points of view and the varying ideas that you highlight are much appreciated.
Sonjel (June 6, 2015 at 11:41 PM)
According to the ‘Big Bang’ theory, the Universe began as a singular point of immense and densely packed energy, before suddenly exploding and rapidly expanding over billions of years. As the Universe cooled, this energy began to condense into matter and this matter began to further condense into stars, planets, etc. Does this mean that the Universe is no longer Uni (one)? No. Rather, the Oneness merely stretched itself out. All matter (including humans, animals, plants, the air we breathe, etc.) is composed of the same subatomic components (protons, neutrons, electrons, quarks, bosons, & leptons), but is mostly, energetically charged space. Even space is not empty, but is filled with various forms of electromagnetism and particles, and all of this space and matter is operating together in relative harmony, under natural laws.
Although we have been told by the Manefestations that God is infinite & omnipresent, we couldn’t understand these concepts so we imagined God as a man, in some distant “Heaven”, a misunderstanding of man being made in God’s image. We were also taught that God is all knowing, and all powerful, but what kind of strange magic must God be using to be able to know everything happening all over the universe at once? The only logical way to know all things at all times is to BE all things and non-things (Body, Mind & Spirit) at once, observing and directing Itself, in and through Itself. In other words, the Oneness of God stretched out.
Through meditation and prayer, you can sometimes reach a state that allows you to sense your oneness with the Allness. When you identify with this Oneness, rather than the smallness of self or group, you intuitively know that whatever you do to another, you do to yourself and to God.
Of course, this understanding, like all others, is merely a model for attempting the impossible task of understanding an infinite God through our very limited, finite perceptions and intelligence. There are endless mysteries about the nature of God and Spirit that we will never understand so long as we dwell in these physical human bodies.
Michael Raphael (November 11, 2019 at 6:12 PM)