As humans, we are, or should be, well-accustomed to the two sides of a coin. Objective and subjective; literal and figurative; justice and mercy – these are a few examples of dual processes that surround our lives. This is not to say that we must choose one at the expense of the other, or that dual processes are mutually exclusive. Rather, they are two facets of reality and serve as complementary forces to our understanding of the world. As these dual processes can be applied to various instances of reality, they must certainly be applicable to the as yet most impressive phenomenon of existence: human life. Hopefully in our relatively short lifespan we can recognize the dual nature of man, how both aspects are complementary to each other, and why we should pay attention to both.
Bahá’ís believe that man’s dual nature is part physical and part spiritual. In one respect, our material body is the vehicle on the material plane for our spiritual progress, where our spiritual occupation manifests itself in material terms — such as how we speak about things or what actions we take. In another and more profound respect, our spiritual—or our higher— nature comprises those divine attributes we are called to acquire, hone, and perfect, while our material—or our lower—nature is the basis of our imperfections.
Let us first take what perhaps may be a universal example: prayer. The act of praying consists of our vocalizing and articulating words into a certain pattern; maybe we could be reciting a prayer we have memorized or maybe we could be using our own words invoking God’s unfailing aid and guidance. In virtually any case, particular words are used in a manner befitting communion with God. Even the way we focus on the words uttered can be considered a physical one. In essence, however, the act of prayer is profoundly spiritual! We become attuned with the longing of our own souls to worship and love God in a most personal act. Here we see how materiality is conducive to spirituality.
In view of our higher and lower natures, we may consider a different example: purity of heart. Our lower nature, which we may refer to as our ego, has certain desires and inclinations that provide the means to grow and develop spiritually. It may prompt us to act selfishly, to seek power or preference, or to vaunt ourselves above others. Our spiritual mission is to become aware of these tendencies of our lower nature and to consciously work to cleanse our hearts and minds of them. This is best done, I estimate, in our recognition of and adherence to the Laws of the Manifestations of God. Regarding the disciples of Christ, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states in His talk on 1 November 1911: “[W]hen they followed Christ and believed in Him, their ignorance gave place to understanding, cruelty was changed to justice, falsehood to truth, darkness into light.”
Thus our materiality, when utilized appropriately, is conducive to our spiritual development. Nevertheless when stressing the inseparability of these two natures, it becomes clear that special emphasis should be given to the development of our spiritual nature. As long as we consciously and actively seek divine perfections, our spiritual and material lives will undoubtedly benefit.