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October 4, 2013

Question: Can we ever truly know ourselves?

In the voluminous sacred writings of Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892) (the Glory of God), the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, we find this aphorism that is also a warning: “True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self.” Knowing oneself must have high priority.

Today’s question inevitably begs another. What do we mean by the self?

Volumes have been written on that theme by the psychologists, but as for other faith communities, Baha’is view the self as including at least two components: the personality, which has both higher and lower natures, and the eternal self, that is, the soul.

Now the essence of the soul, the motive power of the body and mind, the eternal reality created by God, that reflects His divine attributes and survives death, remains an unfathomable mystery.

The human personality is almost as challenging to penetrate because it is difficult for subjectivity to understand itself.

Regarding self-knowledge, we humans are like the fish who swim along, blithely unaware of the ocean waters. In his poem To a Louse, Robbie Burns famously supplicated some great power to grant us the gift to see ourselves as others see us.

In practical terms, it is very helpful in understanding the self, to strive gradually to become more conscious of the negative factors that have formed our personalities, and which continue to drive us. The more we become conscious of these arbitrary, tyrannical drives, the less capable will they be of controlling us and causing disruptions in our lives.

In “living the life,” we arrive at a heightened knowledge of true self, our divine identity, by reflecting in our deeds and actions divine attributes. Simply put, knowing oneself is not merely a matter of belief. Belief must be demonstrated in action by the daily practice of both human and divine virtues.

Spiritual practice must be demonstrated, not by intellect alone, but by loving service to friends, family, society and to humanity. In sum, we discover best who we are by reflecting in thought, word and deed the divine self that is the essence of each human being.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen October 4, 2013
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