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Spirituality

The 5 Qualities of Truly Intelligent People

David Langness | Mar 24, 2024

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Mar 24, 2024

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

What does it mean to be highly knowledgeable  — to become a truly learned person? Does it require multiple advanced degrees, or an academic profession, or an especially high IQ?

Not necessarily. The Baha’i teachings offer a different definition.

On page 83 of the last book Baha’u’llah wrote before his passing, the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, he outlined five criteria for becoming one of the world’s “truly learned” people:

Know thou that he is truly learned who hath acknowledged My Revelation, and drunk from the Ocean of My knowledge, and soared in the atmosphere of My love, and cast away all else besides Me, and taken firm hold on that which hath been sent down from the Kingdom of My wondrous utterance. He, verily, is even as an eye unto mankind, and as the spirit of life unto the body of all creation. 

Here are those five criteria, abbreviated in list form:

1. Acknowledging Baha’u’llah’s revelation

2. Drink from the Ocean of its knowledge

3. Soar in the atmosphere of Baha’u’llah’s love

4. Cast away all else besides Me

5. And “taken firm hold” on the Baha’i revelation’s utterance.

Let’s examine these five Baha’i criteria for being truly learned and explore their ramifications.

RELATED: The Exercised Intelligence of the Rational Soul

Acknowledging Baha’u’llah’s Revelation

When a new holy messenger appears and begins to teach others, the very first disciples and adherents of that divine message are forever venerated as visionaries. We’ve largely forgotten the great scholars and intellectuals of Christ’s day, for example, but we still remember the apostles Paul and Peter, and Christ’s humble follower Mary Magdalene, who traveled with Jesus, supported his ministry, and witnessed his crucifixion. The Baha’i teachings say this about Mary Magdalene, from a 1911 speech Abdu’l-Baha gave in London:

The bounty and power of God is limitless for each human soul. Consider what was the quickening power of the Christ when He was on earth. Look at His disciples! They were poor and uncultured men. Out of the rough fisherman He made the great Peter, and out of the poor village girl of Magdala He made one who is a power in all the world today. Many queens have reigned who are remembered by their dates in history, and nothing more is known of them. But Mary the Magdalene is greater than them all. It was she whose love strengthened the disciples when their faith was failing. What she did for the world cannot be measured. See what a divine power was enkindled in her by the power of God!

So, could this early recognition and acceptance of a new divine messenger be the crux of a true spiritual intelligence? Would the discovery and recognition of a new prophet  — despite the fact that those holy messengers usually appear in unassuming ways — prove to be a greater and more learned determination than any scientific or technological discovery? 

We might think of it that way if we ask ourselves this question: “How would I have reacted if I lived during the time of Christ, or Buddha, or Baha’u’llah? Would I have sought out and acknowledged the spiritual claims of those messengers? Or would I have ignored them?

Drink from the Ocean of His Knowledge

By definition, the founders and prophets of the world’s great Faiths have an enormous long-term impact on humanity. They bring new teachings, laws, and life-affirming philosophies into the world, and the profound effects of their moral and spiritual guidance gives birth not only to new knowledge but to entirely new civilizations. Billions of people follow their teachings and try to lead their lives modeled on the examples the prophets provided.

We can drink, Baha’u’llah tells us, from that unlimited wellspring of unmatched knowledge if we immerse ourselves in the writings and teachings of a new revelation:

O thou who hast soared to the realm of guidance and ascended to the kingdom of virtue! Shouldst thou desire to apprehend these celestial allusions, to witness the mysteries of divine knowledge, and to become acquainted with His all-encompassing Word, then it behoveth thine eminence to inquire into these and other questions pertaining to thine origin and ultimate goal from those whom God hath made to be the Wellspring of His knowledge, the Heaven of His wisdom, and the Ark of His mysteries. … We beseech God therefore to immerse us in these surging seas, to grace us with the presence of these life-bearing breezes, and to cause us to abide in these divine and lofty precincts. Perchance we may divest ourselves of all that we have taken from each other and strip ourselves of such borrowed garments as we have stolen from our fellow men, that He may attire us instead with the robe of His mercy and the raiment of His guidance, and admit us into the city of knowledge.

Whosoever entereth this city will comprehend every science before probing into its mysteries and will acquire from the leaves of its trees a knowledge and wisdom encompassing such mysteries of divine lordship as are enshrined within the treasuries of creation.

What great library, what extensive web-based AI resource, what massive human repository of learning and knowledge could possibly exceed the knowledge of the Creator of the universe? How would any man-made “borrowed garments” of learning ever outstrip the depth and breadth of the wisdom of that infinite source?

If we study only at the fountain of man’s acquired learning, Baha’u’llah wrote in his Book of Certitude, we will fail to ascend the “furthermost summit of learning:”

Consider, how can he that faileth in the day of God’s Revelation to attain unto the grace of the “Divine Presence” and to recognize His Manifestation, be justly called learned, though he may have spent aeons in the pursuit of knowledge, and acquired all the limited and material learning of men? It is surely evident that he can in no wise be regarded as possessed of true knowledge. Whereas, the most unlettered of all men, if he be honoured with this supreme distinction, he verily is accounted as one of those divinely-learned men whose knowledge is of God; for such a man hath attained the acme of knowledge, and hath reached the furthermost summit of learning.

Soar in the Atmosphere of Baha’u’llah’s Love

This third Baha’i criterion of true wisdom and knowledge transcends learning itself and extends into the loftier realms of affection, compassion, and spiritual attraction.

The human intellect has significant limitations  — as individuals, we can know nearly everything about certain narrow fields of knowledge  — but still be severely deficient in our level of emotional intelligence.

Here, in the realm of love, the intellectual qualities of the mind receive a heartfelt gift no amount of further factual knowledge can grant, as Abdu’l-Baha wrote: “Every kind of knowledge, every science, is as a tree: if the fruit of it be the love of God, then is it a blessed tree, but if not, that tree is but dried-up wood, and shall only feed the fire.

In his book The Secret of Divine Civilization, Abdu’l-Baha called all humanity to the highest imaginable outcomes of true knowledge:

We must now highly resolve to arise and lay hold of all those instrumentalities that promote the peace and well-being and happiness, the knowledge, culture and industry, the dignity, value and station, of the entire human race. Thus, through the restoring waters of pure intention and unselfish effort, the earth of human potentialities will blossom with its own latent excellence and flower into praiseworthy qualities …

No earthly knowledge can ever match the spiritual wisdom a new messenger brings.

RELATED: Building the Spiritual Architecture of the Mind

Cast Away All Else Besides Me

At first, this fourth step in attaining true learning may seem difficult to understand and accomplish. What does Baha’u’llah mean when he asks us to “cast away all else besides Me?” The personal pronoun in that phrase doesn’t refer to Baha’u’llah, but instead refers directly to God, and ultimately asks us to turn our minds and hearts to the Creator’s knowledge rather than relying on our own limited human understandings.

Briefly, the Baha’i teachings encourage and revere all scientific knowledge and each new discovery humanity can utilize for its prosperity and peace. Those things, Baha’u’llah wrote, ultimately come to us from the grace and love of the Almighty:

The breezes of the Most Merciful have passed over all created things; happy the man that hath discovered their fragrance, and set himself towards them with a sound heart. Attire thy temple with the ornament of My Name, and thy tongue with remembrance of Me, and thine heart with love for Me, the Almighty, the Most High. We have desired for thee naught except that which is better for thee than what thou dost possess and all the treasures of the earth. Thy Lord, verily, is knowing, informed of all.

Fifth and finally, Baha’u’llah recommends that each spiritual seeker after true knowledge, wisdom, and learning:

Take Firm Hold on that which Hath Been Sent Down from the Kingdom of My Wondrous Utterance.

Following this guidance, Baha’u’llah explained, can transform an individual into “the spirit of life unto the body of all creation.” 

When we desire learning and knowledge, where do we seek it? Here, in these five brief directions from the writings of Baha’u’llah, lies the key.

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