The Essence of Man:
Towards a Bahá'í Understanding of Human Nature and Psychology

By Wolfgang Klebel

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #95
Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, California, USA
May 19–23, 2010
(see list of papers from #95)

published in Lights of Irfan, volume 12, pages 27-104
© 2011, ‘Irfán Colloquia

    I. Towards Understanding Human Nature

    This presentation is a commentary on a section from Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet to Mírzá Hádí, translated by Shoghi Effendi in the Gleanings of the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, (GWB 164-165) about "the essence of man." This paper attempts to provide an understanding of what is expressed in these Words. Bahá'u'lláh's announcement, in these few verses, could change the understanding of "Who is Man."
    Consider the rational faculty with which God hath endowed the essence of man.

    Examine thine own self, and behold how thy motion and stillness, thy will and purpose, thy sight and hearing, thy sense of smell and power of speech, and whatever else is related to, or transcendeth, thy physical senses or spiritual perceptions, all proceed from, and owe their existence to, this same faculty.
    (GWB 163-166)
    Adib Taherzadeh1 comments on this passage of the Gleanings, which is taken from Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet to Mírzá Hádí:
    "Mirza Hadiy-i-Qazvini, one of the Letters of the Living, Bahá'u'lláh to explain among other things the meaning of this tradition for him. In a lengthy Tablet to Mírzá Hádí, Bahá'u'lláh explains that the soul of man, which He refers to as the rational faculty, is an emanation from the worlds of God.

    Every faculty in man, whether physical or spiritual, is a manifestation of the soul. For instance, each of the senses derives its power from the soul and every spiritual quality is due to it. Yet the sum total of all these faculties within a human being does not make the soul.

    So, we might ask, what is the soul? Bahá'u'lláh affirms that the soul is unknowable. Should one contemplate this theme till eternity, he will never be able to understand the nature of his soul, or fathom the mysteries enshrined in it. ..."
    Does that mean we should not try to understand what Bahá'u'lláh says in this tablet? And if so, why was it revealed? Do we not have to try to understand what is revealed here, even though we are advised that the underlying reality Bahá'u'lláh describes is unknowable and cannot be comprehended? These are the questions that will be raised and hopefully will find an answer in this presentation. These statements of Bahá'u'lláh will be commented in the light of the Revelation and the attempt is made to find meaning and understanding in this Verse.

    II. Towards Understanding Psychology

    In the second part of the presentation, the findings about the essence of man, about his soul, will be further investigated, especially as it affects psychology. Being a clinical psychologist, I will introduce my professional experience into the discussion of this question, following the invitation of Bahá'u'lláh to Examine thine own self.

    About psychology, the Universal House of Justice of the Bahá'í Faith has stated:
    Psychology is still a very young and inexact science, and as the years go by Bahá'í psychologists, who know from the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh the true pattern of human life, will be able to make great strides in the development of this science, and will help profoundly in the alleviation of human suffering. (MUHJ63)
    The case material of a person who suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder (former called Multiple Personality Disorder) will be presented — with her permission — in order to better understand the human condition and what Bahá'u'lláh has said about the Essence of Man.

    The fact that under certain traumatic circumstances a human child can develop several "selves," which function independently, have no common memory and are often in conflict with each other, presenting different life styles, morals and preferences, and can alternatively assume executive function of the person, needs to be understood. Since it is a clinical fact of direct observation, it invites reflexion whenever an understanding of "who is man" is attempted. This investigation can contribute to psychology (science of the psyche), but also will shed some light on the understanding of the human soul, its development and function in ourselves, especially if it is considered in the light of the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh.

    Furthermore, the practical application of principles and understanding of the nature of man in a clinical situation was very helpful in treating this patient and resulted in new spiritual insight for this psychologist. It is hoped that this presentation will assist the presenter, as well as the listener, to learn more about ourselves and how the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh can renew and elevate the human soul.

    1 Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation Of Bahá'u'lláh, Adrianople 1863-68, George Ronald, Oxford 1977, Vol. 2, page 144)

    Read below or click to download PDF.