The flow of history, at its very essence, is the story of the spiritual evolution of humankind. And there is a pattern to the cycle of spiritual epochs, just as there are patterns like the cycle of seasons and the rise and fall of civilizations. Each of these patterns share repeating cycles of growth, maturity, decline, and renewal.
While we’re currently witnessing signs of decline all around us, we’re also seeing signs of renewal, as there is an overlap in this process. Decline and renewal are both part of a larger process that holds the promise of rebirth.
Spiritual epochs have clearly punctuated humanity’s conscious evolution over the millennia. It’s difficult to deny that the world’s major prophets, including Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith in the mid-19th century, have each in their own time impacted the world. Together, they’ve changed the course of human life over the last four thousand years, bringing about a leap of consciousness with each new epoch they initiated.
In his seminal book of 1999, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions, Brother Wayne Teasdale introduced the idea that we are at the dawn of the Interspiritual Age. Characterized by a new set of historical circumstances, this age is bringing about a number of shifts in consciousness: the emergence of ecological awareness and an acknowledgement of the basic fragility of the earth; a recognition of the interdependence of all domains of life and reality; the desire to abandon a militant nationalism; a deeper experience of community between and among the religions; and a growing receptivity to the inner treasures of the world’s religions. Together, these are preparing the way for a new interconnected, universal civilization that will draw its inspiration from perennial spiritual and moral insights.
Could it be that humanity’s current transformation of consciousness is linked to the radical statement (especially for the mid-1800s), “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens,” at the heart of the Baha’i teachings?
The qualities characterizing the Interspiritual Age are reflected in the primary spiritual principles of the Baha’i teachings. While most of the world’s religions are currently shifting from tribal or national modes of being toward a more holistic sense of the shared values of all spiritual and religious traditions, the Baha’i Faith came into existence in 1844 with a fully developed understanding of the oneness of humanity.
The Baha’i Faith embodies ideals now considered progressive, though at the time of their 19th-century Persian origin were the cause of severe, and still continuing, persecution. In fact, as Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha’i Faith said in 1935, “The core of religious faith is that mystic feeling which unites Man with God.” This is why he also added, “The Baha’i Faith, like all other Divine Religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character. Its chief goal is the development of the individual and society, through the acquisition of spiritual virtues and powers,” foreshadowing Brother Teasdale’s “mystic heart” of all religions.
It’s also evident, with a quick review of history, that so much has happened since the mid-19th century – a thousand-fold increase in the speed of travel; a ten million-fold increase in the speed of communications; the exponential explosion of knowledge (with a five-hundred-fold increase in the number of U.S. patents just since 1844); the liberation of women, minorities, and slaves… – that even spiritual evolution itself since that timeframe has been more like a spiritual revolution, leading to the birth of the global interfaith movement, and now to what Brother Teasdale calls the Interspiritual Age. Where do we go from here?