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Baha'is hold wide perspective on the nature of the human soul

By Kambiz Rafraf
Published August 17, 1996

The Sacred Writings of the Baha'i Faith contain a wealth of new information on the nature of the soul. Yet Baha'u'llah, founder of the Baha'i Faith, reaffirms its ultimate mystery: "Know, verily, that the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel."

One's inability to understand the inmost reality of the soul, however, should not deter him from investigating its powers and attributes. For example, one need not possess total understanding of such commonplace realities as electricity or gravity to use them effectively. Even the least educated use these powers to accomplish personal goals with ease. Far greater rewards await those who seek to understand the nature, powers, and attributes of the human soul. Baha'u'llah's son Abdu'l-Baha writes: "As the comprehender cannot be comprehended, man cannot know himself in reality or essence. In order to obtain knowledge of any reality, or soul of man, the student must study the manifestations, qualities, names and characteristics of man." As to the inmost reality of the soul, 'Abdu'l-Baha continues: "This much can be stated, that the reality of man is a pure and unknown essence constituting a depository, emanating from the Light of the Ancient Entity, God."

According to the Baha'i teachings, man's true nature is spiritual. Beyond the physical body, each human being has a rational soul, created by God. This soul is a nonmaterial entity, which does not depend on the body. Rather, the body serves as its vehicle in the physical world. The soul of an individual comes into being at the moment the physical body is conceived and continues to exist after the death of the physical body. The soul (also called the spirit) of the individual is the seat, or locus, of his personality, self, and consciousness.

The evolution or development of the soul and its capacities is the basic purpose of human existence. This evolution is toward God, and its motive force is knowledge of God and love for Him. As we learn about God, our love for Him increases; and this, in turn, enables us to attain a closer communion with our creator. Also, as we draw closer to God, our character becomes more refined and our actions reflect more and more the attributes and qualities of God.

'Baha'u'llah taught that this potential to reflect the attributes of God is the soul's essential reality. It is the meaning of man being created "in the image of God." The divine qualities are not external to the soul. They are latent within it, just as the color, the fragrance, and the vitality of a flower are latent within the seed. They need only to be developed. In the words of 'Baha'u'llah:

"Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He {God} hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty."

The Baha'i writings refer to the gradual evolution or development of the individual soul as "spiritual progress." Spiritual progress means acquiring the capacity to act in conformity with the Will of God and to express the attributes and Spirit of God in one's dealings with one's self and with other human beings. Baha'u'llah teaches that the only true and enduring happiness for man lies in the pursuit of spiritual development.

Kambiz Rafraf is chairman of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Dallas

©Copyright 1996, The Dallas Morning News

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