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Because of the coronavirus pandemic we are experiencing right now, some people live in fear —they think we have no control over life. Others realize life is short and try to re-prioritize their life.
If we have a deeper understanding of what life is, and the purpose of life, we might turn our efforts toward a better existence in this world and the world to come. After we die, our physical life ends, but our soul continues to live. Living here on this planet is not only physical but also has a spiritual purpose.
What is life? When we see plants grow, we see life. The spiritual power in plants is the power of growth. A plant without that spiritual power has no life. The same is true with humanity. The spiritual power within us makes us alive. And from the condition of our spiritual power, we see the condition of human life. The life of a man has two parts, physical life and spiritual life. We are spiritual beings because the spiritual power we have within our souls sets us apart from the animal kingdom. What types of spiritual power are within us?
The Baha’i teachings tell us that we are endowed with many types of spiritual power. When we see a physical body grow or cells renew, it is the power of growth. When we use our five senses to perceive the world, it is the power of the senses, which animals also have. We also have an intellectual power, which is a function of both the mind and the soul. This power places us above the animals. We can use our intellectual ability to discover things. The spiritual powers of the intellect include imagination, thought, comprehension, and memory. So our physical life is endowed with the power of growth, sensory power, and intellectual power, which make us human. But we also have more.
A Seed of the Heavenly Life
The spiritual perception in the human soul makes us a spiritual being and able to live spiritually. If we use our intellectual power only with our physical perception, the life we live is only a material life in the physical realm. If we use our intellectual power with our spiritual perception, then we can live spiritually.
The Baha’i teachings tell us that when God creates a person, he deposits a seed of the heavenly life in their soul. Sometimes it called the spirit of life, and when it’s fully developed, we call it the spirit of faith. It is like how the physical body is called an embryo before it is fully developed. The seed of our heavenly life can't start to grow unless the fire of God's love has kindled it. And that is the life that Jesus called “spirit.”
In a talk in Dublin in 1912, Abdul-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, offered this explanation of John 3:5-6: “That which is born of flesh is flesh; and that which is born of Spirit is spirit. He meant that those who were born of the human body were dead spiritually, while those quickened by the breaths of the Holy Spirit were living and eternally alive.”
The fire of the love of God kindles the spirit of life and nourishes it with the grace of God. The result of living a spiritual life is the development of eternal life. The human soul is everlasting — both eternal and heavenly. We can live with spiritual power and perception, but we can’t live a heavenly life without turning our heart and soul toward the Kingdom of God, with its divine assistance and bounties. So, where can we develop this heavenly life?
Developing the Spirit of Life
In a talk in New York City in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha said:
“In the beginning of his human life man was embryonic in the world of the matrix. There he received capacity and endowment for the reality of human existence. The forces and powers necessary for this world were bestowed upon him in that limited condition. In this world he needed eyes; he received them potentially in the other. He needed ears; he obtained them there in readiness and preparation for his new existence. The powers requisite in this world were conferred upon him in the world of the matrix so that when he entered this realm of real existence he not only possessed all necessary functions and powers but found provision for his material sustenance awaiting him.
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. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the matrix by acquiring forces necessary in this sphere of existence, so, likewise, the indispensable forces of the divine existence must be potentially attained in this world.”
Matrix is Latin for "mother," and we can think of the world of the matrix as "Mother Earth" — for the evolution of humanity and our mother's womb for the development of a person.
What are the stages we need to go through to develop that heavenly life? What do we need to develop? Abdu’l-Baha tells us the human soul needs to go through different stages and develop the capacity for advancement to the next station and condition.
The Stages Which the Spirit of Life Travels Through
In the same talk in New York City, Abdu’l-Baha tells us how the human soul progresses in physical form. He also gives us the idea of what stages we need to travel through to become an eternal being. He said:
“In the world of existence man has traversed successive degrees until he has attained the human kingdom. In each degree of his progression he has developed capacity for advancement to the next station and condition. While in the kingdom of the mineral he was attaining the capacity for promotion into the degree of the vegetable. In the kingdom of the vegetable he underwent preparation for the world of the animal, and from thence he has come onward to the human degree, or kingdom. Throughout this journey of progression he has ever and always been potentially man.”
Through these four stages and the development of four divine spiritual powers, we see the spirit of life develop and see the inner life manifest. From the inner life, we see the signs of divinity and the image of God within us. That is the life bestowed by God's bounties, and that is the true life we seek.
What We Need to Do While We Develop the Spirit of Life
The life that develops in the mother's womb provides us with the well-being of our physical life. The development of spiritual qualities will give us the well-being of our spiritual life in the next world. How does this happen? Abdu’l-Baha said:
“First, through the knowledge of God. Second, through the love of God. Third, through faith. Fourth, through philanthropic deeds. Fifth, through self-sacrifice. Sixth, through severance from this world. Seventh, through sanctity and holiness. Unless he acquires these forces and attains to these requirements, he will surely be deprived of the life that is eternal. But if he possesses the knowledge of God, becomes ignited through the fire of the love of God, witnesses the great and mighty signs of the Kingdom, becomes the cause of love among mankind and lives in the utmost state of sanctity and holiness, he shall surely attain to a second birth, be baptized by the Holy Spirit and enjoy everlasting existence.”
The life which God bestows on us is eternal. And that seed of eternal life is placed within the reality of man when God creates us. When we attain the birth of the spirit of life, that is the heavenly life that Jesus brought to us — and that life has no death. That is true life which God bestowed on humanity and which is the life of a developed soul. We can't develop it without being attracted by God's love, and we only develop it with the grace of God.