Insight into our life in this world can be gained by considering the few brief months of our life before our birth. When we were in our mothers’ womb we were developing arms and legs and eyes and ears that were useless in that world. But when we were born into this physical world we had a body similar to that of the animals and the usefulness of the limbs and faculties that were developed in the uterine world was immediately obvious. The Bahá’í Scriptures maintain that similarly, in this physical world we have the opportunity to develop the faculties that will be needed in the world that we will see after our departure from this physical world.
But from the time we are born into this world there are signs and tokens in this limitless universe, this great creation, pointing to the existence of a Creator and the presence of a unique reality within us, and unique gifts, that the animals do not possess. The term “spirituality” in the Bahá’í Faith centers around recognition of our own nature and of our relationship with our Creator:
“O SON OF BEING!
Thy Paradise is My love; thy heavenly home, reunion with Me. Enter therein and tarry not. This is that which hath been destined for thee in Our kingdom above and Our exalted dominion.”
“True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self.”
When the Manifestations of God appear, they re-establish the same ancient principles enabling man to break away from the limitations of the lower animal nature and rise to the true life for which he was created. We must investigate and activate our great gift of Understanding in order to partake of this elevated state that is destined for us:
“The first teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the duty incumbent upon all to investigate reality. What does it mean to investigate reality? It means that man must forget all hearsay and examine truth himself, for he does not know whether statements he hears are in accordance with reality or not. Wherever he finds truth or reality, he must hold to it, forsaking, discarding all else; for outside of reality there is naught but superstition and imagination…”
Spirituality is described as a journey in the Bahá’í Writings and just as there can be obstacles in physical journeys, there can be obstacles on our spiritual journey. The foremost and most common obstacle is imitation. Great harm comes upon us if our actions in life are the result of imitation of our forefathers or imitation of those around us:
“Imitation destroys the foundation of religion, extinguishes the spirituality of the human world, transforms heavenly illumination into darkness and deprives man of the knowledge of God. It is the cause of the victory of materialism and infidelity over religion; it is the denial of Divinity and the law of revelation; it refuses Prophethood and rejects the Kingdom of God. When materialists subject imitations to the intellectual analysis of reason, they find them to be mere superstitions; therefore, they deny religion.”
“The nations and religions are steeped in blind and bigoted imitations. A man is a Jew because his father was a Jew. The Mohammedan follows implicitly the footsteps of his ancestors in belief and observance. The Buddhist is true to his heredity as a Buddhist. That is to say they profess religious belief blindly and without investigation, making unity and agreement impossible. It is evident therefore that this condition will not be remedied without a re-formation in the world of religion. In other words the fundamental reality of the divine religions must be renewed, reformed, revoiced to mankind.”
Spirituality and religion
Is religion a necessary component of spirituality? To answer this question we would first need to clarify what we mean when we use the word “religion”? What are the assumptions and implications in the word? In the Bahá’í Faith, even the very definition of religion is related to this concept of investigation and avoidance of imitation:
“…by religion is meant that which is ascertained by investigation and not that which is based on mere imitation, the foundations of Divine Religions and not human imitations.”
Thus we can see that the very definition of religion in the Bahá’í Faith differs significantly from what is commonly understood by the term “religion”. Investigation is like a bridge that everyone must traverse before entering the realm of spirituality. True religion is not a matter of groups and organizations. Those are secondary requirements stemming from our human nature which is similar to that of bees.
The Baha’i Teachings maintain that God does not abandon us. He doesn’t send us a Messenger at a single point in time and then leave us to ourselves for thousands of years. We are not expected to try to find our way back on the spiritual path using a Holy Book that was revealed thousands of years ago. And we’d never be able to do that if we tried, anyway. Instead the Divine message is renewed from age to age, “…once in about a thousand years” by a Manifestation of God.
Whether His name is Abraham or Moses or Jesus or Muhammad or The Bab or Bahá’u’lláh, all of the Manifestations of God teach the same religion. When the Manifestation of God for our day comes to renew this one same religion we can expect it to conform to reason, we can expect to be able to subject it to investigation:
“…know ye that God has created in man the power of reason, whereby man is enabled to investigate reality. God has not intended man to imitate blindly his fathers and ancestors. He has endowed him with mind, or the faculty of reasoning, by the exercise of which he is to investigate and discover the truth, and that which he finds real and true he must accept. He must not be an imitator or blind follower of any soul. He must not rely implicitly upon the opinion of any man without investigation; nay, each soul must seek intelligently and independently, arriving at a real conclusion and bound only by that reality. ….” –Abdu’l-Baha