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Neo-Platonism: Framework for a Baha'i Ontology

by Mark A. Foster
In reality, the Prophets of God address us in the language of the Kingdom. Yet,
outwardly, in order to instruct us in the essential reality underlying exoteric
appearances, They speak to us in a terminology distinctive to a particular time
and place. Thus, to human vision, Their utterances simultaneously appear both as
universal and as socio-historically relative. But they cannot be limited by human
standards. A spiritual comprehension of Prophetic knowledge demands that we see
reality with from a God's-eye perspective (with the eye of God), i.e., the point
of view of the divine teachings.
So, the Shakyamuni Buddha taught His disciples in a recognizable framework to
chelas of the Indic traditions; Jesus spoke to His apostles in the semantic
gestalt of the Jews; and Muhammad revealed the Holy Qur'an as a Judaeo-Christian
narrative. But, beyond all these linguistic relativities, a study of the inner
meanings of Their verses brings the divine lover into an encounter with the
discourse of reality. In that respect, whatever the Messengers of God tell us is
eternal and, as such, transcends all situational exigencies.
Moreover, the words used by these exalted Beings should, I believe, be regarded as
rational-level symbol vehicles or thought bridges. Their intent, as I see it, is
to transform objects in the kingdom of names and attributes (materiality) into
their true purpose as metaphors for the inner Kingdom.The primary meaning of Their
words is always symbolic. Even where there is a literal referent, such as the laws
of the Aqdas or the ordinances of the T'nakh, the point of obedience is reunion
with the Beloved. Therefore, praxis and ritual are best seen as spiritual
technologies. By extending normal human abilities, they lift our hearts to the
heavenly realms.
The following is from a letter, dated April 1, 1984, written to this writer on
behalf of the Universal House of Justice:
In response to your letter of 26 February 1984, we are asked by the Universal
House of Justice to share with you the attached extract from a previously
untranslated Tablet revealed by `Abdu'l-Baha on the subject of "speaking in
tongues." ...
The disciples of Christ taught His Faith with the language of the Kingdom. That
language conformeth to all languages, for it consisteth of celestial meanings and
divine mysteries. For the one who becometh conversant with that language the
realities and secrets of creation stand unveiled before him. Divine truths are
common to all languages. The Holy Spirit, therefore, taught the disciples the
language of the Kingdom, and they thus were able to converse with the people of
all nations. Whenever they spoke to those of other nations of the world, it was as
if they conversed in their tongues. The well-known and outstanding languages of
the world number abou a thousand. It was necessary for the disciples ot have
written in at least one of the languages of other nations. Thus, as it is known,
the Gospels were written only in Hebrew and Greek, and not even the language of
the Romans, although it was at the time the official language. As the disciples
were not well-versed in it, the Gospels were not written in that language.
As the disciples of Christ learned from Jesus the language of the Kingdom speaking
in tongues or glossolalia - in this age, Baha'u'llah has also spoken tongues. He
has revealed to us the mysteries of existence, of the worlds of God, of the nature
of the soul, of the degrees of spirit and their manifestations, and of the
dynamics of individual and collective transformation. To speak in tongues is to
incorporate the divine teachings into our language patterns and to relate to each
others as souls.
The language of the kingdom, like all discourse, exists on the rational level.
Whatever narrative framework, or linguistic meaning system, is used by an
organized group or society is identical with their social structure. Adopting the
Prophetic language, the essence of which is unity in diversity, will, then,
produce an integrated group which is grateful for the individualities of its
members.
Likewise, all language is meaningless without material referents. As `Abdu'l-Baha
said to Dr. Auguste Forel (1956, p.337), "The mind comprehendeth the abstract by
the aid of the concrete ...." So, in other words, the Prophets take words which,
outwardly, pertain to material phenomena and, through them, demonstrate the
analogical nature of the world of matter - the kingdom of names and attributes.
All material substance is generated by spirit (purposeful power), and the words of
the Prophets show us the purpose and power of material objects by symbolizing them
in particular ways in Their teachings.
The progressive teachings of the Prophets are, according to `Abdu'l-Baha, "the
science of reality" or "divine science." In order for any society to move from
material to divine civilization, it must ascribe as much importance to the science
of reality (religion, the divine teachings, or religion) as it does to the
material sciences (physical, biological, social, and behavioral). In The
Promulgation of Universal Peace, `Abdu'l-Baha was quoted as saying:
The Prophets of God have been the Servants of Reality. Their teachings constitute
the science of reality. Reality is one; it does not admit plurality. We conclude,
therefore, that the foundation of the religions of God is one foundation. (1982,
p.297)
And again:
Scientific knowledge is the highest attainment upon the human plane, for science
is the discoverer of realities. It is of two kinds: material and spiritual.
Material science is the investigation of natural phenomena; divine science is the
discovery and realization of spiritual verities. The world of humanity must
acquire both.... By the divine we mean the discovery of the mysteries of God, the
comprehension of spiritual realities, the wisdom of God, inner significances of
the heavenly religions and foundation of the law. (p.138)
The independent investigation of reality, which approximates Baha'u'llah's
definition of "justice" (Baha'u'llah, 1986, p.53) and `Abdu'l-Baha's definition of
"science" (see above), is required of all the servants of God in this age. We can
no longer depend on the guidance of clerics and the collective voices of human
authority. We must determine what truth for ourselves. It is the challenge of
living in the Great Day of God.
If we agree to respond positively to this challenge, then we need to develop a
sense of the language of divine discourse used by the Great Ones of this age. As
mentioned earlier, the Prophets of God speak in the terminology of Their peoples.
Outwardly, They may repeat what, in retrospect, may, exoterically, seem to be
untrue. However, the meanings intended by the Great Prophets are often not
primarily literal. Even where Baha'u'llah or `Abdu'l-Baha quote from a particular
person or tradition, They frequently investing the words with a meaning which may,
at least consciously, have been unintended in the original narrative.
Much of the time, Baha'u'llah adopted the language of esoteric Shi'ih and Sufi
Islam - two of the primary spiritual contexts of nineteenth-century Persia.
Moreover, in large part due to the synthesizing efforts of Muhyiddin Ibn `Arabi
and other Sufi visionaries, the terminology of Neo-Platonism [my own preferred
spelling of the more common "Neoplatonism"] had already become incorporated into
Islamic spirituality. Therefore, it is understandable that a substantial amount of
Baha'u'llah's and `Abdu'l-Baha's terminology is Neo-Platonic. This paper will
advance the thesis that, on a mystical level, the Baha'i Faith is the fulfillment
of Neo-Platonism, and that Baha'u'llah, in fact, culminates a line of spirituality
which can be traced back to ancient Greek metaphysics.
The Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha contain many references to Socrates having visited
the Holy Land and being taught by the Prophets of Israel, disciples of Solomon,
and other Hebrews. According to `Abdu'l-Baha, Socrates, after his visit, returned
to Athens and advanced the doctrines to the Unity of God and the immortality of
the human soul. However, based on material included in an unpublished memorandum,
dated October 22, 1995, prepared by the Research Department at the Baha'i World
Centre, at the request of the Universal House of Justice, it is not certain that
these journeys actually took place. As quoted in this memorandum, Shoghi Effendi,
through his secretary, stated that historians cannot be certain that Socrates did
visit the Holy Land. However, he also said, since Baha'is believe that `Abdu'l-
Baha had an intuitive knowledge of this subject, they must accept his authority on
the matter and that proof may come to light in the future.
Regardless of whether Socrates literally traveled to the Holy Land, we know from
statements of Baha'u'llah and `Abdu'l-Baha that there is more than one form of
travel. For example, Baha'u'llah wrote:
One of the created phenomena is the dream. Behold how many secrets are deposited
therein, how many wisdoms treasured up, how many worlds concealed. Observe, how
thou art asleep in a dwelling, and its doors are barred; on a sudden thou findest
thyself in a far-off city, which thou enterest without moving thy feet or wearying
thy body .... (1986, p.14)
And `Abdu'l-Baha said to Laura Clifford Barney:
One [sort of spiritual discovery] is the revelations of the Prophets and the
spiritual discoveries of the elect. The visions of the Prophets are not dreams;
no, they are spiritual discoveries and have reality. They say, for example: "I saw
a person in a certain form, and I said such a thing and he gave such an answer."
This vision is in the world of wakefulness, and not that of sleep. Nay, it is a
spiritual discovery which is expressed as if it were the appearance of a
vision....
... In the same way, man sees in the world of sleep a vision which becomes exactly
realized .... (1981, pp.251-253)
I would suggest that, regardless of whether Socrates literally traveled to
Palestine and Syria, `Abdu'l-Baha's use of a common Eastern tradition might convey
a deeper significance, one which was on the level of spiritual reality. He may
never have intended His statements to refer to the realm of outward appearances.
Therefore, regardless of whether the reported literal journey ever took place,
Socrates, through his "spiritual traveling," could have been inspired by the
bounties of the Dispensation of Moses. In either case, it seems to me that we can
assume that Greek philosophy was, through Socrates, influenced in some fashion by
the Israelitish Prophets and holy ones.
Our essential literary connection with Socrates is through his chief disciple,
Plato. For all intents and purposes, what we know of the former's teachings is
through the writings of the latter. Moreover, much of the terminology used in the
Baha'i teachings is Platonic or, more accurately, Neo-Platonic. The basic esoteric
framework of the Baha'i teachings is, I believe, a confirmation and fulfillment of
the Hellenic wisdom, revealed by God to Moses, transmitted, inwardly perhaps, to
Socrates, conveyed to Plato, reinterpreted by Plotinus, incorporated into Sufi and
Shi'ih esotericism, and fulfilled by Baha'u'llah.
Plato postulated a world of forms, or ideas, which, he argued, is juxtaposed to
the world of outward appearances, or materiality. But he argued that, in
comparison with the world of forms, the world of outward appearances was illusory.
Although he believed that both realms were eternal, there was no direct connection
between them. Rather, an agent, the "Demiurge," who is able to exist on the border
of both worlds, tries to impose the various forms on the chaotic world of outward
appearances. However, the material world is not able to sustain or support these
immutable ideas. Therefore, it could only partake of them for limited periods of
time.
Due to its insistence on the relative separation of the two worlds, pure Platonism
would never become a truly mystical religious system. While it had explanatory
value, and dealt with some questions which Socrates probably never considered, and
which Plato's student, Aristotle, later rejected in his own metaphysical
formulations, it was not intended, nor was it able, to become a technology of
spiritual transcendence. However, the seed of Socratic metaphysical idealism had
now begun to grow as Plato, at least to an extent, was able to reconcile the
existence of a spiritual realm with the parallelism of a material universe. Yet,
several centuries were to pass before Platonism would blossom into a full-blown
mystical system.
According to Blaine Harris (1976), Neo-Platonism was established as a school of
thought by Plotinus (205-270 C.E.). Plotinus, an Egyptian, was the student of
Ammonius Saccas of Alexandria (185-250 C.E.). Plotinus did now consider himself a
"Neo-Platonist." Rather, he regarded himself as being fully faithful to Plato's
system. However, he, and Ammonius, were innovators. Taken as a whole, The Enneads,
a series of fifty-four essays written by Plotinus, affirm themes common to the
Platonic tradition, i.e., the acceptance of a world of forms, the belief that the
ourward realm is influenced by that world of forms, a preference for intuition
over empirical methodologies, the belief in the immortality of the soul, an
affirmation of the essential "goodness" of the material universe, and the belief
that what is good is beautiful, and vice-versa.
Moreover, Harris writes that, although Plotinus criticized certain aspects of
Aristotelianism, he actually blended Platonism with it - especially, with
Aristotle's dialecticism. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that Ernst
Hoffman felt that Neo-Aristotelianism would have been more apt description than
Neo-Platonism. However, Plotinus himself was so strongly commited to Plato, that
naming his system after Aristotle strikes me as virtually sacrilegious!
Perhaps a useful analogy can be drawn with Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern
so-called Wicca (or, erroneously, witchcraft) and its offshoot, Neo-Paganism.
Although Wicca is primarily based on Aleister Crowley's thelemic magick, it also
incorporates elements of reconstructed ancient Greek, Roman, and, especially,
Druidic mythologies, as well as Tantrism. Certainly, its connection with what
anthropologists call witchcraft, or with the "burning times" in old and New
England, is non-existent, and it is best seen as a hybrid. However, all creative
thinkers introduce a variety of ideas, including their own, into their systems,
and Plotinus was no different.
Rather than embarking on a detailed examination of Neo-Platonic emanationism, I
will instead restrict my discussion to mentioning just a few of the major concepts
in Plotinus's system, and then showing how these terms have been incorporated into
the Baha'i metaphysic of unity in diversity. While a detailed treatment of Neo-
Platonism would be interesting in itself, the primary purpose of this paper is to
demonstrate how the Baha'i teachings fulfill Plotinus's rational mysticism and not
to explain all aspects of Neo-Platonism. The interested reader will have no
trouble locating a large literature in this area. Furthermore, the similarity
between Neo-Platonism and the Baha'i teachings does not lie in the preciseness of
cosmological affinity but rather in the similarity in terms and the emphasis on
spiritual transcendence.
The central feature of Neo-Platonism is the notion of the the Divinity as a graded
Triad (MacKenna, 1991) consisting of the One (an unknowable Essence; the
stationary Principle to which all things return), the Intellectual Principle or
the Divine Mind (the world of forms or the archetypes of existence), and the
Universal Soul (the Source, or Creator, of all emanations). This Universal Soul is
the realm of the lower spiritual essences and includes all the individual human
souls. However, as Plotinus saw it, each individual soul must, through the mind
(the principle of animate life), enter into a relationship with the body which,
itself, is part of the world of outward appearances or matter. Life itself is an
emanation from the Universal Soul (Plotinus, 1991, p.244); while matter is the
lowest emanation of the Universal Soul and is identified by Plotinus with evil.
Plotinus was a rational mystic. Therefore, as far as a Neo-Platonic soteriology
(or discourse on salvation) is concerned (Harris, 1976), he saw at least three
factors involved: moral purification, the logical analysis of reality, and an
ecstatic communion with the One. As we shall see, all three of these are aspects
of the Baha'i approach to individual salvation as well.
The latest unveiling of the science of reality (the systematic teachings of the
Prophets of God) has a model of existence which resembles Neo-Platonism. As with
Plotinus, there is a threefold concept of existence in the Baha'i teachings -
although it is not exactly the same. Within each of these three levels, except the
first, other worlds of God are listed. As we know, the worlds of God are infinite
in number. However, in this diagram, this writer has, according to his own
understanding, provided a simple classification schema of the seventeen basic
conditions, or categories, of existence, according to the Baha'i teachings The
basis of this model is the Kingdom of God, i.e., the dominion of the King. In
other words, all things are animated by successively stepped-down degrees of
spirit. And it is spirit, or the purposeful, loving and knowing, power of
existence, beginning with the Most Great Spirit (God), which brings all reality
under divine dominion. The diagram itself should be read from the bottom up, since
that is the path of progression back to the Source of all reality. (See next
page.)
* Map of the Conditions of Existence*

THE KINGDOM OF DIVINE ESSENCE


(Deity or the Source)
Spiritual Essence: the Most
Great Spirit (the Source of
all Purposeful, loving and
knowing, Power)

**************************************************************

THE KINGDOM OF DIVINE MANIFESTATION


(The divine station of the Prophets,
the Greater World, Prophethood,
"the divine Appearance and heavenly
Splendor")
Spiritual Essence: the Holy Spirit
(the Purposeful, loving and knowing
Power, of divine Grace)

THE CAUSE OF GOD (the condition of


divine action or life)

THE WILL OF GOD (the condition of


divine volition, love, law,
revelation, or covenant)

THE WORD OF GOD (the condition of


divine knowledge or meaning)

As `Abdu'l-Baha said, "The attainment of any object is conditioned


upon knowledge, volition, and action."

******************************************************************

THE KINGDOM OF DIVINE EMANATION


(Creation)

----------------------------------------------------------------

THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM BEYOND (the next world)


Spiritual Essence: "spirit" (the purposeful,
or loving and knowing, power of purity)

-------------------------------------------------------------

THIS WORLD (before death)


-------------------------------------------------

THE KINGDOM REVEALED (the spiritual


condition in this world)
Spiritual Essence: the spirit of
faith (the purposeful, loving and
knowing, power of conscious knowledge
and good deeds)

THE WORLD ORDER OF BAHA'U'LLAH (the


human kingdom in the Kingdom revealed)

-------------------------------------------------

THE HUMAN KINGDOM (the world of human


affairs, humanity, or mankind which
has progressed through the conditions
of familialism, tribalism, "city-statism,"
and nationalism)

THE WORLD OF HUMAN IMPERFECTION


(attachment of the mind to materiality)

THE WORLD OF HUMAN REASON (origins-->


life patterns-->end objectives; time)

-----------------------------------------------

THE KINGDOM OF NAMES AND ATTRIBUTES


(materiality or the world of the
matrix)

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM (the world of


sensation)
Spiritual Essence: the animal spirit
(the purposeful, loving and knowing,
power of sensation)

THE VEGETABLE KINGDOM (the world of


growth)

Spiritual Essence: the vegetable


spirit (the purposeful, loving and
knowing, power of growth)

THE MINERAL KINGDOM (the world of


cohesion)
Spiritual Essence: the mineral
spirit (the purposeful, loving and
knowing, power of cohesion)
From this diagram, the similarity between the Baha'i and Neo-Platonic cosmological
models is evident. The resemblance may be attributed to at least two factors.
Personally, I suspect that both of these explanations may have merit.
First, Baha'u'llah was addressing humanity in the common spiritual terminology of
His culture, and, as already pointed out, the Prophets commonly use existing
narrative frameworks, sometimes as parables, to convey spiritual meaning. So, for
example, Moses, perhaps, adopted pre-Hebraic stories of a two-gendered creation
and a universal deluge to convey a symbolic, but probably not strictly empirical,
reality and significance. Likewise, since Baha'u'llah had already employed a Neo-
Platonic Sufi terminology, and as the Hellenic-derivitive elements of that
language were also in educated usage in the West, `Abdu'l-Baha had no reason not
to continue using it.
Second, just as Baha'u'llah has fulfilled the prophecies of the Great divine
Teachers of the Ages, so, by incorporating the educated nomenclature of the
Mosaic-inspired Socratic and Platonic philosophies, He was fulfilling, or
completing, those systems as well. Moreover, Western civilization has been twice
animated by Hellenism - initially from Greece and Rome directly and subsequently
from Arabia during the Crusades; and these philosophical foundations of the
Occident, revealed through Moses and the Lesser Prophets, are now confirmed in the
universal Revelation of the Greatest Name..
Let us now explore Baha'i cosmology, the structural basis of the science of
reality and the Baha'i metaphysic of unity in diversity, by focusing on specific
conditions of existence. Although the worlds of God are infinite in number, I
believe I have delineated the basic ones. However, simply stated, the reality of
the worlds of God can be summed up by referring to the diversity of emanations
(the Kingdom of Emanation) of the manifested (the Kingdom of Manifestation) Unity
of God (the Kingdom of the Divine Essence). Or, even more simply, if God is One,
then all His diverse Prophets, diverse religions, diverse peoples, and the diverse
elements of the entire creation, which come from God, are also one. Or, at the
simplest of all levels, all that exists is the Unity of God.
The basis of the Baha'i worlds-of-God cosmology is the concept of unknowable
essences or spirits (`Abdu'l-Baha, 1981, p.321-322). God is the Most Great Spirit,
or Supreme Unknowable Essence, but the lower degrees of spirit are unknowable
essences, as well. In this world, we know these essences only analogically - by
reference to objects in the kingdom of names and attributes (materiality). Through
reflecting, metaphorically, on the revealed meanings of the world of matter, we
begin to see the divinity of God reflected in our own spirits. However, in the
kingdom beyond, the next world, we will be immersed in spirit and will no longer
require the material symbols. We will have an inner vision of all the degrees of
spirit up to, and including, our own. However, the higher degrees of spirit, the
Holy Spirit and the Most Great Spirit, will forever remain unknowable.
Spirit, we are told, is loving and knowing power. It is the animating principle of
all existence:
He [God], through the direct operation of His unconstrained and Sovereign Will,
chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to
love Him - a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and
primary purpose underlying the whole of creation. (Baha'u'llah, 1983, p.65)
The greatest power in the realm and range of human existence is spirit - the
divine breath which animates and pervades all things. It is manifested throughout
creation in different degrees or kingdoms. (`Abdu'l-Baha, 1956, p.260)
Knowing power, in a sense, is a result of loving power. We come to know that which
we love (link, or connect, with). In reality, the knowledge of any being is
limited by what it has the capacity to love. In the case of humans, our dual
nature, soul and body, gives us free will while in this world.
We can choose to turn human spirits to the world of matter and live in the world
of human imperfection (a lower condition of love) or to turn them heavenward and
contemplate the spiritual realities of existence. While the first choice yokes
one's consciousness to the lower kingdoms of creation, the second (conscious
knowledge of, and obedience to, the revealed Will of God, or faith) promotes the
growth of the spirit of faith and draws one closer to God manifested.
The mineral knows only how to link (in love) elements into a cohesive whole. It is
the most limited level of knowledge. One step higher, the vegetable in endowed
with an innate knowledge of linking (or loving) which draws the plant to the sun,
water and nutrients. The result is growth.
Higher still, the animal possesses the instinctive knowledge of a sensory linking
(or loving) with its physical environment. One expression of that linking is
mating - the highest manifestation of the animal's sense of feeling.
In the human kingdom, the human spirit, or rational soul, links with ideas and
concepts which it learns through the common faculty - the intellectual power which
transmits sensory information information to the mental faculties of imagination,
thought, comprehension, and memory. (`Abdu'l-Baha, 1956, p.318). However, if
assisted by the spirit of faith, the breath of the Holy Spirit in the soul, the
human spirit can become "acquainted with the divine secrets and heavenly
realities." (`Abdu'l-Baha, 1981, pp.208-209).
The Prophets have the manifested purposeful loving and knowing Power of the Most
Great Spirit; that is to say, They are animated by the Holy Spirit. The entire
kingdom of emanation, or world of creation, proceeds, through the animating
influence of the Holy Spirit, from the Kingdom of Manifestation and its three
conditions of the Word of God (divine Knowledge or Revelation), the Will of God
(divine Volition, Love, Law, or Covenant), and the Cause of God (divine Action or
Life).
Finally, we become aware that there is also an unmanifested Deity in the Source
world - the Kingdom of the Divine Essence. However, neither the Prophets nor the
realms which They manifest have access to this Most Great Spirit.
On the level of practical spirituality, we see in the Baha'i teachings the
foundation of a divine mystical system. Baha'u'llah has accomplished what Neo-
Platonism, with its more limited perspective on reality, could not have. Neo-
Platonic cosmology and soteriology have been fulfilled through Baha'u'llah's
science of reality. The Blessed Beauty has provided a means for all humanity to
link with its creator through what Plotinus would have referred to as the
contemplation of the One. In summary, the basis of the Baha'i technology of
spiritual transformation is an understanding of the dual nature, its relationship
with the world of human imperfection and the Kingdom revealed, and the various
manifestations of the human spirit and the spirit of faith.
According to the Baha'i teachings, man has a dual nature - a soul and a body. From
my point of view, the body is actually the manifested reality of the soul (the
life of the spirit) in the kingdom of names and attributes (the realm of outward
appearances or materiality); or, to put in another way, the physical temple is the
expression of the soul in the animal kingdom. The proper relationship between the
soul and body is that of moderation, i.e., the soul, moderated by submission to
the Will of God, and the body as an instrument of the soul for bringing the
intentions of an obedient servant into physical manifestation.
However, the mind stands between the soul and body and is part physical (the brain
and nervous system) and part spiritual (the mental faculties or intellect).
Likewise, the contemplative (meditative, reflective, or hermeneutic) focus of the
mind can be either on the body or on the soul. Dwelling on the body and on
materiality keeps one's consciousness in the world of human imperfection, while a
continued reflection on oneself as a spiritual being, armed with great celestial
power, is the key to spiritual resurrection. It raises one's consciousness to the
Kingdom revealed and frees one from the morass of human imperfections.
Personal development involves the intensification of one's rational and spiritual
powers. If one develops only the former, one will, in effect, be an educated
animal. However, if, in addition, one develops one's spiritual powers, then one
fulfills the covenantal promise, made by God to humanity, that each of us are
created in the divine image and likeness. It is only through spiritual advancement
that can we live as citizens of the Kingdom revealed and fulfill our eternal
destinies.
The manifestations of the human spirit (the purposeful, loving and knowing, power
of rational accomplishment) include the mental faculties of imagination, thought,
comprehension, and memory (`Abdu'l-Baha, 1956, pp.346-346); the coordination of
bodily functions (`Abdu'l-Baha, 1984, p.291); the innate character (`Abdu'l-Baha,
1981, pp.247-248); and will power (`Abdu'l-Baha, 1981, p.248). The manifestations
of the spirit of faith include the magnet of faith and service (`Abdu'l-Baha,
1909, p.62), inner vision or insight (`Abdu'l-Baha, 1909, pp.604-605), and the
portion of grace (Baha'u'llah, 1983, p.8).
First, the mental faculties, or the intellect, allow the mind to process sensory
information and to comprehend material and rational reality (including time). They
are, perhaps, the pivotal manifestation of the human spirit. They distinguish man
from the animal. By comprehending the world of outward appearances as spiritual
metaphor, the mental faculties can act as a vehicle for spiritual understanding.
Second, the coordination of bodily functions is the manifested power of the human
spirit in the human body. Since the body is the instrument of the soul, the mind
must have the ability to dictate the movements of the body. If it were not for
this faculty, the human body, like the bodies of animals, would move only in
accordance with instinct and humans would, by definition, not be responsible for
their actions.
Third, the innate character consists of the unique rational-level talents and
abilities with which each of us is endowed. So, some are especially skilled at
math, others excell in music, and still others possess great literary genius. The
idiot savants are an evidence of how God has placed the signs of wonder in all of
His creation.
Fourth, will power (or the loving power of the human spirit) is the manifestation
of the soul's power which allows one to make choices and to have the strength of
character to bring them into fruition. As will power (from the higher nature)
interacts with the brain and nervous system (aspects of man's lower, or physical,
nature), it gives us free will, i.e., the quality of being able to choose between
reacting from the higher or lower nature. In other words, this faculty enables us
to be spiritually transformed. While animals, especially the higher ones, may have
the ability to make certain choices, since they do not have an immortal soul, by
defintion, they do not have free will.
So, the two sorts of fate (conditional and decreed) include all the circumstances
of our lives which we react to (`Abdu'l-Baha, 1981, p.244). Conditional fate, as I
see it, includes all the individual and collective rewards and punishments which
are the results of our previous choices. So, the Lesser, or political, Peace is a
collective punishment for the kings and ecclesiastics having rejected the
Proclamation of Baha'u'llah. Likewise, we are, individually and collectively,
rewarded and punished for our actions. Decreed fate, on the other hand, includes
all the tests which are sent to us out of God's mercy. Through free will, we can
choose how we respond to all the circumstances in our lives, regardless of whether
they are conditional or decreed.
Fifth, the magnet of faith and service is the manifested loving power of the
spirit of faith. It allows one to attract the divine virtues and to experience
spiritual happiness. The key is a life of faith. We must endeavor to know
ourselves, for within each of us lies mysteries of existence. Then, we can enter
the Kingdom revealed and feel the healing warmth of the Sun of Reality.
Sixth, inner vision, or insight, is the manifestation of the spirit of faith which
results from living a life animated by the magnet of faith and service. We can
understand the inner mysteries of the heavenly teachings and inwardly know each
other on the level of the soul. Inner vision is the highest level of knowledge
accessible to human souls in this world. Above it is the Universal Mind - the
divine Knowledge of the Manifestation of God.
Finally, seventh is the portion of grace. It is the spiritual counterpart of the
innate character. Together, these two manifestations of spirit represent our
individualities. The portion of grace refers to one's potential to reflect the
divine virtues and to develop insight or inner vision. I once ended one of my
poems with a reference to this faculty:
While bigotry rallies in the regular guy Unable to cherish the mind walks of many
The power of diversity releases the dreamer From the prison of mediocrity ...
Crystal, thumbprint, snowflake, soul No two of each the same From matchless
portions of grace To souls apiece Issue countless chains of linkings To a Source
unknown Respectively, respectively, respectfully ....
The Universal House of Justice outlined what it called "the essential requisites
for our spiritual growth" (1988, pp.540-541). The Supreme Body mentioned six of
these which, it said, are repeatedly emphasized by `Abdu'l-Baha in His Talks and
Tablets: the devoted recital of one of the daily Obligatory Prayers, the
reverential reading of the Sacred Scriptures (at least in the morning and
evening), prayerful meditation on the teachings, a daily effort to conform one's
personal behavior to the high standards of the Baha'i teachings, teaching the
Cause of God, and selfless service to the faith and to one's chosen trade or
profession. If we can begin to put into practice these advices of the Master, we
will be contributing to the raising of the "new race of men" predicted by
Baha'u'llah.
Copyright, 1995, Mark A. Foster, Ph.D.
Dedication
With profound gratitude to my three spiritual teachers, all now in the Kingdom
beyond, Elizabeth Thomas, Marian Lippitt, and Henry Weil