A few years ago we started to see the House of Justice refer to “being and doing”, both words I thought I understood. Indeed the dictionary defines them as:
Being: to exist or live
Doing: to perform (an act, duty, role, etc.); to accomplish; finish; complete; to put forth; exert
It seems to me that one is passive and the other is active.
In a materialistic culture obsessed with “doing”, it is believed that as we “do” the correct things, success will follow. In fact who we are while “doing” is more important than “being”.
I wondered: Is there a dangerous side of goal-setting, to-do lists, and being efficient? How much time do we need to spend in “doing” at the expense of just “being”?
As a recovering workaholic and perfectionist, the concepts of being and doing are synonymous in my mind! Working is my form of play!
It’s been pointed out by many people over the years that I need to slow down and take time for rest and recreation. They tell me that work and play are different and it’s hard for me to get my head around this concept. In fact Shoghi Effendi tells us:
You should . . . force yourself to take time, and not only for prayer and meditation, but for real rest and relaxation. (Shoghi Effendi, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 53)
As always, whenever I’m puzzled about something, I take my question to the Baha’i Writings.
In contrast to the dictionary definition, “being and doing” seem to have different meanings in the Faith.
Here’s how the House of Justice describes the two:
The importance of “doing”, of arising to serve and to accompany fellow souls, must be harmonized with the notion of “being”, of increasing one’s understanding of the divine teachings and mirroring forth spiritual qualities in one’s life. (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 29 December 2015)
So here we see:
Being is increasing our understanding of the divine teachings and mirroring forth spiritual qualities in our lives
Doing is arising to serve and to accompany fellow souls
Unlike the dictionary definition, both of these definitions seem to be active.
The House of Justice tells us that “being” has to do with the acquisition of knowledge (studying the Writings) and “doing” is applying what we’ve learned.
They warn us against false dichotomies:
Every effort is being exerted to ensure that the process reflects the complementarity of “being” and “doing” the institute courses make explicit; the centrality they accord to knowledge and its application; the emphasis they place on avoiding false dichotomies . . . (Universal House of Justice, Letter to the Continental Board of Counsellors, 28 December 2010)
Closely related to the habit of reducing an entire theme into one or two appealing phrases is the tendency to perceive dichotomies, where, in fact, there are none. It is essential that ideas forming part of a cohesive whole not be held in opposition to one another. In a letter written on his behalf, Shoghi Effendi warned:
We must take the teachings as a great, balanced whole, not seek out and oppose to each other two strong statements that have different meanings; somewhere in between, there are links uniting the two. (Universal House of Justice, Letter to the Continental Board of Counsellors, 28 December 2010)
So they want us to find the link between the two.
Ruhi Book 5 was the first place I found that really addressed this issue head on, and I had a total meltdown going through that section!
In the section “Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth, pages 18-20 of the Pre-Publication Edition — Version VI.B” It says:
If we are not careful and adopt such a fragmented approach to our lives, we can create all kinds of dichotomies that are largely imaginary. Work, leisure, family life, spiritual life, physical health, intellectual pursuits, individual development, collective progress, and so on become pieces that together make up our existence. When we accept such divisions as real, we feel pulled in many directions, trying to respond to what we consider to be the demands of these different facets of life.
In my training as a life coach, I learned that it’s important to have a balance between the materialistic view of “being and doing” in life. In fact, I often help people set goals in each of these areas, to help people live a life in moderation. And now you’re telling me these divisions aren’t real? That got my attention. Of course, it’s the opinion of Ruhi and not from the Sacred Writings of our Faith, so that brought me some comfort.
The quote in book 5 continues:
We are bewildered by apparently conflicting aims: Should I sacrifice my family life to serve the Cause? Will not serving the Faith interfere with my efforts to raise my children? These are two examples of the myriad of questions that can arise.
These questions certainly arose in my life and I’ve spent many decades trying to resolve them. As a single mother with clinical depression, serving as an assistant to the auxiliary board member in 2 clusters, I frequently sacrificed my family life to serve the Cause. I would get up in the morning, get my son fed and made sure we said prayers together. Once he was on the school bus, I would go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and stay there until it was time to meet the school bus again. Many nights I would take him to Baha’i meetings. He could see I wasn’t well, and at times he just wanted to hang out with me, but the Faith always came first. I would make a herculean effort to rouse myself from my depression to make sure his needs were met and put a smile on my face as I went to the Baha’i meetings. I frequently wonder if this is why he didn’t become a Baha’i.
Maybe there are ways to serve the Faith while raising children as a single parent, but I do wonder, especially in light of the fact that the World Centre will not accept single parents, and when there is a couple with children, only one parent will serve.
If I had my life to do over again, I would spend more time with my child, and focus the bulk of my service after he’d left home. That would be how I would balance being (time with my son) and doing (time for service, later on). Service to my son would also be “doing” as I was fulfilling the most important work there is – raising the new generation.
The quote in book 5 continues:
To resolve the dichotomies we have created, we sometimes try to divide our time equally among the various demands placed on us. On other occasions, we attempt to prioritize responsibilities and focus our energies on those we believe to be the most important at any particular moment. A careful allotment of time and energy is of course necessary. But it is only fruitful when we remain conscious of the interconnectedness of the many aspects of our lives. If we fail to see the whole, the tension created among all the parts can give rise to anxiety and even confusion.
I certainly feel anxiety and confusion whenever I struggle to understand this concept. Shoghi Effendi, the best example of a goal-setter and planner on a grand scale, has told us we need to:
. . . leave the important for the most important. (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 109-110)
So he focused his energy on what he believed to be the most important at any particular moment.
What follows is a series of questions to consider in our example from Ruhi Book 5. Here are the instructions we were given:
Below are various aspects of life placed in pairs that should reinforce each other, but which are sometimes thought to be in conflict. For each one of the sentences that follow the pair, decide whether it represents the kind of thinking that is conducive to an integrated way of life or whether it is indicative of a tendency towards fragmentation.
Family and Work
- My family life will suffer if I work hard at my job.
This may be a fragmented way of thinking but I believe it to be true. How can we possibly fulfil the roles set out for parents while working hard at a job? You just have to look at the rate of divorce in the Baha’i community to see that family life is suffering; and educating our children is so important that ‘Abdu’l-Baha warns us:
Should they neglect this matter, they shall be held responsible and worthy of reproach in the presence of the stern Lord. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 126)
For more on the role of parents, you might find these articles helpful:
The Role of Parents in Training us to be Obedient http://susangammage.com/the-role-of-parents-in-training-us-to-be-obedient
The Responsibilities of Parenthood: http://susangammage.com/the-responsibilities-of-parenthood
The Role of Fathers in a Bahá’í Family: http://susangammage.com/the-role-of-fathers-in-a-bahai-family
- I often discuss with my family my accomplishments at work and the challenges I face there.
Yes, this is an integrated way of thinking.
- Of course women can excel in their careers, but the children always pay the price.
This may be a fragmented way of thinking, but again, I believe it to be true, based on the information in this article:
Should Bahá’í Mothers Stay at Home? http://susangammage.com/should-bahai-mothers-stay-at-home
- If I want to raise my children well, I will have to forget about my profession.
Yes, this is a fragmented way of thinking. I think we can do both well, at different times in our lives. If children are being encouraged to marry young (sometimes as early as 15) and understand that the purpose of marriage is to have children, it’s easy to see that the parenting role could be fulfilled with plenty of time to build a career later.
- I can advance in my profession and fully attend to my family responsibilities.
Yes, this is a fragmented way of thinking and I believe it’s not possible.
‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us we can combine service with marriage:
As to the terminology I used in my letter, bidding thee to consecrate thyself to service in the Cause of God, the meaning of it is this: limit thy thoughts to teaching the Faith. Act by day and night according to the teachings and counsels and admonitions of Bahá’u’lláh. This doth not preclude marriage. Thou canst take unto thyself a husband and at the same time serve the Cause of God; the one doth not preclude the other. Know thou the value of these days; let not this chance escape thee. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 100)
I think this means rethinking how we can make our family life a priority by thinking of it as the most important service we can render to humankind.
Education and Service to the Cause
- I have to choose between pioneering and education, since it is not possible to do both.
Of course it’s possible to gain an education in a pioneer post, so this can easily be integrated.
- Academic achievement is a prerequisite for entering the field of service.
Absolutely not! Junior youth are being encouraged to enter the field of service long before they’ve completed their academic education.
- The knowledge I gain through my studies is an asset in the field of service, and the experience I gain in the arena of service enhances my abilities.
Yes, this is an integrated way of thinking.
- I have to abandon my studies if I really want to devote myself to the Cause.
Not true! You can easily find ways to be of service while continuing your studies. For example, studying with others; sharing meals; trading chores; being a friend; living the life; teaching the Cause, etc. Service to humanity comes in many forms, not just participation in the core activities. It’s all part of community building.
Here’s a quote to consider, to make this more integrated:
All humanity must obtain a livelihood by sweat of the brow and bodily exertion, at the same time seeking to lift the burden of others, striving to be the source of comfort to souls and facilitating the means of living. This in itself is devotion to God. Bahá’u’lláh has thereby encouraged action and stimulated service. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 186)
- One of my greatest aspirations is to learn to apply the teachings of the Faith in endeavors that promote the betterment of the world.
Of course, this is an integrated approach.
- The period of service that I dedicate to promoting the Faith or participating in a Bahá’í-inspired social and economic development project will assist me in choosing a suitable field of study.
Of course! Here is a quote to balance these ideas:
It is a compromise between the two verses of the “Aqdas”, one making it incumbent upon every Bahá’í to serve the promotion of the Faith and the other that every soul should be occupied in some form of occupation that will benefit society. In one of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh says that the highest form of detachment in this day is to be occupied with some profession and be self-supporting. A good Bahá’í, therefore, is the one who so arranges his life as to devote time both to his material needs and also to the service of the Cause. (Universal House of Justice, The Importance of the Arts in Promoting the Faith)
Intellectual Development and Development of Spiritual Qualities
- The independent investigation of truth requires the cultivation of the intellect, as well as the acquisition of spiritual qualities.
- In teaching the Faith to others, we should just show them love; what we say is not important.
- Intellectual development requires justice, honesty, and lack of prejudice.
- To develop spirituality, one has to let go of one’s intellect.
- Our minds and hearts are not separate from each other; they represent complementary and mutually interactive aspects of one reality—our soul.
- Spiritual qualities are developed through conscious knowledge and the exercise of good deeds.
These all make sense to me and it’s easy to distinguish integrated from fragmented.
Material Life and Spiritual Life
- I must deny myself material pleasure in order to develop spiritually.
- Spiritual matters should be put aside until we are old; during our youth we should take advantage of every opportunity to advance materially.
- The material needs of people have to be satisfied before they are ready to pay attention to spiritual matters.
- The purpose of my life on this material plane is to develop my spiritual qualities and powers.
- We should enjoy all the bounties that the world has to offer but should not allow earthly desires to take hold of our hearts and prevent us drawing nearer and nearer to God.
Here is something to consider:
In Paris Talks (p. 98), ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that some people’s lives are occupied only with the things of this world, and their minds are so constrained by exterior manners and traditional interests that they are blind to any other realm of existence or to the spiritual significance of all things. He gives us examples I’m sure we can all relate to:
- they think and dream of earthly fame, of material progress
- sensuous delights and comfortable surroundings bound their horizon
- their highest ambitions centre in successes of worldly conditions and circumstances
- they don’t curb their lower propensities
- they eat, drink, and sleep! like the animal, they have no thought beyond their own physical well-being
Although we need to take care of the necessities of life (eat, drink, sleep), the cares of the lower things of life should not monopolize all our thoughts and aspirations. Our heart’s ambitions should ascend to a more glorious goal, our mental activity should rise to higher levels and we should hold in our souls the vision of celestial perfection so we can prepare a dwelling-place for us in the next world. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 98)
This issue of being and doing as presented in Ruhi Book 5 certainly arises anxiety and confusion in my life, particularly in the area of family life, and now as I face my life as a workaholic in burnout, I’m even more confused!
I took book 5 with a group of youth who weren’t parents, so they couldn’t help me with my dilemma, and since then, I’ve tutored to groups who couldn’t help me resolve these questions, so I’m sincerely interested to hearing what you, my readers have to contribute on these issues. Please, post your comments below.
In this frenzied world, I often wonder how ‘Abdu’l-Baha would have lived his life if He were alive now! It got me thinking about whether there might be some ideas based on how He lived a simple life back then.
Here is the standard He strove for – simplicity and love:
The husband of Amelia Collins, a devoted American Baha’i, was a very sociable man. He would take part in any discussion with perfect freedom and ease. But once, before entering the Master’s home, he was so excited that he arranged his tie just right, smoothed his clothes and repeatedly asked his wife what he should do when they arrived there. She told him, ‘Nothing! In the family of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá simplicity reigns, and nothing but love is ever accepted.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
I love this sweet story where Bahá’u’lláh teaches us how little we need:
Mary Bolles (Maxwell) took an early pilgrimage to the prison city. She heard that the food man eats is of no importance, as its effect endures but a short time. But the food of the spirit is life to the soul and its effects endure eternally. She heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tell the touching ‘story of the hermit’. Baha’u’llah ‘was traveling from one place to another with His followers’ and ‘He passed through a lonely country where, at some little distance from the highway, a hermit lived alone in a cave. He was a holy man, and having heard that Our Lord, Baha’u’llah, would pass that way, he watched eagerly for His approach. When the Manifestation arrived at that spot the hermit knelt down and kissed the dust before His feet and said to Him: “Oh, my Lord, I am a poor man living alone in a cave nearby; but henceforth I shall account myself the happiest of mortals if Thou wilt but come for a moment to my cave and bless it by Thy Presence.” Then Baha’u’llah told the man that He would come, not for a moment but for three days, and He bade His followers cast their tents, and await His return. The poor man was so overcome with joy and with gratitude that he was speechless, and led the way in humble silence to his lowly dwelling in a rock. There the Glorious One sat with him, talking to him and teaching him, and toward evening the man bethought himself that he had nothing to offer his great Guest but some dry meat and some dark bread, and water from a spring nearby. Not knowing what to do he threw himself at the feet of his Lord and confessed his dilemma. Baha’u’llah comforted him and by a word bade him fetch the meat and bread and water; then the Lord of the universe partook of this frugal repast with joy and fragrance as though it had been a banquet, and during the three days of His visit they ate only of this food which seemed to the poor hermit the most delicious he had ever eaten. Baha’u’llah declared that He had never been more nobly entertained nor received greater hospitality and love. “This,” explained the Master, when He had finished the story, shows us how little man requires when he is nourished by the sweetness of all foods – the love of God.”’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
Even His wedding was simple:
Before His wedding day, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made the necessary arrangements for the few guests. His mother and sister made a delicate bridal dress of white batiste. A white head-dress adorned Munirih Khanum’s hair, worn, as usual, in two braids. At nine in the evening she went with the Greatest Holy Leaf into the presence of Baha’u’llah, Who gave her His blessing. She then went to the bridal room and awaited the coming of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The service was very simple. At about ten o’clock ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came, accompanied by the guests, and Munirih Khanum chanted a tablet revealed by Baha’u’llah. ‘Later, the wife of ‘Abbud recalled the sweetness of that chanting still ringing in her ears.’ There were no choir, decorations or cake – just cups of tea. Above all, a glory and a love there were more than sufficient to bless the happy event. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
Here’s a story He told about the benefits of a simple life:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá told a story about a Persian believer’s journeys and how he could not sleep at night while in the wilderness for fear of someone stealing his new shirt, a new gift from a prominent person. After several sleepless nights he decided to get rid of the shirt so he could relax. (Rafati, Vahid, Sources of Persian Poetry in the Baha’i Writings, Vol. lll, p. 80)
He had His meals as follows:
7 A.M. Tea and bread
1:30 P.M. Dines with the family
4 P.M. Tea
7:30 P.M. Sits with the family at dinner but partakes of no food Himself
10: P.M. Simple meal (Agnes Parson’s Diary, ©1996, Kalimát Press, Footnote #6, p. 13)
He ate a very simple diet:
The Master . . . ate little food. He was known to begin His day with tea, goat’s milk cheese and wheat bread. And at the evening meal a cup of milk and a piece of bread might suffice. He considered the latter a healthy meal. Had not Baha’u’llah, while at Sulaymaniyyih, subsisted mostly on milk? (Sometimes Baha’u’llah ate rice and milk cooked together.) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s sparse diet also included herbs and olives – it rarely included meat. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
He does not permit his family to have luxuries. He himself eats but once a day, and then bread, olives, and cheese suffice him. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)
He preferred to share His food with the poor:
On the occasion of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s first dinner in the home of Lady Bloomfield in London His hostess had prepared course after course in her eagerness to please Him. Afterwards He gently commented: ‘The food was delicious and the fruit and flowers were lovely, but would that we could share some of the courses with those poor and hungry people who have not even one.’ Thereafter the dinners were greatly simplified. Flowers and fruit remained in abundance, for those were often brought to the Master as small love tokens. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
Mary Lucas, a pilgrim to Akká in 1905, found that the Master usually ate but one simple meal a day. In eight days He was present at most meals, often coming just to add joy to the occasion, though He was not hungry. If He knew of someone who had had no meal during a day, the family supper was gladly packed up and sent to the needy. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
He served His guests:
Julia Gundy, an early pilgrim, described a beautiful supper at which many friends were welcomed by the Master Himself in Akká. He passed out napkins, embraced and found plates for each. All were individually anointed with attar of rose. He served pilau, a Persian rice dish, to each guest. There were also oranges and rice pudding. ‘Throughout the supper, which was very simple in its character and appointment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the Servant of the believers. This was indeed a spiritual feast where Love reigned. The whole atmosphere was Love, Joy, and Peace. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
His schedule looked like this:
Tudor-Pole described a typical day for Abdul-Bahá: he rises about 5 AM, and works for some hours at his correspondence. Interviews commence soon after 9 AM and last until midday. After lunch he takes a short rest and then usually rides out into the parks or to visit various people who were deeply interested in his work. Gatherings of the friends take place nearly every evening and he has given some wonderful discourses at such times… He is quite vigorous and looks both well and cheerful. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 30)
The Master kept little clothing – one coat at a time was ample. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s family was taught to dress in such a way that they would be ‘an example to the rich and an encouragement to the poor.’ Available money was stretched to cover far more than the Master’s family needs. One of His daughters wore no bridal gown when she married – a clean dress sufficed. The Master was queried why He had not provided bridal clothes. With candour He replied simply, ‘My daughter is warmly clad and has all that she needs for her comfort. The poor have not. What my daughter does not need I will give to the poor rather than to her.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
A friend had sent some fur so that the Master could have a good warm coat; He had it cut up and made into twenty caps for the elderly men of the town. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of “Abdu’l-Bahá)
As someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and needs a LOT of light, I take great comfort in this story:
As we drove up Broadway, glittering with its electric signs, He spoke of them smiling, apparently much amused. Then He told us that Bahá’u’lláh had loved light. “He could never get enough light. He taught us,” the Master said, “to economize in everything else but to use light freely.” (Juliet Thompson’s Diary, April 19, 1912)
Even when ‘Abdu’l-Baha was in great need, he didn’t accept financial help from the friends:
For his own personal use Bahá’u’lláh never ordered anything extravagant. The life of luxury to which He was accustomed in His youth had been denied Him since His imprisonment in the Siyah-Chal of Tihran when all His possessions had been confiscated. But He lived a life of austerity in a majesty such that in the words of Edward (Granville Browne of Cambridge University, He was ‘the object of a devotion that kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain’. His personal needs were simple and inexpensive . . . He Himself and the members of His family, however, lived an austere life. There were many occasions when He was in great need, but did not accept financial help from the friends. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 4, p. 248)
Here’s an example:
The gates of the Akká prison were finally opened for Baha’u’llah, His family and companions after a confinement of two years, two months and five days. Many of His companions were consigned to the caravanserai, an unfit dwelling-place. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá occupied one room himself. The rooms were damp and filthy. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sold a certain gift which had been given to Him in Baghdad and with the proceeds began to repair the rooms for the companions of Baha’u’llah. He left the repair of His own room to the last. The money ran out and as a result His room remained unrepaired and in very bad condition. Not only were its walls damp but the roof leaked and the floor was covered with dust. He sat and slept on a mat in that room. His bed cover was a sheepskin. The room was infested with fleas and when He slept under the sheepskin, fleas gathered and began biting. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá worked out a tactic of defeating the fleas by turning over His sheepskin at intervals. He would sleep for a while before the fleas found their way again to the inner side. He would then turn the sheepskin over again. Every night He had to resort to this tactic eight to ten times. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
He didn’t allow his family to have any luxuries either:
He does not permit his family to have luxuries. He himself eats but once a day, and then bread, olives, and cheese suffice him. His room is small and bare, with only a matting on the stone floor. His habit is to sleep upon this floor. Not long ago a friend, thinking that this must be hard for a man of advancing years, presented him with a bed fitted with springs and mattress. So these stand in his room also, but are rarely used. “For how,” he says, “can I bear to sleep in luxury when so many of the poor have not even shelter?” So he lies upon the floor and covers himself only with his cloak. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)
Has this given you any ideas on how you might live a more simple life? Post your comments below!
What’s my purpose? What’s the purpose in being alive? These are two questions I often hear! Many people struggle with this question and never find an answer, because they are looking in the material realm; and not in the spiritual.
As Bahá’ís we’re lucky because the Bahá’í Writings tell us clearly! The purpose of this life is to prepare us for the next life:
One must remember that the purpose of this life is to prepare the soul for the next. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 359)
There are 5 ways to accomplish this:
1. To know God and to be obedient to His commandments:
The purpose of God in creating man hath been, and will ever be, to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence. To this most excellent aim, this supreme objective, all the heavenly Books and the divinely-revealed and weighty Scriptures unequivocally bear witness. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 70-71)
If we accomplish this, we will be in paradise:
Whoso hath recognized the Day Spring of Divine guidance and entered His holy court hath drawn nigh unto God and attained His Presence, a Presence which is the real Paradise, and of which the loftiest mansions of heaven are but a symbol. Such a man hath attained the knowledge of the station of Him Who is “at the distance of two bows,” Who standeth beyond the Sadratu’l-Muntaha. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 70-71)
If we don’t, we will have condemned ourselves to the misery of remoteness and the nethermost fire, no matter what our earthly life might look like.
Whoso hath failed to recognize Him will have condemned himself to the misery of remoteness, a remoteness which is naught but utter nothingness and the essence of the nethermost fire. Such will be his fate, though to outward seeming he may occupy the earth’s loftiest seats and be established upon its most exalted throne. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 70-71)
The short obligatory prayer reminds us of our purpose every day when we say it:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3)
2. To attain our share of the flood of grace which God pours forth for us:
The whole duty of man in this Day is to attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth for him. Let none, therefore, consider the largeness or smallness of the receptacle. The portion of some might lie in the palm of a man’s hand, the portion of others might fill a cup, and of others even a gallon-measure. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)
3. To carry forward an ever-advancing civilization:
All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. Say: O friends! Drink your fill from this crystal stream that floweth through the heavenly grace of Him Who is the Lord of Names. Let others partake of its waters in My name, that the leaders of men in every land may fully recognize the purpose for which the Eternal Truth hath been revealed, and the reason for which they themselves have been created. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 214)
4. To acquire the virtues we’ll need in the next world:
Just as a baby in womb doesn’t know why it’s developing arms, legs, eyelashes etc; we can’t understand why we need to develop virtues for the next world either. We have to take it on faith, trusting that, just as it became apparent soon after birth, it will become clearly apparent in our next birth too:
As the child in the womb does not yet know the use of its members, it does not know what its eyes are for, neither its nose, nor ears, nor tongue — so also it is with the soul on earth. It cannot understand here the uses and powers of its spiritual gifts, but directly it enters the eternal kingdom, it will become clearly apparent. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers 9, p. 48)
While the baby is in the womb, there are certain things which must be properly developed, or the baby will be handicapped in this world. Similarly, we must develop certain qualities in this world, or we will be handicapped in the next:
As it is not yet shown while the child is in the womb of its mother, what its condition will be, whether it will have all the gifts of God or not, whether it will be perfect in all its members or not, whether it will be blind, or deaf, or dumb—but afterwards, when it enters the world, then it becomes clearly apparent if it is defective or not—so it is with the soul in this present state. Its perfection or its lackness is not understood until it enters the heavenly kingdom; then it is clearly seen, and then the soul understands whether or not it is lacking in the gifts of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers 9, p. 47)
To put it another way:
In this world he must prepare himself for the life beyond. That which he needs in the world of the Kingdom must be obtained here. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the matrix by acquiring forces necessary in this sphere of existence, so, likewise, the indispensable forces of the divine existence must be potentially attained in this world. What is he in need of in the Kingdom which transcends the life and limitation of this mortal sphere? That world beyond is a world of sanctity and radiance; therefore, it is necessary that in this world he should acquire these divine attributes. In that world there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find all that is needful in that eternal life ready for him. That divine world is manifestly a world of lights; therefore, man has need of illumination here. That is a world of love; the love of God is essential. It is a world of perfections; virtues, or perfections, must be acquired. That world is vivified by the breaths of the Holy Spirit; in this world we must seek them. That is the Kingdom of everlasting life; it must be attained during vanishing existence. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 226)
What are the virtues that are important?
The virtues and attributes pertaining unto God are all evident and manifest, and have been mentioned and described in all the heavenly Books. Among them are trustworthiness, truthfulness, purity of heart while communing with God, forbearance, resignation to whatever the Almighty hath decreed, contentment with the things His Will hath provided, patience, nay, thankfulness in the midst of tribulation, and complete reliance, in all circumstances, upon Him. These rank, according to the estimate of God, among the highest and most laudable of all acts. All other acts are, and will ever remain, secondary and subordinate unto them. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 290)
That world beyond is a world of sanctity and radiance; therefore it is necessary that in this world he should acquire these divine attributes. In that world there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find all that is needful in that life eternal ready for him. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 63)
That divine world is manifestly a world of lights; therefore man has need of illumination here. That is a world of love; the love of God is essential. It is a world of perfections; virtues or perfections must be acquired. That world is vivified by the breaths of the Holy Spirit; in this world we must seek them. That is the Kingdom of life everlasting; it must be attained during this vanishing existence. (Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 63-64)
Man is born naked and when dead he is also naked. He brings nothing with him to this world, and when he departs he cannot take anything physical with him to the next. But whatever he has given to the Cause of God while on this earth, his time, his labours, his resources, as well as his services to his fellow human beings, these he can take with him to the spiritual realms. This is one way of transforming something which belongs to the world of matter into the spiritual worlds of God. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 78)
So from these quotes we see that in this world, we need to develop:
- purity of heart while communing with God
- resignation to whatever the Almighty hath decreed
- contentment with the things His Will hath provided
- patience and thankfulness in the midst of tribulation
- complete reliance, in all circumstances, upon God
- the knowledge and love of God
- the breaths of the Holy Spirit
- time, labour, resources
- service to our fellow man
We won’t understand how these qualities will be needed till we get to the next world:
For just as the effects and the fruitage of the uterine life are not to be found in that dark and narrow place, and only when the child is transferred to this wide earth do the benefits and uses of growth and development in that previous world become revealed—so likewise reward and punishment, heaven and hell, requital and retribution for actions done in this present life, will stand revealed in that other world beyond. And just as, if human life in the womb were limited to that uterine world, existence there would be nonsensical, irrelevant—so too if the life of this world, the deeds here done and their fruitage, did not come forth in the world beyond, the whole process would be irrational and foolish. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 184)
How can we acquire those things? Through:
- the knowledge of God
- the love of God
- philanthropic deeds
- severance from this world
- sanctity and holiness
By what means can man acquire these things? How shall he obtain these merciful gifts and powers? First, through the knowledge of God. Second, through the love of God. Third, through faith. Fourth, through philanthropic deeds. Fifth, through self-sacrifice. Sixth, through severance from this world. Seventh, through sanctity and holiness. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 226)
If we do these things, we will enjoy everlasting existence and more:
But if he possesses the knowledge of God, becomes ignited through the fire of the love of God, witnesses the great and mighty signs of the Kingdom, becomes the cause of love among mankind and lives in the utmost state of sanctity and holiness, he shall surely attain to second birth, be baptized by the Holy Spirit and enjoy everlasting existence. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 226)
If we don’t, we will surely be deprived of eternal life!
Unless he acquires these forces and attains to these requirements, he will surely be deprived of the life that is eternal. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 226)
5. To Bear and Endure
In the Fire Tablet, we learn that we were created to “bear and endure”! This suggests that we can’t expect life to go our way; or to be easy!
Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds. (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 218)
As long as there is life on earth, there will also be suffering!
As long as there will be life on earth, there will be also suffering, in various forms and degrees. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 280)
The reason is to advance our minds and spirits; draw us closer to God; and help us acquire virtues:
‘Does the soul progress more through sorrow or through the joy in this world?’ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.—‘The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most.’ (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 178)
This takes us back to know and worship God – since our suffering reminds us to turn to God.
How can we achieve our purpose in life?
One way is through work!
You should also endeavour to engage in some useful occupation, or by training yourself to have such an occupation, as work in itself another means at our disposal, in accordance with our Teachings, to draw nearer to God, and to better grasp His purpose for us in this world. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 282)
And another, of course is through prayer – specifically the Short Obligatory Prayer:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3)
How has this helped you understand your purpose? How will knowing this change your life? Post your thoughts below!
I have a Bahá’í friend who has suffered with a normally terminal illness for over 20 years, which has left her unable to use her arms. Yet despite such incredible disabilities, she’s still living on her own, in her own apartment and writing books on the Faith by using the trunk of her body to force her fingers onto the keyboard, one keystroke at a time. She requires home care aides to come in and do everything for her, from getting her up and dressing her; cooking and feeding her; taking care of her personal hygiene and putting her to bed at night. In spite of such obvious hardships, she always seems positive and upbeat, saying only that we must really need patience more than anything else in the next world, since we are tested with it so often in this world!
That comment stayed with me, and I wanted to see what the Bahá’í Writings had to say about patience. Have a look with me!
What is Patience?
It’s a sign of our love for God:
The sign of love is fortitude under My decree and patience under My trials. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words 48)
It’s one of the most important virtues which God has bestowed on man:
Bahá’u’lláh throws light upon patience, one of the most important virtues which God has bestowed on man. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 1, p. 271)
It is the course that is praiseworthy:
Bahá’u’lláh defines “the course that is praiseworthy” as “the exercise of patience”. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 210)
Who Are We Patient With?
There are 3 people we need to have patience with:
When we recite the prayer for the departed, at the end, we remind ourselves, 19 times:
We all, verily, are patient in God. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 40)
We must show patience to those who demonstrate immaturity:
Understanding . . . that the believers are encouraged to be loving and patient with one another, it will be clear that you too are called upon to exercise patience with the friends who demonstrate immaturity, and to have faith that the power of the Word of God will gradually effect a transformation in individual believers and in the Bahá’í community as a whole. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
We must endure people even when they are unendurable:
Stanwood Cobb wrote that on one occasion He spoke of the need for loving patience in the face of aggravating behavior on the part of others: ‘One might say, “Well, I will endure such and such a person so long as he is endurable.” But Bahá’ís must endure people even when they are unendurable!’ Stanwood Cobb pointed out that ‘He did not look at us solemnly as if appointing us to an arduous and difficult task. Rather, He beamed upon us delightfully, as if to suggest what a joy to us it would be to act in this way!’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
We must be patient with our own poor selves, remembering that even the Prophets of God sometimes got tired and cried out in despair:
We must not only be patient with others, infinitely patient!, but also with our own poor selves, remembering that even the Prophets of God sometimes got tired and cried out in despair! (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá’í Community, p. 456)
We also need the patience of other people!
All of us suffer from imperfections which we must struggle to overcome, and we all need one another’s understanding and patience. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – The Bahá’í Faith and Homosexuality)
What Are We Patient About?
We’re patient in our work for the Faith:
The work of the friends therefore, interesting and useful as it may be, is hard and most exacting to one’s patience and energy. (Shoghi Effendi, Arohanui – Letters to New Zealand, p. 11)
We’re patient with the consciousness of self:
You have asked as to what point in man’s evolution he becomes conscious of self. This consciousness of self in man is a gradual process, and does not start at a definite point. It grows in him in this world and continues to do so in the future spiritual world. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
We’re patient with the transition to full equality between women and men:
The transition to full equality between women and men is an evolutionary process requiring education and patience with oneself and others, as well as an unswerving determination. (Bahá’í International Community, 1993 Mar 15, Women Peace Process)
We’re patient with different degrees of motion:
There are different degrees of motion. There is a motion of transit, that is from place to place. For example, the revolution of the earth around the sun; a bird flies from branch to branch. Another kind is the motion of inherent growth, like that of man from the condition of childhood to the estate of manhood, or the development of a tree from the seedling to its full fruition. The third is the motion of condition – the sick man passes from the stage of sickness to the state of health. The fourth motion is that of the spirit. For instance, the child while in the mother’s womb has all the potential qualities of the spirit, but those qualities begin to unfold little by little as the child is born and grows and develops, finally manifesting all the attributes and qualities of the spirit. The fifth is the motion of the intellect whereby the ignorant become wise; the indifferent, alert; the dark, illuminated and the carnally-minded, spiritual. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 124-125)
We’re patient with our Assemblies in setting a date for a year of patience; and then patient during that year, in our efforts to reconcile and overcome our aversion, before we can divorce:
The setting of the date of the beginning of the year of patience is not automatic. The Assembly must first determine whether grounds for a Bahá’í divorce exist and should make every effort to reconcile the parties. If the aversion existing between the parties is found to be irreconcilable then the Assembly may set the date for the beginning of the year of waiting. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 395)
What Robs Us of Patience?
Our DNA! When we inherit the weakness and debility of our parents:
For example, you see that children born from a weak and feeble father and mother will naturally have a feeble constitution and weak nerves; they will be afflicted, and will have neither patience, nor endurance, nor resolution, nor perseverance, and will be hasty; for the children inherit the weakness and debility of their parents. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 319)
Atmospheric vibrations, where the movement of the air becomes the cause of transporting us from one state to another, and entirely overpowering us:
Therefore, see the connection which exists between the spirit of man and the atmospheric vibration, so that the movement of the air becomes the cause of transporting him from one state to another, and of entirely overpowering him; it will deprive him of patience and tranquillity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 246)
That certainly explains a lot for me! How about you? 🙂
When is Patience Needed the Most?
During every hardship:
Manifest magnificent patience during every calamity and hardship. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 374)
During the calamities which cause our eyes to flow with tears and greatly afflicted us:
Thou oughtest to bear it with becoming patience. Again, thou oughtest to patiently bear this calamity which hath flowed thine eyes with tears and hath greatly afflicted thee. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 139)
In the moment of catastrophe:
In the moment of catastrophe, find ye patience, resignation and submission. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 45)
When are we NOT to be patient?
The doors of the Kingdom of God are open, the Call of the Lord of the Kingdom is raised, the Bestowals of the Almighty are endless and the effulgence of the Sun of Reality has illumined the East and the West. In such a time patience and tranquility are not allowable. Thou must engage with infinite joy and happiness in the mention of the Forgiving Lord. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Japan Will Turn Ablaze, p. 12)
What Are the Benefits of Being Patient?
Victory from the unseen Kingdom will be vouchsafed to us:
The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God, attraction to His Divine Fragrances, humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties and servitude to His exalted Threshold. Should they be graciously aided to acquire these attributes, victory from the unseen Kingdom of Bahá shall be vouchsafed to them. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 87)
Why Do We Need Patience?
Without patience, we will reach nowhere and attain no goal:
The steed of this Valley [Search] is patience; without patience the wayfarer on this journey will reach nowhere and attain no goal. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, p. 3)
It’s impossible for a seed to grow, blossom and bear fruit in a short time:
Know, verily, that the seed, however virile it may be, however strong the hand of the sower, however pure the water that watereth it, it is impossible for it to grow, blossom and bear fruit in a short time; nay, a long period is needed for its development. So it is the Kingdom of God. Consider the seed which was sown by Christ; verily, it did not blossom until after a long period. Thus it is incumbent upon thee to be patient in all affairs. Verily thy Lord is powerful, forgiving, precious and persevering! Depend upon the favor of thy Lord. He shall bless thee and protect thee under the shadow of His generosity and mercy. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 312-313)
As with everything in the Bahá’í Faith, there seems to be a need to learn through contrasts, and this is no exception. Here it seems that we need calamity in order to develop patience:
Were it not for calamity, how would the sun of Thy patience shine, O Light of the worlds? Lament not because of the wicked. Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire Tablet, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 217)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá asks us to “be patient, be as I am”:
Florence Khanum relates two sayings she heard from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. On one occasion He said to her ‘”Sabr kun; mithl-i-Man bash” – be patient, be as I am. The other was when some one expressed discouragement to Him, saying they could not possibly aquire all the qualities and virtues that Bahá’ís are directed to possess, and the Master replied, “Kam Kam. Ruz bih ruz” – little by little; day by day.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
With patience, we will succeed, for God is with us:
Only have faith, patience and courage—this is but the beginning, but surely you will succeed, for God is with you! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 101)
With patience, we will have progress:
The greatest requirement for this progress is patience. Patience is the thing which is described in the Qur‘án as having rewards unlimited…please have patience, God will work through you, even if it is not in your lifetime—the lifetime of generations after you. All services will be rewarded. Be sure! (Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Faizi at the closing session of the World Congress, May 2, 1963, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 108)
With patience, trials and ordeals won’t deflect us from the path of God:
We beseech Him to graciously enable them to show forth patience and fortitude that haply trials and ordeals might not deflect them from the path of God, the Almighty, the All-Knowing. (Shoghi Effendi, Fire and Light, p. 33)
With patience, we’ll achieve victories which are rarely accomplished at a single stroke:
Victories are won usually through a great deal of patience, planning and perseverance, and rarely accomplished at a single stroke. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 598)
With patience, understanding and forbearance for other people’s shortcomings, we will assure the progress of the whole Bahá’í community at large:
The greater the patience, the loving understanding and the forbearance the believers show towards each other and their shortcomings, the greater will be the progress of the whole Bahá’í community at large. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)
With patience towards each other, we will attract large numbers to our ranks:
Too great emphasis cannot be laid on the importance of the unity of the friends, for only by manifesting the greatness of their love for and patience with each other can they hope to attract large numbers to their ranks. (Shoghi Effendi, Promoting Entry by Troops, p. 3)
With patience, we will create a spiritual atmosphere conducive to learning:
They [tutors] need to combine the qualities of love, humility, and patience, with the dedication, perseverance, and commitment required to create a spiritual atmosphere conducive to learning. (International Teaching Centre, 2000 Feb, Training Institutes and Systematic Growth, p. 9)
With patience we will attain our desire:
O my dear …, endure and be patient, and by patience thou wilt attain thy desire. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 456)
With patience, we will attain spiritual states which will last forever and ever:
I beg of God to pour on thee becoming patience, so that thy heart may be consoled with the fragrance of His mercy and that thy breast may be dilated with His favors, that thou mayest attain to the spiritual states which are lasting forever and ever. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 139)
With flexibility and patience, we are able to learn:
Flexibility and patience are encouraged, as essential prerequisites of the learning process. (ITC, 2003 Apr 23, Building Momentum, p. 17)
With patience, we become the exponents of justice:
Such hath been the patience, the calm, the resignation and contentment of this people that they have become the exponents of justice, and so great hath been their forbearance, that they have suffered themselves to be killed rather than kill, and this notwithstanding that these whom the world hath wronged have endured tribulations the like of which the history of the world hath never recorded, nor the eyes of any nation witnessed. What is it that could have induced them to reconcile themselves to these grievous trials, and to refuse to put forth a hand to repel them? What could have caused such resignation and serenity? The true cause is to be found in the ban which the Pen of Glory hath, day and night, chosen to impose, and in Our assumption of the reins of authority, through the power and might of Him Who is the Lord of all mankind. (Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 74-75)
What are the rewards of patience in the next world?
First of all, it’s important to know that God is aware of our frailties and our impatience in our sufferings:
I recognize that Thou hast afflicted them for no other purpose except to proclaim Thy Cause, and to enable them to ascend into the heaven of Thine eternity and the precincts of Thy court, yet Thou knowest full well the frailty of some of them, and art aware of their impatience in their sufferings. (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, p. 157)
Therefore, He loves those who show forth patience:
God, verily, loveth those women and men who show forth patience. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 43)
His recompense is limitless for those who show forth patience and long-suffering:
And He reminds them that, whereas God rewards every good deed in accordance with its merit, in the case of patience and long-suffering, as attested in the Qur‘án, the recompense is limitless. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 1, p. 271)
He rewards beyond measure those who endure with patience:
He, verily, rewardeth beyond measure them that endure with patience. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 71)
He increases the reward of those who endure tribulations with patience:
Rejoice not in what ye have done, or will do in the future … for ye are unable by such means as these to exalt your stations, were ye to examine your works with acute discernment … Nay, God will add unto the recompense with which He shall reward Us, for having sustained with persevering patience the tribulations We have suffered. He, verily, shall increase the reward of them that endure with patience. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 128)
His choicest gifts are the reward for those who endure with patience:
Say, this earthly life shall come to an end, and everyone shall expire and return unto my Lord God Who will reward with the choicest gifts the deeds of those who endure with patience. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 161)
He extols the station of those who endure their hardships and calamities with patience and resignation:
He extols the station of those believers who endured hardships and calamities with patience and resignation. Through their fortitude and constancy, their forbearance and long-suffering, these souls attained to such a lofty position that the Concourse on high seek their companionship and long for their blessings. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 1, p. 271)
We will become everlasting in the Kingdom of God:
Be thou a mountain of quiescence, a sign of meekness, a sea of patience, a light of love, a standard of utter separation (from all else save God), so that thou mayest become everlasting in the Kingdom of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 291)
Are some people rewarded more than others for patience?
A poor man who is patient and forbearing is better than a rich man who is thankful:
In the course of one of His talks to His companions ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that a poor man who is patient and forbearing is better than a rich man who is thankful. However, a poor man who is thankful is more praiseworthy than the one who is patient, while more meritorious than all is the rich man who expends his wealth for others. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 281)
Great is the blessedness awaiting the poor that endure patiently and conceal their suffering:
Great is the honor destined by God for those poor who are steadfast in patience. By My life! There is no honor, except what God may please to bestow, that can compare to this honor. Great is the blessedness awaiting the poor that endure patiently and conceal their sufferings. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 202)
How Do We Get Patience?
By putting our reliance in God:
It behooveth whosoever hath set his face towards the Most Sublime Horizon to cleave tenaciously unto the cord of patience, and to put his reliance in God, the Help in Peril, the Unconstrained. (Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 98)
Through the love of God:
It was the Love of God that led Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that strengthened Joseph in Egypt and gave to Moses courage and patience. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 82)
By seeking patience only in God and no one or nowhere else:
Verily I seek patience only in God, and Him do I regard as the goal of My desire. This signifieth that I have the undoubted Truth on My side. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 20)
Through prayers and supplications:
Prayers and supplications should be offered at the sacred Threshold, so that thou mayest remain firm in tests, and patient in ordeals. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Art of Living, p. 85)
With perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God:
When calamity striketh, be ye patient and composed. However afflictive your sufferings may be, stay ye undisturbed, and with perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God, brave ye the tempest of tribulations and fiery ordeals. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 73)
Knowledge is the most grievous veil between man and his Creator. The former bringeth forth the fruit of patience, of longing desire, of true understanding, and love; whilst the latter can yield naught but arrogance, vainglory and conceit. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 69)
Little by little; day by day
One would well remember the story of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who when approached by a believer in the depths of discouragement despairing of ever acquiring the qualities and virtues that Bahá’ís are required to possess, replied with the greatest compassion and encouragement, “little by little; day by day” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World 12: 704)
How do we Show Patience?
In the following quote, Bahá’u’lláh gives us a lot of ideas, which include:
- put his trust in God
- renounce the peoples of the earth
- detach ourselves from the world of dust
- cleave unto Him Who is the Lord of Lords
- never seek to exalt himself above any one
- wash away every trace of pride and vain-glory from our hearts
- cling to resignation
- observe silence
- refrain from idle talk
That seeker must, at all times, put his trust in God, must renounce the peoples of the earth, must detach himself from the world of dust, and cleave unto Him Who is the Lord of Lords. He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vain-glory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence and refrain from idle talk. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 264-265)
Seek patience only in God:
I seek patience only in God. Verily He is the best protector and the best helper. No refuge do I seek save God. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 20)
Have faith that the power of the Word of God will gradually effect a transformation in individual believers and in the Bahá’í community as a whole:
Understanding . . . that the believers are encouraged to be loving and patient with one another, it will be clear that you too are called upon to exercise patience with the friends who demonstrate immaturity, and to have faith that the power of the Word of God will gradually effect a transformation in individual believers and in the Bahá’í community as a whole. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
Adorn ourselves with resignation and steadfastness, never being dismayed or disheartened by adversity:
Bahá’u’lláh urges the people of the Bayan to do likewise, counselling them to adorn their beings with the mantle of resignation, to be steadfast in the Cause of God, and never to be dismayed or disheartened by adversity. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 1, p. 271)
Understand that change is an evolutionary process requiring patience with one’s self and others, loving education and the passage of time:
Change is an evolutionary process requiring patience with one’s self and others, loving education and the passage of time as the believers deepen their knowledge of the principles of the Faith, gradually discard long-held traditional attitudes and progressively conform their lives to the unifying teachings of the Cause. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 620)
Conduct ourselves with the utmost submission, resignation and calmness; so much that if another person did not know anything about our troubles, he would think that we were in the perfect ease of soul, happy and tranquil:
However, relying upon God, we conducted ourselves with the utmost patience and submission, resignation and calmness; so much that if one did not know anything about these matters, he would have thought that we were in perfect ease of soul, enjoying the tranquility of heart mind, and were engaged in happiness and felicity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 45)
Follow the patient example of the Master
Concerning the attitude of some Bahá’ís, who seem at times to be insensitive and unsupportive, all we can do is to try to follow the patient example of the Master, bearing in mind that each believer is but one of the servants of the Almighty who must strive to learn and grow. The absence of spiritual qualities, like darkness, has no existence in itself. As the light of spirituality penetrates deep into the hearts, this darkness gradually dissipates and is replaced by virtue. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
How Long Do We Have to Be Patient?
It’s always according to God’s timetable, knowing there is no past, present or future in His world:
The past, the present, the future, all, in relation to God, are equal. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 116)
We must be patient until God discloses our fate to us:
She should abide in patience until such time as God shall please to disclose to her his fate. By the course that is praiseworthy in this connection is meant the exercise of patience. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 106)
We’re to be patient until relief is forthcoming from God:
Ours is the duty to remain patient in these circumstances until relief be forthcoming from God, the Forgiving, the Bountiful. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 177)
For twenty-four years ‘Abdu’l-Bahá showered kindness on one of his enemies before he finally asked for forgiveness:
Hear how he treats his enemies. One instance of many I have heard will suffice. When the Master came to ‘Akká there lived there a certain man from Afghanistan [Haji Siddiq], an austere and rigid Mussulman [Muslim]. To him the Master was a heretic. He felt and nourished a great enmity towards the Master, and roused up others against him. When opportunity offered in gatherings of the people, as in the Mosque, he denounced him with bitter words. ‘This man,’ he said to all, ‘is an imposter. Why do you speak to him? Why do you have dealings with him?’ And when he passed the Master on the street he was careful to hold his robe before his face that his sight might not be defiled. Thus did the Afghan. The Master, however, did thus: The Afghan was poor and lived in a mosque; he was frequently in need of food and clothing. The Master sent him both. These he accepted, but without thanks. He fell sick. The Master took him a physician, food, medicine, money. These, also, he accepted; but as he held out one hand that the physician might take his pulse, with the other he held his cloak before his face that he might not look upon the Master. For twenty-four years the Master continued his kindnesses and the Afghan persisted in his enmity. Then at last one day the Afghan came to the Master’s door, and fell down, penitent and weeping, at his feet. ‘Forgive me, sir!’ he cried. ‘For twenty-four years I have done evil to you, for twenty-four years you have done good to me. Now I know that I have been in the wrong.’ The Master bade him rise, and they became friends. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Centre of the Covenant, p. 101)
Results might take eighty or nighty years’ work and suffering:
The results of the sacrifices of all these people are manifested now. Therefore, those who have been for five or ten years in some place should never complain. These results are of eighty years’ work—yes, ninety years, and suffering. Work day and night in such time and the harvest will be ready. Bahá’u’lláh has definitely said clearly to the friends: ‘Your function is to sow the seeds. God will either let them grow or will bury them.’ It is yours to stand at your post and sow the seed. The greatest requirement for this progress is patience. Patience is the thing which is described in the Qur‘án as having rewards unlimited…please have patience. (Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Faizi at the closing session of the World Congress, May 2, 1963, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 108)
It might take a thousand three hundred and five and thirty days:
Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 43)
We might not even see the results in our lifetime or even the lifetimes of generations after us:
God will work through you, even if it is not in your lifetime—the lifetime of generations after you. All services will be rewarded. Be sure! (Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Faizi at the closing session of the World Congress, May 2, 1963, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 108)
It might even take as long asa hundred thousand years!
If he strive for a hundred thousand years and yet fail to behold the beauty of the Friend, he should not falter. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, p. 3)
I love this story, told to us by the Counsellor (Dan Scott) at a recent gathering:
The Process of Cluster Growth and the Moral of the Chinese Bamboo Tree
If you plant a seed from the Chinese Bamboo tree, be prepared for a long wait. The patient gardener will have to water and fertilize the invisible seed for no less than four years before the first shoots begin to appear. In those four years of silent growth, the “lucky Bamboo, ” as the Chinese call it, is sending out taproots, the root system that spreads out horizontally and downward into the soil. Throughout all those four years, nothing significant is visible at ground-level.
But then during the fifth year, something wonderful happens. The Chinese Bamboo sprouts and grows an incredible 90 feet in six weeks! (Some species will grow 100 cm or 39 inches per day!)
A rich variety of moral and spiritual lessons lie hidden in applying the lessons of the Chinese Bamboo to the institute process and cluster growth.
In his talk, Counsellor Dan Scott referred to Shoghi Effendi’s phrase that the building of [our personal lives] and of the Faith appears to be “slow and unobtrusive”:
It is this building process, slow and unobtrusive, to which the life of the world-wide Bahá’í Community is wholly consecrated, that constitutes the one hope of a stricken society. For this process is actuated by the generating influence of God’s changeless Purpose, and is evolving within the framework of the Administrative Order of His Faith. (Bahá’u’lláh, World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 194)
As unobtrusive as it may seem to be, things are going on behind the scenes which we have no awareness of, and we have to trust are happening.
Seldom do we live long enough to see the benefits of our efforts to be patient, but here’s a story of a woman who did, which moves me to tears every time I read it!
A young Bahá ‘i lady pioneered to Bolivia in the 1930 s to open it to the Faith. Having no success in teaching anyone, she began to write to the Guardian expressing feelings of failure. With each passing month she wrote and he replied encouraging her to stay, to remain steadfast, to have faith and to pray. So obediently she continued on. Every day she went to the centre of a small town and in one of the regions found a spot by a fountain and tearfully prayed for the progress of the Faith.
After two years the beloved Guardian consented to her wish to return home. The story of this young lady was lost and unknown to the friends in Bolivia. Years later when they experienced entry by troops they organised regional teaching conferences. At the end of one of them they decided to take a group photograph. They found a sunny spot big enough for 1,200 friends to gather. Mr Vojdani took a copy of this photo everywhere to show to the friends on his travels.
Years later, friends from many countries had gathered in Paris for a huge anniversary celebration and Mr Vojdani attended as part of a delegation from the Americas. In the crowd a very old lady using two walking sticks hobbled over to them and asked if there was anyone from Bolivia. He said yes. She asked if there were many Bahá ’s there, again he said yes, then she asked if he had any photographs from Bolivia. He showed her the one of the teaching conference group photo. She took it and looked at it for a few moments and then fainted.
Later in hospital, when she came round, the shocked friends asked her what had happened. In a frail voice she told her story that she had been sent to Bolivia by the Guardian and every day for two years she had sat down in the exact spot where the photograph had been taken to pray and beseech Bahá‘u’llah to open the doors of His Faith to the people of Bolivia. Seeing the photograph she realised then, years later, that her prayers had been answered. Three days later she died.
We’re never alone in our struggle! ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is praying that we will attain the utmost patience, composure and resignation:
I hope that you will attain to the utmost patience, composure and resignation, and I supplicate and entreat at the Threshold of Oneness and beg pardon and forgiveness. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 379)
How has this helped you with your impatience? Post your comments below:
There are so many demands made on Bahá’ís at this time in history, when the needs of the Faith are so great and the workers so few. Many people try to do it all, burn out, and then become inactive. Let’s look at some ways to avoid this.
Baha’u’llah tells us we need to have moderation at all times, and not to overstep its bounds:
In all circumstances they should conduct themselves with moderation. (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 294)
Overstep not the bounds of moderation. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 235)
When our lives are out of balance, we won’t be able to exert a beneficial influence on the world.
Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 216)
Taking care of your health is the best means to enable you to serve the Faith:
You should not neglect your health, but consider it the means which enables you to serve. It—the body—is like a horse which carries the personality and spirit, and as such should be well cared for so it can do its work! You should certainly safeguard your nerves, and force yourself to take time, and not only for prayer meditation, but for real rest and relaxation. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 296)
Time to rest is essential or you will become weak and powerless and unable to work:
I understand you have been ill and obliged to rest; never mind, from time to time rest is essential, otherwise, like unto ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from excessive toil you will become weak and powerless and unable to work. Therefore rest a few days, it does not matter. I hope that you will be under the care and protection of the Blessed Beauty. (Amatu’l-Bahá Ruhiyyih Khanúm, The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, from a tablet to Shoghi Effendi written by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
What did ‘Abdu’l-Bahá do? Sometimes he hid from others while he recuperated!
‘Abdu’l-Bahá moved, on the 27th, to the hotel in Rue Lauriston where He had stayed before. He was very tired, and needed a few days’ rest before people learned where He resided. (H.M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 393)
Shoghi Effendi suggests that most of us need a minimum of 8 hours sleep each night; and tells us we should protect our health by sleeping enough:
Regarding your question: there are very few people who can get along without eight hours sleep. If you are not one of those, you should protect your health by sleeping enough. The Guardian himself finds that it impairs his working capacity if he does not try and get a minimum of seven or eight hours. (Shoghi Effendi, Compilation of Compilations, V I, p. 459-488)
When we sleep, it should be to rest the body so we can be better teachers and servants, and when we orient ourselves in this way, the confirmations of the Holy Spirit will surely reach us, we will be able to withstand all who inhabit the earth:
If he sleep, it should not be for pleasure, but to rest the body in order to do better, to speak better, to explain more beautifully, to serve the servants of God and to prove the truths. When he remains awake, he should seek to be attentive, serve the Cause of God and sacrifice his own stations for those of God. When he attains to this station, the confirmations of the Holy Spirit will surely reach him, and man with this power can withstand all who inhabit the earth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 384)
We Can’t Do Everything:
This is a faith of universal participation – everyone has a part to play; and one person can’t do it all:
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, because each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing. This understanding is important to the maturity which, by the many demands being made upon it, the community is being forced to attain. (The Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, Selected Letters 1983-1992, p. 80)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá asked us to consider the human body as an example, and this was absolutely key to my understanding that the advent of the Most Great Peace was not on my shoulders alone.
In the same way consider the body of man. It must be composed of different organs, parts and members. Human beauty and perfection require the existence of the ear, the eye, the brain and even that of the nails and hair; if man were all brain, eyes or ears, it would be equivalent to imperfection. So the absence of hair, eyelashes, teeth and nails would be an absolute defect, though in comparison with the eye they are without feeling, and in this resemble the mineral and plant; but their absence in the body of man is necessarily faulty and displeasing. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 129)
I came to understand that I was just a big toenail; not the whole body. I didn’t have to feel badly because I couldn’t see or walk, any more than the knee would expect to see; or the ear expect to walk. But if I didn’t do my job as big toenail to the best of my ability, the whole body would suffer.
What body part best describes you? Post your comments here: