The biblical story of creation tells us that God created mankind from the elements of the Earth, completely one with nature. Then God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.
Read literally, this simply implies that God gave CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to Adam. However, reading this passage in a deeper sense, we consider that the breath symbolizes the inner life of the spirit.
This symbolic story tells us that something of God‘s spirit lives within all of us. In this sense, each human being is created in the image of God, because God is spirit. Bahá’u’lláh taught that the purpose of this life centers on developing that spirit.
Bahá’í writings compare this idea of spiritual development to the fetus living inside its mother’s womb. In that brief interval of nine months, the fetus develops physically, preparing itself for this world. Being the fetus in the womb, it does not need eyes, legs, lungs, or the faculties of speech.
However, all of these physical capacities must be developed in the womb for the child to reach its full potential in this world. Similarly, in this physical world, our purpose involves developing the spiritual attributes that we will need in the next world.
These inner spiritual qualities have a mystical origin. As Bahá’u’lláh wrote:
Further, consider how the fruit, before it forms, potentially lies within the tree. If the tree were cut into pieces, no sign or particle of the fruit, however small, could be found. However, as you have observed, when the fruit appears, it manifests itself in its wondrous beauty and glorious perfection. Certain fruits reach their full development only after they have been severed from the tree.
Using the same natural metaphor, in another passage, Bahá’u’lláh explained:
Man is like a tree. If it is adorned with fruit, it is worthy of praise and commendation and always will be. On the contrary, a tree without fruit is only good for fire. The fruits of the human tree are exquisite, highly desired, and much appreciated. Among them are upright character, virtuous actions, and pleasant words.
So how do we begin to develop our “spiritual fruits”?
First, just as a tree depends on the sun, soil, and water for its life, our spiritual lives need inspiration, foundation, and sustenance. Mainly, we need the love of God. As Bahá’u’lláh wrote: It is the supreme duty of each one of you to choose for yourself what no one can violate or usurp.
Second, we need a foundation in spiritual education. Bahá’u’lláh described the founders and prophets of the great religions as “Roots of Knowledge”. These manifestations of God and his essential spiritual teachings give people the knowledge, strength, and foundation necessary for character development and spiritual maturation.
Finally, the tree of our needs the life-giving water of God’s word. Bahá’u’lláh’s writings say:
The Water for these trees is the living water of the sacred Words spoken by the Beloved of the world. In one instant those trees are planted, and in the next, their branches will have reached the heavens through the outpourings of the rains of divine mercy.
Bahá’u’lláh gave the “living water” of the Bahá’í teachings to all mankind, as well as to each individual. The Bahá’í writings focus on individual spiritual growth, but also on the protection, guidance, peace, and unity of society as a whole. To this day, the Bahá’í teachings say that it is not just the individual soul that seeks salvation, it is the entire human race.