Abdul-Bahá uses the example of a child in the womb to explain the idea. The child has eyes, ears, hands, feet, etc., but they are not in activity. Only once the child is born in the material world, do these organs become active. Similarly, psychic powers are not to be used in this world, and it is dangerous to cultivate them here.
When asked if a departed soul can converse with someone still on earth, Abdul-Bahá answered, "A conversation can be held, but not as our conversation. There is no doubt that the forces of the higher worlds interplay with the forces of this plane. The heart of man is open to inspiration; this is spiritual communication. As in a dream one talks with a friend while the mouth is silent, so is it in the conversation of the spirit. A man may converse with the ego within him saying: May I do this? Would it be advisable for me to do this work? Such as this is conversation with the higher self."2
Abdul-Bahá points out that there can be, under certain rare circumstances, such as those experienced by the Prophets, communion with some soul gone before into the invisible world. Most other experiences of this type that people claim to have with departed souls are the product of their imaginationshowever real they may seem to them to be.3 Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baháí Faith points out, "Truly mystical experiences based on reality are very rare, and we can readily see how dangerous it is for people to go groping about in the darkness of their imagination after the true thing. That is why, we are warned against all psychical practices by the Master."4
The whole purpose of life in the material world is the coming forth into the world of Reality where psychic forces will become active. Practices such as intercourse with spirits of the departed, telepathy, etc., ought not to be indulged in either for curiosity or for their own sake. Shoghi Effendi explains that such powers " should be left dormant, and not exploited, even when we do so with the sincere belief we are helping others. We do not understand their nature and have no way of being sure of what is true and what is false in such matters." He adds, "If children are inclined to be psychic they should not be blamed for it too harshly; they should not be encouraged to strengthen their powers in this direction."5 In most cases, psychic phenomena indicate deep psychological disturbance, and we should avoid giving undue consideration to such matters.
When asked about dreams and visions, the Guardian replied that it is very difficult to distinguish truth from imagination. However, he explained that "True visions can be granted to those who are spiritually pure and receptive, and are not therefore confined to the Prophets alone."6
The Guardian explains, "Briefly, there is no question that visions occasionally do come to some individuals, which are true and have significance. On the other hand, this comes to an individual through the grace of God, and not through the exercise of any of the human faculties. It is not a thing which a person should try to develop. When a person endeavours to develop faculties so that they might enjoy visions, dreams etc., actually what they are doing is weakening certain of their spiritual capacities; and thus under such circumstances, dreams and visions have no reality, and ultimately lead to the destruction of the character of the person."7 The Baháí Writings emphasize that the Manifestations of God reveal the divine will to us and there is little need for individual revelations.8
Similar comments are made about receiving inspired written messages or automatic writing. The Guardian clarifies that " the worlds greatest writers and painters have not been under psychic influence, but through innate ability, practice and study, have given us their masterpieces; this is the normal way for inspiration to reach us, through the channels of our own abilities, and not through control by forces which are neither consistent nor reliable."9
About automatic writing, Abdul-Bahá explains: "This power is neither heavenly nor spiritual; neither is it an influence from disembodied spirits. It is human spirit-magnetism within the self of the one doing the writing. When the thoughts have taken possession of the mind and are not consciously directed, one becomes subject to their promptings, and, unconsciously, or automatically, takes a pencil and writes them down. The oftener this is done the stronger becomes the magnetic prompting."10 It is the same process as learning a lesson or poem by heart, taking a walk often on the same road unconsciously or automatically.
It is both a privilege and duty, however, for those in this world and those who have passed on to the next world to love and pray for each other. Abdul-Bahá explains, "Those who have ascended have different attributes from those who are still on earth, yet there is no real separation. In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you."11 He gives a beautiful analogy: "The rich in the other world can help the poor, as the rich can help the poor in here. "12 This is the true meaning of help and assistance in the other world. Not surprisingly, a great emphasis is laid in all religions on prayer ceremonies for those who have passed on to the other side of the veil. In many cases rituals and priest craft have overshadowed the real practices. The point is that "Undeveloped souls must gain progress at first through the supplications of the spiritually rich; afterwards they can progress through their own supplications ."13
Abdul-Bahá elaborates, "The wealth of the other world is nearness to God. Consequently it is certain that those who are near the Divine Court are allowed to intercede, and this intercession is approved by God . It is even possible that the condition of those who have died in sin and unbelief may become changed; that is to say, they may be the object of pardon through the Bounty of God ."14 However, in most cases the idea of taking the help of a spiritually strong person is translated into hiring a priest to pray for the dead.
The Baháí approach towards those who have passed over to the next world is very different from those who dabble in spiritualistic practices. The Baháí Writings clearly warn against indulging in spiritualist practices like holding seances, materialization of spirits, or communicating with the dead through spirit mediums. Regarding the materialization of spirits through mediums, Abdul-Bahá says: "A person finding himself in a state of trance, or unconsciousness, is like one who sleeps; whatever he feels and sees he imagines to be matter and of material things, but in realty they are wholly immaterial."15 He clarifies that apart from the Bounty of the Holy Spirit all that is said about " mesmerism or trumpet communications from the dead are sheer imagination."16
Thus paying attention to persons thought to be imbued with spiritualistic ideas is rather useless because what they think to be the truth has much of personal imagination added to it. Many investigative books written on the subject support this view. Some popular spirit mediums, who later on chose to reveal the truth, have also indicated that they had certain psychic powers like reading other persons thoughts. They took to becoming spirit mediums to earn more money from their credulous clientele. Many have also lain bare their secret practices and tricks through which they produced so-called supernatural phenomena.
The Baháí Writings teach that evil souls who have passed away can exercise no power over people. Good is stronger than evil. Evil souls have very little power, even when alive. How much less they have after they are dead.17 The influence of psychic arts " is dependent on the conviction, even the sub-conscious conviction, of the person affected and, similarly, the power of the priests to overcome the influence is likewise an outcome of the sufferers conviction that it is from the priest that he or she will be able to obtain help."18 Similarly, the Baháí Writings teach that heaven and hell are conditions within our beings.19 Heaven is described as a state of nearness to God and hell as being far removed from Him.
The Baháís are warned not to indulge in occult practices as these can cause considerable mental harm, and thus permanently injure the mind as well as the body. Even the company of such people is to be avoided because we may unconsciously fall under their baneful influence.20
The Baháís are advised to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. This power is now manifest through the appearance of Baháulláh. Shoghi Effendi has assured that no force of heaven or earth or any negative influences can affect us if we place ourselves "wholly under the influence of the Holy Spirit".21 In one of His Tablets, Abdul-Bahá wrote, "If you seek immunity from the sway of the forces of the contingent world, hang the Most Great Name in your dwelling, wear the ring of the Most Great Name on your finger, place the picture of Abdul-Bahá in your home and always recite the prayers . Then you will behold the marvellous effect they produce. Those so-called forces will prove but illusions and will be wiped out and exterminated." 22
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. J. E. Esslemont, Baháulláh and the New Era, p. 178.
2. Abdul-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 179.
3. Lights of Guidance, p. 540. [Shoghi Effendi. Letter dated Oct. 25, 1942].
4. ibid., p. 515. [Shoghi Effendi. Letter dated October 25, 1942].
5. ibid., p. 513. [Shoghi Effendi. Letter dated March 4, 1946].
6. ibid., p. 514. [Shoghi Effendi. Letter dated November 26, 1939].
7. ibid., p. 515. [Shoghi Effendi. Letter dated May 6, 1952].
8. ibid. [Shoghi Effendi. Letter dated December 22, 1947].
9. ibid., p. 517. [Shoghi Effendi. Letter dated February 24, 1947].
10. ibid. [Abdul-Bahá Abbás, Daily Lessons Received at Akká, pp. 43-44, Baháí Publishing Society].
11. J. E. Esslemont, Baháulláh and the New Era, pp. 178-9.
12. ibid., p. 178.
14. ibid., p.176.
15. Lights of Guidance, p. 519. [Daily Lessons Received at Akká, Abdul-Bahá Abbás, 1979, p. 82].
16. ibid. [Abdul-Bahá Abbás, Daily Lessons Received at Akká, 1979, p. 85].
17. Lights of Guidance, p. 521.
18. ibid., p. 520. [From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, August 30, 1984].
19. ibid. [From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian, November 14, 1947].
20. ibid., p. 522. [From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian, August 5, 1939].
21. Lights of Guidance, p. 519. [Shoghi Effendi. Letter dated August 11, 1957].
22. ibid., p. 520.