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Spiritual Birth: What Being Born Again Really Means

V. M. Gopaul | Jan 24, 2022

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

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V. M. Gopaul | Jan 24, 2022

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

One thing is certain: every human being arrives in this world in a naked and fragile body. After this physical birth, a newborn desperately needs others for survival. 

Fortunately, help usually waits nearby for the new arrival, who holds promises of developing physically, emotionally, and intellectually, of being educated, reaching self-sufficiency, and becoming a productive member of society. Then, after a life here on this plane of existence, death surely comes, sometimes unexpectedly. That cycle of life defines us all.

But another kind of birth also exists. 

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Of all the religions, Christianity particularly emphasizes this second birth. According to John, Jesus said: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Jesus also said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” These sayings suggest that each human being has two realities: the physical and the spiritual. Through our physical birth we enter this temporal world, but to gain access to a more eternal reality, to the existence many different religions call the kingdom of God, we need to experience a spiritual birth. 

The Baha’i teachings say that the kingdom of God refers to a world beyond the physical. In a talk he gave in New York in 1912 Abdu’l-Baha said: “Therefore, in this world he must prepare himself for the life beyond. That which he needs in the world of the Kingdom must be obtained here.”

We all need to experience this basic transformation to condition ourselves for the next world, just as in the womb we are transformed from a single cell to an infant in preparation for this world.

To be spiritually born involves gaining awareness that our existence is not only physical. Those who have experienced this spiritual dimension understand that their existence is highly enhanced when they live according to spiritual laws, and not only by the dictates of physical and social impulses. The highest point of this awareness acknowledging that a supreme Being, called God or Allah or Yahweh, created the universe. When a rebirth occurs, our inner spirit must develop a relationship with this Supreme Power for its own growth and development. 

The physical birth just happens. No one asks for your permission. Parents are selected for you. The color of your skin, your religious background (or lack thereof), and your country of origin are all thrust upon you. Many good and not-as-good characteristics come with this package. You have to work with what you’ve got. 

But you have more control over your spiritual birth. Some of us become aware of our spiritual existence at an early age, and some die as atheists. But to benefit from all that a spiritual life has to offer, we have to make a firm commitment in its progress. 

On the concept of rebirth, Abdu’l-Baha gave a beautiful explanation in the book Some Answered Questions:

Existential rewards consist in the virtues and perfections that adorn the human reality. For example, man was immersed in darkness and becomes luminous; he was ignorant and becomes informed; he was heedless and becomes aware; he was asleep and is awakened; he was dead and is quickened to life; he was blind and begins to see; he was deaf and begins to hear; he was earthly and becomes heavenly; he was material and becomes spiritual. Through these rewards he is reborn in spirit, is created anew, and becomes the manifestation of the verse in the Gospel that says that the Apostles “were born, not of blood, nor of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” – that is, they were delivered from the animal characteristics and qualities that are inherent to human nature, and acquired divine attributes, which are the outpouring grace of God. This is the true meaning of being born again.

What to do with this knowledge? It can make life a wonderful experience. With it, one can ride the waves of difficulties that life throws at us. It gives meaning to existence beyond the physical realm. It helps us recognize that when we die, life does not end; rather it continues throughout eternity. Without this understanding, life is only the here and now.

Finding God is a personal journey, and our experiences along the way are as unique as we are. For example, my friend in Alberta, Canada, was looking out at a majestic landscape when suddenly she realized that a Supreme Power must have created all that she saw. This was her moment of awakening. She investigated many religions and eventually became a Baha’i.  

My own experience was different. At the age of fifteen, I concluded that God did not exist. A few years later, I came across the Baha’i Faith, although at the time I had very little appetite for religion. In 1969, I went from my birthplace of Mauritius to Pakistan to study. In Karachi I contacted the Baha’is, who were friendly and hospitable. Nine months later when I decided to leave Pakistan and head towards Europe by road, one Baha’i suggested that I contact the Baha’is on my way. It sounded like a good idea and I immediately accepted. During my travels in Europe, I was always in touch with the Baha’is, and participated in activities whenever possible. In 1971, I reached Toronto and realized that I was very much part of this religion – yet I still did not believe in God.

Knowing that religion is fundamentally about a relationship between the soul and God, I felt hypocritical in calling myself a Baha’i. Immediately after this realization, I started my quest for God. After a few months of reflection, I came to the same conclusion as I had when I was fifteen: there is no God. I was disheartened and wondered if I had done something wrong. Then the answer came. I was using my mind to logically satisfy myself about the existence of a spiritual Being. It wasn’t until later, at a meeting where prayers were being said, that my approach changed. I began to use my heart to sense the presence of the Almighty. With faith, I had to make the first move, and sure enough a spiritual awareness gradually came to me.

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These two stories show that divine assistance is easier to call upon than dialing 911. In the Qur’an, it is said, “And whoso maketh efforts for Us, in Our ways will We guide them: for God is assuredly with those who do righteous deeds.

During this second birth, something even more profound than the initial awakening takes place: the Holy Spirit, a signal telling the soul of a higher existence, touches your soul. This is the moment when a real spiritual life starts. With this direct interaction between a willing soul and the Holy Spirit, a new journey to see and reflect the Beauty of God begins. 

To the early Baha’is, Baha’u’llah said

… ye are the first among men to be re-created by His Spirit, the first to adore and bow the knee before Him, the first to circle round His throne of glory. I swear by Him Who hath caused Me to reveal whatever hath pleased Him! Ye are better known to the inmates of the Kingdom on high than ye are known to your own selves.

To those who have experienced a spiritual birth, life is lifted into a higher plane of existence. But the most glorious moment of this journey is when the Holy Spirit, the highest of all spirits in creation, touches the soul. At this stage the soul is re-created and lives in an intimate relationship with God. Just like many are ready to help a newborn, so is the spiritual realm waiting to rush to the aid of a searching soul, if it only asks. 

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  • nicole sambrano
    Aug 8, 2023
    Such a Powerful write up! This brought me to tears. Many thanks!
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