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As humans, we’re not content to just stand on a shore looking out across an ocean. We build boats and set sail to places we’ve only dreamed about. We invent microscopes to see what the naked eye can’t see. We strap ourselves into spacecraft that take us beyond the bondage of gravity to experience the unimaginable. We do this not to satisfy some physical or material need, but to innately reach for something larger than ourselves. This drive to explore our natural world also leads us on our search for the Divine.
We engage in these activities because we’re hardwired to explore both the inner and outer realms. Our immortal souls and spirits, given to us by God, make us human beings into curious, natural-born seekers and discoverers.
The Baha’i teachings speak directly to this inherent nature of our humanity:
Man — the true man — is soul, not body; though physically man belongs to the animal kingdom, yet his soul lifts him above the rest of creation. Behold how the light of the sun illuminates the world of matter: even so doth the Divine Light shed its rays in the kingdom of the soul. The soul it is which makes the human creature a celestial entity! – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 85.
Our soul connects us to God.
While men and animals share senses and physical powers, Abdu’l-Baha says, “the animal can only know through sense impressions and cannot grasp intellectual realities.” Senses rule in the animal kingdom, which lacks the power of abstract thought. Animals, Abdu’l-Baha points out, cannot understand that our earth is round and that it rotates around the sun. However, humans, with the gift of spirit, have consciousness, perception and the ability to discover the secrets of nature.
Look around you and think of every material object you enjoy. Then imagine that at one time, they did not exist. However, what began in the mind as a thought was then materially created by human endeavor, brought from the invisible to the visible realm. The thrill of exploration, of discovery, of seeking a new path – the human soul exults in these emotions.
Our souls make it possible for us to seek in both the natural and spiritual worlds. However, one important reason makes our primary goal spiritual in nature, and develops our highest understanding of our individual reality and how this relates to God. That reason? Human beings have spiritual qualities – but we also have animal qualities.
We can be selfish and greedy, full of hate and revenge, cruel and unjust and dictatorial. The Baha’i writings teach us that:
…human reality stands between the higher and the lower in man, between the world of the animal and the world of divinity. When the animal proclivity in man becomes predominant, he sinks even lower than the brute. When the heavenly powers are triumphant in his nature, he becomes the noblest and most superior being in the world of creation. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 110.
When we have no understanding of our spiritual reality, when we do not strengthen and refine our virtues, seeking can lead us to the lowest depths of depravity. In our own minds, we can find justification to use our amazing discoveries to oppress the many to benefit the few, to systematically eliminate millions of lives, and to wantonly pollute our natural environment.
So where does human seeking take us? Does our destiny call for our own destruction or to reach the epitome of human achievement? Do we serve humanity or exploit it? Do we rise or do we fall? Thankfully, God has left those questions up to us.
The Baha’i teachings repeatedly call us to our true spiritual destiny:
Man is the life of the world, and the life of man is the spirit. The happiness of the world depends upon man, and the happiness of man is dependent upon the spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 240.
The word ‘humanity’ conjures up visions of billions of people. However, each one of those billions individually will decide whether they allow heavenly powers to triumph in their own lives; or give in to control by their lower natures.
The Baha’i message envisions a world where humans have collectively risen to the spiritual challenge and have created Heaven on Earth. We can take this long-sought invisible dream and bring it into the visible.