Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Where did the idea of unity in diversity come from?

p02 Where did the idea of unity in diversity come from?

Feb 14, 2024

Where did the idea of unity in diversity come from?

I’m trying out the new Gemini AI today. I was wondering about the idea of unity in diversity came from. Is it unique to the Baha’i teachings? Surely not. Philosophically, any group has to have some stance on what they agree upon, its unity, and what can be allowed to branch out, its diversity. Wherever you find unity there must be diversity. And conversely, wherever you find diversity the commonalities must oriented to some sort of unity. In view of that, here was my first question for the AI:

Where did the idea of unity in diversity come from? Is it a Hindu teaching?

While the idea of "unity in diversity" can be found across various cultures and throughout history, its origins are somewhat complex and can't be attributed to a single source. There are multiple contenders claiming its birthplace, including:

1. Hinduism: The concept is often associated with Hinduism, particularly through the motto "Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti", meaning "Truth is one, the wise call it by many names." This reflects the diverse paths within Hinduism that ultimately lead to the same Brahman, the ultimate reality. However, it's important to note that Hinduism emphasizes both unity and diversity, not just unity alone.

2. Sufi Philosophy: Another strong contender is the 13th-century Sufi scholar Ibn al-ʿArabī, who proposed the concept of "wahdat al-wujud" (oneness of being). This emphasized the underlying unity of all existence, with individual beings seen as expressions of the one divine reality. His ideas likely influenced later thinkers and contributed to the concept's development.

3. Other Sources: Similar themes can be found in various cultures and periods. The ancient Javanese poem Kakawin Sutasoma (14th century) uses the phrase "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika" (Unity in Diversity) to promote religious tolerance between Hindus and Buddhists. Additionally, philosophers like Leibniz in the 17th century used related concepts, suggesting there were diverse influences.

Therefore, while Hinduism has a strong connection to the idea of unity in diversity, it's not exclusive to them. It's a multifaceted concept with roots in various philosophical and cultural traditions, evolving and adapting throughout history.

My next question was: Is it an indigenous teaching?

While the specific phrase "unity in diversity" may not be directly traceable to one specific Indigenous tradition, concepts reflecting harmony amidst diverse perspectives and interconnectedness within diverse communities are deeply woven into many Indigenous worldviews.

Here are some examples:

North America:

The Anishnaabe Four Colours of Humanity teaching recognizes four distinct groups with unique contributions, emphasizing their interconnectedness and importance to the whole.

Iroquois Confederacy's motto "Strength in Unity" embodies the power of diverse nations joining forces for a common good.

South America:

The Qolla Suyo (Inca Empire) incorporated diverse ethnicities and languages, valuing each for its unique cultural contributions.

The Mapuche concept of "Mapuche Kimün" emphasizes interconnectedness of humans, nature, and spirits, valuing differences within their unified world view.


Dreamtime stories often depict diverse landscapes and beings interconnected through complex relationships.

The Yolngu concept of "Yirritja" speaks of interconnectedness and mutual responsibility within diverse clans.

It's important to note that Indigenous cultures are immensely diverse, and generalizations can be misleading. However, recognizing and respecting diversity while fostering connections and interdependence is a common thread observed across many Indigenous traditions. This aligns with the broader theme of "unity in diversity" even if the exact phrase originated elsewhere.

Next time, a revised essay I wrote originally in 2010 about the idea of unity in diversity.