Every great spiritual teacher, messenger and prophet advises us to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
Buddha famously said:
It is indeed a fact that salvation cannot come from the mere sight of Me. It demands strenuous efforts in the practice of Dharma (Truth). …A man must take medicine to be cured; the mere sight of the physician is not enough.Buddhacarita XXV 33:4.
Christ also enunciates this clearly:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’Matthew 7:21-23
A number of passages in the Baha’i teachings speak to this idea—that spiritual principles must be applied for them to have an effect in the material world:
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.– The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 116.
The principles enunciated by the various teachers and prophets that God has sent to guide us require knowledge, volition, and action to have any effect in the material world. These Teachers do not say “believe this and you shall live,” but instead say “DO this and you shall live.” When Christ uttered these words while sharing the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he was referring to rendering loving service even to those we feel we have every reason to despise.
These deceptively simple principles can be very hard to follow, especially with people we think of as different in some essential way. But it is only through the application of these principles that we progress as a species. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, in its statement on the Vision of Race Unity, focuses on the application of Baha’u’llah’s spiritual principle of the oneness of humanity, and its implications for the necessity of eliminating racial prejudice from our individual and collective lives:
The application of the spiritual principle of the oneness of humanity to the life of the nation would necessitate and make possible vast changes in the economic status of the non-white segments of the population. Although poverty afflicts members of all races, its victims tend to be largely people of color. Prejudice and discrimination have created a disparity in standards of living, providing some with excessive economic advantage while denying others the bare necessities for leading healthy and dignified lives. Poor housing, deficient diet, inadequate health care, insufficient education are consequences of poverty that afflict African Americans, American Indians, and Hispanic Americans more than they afflict the rest of the population. The cost to society at large is heavy.
Evidence of the negative effect of racial and ethnic conflict on the economy has prompted a number of businesses and corporations to institute educational programs that teach conflict resolution and are designed to eliminate racial and ethnic tensions from the workplace. These are important steps and should be encouraged. If, however, they are intended primarily to save the economy, no enduring solution will be found to the disastrous consequences of racism. For it cannot suffice to offer academic education and jobs to people while at the same time shutting them out because of racial prejudice from normal social intercourse based on brotherly love and mutual respect. The fundamental solution—the one that will reduce violence, regenerate and focus the intellectual and moral energy of minorities, and make them partners in the construction of a progressive society—rests ultimately on the common recognition of the oneness of humankind.
It is entirely human to fail if that which is most important to people’s self-perception is denied them—namely, the dignity they derive from a genuine regard by others for their stature as human beings. No educational, economic, or political plan can take the place of this essential human need; it is not a need that businesses and schools, or even governments, can provide in isolation from the supportive attitude of society as a whole. Such an attitude needs to be grounded in a spiritual and moral truth that all acknowledge and accept as their own and that, like the oxygen that serves all equally, breathes life into their common effort to live in unity and peace… This vitalizing truth, we are convinced, is summarized in the phrase: the oneness of humankind.
So essential is the principle of the oneness of humanity to the efficacy of educational programs that it cannot be overemphasized. Without its broad influence such programs will not contribute significantly to the development of society… A national program of education, emphasizing the values of tolerance, brotherhood, appreciation for cultures other than one’s own, and respect for differences would be a most important step toward the elimination of racism and, as a consequence, the bolstering of the economy.– The Vision of Race Unity, Part II.
As long as education does not consider human virtues such as tolerance, kindness, rationality, and genuine knowledge of and appreciation for others as necessary to our society and to our survival as a species, we will not learn these things—and our society will always be torn by needless, futile schism. The world we claim we want—a peaceful, prosperous world in which our children do not need to claw their way to some imaginary top—will remain forever beyond our grasp.
The choice is ours. We make it day by day and minute by minute when we act, or fail to act, upon those lofty principles we profess to believe. Those principles mean nothing unless they go to work in the real world to build a loving, unified society:
The attainment of any object is conditioned upon knowledge, volition and action. Unless these three conditions are forthcoming there is no execution or accomplishment. In the erection of a house it is first necessary to know the ground and design the house suitable for it; second, to obtain the means or funds necessary for the construction; third, to actually build it.– Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 101
(This series originally appeared on Bahaiteachings.org.)