Religious tolerance

Calligraphy Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani

This image is a symbol of religious tolerance. At considerable risk to his personal freedom and safety, Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani has gifted an exquisite calligraphic rendering to the Bahá’ís of the world, dedicating it particularly to believers living in Iran, the birthplace of their religion. The personally-prepared work features an exhortation from Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í Faith, Iran’s largest religious minority.

Consort with all religions with amity and concord, that they may inhale from you the sweet fragrance of God. Beware lest amidst men the flame of foolish ignorance overpower you. All things proceed from God and unto Him they return. He is the source of all things and in Him all things are ended.” (from the Kitab-i-Aqdas)

We can only hope that this courageous gesture of unity and inclusion signifies the emergence of a more tolerant attitude towards other Faiths in Iran. A fundamental message of our Faith is that “the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”. We are one people and this makes Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani gift so precious.

Read more at the Bahá’í World News Service.



The new civilisation – arising from our neighbourhoods

The next civilisation is emerging from our neighbourhood. And the movement will be led by our young people. It won’t be centred around a nation state; It will be a global civilisation.

In the past, the new civilisation came over a hill on horses or over the sea in ships. The spread of civilisation and invasion went hand in hand. Might was right.

You may have already seen this video on this blog. Jeremy Rifkin tells us how our true nature is to be empathetic and our destiny is to “extend our empathy to the entire human race as an extended family, and to our fellow creatures as part of our evolutionary family, and to the biosphere as our common community”. Many believe that our true nature is to be selfish and warlike, but Jeremy Rifkin puts this down to the continued suppression of our natural empathic drives. When it is suppressed by societal and institutional dysfunction, secondary drives of “narcissism, materialism, violence and aggression” surface. Our collective destiny is to establish a just global civilisation based on our collective unity.

Earlier, in 1985 The Promise of World Peace by the Universal House of Justice articulated similar sentiments.

On the one hand, people of all nations proclaim not only their readiness but their longing for peace and harmony, for an end to the harrowing apprehensions tormenting their daily lives. On the other, uncritical assent is given to the proposition that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive and thus incapable of erecting a social system at once progressive and peaceful, dynamic and harmonious, a system giving free play to individual creativity and initiative but based on co-operation and reciprocity.

…Dis- passionately examined, the evidence reveals that such conduct, far from expressing man’s true self, represents a distortion of the human spirit. Satisfaction on this point will enable all people to set in motion constructive social forces which, because they are consistent with human nature, will encourage harmony and co-operation instead of war and conflict.

A civilisation fit for a new age

Circumstances are propitious. We now have a world where the fundamental human condition is changing. We have been conditioned by millennia of conflict and the subjugation of the will of the masses to the rule of the few. Some of the changes in us, that will break the age -old patterns of subjugation include:

  • the spread of universal education

  • increasing gender equality

  • our acknowledgement of our common humanity

  • the development of global institutions

  • global and increasingly democratised communication technology

  • the release of the young from rigid control by their seniors.

Youth at the vanguard

Times are a-changin’.  We are told that Generation Y want meaningful work and opportunities to learn. According to, “they value teamwork and seek the input and affirmation of others. Part of a no-person-left-behind generation, Generation Y is loyal, committed and wants to be included and involved”. This is the type of thinking that typifies the extension of empathy described by Jeremy Rifkin.

Generation Y are not going to join armies to fight other people’s wars. The new civilisation arises from neighbourhoods, partly because invasion is no longer the instrument of domination. No one profits from war any more.

Could it be that our young people are becoming more enlightened? Surely not, after all, it is common practice to find fault with the young.  In Book III of Odes, circa 20 BC, Horace wrote:

It is common for the older generation to bemoan the young. Our sires’ age was worse than our grandsires’. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt. (from Mental Floss)

The Universal House of Justice, the elected leaders of the Baha’i Community worldwide, portray a different picture of our young people.

While global trends project an image of this age group as problematic, lost in the throes of tumultuous physical and emotional change, unresponsive and self-consumed, the Bahá’í community—in the language it employs and the approaches it adopts—is moving decidedly in the opposite direction, seeing in junior youth instead altruism, an acute sense of justice, eagerness to learn about the universe and a desire to contribute to the construction of a better world. Account after account, in which junior youth in countries all over the planet give voice to their thoughts as participants in the programme, testifies to the validity of this vision. There is every indication that the programme engages their expanding consciousness in an exploration of reality that helps them to analyse the constructive and destructive forces operating in society and to recognize the influence these forces exert on their thoughts and actions, sharpening their spiritual perception, enhancing their powers of expression and reinforcing moral structures that will serve them throughout their lives. At an age when burgeoning intellectual, spiritual and physical powers become accessible to them, they are being given the tools needed to combat the forces that would rob them of their true identity as noble beings and to work for the common good. (The Universal House of Justice 2010 Riḍván message)

In different contexts around the world, young people are indeed working for a better world. Following the Canterbury earthquakes in New Zealand, University students in Christchurch mobilised the Student Volunteer Army to help with relief efforts. More recently the courageous young Pakistani girl, Malala is making a stand for education for girls in the face of violent extremism. In the Bahá’í World young people are studying and working together to improve their own lives and conditions in their communities. And while the advances in conditions outlined earlier are more apparent in developed countries, it is in the more challenging environments of poorer communities where their efforts are most noteworthy.

There is a global revolution happening that will create a better world. This video from the International Bahá’í Community highlights some of the changes.In the same song that Bob Dylan talked about the rising waters, he gave some advice for parents – to either help building the new world or to get out of the way.

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land.
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.
Your old road is rapidly agin’.

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.


Is mechanistic medicine the only kind that really works (ch.10)

In chapter 10 of The Science Delusion Rupert Sheldrake tackles an applied science – medicine. Mechanistic medicine, as he calls it, has a huge impact economically and socially. In many developed countries health expenditure takes a sizeable chunk of national budgets.

In his usual fashion Rupert Sheldrake covers mechanistic medicine chronologically. He observes that:

…animals and plants have been regenerating after damage , healing themselves and defending themselves against infections throughout the entire history of life on earth. All of us descended from animal and human forebears that survived and reproduced for hundreds of millions of years before the advent of doctors.

He claims that mechanistic medicine had some very impressive and beneficial early wins, such as the eradication of small pox, but the medical breakthroughs are not emerging so quickly and are much more expensive.

The corruption of science

The medical industry appears enmeshed in a web of corruption. The agency of corruption is the pursuit of profit. Rupert Sheldrake identifies now familiar ways that pharmaceutical research, publication and marketing processes are corrupt. The documentary, Marketing Madness, investigates these corruptions. It is a long video, but around 52 minutes, the safety of the drugs and research methods are investigated.

Ben Goldacre is an epidemiologist. In this TED talk, he talks about some of the trends eroding the integrity of science.

A Bahá’í perspective on health

A central Bahá’í principle is the essential harmony of Science and Religion. Bahá’u’lláh tells us to consult competent physicians, but also infers that those physicians are preferably “endued with divine understanding”.

Whatever competent physicians or surgeons prescribe for a patient should be accepted and complied with, provided that they are adorned with the ornament of justice. If they were to be endued with divine understanding, that would certainly be preferable and more desirable.[i]

The principle of moderation is central to the Bahá’í approach to healing.

In all circumstances they should conduct themselves with moderation; if the meal be only one course this is more pleasing in the sight of God; however, according to their means, they should seek to have this single dish be of good quality.[ii]

`Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that our foods will be our medicine.

Now let us speak of material healing.  The science of medicine is still in a condition of infancy; it has not reached maturity.  But when it has reached this point, cures will be performed by things which are not repulsive to the smell and taste of man – that is to say, by aliments, fruits and vegetables which are agreeable to the taste and have an agreeable smell.  For the provoking cause of disease – that is to say, the cause of the entrance of disease into the human body – is either a physical one or is the effect of excitement of the nerves.

But the principal causes of disease are physical, for the human body is composed of numerous elements, but in the measure of an especial equilibrium.  As long as this equilibrium is maintained, man is preserved from disease; but if this essential balance, which is the pivot of the constitution, is disturbed, the constitution is disordered, and disease will supervene.[iii]

Recent personal experience has reinforced this for me. I have a “competent physician”. Recently she told me was prediabetic and should consider medication. I instantly discounted this option, so she gave me a “prescription” – reduce or eliminate white flour, pasta, cakes, biscuits etc and white rice. It has had dramatic effect and I have lost about 9 kilos and am feeling much healthier. Ironically, this prescription didn’t give me access to any subsidised medicines. Dr Joel Fuhrman describes a prescription as a subsidised “free pass” to continue with an unhealthy lifestyle.

I purchased Dr Fuhrman’s The End of Diabetes. His advice fleshes out `Abdu’l-Bahá’s advice above. He states that the supplements based on knowledge of vitamins is not the full story. Vegetables contain hundreds of phytonutrients that contribute to a healthy, balanced diet.

Science can never stand still and embed the orthodox, it must keep pushing the boundaries. Such complexity of nutrition, as found naturally in vegetables could never be reproduced artificially. Why would you bother?

Here is Dr Fuhrman:

[i]  Bahá’u’lláh: Health and Healing P. 459

[ii]  Bahá’u’lláh: Health and Healing P. 459

[iii] `Abdu’l-Bahá: Some Answered Questions P. 257

Are psychic phenomena illusory? (ch 09)

Are psychic phenomena illusory? (ch 09)

In chapter nine of The Science Delusion Rupert Sheldrake asks “are psychic phenomena illusory?” He produces research based evidence of telepathy and precognition and states that many people experience psychic phenomena. He avoids the term “paranormal” as they are everyday occurrences – such as thinking about someone and getting a phone call from them. These occurrences can be dismissed as coincidence by the cynical, but ideally we keep an open mind.


Telepathy is the communication of thoughts or ideas by means other than the senses. It is more likely to happen between people who know each other well. Rupert Sheldrake has widely researched telepathy in animals, especially his research into dogs anticipating the return of their people. He cites the example of a terrier called Jaytee who started waiting for the return of his owner, Pam 85 times out of 100. Jaytee usually started waiting for Pam just before she set out for home, typically when she formed the intention to return. On the 15 occasions when Jaytee didn’t anticipate Pam’s return there were distractions, such as Jaytee being ill, or the presence of a bitch on heat in the next flat. This research was conducted under strict conditions with both Pam and Jaytee recorded on time stamped video.

Abdu’l-Bahá affirms that there is more to this world than meets the eye.

Know thou that the Kingdom is the real world, and this nether place is only its shadow stretching out. A shadow hath no life of its own; its existence is only a fantasy, and nothing more; it is but images reflected in water, and seeming as pictures to the eye.[1]

He also asserts that “The reality of man is his thought, not his material body”. [2]


A wide range of animals exhibit precognition. There are many recorded examples of animals being agitated or fleeing for higher ground well before the massive South East Asian tsunami of 2004. A friend of mine had repeated dreams about being in a Tsunami – in response to the impending threat, she would go around the house closing windows and doors. She went on holiday to Samoa and stayed on Lolomanu beach. When she felt the earthquake, she managed to stir her travelling companion and convince her that they needed to run. They scrambled up the hill as the tsunami swept up the beach.

`Abdu’l-Bahá has this to say about dreams:

Furthermore, this immortal human soul is endowed with two means of perception: One is effected through instrumentality; the other, independently. For instance, the soul sees through the instrumentality of the eye, hears with the ear, smells through the nostrils and grasps objects with the hands. These are the actions or operations of the soul through instruments. But in the world of dreams the soul sees when the eyes are closed. The man is seemingly dead, lies there as dead; the ears do not hear, yet he hears. The body lies there, but he – that is, the soul – travels, sees, observes. All the instruments of the body are inactive, all the functions seemingly useless. Notwithstanding this, there is an immediate and vivid perception by the soul. Exhilaration is experienced. The soul journeys, perceives, senses. It often happens that a man in a state of wakefulness has not been able to accomplish the solution of a problem, and when he goes to sleep, he will reach that solution in a dream. How often it has happened that he has dreamed, even as the prophets have dreamed, of the future; and events which have thus been foreshadowed have come to pass literally.[3]

Rupert Sheldrake has been ostracised from science orthodoxy because of his research interests in psychic phenomena. His appeal for greater balance in science points to the benefits that might accrue from science liberated from materialistic doctrine.

Dropping the taboo against psychic phenomena would have a liberating effect on science. Scientists would no longer feel the need to pretend these phenomena are impossible. The word `skepticism’ would be liberated from its association with dogmatic denial. People would feel free to talk openly about their own experiences. Open-minded research would be able to take place within universities and some of this research would be applied in useful ways, for example in the development of animal-based warning systems for earthquakes and tsunamis…

You have probably had some experience of psychic phenomena, or known someone that has had a near death experience, or premonitions, intuitions, telepathy or some other phenomena. Please leave a comment.

P.S. if you have already seen Jeremy Rifkin’s video about the empathy, it includes evidence of empathic communication in everyday life.

[1] Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 177

[2] Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 17

[3] The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 416

Are minds confined to brains? (ch. 8 of Science Set Free)

Rupert Seldrake asks “are minds confined to brains?” in chapter eight Science Set Free. He begins with an insightful anecdote:

In his study of children’s intellectual development, the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget found that before about the age of ten or eleven, European children were like ‘primitive’ people. They did not know the mind was confined to the head; they thought it extended into the world around them. But by about the age of eleven, most had assimilated what Piaget called the ‘correct’ view: ‘Images and thoughts are situated in the head’[1].

It is sad to think that our schools indoctrinate our children in this manner in perpetuating the materialist doctrine. Rupert Sheldrake defines materialism as “the doctrine that only matter is real”. Hence minds are in brains, and mental activity is nothing but brain activity.


Image from Medicalook

While children are learning rapidly to come to terms with this world, they also appear to be in worlds of their own. Electroencephalography (EEG) reveals that human brains waves range from 0.5 to 25 cycles per second. In young children brain waves are frequently at 4 to 7 cycles per second, theta waves – a dreamlike state in humans.  I recently met a Russian man who was raised in an atheist household, where discussing religion could lead to serious trouble, but he found himself naturally drawn to prayer. Do children, at the time of conception, or even in the womb have some spiritual experience that we are not aware of? This is a question – I can only speculatehave, but this passage from Bahá’u’lláh’s  Hidden Words might offer some clues. I would appreciate your thoughts – leave a comment.

Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings you were all gathered in my presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all-glorious paradise?… Would ye but sanctify your souls you would at this present hour recall that place and those surroundings, and the truth of My utterance should be made evident unto all of you.

Is Bahá’u’lláh  talking about something we have all experienced, but forgotten.

Detecting stares

Rupert Sheldrake presents scientific studies and anecdotes about our ability to sense when someone is staring at us as an evidence of the mind beyond the brain. You have probably experienced this yourself, and you may have noticed how people react to your stares, even if they cannot see you. Rupert Sheldrake reports anecdotes of snipers whose distant victims turn around to look directly back at the gun’s telescopic sight. If the mind is truly confined to the brain, how could this be?

Perhaps those being stared at sense a field of intent. Fields are known phenomena. Magnets have a field that extends beyond their materiality. The earth’s gravitational field locks the moon into a predictable orbit. Beyond what is readily accepted by materialists, Chinese and Indian healing traditions recognise fields around the human body.

Understanding the conncetion between brain, mind and soul is critical for our understanding of what makes us human. If our thinking is more than can be explained by the electro-chemical workings of our brain, we can only profit by understanding the process.

This extract from my book Your Soul expands on the link between brain, mind and soul.

[1] Piaget, J. (1973) The child’s conception of the world. London: Granada pg 280 cited in Rupert Sheldrake’s The Science Delusion.

Rupert Sheldrake and the banned TEDx talk


Rupert Sheldrake’s recent Tedx Whitechapel talk was withdrawn from the Ted website in response to some criticism. This spawned a huge Internet debate. Ted made a hasty call that they are no doubt regretting. Skeptico’s Alex Tsakiris pointed out the irony of the situation. (image from John Ratcliffe’s blog)

A reputable scientist publishes a book claiming that science is dogmatic and is then censored by an anonymous scientific board. What does this say about how science can be dogmatic without even realising it is dogmatic?

Ted fielded complaints from people that Rupert Sheldrake identified as “militant atheists”. They labelled his talk “pseudo-science” and factually inaccurate. It soon becomes apparent that a bigger game is playing out. Rupert Sheldrake’s talk was analysed for any real or possible flaw. The object was not to examine the truth, but to engage in a contest. Any thought of moving to a greater understanding of the matters under investigation became casualties of the contest. And this is mirrored in the comments wars appended to the dozens of blogs discussing the issue.

The bigger picture

Rupert Sheldrake makes some excellent points about the paradigm shift happening in this Skeptico podcast. The wider discursive battle is about human consciousness. One one side, the materialists assert that human consciousness is a product of the human brain, on the other Rupert Sheldrake and others assert that consciousness transcends material reality. For the materialists, a human is a little like a machine. When the machine breaks, there is no more output. Rupert Sheldrake prefers the metaphor of the television set – the set might get broken, but transmission continues. What Rupert Sheldrake calls morphic resonance, I think of as spirit and soul.

I see this as the ongoing tension between science and religion. From the beginning of time the vast majority of mankind have believed in something beyond the material world. The enlightenment changed that. From the 17th Century thinkers began to question orthodoxy. In the late 1700s Baron d’Holbach began to advocate atheism.  Over decades, many more came to see religion as a scourge.  By the Twentieth Century, religion had effectively been displaced by science as the dominant system of knowledge. Ironically, atheism has become as dogmatic and fundamentalist as some of the more fundamentalist religionists. The strident voices of the fundamentalists on both sides, dichotomise these two great knowledge systems. The protagonists are more interested in identifying what is wrong and proving a point.

Are we seeing a paradigm change? Rupert Sheldrake comments that he has been pleasantly surprised by the outcry in protest of Ted’s removal of his video from their website. As modernity continues to die out in an increasingly interconnected world we are being exposed to more diversity in culture and thinking. We are becoming more comfortable with ambiguity and we as we (ideally) become both more independent and diverse in our thinking, it becomes easier to collapse dichotomies and see truth wherever it resides.

We have to be prepared to leave percussive debate behind and to cease being blinded by our dogma. Bahá’u’lláh points us in this direction in The Hidden Words.

The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor.

Based on Thomas Kuhn’s thinking, we know that when a paradigm change happens, initially the orthodoxy resists the change, and as more momentum for change happens their arguments become more strident. At some stage a tipping point is achieved and the new paradigm is established.

In other posts in this blog I have quoted `Abdu’l-Bahá appeal for the harmonising of science and religion.

Abdul Baha science religion bird photo by Chris Martin(Thanks to Chris Martin Photography for the use of this image).

Despite the benefits both science and religion generate in our world, the excesses of superstition and materialism create significant harm. Another metaphor for the harmony of science religion is hydrogen and oxygen – they are powerful and dangerous in each other’s presence but when combined into a stable compound the most precious resource on the planet is produced. I suspect the progress we will make when we realise the synergy of science and religion will far surpass our achievements to date.

I remain a fan of TED. Many of their talks, especially those in the sustainability space are inspirational. Here is the Rupert Sheldrake’s banned talk – if you dare.


Memory – chapter 7 of The Science Delusion

In chapter 6 of The Science Delusion Rupert Sheldrake produces strong arguments that support the existence of thought processes occurring beyond the brain. Memory is currently conceived as being stored in traces in the brain. But according to Rupert Sheldrake:

Attempts to locate memory traces have been unsuccessful despite more than a century of research, costing many billions of dollars.

He cites several proofs, including documented cases of people with up to 95% of their brain missing who are able to function normally and achieve academically. This has led researchers to hypothesise that the brain is holographic in nature in that a part of the brain contains aspects of the whole brain.


If memory is not stored in traces, resonance provides a credible alternative. Rupert Sheldrake states:

The brain may be more like a television set than a hard-drive recorder. What you see on TV depends on the resonant tuning of the set to invisible fields. No one can find out today what programmes you watched by analysing the wires and transistors in your TV set for traces of yesterday’s programmes.

The invisible fields here are those of morphic resonance, described in earlier posts. Memories are stored in these fields, external to the brain. Another appropriate analogy is the “cloud” where data from computers is stored. Users are able to access their own data and data shared by others. The cloud uses both wired and wireless transmission of data.

It is interesting that our language already accommodates the concept of non-material brain activity by providing the material term “brain” and the more nebulous term “mind”.

Mirror neurons

In this chapter the author also raises the phenomena of mirror neurons. People and animals learn from each other when mirror neurons are activated. The first stage of learning is to create a new neural pathway – you can either start from scratch or access someone else’s patterns. (You might recall the scene in the Matrix where Neo learns to fly a helicopter by downloading a pilot’s neural patterns). This video from the BBC brilliantly explains the formation of neural pathways. And the following video by Jeremy Rifkin, discusses mirror neurons and empathy.


I get that Rupert Sheldrake would talk a lot more about spiritual matters, but he can only push the boundaries so far. The Baha’i Writings are replete with references about the connection with this world and the spiritual worlds that are highly compatible with Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic resonance. For a start, the link between these worlds is very strong and intimate. According to Bahá’u’lláh:

This most great, this fathomless and surging Ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you. Behold it is closer to you than your life-vein! Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty.  (from Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh)

Bahá’u’lláh tells us that the source of creativity in this world is from the world of spirit:

The light which these souls radiate is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples. They are like unto leaven which leaveneth the world of being, and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest. (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah)

This infers that our ability to progress is, in part, dependent on our ability to tune in to the fields of knowledge that are available – a vast spiritual Internet. Some of the greatest advances in sciences have come from this resonant learning. Newton’s encounter with the apple leading to his “discovery” of gravity could be one example. Einstein envisioned the theory of relativity while on a tram in Berne, Switzerland.

I find evidence of this process myself (on a less significant scale). I can go to bed with a problem and wake with a solution. As with an exercised muscle the more we are conscious of these processes and use them, the stronger they will become. Just imagine if some of the money expended on locating memory traces was spent on research that at least kept an open mind to the brain, mind, spirit link.

Is nature purposeless? (chapter six of The Science Delusion)

In chapter six of The Science Delusion, Rupert Sheldrake asks “is nature purposeless?” For Rupert Sheldrake, the materialist world-view situates us in a universe driven from the past.

The mechanistic revolution in seventeenth-century science abolished ends, purposes, goals and final causes. Everything was to be explained mechanically, by matter being pushed from the past, as in billiard ball physics, or by forces acting in the present, as in gravitation. This four hundred year old doctrine is still an article of faith.

He then goes on to illustrate examples of purpose in the plant and animal kingdoms. Gravity is cited as a force that attracts to a future state, rather than driven from the past. In this sense it works backwards from the future. Gravity and its countervailing force of dark energy maintains the universe in an ideal equilibrium.

Here is a video explaining the relationship between dark energy and gravity.

Our collective universal history has been one of ever-increasing diversity. According to Rupert Sheldrake:

One essential feature of the universe seems to be fertility, multiplicity and creativity. Yet at the moment of the big bang there was none of this diversity. Multiplicity and diversity have increased through time, and so have complexities of organisation.

Human social constructions have also increased in diversity and complexity.

Quantum leap of purpose

Rupert Sheldrake states that the “all religions assume that human consciousness plays an essential role in the world and in human destiny”. Here is where the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh have created a massive acceleration of the realisation of our purpose. Before the Bábi and Bahá’í Faiths began in 1844, the religions considered themselves to be the main custodians and arbiters of truth and all competing religions as in error, or even satanic. Bahá’u’lláh taught us that there is one God, one religion and one human family. The concept of progressive revelation links all of the religions together as a part of human social evolution. Any differences between the essential beliefs of the great religions can be attributed to the context in which they were born, human interpretation and the ossification of doctrine and the usurpation of religion for selfish purposes.

With the guidance of their divinely inspired Teachers the great religions over time guided mankind to a greater maturity, to more complex social systems and the adoption of wider loyalties. Bahá’u’lláh tells us that our purpose, in this dispensation, is the unification of mankind.

All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.[1]

Individual and social purpose

Ideally our lives are an expression of both social and individual purpose. Our social purpose is to advance civilisation. Individually our purpose is to know and love our Creator. The intersection of these two purposes set us up for a beautifully balanced life. We are destined neither to be ant-like components of some grand social order, nor monk-like aesthetics withdrawn from the world. Baha`u’llah’s Teachings impel us to live a rich purposeful life.

This quote is from The Hidden Words by Baha`u’llah. This short book, revealed while he was in exile in Baghdad offers clear guidance about our individual purpose.

O Son of Spirit!

I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.[2]

When the self is stripped away, only consciousness remains.

[1] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 214

[2] Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words no. 13

Is Matter Unconscious?

The-Science-DelusionRupert Sheldrake begins this chapter of The Science Delusion by reviewing materialist philosophies about consciousness concluding that “if all these theories sound unconvincing, that is because they are”.  He asserts that the “motives of the materialists is to support an anti-religious worldview”. At the risk of over generalising, materialist philosophies regard human consciousness as brain activity and nothing more.

After quickly debunking materialist thinking about consciousness he then goes onto explore thinking around panpschyism and other similar philosophies that propose that consciousness is embedded in all matter.

But attempting to understand non-material aspects of our world from the ground up using the tools of science and rationality appears futile. We are no nearer to any consensus or compelling theory than we were 200 years ago. Rather than relying on an incremental creep towards a better understanding – and I certainly wouldn’t anticipate any significant advances in my life time – the synergy of revelation and science is more likely to have the answers.

What is revelation?

Bahá’u’lláh tells us that God reveals knowledge to us through His Manifestations. These are the progenitors of the great religions such as Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Buddha, Moses and Krishna. They reveal knowledge relevant to the exigencies of the time and the capacity of humanity to use the information. Thus mankind’s social evolution is accelerated through the seed of Revelation. Evidence of the potency of revelation can be seen in the civilisations it has spawned. The physical and social sciences advance when knowledge is mined from the reveal word. Unfortunately progress is halted and even reversed as greedy men usurp the potency of Revelation for their own purposes.

All the Manifestations of God came with the same purpose, and they have all sought to lead men into the paths of virtue. Yet we, their servants, still dispute among ourselves! Why is it thus? Why do we not love one another and live in unity?

It is because we have shut our eyes to the underlying principle of all religions, that God is one, that He is the Father of us all, that we are all immersed in the ocean of His mercy and sheltered and protected by His loving care.(Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 119)

Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation is the most recent and most potent (given the increasing capacity of humanity to receive it). It provides us with a completely different starting point for our understanding of consciousness. The world is animated by spirit. Without the sustaining spirit of God, the world would cease to exist. Rupert Sheldrake’s concept of morphic resonance resonates with this concept.

The greatest power in the realm and range of human existence is spirit, – the divine breath which animates and pervades all things. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Bahá Section, p. 260)

Abdu’l-Bahá elaborates on consciousness by reinforcing the primacy of the spiritual worlds stating “Know thou that the Kingdom is the real World, and this nether place is only as its shadow stretching out.” He also states that “the reality of man is his though, not his material body”.

Soul, mind and brain

The key to understanding the mind is the soul. The soul first associates with the body at conception. At death the body, which is composed of elements, decomposes, but the soul, being non-material and indivisible endures. The relationship between the body and the soul is often expressed in the Baha’i Writings as that of the mirror and the sun. The body (the mirror) reflects the light of the soul, but the soul is not part of the body. The mind can be thought of as the interplay of soul and brain. Consciousness is of the soul. The relationship between the body and the soul is often expressed in the Baha’i Writings as that of the mirror and the sun. The body (the mirror) reflects the light of the soul, but the soul is not part of the body. The mind can be thought of as the interplay of soul and brain. Consciousness is of the soul.

This universal mind is divine; it embraces existing realities, and it receives the light of the mysteries of God. It is a conscious power, not a power of investigation and of research. The intellectual power of the world of nature is a power of investigation, and by its researches it discovers the realities of beings and the properties of existences; but the heavenly intellectual power, which is beyond nature, embraces things and is cognizant of things, knows them, understands them, is aware of mysteries, realities and divine significations, and is the discoverer of the concealed verities of the Kingdom. This divine intellectual power is the special attribute of the Holy Manifestations and the Dawning-places of prophethood; a ray of this light falls upon the mirrors of the hearts of the righteous, and a portion and a share of this power comes to them through the Holy Manifestations.[i]

Rupert Sheldrake concludes the chapter by painting the stark contrast between the human experience as a result of interplay between the physical and chemical mechanisms of the brain, and the external environment – the materialist position, or amore engaged interaction between the choices of our conscious mind with the wider world. I know which I prefer.  How about you?

[i] `Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 217