Thursday, 17 March 2011

The functioning of the human spirit

Below is the next installment in my study guide on the philosophy of SAQ. It is part one of chapter 3, which is called "The nature of human existence". Part two is called "The reality of the Kingdom of God" (unless I change it). I'll put that up when I've completed it. Again, numbers in brackets refer to chapters of SAQ.

The functioning of the human spirit

Human spirit has a beginning but no end

Abdu'l-Baha describes the human spirit as "phenomenal". (38) By this, he means that it is preceded by a cause. It comes into existence when the body's elements are combined in the womb in accordance with the laws of nature. It does not exist before that.

However, unlike the other spirits in nature, the human spirit does not cease to exist when the body's elements decompose. This is because the human spirit is, as explained in the previous section, a "divine sign" (38); that is, it is a sign of the perfections of God in the phenomenal world. In addition to that, the human spirit is the state of perfection in the phenomenal world and, as such, it cannot cease to exist. Without the human spirit, the phenomenal world would have no purpose. (52)

Mind is the power of the human spirit

In several chapters in Some Answered Questions, Abdu'l-Baha explains that the human spirit is the intellectual power of investigation and discovery. Within the bounds of human ability, this power encompasses intellectual and sensible things and makes discoveries in the spiritual worlds and the physical world. (38) It is behind the discovery and development of such things as sciences, arts, law, inventions and institutions, which were once hidden and unknown. (48)

The human spirit has five distinct abilities:
1. Imagination, which conceives ideas
2. Thought, which reflects upon ideas
3. Comprehension, which understands ideas
4. Memory, which retains ideas
5. The common faculty, which communicates data from the senses to the spiritual powers. (56)

In explaining the relationship between the mind and the human spirit, Abdu'l-Baha says that mind is "the power of the human spirit." (55) The functioning of the mind is an "essential quality" of the human spirit, in the same way that the rays of the sun are an essential quality of the sun. Abdu'l-Baha also likens the spirit to the lamp and the mind to the light. It seems, then, that the human spirit is the source of the mind's power and the means by which it functions.

This is also confirmed by the following passage from Baha'i World Faith, p 346, "These faculties [of the mind] are but the inherent properties of the soul, such as the power of imagination, of thought, of understanding; powers that are the essential requisites of the reality of man, even as the solar ray is the inherent property of the sun. The temple of man is like unto a mirror, his soul is as the sun, and his mental faculties even as the rays that emanate from that source of light." (Tablet to August Forel, pp 24-25)

The human spirit has two modes of operation

The human spirit has two modes of operation.

First, it can act and perceive reality using the body as its instrument. In this mode, the spirit uses the eyes to see, the ears to hear, the tongue to speak and so on.

Second, because the human spirit is independent of the body, it can also operate without the body. In this mode, the spirit operates in the way we experience ourselves in dreams. While we are dreaming, the body is asleep and the functions of the body, such as sight and hearing, are shut down. Nevertheless, the spirit still acts and perceives reality. It still sees, moves, speaks and so on. In fact, the spirit can do things that it cannot do using the body; for example, it can see the future, whereas through the eyes, it can see only what is physically in front of it. It can fly unaided, whereas the body can fly only in aircraft.

The spirit also operates without the body when the body is awake by using its spiritual, or inner, senses and faculties. Abdu'l-Baha gives the example of people being able to see America even while they are standing on the opposite side of the world from America. When we imagine things in our mind's eye, hear things with our inner ear, organise affairs in our mind, the spirit is operating independently of the body.


Humans possess all the divine perfections

All things have been created in such a way that they reflect something of the perfections of God. That is, each thing is like the earth in the sense that the earth is a centre that absorbs and reflects the rays of the sun. Similarly, each thing absorbs and reflects the perfections of God.

But things reflect God's perfections differently, depending on their nature and position. For example, when the sun shines on objects on earth, their absorption and reflection differs depending on each object's position and nature. Similarly, each created thing, depending on its nature and position, will reflect the glory of God differently. For this reason, it will reflect a different attribute of God. It might demonstrate God's greatness, power, generosity, vision, grace and so on.

The human spirit, however, is unique because it is "the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth." In other words, the nature of human beings is such that they can reflect all the attributes of God. They are a "collective reality" that incorporates into one all of the perfections of God. This means that there is a sign in humans for every attribute of God; for example, the sign in humans of God, the Seer, is the human eye. Because we are created this way, we are able to understand all the perfections of God. For example, through the process of hearing, we gain an understanding of God, the Hearer. If we could not hear, we could not imagine what it was like.


Humans can live in materiality or spirituality

As explained earlier, human beings possess the powers that are found in nature; that is, they have the powers of the mineral, plant and animal, and the power of the human spirit, which is the power of investigation and discovery. In addition to this, the human spirit has the potential to reflect all the divine perfections.

Because humans have all the material and divine perfections, Abdu'l-Baha describes the human condition in this world as "in the highest degree of materiality, and at the beginning of spirituality". (64)

As a result, human beings have a choice. They can live their lives in the material world, relying entirely on the powers they have from nature. Alternatively, they can choose to explore the spiritual realms, which are beyond the material world, and develop their latent spiritual perfections, and thereby awaken to the heavenly realities and mysteries.

Abdu'l-Baha says that "Not in any other of the species in the world of existence is there such a difference, contrast, contradiction and opposition as in the species of man." (64)

Perfections appear only through the spirit of faith

The spirit of faith, or heavenly spirit, is a level of spirit above the human spirit. Unlike the human spirit, it is not a spirit of nature and it is not a power of investigation. It is a ray of light that comes from the Holy Spirit (the manifestation) and its bounty is granted only to the righteous. (36, 58)

The spirit of faith is the power that causes human beings to realise their spiritual capacity. We access its power when we read and follow the writings of the manifestation, which teach us the secrets and realities of the spiritual worlds. Knowledge of these worlds cannot be gained by the investigative powers of the human spirit because the spiritual worlds are beyond the material world. (36) The human spirit must be aided by the power of faith. "It is like a mirror which, although clear, polished, and brilliant is still in need of light. Until a ray of the sun reflects upon it, it cannot discover the heavenly secrets." (55)

Abdu'l-Baha gives examples of divine perfections that humans acquire in attaining perfection: "These are the divine appearances, the heavenly bounties, the sublime emotions, the love and knowledge of God; universal wisdom, intellectual perception, scientific discoveries, justice, equity, truthfulness, benevolence, natural courage and innate fortitude; the respect for rights and the keeping of agreements and covenants; rectitude in all circumstances; serving the truth under all conditions; the sacrifice of one's life for the good of all people; kindness and esteem for all nations; obedience to the teachings of God; service in the Divine Kingdom; the guidance of the people, and the education of the nations and races." (15)

If any trace of these divine perfections appears in the world of nature, it is unstable, for it is not supported by the spirit of faith. It is ephemeral like the sun shining on a wall. (15)

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