Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence

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.

From the Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah


Ponder awhile. Hast thou ever heard that friend and foe should abide in one heart? Cast out then the stranger, that the Friend may enter His home.


All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame.


At many a dawn have I turned from the realms of the Placeless unto thine abode, and found thee on the bed of ease busied with others than Myself. Thereupon, even as the flash of the spirit, I returned to the realms of celestial glory and breathed it not in My retreats above unto the hosts of holiness.

The aim of the path is to create within the human heart the necessary conditions for the emergence of the spiritual nature of the human being. This requires detachment from the things of the physical world and an attraction to the spiritual. It also requires a detachment from the idle fancies and vain imaginings to which human beings are prone. These attachments cause human beings to deny the Manifestation of God and thus they act as a barrier to progress along the path.

According to Baha'i scriptures, the soul comes into being at the moment of conception and is then launched upon a path of individual spiritual development. Each human child has the potential to become the light of the world and also its darkness. Education is of primary importance in leading humans toward light rather than darkness. Education must, however, start with inculcating the divine virtues.

Baha'u'llah was also much concerned with creating the social conditions necessary for the path of spiritual advancement. Beyond fulfilling basic human physical needs, society must aim to put all human beings in the best possible position for their spiritual advancement. This means that the primary interactions in society must be cooperative and consultative, creating conditions of unity and harmony in which human beings can explore spiritual reality. It is these conditions that the Baha'i community is trying to create.

As a result of the above beliefs regarding human nature, a central Baha'i teaching is that humanity is one. There is no division of humanity into grades or stations. While it may be the case that some human beings are superior to others, this is only on the basis of their spiritual qualities, not based on their race, gender, ethnicity, class, or caste. There are no grades in the Baha'i community such as priesthood or guruship that bestow spiritual rank. Furthermore, the concept of impurity, whereby certain peoples, usually unbelievers or people in certain conditions (such as menstruating women) are thought to be impure and polluting, was abolished by Baha'u'llah.

Study Questions:
     1.     What is the Baha'i understanding of human nature?
     2.     What is the Baha'i understanding of the purpose of a human being’s life?
     3.     What do the Baha'i teachings say are the conditions for spiritual progress and development?
     4.     What, according to the Baha'i teachings, are the social conditions that best help human beings to achieve what should be the goal of their lives?
     5.     What divisive factors have to be transcended in order to achieve the Baha'i goal of the oneness of humanity?

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