Do you believe that we’re here on this Earth randomly, or do you believe that creation itself has a purpose?
The Baha’i teachings say that every prophet and messenger of God appeared for that single purpose—to spiritualize our material reality:
For a single purpose were the Prophets, each and all, sent down to earth; for this was Christ made manifest, for this did Baha’u’llah raise up the call of the Lord: that the world of man should become the world of God, this nether realm the Kingdom, this darkness light, this satanic wickedness all the virtues of heaven—and unity, fellowship and love be won for the whole human race, that the organic unity should reappear and the bases of discord be destroyed and life everlasting and grace everlasting become the harvest of mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 30.
The purpose of creation, then, is progress—but not just material and technological progress. Our job as human beings, the Baha’i teachings say, is to transform darkness into light. That requires spiritual progress.
But when we look back at history, can we really say the human race has actually progressed? Lots of historians and philosophers have asked that question lately, and some astute observers, who focus on the negative consequences of our material civilization’s advancement, have now concluded that collective human progress is an illusion and a myth. In fact, some believe we’re regressing.
Everyone knows, however, that individual progress exists, because every child who has gone to school understands how it feels to make progress—to learn and grow and develop.
Remember that day in math class when you suddenly understood a fraction or an equation or the rules of geometry? You did your homework, listened carefully to the teacher, puzzled over the concepts; and then one day the new knowledge dawned, something clicked, and all that thinking you’d done finally came to fruition. Your mind had stretched, expanded and grown, and you now knew something you hadn’t known before.
That’s progress. Your understanding moves forward along a continuum, and you improve, advance, develop. Your intellect now grasps what it once failed to understand. You become a new and more knowledgeable being. The same thing happens when your mind and soul learn a fresh spiritual lesson or develop a new inner attribute.
We evolve when we’re free to truly learn, the scientists and the prophets say:
… among the teachings of Baha’u’llah is man’s freedom, that through the ideal Power he should be free and emancipated from the captivity of the world of nature; for as long as man is captive to nature he is a ferocious animal, as the struggle for existence is one of the exigencies of the world of nature. This matter of the struggle for existence is the fountain-head of all calamities and is the supreme affliction. – Ibid., p. 302.
Where does progress come from? What impels us forward? The Baha’i teachings say that inner progress ultimately comes from a divine power:
… man must throughout all the degrees of life evolve and progress day unto day, for life is continuous. The manifestors of divine law have appeared so that they may confer upon man an ideal power which will enable him to advance along all the degrees of human attainment. The power of the world of existence is limited, while the power of God is unlimited. If the reality of man should not be confirmed by a divine power human progress would terminate. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 125.
So how do you make spiritual progress as an individual? How do you become a peaceful, kind and loving person? What tactics and techniques can you use to grow, develop and progress in a spiritual way?
To achieve those spiritual goals, the Baha’i teachings recommend a daily spiritual practice that includes meditation, reflection, prayer, reading and action. For Baha’is, making spiritual progress starts with meditation:
Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit—the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation.
The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food.
Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries.
When you begin a regular practice of meditation, the Baha’i writings say, “the doors of mysteries” will gradually start to open. Those doors of insight and reflection reveal the world of the spirit:
I wish you to live in the world of the Spirit—to see the Divine Reality in everything—to behold the illumination of the world of the Kingdom beyond and within the gloomy mask of this mortal existence. For the world of the Kingdom is a world of Lights, a world of happiness, a world of accomplishment, the real and eternal world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 3, p. 222.