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Perfection or Perfectionism – How to Tell the Difference

Workaholics reading “Strain every nerve” in the following quote, will see evidence in the Writings to push through and work harder:

Strain every nerve to acquire both inner and outer perfections, for the fruit of the human tree hath ever been and will ever be perfections both within and without. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Education, p. 247)

But is this what God wants from us?

I see a difference between acquiring perfections and being perfectionistic.  In one, we strive for excellence to please God, in the other, we strive to please others.  Here are some other examples of how they might be different:

Perfection Perfectionism
excellence fastidiousness
faultlessness fussiness
exactness nitpicking
precision hairsplitting
flawlessness meticulousness
accomplishment conscientiousness
achievement thoroughness
diligent punctiliousness

 

In the Secret of Divine Civilization (p. 40), ‘Abdu’l-Baha gives us the attributes of perfection, which include:

  • to fear God
  • to love God by loving His servants
  • to exercise mildness and forbearance and calm
  • to be sincere, amenable, clement and compassionate
  • to have resolution and courage, trustworthiness and energy
  • to strive and struggle
  • to be generous, loyal, without malice
  • to have zeal and a sense of honour
  • to be high-minded and magnanimous
  • to have regard for the rights of others

To this list, Shoghi Effendi adds:

. . . to be free of one’s ego is a hallmark of perfection. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 453)

We know we’ll never reach a state of perfection in this world:

We humans are never going to become perfect, for perfection belongs to a realm we are not destined to enter. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

So we can (and should) use this list to strive towards, without judging ourselves or others for not meeting up to this standard.

While perfection of work as a result of incessant labour and application makes us happy and is man’s greatest reward:

Perfection of work is man’s greatest reward. When a man sees his work perfected and this perfection is the result of incessant labour and application he is the happiest man in the world. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 6, No. 6, p. 44)

It only brings joy to our body, but it does not glorify our souls:

Perfection in worldly things is a joy to the body of a man but in no wise does it glorify his soul.  It may be that a man who has every material benefit, and who lives surrounded by all the greatest comfort modern civilization can give him, is denied the all important gift of the Holy Spirit.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 62-63)

Nor does it elevate our spirits:

If a man is successful in his business, art, or profession he is thereby enabled to increase his physical wellbeing and to give his body the amount of ease and comfort in which it delights. All around us today we see how man surrounds himself with every modern convenience and luxury, and denies nothing to the physical and material side of his nature. But, take heed, lest in thinking too earnestly of the things of the body you forget the things of the soul: for material advantages do not elevate the spirit of a man. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 62-63)

We need to perfect ourselves spiritually as well as materially:

Only by improving spiritually as well as materially can we make any real progress, and become perfect beings.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 62-63)

The key to moderation is striving “little by little, day by day.”

Later in the month, Mrs. Tatum was talking with Abdul-Bahá and said, “I feel so dejected today.  I am unhappy with myself.”  The Master replied: this is a sign of progress.  The person who is satisfied with himself is the manifestation of Satan and the one who is not satisfied is the manifestation of the merciful one.  An egotist does not progress but the one who thinks himself imperfect will seek perfection for himself and will progress . . . The attainment of absolute perfection for a human being is impossible; thus, however much he may progress he is still imperfect and has above him a point higher than himself.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 160)

What’s been your experience with this issue?  How has this helped you to understand it differently?  Post your comments below.

Why I Don’t Want to Fall Prey to the Kingdom of Names

I noticed that in many of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh exhorts His followers not to become the bond-slaves of the “Kingdom of Names”. I found this phrase puzzling and didn’t know what it meant or how it might apply to me.  In the following quote, Baha’u’llah seems to use this term to refer to those who have busied themselves in the things of this world and forgotten to turn to God in all their affairs:

The Pen of the Most High is unceasingly calling; and yet, how few are those that have inclined their ear to its voice! The dwellers of the kingdom of names have busied themselves with the gay livery of the world, forgetful that every man that hath eyes to perceive and ears to hear cannot but readily recognize how evanescent are its colors.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 195)

In my quest to understand the roots of my workaholism, and find ways to overcome it, this made sense.  When I seek fame and popularity; when I make my “to do” lists and systematically attempt to cross each item off as more keep popping up, I exert my focus and willpower to get it all done, forgetting to ask God to guide me in all my affairs.  I forget to ask Him what His priorities are for my day, and in doing so, I fail to achieve my purpose in life, which is to know and worship Him.

So what exactly is the “kingdom of names” and how do I sever myself from it?  Adib Taherzadeh seems to have the best insights.  Although his writings are not authoritative, they are based on a greater understanding of the Writings than I have, so I pass them along, in case you find them helpful too.

He uses a very clear example here:

In this world every one of God’s attributes is clad with a name, and every such name reveals the characteristics of that attribute. For instance, generosity is an attribute of God, and it manifests itself in human beings. However, a person who has this attribute often becomes proud of it and loves to be referred to as generous. When his generosity is acknowledged by other people, he becomes happy, and when it is ignored, he is unhappy. This is one form of attachment to the Kingdom of Names. Although this example concerns the name ‘generosity’, the same is true of all the names and attributes of God manifested within the individual. Usually man ascribes these attributes to his own person rather than to God and employs them to boost his own ego. For instance, a learned man uses the attribute of knowledge to become famous and feels gratified and uplifted when his name is publicized far and wide. Or there is the individual whose heart leaps with feelings of pride and satisfaction when he hears his name mentioned and finds himself admired. These are examples of attachment to the Kingdom of Names.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 25)

So all of the things I’m praised for (being organized, respectful, courteous, diligent, hard-working etc) I claim for myself:

  • I am organized.
  • I am respectful.
  • I am hard-working. Etc

And every time I do that, I’ve fallen into the trap of attaching myself to the “kingdom of names”, and at risk of building up my ego.  In order to sever myself and become humble, I need to see these things as the signs of God in me, rather than something I’ve achieved for myself.

I need to change these thoughts into something like “God has given me the ability to organize; to be hard working, to be respectful, etc.”

To the extent I’m able to do this, I’ll be able to bestow divine perfections on the world and fulfill my part in the Covenant:

Such a man will bestow divine perfections upon the world of humanity. This is the loftiest station that God has destined for man. To the extent that a believer succeeds in severing himself from these three forms of attachment, will he be fulfilling his part in the Covenant of God.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 28)

That makes sense, because I will be continually praising God and giving Him the credit for all the work and service I do, which will stand out as “different” from those around me, and will be a way to teach the Faith and help others draw closer to God.

The key to severing myself seems to be to realize that my virtues aren’t my own, but are manifestations of the attributes of God:

If a man can only realize that his virtues are not intrinsically his own, but rather are manifestations of the attributes of God, then he is freed from the Kingdom of Names and becomes truly humble. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 28)

Apparently it’s not as easy to do as we might think, however.  Adib tells us this might be our most difficult task and to do so might last a lifetime:

To sever oneself from the Kingdom of Names may prove to be the most difficult task for a Bahá’í, and the struggle may indeed last a lifetime. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 28)

When I am driven to achieve more, to please more people, to make a name for myself in the world, Baha’u’llah reminds me that this won’t profit me in the slightest.

Would it profit you in the least if, as ye fondly imagine, your names were to endure? Nay, by the Lord of all worlds! … Should your names fade from every mortal mind, and yet God be well pleased with you, ye will indeed be numbered among the treasures of His name, the Most Hidden.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 47)

Adib reminds us:

There are many people who have rendered notable services to the Faith and their names are recorded in its annals, yet when the winds of tests blew they were unable to subdue their self and ego. These individuals not only lost their faith, but also their goodness and virtues. They fell from the heights of glory into the abyss of degradation and ignominy.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 264)

I’ve been striving towards the wrong things, and I certainly don’t want to be counted among those who’ve fallen into the abyss of degradation and ignominy.  Please God, protect me from that test!

Instead, I need to make sure that God is pleased with me.  We’ve all grown up being taught first to please our parents, then our teachers, then our bosses.  But how many of us have been taught how to please God before all else?  This may be why it will take a lifetime to undo this conditioning.

Fortunately we don’t have to do it all ourselves.  We have the transformative effect of the Revelation of Baha’ullah to help reverse this process:

The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh aims to reverse this process. The soul of man needs to be adorned with the virtues of humility and self-effacement so that it may become detached from the Kingdom of Names.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)

How has this helped your understanding?  Post your comments below.

The Dangers of Suspicion and How to Overcome Them

Recently I came across this quote which made me sit up and take notice:

Take heed that your . . . deeds be cleansed from craftiness and suspicion.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 138)

It made me wonder – what deeds of mine are stained with suspicion.  I’m sure I have some, but I couldn’t think of any in the moment, so I did what I love to do best – took the question to the Writings, to see if I could learn more about how suspicion is used in the Bahá’í teachings.

How is Suspicion Described?

As a characteristic of a decadent society:

. . . the increasing evidences of selfishness, of suspicion, of fear and of fraud; the spread of terrorism . . . of drunkenness and of crime; the unquenchable thirst for, and the feverish pursuit after, earthly vanities, riches and pleasures; the weakening of family solidarity; the laxity in parental control; the lapse into luxurious indulgence; the irresponsible attitude towards marriage and the consequent rising tide of divorce . . . these appear as the outstanding characteristics of a decadent society, a society that must either be reborn or perish.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 237)

What are the Effects?

Suffering for millions of human beings:

But in our concern for such immediate obvious calls upon our succour we must not allow ourselves to forget the continuing, appalling burden of suffering under which millions of human beings are always groaning — a burden which they have bourne for century upon century and which it is the Mission of Bahá’u’lláh to lift at last. The principal cause of this suffering, which one can witness wherever one turns, is the corruption of human morals and the prevalence of prejudice, suspicion, hatred, untrustworthiness, selfishness and tyranny among men.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 122)

 How Does it Manifest?

Creating the suspicion of secrecy on behalf of the Assemblies:

Theirs is the duty to purge once for all their deliberations and the general conduct of their affairs from . . . the suspicion of secrecy . . .  between them on one hand and all local Assemblies and individual believers on the other.  (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahai Administration, p. 81)

Is Suspicion Ever Warranted?

At the same time, we are also cautioned to be on guard when dealing with people from the East:

… the Guardian wishes the Bahá’í to bear in mind the repeated counsels of the Master that the friends should be on their guard when dealing with Easterners. Not only should they trust no one unless he bears some letter of introduction from his Assembly but also after he is permitted in the Bahá’í group they should be very careful in their dealings with him. This does not mean that they should be unkind to him or have a constant suspicion that would gradually alienate him from the Cause, but to be on their guard lest he misuses their trust. The case of Ahmad Sohrab is a very good example of what an Easterner can do. He thinks to be doing shrewd business when a Westerner would consider the act to be deceitful. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 428)

Why?

But, as the people of the West are still children in the Cause and have not perfect knowledge of its reality and validity, the nakazeen thought it to be an easy prey and availed themselves of this opportunity for laying doubts and suspicions, speaking false words, divulging seditious calumnies among the people. Ye shall see all this as scattered dust, and all these thick, dark clouds which were gathered in those far regions, will disappear and the Sun of Certainty and Reality shall shine with the Most Dazzling Light; the darkness will vanish, the firm believers will be in great joy, and the nakazeen shall be in evident loss.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 439-440)

I have expounded these things for you, for the conservation and protection of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, in order that you may be informed, lest any souls shall deceive you and lest any souls shall cause suspicion among you.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 323-324)

Where Does Suspicion Do the Most Harm?

Our institutions:

A reversal of this tendency is not easily achievable, but the Bahá’í friends must be freed of suspicion towards their institutions if the wheels of progress are to turn with.  (NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)

How to Overcome Suspicion

Dispel and annihilate the darkness of suspicions:

Now know you these things], that in its time you may dispel and annihilate the darkness of those suspicions, like unto a manifest light.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 252)

Cleanse the heart of suspicion and fill it with hope, faith and love:

With hearts cleansed from the least trace of suspicion and filled with hope and faith in what the spirit of love can achieve, we must one and all endeavor at this moment to forget past impressions, and with absolute good-will and genuine cooperation unite in deepening and diffusing the spirit of love and service that the Cause has thus far so remarkably shown to the world.  (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 17)

Develop love and harmony within our own characters:

Aside from teaching the Cause, the greatest service the Bahá’í Youth can render is to exemplify in their lives the teachings and especially to be promoters — within the Bahá’í communities and in the world at large — of love and harmony, qualities so sadly lacking in these days of hatred, suspicion, vindictiveness and prejudice.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 432)

Look upon Bahá’ís with trust and affection:

Let Bahá’í scholars look upon their fellow Bahá’ís with trust and affection, not with disdain as to their qualifications and suspicion as to their motives. Let them regard them as devoted Bahá’ís striving to perform a service which the policies of the Faith require of them. And let them not hesitate to discuss openly with such reviewers the points which they raise. If it appears that a National Spiritual Assembly does not permit such open discussion, let them appeal to the Universal House of Justice for clarification of the situation. It is well understood by the Universal House of Justice that in some cases the process of review works inefficiently and with problems. These deficiencies could be overcome if the scholars themselves would collaborate with the process and openly raise questions about its functioning, rather than fostering an atmosphere of antagonism and mutual mistrust.
(The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

Have a tranquil heart:

If the heart becometh absolutely tranquil, suspicion and imagination will entirely pass away.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 104)

Make sure your deeds are cleansed of suspicion:

Take heed that your words be purged from idle fancies and worldly desires and your deeds be cleansed from craftiness and suspicion.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 138)

Develop the capacity of detecting good vs. evil people:

As Bahá’u’lláh says often in His Tablets the friends should develop a flair wherewith they can detect the good from the evil person. Mere name of Bahá’í does not constitute a Bahá’í. His character also has to be Bahá’í. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 428)

Establish the reality of the Faith of God:

. . . they will rather be moved by it to pursue their investigations and inquiries with greater meticulousness and enthusiasm . . . to put to rout the hosts of suspicion, doubt and misconception; to raze to its foundations the edifice of calumny and falsehood; and to demonstrate and establish, before the eyes of all the world, the sacred, exalted and indomitable reality of the resistless Faith of God.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 174)

How Do We Deal with Other People’s Suspicions?

Be assured, turn to God and seek confirmations:

Clothe thyself with the cuirass of assurance, so that thou mayest endure the arrows of suspicion which are successively pouring from the tongues of the heedless ones. Be a lamp, the light of which may dispel the darkness, and a real standard which may remove the doubts of the veiled people. Turn thou unto the Kingdom of thy Lord, the Ancient, and seek for confirmation at every moment and time, so that lights may shine forth unto thee from the kingdom of mysteries, and the angels of the Kingdom may come unto thee in succession, with a power from the Realm of Might. Verily, thy Lord shall assist thee and strengthen thee in that whereby thy breast will be dilated among the maid-servants of the Merciful One!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 599-600)

I loves this story told by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, which sums up what we’ve been learning:

I had a servant who was black; his name was Isfandiyar. If a perfect man could be found in the world, that man was Isfandiyar. He was the essence of love, radiant with sanctity and perfection, luminous with light.

Whenever I think of Isfandiyar, I am moved to tears, although he passed away fifty years ago. He was the faithful servant of Bahá’u’lláh and was entrusted with His secrets. For this reason the Shah of Persia wanted him and inquired continually as to his whereabouts.

Bahá’u’lláh was in prison, but the Shah had commanded many persons to find Isfandiyar. Perhaps more than one hundred officers were appointed to search for him. If they had succeeded in catching him, they would not have killed him at once. They would have cut his flesh into pieces to force him to tell them the secrets of Bahá’u’lláh.

But Isfandiyar with the utmost dignity used to walk in the streets and bazaars. One day he came to us.

My mother, my sister and myself lived in a house near a corner. Because our enemies frequently injured us, we were intending to go to a place where they did not know us. I was a child at that time.

At midnight Isfandiyar came in. My mother said, “O Isfandiyar, there are a hundred policemen seeking for you. If they catch you, they will not kill you at once but will torture you with fire. They will cut off your fingers. They will cut off your ears. They will put out your eyes to force you to tell them the secrets of Bahá’u’lláh. Go away! Do not stay here.”

He said, “I cannot go because I owe money in the street and in the stores. How can I go? They will say that the servant of Bahá’u’lláh has bought and consumed the goods and supplies of the storekeepers without paying for them. Unless I pay all these obligations, I cannot go.

But if they take me, never mind. If they punish me, there is no harm in that. If they kill me, do not be grieved. But to go away is impossible. I must remain until I pay all I owe. Then I will go.”

For one month Isfandiyar went about in the streets and bazaars. He had things to sell, and from his earnings he gradually paid his creditors. In fact, they were not his debts but the debts of the court, for all our properties had been confiscated. Everything we had was taken away from us. The only things that remained were our debts. Isfandiyar paid them in full; not a single penny remained unpaid. Then he came to us, said good-bye and went away. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 426-427)

What’s been your experience with suspicion?  Post your comments below.

Is Your Mind Killing You?

Nabil Moghaddam is in his final year of a three-year program in Homeopathy, Health Sciences and Nutrition through the Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine who are regulating the homeopathic profession in Ontario, and his thorough training matches the competencies required by the College of Homeopaths of Ontario.  He’s combining his knowledge of the Writings, with the learning he is getting in his program.  It’s the first time I’ve seen anyone attempt to balance science and religion on this topic.

Here is what the Writings have to say about homeopathy as a scientific discipline:

One of the friends of Persia wrote to Shoghi Effendi and asked this question: “Is it true that ‘Abdu’l-Baha has said that biochemical homeopathy, which is a form of food medicine, is in conformity with the Bahá’í medical concept?” The beloved Guardian’s reply to this question in a letter dated 25th November, 1944 was as follows: “This statement is true, and the truth thereof will be revealed in the future.”   (Shoghi Effendi and Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 485).