Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence
Written by: Moojan Momen
Human beings are seen in the Baha'i scriptures as having two aspects to their nature: a spiritual aspect, which will survive death and is thus eternal, and a physical aspect, which human beings share with animals and which ends with death. The spiritual is the true reality of human beings and what distinguishes them from animals, but while on earth, this is concealed from humans by the fact that the demands of the human body seem more pressing and divert their attention from the spiritual. Thus if left to their natural tendencies, human beings are inclined to concentrate on the physical, becoming full of greed, lust, arrogance, and other vices. The Manifestations of God, the founders of the world's religions, are sent to guide humanity away from this concentration on their animal nature and to educate human beings on how to develop their spiritual aspect.
While everything in creation manifests some aspect of God, the human being is the only entity to have the potential to manifest all of the attributes of God. In one writing, it is stated that God brought the creation into being in order that He might be known and it is only human beings who can come to know God. Thus, according to Baha'i scriptures, human beings are the apex of God's creation and indeed are the cause of God's act of creation.
The purpose of human life is to realize the potential within each human being, to manifest as many of the divine attributes as possible and to try to perfect these. These attributes include such qualities as love, justice, patience, and wisdom. The Baha'i scriptures state that this potential of human beings to manifest these divine attributes is the true meaning of the statements in scripture that God made human beings in His own image. The more fully humans manifest these divine attributes, the more they become like God and draw near to God. However, human beings can never achieve a perfect manifestation of these divine attributes; that is reserved for the Manifestations of God (the founders of the world religions).
The path toward realizing the divine attributes is one that takes up the whole of human life. According to the Baha'i scriptures, there are certain conditions for making progress on this path. The first is volition; each human being must want to make progress upon the path. The second is the recognition of the Manifestations of God, for they are the guides on this path and without them, humans are prone to error. The purpose of human life is to know the attributes of God and, since the Manifestations of God are the perfect expression of these, then recognizing them is coming to know the attributes of God and thus fulfilling the purpose of human life. The third condition is that we should make our own independent investigation of reality and not rely on others (our parents, teachers, or religious leaders). The fourth condition is to follow the laws and teachings given by these figures because they are all calculated to advance human beings on this path.