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When you gaze up into the starry sky at night, does its vastness humble you? Two trillion galaxies—a recent scientific guestimate—should humble any one of us.
If, then, the physical worlds or systems are beyond comprehension or limit, as are the “Dawning Places of Unity, the Daysprings of Singleness and the Suns of Holiness”—the prophets and messengers of God—then why should we even consider trying to study that huge, incomprehensible macrocosm?
Here again, the answer is the same as the reason why we should study the microcosm.
If the physical world in all its properties forms an outward image, a metaphorical representation of the unseen metaphysical world—and a complete expression at that—(much as the body and actions of the human being give evidence of the soul’s reality and condition), then the fundamental principle by which knowledge of the unseen reality can be obtained begins with the premise that to understand the operation of a particular part of the Chain of Being or a particular ingredient in universal composition is to gain insight into all the other levels on the chain of being and all other compositions, since universals explain (and replicate in various ways) particulars, and particulars explain universals:
Know then that those mathematical questions which have stood the test of scrutiny and about the soundness of which there is no doubt are those that are supported by incontrovertible and logically binding proofs and by the rules of geometry as applied to astronomy, that are based on observations of the stars and careful astronomical research, and are in conformity with the principles of the universal themes expounded in the divine sciences. For it is by applying the outward world to the inner, the high to the low, the small to the large, the general to the particular that, with abundant clearness, it becometh apparent that the new rules arrived at by the science of astronomy are in closer accord with the universal divine principles than the other erroneous theories and propositions, as we have explained and illustrated. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Tablet of the Universe, p. 7, anonymous provisional translation.
To summarize, then, we can discover in this overall concept of refinement—whether we descend into the realm of particle physics or ascend into the realm of astrophysics—that the Creator has fashioned an infinitely complex classroom for our training, a classroom whose lessons will never become tedious because they will never be completely exhausted or finally understood. They will ever challenge humankind on whatever planet this special being lives and at whatever stage of evolution this fruit of creation may reach.
Therefore, while physical creation is clearly the product of—subordinate in station to—the unseen reality which it manifests, we grievously err to value it solely as a breeding ground for souls in which they assume an identity and receive a simplistic or foundational education to prepare them for the next stage of their potential for infinite growth in the realm of the spirit.
Clearly the physical world is not merely a shadowy metaphor of spiritual reality. In its capacity to manifest even the most refined expressions of metaphysical reality, it is indeed the “exact counterpart” of the spiritual world, and it co-exists with that reality in an infinite, ceaseless, integrated, and organic enterprise. Physical reality, in short, has inherent divine significance in and of itself, because if (as the Baha’i writings assert) every created thing bears the imprint of the Creator, and each and every created entity is unique, then each and every created composition is unique in its expression of divine reality and thus has its special role to play, even as each of us do!
Refinement and Individual Development
All these observations about the possibility of a material universe that is infinitely refineable in its particulate nature (microcosm) and in its additive nature (macrocosm) demonstrate dramatically how physical reality precisely symbolizes all the powers of the Creator. But how specifically does this understanding of the particulate and cosmological extremes of creation show us anything about human existence, at least in any practical or usable way? How do these material expressions of refinement relate to what is sometimes alluded to in the teachings as living the “Baha’i life?
In the microcosmic world, we discover a relationship in the laws themselves. That is, the Baha’i teachings give us a relatively succinct code of law designed to establish a fundamental global structure that will endure so long as this planet (or any other planet) endures. Consequently, we might understandably expect the focus of this work to be the most expansive expression of this new vision of human society–on a world commonwealth and on the laws by which this world-embracing structure should function.
But the fact is that we find in Baha’u’llah’s Most Holy Book, and in other Baha’i books and tablets, that the majority of the work in leading a Baha’i life focuses on how to be a refined individual, how to create a refined family culture, and how to help create and foster a refined community. It does not take a genius to figure out the rationale for this emphasis.
Families living in communities always have been and always will be the foundational building block of any society, whether the overall governance be tribal, territorial, national, or global in structure. In other words, since the Earth has contracted into a single interdependent society, a macrocosmic system of global governance must be constructed to maintain world peace and justice:
In these days the tabernacle of justice hath fallen into the clutches of tyranny and oppression. Beseech ye the One true God—exalted be His glory—not to deprive mankind of the ocean of true understanding, for were men but to take heed they would readily appreciate that whatever hath streamed from and is set down by the Pen of Glory is even as the sun for the whole world and that therein lie the welfare, security and true interests of all men; otherwise the earth will be tormented by a fresh calamity every day and unprecedented commotions will break out. God grant that the people of the world may be graciously aided to preserve the light of His loving counsels within the globe of wisdom. We cherish the hope that everyone may be adorned with the vesture of true wisdom, the basis of the government of the world. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 166.