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    ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, while on visit to the city of Paris in 1911, more than once addressed the subject of the soul in His public talks. He pointed out in particular its spiritual nature and its essential effect on material life, with emphasis too on its role in establishing a unity of mankind for whose realization in this enlightened age all past religions participated in preparing the way.

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The Centenary

Universal Love

                    ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Paris, photographed under the Eiffel Tower in 1912.
          Shown with Him is a small entourage of Persians and a handful of European Bahá’ís.
                    (Reproduced with permission of the Bahá'í International Community)

arely have people disagreed so intensely on a subject as they have and still do on the soul. Little in the way of a common view, whether on its characteristics or on its relevance in life, has emerged throughout history. Until our time the main sources of knowledge such as religion, science and philosophy have contradicted each other on this important subject. It is noticeable that while ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was visiting Paris in the months of October and November in 1911 He consecrated a number of His talks to this matter. In these talks He treated several of the related controversies, and at the same time made a very complicated and difficult subject accessible to the ordinary person.

He particularly focused on the spiritual nature of the soul—its role in material existence is no less essential than its role in spiritual life. His elaborate arguments raise the critical question of the purpose of material existence. In addition, He thoroughly discusses the effective way to achieve the most urgent requirement of our time—the unity of humankind—by illustrating its spiritual nature and the fact that preparing for its realization has been the concern of religion throughout the ages.

Thus, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did not only connect His talks in the French capital to the talks He had begun in the city of London on the unity of humankind. He also involved the joint effort of all past religions in the cause of human unity, a cause they have pursued in a methodic way and in gradual stages in accordance with the capacity of people and their level of human consciousness, so as to allow its execution in this illumined century. The arguments of the followers of material philosophies that deny the existence of the soul were not ignored by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, but were discussed, as will be mentioned later.

While for the full grasp of the talks all of them would need to be looked at together, we have attempted within the limits of this article to extract and integrate the main themes without losing clarity. It is hoped that this humble work will help in giving an approximate comprehension of this important subject. However, the reader is advised to go back to the full text of the talks for a more complete understanding.

It is well understood that the followers of religion do not dispute the indispensability of the soul for life and as the cause of the appearance of life. But their acknowledgment is bare of other basic truths about it, such as the way it affects and governs life in general and human life in particular. The scriptures, in their references to the soul, did not give details, inasmuch as the development of science was limited in the past. The early believers of the various religions, who formulated the major principles and concepts they believed should be identified with their faith, thus derived their understanding from miscellaneous sources; a great mixture resulted that included the faulty deductions and illusions widespread in remote times. These viewpoints acquired a character of sanctity in the eyes of later generations of believers, and became traditions solidly held and unquestioned that no one among succeeding followers was able to untangle and clarify.

When one discards these uncreative ideas, and frees the thinking from these traditions, and follows an independent investigation of the truth, one is amazed at the vastness and wonders of the ideas that come as a result of the freedom to search. One is overwhelmed by the characteristics that distinguish the soul and its domination over all phenomena of life. The soul gives life to the body as it becomes manifest, and manifests itself as the rays of the sun when they shine upon a lustrous surface or mirror. The soul does not merge with matter or lose its spiritual nature, nor does it fragment into numerous bodies. It remains one and whole, shining, and without attachment. Its light is reflected in the physical body like the image of a luminous orb is reflected in a mirror.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains that the soul is an emanation of the divinity that shines over the creature and sustains its life. This divine emanation is in accord with each level of existence and its requirements. The soul or spirit is invisible but its effects are seen.

Its appearance in the mineral realm is perceived as the uniting force that integrates the mineral elements. This is the appearance of life at this level and represents its maximum progression. When absent (diminished), the elements disintegrate and go back to their original state of existence. In the vegetal realm, it appears in the power of growth by which the cells of the plants multiply. In the animal realm, it is evident in the senses and the free movement of the animals. The human spirit or rational soul is the divine emanation at the human level. The human soul has stupendous effects. By its power the human being reveals invisible relations by observing the visible phenomena, uncovering the secrets of events that disappeared centuries ago, and creating instruments and means that never existed before. Nevertheless, the reality of the soul remains incomprehensible for the human mind, though the mind itself exists by the power of the soul.

In view of the fact that the structure of the human body and the arrangement of its organs are similar to the structure and arrangements of the animal body, the body of the human being is under the control of nature and, thus, belongs to the material world. On the other hand, when the spiritual power of the human being is taken into consideration, our perspective on human existence changes radically.

The human being possesses great mental capacities and these spiritual forces enable him to challenge the laws of nature and dominate all other beings: human beings have gone outside the orbit of our planet and escaped its gravity, while the earth cannot deviate for a second from its orbit; human beings have explored the conditions of faraway planets outside our galaxy, achieving a reach beyond the sun itself. In fact there are many miracle-like victories over nature the human spirit has realized. Moreover, human beings have spiritual powers, such as will and spiritual feelings of which nature is devoid.

Whereas human beings have these powers and characteristics from which nature is deprived, and considering that it is impossible for the part to have that which the whole does not possess, therefore, we must conclude that these are irrefutable proofs that human existence belongs to a realm superior to the material world.

This point was explained in one of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá‘s messages (written in Persian): “All divine philosophers and men of wisdom and understanding, when observing these endless beings, have considered that in this great and infinite universe all things end in the mineral kingdom, that the outcome of the mineral kingdom is the vegetable kingdom, the outcome of the vegetable kingdom is the animal kingdom and the outcome of the animal kingdom the world of man. The consummation of this limitless universe with all its grandeur and glory hath been man himself, who in this world of being toileth and suffereth for a time, with divers ills and pains, and ultimately disintegrates, leaving no trace and no fruit after him. Were it so, there is no doubt that this infinite universe with all its perfections has ended in sham and delusion with no result, no fruit, no permanence and no effect. It would be utterly without meaning. They were thus convinced that such is not the case, that this Great Workshop with all its power, its bewildering magnificence and endless perfections, cannot eventually come to naught. That still another life should exist is thus certain, and, just as the vegetable kingdom is unaware of the world of man, so we, too, know not of the Great Life hereafter that followeth the life of man here below. Our non-comprehension of that life, however, is no proof of its non-existence. The mineral world, for instance, is utterly unaware of the world of man and cannot comprehend it, but the ignorance of a thing is no proof of its non-existence. Numerous and conclusive proofs exist that go to show that this infinite world cannot end with this human life.”1