Abdu’l-Baha’s Idea of “Struggle for Survival.”
The “struggle for survival.” You come across this expression periodically in studying the writings of Abdu’l-Baha. By it, He seems to signify that this struggle is a bad thing. His expression seems close to what Darwin’s bulldog, Herbert Spencer, called “survival of the fittest.” The poor are underfoot for a reason; we do not want the inferior to rise to the top. The scientific way is to let the natural mechanisms of evolution determine who gets to swim in the human gene pool. Eugenics seems cruel at first but in the long run we are all better off. This idea wove through and pervaded secular thinking for well over a century after Darwin died. It only seems to be subsiding now that violence is losing sway and women crowd into public life. Abdu’l-Baha pointed out the “struggle for survival” is the mark of the materialistic worldview. It causes brutalization and tyranny, but the spiritual mind set does the reverse.
“I hope that in this nether world thou shalt attain unto heavenly light, thou wilt free the souls from the gloom of nature, which is the animal kingdom, and cause them to reach lofty stations in the human kingdom. Today all people are immersed in the world of nature. That is why thou dost see jealousy, greed, the struggle for survival, deception, hypocrisy, tyranny, oppression, disputes, strife, bloodshed, looting and pillaging, which all emanate from the world of nature. Few are those who have been freed from this darkness, who have ascended from the world of nature to the world of man, who have followed the divine Teachings, have served the world of humanity, are resplendent, merciful, illumined and like unto a rose garden. Strive thine utmost to become godlike, characterized with His attributes, illumined and merciful, that thou mayest be freed from every bond and become attached at heart to the Kingdom of the incomparable Lord. This is Baha’i bounty, and this is heavenly light.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections, p. 206)
Interestingly, I just came across an entire “Tablet on the Struggle for Survival.” It makes his meaning by "struggle for survival" quite unambiguous. The letter has not been officially translated, but it is interesting nonetheless, being marked by the Master’s usual simple but brilliant exposition. Who could ask for a clearer picture of the difference between secular brutality and the compassion that marks the worldview of faith? If you know the name of the society is to which he addresses himself here, do let me know.
Tablet on the Struggle for Survival
Provisionally translated by Keven Brown, edited by Mehdi Wolf published in Khitabat, pages 711-3 Hofheim, Germany: Baha’i Verlag, 1984 originally written as “Lawh-i-TanA’zu’-i BaqA”. http://bahai-library.com/abdulbaha_lawh_tanazu_baqa
O honored society [for the advancement] of humanity! All mankind should be grateful on account of your noble purpose and lofty intentions. All should be thankful and well-pleased that you are selflessly engaged in such a high endeavor, which is the cause of universal peace amongst mankind, inasmuch as the peace and tranquility of the entire creation depends upon improving the character of man; and the greatest means for training man to possess praiseworthy characteristics is noble aspirations and the expansion of the mind. Humanity must be invited to partake of this mighty gift.
Observe that the primary principle adhered to by every individual of the human species is to attract benefit to himself and to avoid injury. His aim is to secure his own tranquility and happiness. This is his sole desire in life, and he strives to distinguish himself from all others through the ease, wealth, and fame he has obtained. This is the goal of every individual of the human species. But, in truth, this is a base, dangerous, and inferior notion.
If man advances a little in his thinking and his aspirations become nobler, he will realize that he should strive to benefit his whole family and to protect it from harm, for he perceives that by bringing comfort and affluence to the whole family, his own felicity and prosperity will increase. Should his thinking expand even more and his aspirations grow in depth, he will realize that he should endeavor to bring blessings to the children of his country and nation and to guard them from injury. Although this aspiration and thought are for his own sake and that of his family, all the children of the nation will benefit therefrom.
But this aspiration will become the cause of injury to other nations, for he then exerts the utmost effort to bring all the advantages of the human world to his own nation and the blessings of the earth to his own family, singling them out for the universal felicity of humankind. He imagines that the more other nations and neighboring countries decline, the more his own country and nation will advance, until by this means it surpasses and dominates the other nations in power, wealth, and influence.
However, a divine human being and a heavenly individual is sanctified from these limitations, and the expansion of his mind and the loftiness of his aspirations are in the utmost degree of perfection. The compass of his thinking is so vast that he recognizes in the gain of all mankind the basis of the prosperity of every individual member of his species. He considers the injury of any nation or state to be the same as injury to his own nation and state, indeed, the same as injury to his own family and to his own self.
Therefore, he strives with heart and soul as much as possible to bring prosperity and blessings to the entire human race and to protect all nations from harm. He endeavors to promote the exaltation, illumination, and felicity of all peoples, and makes no distinctions among them, for he regards humanity as a single family and considers all nations to be the members of that family. Indeed, he sees the entire human social body as one individual and perceives each one of the nations to be one of the organs of that body. Man must raise his aspiration to this degree so that he may serve the cause of establishing universal virtues and become the cause of the glory of humankind.
At present the state of the world is the opposite of this. All the nations are thinking of how to advance their own interests while working against the best interests of other nations. They desire their own personal advantage while seeking to undermine affairs in other countries. They call this the “struggle for survival” (tanazu’-i baqa), and assert that it is innate to human nature. But this is a grievous error; nay, there is no error greater than this. Gracious God! Even in the animal kingdom cooperation and mutual assistance for survival are observed among some species, especially in the case of danger to the whole group.
One day I was beside a small stream and noticed some young grasshoppers which had not yet developed wings seeking to cross to the other side in order to obtain food. To accomplish their goal, these wingless grasshoppers rushed forward into the water and vied with each other to form a bridge across the stream while the remaining grasshoppers crossed over on top of them. The grasshoppers were able to pass from one side of the stream to the other, but those insects which had formed the bridge in the water perished. Reflect how this incident illustrates co-operation for survival, not struggle for survival. Insofar as animals display such noble sentiments, how much more should man, who is the noblest of creatures; and how much more fitting it is in particular that, in view of the divine teachings and heavenly ordinances, man should be obliged to attain this excellence.
In the estimation of God, distinctions of race, divisions of borders, favoring one people over another, and all individual limitations are unworthy and rejected. All the prophets of God were sent down and all the sacred books were revealed for the purpose of assisting man to achieve this heavenly grace and this divine virtue.
All the divine teachings can be summarized as this: that these thoughts singling out advantages to one group may be banished from our midst, that human character may be improved, that equality and fellowship may be established amongst all mankind, until every individual is ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of his fellowman. This is the divine foundation. This is the law come down from heaven.
Such a firm foundation cannot be impregnated into human consciousness save by one universal and all-pervasive power, for every other power is helpless except for the power of the Holy Spirit. The outpourings of the Holy Spirit are such that they can transform man, imbuing him with all the virtues, bestowing upon him the second birth, baptizing him with the fire of the love of God, which is love for all created things, and quickening him with the water of eternal life, and the Holy Spirit itself.
The philosophers of old had the strongest resolve to improve human morals and strove to the utmost in this regard, but at most they succeeded in refining their own characters, not the virtues of all mankind. Refer to history and you will find that this is clear and evident.But the power of the Holy Spirit brings forth the universal virtues with which man is potentially endowed, illuminates the human world, bestows true exaltation, and trains all people. Thus, the well-wishers of the world must endeavor to attract by this attractive power the confirmations of the Holy Spirit. My hope is that the members of this honored society dedicated to the welfare of humanity, like a mirror, may acquire illumination from the Sun of Reality, and become the cause of training mankind to acquire virtues. I pray that my utmost esteem be acceptable to that eminent organization.