The primary purpose of life is to know and to worship God, and to contribute
to an ever-advancing global civilization. Bahá'ís seek to fulfill this purpose in a
variety of personal, family, and community activities.
The family unit, according to Bahá'u'lláh,
is the foundation of human society. Kimiko Schwerin believes, for example, that her
marriage can stand as an illustration of the oneness of all peoples. In traditional
Japanese society, marriage to a foreigner is an unwritten taboo. Once, for example, when
she was riding on a train with her husband in the early 1970s, a middle-aged Japanese man
walked up and abruptly slapped her in the face
"...The peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion,
derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one
"It was because I was with a 'foreigner'," said Ms.
Schwerin, who grew up in Nagasaki and now runs an English language school with her husband
in a Tokyo suburb. "In those days, there was a strong prejudice against international
marriage. Marriage to a foreigner was not considered decent."
"But I didn't feel embarrassed, not at all," Ms. Schwerin
added. "I just felt sorry for the man because of his prejudice. Because I'm a
Bahá'í, I feel international marriage is an entirely right thing to do."
The Schwerins see their experience as an example of how
international marriage can promote a greater awareness of other cultures. "Because
the Bahá'í Faith is inclusive of all races and backgrounds, we avoid many of the
conflicts that might come traditionally when a Japanese person marries a foreigner,"
said Ms. Schwerin.
"For example, John is from a Christian background and I am from
a Buddhist background," Ms. Schwerin said. "The question of what faith to raise
your children in is often a problem for people in international marriages. Because we
believe in the oneness of religions, we have educated our children to appreciate all
A successful businesswoman in her own right, Ms. Schwerin is also
active in promoting the concept of women's equality. She travels frequently throughout
Japan and surrounding countries to promote this principle and the other ideals of the
The work that Primo Pacsi and the other
Bahá'ís of Laku Lakuni, a remote village on the Bolivian altiplano, have done in helping
to establish a small pre-school and to promote solar-heated green-houses offers an example
of how Bahá'ís strive to serve the community at large.
The pre-school, which serves all of the children in Laku Lakuni,
gives students an important boost in their development. Although a government-run primary
school exists in the village, the children in this remote and impoverished high altitude
region are often victims of inadequate attention during their pre-school years, considered
the most important by many child development specialists. As a result, they sometimes do
poorly in primary school, initiating a pattern of failure that casts a shadow over their
In the Bahá'í pre-school, group activities are
emphasized--activities as simple as singing together--and the result is significant.
"There is a difference between the students who have been to pre-school and those who
start the government primary school directly," Mr. Pacsi said. "The ones who
have gone to pre-school can immediately understand the teacher. And the teacher has
noticed that the ones who have been to pre-school learn much faster."
The pre-school is a bare-bones operation. Mr. Pacsi is the main
teacher, and, for the most part, he volunteers his time, assisted only by occasional
donations from parents. Held in a simple adobe building in the center of the village, its
sessions last only a few hours a day.
"At first, the. children were afraid to come," said Mr.
Pacsi, who embraced the Bahá'í Faith in the mid- 1980s. "They didn't want to be in
a group. But now they love to come and sing together. Now they say, 'Me, Me, Me!' when I
teach a number and ask a question. These things are connected in that Bahá'u'lláh
teaches that we must educate our children and that we must cooperate and work
Mr. Pacsi and his fellow Bahá'ís have also been instrumental in
promoting the use of solar-heated greenhouses in their community. Developed by the Dorothy
Baker Environmental Studies Center in Cochabamba, a Bahá'í-run environmental research
and study center about 200 kilometers away, the greenhouses enable families in Laku Lakuni
and other communities on the Andean high plateau to grow a variety of fruits and
vegetables which would not ordinarily survive at such altitudes.
"We really like the greenhouse," said Mr. Pacsi, who was
the first one in Laku Lakuni to build one. "Without it, we could not have
vegetables--we don't have the money to buy them. But with the greenhouse we can have
vegetables. Now we can have omelets with tomatoes and onions. My little boy didn't even
know vegetables existed. Now he picks the tomatoes off the plant and eats them right there
in the greenhouse. Now he knows that if you plant seed and nurture it, the fruit comes
"The All-Knowing Physician bath 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... 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."-- Bahá'u'lláh
In composition, Bahá'í communities are quite diffuse. Bahá'ís do
not seek to shut out the world. Bahá'u'lláh's writings encourage involvement with the
rest of humanity. Most Bahá'ís lead lives that would not seem out of place in their
native society--save for a strong commitment to certain spiritual and social principles.
Despite this diffusion, however, Bahá'ís are able to maintain
their essential unity through a system of freely elected governing councils, which operate
at the local, national, and international levels. At the local level, for example,
Bahá'ís each year elect a nine-member administrative council, which is known as the
local Spiritual Assembly.
In all activities,
Bahá'ís are expected to obey civil law and remain loyal to their respective governments.
While they may accept non-partisan government posts or appointments, Bahá'ís are
required to refrain from partisan political activity.
At the time he began to look into Bahá'u'lláh's teachings in the
1950s, for example, Stanlake Kukama was the local secretary of the African National
Congress. "I hated the white man," said Mr. Kukama, who now lives in
Bophuthatswana. "To me, all whites were oppressors."
With that attitude, it was at first difficult for Mr. Kukama to
accept the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, because of His emphasis on the oneness of humanity
and the necessity of working to eliminate all racial prejudice--a principle which means
that not only must whites accept blacks as equals and friends, but that blacks must learn
to live with and, even, to love whites.
Mr. Kukama came to believe that, in the end, this
path--and not the confrontational world of politics--will lead to a better world. And so,
he has since worked to build a harmonious and diverse community which could, at the proper
time, demonstrate to all South Africans that association between people of all races is
not only possible--but is in fact joyous and reflective of the reality of human oneness.
The diversity of the South African Bahá'í
community today embraces virtually all of the races, ethnic groups, and tribes that reside
there. More than 90 percent of the approximately 7,500 Bahá'ís in South Africa are
non-white--a ratio that roughly matches the proportions of the population at large.
Bahá'ís are spread throughout South Africa, too, with local communities in more than 150
cities and towns.
"The cause of the strife in South Africa is the
40 years of apartheid, which emphasized ethnic separation," said Mr. Kukama who
became a school teacher after he became a Bahá'í. "But in the Bahá'í community,
even though we come from different tribes or races, we are all one. And one day there will
be one world-- that is my vision of man. Togetherness, not separateness."