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The human soul has still greater need of the ideal than of the real. It is by the real that we exist, it is by the ideal that we live. – Victor Hugo
Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead. – Louisa May Alcott
The idealist, the man of real imagination, seizes upon the present fact, and transforms it mentally into what it may be in the future, and projects it before him. Such a man is the really practical man. – Henry Williams
The beaming shafts of the light of cosmic ideals must pierce through the hearts of men and the power of the Holy Spirit is necessary to carry into execution these noble thoughts of the age. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 101.
Each of us has a set of personal ideals. Our ideals encompass our values, the concepts and beliefs we hold dear, our vision of ourselves as ethical and principled beings.
The word ideal comes, obviously, from the word idea, which originated in the ancient Greek word idein, meaning “to see.” Ideals, then, relate to each person’s best vision of themselves and of human existence. An idealist sees the world in light of its potential, while a realist focuses on the world we have right now.
Do you see yourself as an idealist or a realist? It’s fashionable today to declare yourself a realist, but if you have a set of internal, personal ideals you try to manifest, and a vision of the world as a better place, then you probably fit into the idealist mode. Many of us try to be both: a realist from an intellectual perspective; and an idealist from a spiritual one. Here’s one way to determine how you think about your own ideals—consider your view of the future. Do you believe the future could possibly be better and more desirable than the present? Do you have inner aspirations for improvement, progress and spiritual growth? If so, you’re probably an idealist:
Look ye not upon the present, fix your gaze upon the times to come. In the beginning, how small is the seed, yet in the end it is a mighty tree. Look ye not upon the seed, look ye upon the tree, and its blossoms, and its leaves and its fruits. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 82.
The Baha’i Faith, along with every spiritual philosophy, teaches that the ideal realm has greater importance than the physical one. Focusing on the future, the Baha’i teachings say, keeps our vision far-ranging, hopeful and optimistic. This material plane of existence, the great Faiths all tell us, only has a temporal and temporary reality; while the spiritual realm—the destination we all draw closer to every day—has an eternal, lasting reality:
Strive day and night and do whatever is possible that perchance you may awaken the heedless, give sight to the blind, bring life to the dead, refresh the weary, and bring those in despair and darkness to light and splendor. If the hope of man be limited to the material world, what ultimate result is he working for? A man with even a little understanding must realize that he should not emulate the worm that holds to the earth in which it is finally buried. How can man be satisfied with this low degree? How can he find happiness there? My hope is that you may become free from the material world and strive to understand the meaning of the heavenly world, the world of lasting qualities, the world of truth, the world of eternal kingliness, so that your life may not be barren of results, for the life of the material man has no fruit of reality. Lasting results are produced by reflecting the heavenly existence. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 56-57.
So how, in this very cynical and jaded world, can we maintain a set of high ideals? How can we aspire to noble deeds? How can we keep our hopes for the future alive?
Baha’is believe that the inspiration for those high ideals and lofty aspirations comes directly from the prophets and messengers of the world’s religions. In this new era, the teachings of Baha’u’llah have brought that inspiration, once again, to humanity:
Two calls to success and prosperity are being raised from the heights of the happiness of mankind, awakening the slumbering, granting sight to the blind, causing the heedless to become mindful, bestowing hearing upon the deaf, unloosing the tongue of the mute and resuscitating the dead.
The one is the call of civilization, of the progress of the material world. This pertaineth to the world of phenomena, promoteth the principles of material achievement, and is the trainer for the physical accomplishments of mankind. It compriseth the laws, regulations, arts and sciences through which the world of humanity hath developed; laws and regulations which are the outcome of lofty ideals and the result of sound minds, and which have stepped forth into the arena of existence through the efforts of the wise and cultured in past and subsequent ages. The propagator and executive power of this call is just government.
The other is the soul-stirring call of God, Whose spiritual teachings are safeguards of the everlasting glory, the eternal happiness and illumination of the world of humanity, and cause attributes of mercy to be revealed in the human world and the life beyond.
This second call is founded upon the instructions and exhortations of the Lord and the admonitions and altruistic emotions belonging to the realm of morality which, like unto a brilliant light, brighten and illumine the lamp of the realities of mankind. Its penetrative power is the Word of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 283.
The Baha’i ideals, which include the unity of the human race and the oneness of all peoples and nations, present every hopeful and idealistic person with a set of noble goals and aspirations.
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