Baha’i’: What hinders spiritual progress is bad

Voices of Religion

Posted: Friday, August 26, 2005

In contrast to some doctrines and philosophies, the Baha’i’ Faith does not teach that the physical desires of human beings are evil or bad.

Everything in God’s creation is regarded as essentially and fundamentally good. In fact, the very purpose of the human body and its physical faculties is to serve as a proper vehicle for the development of the soul.

As the energies of the body are gradually brought under the conscious control of the soul, they become instruments for the expression of spiritual qualities.

It is only undisciplined physical passions that become causes of harm, and hinder spiritual progress.

For example, the human sexual urge is considered to be a gift from God. Its disciplined expression within the legitimate bonds of marriage can be a powerful expression of the spiritual quality of love.

However, the same sexual urge, if misused, can lead one into perverse, wasteful, and even destructive actions.

Since the body is the vehicle of the rational soul in this life on earth, it

is important to maintain and care for it. Baha’u’llah strongly discouraged any form of asceticis more extreme self-denial. His emphasis was on healthy discipline.

The Baha’i’ writings acknowledge explicitly that certain physical factors beyond the control of the individual, such as genetic weaknesses, or inadequate childhood nutrition, can have a significant effect on one’s development during his or her life, but such material influences are not permanent, and they have no power in themselves to harm or damage the soul. At most, they can only retard temporarily the spiritual growth process, and even this effect can be counterbalanced by a subsequent burst of more rapid development.

Baha’i’ writings explain that it is often in the individual’s determined and courageous struggle against physical, emotional and mental handicaps that the greatest spiritual growth occurs, and the individual may come to view his or her handicaps as blessings in disguise that have, ultimately, helped him or her grow spiritually.

The Baha’i’ concept of the relationship between good and evil in man states:

“In creation there is no evil, all is good. Certain qualities and natures innate in some, and apparently blameworthy, are not so in reality.

For example, from the beginning of its life, you can see in a nursing child the signs of greed, of anger and of temper. Then, it may be said, good and evil

are innate in the reality of man, and this is contrary to the pure goodness of nature and creation.

The answer to this is that greed, which is to ask for something more, is a praiseworthy quality provided it is used suitably. So, if one is greedy to acquire science and knowledge, or to become compassionate, generous and just, it is most praiseworthy. If the person exercises anger and wrath against the bloodthirsty tyrants who are like ferocious beasts, it is very praiseworthy; but if one does not use these qualities in a right way, they are blameworthy.

It is the same with all the natural qualities of man, which constitute the capital of life; if they be used and displayed in an unlawful way, they become blameworthy. Therefore, it is clear that creation is purely good.

The Baha’i’ faith does not therefore accept the concept of “original sin” or

any related doctrine that considers that people are basically evil or have intrinsically evil elements in their nature.

All the forces and faculties within us are God-given and thus potentially beneficial to our spiritual development. In the same way, the Baha’i’ teachings deny the existence of Satan, a devil or an “evil force.”

Evil, it is explained, is the absence of good; darkness is the absence of light; cold is the absence of heat. Just as the sun is the unique source of all life in a solar system, so ultimately is there only one force or power in the universe, the force we call God.

However, if a person, through his own God-given free will, turns away from this force or fails to make the necessary effort to develop spiritual capacities, the result is imperfection.

Both within the individual and in society, there will be what one might term “dark spots.”

These dark spots are imperfections, and it has been said that “evil is imperfection, and capacity is of two kinds: natural capacity and acquired capacity.

One does not criticize vicious people because of their innate capacities and nature, but rather for their acquired capacities and nature.”

In other words, the key to understanding Baha’i’ morality and ethics is to be found in the Baha’i’ notion of spiritual progress: that which is conducive to spiritual progress is good, and whatever tends to hinder spiritual progress is bad.

So, from the Baha’i’ viewpoint, learning good from bad — or right from wrong — means attaining a degree of self-knowledge that permits us to know when something is helpful to our spiritual growth and when it is not.

Paul Gray is a member of the Baha’i faith. Sunday devotions at the Ridgeway Baha’i Center on Knight Drive are at 11 a.m. Children’s class is at 11:30 a.m.

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