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The Two Meanings of Self

. . . self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Bahá’í Writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as “he hath known God who hath known himself”, etc. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can de­velop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against . . . in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.  (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 18)

This was the quote that helped me to understand the Baha’i concept of a personified “devil”.  The devil isn’t a being outside me.  He’s built into my very nature as the ego or the shadow side of me that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on.  There’s nothing wrong with me because of it.  It’s how God designed us.  We’re all sinners.  We all have lower natures.  We all need to become awakened to our dual natures so we know how to move from one to the other.

If our purpose in life is to know God and acquire the virtues we need for the next world, how can we acquire them if there is nothing to “struggle against” so we can “strengthen and free the spirit within us”?  It’s all part of our very identity and part of God’s great design and plan for our lives, nothing to fear.

Knowing my dark side was given to me for a purpose, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Getting to Know Your Lower Nature

 

 

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Beyond Forgiveness

We ought to show something more than forgiveness in meeting with the cruelties and strictures of our own lives. To be hurt and to forgive is saintly, but far beyond that is the power to comprehend and not be hurt. This power we may have ‑ acceptance without complaint, and it should become associated with our name ‑ we ought never be known to complain or lament. It is not that we would “make the best of things” but that we may find in everything, even in calamity itself, the germ of enduring wisdom.  (Bahiyyih Khánum, Bahá’í World, vol. 5, p.185)

While this quote is not authoritative, it comes from a source I admire and respect, as Bahiyyih Khánum exemplified every standard she asks us to reach.   For many years I couldn’t even forgive.  The best I could do is to ask God to forgive those who hurt me.  Later, I was able to forgive and let go of all the resentment and hurt I was carrying.  I made a practice of becoming conscious of every resentment and deal with it as it came up and I thought that was good, but in this quote we see that there are several additional things she wants us to consider:

  • to comprehend and not be hurt
  • to be known as someone who accepts without complaint
  • to never be known to complain or lament
  • to find in everything, even in calamity itself, the germ of enduring wisdom

The first and the last have to do with inward adjustments that have to be made.  When I remember that we all have a lower nature and are all sinners, struggling to rise above whatever life has given us, then it’s easier to remember that we are all one.  When I am spiritually strong and remember these things, I can achieve the first and fourth.  The middle two are how we behave in the world.  It seems that it might be possible to complain and lament privately, admitting it to ourselves and taking our complaints to God, asking for Him to transform them so that we can find the germ of enduring wisdom and not be hurt, so that we can face the world with the same radiant acquiescence she was known to have.

Knowing I can strive for something that goes beyond forgiveness, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Forgive

 

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Choices and Failures 

 And yet, behold how, when He did bring the truth, ye refused to turn your faces towards Him, and persisted in disporting yourselves with your pastimes and fancies. Ye welcomed Him not, neither did ye seek His Presence, that ye might hear the verses of God from His own mouth, and partake of the manifold wisdom of the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the All-Wise. Ye have, by reason of your failure,  hindered the breath of God from being wafted over you, and have withheld from your souls the sweetness of its fragrance. Ye continue roving with delight in the valley of your corrupt desires. Ye, and all ye possess, shall pass away. Ye shall, most certainly, return to God, and shall be called to account for your doings in the presence of Him Who shall gather together the entire creation.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 246)

We need the fear of God just as much as we need to know about the love of God and in this passage we see both.  We see a warning that when we refuse to turn our faces towards Him, and persist in disporting ourselves with our pastimes and fancies, continuing to rove with delight in the valley of our corrupt desires, we deprive ourselves of many things.  When we welcome Him and seek His Presence, we might hear the verses of God from His own mouth, and partake of His manifold wisdom.  We will feel the breath of God being wafted over us and inhale the sweetness of its fragrance.  Then He ends with a warning and a reminder:  We, and all we possess, will pass away, return to God, and shall be called to account for our doings.

The choice is always ours, every minute of every day.  Will we turn to God or to our own lower natures?  Will we reach for the choice wine or accept the things our own minds devise?  Do we want what’s best for us for eternity or are we content with short term pleasures?  Do we believe the promises of God or consider the ideas of our own minds?  The choice is ours.

Understanding I have choices and can reach for what’s best, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Making Friends with Sin and Temptation

 

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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.

What We Know About Our Lower Nature

What is Our Lower Nature? 

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

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

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

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

Our baser nature is symbolized in various ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characteristics of the Lower Nature

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

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

Whenever you see jealousy, greed, the struggle for survival, deception, hypocrisy, tyranny, oppression, disputes, strife, bloodshed, looting and pillaging, which all emanate from the world of nature, you realize that we are all immersed in the world of nature to one degree or another.

Today all people are immersed in the world of nature. That is why thou dost see jealousy, greed, the struggle for survival, deception, hypocrisy, tyranny, oppression, disputes, strife, bloodshed, looting and pillaging, which all emanate from the world of nature. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 206)

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

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

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

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

The lower nature can be manipulated by others:

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

How?

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

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

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

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

Why do we have a lower nature?

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

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

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

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

Effects of Living in our Lower Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this really the life we want to live?

How do we stay trapped in our lower nature?

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

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

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

Breaking Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strive thine utmost to become godlike, characterized with His attributes, illumined and merciful, that thou mayest be freed from every bond and become attached at heart to the Kingdom of the incomparable Lord. This is Bahá’í bounty, and this is heavenly light.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 206)

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

Few are those who have been freed from this darkness, who have ascended from the world of nature to the world of man, who have followed the divine Teachings, have served the world of humanity, are resplendent, merciful, illumined and like unto a rose garden.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 206)

Benefits to Breaking Free

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

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

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

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

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Is Criticism Allowed In The Baha’i Faith?

 

I was playing a game at summer school last year, in which we were asked this question and of course, I answered “no”.  Bahá’ís have to be positive, loving, forgiving, creating unity, building communities, don’t we?

How can we do that if we allow criticism to come in?

I was shocked that the answer I gave was wrong!  I set out to prove the speaker wrong (thereby criticizing them in my own mind!  O God, forgive me, please!).  I was surprised by what I found.  Have a look with me.

The answer is both yes (with conditions) and no, as we’ll see below.

We all have a right to set forth our views:

Let us also remember that at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 63)

The root cause of criticism is lack of faith in the system of Baha’u’llah:

Vicious criticism is indeed a calamity. But its root is lack of faith in the system of Bahá’u’lláh, i.e., the Administrative Order — and lack of obedience to Him — for He has forbidden it! If the Bahá’ís would follow the Bahá’í laws in voting, in electing, in serving and in abiding by Assembly decisions, all this waste of strength through criticizing others could be diverted into cooperation and achieving the Plan. (Shoghi Effendi, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

We have been protected against the misuse of criticism through the Covenant and by an administration which draws out the constructive ideas of individuals and uses them for the benefit of the entire system:

If Bahá’í individuals deliberately ignore the principles imbedded in the Order which Bahá’u’lláh Himself has established to remedy divisiveness in the human family, the Cause for which so much has been sacrificed will surely be set back in its mission to rescue world society from complete disintegration. May not the existence of the Covenant be invoked again and again, so that such repetition may preserve the needed perspective? For, in this age, the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh has been protected against the baneful effects of the misuse of the process of criticism; this has been done by the institution of the Covenant and by the provision of a universal administrative system which incorporates within itself the mechanisms for drawing out the constructive ideas of individuals and using them for the benefit of the entire system. Admonishing the people to uphold the unifying purpose of the Cause, Bahá’u’lláh, in the Book of His Covenant, addresses these poignant words to them: “Let not the means of order be made the cause of confusion and the instrument of union an occasion for discord.” Such assertions emphasize a crucial point; it is this: In terms of the Covenant, dissidence is a moral and intellectual contradiction of the main objective animating the Bahá’í community, namely, the establishment of the unity of mankind. (Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 15-16)

Yes, with conditions

We are fully entitled to address criticisms but then we must whole-heartedly accept the advice or decision of the assembly:

The Bahá’ís are fully entitled to address criticisms to their assemblies; they can freely air their views about policies or individual members of elected bodies to the assembly, local or national, but then they must whole-heartedly accept the advice or decision of the assembly, according to the principles already laid down for such matters in Bahá’í administration. (Shoghi Effendi, Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand, p. 55)

It is our vital responsibility to offer fully and frankly, but with due respect and consideration to the authority of the Assembly, any suggestion, recommendation or criticism he conscientiously feels he should in order to improve and remedy certain existing conditions or trends in his local community:

You had asked whether the believers have the right to openly express their criticism of any Assembly action or policy; it is not only the right, but the vital responsibility of every loyal and intelligent member of the Community to offer fully and frankly, but with due respect and consideration to the authority of the Assembly, any suggestion, recommendation or criticism he conscientiously feels he should in order to improve and remedy certain existing conditions or trends in his local community, and it is the duty of the Assembly also to give careful consideration to any such views submitted to them by any one of the believers.  (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Meetings/The Nineteen Day Feasts, pp. 27-28)

Criticism should be addressed to the institutions of the Faith and not aired in the community where it might foment division and misunderstandings:

It is clear then that criticism is allowed, but it should be addressed to the institutions of the Faith and not aired in the community where it might foment division and misunderstandings.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

The best time to do it is at the Feast:

The best occasion chosen for this purpose is the Nineteen Day Feast which, besides its social and spiritual aspects, fulfills various administrative needs and requirements of the Community, chief among them being the need for open and constructive criticism and deliberation regarding the state of affairs within the local Bahá’í Community.  (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Meetings/The Nineteen Day Feasts, pp. 27-28)

No

Criticism and discussions of a negative character which undermines the authority of the assembly should be strictly avoided:

It should be stressed that all criticism and discussions of a negative character which may result in undermining the authority of the assembly as a body should be strictly avoided. For otherwise the order of the Cause itself will be endangered, and confusion and discord will reign in the community. (Shoghi Effendi, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Criticism is often the harbinger of conflict and contention:

The responsibility resting on the individual to conduct himself in such a way as to ensure the stability of society takes on elemental importance in this context. For vital as it is to the progress of society, criticism is a two-edged sword: It is all too often the harbinger of conflict and contention. The balanced processes of the Administrative Order are meant to prevent this essential activity from degenerating to any form of dissent that breeds opposition and its dreadful schismatic consequences. How incalculable have been the negative results of ill-directed criticism: in the catastrophic divergences it has created in religion, in the equally contentious factions it has spawned in political systems, which have dignified conflict by institutionalizing such concepts as the “loyal opposition” which attach to one or another of the various categories of political opinion — conservative, liberal, progressive, reactionary, and so on.  (Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 15-16)

If we continually criticize their acts and challenge or belittle their decisions, we prevent any real progress and repel outsiders:

The Guardian believes that a great deal of the difficulties from which the believers . . . feel themselves to be suffering are caused by their neither correctly understanding or putting into practice the administration. They seem — many of them — to be prone to continually challenging and criticizing the decisions of their assemblies. If the Bahá’ís undermine the very leaders which are, however immaturely, seeking to coordinate Bahá’í activities and administer Bahá’í affairs, if they continually criticize their acts and challenge or belittle their decisions, they not only prevent any real rapid progress in the Faith’s development from taking place, but they repel outsiders who quite rightly may ask how we ever expect to unite the whole world when we are so disunited among ourselves!  (Shoghi Effendi, The National Spiritual Assembly compilation, p. 35-36)

It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously, though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88)

In this Cause, consultation is of vital importance; but spiritual conference and not the mere voicing of personal views is intended. In France I was present at a session of the senate but the experience was not impressive. Parliamentary procedure should have for its object the attainment of the light of truth upon questions presented and not furnish a battleground for opposition and self-opinion. Antagonism and contradiction are unfortunate and always destructive to truth. In the parliamentary meeting mentioned, altercation and useless quibbling were frequent; the result mostly confusion and turmoil; even in one instance a physical encounter took place between two members. It was not consultation but comedy.   . . Therefore true consultation is spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love. Members must love each other in the spirit of fellowship in order that good results may be forthcoming. Love and fellowship are the foundation.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 72)

Contradiction and altercation will make it necessary for a judicial body to render decision upon the question:

Opposition and division are deplorable. It is better then to have the opinion of a wise, sagacious man; otherwise, contradiction and altercation, in which varied and divergent views are presented, will make it necessary for a judicial body to render decision upon the question.   (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 72)

Conclusion:

So from this we learn that criticism is a two-edged sword.  On the one hand:

  • We have a right to set forth our views
  • We are fully entitled to address criticisms to our assemblies
  • We can freely air our views about policies or individual members of elected bodies to the assembly
  • We must whole-heartedly accept the advice or decision of the assembly
  • It is our responsibility to offer suggestions, recommendations or criticism in order to improve and remedy conditions or trends in our local community
  • We do so fully and frankly, with due respect and consideration to the authority of the Assembly
  • It is the duty of the Assembly to give careful consideration to any such views
  • Criticism is allowed, but it should be addressed to the institutions of the Faith and not aired in the community
  • The best occasion chosen for this purpose is the Nineteen Day Feast which encourages open and constructive criticism and deliberation regarding the state of affairs within the local Bahá’í Community
  • We are protected against the effects of the misuse of the process of criticism through the institution of the Covenant
  • Our administrative system has the mechanisms for drawing out the constructive ideas of individuals and using them for the benefit of the entire system

And on the other hand:

  • Criticism which undermines the authority of the assembly should be strictly avoided
  • Criticism’s root is lack of faith in the system of Bahá’u’lláh
  • Criticism is a waste of strength that could be diverted into cooperation and achieving the Plan
  • Criticism is often the harbinger of conflict and contention
  • Criticism allows confusion and discord to reign
  • Criticism breeds opposition
  • Criticism leads to division and misunderstandings
  • Criticism has dreadful schismatic consequences
  • Criticism leads to negative results
  • Criticism has created catastrophic divergences in religion, in the equally
  • Criticism has spawned contentious factions in political systems
  • Criticism prevents any real rapid progress in the Faith’s development from taking place
  • Criticism furnishes a battleground for opposition and self-opinion
  • Criticism is destructive to truth
  • Criticism results in confusion and turmoil
  • Criticism can lead to physical violence
  • Criticism that creates dissidence prevents the establishment of the unity of mankind
  • Criticism repels outsiders who quite rightly may ask how we ever expect to unite the whole world when we are so disunited among ourselves

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