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  • Universal Love

    ‘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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Universal Love (continued)

                          Paris at night by Ludwik de Laveaux

‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains that man has two stations: one is the station of humanity that is connected to the realms on high and the effulgences of God, the second is the station of animal. If the human side overcomes and “domin- ates” the animal, it will be the cause of the progress of human nature.2

The human being is not human because of his body but rather because of his spirit and the virtues that appear from the human reality like the light that appears from a lamp. As the light gives the lamp its value and glory, the good character and behaviour of man, which from time immemorial have been the great concern of the Prophets, are the light of the lamp of humanity. Because it is this light that has given value and benefit to the lamp, and it is established that the development of good character has been the cause of progress in all societies from ancient times, therefore it is religion that is the educator of man. All human virtue and moral progress are due to religion, which also acts, through the effulgences of the Holy Spirit, as man’s guide to the life hereafter.

The effulgences of the Holy Spirit are not abstract notions unrelated to real life. Just as the soul brings individual consciousness to full maturity and perfects the individual’s character, so it affects collective life, and causes the coming of civilizations, and forms the general traits of nations. The study of civilizations and societies indicate that the rise and fall of civilizations and the character of societies are closely linked with the coming of new religions and the apathy towards the religious spirit that later follows.

This explains the reason for the progressive corruption afflicting all aspects of present society. Deceit invades and corruption spreads, causing divisions to multiply, conflicts to proliferate and the unity at the base of society to break up, in the same way the lifting away of the radiance of the soul causes the elements composing the material body to lose their cohesive force. The ghoul of corruption is thus an additional proof that there is nothing that can revive the current of advancement in the world and save it from increasing harm except a new awareness. The people of the world must take account of the truth that humanity has crossed beyond the limitations of the worlds of their ancestors, and stands now at the door of a new world. The new world requires a freeing from past traditions and the construction of a new civilization on the basis of spiritual values, such as solidarity, magnanimity and love. All these are rays of the spirit that may be likened to light waves that must be connected in a relationship before they become visible. Otherwise they remain unsensed. In life on earth there are many relations that may be connected with love but they are mainly limited, while the pure love we speak of here is unlimited love.

Love that is associated with family relations is limited to the closeness and good relations between family members, and ends when they separate or quarrel. Love of nation is confined within certain boundaries and limited by the conflicts among citizens. Love may be manifest in a racial or political relationship or in groups of interest, but all these connections are as limited and temporary as are all material relationships.

There is no power that can bring humanity together and unite human beings in the ties of friendship except that unlimited love that emanates from the Holy Spirit. This means, to put it in words more simple, that the love of man for man should not be connected to any expectations or benefits; it must be for the love of God.

Religion is the unique association that is able to bring about this unlimited love, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá confirmed on several occasions: “There is no doubt that this power is the power of the Holy Spirit, as it is the cause of unity that brings together all humanity under the shadow of one Word, and there is no other power apart from this divine power that can make all humanity one society and establish ties of love on a strong foundation.”3

The holy scriptures of past religions support this truth: In the Qur’an it is written, “Hadst thou spent all the riches of the earth, thou couldst not have united their hearts, but God hath united them…”;4 and it is mentioned in the New Testament: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them. Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”5

While ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained that it is religion that causes unity on earth and that the love of God is the cause of world unity, He also emphasized the difference between religion and tradition: “it is not meant by religion those traditions that are now in the hands of people. These traditions are the cause of enmity, disputes, wars and bloodshed. …The basis of the divine religions is one because the foundation of religion is one truth, one spirit and one light.”6 A distinction should therefore be made between the human and the spiritual. The former is but an expression of the nature to which every human being is born, and therefore no matter how perfect it may be it has no merit. The spiritual is dependent on acquiring virtues—the human being may through these virtues become a part of the kingdom of God, or may remain attached to the world. The virtues that elevate the station of man are in fact the result of the teachings revealed by the Prophets as they were adopted and practiced over the millennia. These teachings were gradually formulated as social norms and civilized behaviour which however without the spirit lose their effect.

In brief, the Holy Spirit is the source of eternal life for man, the medium of his mental capacities, the origin of his dominance over other creatures and the reason behind his progress and the elevation of his moral values. These qualities are all from the emanations of the Holy Spirit, which is the medium between God and man: “it (the Holy Spirit) is the illuminating [and] holy spiritual reality overflowing with divine perfections upon the human spirit; it is like a brilliant light shining on the horizon that dissipates the darkness present in the reality of existence and that animates the souls; it is ancient as to its identity and eternal as to its attributes.”7

Let us not then regard the principles of human unity as a mere response to the events and evolution that have occurred in the world during recent centuries—this is far from the truth declared in all religious teachings, which prove that the unification of humanity, world peace and the Most Great Peace have been, since ancient times, an integral part of the great Plan of God for the progress of humankind and the maturation of human consciousness, carried out gradually and progressively by the successive religions methodically in calculated stages until it reached its fruition in this luminous century.

A reading of the holy books of the past with fairmindedness will confirm that all the scriptures have given the glad tidings to all nations of a promised day in which all humanity will find tranquility and security, humankind will unite, and strife, disputes and wars will cease, and all nations unite with each other and the unity of mankind appear.

This luminous century bears the signs of the day in which these promised events will come to pass. Whatever the will of God decides must come to pass sooner or later. There are mainly two ways for the change to occur: with consent and hard work, or through discipline and constraint. Both means benefit humankind. The former way is the result of mature understanding, and is the proper way for human beings, but there is little evidence of it in the world today. The latter way is a training accompanied by suffering and pain that endures until humanity realizes its responsibility for the wrongs that have filled the earth, looks for and finds the truth, and brings itself to account and redresses the world.


Image of Painting on second page: Courtesy Wikimedia: Twilight. By Ludwik de Laveaux (d. 1911). Oil on canvas, 81×65 cm. Paris, 1897.
This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

See also the other talks published in Paris Talks, especially the talks of 9 November at “L’Alliance Spiritualiste,” 31 October on “The Holy Spirit, the Intermediary Power Between God and Man,” 24 October on “Universal Love,” and 23 October entitled “The Light of Truth is now Shining Upon the East and West.”

1. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablet to Dr. Forel (George Ronald Publishers, 1978), pp. 13-14.
2. Talk of 1 November 1911 in Paris Talks: Addresses Given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1911 (London: The Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1995), pp. 55-57.
3. Personal provisional translation from talk of 24 October 1911 as published in the Persian edition of these talks and their Arabic translation ( ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Talks in Europe and America (Addis Ababa: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of North East Africa, n.d.), p. 94; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Khitábát wa-muhádathát ‘Abdu’l-Bahá fi Úrubbá wa Amríká (Cairo: Matb’at al-Sa’ádah, 1921), p. 95.)
4. The Qur’án 8:63.
5. Matthew 18:20-22.
6. In the Persian edition of these talks, and the Arabic translation, the talk from which this passage is excerpted is dated 23 October 1911. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Talks in Europe and America (Addis Ababa: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of North East Africa, n.d.), p. 96.) The English compilation of some of the talks, entitled “Paris Talks,” as well as its French counterpart, do not include this talk. Hence the use of this personal provisional translation.
7. Min Makatíb ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, (Rio de Janeiro: Dar’u’l-Nashr Albahá’íyyih bil Brázíl, 1982), No. 26, p. 109. Personal and provisional translation.