How do you decide what to believe?
Most people weigh and evaluate spiritual truth in light of their knowledge and experience, and then let their heart and their mind determine what most inspires them. You can help that process along by understanding one vital distinction in all spirituality—the difference between what lasts and what passes, between the transitory and the permanent.
Every great spiritual tradition has two dimensions: the temporal and the eternal:
Each of the divine religions embodies two kinds of ordinances. The first is those which concern spiritual susceptibilities, the development of moral principles and the quickening of the conscience of man. These are essential or fundamental, one and the same in all religions, changeless and eternal — reality not subject to transformation. Abraham heralded this reality, Moses promulgated it, and Jesus Christ established it in the world of mankind. All the divine Prophets and Messengers were the instruments and channels of this same eternal, essential truth. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 105.
The temporal parts of the tradition—societal laws, dietary recommendations, social principles, phenomenal exigencies—change with each renewal of religion:
The second kind of ordinances in the divine religions is those which relate to the material affairs of humankind. These are the material or accidental laws which are subject to change in each day of manifestation, according to exigencies of the time, conditions and differing capacities of humanity. For instance, in the day of Moses ten commandments in regard to murder were revealed by Him. These commandments were in accordance with the requirements of that day and time. Other laws embodying drastic punishments were enacted by Moses — an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The penalty for theft was amputation of the hand. These laws and penalties were applicable to the degree of the Israelitish people of that period, who dwelt in the wilderness and desert under conditions where severity was necessary and justifiable. But in the time of Jesus Christ this kind of law was not expedient; therefore, Christ abrogated and superseded the commands of Moses. – Ibid., p. 105.
The eternal parts of each tradition—its fundamental spiritual and moral truths, valid always and forever—never change. Like the teachings of the Golden Rule, consistent throughout every great Faith in history, those essential truths form the bedrock basis of our human spirituality:
All the divine Manifestations have proclaimed the oneness of God and the unity of mankind. They have taught that men should love and mutually help each other in order that they might progress. Now if this conception of religion be true, its essential principle is the oneness of humanity. The fundamental truth of the Manifestations is peace. This underlies all religion, all justice. The divine purpose is that men should live in unity, concord and agreement and should love one another. Consider the virtues of the human world and realize that the oneness of humanity is the primary foundation of them all. Read the Gospel and the other Holy Books. You will find their fundamentals are one and the same. Therefore, unity is the essential truth of religion and, when so understood, embraces all the virtues of the human world. Praise be to God! This knowledge has been spread, eyes have been opened, and ears have become attentive. Therefore, we must endeavor to promulgate and practice the religion of God which has been founded by all the Prophets. And the religion of God is absolute love and unity. – Ibid., p. 32.
The Baha’i teachings, which promote and promulgate “absolute love and unity,” recognize that everyone must investigate the truth and rationally compare what they discover in order to develop their own spirituality:
In brief, every one of the divine religions contains essential ordinances, which are not subject to change, and material ordinances, which are abrogated according to the exigencies of time. But the people of the world have forsaken the divine teachings and followed forms and imitations of the truth. Inasmuch as these human interpretations and superstitions differ, dissensions and bigotry have arisen, and strife and warfare have prevailed. By investigating the truth or foundation of reality underlying their own and other beliefs, all would be united and agreed, for this reality is one; it is not multiple and not divisible. – Ibid., p. 106.
This underlying, essential unity, this one reality that unites all the world’s legitimate belief systems, forms the basis for true spirituality. Because consistency across the thousands of years and distant cultures that separate religious dispensations usually indicates a deep and lasting veracity, those truths will seem obvious and apparent to the true seeker. If you can find a clear spiritual principle that appears in the Holy Books of many different Faiths, that principle will generally and undoubtedly ring true forever—and you can safely and confidently incorporate it into your spiritual life.
The Baha’i teachings do just that. They reprise and restate the great spiritual truths of old, and in this latest revelation, release them again with new power and potency:
The ocean of divine mercy is surging, the vernal showers are descending, the Sun of Reality is shining gloriously. Heavenly teachings applicable to the advancement in human conditions have been revealed in this merciful age. This re-formation and renewal of the fundamental reality of religion constitute the true and outworking spirit of modernism, the unmistakable light of the world, the manifest effulgence of the Word of God, the divine remedy for all human ailment and the bounty of eternal life to all mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 10.
Next: Are You a Spiritual Liberal?