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Human perfection, as Baha’is see it, is unattainable – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always strive to perfect ourselves.
Unfortunately, some people who search for spiritual truth have the idea that human beings can somehow attain perfection, and they focus their search on that goal, only to find disappointment and disillusionment. They meet people on the path who initially seem spiritually developed and mature, only to learn later that imperfections afflict everyone. This realization discourages them, and prevents them from searching further. That does not have to happen.
Looking for spiritual perfection, whether in yourself or in others, means you will be eternally disappointed. We all have our faults and foibles. So that’s the ninth and final mistake that spiritual seekers make:
9. Expecting spiritual perfection.
The happiest and best-adjusted people understand that each person in this world walks the path of spiritual progress; each at a different stage of development:
The only real difference that exists between people is that they are at various stages of development. Some are imperfect — these must be brought to perfection. Some are asleep — they must be awakened; some are negligent — they must be roused; but one and all are the children of God. Love them all with your whole heart; no one is a stranger to the other, all are friends. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 170.
How many times did I hit this cavernous expectation pothole? Let me count the ways…. We all fall for this one. We meet someone who has a regular spiritual practice, who seems to have their life together, and we develop these unreasonable expectations, this sense that this person must be wonderful because they’re so spiritual. Not necessarily. (Sometimes they’re just faking it ‘til they feel it.) The truth is that all of us, everybody, has another stage of their spiritual development waiting. We can all stand to expand our soul’s vision and range and scope. Abdu’l-Baha put it this way:
Every imperfect soul is self-centered and thinketh only of his own good. But as his thoughts expand a little he will begin to think of the welfare and comfort of his family. If his ideas still more widen, his concern will be the felicity of his fellow citizens; and if still they widen, he will be thinking of the glory of his land and of his race. But when ideas and views reach the utmost degree of expansion and attain the stage of perfection, then will he be interested in the exaltation of humankind. He will then be the well-wisher of all men and the seeker of the weal and prosperity of all lands. This is indicative of perfection. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 68.
Ultimately, when we search for spiritual truth we’re really looking for a way to transcend our inner self, to leave behind that small part of us and trade it in for something larger, more altruistic and happier. We want our consciousness to expand and our spiritual path to widen out in front of us, but most of all we seek to be united with our Creator. If our spiritual search exalts us, it will propel us forward on the path to love and unity:
…the root of the exaltation of man is the good attributes and virtues which are the adornments of his reality. These are the divine appearances, the heavenly bounties, the sublime emotions, the love and knowledge of God; universal wisdom, intellectual perception, scientific discoveries, justice, equity, truthfulness, benevolence, natural courage and innate fortitude; the respect for rights and the keeping of agreements and covenants; rectitude in all circumstances; serving the truth under all conditions; the sacrifice of one’s life for the good of all people; kindness and esteem for all nations; obedience to the teachings of God; service in the Divine Kingdom; the guidance of the people, and the education of the nations and races. This is the prosperity of the human world! This is the exaltation of man in the world! This is eternal life and heavenly honor! – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, pp. 79-80.
To sum up, your spiritual path belongs to you, and only to you. It has to nourish you, make you whole and happy. Don’t let others condition it for you, whatever you do. No other person on this earth can do that.
My wise old Norwegian grandfather, who lived to 106, told me once that he never saw a U-Haul behind a hearse. That’s because in the end, we can only own the spiritual things – our thoughts, our beliefs, our deepest inner convictions, our relationship with the numinous, our connection to God.