Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. – Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:48.
“Perfection” (Kamāl, in Persian) is the name of the eighth Baha’i month in the 19-month Baha’i Calendar. The month of “Perfection” lasts from the beginning to the middle of August each year.
Some of you might be wondering, “Isn’t talking about perfection—both divine and human—a bit presumptuous? How can we be like God, if God is all-powerful, infinite, etc., and we human beings are finite, puny creatures?” Fair question!
In the opening quote above, Jesus teaches: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Here, human perfection is somehow modeled on divine perfection.
What is the “official” definition of “perfection” as it pertains to us human beings? Let’s turn to the “bible” of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, for illumination:
2 . The condition or state of being morally or spiritually perfect; holiness; virtuous conduct.
Christian perfection n. Christian holiness or righteousness; spec. the relatively perfect holiness attainable by a person, as distinct from the absolute divine perfection.
Here, “perfection” is a state of “holiness.” This is achieved by “virtuous conduct.” Such conduct flows from a moral conscience, and a desire to be a good person, and to do right by others.
Human perfection is relative. Divine perfection is absolute. Pure and simple.
There are other definitions of “perfection,” of course. Did you know that “perfection” is also a transitive verb? Here’s the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition:
trans. To bring to perfection, to perfect.
A rare verb, and a rare quality.
“Perfection” can be an action, a rare quality of becoming, rather than simply a state of being. You’ve heard the expression, “Striving for perfection.” That’s what it’s all about.
Baha’u’llah, who Baha’is believe is the intermediary between God and humanity for this day and age, offers this insight:
Likewise, reflect upon the perfection of man’s creation, and that all these planes and states are folded up and hidden away within him.
Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?
Quoting the very same Persian poem (in italics, below), Abdu’l-Baha writes:
A man should pause and reflect and be just: his Lord, out of measureless grace, has made him a human being and honored him with the words: “Verily, We created man in the goodliest of forms”—and caused His mercy which rises out of the dawn of oneness to shine down upon him, until he became the wellspring of the words of God and the place where the mysteries of heaven alighted, and on the morning of creation he was covered with the rays of the qualities of perfection and the graces of holiness. How can he stain this immaculate garment with the filth of selfish desires, or exchange this everlasting honor for infamy? “Dost thou think thyself only a puny form, when the universe is folded up within thee?” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 19.
Based on the insights offered by these two quotes, one way to look at perfection is becoming truly human—that is, transcending the animal condition. You don’t need to be an angel to become angelic. You don’t need to be perfect to strive for perfection.
So we can see “perfection” as an aspiration, an objective, an action, a process of conscious and continual improvement.
In transforming godly attributes into goodly action, we are trying to become more truly human. That is to say, in “striving for perfection,” we try to become more spiritual in nature, thereby transcending the animal nature, in order to fulfill what is intrinsically, or at least ideally, the best in our human nature.
“Nature,” broadly defined, is most often thought of as the natural order of things, in connection with environmentalism, and related issues. But nature is also an inner environment. Think of “striving for perfection” as inner environmentalism.
Here is a more down-to-earth explanation by Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, in a letter, to an individual believer, written on his behalf by his secretary (who also happened to be his wife):
10 December 1947
Dear Baha’i Sister:
Your letter to our beloved Guardian, dated November 27th, has been received, and he has instructed me to answer it on his behalf.
Regarding the questions you asked: self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Baha’i writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as “he hath known God who hath known himself”, etc. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.
Self-sacrifice means to subordinate this lower nature and its desires to the more godly and noble side of our selves. Ultimately, in its highest sense, self-sacrifice means to give our will and our all to God to do with as He pleases. Then He purifies and glorifies our true self until it becomes a shining and wonderful reality.
He assures you of his loving prayers for the success of your Baha’i services.
With warmest greetings,
[From the Guardian:]
Assuring you of my loving prayers for your success in the service of our beloved Faith and of its God-given institutions,
Your true brother,
Messages to Canada, p. 99.
This beautiful letter is quoted in full, not only to offer its full explanation, but to exemplify the kind of spiritual guidance that Shoghi Effendi, as leader of the Baha’i Faith in 1921 to 1957, had to offer.
Before becoming Guardian, Shoghi Effendi received his education at Oxford University. Yet such insights are not achieved as the fruit of academic education. Such simple, yet profound insights come from a ruby heart and a diamond mind, through the prism of the two conjoined, in their synergistic and intensifying spiritual optics, where spiritual light is imparted as insight, where the supernal and eternal are translated into the here-and-now, for our moral and spiritual uplift, for time and eternity.