Do science and the inner spiritual life ever collide or cohere? Can they work together? The Baha’i teachings answer those questions with a resounding yes.
Although most of my more naturalistic colleagues might strongly disagree, I believe there are enough instances in the history of science where the process of discovery has occurred in a mystical or a revelatory manner that we can no longer dismiss them out of hand.
After all, Einstein’s dreams produced the theory of relativity. Dmitri Mendeleev saw the Periodic Table in a dream, and plenty of dreams, visions and mystical experiences fill our science history books. Also, I think most researchers might want to reflect on how difficult problems at times seemed to be suddenly resolved, or an important insight occurred after a dream or a period of meditative reflection.
Baha’u’llah quotes the Qur’an in the Book of Certitude:
Therefore, hath it been said: “’Knowledge is a light which God casteth into the heart of whomsoever He willeth.’” – p. 46.
Also in the Tablet of Ornaments, Baha’u’llah says:
In this Day whatsoever serveth to reduce blindness and to increase vision is worthy of consideration. This vision acteth as the agent and guide for true knowledge. Indeed in the estimation of men of wisdom keenness of understanding is due to keenness of vision. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 35.
When Abdu’l-Baha visited Paris during the early years of the 20th century, he gave a very positive account of the practices of the ancient Persian Illuminati school, where, in addition to standard lectures, they would engage in collective silent meditative reflection on various scientific and spiritual problems. I’ll end this series of essays about spirituality and science with Abdu’l-Baha’s fascinating comments on this subject:
About one thousand years ago a society was formed in Persia called the Society of the Friends, who gathered together for silent communion with the Almighty.
They divided Divine philosophy into two parts: one kind is that of which the knowledge can be acquired through lectures and study in schools and colleges. The second kind of philosophy was that of the Illuminati, or followers of the inner light. The schools of this philosophy were held in silence. Meditating, and turning their faces to the Source of Light, from that central Light the mysteries of the Kingdom were reflected in the hearts of these people. All the Divine problems were solved by this power of illumination.
This Society of Friends increased greatly in Persia, and up to the present time their societies exist. Many books and epistles were written by their leaders. When they assemble in their meeting-house they sit silently and contemplate; their leader opens with a certain proposition, and says to the assembly “You must meditate on this problem.” Then, freeing their minds from everything else, they sit and reflect, and before long the answer is revealed to them. Many abstruse divine questions are solved by this illumination.
Some of the great questions unfolding from the rays of the Sun of Reality upon the mind of man are: the problem of the reality of the spirit of man; of the birth of the spirit; of its birth from this world into the world of God; the question of the inner life of the spirit and of its fate after its ascension from the body.
They also meditate upon the scientific questions of the day, and these are likewise solved.
These people, who are called “Followers of the inner light”, attain to a superlative degree of power, and are entirely freed from blind dogmas and imitations. Men rely on the statements of these people: by themselves—within themselves—they solve all mysteries ….
Baha’u’llah says there is a sign (from God) in every phenomenon: the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time—he cannot both speak and meditate.
It is an axiomatic fact that while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed.
You cannot apply the name “man” to any being void of this faculty of meditation; without it he would be a mere animal, lower than the beasts.
Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit—the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation.
The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food.
Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves. To illustrate this, think of man as endowed with two kinds of sight; when the power of insight is being used the outward power of vision does not see.
This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God. This faculty brings forth from the invisible plane the sciences and arts. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 173-175.