The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
We human beings are exceedingly complex creatures. Don’t believe it? Just contemplate the automatic response systems of the body, for example. When hungry or thirsty we get the urge to eat or drink, and the body does the rest. Blinking is automatic, yet we can stare. Walking is automatic, yet we can stop. Even the brain’s primitive limbic system, our primordial reflex to fight, freeze or flee, can be modified by the exercise of our will.
Humans have been gifted with intelligence, or what we sometimes call reason, and through the use of reason we have also been given the gift of choice. Most of us, using our reasoning abilities to override the body’s automatic systems, call this the human mind. The Baha’i teachings refer to mind as the rational soul:
The foremost degree of comprehension in the world of nature is that of the rational soul. This power and comprehension is shared in common by all men, whether they be heedless or aware, wayward or faithful. In the creation of God, the rational soul of man encompasses and is distinguished above all other created things: It is by virtue of its nobility and distinction that it encompasses them all. Through the power of the rational soul, man can discover the realities of things, comprehend their properties and penetrate the mysteries of existence. All the sciences, branches of learning, arts, inventions, institutions, undertakings, and discoveries have resulted from the comprehension of the rational soul. These were once impenetrable secrets, hidden mysteries, and unknown realities, and the rational soul gradually discovered them and brought them out of the invisible plane into the realm of the visible. This is the greatest power of comprehension in the world of nature, and the uttermost limit of its flight is to comprehend the realities, signs, and properties of contingent things. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 250-251.
If the rational soul, emanating through the use of the mind, discovers the realities of things, then our human self will choose how to proceed further, because… we want to know.
Yet, here is an important distinction worth noting from Abdu’l-Baha:
As to the second criterion—reason—this likewise is unreliable and not to be depended upon. This human world is an ocean of varying opinions. If reason is the perfect standard and criterion of knowledge, why are opinions at variance and why do philosophers disagree so completely with each other? This is a clear proof that human reason is not to be relied upon as an infallible criterion. For instance, great discoveries and announcements of former centuries are continually upset and discarded by the wise men of today. Mathematicians, astronomers, chemical scientists continually disprove and reject the conclusions of the ancients; nothing is fixed, nothing final; everything continually changing because human reason is progressing along new roads of investigation and arriving at new conclusions every day. In the future much that is announced and accepted as true now will be rejected and disproved. And so it will continue ad infinitum. – Foundations of World Unity, p. 46.
However, whatever the “reason” we choose to believe anything, we must exercise our will in investigating further or taking action:
The attainment of any object is conditioned upon knowledge, volition and action. Unless these three conditions are forthcoming there is no execution or accomplishment. In the erection of a house it is first necessary to know the ground and design the house suitable for it; second, to obtain the means or funds necessary for the construction; third, to actually build it. Therefore a power is needed… – Ibid., p. 101.
That power is our volition, or willpower. Because human beings have the gift of free will, every endeavor requires it. So the question becomes, why do we choose to do the things we do? Why this, not that? Why inaction over action? Why silence over speaking out? Why loving now or spurning kindness before?
Simply put, believers of every faith, including Baha’is, would say that understanding the Will of God is the greatest boon to choosing wisely in this world, in all our actions.
Do we wish to be wise or to be a sheep, following the masses right or wrong? Choosing wisely means investigating the facts of a matter, testing them by finding evidence or confirmation, and acting on that knowledge by choosing to exercise our will. It also means measuring our own will with the standard of the Divine Will, by understanding the message of the prophets of God and endeavoring to align our actions with their eternal wisdom.
Baha’is call this the principle of the independent investigation of truth, and it is indispensable to the process of discovery.