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The Baha’i teachings offer humanity a great gift: they leave no doubt about our primary purpose while we temporarily live on this earthly plane.
The Prophets and Messengers of God have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth. The purpose underlying Their revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High. …
The purpose of the one true God in manifesting Himself is to summon all mankind to truthfulness and sincerity, to piety and trustworthiness, to resignation and submissiveness to the Will of God, to forbearance and kindliness, to uprightness and wisdom. His object is to array every man with the mantle of a saintly character, and to adorn him with the ornament of holy and goodly deeds.
Which means to me that we need to acquire spiritual qualities, just as a fetus needs to develop physical attributes in preparation for this physical world. These qualities – the attributes and spiritual virtues the messengers of God throughout history have evinced and encouraged their followers to adopt – include honesty, trustworthiness, mercy, humility, loving-kindness, and every other moral and spiritual trait.
This single sentence in a prayer from Baha’u’llah asks each person to testify daily to this essential spiritual purpose of our physical life: “I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee.”
The Baha’i writings – which come from the three central figures of the Faith: the Bab, Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha – provide a deep ocean of divine guidance and encouragement, all with the aim of spiritualizing our lives as we walk our path to the next world and to God.
Loving God by Loving the Creation
Along with the written word in the sacred scriptures of religious teachings, we all have access to another means to know and to love God. The Baha’i writings make it clear that God intends all of creation, from the vast stretches of the known universe down to every atom in existence, for the benefit of all of humanity – to help us recognize our Creator, appreciate God’s greatness, and grow to love God for the gifts that surround us in this physical world.
For some, the belief that the universe and everything in it exists for the sole purpose of helping humans attain a higher level of spirituality represents a difficult concept to believe. They would reject the notion that out of all the creatures on the planet, we humans are so important that all of creation is just intended to help us know and to love God. This, they would maintain, is nothing but arrogance and self-centeredness.
Baha’u’llah assured us, however, that the entire physical existence serves this very purpose:
Every created thing in the whole universe is but a door leading into His [God’s] knowledge, a sign of His sovereignty, a revelation of His names, a symbol of His majesty, a token of His power, a means of admittance into His straight Path …
As an example, think of a student in school. Children are likely unaware of the fact that the huge investment society makes in financing teachers and other staff, the buildings and classrooms, books and supplies, transportation, and on and on, are for the sole purpose of providing for their education. Now imagine if the children were aware of this fact. Would it make them arrogant and filled with self-importance? Or would they be humbled by the gifts adults provided, who sacrifice in order that they receive a quality education?
Likewise, the physical environment of this world, with all its beauty and with our ability to obtain from its abundant natural resources all we need to live healthy lives, are a gift from God that should humble us as we give thanks for all the Creator has provided.
Finding Spirituality through Nature
Some people find their spirituality through nature. I have a good friend who grew up in a home where the parents were not members of any organized religion and so she had no formal religious education. However, her father had a deep love of nature and felt close to a “higher power” or God when outdoors in the natural world, and he passed this on to her at a young age. She describes having a strong belief in God without religious teachings – so when she was introduced to the Baha’i Faith, she had no problem with the concept of God as the Creator and believing that His Creation provided a path to know and love Him.
Baha’u’llah himself had a great appreciation and love of nature. In his long years as an exile and prisoner, being deprived of even looking upon greenery caused him great suffering. In the latter years of his ministry, only when the doors of the prison in Akka were finally opened to him, was he able to again enjoy having some freedom to be close to nature. There are several stories about how during those years his followers would plant flowers and fruit trees in order to beautify his surroundings and bring joy to his heart. He named the small garden they established for him as the Garden of Ridvan – Paradise.
Humanity has begun to come to a far greater appreciation of the beauty, complexity, and diversity of the many ecosystems that make up our planet. Scientists, nature photographers, explorers, and adventurers have unlocked many of the mysteries of forests, deserts, oceans, and other natural environments. However, we still have a vast amount of knowledge to learn about these systems and how we need to protect them. Because of that quest for knowledge of the natural world, great strides have been made in discoveries related to the complex web of relationships between animals, plants, weather, and terrain.
Baha’u’llah affirmed the wonders of nature when he wrote:
Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.
Thank goodness for the people of “discernment,” who have discovered and educated us about the mysteries and wonders of God’s creation. Like millions of others, I enjoy watching nature shows that use advanced camera technology, (and sometimes seemingly infinite patience!) to examine more deeply the reality of our planet. To me, these programs are almost like a study session focusing on some aspect of God’s amazing creation. A good example is the recently released documentary, My Octopus Teacher, where an underwater photographer explores a kelp forest off the coast of South Africa and his unusual and heart-warming friendship with an octopus. I learned about a diverse and beautiful part of our world that was totally new to me, as well as some facts about an animal that were truly surprising.
The gifts of God to humanity are endless, more than we can ever know in our limited understanding. Preeminent among these gifts are the written revelations of God’s chosen messengers and our ability to take the spiritual lessons therefrom and make them a part of our lives. Another is every part of our physical being and the world around us, even that part of our world so minute that our eyes cannot perceive them. Baha’u’llah assures us of that fact:
Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things.
These quotes from the Baha’i teachings make me realize that we have much to be thankful for – and that when we take care of this Earth, we also take care of ourselves, both physically and spiritually.