Abdu’l-Baha on individuality
Posted by Sen on March 23, 2010
INDIVIDUALITY AND PERSONALITY
Address by Abdul Baha, February 14, 1913, at 30 rue St. Didier, Paris
From Persian notes; translated by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab
Today one of those present asked a question on personality. From what source does it come? What are its attributes? What are its characteristic features or aspects?
Personality is one of two kinds. One is the natural or God-given personality which the Western thinkers call individuality. Individuality is the inner aspect of man which is not subject to change. The second is personality. Personality is the acquired virtues and perfections, with which man is adorned.
When the individuality of man, i.e., his God-given natural virtues, is adorned with acquired virtues and perfections then we have character. When the infinite effulgences of God are revealed in the individual, then divine perfections which are invisible in all creation will become manifest in him.
For instance, one man is the manifesto of knowledge, i.e. divine knowledge is revealed to him. Another man is the dawning place of power, a third is wealthy, another is generous. Again a person is faithful, and another with whom you come in touch, is merciful. All these attributes are God given and natural in man.
These are the manifestations of the unchangeable individuality. All of them are praiseworthy, because they are divine in origin. All these qualifications are created by God, they are loved by every one, for they are the significances of His names and attributes. The rays of His names and attributes have illumined the very essence of these qualifications.
As regards the personality which is the result of acquired virtues, that is also good. For instance, this mirror had once an individuality of rock. The rock going through the processes of purification, has reached to its present status of transparency. Now the rock in its original state was praiseworthy, but having acquired the second state, which is personality, it has become a mirror. In the beginning it was a piece of black stone, now it has become a pure looking glass.
Therefore you can easily see that the personality or the acquired virtue has become the means of the appearance of greater perfections which perfections are clearly visible in the mirror.
The rock was endowed by God with a distinct individuality. It acquired personality through the process of education. The individuality of all people is laudable, for every thing God creates is based upon divine wisdom. In the creation of God there is no defect. However, personality has no element of permanence in it, it is a shifting, changeable quality in man which can be turned either way.
For instance, when man is the manifestor of virtues it strengthens the individuality, and suffers his hidden forces to come into active play. But if he acquires defects the beauty and simplicity of the individuality will be lost, and its God-given qualities will be stifled in the foul atmosphere of these imperfections. It is self-evidently manifest that every human being created by God is original; that is, those heavenly attributes which are the distinguishing features of the individuality are created by God and deposited in man.
But if later on the personality acquires sciences, he will become a wise man. If he is engaged in praiseworthy deeds he will be appreciated. If he strives in the study of knowledges he will become perfect. If, on the contrary, he runs after blameworthy vices he will be adorned with exactly the same attributes.
For instance, God has created man to be just; if he does not practice justice, he has gone against the attributes of his individuality. God has created man to be merciful, but he becomes a tyrant. God has created man to be kind to all the children of men; on the contrary he is inimical and hateful. God has created man to confer life, but he becomes conducive to the destruction of life.
All of these are the perversions of the characteristics of the individuality and they are blameworthy, and disliked by all.
Personality is obtained through the effort of man, and through training and education. If a fruitless tree comes under the influence of a wise gardener, through the process of training it becomes fruitful.
If a piece of rock comes under the hand of a sculptor it will become a beautiful piece of statuary. The ruined places are built up by captains of industry. The ignorant children learn the secrets of phenomena under the tutorship of a wise teacher. The crooked branch becomes straight through the influence of the gardener.
Consequently it is evident that we have two modes for the expression of life – Individuality and Personality.
The former is the handiwork of God and the latter that of man. In short, the personality of some people is illumined, that of others is dark – the personality of some is the manifestation of divine justice, while that of others is the embodiment of infinite tyranny. The personality of some is guidance, while that of others is error. That which was hidden in the capability of these souls has been manifest. For instance, when you sow a seed, that which is hidden in the reality of that seed will become revealed and unfolded – the trunk, the branches, the leaves and the blossoms and the fruits which are in the seed as potentialities.
When pupils are being trained under the tutorship of a teacher, education will bring opt what is hidden in their beings. The clouds pour down, the sun shines, and all that which was hidden in the bosom of the earth will come forth.
Therefore the personality of man is developed through education, while the individuality, which is divine and heavenly, is praiseworthy in origin.
God has created poison and has shown that it is harmful to man. On the other hand sweet things are created by Him and are enjoyed by man. Thus it is in the nature of man to be harmed by poison, and to find enjoyment in sweets; but he changes his nature to such an extent that he takes poison, such as opium and arsenic in the form of a drug, and he accustoms himself to it to such an extent that if he does not receive it he may die.
Therefore man is capable of subjecting his individuality to such a degree that poison which was the means of death, becomes the means of life. His nature becomes so degraded and his individuality so distorted that he will long for the poison if it is not given to him in time.
What is the cause of the change in the individuality? It is the acquirement of evil habits.
God benignly endows man with an individuality which enjoys the sweet and shuns the poison, but man through evil habits changes the creation of God, and transforms the divine illumination into satanic darkness.
So long as man is a captive of nature, submerged in the sea of materialism, pursuing the dictates of self and desire, he is vanquished and defeated. This passionate ego takes the reins from his hands, and changes him into an animal. He will fall so low that he will be unable to judge good from evil. He will not be able to distinguish light from darkness, neither will he be able to behold the angelic attributes.
Therefore this acquired individuality which is the result of evil customs becomes the dominant note of his life.
I hope that all of you may be freed from these dangers, delivered from the world of nature, enter into the realm of light, and be come divine, radiant, merciful, Godlike and confirmed.
Short link: http://tinyurl.com/AB-individ