Do we human beings have a higher spiritual purpose – an instinctual inner drive to move from the human to the heavenly?
I came across a historian recently who readily acknowledged the additional abilities humans have over animals in the cooperation and imagination departments – but he then went on to label any higher spiritual purpose as a “fictional story.”
The Baha’i writings, in contrast, claim that this inherent spiritual capacity actually provides the point of our existence:
Having created the world and all that liveth and moveth therein, He [God], through the direct operation of His unconstrained and sovereign Will, chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him – a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 65.
But, the argument of this supposed “expert” got me thinking: what do the Baha’i writings have to say about animal vs. human vs. heavenly realms? This subject has caused much debate between philosophers over thousands of years, but I have always valued Abdu’l-Baha’s clear, straightforward and simple explanations.
In a powerful book called Some Answered Questions, he defined five aspects of spirit. Firstly, the vegetable spirit mingles organic substances and the power of growth. Secondly, the animal spirit – a more complex form of existence – uses the power of the senses to perceive the reality of things. Thirdly, the human spirit has all the elements of the first levels, plus the power of intellect and discovery. The human spirit, for example, can discover unknown things – the world’s great crafts, inventions and undertakings all come from this realm. Abdul-Baha cautions, however, that this human spirit can evince two opposing aspects:
Should it [the human spirit] acquire virtues, it is the noblest of all things … and should it acquire vices, it becomes the most vile. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 163.
Fourthly, Abdu’l-Baha said, the heavenly spirit or the spirit of faith comes from the grace of God:
This spirit proceeds from the breath of the Holy Spirit and, through a power born of God, it becomes the cause of everlasting life. It is that power which makes the earthly soul heavenly and the imperfect man perfect. – Ibid.
The Baha’i teachings say that we, even as mere mortals, have the capacity to tap into this force.
Abdu’l-Baha identifies the fifth and final level as the Holy Spirit itself, which he says serves as the mediator between God and His creatures. These he identifies as the divine educators – like Christ and his own father Baha’u’llah:
Just as a spotless mirror receives the rays of the sun and reflects its bounty to others, so too is the Holy Spirit the mediator of the light of holiness, which it conveys from the Sun of Truth to sanctified souls. – Ibid.
The world is renewed, he said, by this spiritual power.
I’m not sure how much of the Holy Spirit we human beings can really access. But, at a more basic level, how do we move from an earthly or human spirit to a heavenly one? I don’t believe it’s easy necessarily, but maybe not impossible either. The Baha’i writings imply that we can’t make the leap from our lower to higher nature without some divine intervention and the “spirit of faith” that I referred to earlier. The prophets of God play a very important role here and Abdul-Baha calls them the “gardeners of the world of humanity.” That’s a nice image, but we probably also have to remember that a good gardener sometimes needs to remove the weeds and prune the hedges:
“God has sent forth the Prophets for the purpose of quickening the soul of man into higher and divine recognitions,” claims Abdul-Baha in a talk he gave in Canada in 1912. Through heavenly books, he went on to say:
… the breaths of the Holy Spirit have been wafted through the gardens of human hearts, the doors of the divine Kingdom opened to mankind and the invisible inspirations sent forth from on high. This divine and ideal power has been bestowed upon man in order that he may purify himself from the imperfections of nature and uplift his soul to the realm of might and power. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 310.
Abdul-Baha also defined the limitations between one realm and another – namely, that lower forms cannot entirely comprehend higher ones. However, they all possess a common element, the attraction and cohesion of ingredients – which he also identifies as love – that hold all things together. In the human realm, he said:
… we find that all the degrees of the mineral, vegetable and animal expressions of love are present plus unmistakable attractions of consciousness. That is to say, man is the possessor of a degree of attraction which is conscious and spiritual. Here is an immeasurable advance. In the human kingdom spiritual susceptibilities come into view, love exercises its superlative degree, and this is the cause of human life. – Ibid., pp. 268-269.
Abdul-Baha made a larger point, too, about the presence or absence of love:
when we observe the phenomena of the universe, we realize that the axis around which life revolves is love, while the axis around which death and destruction revolve is animosity and hatred. – Ibid., p. 268.
In another part of this same passage he said that if repulsion exists instead of attraction – in all of these different kingdoms – then the result is “… disintegration, destruction and nonexistence.” Taking these concepts from the abstract into our day-to-day lives, which of these paths – individually and collectively – do we want to follow?