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What is Our Lower Nature? 

Anything that is contrary to the will of God comes from our lower nature, or ego.

This would be contrary to the will of God and according to the will of Satan, by which we mean the natural inclinations of the lower nature. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 286-287)

Whatever is interpreted as evil refers to the lower nature in man.

The evil spirit, Satan or whatever is interpreted as evil, refers to the lower nature in man. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 76-79)

Our baser nature is symbolized in various ways:

This baser nature is symbolized in various ways.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 76-79)

Often, it’s symbolized as Satan, described as the evil ego within us rather than an evil personality outside.

This lower nature in man is symbolized as Satan—the evil ego within us, not an evil personality outside.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 286-287)

God never created an evil spirit – these ideas have always been symbols of our earthly nature:

God has never created an evil spirit; all such ideas and nomenclature are symbols expressing the mere human or earthly nature of man.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 76-79)

The greatest of degradations is to leave the Shadow of God and enter under the shadow of Satan (or our ego or lower nature).  ’Abdu’l-Bahá is reported to have said:

The greatest of degradation is to leave the Shadow of God and enter under the shadow of Satan.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 21, pp. 19-25)

Characteristics of the Lower Nature

All the imperfections found in animals are also found in man.  Innate in man is rancour; the struggle for existence; the propensity for warfare; love of self; jealousy; hypocrisy, slyness, greed, ignorance, injustice, tyranny and so on.  Our reality, therefore, is clad in the garment of the animal or the world of nature.  It’s a world of darkness; imperfection, and infinite baseness.  ’Abdu’l-Bahá is reported to have said:

For instance, consider in man there is rancor, in man there is struggle for existence; in the nature of man there is propensity for warfare; innate in man there is love of self; in him there is jealousy, and so on with all the other imperfections and thus, in a word, all the imperfections found in the animal are to be found in man. For instance, in the animal there is ferocity; there is also ferocity in man. In the animal there is what is called hypocrisy or slyness, like unto that in the fox; and in the animal there is greed — and there is ignorance. So there are all these in man. In the animal there are injustice and tyranny; so likewise are they in man. The reality of man, therefore, is clad, you might say, in its outer form in the garment of the animal, in the garment of the world of nature, of the world of darkness; that is the world of imperfection, that is the world of infinite baseness.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, vol. VII, no. 8, August 1, 1916)

Whenever you 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, you realize that we are all immersed in the world of nature to one degree or another.

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. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 206)

Sins such as injustice, tyranny, hatred, hostility and strife are characteristics of the lower nature:

Sin is the state of man in the world of the baser nature, for in nature exist defects such as injustice, tyranny, hatred, hostility, strife: these are characteristics of the lower plane of nature. These are the sins of the world, the fruits of the tree from which Adam did eat.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 177)

The lower nature appeals to everyone differently, according to each person’s own way.  ’Abdu’l-Bahá is reported to have said:

Satan appears in different robes and appeals to everyone according to each person’s own way.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 21, pp. 19-25)

The lower nature can be manipulated by others:

A strong-willed man, by appealing to the lower nature of man, or exciting the people’s sentiments, may succeed in bringing about an uprising or a revolution in which he himself becomes the focal point.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 123)

How?

Other people will try to mislead you through temptations which arouse the desires of self and cause you to follow your own lower nature, taking you away from God.  ’Abdu’l-Bahá is reported to have said:

It is clear to your honor that before long Satan, in the garb of man, will reach that land and will try to mislead the friends of the Divine Beauty through temptations which arouse the desires of self, and will cause them to follow the footsteps of Satan away from the right and glorious path, and prevent them from attaining the Blessed Shore of the King of Oneness. This is a hidden information of which we have informed the chosen ones lest they may be deprived of their praiseworthy station by associating with the embodiments of hatred.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 21, pp. 19-25)

We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves, because if our lower nature has its way, we will be stuck in it, with no promptings from our higher nature to help us get free.  ’Abdu’l-Bahá is reported to have said::

Endeavor to your utmost to protect yourselves, because Satan appears in different robes and appeals to everyone according to each person’s own way, until he becomes like unto him—then he will leave him alone.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 21, pp. 19-25)

Why do we have a lower nature?

We seem to need opposites in life.  In this case, we see that even the world of nature is defective:

The world of nature is defective. Look at it clearly, casting aside all superstition and imagination . . . It is an essential condition of the soil of earth that thorns, weeds and fruitless trees may grow from it. Relatively speaking, this is evil; it is simply the lower state and baser product of nature.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 77)

The struggle between our lower nature and the Divine teachings draw us towards our true station.

The struggle between the forces of darkness—man’s lower nature—and the rising sun of the Divine teachings which draw him on to his true station, intensifies day by day.  (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 113)

Effects of Living in our Lower Nature

When we are captives of our self and desire, engulfed in the passions of our lower nature, we find wealth and fame and enjoy the comforts of life, but in the end, the outcome is always utter evanescence and oblivion.  No trace of us remains; no fruit; no result; no benefit to carry forward to eternity.

Consider the human world. See how nations have come and gone. They have been of all minds and purposes. Some were mere captives of self and desire, engulfed in the passions of the lower nature. They attained to wealth, to the comforts of life, to fame. And what was the final outcome? Utter evanescence and oblivion. Reflect upon this. Look upon it with the eye of admonition. No trace of them remains, no fruit, no result, no benefit; they have gone utterly—complete effacement.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 186)

When we follow the promptings of the self, it takes us insistently to wickedness and lust.

Follow not the promptings of the self, for it summoneth insistently to wickedness and lust.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 41)

The desires of our lower nature have altered the face of creation.

Fear God, and follow not your desires which have altered the face of creation.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 75)

If the spiritual qualities of the soul are never used, they become atrophied, enfeebled, and at last incapable.  Unhappy and misguided, we become more savage; more unjust; more vile; more cruel and more malevolent than the lower animals themselves.   When all our aspirations and desires are being strengthened by the lower side of our soul’s nature, we become more and more brutal, until our whole being is worse than the beasts that perish.

But on the other hand, when man does not open his mind and heart to the blessing of the spirit, but turns his soul towards the material side, towards the bodily part of his nature, then is he fallen from his high place and he becomes inferior to the inhabitants of the lower animal kingdom. In this case the man is in a sorry plight! For if the spiritual qualities of the soul, open to the breath of the Divine Spirit, are never used, they become atrophied, enfeebled, and at last incapable; whilst the soul’s material qualities alone being exercised, they become terribly powerful—and the unhappy, misguided man, becomes more savage, more unjust, more vile, more cruel, more malevolent than the lower animals themselves. All his aspirations and desires being strengthened by the lower side of the soul’s nature, he becomes more and more brutal, until his whole being is in no way superior to that of the beasts that perish.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 97)

Our lower nature and those of the people around us are dangerous because, by standing as “observation posts”, they prevent us from taking the path to God, by every means of deception and ruse possible.  ’Abdu’l-Bahá is reported to have said::

. . . the manifestations of Satan are occupying today the observation posts of the glorious path of God, and preventing the people by every means of deception and ruse. Before long you will witness the turning away of the people of Bayan from the Manifestation of the Merciful.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 21, pp. 19-25)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá compares those who chose to stay in their lower natures to the earthworm, whose highest aim is to struggle to dig down to the depths of the earth despite the fact that they are bound by a thousand cares and sorrows; never safe from danger, or secure from sudden death. After a brief span, they are utterly effaced, and no sign remains to tell of them, and no word of them is ever heard again.

But the pitiable earthworms love only to tunnel into the ground, and what a mighty struggle they make to get themselves down into its depths! Even so are the sons of earth. Their highest aim is to augment their means of continuing on, in this vanishing world, this death in life; and this despite the fact that they are bound hand and foot by a thousand cares and sorrows, and never safe from danger, not even for the twinkling of an eye; never at any time secure, even from sudden death. Wherefore, after a brief span, are they utterly effaced, and no sign remaineth to tell of them, and no word of them is ever heard again.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 175-176)

Is this really the life we want to live?

How do we stay trapped in our lower nature?

Since we were created noble; in the image of God; a mine rich in gems of inestimable value, what causes us to change?

We stop paying attention to the Kingdom of God, and step off His path.  We remain attached to worldly attractions.  We’ve become defiled with qualities which are not praiseworthy in the sight of God.  We have become so completely steeped in material issues and tendencies that we fail to partake of the virtues of humanity.

We have forsaken the path of God; we have given up attention to the divine Kingdom; we have not severed the heart from worldly attractions; we have become defiled with qualities which are not praiseworthy in the sight of God; we are so completely steeped in material issues and tendencies that we are not partakers of the virtues of humanity.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 186)

Breaking Free

‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that man can become conscious; discover the mysteries and realities of life; be in touch with the realm of God; use his mighty will to rule over his lower nature; modify the influence of his instincts; voluntarily discontinue vices; acquire divine virtues and make progress:

It is evident, therefore, that man is ruler over nature’s sphere and province. Nature is inert; man is progressive. Nature has no consciousness; man is endowed with it. Nature is without volition and acts perforce, whereas man possesses a mighty will. Nature is incapable of discovering mysteries or realities, whereas man is especially fitted to do so. Nature is not in touch with the realm of God; man is attuned to its evidences. Nature is uninformed of God; man is conscious of Him. Man acquires divine virtues; nature is denied them. Man can voluntarily discontinue vices; nature has no power to modify the influence of its instincts.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 177-178)

He can’t do it by himself, though.  The soul needs training and guidance to get beyond the lower nature:

Briefly; the journey of the soul is necessary. The pathway of life is the road which leads to divine knowledge and attainment. Without training and guidance the soul could never progress beyond the conditions of its lower nature which is ignorant and defective.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 76-79)

Man’s outlook on life is too crude and materialistic to enable us to elevate ourselves into the higher realms of the spirit, so religion’s role is to improve and transform us.

Man’s outlook on life is too crude and materialistic to enable him to elevate himself into the higher realms of the spirit. It is this condition, so sadly morbid, into which society has fallen, that religion seeks to improve and transform.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 134)

The Manifestations of God come into the world to dispel the darkness of our animal nature and purify us from our imperfections so that our spiritual nature can become quickened, our divine qualities awakened, our perfections made visible, our potential powers revealed and all the virtues of the world of humanity latent within us to  come to life.

They are the educators, trainers and teachers able to liberate us from the darkness of our lower nature, deliver us from despair, error, ignorance, imperfections and all evil qualities.

They clothe us in the garment of perfections and virtues; make us wise and lead us into kingdoms of light and love. They cause us to become just; sever us from self and desire; make us meek, humble and friendly.  They make us heavenly; transform us and develop us into maturity. They endow us with wealth and uplift us into dignity, nobility and loftiness.

The holy Manifestations of God come into the world to dispel the darkness of the animal or physical nature of man, to purify him from his imperfections in order that his heavenly and spiritual nature may become quickened, his divine qualities awakened, his perfections visible, his potential powers revealed and all the virtues of the world of humanity latent within him may come to life. These holy Manifestations of God are the educators and trainers of the world of existence, the teachers of the world of humanity. They liberate man from the darkness of the world of nature, deliver him from despair, error, ignorance, imperfections and all evil qualities. They clothe him in the garment of perfections and exalted virtues. Men are ignorant; the Manifestations of God make them wise. They are animalistic; the Manifestations make them human. They are savage and cruel; the Manifestations lead them into kingdoms of light and love. They are  unjust; the Manifestations cause them to become just. Man is selfish; they sever him from self and desire. Man is haughty; they make him meek, humble and friendly. He is earthly; they make him heavenly. Men are material; the Manifestations transform them into semblance divine. They are immature children; the Manifestations develop them into maturity. Man is poor; they endow him with wealth. Man is base, treacherous and mean; the Manifestations of God uplift him into dignity, nobility and loftiness.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 110-111)

Religion teaches that moderation and daily vigilance are necessary, if we want to be in control of our carnal desires and corrupt inclinations.

Such a chaste and holy life, with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance, decency and clean-mindedness, involves no less than the exercise of moderation in all that pertains to dress, language, amusements, and all artistic and literary avocations. It demands daily vigilance in the control of one’s carnal desires and corrupt inclinations. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 364)

Religion teaches us to protect ourselves and shun anyone who tells you to do anything against the commandments of God, even though they may be quoting from all the right books.  ’Abdu’l-Bahá is reported to have said:

Therefore, it is incumbent upon all the friends of God to shun any person in whom they perceive the emanation of hatred for the Glorious Beauty of Bahá, though he may quote all the Heavenly Utterances and cling to all the Books.” He continues— “Glorious be His Name!—“Protect yourselves with utmost vigilance, lest you be entrapped in the snare of deception and fraud.” This is the advice of the Pen of Destiny.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 21, pp. 19-25)

Religion teaches us it’s important to turn away from satanic promptings, because divine bestowals bring forth unity and agreement, whereas satanic leadings induce hatred and war.

Therefore, mankind must continue in the state of fellowship and love, emulating the institutions of God and turning away from satanic promptings, for the divine bestowals bring forth unity and agreement, whereas satanic leadings induce hatred and war.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 124)

Religion teaches us we need to use our free will; exert ourselves and make an effort:

Not only has he to exert himself to acquire spiritual qualities . . .  but the development of spiritual qualities is not controlled by nature. Although the soul aspires to spiritual things, the acquiring of spiritual qualities depends upon effort. It is in this domain that man has been given free will. This is very similar to a bird which in flight must use its wings to counteract the force of gravity. If it fails to do this, it will be pulled down instantly by this force.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 78)

Religion teaches we must be prepared to go through pain; suffering; tests; deprivation and sacrifice in order to subdue the self.  This is because there is always a reaction when a force is suppressed.

In subduing his self with all its manifold aspects, he must be prepared to go through pain and suffering and tests. This is only natural, for there is always a reaction when a force is suppressed. Man’s material inclinations, when curbed by the dictates of his spiritual being, will undergo some form of deprivation and sacrifice. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 78-79)

To be freed from every bond and become attached to the Kingdom of God, we need to strive to become characterized with His attributes.

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 Bahá’í bounty, and this is heavenly light.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 206)

Very few of us have been freed from this darkness and ascended from the world of nature.  Those who have been freed, have followed the divine Teachings and served the world of humanity, and, as a result, are resplendent, merciful, illumined and like unto a rose garden:

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.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 206)

Benefits to Breaking Free

When we make a sacrifice something of material value in the path of God and wholly for His sake, we are rewarded spiritually.  We become detached from the material world and are able to draw closer to God, and thereby fulfil the purpose of our lives.

In subduing his self with all its manifold aspects, he must be prepared to go through pain and suffering and tests. This is only natural, for there is always a reaction when a force is suppressed. Man’s material inclinations, when curbed by the dictates of his spiritual being, will undergo some form of deprivation and sacrifice. For instance, one may sacrifice his comfort and material means in order to help the poor and the needy. In so doing, one is rewarded spiritually, but has to give up something of material value instead. This sacrifice, if carried out in the path of God and for His sake, is most meritorious. It enables the soul to become detached from the material world, and thus brings it closer to God. This is one of the fruits of sacrifice.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 78-79)

If we can dominate our lower nature, we can become detached from this world:

To the extent that man can dominate his lower nature will he become detached from this world. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 78-79)

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