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And among the teachings of Baha’u’llah is man’s freedom, that through the ideal Power he should be free and emancipated from the captivity of the world of nature; for as long as man is captive to nature he is a ferocious animal, as the struggle for existence is one of the exigencies of the world of nature. This matter of the struggle for existence is the fountain-head of all calamities and is the supreme affliction. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 302.
“The supreme affliction,” the Baha’i writings call the human struggle for existence—and anyone who has had to truly struggle to make it in this hard world knows what that means.
When people have to struggle just to survive, life becomes a great burden. Driven by our needs and the needs of our families for food, clothing and shelter; we can begin to believe that life is nothing more than struggle, pain and difficulty. The struggle for existence can even make people lose their moral and mental compass, committing desparate acts they would never commit otherwise. So much of human endeavor and potential go into overcoming that struggle—so how can we overcome it?
The Baha’i writings say that this earthly life is filled with conflict and strife:
Such is this mortal abode: a storehouse of afflictions and suffering. It is ignorance that binds man to it, for no comfort can be secured by any soul in this world, from monarch down to the most humble commoner. If once this life should offer a man a sweet cup, a hundred bitter ones will follow; such is the condition of this world. The wise man, therefore, doth not attach himself to this mortal life and doth not depend upon it… – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 200.
This doesn’t mean, the Baha’i teachings say, that we should all disregard the struggles and suffering of others. In fact, it gives us all the duty and the opportunity to relieve suffering, by extending our own selfless service to humanity:
The medieval ages of darkness have passed away and this century of radiance has dawned, this century wherein the reality of things is becoming evident, wherein science is penetrating the mysteries of the universe, the oneness of the world of humanity is being established, and service to mankind is the paramount motive of all existence. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 369.
For the past two centuries science has focused its attention on the struggle for existence in the natural world, and many scientists have subsequently attempted to adopt the principles of the lower world of nature to human life. As a result, we now regard rivalry, competition and conflict as necessities of life; as inborn and inherent qualities of the human species.
The Baha’i teachings tell us, on the other hand, that if we wish to truly evolve, instead of looking backward to the natural world, we must look toward the spiritual world. Instead of taking the animal kingdom as our model, we would more faithfully reflect our human character by adopting the teachings of the prophets and founders of the world’s great Faiths as our guides. From a Baha’i perspective, the principles of unity, love, compassion, mutuality and unbounded kindness taught by those divine teachers and messengers represent the antithesis of the animal struggle for self-preservation:
In the world of nature the dominant note is the struggle for existence — the result of which is the survival of the fittest. The law of the survival of the fittest is the origin of all difficulties. It is the cause of war and strife, hatred and animosity, between human beings. In the world of nature there is tyranny, egoism, aggression, overbearance, usurpation of the rights of others and other blameworthy attributes which are defects of the animal world. Therefore, so long as the requirements of the natural world play paramount part among the children of men, success and prosperity are impossible. Nature is warlike, nature is bloodthirsty, nature is tyrannical, for nature is unaware of God the Almighty. That is why these cruel qualities are natural to the animal world.
Therefore the Lord of mankind, having great love and mercy, has caused the appearance of the prophets and the revelation of the Holy Books, so that through divine education humanity may be released from the corruption of nature and the darkness of ignorance, be confirmed with ideal virtues and spiritual attributes, and become the dawning-place of merciful emotions. – Abdu’l-Baha, quoted in Dr. J. E. Esselmont’s Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 156.
From a mystical perspective, the Baha’i teachings offer humanity a way to transcend our evolutionary lower nature. From a practical, socially-conscious perspective, the Baha’i teachings offer humanity a new set of principles that can help us decrease and de-emphasize our constant struggle for existence–by closing the huge gap between destitution and immense personal wealth, removing the recurrent crises that plague the world’s economic systems, and providing a just, fair, sustainable and equitable way to apportion the vast wealth our bountiful globe contains:
The earth is one native land, one home; and all mankind are the children of one Father. God has created them, and they are the recipients of His compassion… It is the wish of our heavenly Father that every heart should rejoice and be filled with happiness, that we should live together in felicity and joy. The obstacle to human happiness is racial or religious prejudice, the competitive struggle for existence and inhumanity toward each other. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 468.
We can rid ourselves of the competitive struggle for existence and end the terrible suffering that plagues parts of the human family—if we apply the Baha’i teachings of unity, peace and love as the healing medicine the world so desperately needs.