When you woke up this morning, did you look forward to your day with happiness and confidence, or with a sense of foreboding and dread?
We live in a time when many people wake up dreading the day ahead. They’re not happy in their jobs or their relationships or their circumstances. They don’t look forward to life, or derive much joy from it. Skeptical and pessimistic, they see things in mostly negative ways, believing that life holds much more pain than pleasure, and expecting that the future will be dark and difficult.
Skeptics and pessimists tend to focus on those darker aspects of our existence—war and violence, corruption and greed, environmental degradation and loss, along with all of the conflict in our dis-unified world. That focus can produce, in many people who think of themselves as pessimists, a deep sense of despair, disillusionment and hopelessness.
Baha’is don’t see things that way. In fact, the Baha’i teachings make a telling comparison between the lives of human beings and existence in the animal kingdom, and point out the massive differences:
What are the animals’ propensities? To eat, drink, wander about and sleep. The thoughts, the minds of the animals are confined to these. They are captives in the bonds of these desires. Man becomes a prisoner and slave to them when his ultimate desire is no higher than his welfare in this world of the senses. Consider how difficult for man is the attainment of pleasures and happiness in this mortal world. How easy it is for the animal. Look upon the fields and flowers, prairies, streams, forests and mountains. The grazing animals, the birds of the air, the fishes neither toil nor undergo hardships; they sow not, nor are they concerned about the reaping; they have no anxiety about business or politics—no trouble or worry whatsoever. All the fields and grasses, all the meadows of fruits and grains, all the mountain slopes and streams of salubrious water belong to them. They do not labor for their livelihood and happiness because everything is provided and made possible for them. If the life of man be confined to this physical, material outlook, the animal’s life is a hundred times better, easier and more productive of comfort and contentment. The animal is nobler, more serene and confident because each hour is free from anxiety and worriment; but man, restless and dissatisfied, runs from morn till eve, sailing the seas, diving beneath them in submarines, flying aloft in airplanes, delving into the lowest strata of the earth to obtain his livelihood—all with the greatest difficulty, anxiety and unrest. Therefore, in this respect the animal is nobler, more serene, poised and confident. Consider the birds in the forest and jungle: how they build their nests high in the swaying treetops, build them with the utmost skill and beauty—swinging, rocking in the morning breezes, drinking the pure, sweet water, enjoying the most enchanting views as they fly here and there high overhead, singing joyously—all without labor, free from worry, care and forebodings. If man’s life be confined to the elemental, physical world of enjoyment, one lark is nobler, more admirable than all humanity because its livelihood is prepared, its condition complete, its accomplishment perfect and natural. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 184-185.
“If man’s life be confined to the elemental, physical world of enjoyment,” Abdu’l-Baha strikingly said, “one lark is nobler, more admirable than all humanity …”
Human beings, the Baha’i teachings point out, have a much higher destiny than animals. We are not meant to live only in the physical world, and to solely seek our happiness or our future there. Instead, we’re meant to live in the spiritual realm:
But the life of man is not so restricted; it is divine, eternal, not mortal and sensual. For him a spiritual existence and livelihood is prepared and ordained in the divine creative plan. His life is intended to be a life of spiritual enjoyment to which the animal can never attain. This enjoyment depends upon the acquisition of heavenly virtues. The sublimity of man is his attainment of the knowledge of God. The bliss of man is the acquiring of heavenly bestowals, which descend upon him in the outflow of the bounty of God. The happiness of man is in the fragrance of the love of God. This is the highest pinnacle of attainment in the human world. How preferable to the animal and its hopeless kingdom! – Ibid.
Despite this essentially spiritual outlook, it seems like more and more people willingly call themselves cynics or even misanthropists, without much hope for humanity’s progress or survival.
In 1912, Abdu’l-Baha gave a talk in Chicago where he used the symbols of fog, clouds and mist to make a point about what we imagine the future might hold:
This morning the city is enveloped in fog and mist. How beautiful is a city brilliant with sunshine. Just as these mists and vapors conceal the phenomenal sun, so human imaginations obscure the Sun of Truth. Consider the radiant glory of the great solar center of our planetary system: how wonderful the sight, how its splendor illumines vision until clouds and mists veil it from the eye. In the same way, the Sun of Truth becomes veiled and hidden by the superstitions and imaginations of human minds …
Inasmuch as these clouds and human vapors of superstition hide the light of the spiritual Sun, we must put forth our utmost endeavor to dispel them. May we unite in this and be enlightened to accomplish it, for the Sun is one and its radiance and bounty universal. All the inhabitants of earth are recipients of the bounty of the one phenomenal sun, and none are preferred above others; so, likewise, all receive the heavenly bestowals of the Word of God; none are specialized as favorites; all are under its protection and universal effulgence … It is most certain that if human souls exercise their respective reason and intelligence upon the divine questions, the power of God will dispel every difficulty, and the eternal realities will appear as one light, one truth, one love, one God and a peace that is universal. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 78-79.