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The Baha’i teachings offer us a beautiful growth-centered vision of human nature—not inherently bad or sinful, but noble, kind and good.
Abdu’l-Baha said “Existence is like a tree, and man is the fruit.” – Divine Philosophy, p. 109.
A seed, once planted, germinates and sprouts, draws nourishment from the soil and sun, and eventually develops structures like roots, stems, and shoots. Once this is accomplished the bud forms, opens, and the most beautiful and complex properties of the flower are revealed—its color and fragrance. How is it that from dirt, air, and light the plant creates such velvety reds and emits that intoxicating perfume? How can a tiny seed turn into a sapling which becomes a tree that bears the most luscious fruits?
This wonderful mystery holds clues to our human development, both as individuals and as a species.
As individuals, we all grow, develop and mature. Just like every plant, our growth takes place in stages—and like nature itself does, the human species as a whole evolves over time. The Baha’i teachings say that in this era, human beings are collectively approaching maturity. We’ve moved through the collective stages of human infancy and childhood, and now, as we go through our turbulent adolescence, we can look forward to bearing the fruit of our evolution:
The world of humanity has, heretofore, been in the stage of infancy; now it is approaching maturity. Just as the individual human organism, having attained the period of maturity, reaches its fullest degree of physical strength and ripened intellectual faculties so that in one year of this ripened period there is witnessed an unprecedented measure of development, likewise the world of humanity in this cycle of its completeness and consummation will realize an immeasurable upward progress, and that power of accomplishment whereof each individual human reality is the depository of God—that outworking Universal Spirit—like the intellectual faculty, will reveal itself in infinite degrees of perfection. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 35-36.
Emerging from millennia of evolution, we share many of our physical qualities with animals—qualities essential to our growth and development. But the new opportunity before us is the expression of beautiful and complex qualities never before expressed. After all, the most beautiful and complex qualities of a flowering plant can be latent for most of its existence, then suddenly unfold. The tree takes a long time growing and developing before it brings forth its fruit.
Knowing the potential of the plant helps us tend to its development, and pay attention to the stage of its efflorescence. What is the beauty of our spirit? What wondrous qualities will we manifest, unique to this point in human development? To look expectantly for these qualities is a source of hope and motivation—attraction to the beauty placed within us by a loving Creator:
… the human reality may be compared to a seed… the merciful God, our Creator, has deposited within human realities certain latent and potential virtues. Through education and culture these virtues deposited by the loving God will become apparent in human reality … – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 91.
The education that humanity receives guides our evolution. The Baha’i teachings explain that we are sent divine educators with many different names like Jesus, Muhammad, and Baha’u’llah. They function symbolically like the sun does for all plant life—the education they transmit is the light that causes us to turn toward them, fast, study, pray, serve others, and grow as a result.
We are heliotropically attracted to the heat and light of their love. We may also seek to understand what is most beautiful within us—the ways we can be like them—so we ourselves and others can blossom and express our innermost spiritual qualities. It is part of our purpose to reveal those potential qualities and the excellence within us, not for our own sakes but so the beauty placed in each of us can be revealed and manifested to humanity:
… I have perfected in every one of you My creation, so that the excellence of My handiwork may be fully revealed unto men. It follows, therefore, that every man hath been, and will continue to be, able of himself to appreciate the Beauty of God, the Glorified. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143.