Why Life Part 1Humans have a unique quality among earthly creatures. We seek answers to questions of existence. "Why life? Why am I here? Why is anything here? Why was I created? Why was anything created? Do I have a purpose? What is my purpose?"
Most of us start asking these questions at an early age, yet we remain unsatisfied by the answers provided by the people and institutions around us. Without the rudder of meaning to guide us, life becomes an empty pursuit of personal status and material wealth, of sensual gratification, of entertainment and distraction from boredom. It's not that any of these things in and of themselves are bad. However, if underneath these pursuits we have a sense of emptiness, then true happiness will remain elusive.
We can see in the world today the consequences of life devoid of meaning. If life is meaningless, then it has no value. If it has no value, then acts of oppression, exploitation and brutality are of no consequence. Further, if society is made up of individuals who have no deep sense of meaning, then clever opportunists can easily manipulate the people into wars for profit, political and religious movements based on fear and hatred, or ever-increasing levels of unsustainable consumption. By offering them meaning through commodities or vain notions of national, religious or racial supremacy, the rulers of the world can profit off this depravation of meaning. The ever-deepening knowledge of life's meaning is the spiritual path. The purpose of this brief lesson is not to provide static, formulaic answers to the questions of existence. Rather it is to set the student on the path of discovery with reliable navigation aids. So how do we discover the meaning and purpose of life? The first step is simple observation. We can observe that the world around us has an order to it. The basic structure of this order is comprised of matter. At the macro level of human observation, matter behaves predictably. Matter is comprised of particles that have mass and volume. Some of these particles also have electrical charges. These are the building blocks of the tangible universe. Once an atom comes into existence, it is, for the most part, stable and enduring. One of the interesting things to ponder about matter is that its stability requires that there is an absolute precision of relative mass, volume and electrical charge amongst the various sub-atomic particles. In other words, the fundamental building blocks of the universe have a precise order that gives rise to stability. Without this precise internal order that gives rise to stable atoms, the grand scale of planets, stars and galaxies could not exist. Further, the complex organic molecules upon which life is built could not exist. It would seem that woven into the very fabric of existence is a grand vision for the tapestry of creation. Atoms comprise the elements, and elements comprise minerals. For the sake of our discussion, we will refer to the world of stable matter as the mineral kingdom. Everything on earth is built upon the mineral kingdom -- everything, including the vegetable kingdom. Plants demonstrate an order of existence far more complex and dynamic than the minerals from which they are built. The fundamental quality of the vegetable kingdom that is not present in the mineral kingdom is growth and reproduction, in other words, life. Further, plants seem to demonstrate a will to live. They are dynamic, they reach toward their sustenance, they spread their seeds. We call this quality of life the vegetable spirit.
The plant is more than merely the sum of its mineral parts. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a poem called "Flower in the Crannied Wall":
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
Tennyson is saying that even a simple form of life like a little flower has a profound essence that eludes our ability to grasp. One cannot understand it by breaking it apart. If we dissect a plant in an attempt to understand it, we may understand the mechanical processes of its various systems, but what we have lost in the process is the essence of the plant, its spirit, its life.
The next obvious level of existence is the animal kingdom. Animals have all of the fundamental qualities of the plant kingdom: they're made of minerals, they grow and reproduce, they are dynamic, they reach toward their sustenance, they have a will to live. But they have an additional quality called sentience, or the ability to feel, and to perceive through the senses. Many animals also seem to demonstrate a cunning that allows them to engage in simple problem solving. We call these qualities of the animal "the animal spirit."
Finally, we come to the human level of existence. Humans are comprised of minerals, we grow and reproduce, we are dynamic, we reach toward our sustenance, we have a will to live, we have the ability to feel, and to perceive through the senses. Yet on top of all this, we have an additional quality that separates us from the animal kingdom. We have the ability to think in the abstract. In the beginning of this talk, I said that humans have the unique ability to ponder questions of existence. This requires a sophisticated level of abstract thought. Animals do not have this. I may be able to explain to most 8 year old children that the earth is a sphere that spins on its axis, giving rise to the appearance of a rising and setting sun. However, for as long as she lives, I could not successfully explain this phenomenon to my pet dog.
Without abstract thought, we would have no language. We would have no poetry. We would have no art, music or architecture. We would have no math or science. Through science, humans can discover the laws of nature. In order to do so, it requires intelligence. How much more intelligence would it require to create those laws of nature?
Nothing creates itself. If we see a beautiful painting, we do not have to see the artist to know that the artist exists. When we look around at the complex order of nature, it makes rational sense to presume the existence of a Creator. We call this Creator "God."
So who created God? We call God the "un-created," the "self-subsisting." As creatures, we can never know God in His essence. God is the One Reality that we cannot objectify. The mind of the creature can never wrap itself around the reality of the Creator. So why would God create a universe that gives rise to humans? Well, God is an abstract Creator. He is pure Spirit that pervades all time and space. He is closer to us than our own breath and jugular vein, yet He cannot be seen. And yet here am I talking about Him, and here you are listening. And that is because we have intellects capable of thinking in the abstract. Only a creature capable of thinking in the abstract can know God. God wanted to be known, so He created Man.
But God wanted more than to be known. He wanted to love -- and be loved. But in order to be loved, He had to give Man the free will to turn toward Him or away from Him. If someone holds a gun to your head and says, "Love me or I'll blow your brains out," most likely you would reply, "Okay, okay, I love you." But it wouldn't be sincere. God doesn't hold a gun to our heads. Rather, like one courting the object of his desire, God woos His beloved. He gives us Life. He gives us Knowledge. He gives us a heart so we can experience love. And He gives us the Beauty of His Creation. And all he asks in return – for all these glorious gifts – is our humble, thankful hearts and our love.
Why Life Part 2
In the previous segment, we talked about how God woos his beloved. We extolled the gifts of God to humanity. God has one more gift to Man. Yet this gift is dependent on our choice. We didn't choose to be born into God's creation, nor did we choose the gift of the intellect. But if we choose to turn toward God, we are promised an eternal existence in His Kingdom.
The human spirit has the capacity to know of God through the power of abstract thought. However, the seat of God's mystic knowledge, or Gnosis, is the heart. Baha'u'llah said, "O SON OF BEING! Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, my servant." If God is going to enter our lives in more than a conceptual way, we have to want Him -- we have to invite Him. God is the source of all Truth. In order to seek God, we must have a love for the Truth. Great scientific discoveries happen because the scientist had a love for the truth of the physical universe. Those hoping to know God's attributes must have a love for spiritual Truth. This is a quality of the soul that no one can force upon another.
Our soul can be thought of as an emanation of God, just as speech is the emanation of the speaker, art is the emanation of the artist, and music is the emanation of the composer. But the music is not the composer, the art is not the artist, and the speech is not the speaker. The soul is an emanation from God, but it is not God. And this emanation of God is like a single element progressing through the world of matter on its way back home to God.
Your soul is your fundamental individuality. You have three facets to your individuality or three personalities. The first two we call the inherited personality and the acquired personality. Psychologists refer to these as "nature" and "nurture," respectively. The first personality is inherited from the DNA in the sperm and ovum, which have a reality that reaches all the way back through the history of biological evolution. The second personality is acquired through learning in this life. You learn language, your parents raise you, you go to school, you absorb all kinds of cultural messages, you learn social skills, you learn a style of being in the world.
There's another school that life itself provides you: it's called the school of hard knocks. You undergo tests, trials and tribulations. You suffer pain, loss and loneliness. While these tests can be very difficult, they can also be spiritually edifying. Baha'u'llah says, "When calamity exists in the greatest degree, rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for these are the gifts and favors of God."
If approached in this spirit, life's tests tend to usher us toward our third and most important personality, which is the spiritual personality. The spiritual personality is that part of our soul that resonates beyond the material realm, and into the spiritual dimensions of reality. Our life on earth can be likened to the womb for our spiritual bodies to develop the qualities and attributes necessary to exist in the next world. To prepare human souls for such a lofty existence, God educates us into the attainment of His spiritual qualities and attributes such as mercy, compassion, generosity, love, wisdom, justice, and so on. He does this through His Covenant.
The Covenant is God's promise to humanity that He will never leave us without the guidance necessary for the continuing spiritual evolution of the species. He does this by providing humanity with a spiritual education through His prophets. God does not speak to us through a giant megaphone in the sky. Rather, He provides us with teachers, or Prophets. The greatest of these prophets are called the Manifestations, because they manifest God's divine attributes to the world of humanity. There have been nine Manifestations of the Adamic cycle: Adam, Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha'u'llah.
They have been like teachers in the grades of school, progressively revealing higher lessons as the students become ready for them.
The book of Genesis quotes God as saying, "Let us make Man in our own image." Well, man is physically in the image of the animal. He has two eyes, two ears, two arms and two legs. He gets born, it grows old and it dies. But God is pure Spirit. So what this verse is saying is that it's God's Will to make Man in His spiritual image. The Manifestations are the source of our mystic knowledge of God's will and attributes. They are the appearance of God's edifying spirit in the world of humanity.
They are like pure, polished mirrors reflecting the sun into a dark cave. If a person in the cave looks into the mirror and says, "I can see the sun," this would be true. Yet what they are really seeing is a reflection of the sun. It is not as if the actual sun squeezed itself into the mirror. This is how the concept of incarnation differs from the concept of manifestation. The Manifestations are not the essence of God reduced down to bodily form. Rather, they reflect the attributes of God into the temporal/spacial plane of existence through the rays of God's Holy Spirit. When humans turn toward the Manifestations, they can partake in the manifestation by receiving a branch of the Holy Spirit.
Spirituality consists of worshipping God and taking on His qualities. Worship is a word that signifies the special love that is reserved for the Creator. When we worship God, we turn toward him and this is done through our knowledge of the Manifestation Who receives the Logos. By turning toward God through His Manifestation, the soul can transcend its human limitations and enter into the angelic realm of being.
So we're coming to the question, who is a Manifestation of God?
This central issue of religion of who is and isn't a Manfestation has been responsible for unspeakable bloodshed. Those holding contrary opinions to those in positions of worldly power have been crucified, beheaded, burned at the stake, shot by firing squad, and otherwise tortured and executed as infidels and heretics.
All of this misery and bloodshed cannot be attributed to the one true invisible God, or to the religion of God, but rather to the religion of Man. There is only One God and only one religion of God that has been progressively revealed to humanity by the Prophets. This is the concept of progressive revelation. The Manifestations have never instructed their believers to forcibly convert anyone, especially not the followers of previous Manifestations. For example, Muhammad forbade his followers from trying to forcibly convert Christians and Jews, whom he called people of the Book. It's only the corruption in human hearts that leads to religious atrocity and warfare. To use this as an excuse to turn away from the Manifestations is to throw the baby out with the dirty bath water.
Why Life Part 3
It is said that the ultimate evidence for the authenticity of a Manifestation is the Manifestation Himself. In other words, the revelation that He brings is so evidently beyond the normal human realm, that only God Himself could be the source of His inspiration.
We can see that each Manifestation gave rise to a great civilization, inspiring artists, poets and musicians, enkindling a love and devotion of the people that is the envy of kings. But while they were alive, many of the Promised Ones were rejected by their own people.
Today, billions of people consider themselves believers in Jesus Christ. It's easy to forget that Jesus died alone, with even his apostles denying him. 2000 years ago, the people were expecting a Messiah. It had been prophesied, and the clergy were telling the people the Messiah was going to come. But when He did come, the Romans nailed him to a cross with the clergy and their followers egging them on..
The people, led by their clergy, were expecting that when the Messiah came, they would measure Him by their standards. If he fulfilled their expectations, then they would accept Him. Well, Jesus did not fulfill their many expectations. For example, some of them believed based on a poetic image in one of their scriptures, that the prophet Elijah would return out of the sky in a flaming chariot just prior to the advent of the Messiah. And so when Jesus came on the scene without this particular supernatural spectacle, they rejected him.
The clergy do not have a monopoly on the truth. In fact, there is a clear history of the clergy steering the people away from the truth of the Promised Ones. We have to be careful to critically examine our previously held assumptions, regardless of their source. If they don't stand up to scrutiny, we have to be willing to let them go.
Many people insist that they will "just know" in their gut who a Promised One of God is. But there's an important lesson for us in the life and death of Jesus. It is that people's guts can be wrong.
If we go just by our hearts or our gut feelings, we can be seduced down a dark ally. Not only can this subjective approach cause us to reject a Promised One, but it can cause us to follow charlatans and imposters. There are plenty of those in the world, who lay claim to spiritual greatness, but who have a less-than-selfless agenda. It's good to temper the heart with a cool head. And so a more objective set of criteria by which anyone can independently recognize the Promised One would help. Objectivity is especially important for our world today. Science and technology have developed to such a point that they have allowed us to transform life. We can travel coast-to-coast in the time it took our great grandparents to travel 20 miles. We can communicate instantly with people on the other side of the planet. We can cool ourselves in the summer and heat ourselves in the winter with a push of the button.
All of the fruits of the scientific method have exalted the power of rational thought to the point that a kind of scientism has taken over the hearts and minds of the people. It is a kind of religious irreligion that says that only science can provide valuable solutions to the problems of life.
Yet, even with all our technology, we have not solved some of the most basic human problems: wars still rage, famine and disease still devastate populations, vast empires of wealth exist alongside wretched poverty. And weapons of mass destruction are poised to unleash unspeakable devastation.
If there is a Prince of Peace, now more than ever is the time to know who he is.
Because people today are so dogmatically steeped in scientism, they need a scientific-like standard by which to measure the authenticity of someone claiming to be a Promised One.
Fortunately, that exists. A Promised One fulfills a specific measure of authenticity. We refer to this measure as the Golden Criteria. Years before his appearance, others had visions providing important clues about the future prophet. Specifically, there are prophecies for the Name, Date, Address and Mission of the future prophet that allow us to authenticate someone claiming to be a Promised One of God.
This golden criteria of Name, Date, Address and Mission is like a divine calling card. In the next fireside, we will see how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled these specific prophecies of the Old Testament and we will explore an array of Christian topics that will put the mission of Jesus into the broader context of the 6,000 year Adamic cycle.
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