The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
The power of understanding – our remarkable, unique human intellectual faculty – processes incoming information and accepts it as a part of reality, or rejects it as fiction.
According to Baha’u’llah, the first favor:
… which the Almighty hath conferred upon man is the gift of [the power of] understanding. This gift giveth man the power to discern the truth in all things, leadeth him to that which is right, and helpeth him to discover the secrets of creation.
The ability to distinguish between fake and fact seems like a lost skill for some in today’s social atmosphere. As a result, many have become disheartened and fearful.
With all the conflicting, highly-politicized claims we hear today, how do we tell what is true and what is false? We can only know by relying on our power of understanding. This power is hard-wired into human beings. Abdu’l-Baha asserts that the faculties of the mind:
… are but the inherent properties of the soul, such as the power of understanding, of imagination, of thought; powers that are the essential requisites of the reality of man. The temple of man is like unto a mirror, his soul is as the sun, and his mental faculties even as the rays that emanate from that source of light. The ray may cease to fall upon the mirror, but it can in no wise be dissociated from the sun.
By the power of understanding, you fill your mind with knowledge. Every time you come across some new information your power to understand acts as a filter to separate fiction from reality. By utilizing this power, you build your view of the world free from fear and dread. As a result, you safeguard your integrity from being undermined by misinformation or manipulation.
Knowing the truth anchors us to reality. Factual information provides the basis for feeling confident and self-assured.
As you travel the path of life you are bombarded with information from parents, siblings, teachers, and a host of others. The stream of input is endless and from this stream, you will absorb different beliefs. Some will be true, others false. Nothing is permanent – which means that every belief can be rejected or replaced. False beliefs have consequences, however, because they can so easily pollute your consciousness and, subsequently, your actions. The power of understanding enables you to give your choices a closer look. The ability to make the right choices, to hold yourself and others accountable, requires truthfulness.
Dr. David Hawkins, in his book Truth vs. Falsehood: How to Tell the Difference, says that the purpose of truthfulness is:
… the alleviation of suffering by virtue of replacing falsehood with truth and sharing the knowledge of how to arrive at the truth on one’s own, for the pathway to its source resides within. For those who are aligned with truth, the path lights up; for those who refuse it, the path is darkened. All of us are free to choose.
God has created in man the power of reason, whereby man is enabled to investigate reality. God has not intended man to imitate blindly his fathers and ancestors. He has endowed him with mind, or the faculty of reasoning, by the exercise of which he is to investigate and discover the truth, and that which he finds real and true he must accept. He must not be an imitator or blind follower of any soul. He must not rely implicitly upon the opinion of any man without investigation; nay, each soul must seek intelligently and independently, arriving at a real conclusion and bound only by that reality.
A friend of mine was not feeling well. His primary care doctor’s diagnosis was a heart arrhythmia. He then consulted with a cardiologist, and she said, “It’s just an anxiety attack, your heart is fine.” He then got a third medical opinion – definitely atrial tachycardia. Rather than thinking someone is lying, and by using his power of understanding, he came to realize that each physician’s diagnosis was shaped by their specialty, which influences their perception of reality. To determine the truth he had a few more tests, selected treatment, and today is symptom-free.
While I believe in evolution, that the Earth is round, and that atoms exist, I can’t prove evolution, I have not personally witnessed the round Earth from space, and I’ve never seen an atom. Instead, my power of understanding has made known to me the scientific facts which give rise to my beliefs. This comes from my attempt to rigorously examine anything that goes through my senses to my brain before it becomes accepted as truth.
At a social level, I embrace the oneness of humanity, believe that helping others is a good thing, think gender equality is an undeniable truth, and accept that acquiring the right skills provides a ticket to success in life. Credible sources, personal experience, and my own power of understanding have allowed me to accept these ideas. If we hope to find the truth in a world full of contradicting ideas, we need to make use of all the resources at our disposal: science, history, experience, holy scripture, and our own engine of discovery, the power of understanding.