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Physical Causes of Disease

This is part three of an eleven part series on the Baha’i Perspective on Disease.   In Part 1,  we looked at how I got interested in this topic and looked at some quotes on prevention of disease.  In Part 2, we looked at the reasons for disease, and in this part we look at the physical causes of disease.

No single cause:

. . . the body of a man which was created sound and whole, but diseases have attacked him from various and divers causes and his soul is not at ease for a day, but rather his sickness increaseth, (Compilations, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 112)


The next challenge for WHO is to recognize that a major obstacle to enjoying the right to health is being born female.  (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Aug 26, Primary Health Care Empowerment of Women)

Genetic variations occur, producing conditions which can create problems for the individual. Some conditions are of an emotional or psychological nature, producing such imbalances as quickness to anger, recklessness, timorousness, and so forth; others involve purely physical characteristics, resulting not only in unusual capacities but also in handicaps or diseases of various kinds.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, Sept. 11, 1995; published in “The American Bahá’í”, Qawl 152 BE/Nov. 23, 1995, p 11.)


The outer, physical causal factor in disease, however, is a disturbance in the balance, the proportionate equilibrium of all those elements of which the human body is composed. To illustrate: the body of man is a compound of many constituent substances, each component being present in a prescribed amount, contributing to the essential equilibrium of the whole. So long as these constituents remain in their due proportion, according to the natural balance of the whole — that is, no component suffereth a change in its natural proportionate degree and balance, no component being either augmented or decreased — there will be no physical cause for the incursion of disease.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 152)

For example, the starch component must be present to a given amount, and the sugar to a given amount. So long as each remaineth in its natural proportion to the whole, there will be no cause for the onset of disease. When, however, these constituents vary as to their natural and due amounts — that is, when they are augmented or diminished — it is certain that this will provide for the inroads of disease.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 152)

The basic reason for this is that if, in some component substance of the human body, an imbalance should occur, altering its correct, relative proportion to the whole, this fact will inevitably result in the onset of disease. If, for example, the starch component should be unduly augmented, or the sugar component decreased, an illness will take control. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 152)

When highly-skilled physicians shall fully examine this matter, thoroughly and perseveringly, it will be clearly seen that the incursion of disease is due to a disturbance in the relative amounts of the body’s component substances  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 152)

Sickness reveals a lack of balance in human organism, an absence of equilibrium in the forces essential for the normal functioning of the human body.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

Poor Hygiene:

The amount of illness caused by neglect of simple hygienic precautions . . . is prodigious.  (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 103)


. . . the germs are present in one’s own system, perhaps to lie dormant forever,  perhaps to flare up into disease.  (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 121)


Just as the bodily diseases like consumption and cancer are contagious, likewise the spiritual diseases are also infectious. If a consumptive should associate with a thousand safe and healthy persons, the safety and health of these thousand persons would not affect the consumptive and would not cure him of his consumptions. But when this consumptive associates with those thousand souls, in a short time the disease of consumption will infect a number of those healthy persons. This is a clear and self-evident question.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 183)

The contagion of disease is violent and rapid . . . If two bodies are brought into contact with each other, it is certain that microbic particles will pass from one to the other. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 254)

Just as in bodily diseases we must prevent intermingling and infection and put into effect sanitary laws — because the infectious physical diseases uproot the foundation of humanity; likewise one must protect and safeguard the blessed souls from the breaths and fatal spiritual diseases; otherwise violation, like the plague, will become a contagion and all will perish.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 437)

Treatment of our Body:

The body should be the servant of the soul, never its master, but it should be a willing, obedient and efficient servant, and should be treated with the consideration which a good servant deserves. If it is not properly treated, disease and disaster result, with injurious consequences to master as well as servant. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 101)


But man hath perversely continued to serve his lustful appetites, and he would not content himself with simple foods. Rather, he prepared for himself food that was compounded of many ingredients, of substances differing one from the other. With this, and with the perpetrating of vile and ignoble acts, his attention was engrossed, and he abandoned the temperance and moderation of a natural way of life. The result was the engendering of diseases both violent and diverse.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 152)

For the animal, as to its body, is made up of the same constituent elements as man. Since, however, the animal contenteth itself with simple foods and striveth not to indulge its importunate urges to any great degree, and committeth no sins, its ailments relative to man’s are few. We see clearly, therefore, how powerful are sin and contumacy as pathogenic factors. And once engendered these diseases become compounded, multiply, and are transmitted to others. Such are the spiritual, inner causes of sickness.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 152)

Sensual Desires:

But if the health and welfare of man be spent in sensual desires, in a life on the animal plane, and in devilish pursuits — then disease is better than such health.      (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 376)

Drinking and Drugs:

The drinking of wine is, according to the text of the Most Holy Book, forbidden; for it is the cause of chronic diseases, weakeneth the nerves, and consumeth the mind.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 246)

The amount of illness caused by . . . indulgence in alcohol and opium is prodigious.  (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 103)

Alcohol and opium affect a man’s conscience long before they affect his gait or cause obvious bodily disease (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 104)


The smoker is vulnerable to many and various diseases.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 147)

Every qualified physician hath ruled — and this hath also been proved by tests — that one of the components of tobacco is a deadly poison, and that the smoker is vulnerable to many and various diseases.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 3, p. 438)

For more in this series:

Part 1: Intro to Disease

Part 2:  Reasons for Disease

Part 3:  Physical Causes of Disease

Part 4:  Spiritual Causes of Disease

Part 5:  Effects of Disease

Part 6:  Attitudes towards Disease

Part 7:  Spiritual Treatment for Disease

Part 8:  Physical Treatment for Disease

Part 9:  Why People Aren’t Getting Better

Part 10:  Advice to Doctors

Part 11:  Prayers for Health

Unity in Diversity – Lessons from the Body


The concept of “Unity in Diversity” is a given in the Bahá’í Faith and a term that’s been bandied around so often, that we’re now seeing it in the non-Bahá’í world too.  The best known usage inside the Faith, is around the concept of the oneness of humanity, being likened to a garden, but recently I came across this quote (which I’ve broken in 3 parts) and had an entirely different understanding of what it means:

A unity in diversity of actions is called for, a condition in which different individuals will concentrate on different activities, appreciating the salutary effect of the aggregate on the growth and development of the Faith . . .

Think of the human body – a beautiful example of unity in diversity in action!  We need big toenails just as much as we need eyeballs and kneecaps and thumbs.  The big toenail doesn’t feel guilty it can’t see.  The kneecap isn’t depressed because it can’t pick things up.  Each part is important to the functioning of the whole (have you ever had a sore big toe nail?  The whole body suffers!).  Each part has a role to play, which is different from every other part.  We accept it without giving it any thought, because typically, the body functions without any conscious effort on our part.

That’s what our Bahá’í life needs to be like.

. . . because each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing . . .

The Universal House of Justice has asked us to concentrate on 4 core activities:  Study Circles, Devotional Gatherings, Children’s Classes and Junior Youth programs, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to do one or more of these activities the same as anyone else.

If you’re a big toenail, perhaps you will tutor a study circle, or put together the devotions, or teach the children’s classes and junior youth programs.

If you’re a kneecap, you might organize the activities (find the tutors, teachers and animators, order the books, call the students, parents etc.)

If you’re the eyeball, you might host the events or bake the cookies.

If you’re the thumb, you might provide transportation or child care.

If you’re the eyelash, you might pray for the success of the event.

If you’re the elbow, you might serve on the institutions that do the planning.

But how many of us try to do everything and either burn out or become inactive because they feel that what they have to offer isn’t appreciated, or isn’t what others are doing etc?

. . . This understanding is important to the maturity which, by the many demands being made upon it, the community is being forced to attain.  (Compilations, Promoting Entry by Troops, p. 17)

So the next time you are tempted to do it all, remember that it’s a sign of maturity to know which part of the whole you’re best at, recognize that you are a big toe  nail, and leave the work of the eyeball to the eyeball.

What are your thoughts?  Post your comments here: