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The Independent Investigation of Reality: The First Baha’i Principle

Wade Fransson | Jul 7, 2024

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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Wade Fransson | Jul 7, 2024

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

At the heart of the Baha’i Faith, a foundational principle beckons individuals to embark on a personal journey of exploration and understanding — the independent investigation of reality. 

This primary Baha’i principle encourages each seeker to engage in a thoughtful and discerning quest for spiritual truth.

Under dramatic circumstances, as a Christian minister in Russia, before I became a Baha’i, I came to a full realization of the degree to which each of us are convinced of our rightness, that we have the answers. But I nonetheless still felt, at that time, that I was not only more “right” than the next person, but I was also less “wrong” than others. 

This is the pernicious nature of this belief in one’s own “rightness” — it can blind us. 

RELATED: Becoming Myself: the Independent Investigation of Truth

While I knew that Jesus called me to repent of this attitude, to crucify my ego, in accepting that truth, I simultaneously succumbed to the belief that I understood Jesus’ teachings better than others and was rigidly applying the frequent biblical admonitions to “hold fast” to the teachings as I had understood them. 

This is often true, in differing degrees and nuanced variations, for all religions and ideologies and all of their adherents. This is one aspect of the universality of the Baha’i Faith. Baha’is have no clergy, and it is literally against the Baha’i teachings to proselytize. As a Baha’i, I don’t try to force others to see things through my eyes. Instead, in this regard, Baha’is are invited to follow the example of Abdu’l-Baha — the son and successor of the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah.

These passages by Abdu’l-Baha, from a series of lectures he delivered in Paris in the early 1900s, expound on this point:

If each believes his particular religion to be the only true one, he blinds his eyes to the truth in the others. If, for instance, a Jew is bound by the external practice of the religion of Israel, he does not permit himself to perceive that truth can exist in any other religion; it must be all contained in his own! …

If five people meet together to seek for truth, they must begin by cutting themselves free from all their own special conditions and renouncing all preconceived ideas. In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one.

This important principle of independent investigation is the key to growing in our understanding of spiritual truths because each of us must understand truth in our own way, on our own terms, in ways that resonate with us.  

This subtle difference from the current emphasis on individual truths — i.e. “my truth” — actually is the opposite of insisting on one’s own subjective interpretation. It shifts the focus onto an objective, external reality while allowing us to apply our own internal conceptualization independently of someone else’s conceptualization of that reality. 

By way of example, you may have heard of Plato’s cave. I have updated his analogy to conceive of each of us as living in our own parallel universe. But to make it accessible and even comical, imagine that each of us lives inside our own onion, covered by many onion layers. From the inside, it’s impossible to peel away the outer layers that prevent us from seeing the world as it is. From inside that onion, we can only understand objective reality from within our own language, resulting in a clouded view of the world.

The principle of independent investigation accepts this reality and points the way out. It invites individuals to use their intellect, reasoning, and innate spiritual capacity to discern the verities of religion in loving, accepting, open, non-confrontational, non-antagonistic discussion with those who believe differently. Such discussions will encourage all of us to allow our individualized consciousness to meet consciousness on a grander scale, thus simultaneously changing our conceptions and creating a new kind of shared reality.

RELATED: Why You Should Read The Kitab-i-Iqan: The Book of Certitude

The Book of Certitude

Baha’u’llah asserted that blind imitation of ancestral beliefs is inadequate in the search for truth, urging individuals to seek knowledge with an open mind and a sincere heart:

But, O my brother, when a true seeker determineth to take the step of search in the path leading to the knowledge of the Ancient of Days, he must, before all else, cleanse and purify his heart, which is the seat of the revelation of the inner mysteries of God, from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge, and the allusions of the embodiments of satanic fancy. 

This passage from the Baha’i writings underscores the challenge presented by prior knowledge in the spiritual journey. Early in my journey I had been taught the analogy that if you wish to fill a cup with water, you have to allow the air to escape. One could come up with many examples of how pre-existing beliefs might have entered our consciousness, even if they are nothing but “hot air.” A biblical example of this is how the serpent in Genesis 3:1, as rendered in the New King James Version, planted an incorrect idea in Eve’s consciousness:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

In his Book of Certitude, Baha’u’llah described the independent investigation of truth as a journey that commences with the recognition of the divine and culminates in the adherence to divine guidance:

It behooveth us, therefore, to make the utmost endeavor, that, by God’s invisible assistance, these dark veils, these clouds of Heaven-sent trials, may not hinder us from beholding the beauty of His shining Countenance, and that we may recognize Him only by His own Self.

Also, Baha’u’llah highlighted the source of divine guidance as the messengers of God, called manifestations in the Baha’i writings. Baha’u’llah said, referring to those manifestations of God: “For they one and all summon the people of the earth to acknowledge the Unity of God, and herald unto them … an infinite grace and bounty.”

The Baha’i principle of the independent investigation of truth beckons individuals to embark on a personal and transformative journey in the realm of the spirit. This principle not only encourages everyone to seek knowledge, but also asks us to cultivate inner virtues and attributes that lead to a deeper understanding of spiritual truths, applying spiritual commitment in pursuit of intellectual coherence.

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  • Jul 8, 2024
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    Wade, you write to well. I gain so much from your topics and your insights into the writings of our Faith. Thank you.🥀
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