239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

July 24, 1912
Boston, MA
Storify Feature

‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Science Proves the Human Spirit

‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ RECEIVED a last-minute invitation just before dinner on July 24, 1912. He had already spoken to hundreds of people that day in Boston, in at least five different venues. Then the request came from the President of the American Theosophical Society. Although exhausted, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wasn’t one to say no, especially to a group devoted to the pursuit of spiritual matters.


“There is no religion higher than truth,” was the maxim of the Theosophical Society. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian noblewoman, had founded the organization in New York in 1875. Madame Blavatsky traveled the world in order to glean truths from the belief systems of the East, then immigrated to the West to inspire Americans. The event in Boston that evening took place just a stone’s throw away from the Victoria Hotel where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was staying.

“In the world of existence there is nothing so important as spirit,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá began. “The spirit of man is the animus of human life and the collective center of all human virtues.”

Theosophists emphasized mystical experience. They sought direct contact with a spiritual reality they believed they could access by intuition or meditation. But when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood before his audience, he approached the subject of “spirit” from a different perspective.

“The animal,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “is a captive of the world of nature and not in touch with that which lies within and beyond nature; it is without spiritual susceptibilities, deprived of the attractions of consciousness, unconscious of the world of God and incapable of deviating from the law of nature.”

“It is different with man. Man is possessed of the emanations of consciousness; he has perception, ideality and is capable of discovering the mysteries of the universe.”

Theosophists held that certain mysteries of existence required specialized knowledge and could only be accessed by a select few. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, on the other hand, demonstrated that some of the most astounding proofs of the human spirit were rational, and had nothing to do with the occult.

As proof of humanity’s superiority over the animal, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá turned not to religious sensibilities, but to science and technology. “All the industries, inventions and facilities surrounding our daily life were at one time hidden secrets of nature, but the reality of man penetrated them and made them subject to his purposes.” Electricity was a prime example: “Man has discovered this illimitable power and made it captive to his uses.”

“Man has accurately determined that the sun is stationary while the earth revolves about it,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continued, “The animal cannot do this.” “Man perceives the mirage to be an illusion. This is beyond the power of the animal.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá argued that “abstract intellectual phenomena” were “human powers” – powers that manifested themselves in the physical world, but not by magic.

“[M]an wrests the sword of dominion from nature’s hand and uses it upon nature’s head,” he said. “For example, it is a natural exigency that man should be a dweller upon the earth, but the power of the human spirit transcends this limitation, and he soars aloft in airplanes.”

“Man transcends nature,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá concluded, “while the mineral, vegetable and animal are helplessly subject to it. This can be done only through the power of the spirit, because the spirit is the reality.”


  • Shaheen

    I think the other signs of the Human Spirit are when we stand up for the injustices that put upon another human by governments and other individuals.  It shows the inner reality of compassion that is an atribute from God given to man.

  • Neerdowell9

    the ability to sacrifice for the good of others, the ability to forgive the despicable, the ability to transcend pain  and the differences of personality and opinion (sometimes painful as well!), the ability to continue when hope appears lost, the ability to focus on a ray of light despite surrounding  darkness, the desire to serve regardless of the effect on self, joyful humour! and inspired articulation, ultimate quietude and reflection … the ability to realize when one is going on too long!  love atcha all!

    • 239Days

      Good response. Forgiveness and reconciliation are hard ones, especially for those who have been hurt. Any comments on how we could potentially help each other see value in those practices?

    • Vicki Sadrzadeh

      So well stated!  May I also add belatedly that another sign of the human spirit is the ability to see permanence and continuity of the human soul, the non-existence of annihilation and that death is really the beginning of the end that has no end.  This understanding removes fear and engenders the development of all the other virtues of man.  (from Promulgation of Universal Peace, quoted in Ruhi Book 5, Section 4)

      • Vicki Sadrzadeh

        Parentheses should read (see Promulgation of Universal Peace….)  My response is not the actual quote.

  • karen

    very nice, neerdowell9!

  • Linda Leeb

    Imagination–the ability to think of things that do not exist. Creation:  to create things that did not exist before.

  • Larry Honig

    Other signs of the human spirit are the ability to manifest virtues and act according to them.  For example, if I have love and compassion then I will do kind acts for others.  If I have forbearance then I will forgive shortcomings.  If I have generosity then I will share.  If I have discipline then I will make consistent striving and actions towards goals.

  • pascal molineaux

    The human spirit allows us to transcend our material reality in so many ways. Our spirit, and the qualities associated to it, is what makes us truly human, as separate from other material forms of existence. The human spirit allows us to transcend our self-centered instincts and reach beyond our own selves unto others.  We can thus dedicate our energies, thoughts, and wealth to make this world a better one, one in which these spiritual qualities are ever more present in our interactions with others and with the world.  We can look forward into the future and identify a world worth living in  – and  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá clearly describes such a world – and dedicate ourselves to serve others, to live responsibly and modestly, to do everything we can to ensure a world of greater peace and understanding.

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