A small child, taught to think universally, can talk with the learned. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha on Divine Philosophy, p. 95.
Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words. Great indeed is the claim of scientists and craftsmen on the peoples of the world…. In truth, knowledge is a veritable treasure for man, and a source of glory, of bounty, of joy, of exaltation, of cheer and gladness unto him. Thus hath the Tongue of Grandeur spoken in this Most Great Prison. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 51-52.
You know what knowledge is, don’t you? Of course, knowledge encompasses the sciences, the arts, the humanities, philosophy, history, and every other branch of human learning. Knowledge also includes sensory awareness, instinctual motive, intuitive feeling, empathic understanding, experiential wisdom, common sense, and practical “know-how”—not to mention genius.
On second thought, let’s mention “genius.” This is probably a new understanding of “genius” for most readers:
The confirmations of the Spirit are all those powers and gifts which some are born with (and which men sometimes call genius), but for which others have to strive with infinite pains. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 121.
What are the “confirmations of the Spirit”? Here, “Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit. This is a good segue into another kind of “knowledge.” Let’s not forget that knowledge encompasses spiritual knowledge as well—the two go together.
“Knowledge” (’Ilm, in Persian) is the name of the twelfth Baha’i month in the 19-month Baha’i Calendar. The month of Knowledge lasts from mid-October to early November each year. Knowledge, from a Baha’i perspective, is a kind of “perfection” that redounds to our own progress and to the advancement of civilization:
For knowledge is light, life, felicity, perfection, and beauty, and causes the soul to draw nigh to the divine threshold. It is the honour and glory of the human realm and the greatest of God’s bounties. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 154-155.
Think about this for a moment: material knowledge has to do with the mind; spiritual knowledge involves the soul. They actually work together. The problem is the balance between the two. If the soul, with its own spiritual knowledge, is not awakened, there’s an imbalance in favor of purely material knowledge which, without ethical constraints and moral sensibilities, can be pure evil if used for power, corruption, and destruction.
Religion induces spiritual knowledge. Science produces material knowledge. If the two work together, they deliver ideal results.
This wisdom and enlightenment underpin the Baha’i principle of the “harmony of science and religion,” the powerful idea and ideal working relationship between the two most fundamental spheres of influence in human civilization, in which material and spiritual knowledge synergize to produce spectacular results. This is why “knowledge” is so highly regarded in the Baha’i value system, such that knowledge, at once, is both divine and human in nature.
While there should be a balance between the two, spiritual knowledge takes precedence over material knowledge:
…that which leads to everlasting life, eternal honour, universal enlightenment, and true success and salvation is, first and foremost, the knowledge of God. It is clear that this knowledge takes precedence over every other knowledge and constitutes the greatest virtue of the human world. For the understanding of the reality of things confers a material advantage in the realm of being and brings about the progress of outward civilization, but the knowledge of God is the cause of spiritual progress and attraction, true vision and insight, the exaltation of humanity, the appearance of divine civilization, the rectification of morals, and the illumination of the conscience. – Ibid., pp. 346-347.
For those who have a burning desire for self-improvement and the advancement of civilization, and who wish to augment this through acquiring greater knowledge, both spiritual and scientific, what’s some good advice for gaining knowledge? Why not begin with this remarkable Baha’i prayer?:
O God, O Thou Who hast cast Thy splendor over the luminous realities of men, shedding upon them the resplendent lights of knowledge and guidance, and hast chosen them out of all created things for this supernal grace, and hast caused them to encompass all things, to understand their inmost essence, and to disclose their mysteries, bringing them forth out of darkness into the visible world! “He verily showeth His special mercy to whomsoever He will.”
O Lord, help Thou Thy loved ones to acquire knowledge and the sciences and arts, and to unravel the secrets that are treasured up in the inmost reality of all created beings. Make them to hear the hidden truths that are written and embedded in the heart of all that is. Make them to be ensigns of guidance amongst all creatures, and piercing rays of the mind shedding forth their light in this, the “first life.” Make them to be leaders unto Thee, guides unto Thy path, runners urging men on to Thy Kingdom.
When you say this prayer, it will motivate you to pursue both useful and rewarding knowledge.