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What’s the purpose of life? That’s one loaded question! But every individual asks themselves that question at least once in a lifetime. Like many, I have pondered over this question at length; and I feel I found the answer that makes the most sense for me in the Baha’i teachings.
I find the answer to this loaded question in the analogy of a baby in the womb. Think back to when you were a baby in the womb. Okay, clearly you don’t remember that far back, but just imagine it with me for a second. You are in this dark, warm, comfortable world. Your body develops arms, legs, eyes, ears, and more, yet you will never need these physical developments in the world of the womb. But at birth, you enter this beautiful large new world, and finally begin to understand why you needed to develop all those physical features.
Would you ever go back to the womb? Of course not. This world is much more exciting. The same goes for the next world, or what you may think of as heaven. The Baha’i teachings say that just as a baby needs to develop physical attributes in the womb so as to not be handicapped in this world, we must develop ourselves spiritually for the next world:
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. – Abdul-Baha, Foundations of World Unity p. 63.
What also captivates me about this analogy in the Baha’i teachings is this beautiful metaphor: just as the world of the womb and this world are so close, the next world is simply a breath away. Heaven isn’t some distant, far-off future condition—it’s as close to us as this world is to a baby in the womb.
So what does it mean to pursue the purpose of life by developing spiritually? It goes beyond praying, meditating, fasting, and making good decisions. The Baha’i teachings explain that all of us have a lower and higher nature. Our egos control the lower nature, while our spirituality controls the higher nature:
In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men. In his material aspect he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcome of his lower nature. The attributes of his Divine nature are shown forth in love, mercy, kindness, truth and justice, one and all being expressions of his higher nature. Every good habit, every noble quality belongs to man’s spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature. If a man’s Divine nature dominates his human nature, we have a saint. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 60.
If you’re like me, you may have read this and asked, “So does this mean I have to be perfect?” Though we are used to saying “no one is perfect,” the Baha’i teachings tells us that we were all created in the likeness of God and therefore have the ability to reflect His divine qualities and virtues. So apparently it’s not such an impossible task. Just like any endeavor, spirituality takes practice. Don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes in the process. Remember that every winner is a former loser who never gave up.
Each time you attempt to put your spiritual qualities into practice, you run the risk of failing—but you could also succeed. Either way, spiritual growth takes time. You don’t have to run the full marathon right away. Just as you did in the beginning of this life, you must first learn to crawl. With practice, devotion, and plenty of lessons along the way, you’ll learn to walk and ultimately run. The journey of getting there is just as important as reaching that finish line. Be patient, be grateful, and remember: you were created in the likeness of God.