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Getting Out of Debt  

 

I hope thou wilt become as a rising light and obtain spiritual health — and spiritual health is conducive to physical health — so that thou mayest be enabled to liquidate thy debts and be strengthened to attain the blessing of the Forgiving Lord; that thou mayest become a mirror of truth and reveal the spiritual brilliancy of the heavenly universe to all eyes, direct large numbers of people under the shadow of the Powerful Lord and guide all thy family and relations unto the Greatest Guidance; and that thou mayest be honored with a visit to the Holy Threshold after having attained to all these gifts.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, v2, p. 305)

In the western world, many of us carry heavy credit card debt and struggle with finding ways to pay it off.  Many have considered bankruptcy because they saw no other way out.  That’s why I love this quote – it shows us that the focus shouldn’t be on the money owed, but rather on our spiritual and physical health.  We’ve been putting our focus on the wrong things!

Embedded in the quote is also the bounties that will come our way as a result of liquidating our debts:

  • We’ll attain God’s forgiveness and blessing
  • We’ll become a mirror of truth
  • We’ll reveal the spiritual brilliancy of the heavenly universe to all eyes
  • We’ll direct large numbers of people under the shadow of the Powerful Lord
  • We’ll guide all our families and relations unto the Faith
  • We’ll be honored with an ability to go on pilgrimage

Starting today, I’ll focus on my spiritual and mental health, trusting that God will show me how to liquidate my debts and 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 Strengthening Your Relationship with God

 

Help Keep This Site Alive

Do Bahá’ís Pay Bribes?

Recently I had an email from someone in a country where paying bribes is the norm.  She wrote:

Parents in my country buy gifts and give money to their children’s teachers, so they will treat them favorably.  A lot of teachers have a bad attitude towards children whose parents do not bribe them in this way.  I really do not want to do this, but if I choose not to follow this tradition, there could be harm to my son.  As a Bahai, I know we need to build a new community based on spiritual principles, so what kind of attitude and actions shall I take to face this challenge?

I replied:

God has given you good intuition and you can trust it!

Your heart knows the right answer:

  • I really do not want to do this.

It’s your head overriding what you know to be your truth:

  • the teacher’s attitude towards my son will not be good.
  • a lot of teachers will have a bad attitude to the children whose parents do not buy gifts or send money to them.

Every decision has both a material and spiritual dimension and this is why your head and heart are at war with each other.

It’s true, your son might suffer as a result of your decision, but he might not too!  Your imagination can think up one scenario, so why not imagine a more positive outcome?  To pass this test, it will be important to make your faith in God’s plan bigger than your fear of what might happen in the future.

Here are some quotes to consider:

Forsake thine own desires, turn thy face unto thy Lord, and walk not in the footsteps of those who have taken their corrupt inclinations for their god, that perchance thou mayest find shelter in the heart of existence, beneath the redeeming shadow of Him Who traineth all names and attributes.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 48-49)

If you make a different decision, you will draw closer to God (by finding shelter under His redeeming shadow), thereby achieving your purpose in life.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us there are many factors to consider before these practices disappear:

If bribery and corruption, known today by the pleasant names of gifts and favors, were forever excluded, would this threaten the foundations of justice? . . . Should anyone object that the above-mentioned reforms have never yet been fully effected, he should consider the matter impartially and know that these deficiencies have resulted from the total absence of a unified public opinion, and the lack of zeal and resolve and devotion in the country’s leaders. It is obvious that not until the people are educated, not until public opinion is rightly focused, not until government officials, even minor ones, are free from even the least remnant of corruption, can the country be properly administered. Not until discipline, order and good government reach the degree where an individual, even if he should put forth his utmost efforts to do so, would still find himself unable to deviate by so much as a hair’s breadth from righteousness, can the desired reforms be regarded as fully established.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 15-16)

These deficiencies have resulted from

  • the total absence of a unified public opinion
  • the lack of zeal and resolve and devotion in the country’s leaders

To overcome it will require:

  • people to be educated
  • public opinion to be rightly focused
  • government officials are free from even the least remnant of corruption
  • discipline, order and good government
  • individuals unable to deviate by so much as a hair’s breadth from righteousness

So by taking a stand in this area, you are doing your part to educate and help change public opinion.

As I understand it, it’s spiritually damaging for the teacher to receive such gifts, so by not participating in this practice, you are helping protect her soul:

How foolish and ignorant must a man be, how base his nature, and how vile the clay of which he is fashioned, if he would defile himself with the contamination of bribery, corruption and perfidy towards the state! Truly, the vermin of the earth are to be preferred to such people!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 344)

If, however, he abuse his position through corrupt or mercenary behaviour, he will be held in detestation at the Threshold of Grandeur and incur the wrath of the Abhá Beauty—nay, he shall be forsaken by the one true God and all who adore Him.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 344)

Here’s a prayer you can say for your son’s teachers:

O Lord! Dispel the darkness of these corrupt desires, and illumine the hearts with the lamp of Thy love.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 58)

You can also ask God to give you some creative ways to approach the teacher, and let her know of the absolute importance of her role.  These quotes might help you give her a priceless gift of inestimable value and win the confidence, respect and genuine support of those affected by your decisions:

Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children… It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it. I hope that thou wilt acquit thyself well in this most important of tasks, and successfully carry the day, and become an ensign of God’s abounding Grace; that these children, reared one and all in the holy Teachings, will develop natures like unto the sweet airs that blow across the gardens of the All- Glorious, and will waft their fragrance around the world.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. pp. 133-134)

Among the greatest of all great services is the education of children, and promotion of the various sciences, crafts and arts. Praised be God, ye are now exerting strenuous efforts toward this end. The more ye persevere in this most important task, the more will ye witness the confirmations of God, to such a degree that ye yourselves will be astonished.  This verily is a matter beyond all doubt, a pledge that shall certainly be redeemed.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 276)

Praise thou God that thou hast succeeded in becoming a teacher of young Bahá’ís, young trees of the Bahá Paradise, and at the same time art able to benefit the other children as well. According to the explicit divine Text, teaching the children is indispensable and obligatory. It followeth that teachers are servants of the Lord God, since they have arisen to perform this task, which is the same as worship. You must therefore offer praise with every breath, for you are educating your spiritual children.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 273-274)

O thou teacher of the children of the kingdom! Thou hast arisen to perform a service which would justly entitle thee to vaunt thyself over all the teachers on earth. For the teachers of this world make use of human education to develop the powers, whether spiritual or material, of humankind, whilst thou art training these young plants in the gardens of God according to the education of Heaven, and art giving them the lessons of the Kingdom. The result of this kind of teaching will be that it will attract the blessings of God, and make manifest the perfections of man.  Hold thou fast to this kind of teaching, for the fruits of it will be very great. (‘Abdul-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 274-275)

You can pray that your son is protected from the teacher’s bad attitude.  This is very important.  When he goes off to school (and every day of his life), you can say:

O Lord! Protect us from what lieth in front of us and behind us, above our heads, on our right, on our left, below our feet and every other side to which we are exposed. Verily, Thy protection over all things is unfailing.  (The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 134)

At the same time, it’s possible that this prayer won’t be answered because God wants to strengthen both you and your son through this test.  Sometimes doing the right thing as Bahá’ís causes temporary problems, which, when directed towards our children, can be hard for mothers to bear!  It’s important, though, to remember that God’s plan is always better, and we WILL be rewarded for our “fortitude under His trials.”

You might also be interested in:

Religion and Ethical Attitudes toward Accepting a Bribe: A Comparative Study

Overcoming Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity in Public Institutions: A Baha’i Perspective (a statement p Prepared by the Baha’i­ International Community and presented at the intergovernmental Global Forum on Fighting Corruption II, in The Hague, Netherlands—28 May 2001):

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

Economics: A Brief History, Its Problems and Practical Suggestions

By Badi Shams

The economic field can be very confusing for the common man and the expert alike. There are many approaches to examining economics and its workings. As Baha’is we believe that a lack of spirituality has led to rampant greed and selfishness, creating poverty and misery for millions of people. Spirituality is the key to healing the root cause of the problems rather than attempting to manage the symptoms. Based on the Baha’i Teachings, this material aims to provide some insight and suggestions for taking steps to lay the foundation for a better economic future.

Our economic system is failing. It cannot meet the needs of humanity. The evidence is that the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider and that has led to the suffering of masses of humanity. The solutions that can change this situation have been denied. It is time to re-examine the fundamental assumptions that this system was built on and replace them with spiritual ones. We need to build an economic system to help mankind to achieve its goal of an ever-advancing civilization, a world where there is no economic injustice and people have all the necessities of life so that they can live peaceful and fulfilling lives. A shift in thinking is needed. We have the solutions to build a new system; all we need is the will. Everyone has the power to contribute.

HISTORY AND PROBLEMS

Before presenting some suggestions for its remedy, it is useful to understand the history of the present economic system and its basic assumptions that are responsible for the present problems. This is a brief overview purposely stated in simple language that does not require the knowledge of economics to be understood.

Economic activities have been part of man’s life and the barter economy has been with him since the Stone Age. To survive he had to barter goods for goods. After the period of hunting and gathering came centuries of an agriculture economy in which the means of exchange included coins, pieces of gold or silver, bones, feathers and other items until the use of paper currency was introduced. The agriculture economy was very simple and limited in its activity. Nothing of significance changed until the invention of the steam engine in 1712. This led to the revolution of industries and mass production, which brought the need for imports and exports to feed the ever-expanding economy. Roads and railways had to be constructed. At the same time, a banking system was needed to handle all these new economic activities. Thus began our modern economic system.

Adam Smith (1723-1790), who is considered the father of modern economics, made assumptions and, based on his observations, built his economic system. One of the assumptions he made was that man always acts in his own interests and wants to maximize his satisfaction, so he believed that self-interest in free-market economies leads to economic prosperity.

The other assumptions which he mentioned in his famous book, “Wealth of Nations”, included the use of the term “invisible hand” a metaphor to describe the self-regulation of the market. He also advocated “laissez-faire”. This meant that government should not interfere and markets should be left alone to take care of any problems. He expounded upon how rational self-interest and competition can lead to economic prosperity.

These two fundamental principles of the economic system introduced by Adam Smith were adopted by other economists. The principle of maximizing satisfaction created a sense of individualism which was praised and was the source of inspiration for many. But this trend of thought created a breeding ground for greed and exploitation. This resulted in society ignoring the plight of the poor and needy. The spirit of giving and sharing became obsolete. And gradually the gap between the rich and poor grew greater. To this day when people give their wealth to charity, many question why. Accumulating wealth was and still is considered the highest achievement in a person’s life. Becoming rich became the goal of every man and the cost of achieving this goal was not questioned.

For study purposes economics can be divided into many categories. Most economists regarded economics as a branch of social sciences and formulated many mathematical formulas to create a more efficient economic system. Man’s role was reduced to being one of the factors of production: labor. Economic systems concerned themselves with providing man with more material goods. Economists devoted their time to keeping up with the changes in society and helping us to make sense of the material side of life. They made an impact and contributed to the improvement of the economic system.

But there was no room for the moral and spiritual aspects of man’s life in the system. Money cannot and should not be the only means of measuring our life’s achievements. Unfortunately, the system does not recognize that man’s spiritual aspirations need to be the goal for an economic system, a system that provides him with tools so that he can work towards his spiritual destiny and spiritual goals. Since the true purpose of economics was not considered, it is no surprise that it has led to so many crises.

There were however a few economists who did see the cracks in economic assumptions and they raised the alarm. They suggested a Moral Economics. They believed that economic theory does not address areas such as family, health, love, culture, spirituality and environment that make life meaningful and rich. They felt that economic policy should include not only goods that can be exchanged for money but also values that have no price tag on them. One of these economists, Eugen Loeb, in his book “Humanomics: How We Can Make the Economy Serve Us-Not Destroy Us” declared:

In my view . . . economics is responsible for our deepening crisis. I am convinced that we will not be able to solve our basic problems unless we build a science of economy which enables us to navigate our ‘spaceship earth’ toward humane ends; a ‘humanomics.’

Conventional economics has become, despite its remarkable degree of sophistication, not only a useless tool, but a dangerous one. Its deceptive application has created a crisis which threatens the very foundations of our civilization.  (Eugen Loebl, Humanomics, 1)

We live in a very confusing time, particularly after the economic market crash of 2008, which almost destroyed the whole economic system and forced governments to take desperate measures to save the system and avoid universal chaos. The crash was caused by unchecked greed, which led to a destructiveness that only a lack of morality can create. Many think that terrorism, conflicts and other forms of violence are due to differences in religion or ideologies. But if we dig deeper we may find that the underlying factor in many cases is a deep sense of resentment from the “have nots” toward the “haves”. Poverty and powerlessness create resentment since every human being feels entitled to a bare minimum means of existence. With their deep resentment, terrorists find a cause in religion and various ideologies to justify their actions. But the Baha’i Writings explain that the whole question of economics is divine or spiritual in nature and that is a better foundation than selfishness or greediness. With this approach, man has a divine destiny and is not ruled just by man-made laws and regulations. It is fundamentally different because the Baha’i economic system is based on man’s heart; it is founded solidly on the human spirit.

Abdu’l-Bahá explains the nature of economics, and the remedy for its problems:

The secrets of the whole economic question are Divine in nature, and are concerned with the world of the heart and spirit. In the Baha’i Teachings this is most completely explained, and without the consideration of the Baha’i Teachings, it is impossible to bring about a better state.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Baha’i World, Volume 1V, 448)

Shoghi Effendi shed more light on this:

…By the statement ‘the economic solution is Divine in nature’ is meant that religion alone can, in the last resort, bring in man’s nature such a fundamental change as to enable him to adjust the economic relationships of society. It is only in this way that man can control the economic forces that threaten to disrupt the foundations of his existence, and thus assert his mastery over the forces of nature.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, 551)

The Baha’i Economic System will occur when the transformation of man and society has been accomplished and with it man’s awareness of his spiritual station and his destiny. He will have subordinated his animal nature and will therefore behave less selfishly. At this time it is almost impossible to imagine a society which has spiritually grown to that extent. But by introducing more of the spiritual qualities into our lives we are laying the foundation for such a society and such an economic system. Some of our goals may seem idealistic but that is exactly what we are, idealists. We are dreaming of a better world and are ready to take steps toward establishing Bahá’u’lláh’s World Commonwealth. No great achievement can take place without a goal or dream. Without such dreams the ever-advancing civilization would not have progressed from the Stone Age to where we are now.

Since we do not have the Bahá’i economic system in place as yet, we may think that we cannot do anything to bring it about and we must wait for its arrival. But that is not really true. There is so much we can do as individuals in our communities that is economic in nature and we can do it with the realization that we are participating in a new form of economic activity. Our participation will set the example for the role of spirituality in solving the economic problems of the world and at the same time prepare the ground for the time when the World Commonwealth will come into being.

The Universal House of Justice reminds us that the time has come to pay greater attention to the economic side of our lives and take steps to improve the economic prosperity of the world:

Although Baha’u’llah does not set out in His Revelation a detailed economic system, a constant theme throughout the entire corpus of His teachings is the reorganization of human society. Consideration of this theme inevitably gives rise to questions of economics. Of course, the future order conceived by Baha’u’llah is far beyond anything that can be imagined by the present generation. Nevertheless, its eventual emergence will depend on strenuous effort by His followers to put His teachings into effect today. With this in mind, we hope that the comments below will stimulate thoughtful, ongoing reflection by the friends. The aim is to learn about how to participate in the material affairs of society in a way that is consistent with the divine precepts and how, in practical terms, collective prosperity can be advanced through justice and generosity, collaboration and mutual assistance.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1 March, 2017)

To complete this task it is helpful to imagine yourself in the future using the power of your imagination. When you are able to do that, to grasp the beauty of peace, love and harmony and to see how the sufferings and misery have been removed and man no longer has to fight to survive in his economic life, then you will bring yourself back to the present and hopefully you will start making small changes in your economic activities that will lead to the fundamental changes in society and that will lay the foundation for a new and wonderful economic behavior based on spirituality and not greed.

Abdu’l-Bahá often talked about very complex subjects but He made them simple and easy to understand and my personal belief is that economics doesn’t have to be daunting or confusing, especially when it comes to action. The following suggestions are intended to be clear and straightforward in order to encourage you to participate in economic actions with increased awareness. They are meant for everyone, whether or not you are knowledgeable about economics. Hopefully, these suggestions, based on the Baha’i Writings, will empower you to act and make a fundamental change in your character and your everyday economic actions. You may then realize what an amazing power we have as individuals to transform society in every way, including economic ways:

  1.  Focus on the important questions of life. After answering the questions “Who am I” and “What is the purpose of my life”, the equally important question of “How much is enough?” should be answered. One of the biggest problems everyone faces is that we do not get a chance to understand who we are and what constitutes the purpose of our lives. Also we are so busy that we do not ask how much money is enough. How much do we need to live a fruitful life? Practice contentment. Life distracts us from asking ourselves these fundamental questions. Answering these questions can guide us to meet the tests and difficulties in life.

2.  Live a simple life, a life like Abdu’l-Bahá. Living a simple life brings peace of mind and removes some of the distractions of our life journey. There are many studies that indicate that simplicity reduces stress in life and creates a sense of freedom from the burden of material possessions. It is a decision made by many who have become tired of our consumer world.

3.  Change your mind set. You need to believe that you are essentially a spiritual being and that you have a spiritual purpose in your life. You need to realize your spiritual destiny and act accordingly. This mind set will help you to have a healthy approach to your material life. Every change begins first in your mind.

4.  Pay a fair price. If you feel that the price is too low, pay more than the asking price. The Báb practiced this when He worked as a merchant. One of the nicest things related to economic activities is the commitment of fair-minded people to disregard existing prices and pay more because they believe their estimate of the price to be fair.

5.  Share the profits with employees. Abdu’l-Bahá taught us how important it is for the workers to have a share of the profits. Besides profit-sharing, there are many ways to help. Get medical coverage for employees. Support the emotional and physical wellbeing of employees. Taking care of workers is a privilege and an opportunity to be of service to people. Looking for such opportunities is a rewarding act.

6.  Pay fair wages, not based on what society dictates. The Baha’i Writings provide guidance in terms of fairness of wages rather than following the minimum wage guidelines. We can pay more if we think that is fair.

7.  Be honest in your dealings. Present an item for sale with all the facts. In our society, we tend to misrepresent a product or share only enough information to present it in the best possible light. Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues. When selling your car, house or other possessions, clearly describe the real condition, mentioning the negative points as well as the positive points.

8.  Provide the best quality of service or the best product possible and do so in a spirit of service. We are privileged to have the assurance that by doing our job well we have actually demonstrated an act of worship. Make customer satisfaction a goal. There is more to our jobs than just earning money. How satisfying it is to know that the customer is happy and we have played a part in it. Being proud of our work is a blessing millions do not have. They make money but are not happy and satisfied inside.

9.  Look for opportunities to extend to co-workers and co-operate in the workplace. Most workplaces are very isolating and individuals work by themselves. To reach out and extend help and to treat each other fairly creates a wonderful spirit and working environment. Extend help to others, even your competitors. Be a cause of unity by seeing them as you would see your own employees or colleagues and doing as much as you can to help them.

10.  Be content with a reasonable margin of profit. There is no end to greed in our society so being satisfied with earning a certain profit will create a sense of contentment and provide an example to others. This is an extension of how much is enough. There is nothing wrong with being satisfied and content with a set amount of profit.

11.  Update yourself with the latest information to provide a better service and to be a leader in your field and be punctual. Being on time at work increases the efficiency of the system and demonstrates respect for others. If time is money, then one should not waste it.

12.  Remember that your actions are the best manifestation of your beliefs and be conscious of them. The cliché is true that actions speak louder than words. We should be an example for others since we are the ones to lead society towards an ever-advancing civilization.

13.  If you are lending money, ask for a reasonable interest rate and not the maximum rate. Baha’u’llah has advised us that the rate of interest needs to be fair and reasonable. Banks should not be the only ones setting interest rates.

14.  Resist the consumer mentality which exists in our society. Fighting this tendency is very important for our economic life and our spiritual development. Consumerism has become a disease that is spreading fast and its forces are paralyzing the progress of our souls.

15.  Be knowledgeable about advertising. Advertisements conceal the information we need to buy a product and they make false claims, using psychological methods, in order to make a sale. Advertising is present in all areas of our economic life. Selling has become very sophisticated and one has to be very savvy to navigate through all the false claims of advertising and read between the lines.

16.  Spiritually justify every expense. With so much poverty in the world today, we have to answer to our conscience for any unnecessary spending. We have been advised to be frugal in our spending. It is very useful to have that “policeman” inside us to check our spending.

17.  Avoid wastage in the workplace and suggest ways to cut down on waste. This also counteracts the depletion of our resources.

18.  Protect the environment in your business and personal life. We owe it to future generations to protect the environment. What a sad situation it would be if mankind grows spiritually in the future but the damage is done and our environment is destroyed.

19.  Increase your economic and business knowledge. The more we know about how economics works, the better we will be able to forecast the future.

20.  Volunteer in your community whenever possible with the spirit of service, following Abdu’l-Bahá’s example. He served mankind all of His life.

21.  Give to the Bahá’i Fund and also support worthy charitable organizations. Every act of giving is a small step toward reducing the gap between rich and poor.

22.  Have or adopt a financial goal in life. As we have teaching plans in the Faith and other goals and plans in our life, it is important to have an individual financial plan. Goals encourage discipline. This is very important. It is almost impossible to have a comfortable financial life without planning.

23.  Avoid debt as much as possible since too many financial burdens damage the quality of our spiritual and human life. Investigate the rate of interest on mortgages, loans and credit to reduce cost. Volumes can be written about this subject. Debts are one of the most destructive factors to quality of life that should be avoided.

24.  Create a habit of saving. Life is full of uncertainty and change and having some money for a rainy day creates peace of mind. Saving should be part of our financial goals. It is a wonderful habit to have. It is not easy to save with the pressure of our consumer mentality today but nevertheless it is very important.

25.  Spread the word about honest and fair businesses and professionals. It is like giving them free advertising. They need all the help they can get. It is very empowering for them and for us when we can help them.

26.  Don’t buy the latest models if the old ones are in working order and provide the same service. Having the latest of everything creates an unnecessary economic burden for an individual which in turn decreases the quality of life. Be practical about material possessions and avoid buying the new and improved version even though everyone is doing it.

27.  Avoid keeping up with the Joneses. That is the worst kind of spending. It is also a sign of spiritual and emotional immaturity. And we see it happen every day. It is really sad that people want the approval of others, while their spiritual destiny is in jeopardy.

28.  Support the concept of one world currency. If we have fewer currencies to exchange, life becomes much easier and this is a good step in the right direction towards world unity.

29.  Don’t follow society’s shortcuts with regards to taxation. There are claims made which can perhaps be legally justified but are morally wrong.

30.  Make honest insurance claims. We have all faced the dilemma of what to claim when an accident happens, what is legal and what is moral. Not every legal claim is necessarily moral.

31.  Make fair expense claims at work. It has become a common practice to claim the maximum amount even if it is not used but we have the duty to be honest about them.

32.  Do not abuse sick leave. It is not necessary to use the maximum number of days of sick leave allotted to you if you are not sick.

33.  Return to the store when you realize you have been undercharged or receive too much change for your purchase. This is practicing the virtue of honesty. Watch the face of the cashier when you do this. He or she is probably wondering, “Who are these people?” The answer is that we are the people from the future, where honesty is the norm.

34.  Resist society’s corrupt practices of bribery and cheating. In some places in the world, giving bribes is a way of life and that is a test and an opportunity to avoid this illegal and immoral practice.

35.  Regard service first and profit second. This seems idealistic in society but for Bahá’is it is considered a way of life. And in the long run, it is the best advertisement one can buy for free.

36.  Participate in social and economic projects. We can help to change the world for the better by getting involved in these projects. And they are a valuable way of learning and contributing. With more experience in social activities we will be able to make a greater contribution in the future.

37.  Do not support the idea of the end justifying the means when it comes to promotion at work or getting a contract or applying for a job. Our goal is to grow spiritually and these practices do not help us to grow. That is the worst kind of numbing our conscience.

38.  Be honest in a job interview. Society has adopted the practice of magnifying the positive and minimizing or omitting the negative but in reality it is a form of lying. It will feel strange to us and to the interviewer but we have to start being totally honest.

39.  Be truthful in filling out forms or tenders. Exaggerating the numbers has become a way of life but it is not the Bahá’i way of life. It is a very hard thing to do when competing but we can have the satisfaction that Baha’u’llah is happy with us.

40.  Do not sacrifice your values in order to get a promotion or contract even though there is nothing wrong with being ambitious and wanting to progress through the ranks. Some would do anything to get a promotion but we cannot follow that practice. We have to think about promoting our soul to a higher level of spirituality.

41.  Use good quality material in production. Do not use harmful ingredients. Educate yourself about the ingredients so no harm comes as a result.

42.  Protect the poor and underprivileged section of our society in any way you can. It is our spiritual duty and privilege. They have been entrusted to our care by Baha’u’llah.

43.  Give your Huqúqu’lláh (the Right of God), understanding fully that this gift is a privilege and is not a tax. Give with a sense of sharing rather than a sense of loss. This is your opportunity to practice generosity. Giving is the best practical step for bridging the gap between the rich and poor.

44.  Create a consciousness that your welfare, wellbeing and happiness depend on the welfare, wellbeing and happiness of every poor, needy and underprivileged person in the world; that the real meaning of the oneness of mankind will come into being when we see others as members of our family:

Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, 288)

45.  Remind yourself that money is a tool and not the goal of your life. The biggest mistake that most people make is that they forget that we have not been created to make money. That should not be our life’s goal. Money should be seen as an effective tool to serve mankind and to improve the spiritual and economic life of ourselves and others. This is the key that can make a person happy or sad at the end of our physical lives. Since we cannot take it with us, why not spend it for the good of mankind.

46.  Spend an equal amount of energy in becoming detached from material possessions as you spend getting them, recognizing that they are a test and remembering what Baha’u’llah said:

Thou dost wish for gold and I desire thy freedom from it. Thou thinkest thyself rich in its possession, and I recognize thy wealth in thy sanctity therefrom. By My life! This is My Knowledge, and that that is thy fancy; how can My way accord with thine?  (Baha’u’llah,The Hidden Words, Arabic no.56)

It is like a spiritual detoxification. But there is nothing inherently wrong with being rich as long as we are fully aware of its benefits and dangers. Baha’u’llah has allowed us to have all the luxuries we desire, as long as we are detached from them.

47.  Remind yourself of your spiritual destination while pursuing financial goals, since materialism can slowly erode your spiritual life. Without constant reminders of our spiritual destiny, materialism can destroy our spiritual well-being. We need to have the “big picture” in our view all times so that we are not lost.

48.  Live the Bahá’i Life. In a sense it is a simple statement to live the Bahá’i life but it requires an understanding of ourselves and our purpose in life. It is easier said than done. But that is the goal of our life and the most important part of our human existence.

49.  Be considerate to those who rent from you. Be sensitive to their situation. If they are in trouble, be flexible with their rent payments. Let them miss a payment or part of a payment. Besides the spiritual satisfaction that you feel, you also gain a tenant who cares for you and your property and will use it as if it’s theirs. It even makes economic sense since you will probably reduce the cost of maintenance.

50.  Develop virtues that are common to all religions and are the foundation for any system’s success. At the present time, acquiring the virtues seems idealistic but we have to remember that as we move closer to an ever-advancing civilization, acquiring these virtues will be commonplace and a fundamental part of the goals we want to achieve. They may not seem to be related to economics but they help us to gain spiritual and human qualities and, in turn, create a better society. Here is the list of virtues identified by The Virtues Project:

assertiveness
caring
cleanliness
compassion
confidence
consideration
courage
courtesy
creativity
detachment
determination
enthusiasm
excellence
faithfulness
flexibility
forgiveness
friendliness generosity
gentleness
helpfulness
honesty
honor
humility
idealism
joyfulness
justice
kindness
love
loyalty
mercy
moderation
modesty
obedience
orderliness
patience
peacefulness
prayerfulness
purposefulness
reliability
respect
responsibility
reverence
self-discipline
service
steadfastness
tact
thankfulness
tolerance
trust
trustworthiness
truthfulness
unity

51.  Deal with your insistent self or ego, otherwise it can undo any success or progress if it is not recognized as a serious threat to your good efforts. History is full of examples of how the ego created destruction throughout the ages. As a human being, our life in this world and our progress in the next world depend on the decisions we make. We make our own heaven and hell here on earth as a result of the choices we make. It is sad if we do not make the right decision and give our higher nature the upper hand. Because we are bombarded by advertisements and consumerism, nurturing our higher nature is very difficult and that is why we need to tune ourselves spiritually in order to make the right choice so that we get the rewards and benefits of that choice. We know that reading the Writings has been encouraged in our Faith and when we read the Holy Writings and meditate on them, our souls are uplifted and that affects our decision making. Bringing ourselves to account each day is also important. It is like a spiritual balance sheet so that we can perceive the good and the bad and make changes. This is such an important factor in our lives and we need to take spiritual nourishment every day so that our higher nature dominates our lower nature.

52.  Recognize and nurture the four aspects of your being:

a) Spiritual
b) Physical
c) Emotional
d) Intellectual

Most people ignore one aspect for the sake of others but we need all aspects to have balance in our lives. This sounds like a self-help mantra but awareness of all aspects of our being is essential to a realistic self-knowledge, the first step toward knowing God.

53.  Be more vocal in a loving way about the changes that are needed for the improvement of the economic life of individuals and the society in which we live; in short, without being militant or aggressive, express your ideas and vision. We have a say in all matters and we can be the catalysts of positive change. We do not want to be political or militant, but we cannot forget that our job is providing vision and direction to a wayward humanity. It is like having the healing medicine and not giving it to the sick.

The history of economics has shown us that a system without spiritual guidance can lose its effectiveness and eventually becomes the problem. The Baha’i Writings are the guidance the world needs to remedy the injustice done to the poor and underprivileged part of society. It is a long road and progress will be slow but definitely it is the right direction to follow. The suggestions presented here may seem overwhelming and you may not be able to practice all those that apply to your situation. But it is not about the results; it is about sincere efforts. It is the pure intention that counts. These actions will become the basis of a foundation upon which Baha’u’llah’s World Commonwealth will be established for the new race of man. We have been given the privilege of starting the spiritual process.

‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Love for The Poor

 

‘Abdu’l-Baha met with many groups of people, but He had a special love for the poor and downtrodden.

Poverty made ‘Abdu’l-Baha exceedingly sad and He wants us to become more sensitive to this issue:

‘When He reached the Occident, however, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá faced a condition which troubled Him greatly, because it was beyond His power to assuage the misery He saw constantly about Him.  Housed luxuriously at Cadogan Gardens, London, He knew that within a stone’s throw of Him were people who had never had enough to eat — and in New York there was exactly the same situation.  These things made Him exceedingly sad, and He said:  “The time will come in the near future when humanity will become so much more sensitive than at present that the man of great wealth will not enjoy his luxury, in comparison with the deplorable poverty about him.  He will be forced, for his own happiness, to expend his wealth to procure better conditions for the community in which he lives.”‘  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 67)

He hurt with them:

Many years later, Abdul-Bahá’s concern for the poor and suffering was described by May Maxwell in a letter describing the conversation that had taken place in their home: “I remember when the Master was in Montréal and there’d been a strike for months in Dublin, women and children starving and a generally desperate condition.  It affected me painfully; I had slept little and could barely eat, and had that terrific helpless feeling, not knowing what to do about it.  All this Sutherland told to the Master, begging Him to tell me that my attitude was all wrong; and as he spoke the Master turned very white and great beads of perspiration formed on His brow through His own agony in human sufferings; then He said, “If more people felt as your wife does, the world would not be in this dark and terrible state.”  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 186-187)

His motto was “frugality for Himself, generosity for others”.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave freely of what He had — love, time, care and concern, food and money, clothing and flowers, a bed, a rug!  His motto appeared to be:  frugality for Himself, generosity for others.  Stories of the Master’s self-denial in favour of others’ well-being are legion.  He was ‘bountiful as the rain in His generosity to the poor…’  Because He and His family were rich in the love of God, they accepted material deprivation for themselves gladly.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 68)

Service to others was always the pattern of His life:

Service to God, to Baha’u’llah, to family, to friends and enemies, indeed to all mankind – this was the pattern of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life.  He wished only to be the Servant of God and man.  To serve – rather than being demeaning and unfulfilling – was honour, joy and fulfilment.  This motivated His entire day from Dawn to after midnight.  He used to say, ‘Nothing is too much trouble when one loves, and there is always time.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 104)

He knew them all and treated them with kindness and respect:

A door opens and a man comes out. He is of middle stature, strongly built. He wears flowing light-coloured robes. On his head is a light buff fez with a white cloth wound about it. He is perhaps sixty years of age. His long grey hair rests on his shoulders. His forehead is broad, full, and high, his nose slightly aquiline, his moustaches and beard, the latter full though not heavy, nearly white. His eyes are grey and blue, large, and both soft and penetrating. His bearing is simple, but there is grace, dignity, and even majesty about his movements. He passes through the crowd, and as he goes utters words of salutation. We do not understand them, but we see the benignity and the kindliness of his countenance. He stations himself at a narrow angle of the street and motions to the people to come towards him . . . As they come they hold their hands extended. In each open palm he places some small coins. He knows them all. He caresses them with his hand on the face, on the shoulders, on the head. Some he stops and questions. An aged negro who hobbles up, he greets with some kindly inquiry; the old man’s broad face breaks into a sunny smile, his white teeth glistening against his ebony skin as he replies. He stops a woman with a babe and fondly strokes the child. As they pass, some kiss his hand. To all he says, “Marhabbah, marhabbah” – “Well done, well done!”  So they all pass him. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

As interested as ‘Abdu’l-Baha was in helping the individual, He had a bigger vision always in His mind:

Ruhiyyih Khanum said she had a dream one night: she dreamed that the dam had burst and that there was a great flood, She rushed down to the water’s edge to try to save someone, but the current swept them past. She reached out to try to grasp and save another. She grasped one by the hair, and, with great effort, brought that one to shore. Then she tried to reach another, but the current swept him by. She looked up at the side of the mountain, and there she saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who looked like a Prophet of God, with his white turban and flowing beard, with his back to the flood, working very hard. She rushed up the mountain side, grasped His sleeves and said, “Oh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, come and help me save some of these people who are drowning in the flood.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went right on, working very rapidly and said nothing. She grasped his sleeve again and said, “Oh ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, these people are drowning, come help me save some of these people who are drowning in the flood.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, without stopping his work turned to her with a smile and Said, “‘Abdu’l-Bahá is building the machine to stop the flood.” (That is what is taking place in the world today)  (Ruhaniyyih Ruth Moffett, Visiting the Bahá’í World, 1954-09  http://bahai-library.com/moffett_pilgrims_notes)

In many quotes He tells us how we are to behave to the poor, sick and downtrodden, and in this quote, He tells us we aren’t a “true Baha’i” if we neglect it:

Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute!  This is the work of a true Bahá’í, and this is what is expected of him. If we strive to do all this, then are we true Bahá’ís, but if we neglect it, we are not followers of the Light, and we have no right to the name.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 80)

How many of us serve these groups?

How many of us can count people such as these as our friends?

How many of us can truly claim we have a right to the name Baha’i?

Because ‘Abdu’l-Baha loved these groups of people so much, there is much that has been written about them, so in the next series of articles I will be looking at what we can learn about how He treated them, to help us claim our name, to help us too draw closer to the poor and help them in practical ways, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did.

What’s been your experience showering love on the poor?  Post your comments below!

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Justice for the Poor

‘Abdu’l-Bahá never let anyone take advantage of Him.

When giving out money, He had people with Him to regulate the crowds:

During this time this friend of the poor has not been unattended. Several men wearing red fezes, and with earnest and kindly faces, followed him from the house, stood near him and aided in regulating the crowd, and now, with reverent manner and at a respectful distance, follow him away. When they address him they call him “Master.” (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

He liked discipline and order, so they could pass by Him one by one:

They crowd up a little too insistently. He pushes them gently back and lets them pass him one by one.   (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

His helpers made sure that everyone passed on as soon as they’d received money from Him:

The men accompanying Him kept order in great kindness, but firmness, and saw that each passed on as soon as he had received from the Master.   (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)

He kept a record of those who He gave to because He did not wish to be abused:

He gave where He felt it was merited and kept a record of the recipients.  He did not wish to be abused.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)

If He knew someone was just lazy, He would turn them away and reprimand them:

Once in a while we would see Him send some one away empty-handed and He would reprimand him for his laziness.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)

He called everyone His friends, but those who attempted to deceive Him were rebuked and told where they might obtain work:

Later, while resting, the Master told Mrs. True about His friends.  ‘These are My friends, My friends.  Some of them are My enemies, but they think I do not know it, because they appear friendly, and to them I am very kind, for one must love his enemies and do good to them.’  He explained that there simply was not sufficient work in ‘Akká.  Men could do but two kinds of work:  they could fish, but the sea had been too stormy lately, or they could carry loads on their backs, which required great strength.  Those who attempted to deceive Him were rebuked and told where they might obtain work.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)

If someone criticized a gift, He reproved them but He always gave them something else:

At one time the Master had a fine cloak of Persian wool, which had been given to Him.  When a poor man appealed to Him for a garment, He sent for this cloak and gave it to him.  The man took it but complained, saying it was only of cotton.  ‘No,’ ‘Abbas Effendi assured him, ‘it is of wool’; and to prove it He lighted a match and burned a little of the nap.  The man still grumbled that it was not good.  ‘Abbas Effendi reproved him for criticizing a gift, but He ended the interview by directing an attendant to give the man a mejidi (a coin then worth about four francs).  It was observed that if someone vexed the Master, He always gave him a gift.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 75)

One of the most well-known story is about how ‘Abdu’l-Baha refused to be cheated by a dishonest taxi driver:

Economic justice, even in small matters, was important to the Master.  Once in Egypt ‘Abdu’l-Bahá obtained a carriage in order that He might offer a ride to an important Pasha, who was to be His luncheon guest.  When they reached their destination, the driver asked an exorbitant fee.  The Master was fully aware of this and refused to pay the full amount.  The driver, big and rough, grabbed His sash and ‘jerked Him back and forth’, demanding his unfair price.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remained firm and the man eventually let go.  The Master paid what He actually owed him and informed him that had he been honest, he would have received a handsome tip instead of only the fare.  He then walked away.  Shoghi Effendi, His grandson, was present when this happened.  He later admitted to being very embarrassed that this should have happened in front of the Pasha.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, on the other hand, was evidently ‘not at all upset’, but simply determined not to be cheated. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 109)

They took a taxi to the train station, where the taxi driver demanded more than the usual fare.  Abdul-Bahá ignored him, saying, “A man may give $1000 without minding it, but he should not yield even a dollar to the person who wishes to take it wrongfully, for such wrongful behavior flouts justice and disrupts the order of the world.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 190)

He Gave Advice to the Poor

He reminded them to give thanks for the things they have been given, sometimes in His talks:

So, my comrades, you are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Your lives are similar to His life; your attitude is like unto His; you resemble Him more than the rich do. Therefore, we will thank God that we have been so blessed with real riches. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 34)

Sometimes through stories:

The Master sometimes made His points through telling stories.  Julia Grundy recorded the following story of His:  ‘A master had a slave who was completely devoted to him.  One day he gave the slave a melon which when cut open looked most ripe and delicious.  The slave ate one piece, then another and another with great relish (the day being warm) until nearly the whole melon had disappeared.  The master, picking up the last slice, tasted it and found it exceedingly bitter and unpalatable.  “Why, it is bitter!  Did you not find it so?” he asked the servant.  “Yes, my Master,” the slave replied, “it was bitter and unpleasant, but I have tasted so much sweetness from thy hand that one bitter melon was not worth mentioning.”’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 167)

He Gave Even More Advice to the Rich

Baha’u’llah set the standard:

O YE RICH ONES ON EARTH!

The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 54)

To those who were suffering because of the poor, He gave this advice, which had positive effects:

Then He added, “However you must strive to overcome these feelings, do everything in your power to help, pray, then leave it with God, because the world will grow steadily much worse, and if you suffer like this you will not be able to survive.  Nevertheless his words opened the door of help to those strike sufferers, and on my return to Montréal I went to a very wealthy and prominent Irishmen there, whom I had never seen, burst into tears in his office, to his astonishment and mine, and asked him what he was going to do about it.  Well, to end the story, he headed the committee to raise a fund which we sent to Dublin through private channels in which came just in time to succour thousands of women and children.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 186-187)

He reminded them why the poor are especially beloved of God:

What could be better before God than thinking of the poor? For the poor are beloved by our heavenly Father. When His Holiness Christ came upon the earth those who believed in him and followed him were the poor and lowly, showing the poor were near to God. When a rich man believes and follows the Manifestation of God it is a proof that his wealth is not an obstacle and does not prevent him from attaining the pathway of salvation. After he has been tested and tried it will be seen whether his possessions are a hindrance in his religious life. But the poor are especially beloved of God. Their lives are full of difficulties, their trials continual, their hopes are in God alone. (Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 36)

He reminded them of their responsibilities towards helping the poor:

Therefore you must assist the poor as much as possible, even by sacrifice of yourself. No deed of man is greater before God than helping the poor. Spiritual conditions are not dependent upon the possession of worldly treasures or the absence of them. When physically destitute, spiritual thoughts are more likely. Poverty is stimulus toward God. Each one of you must have great consideration for the poor and render them assistance. Organize in an effort to help them and prevent increase of poverty.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 36)

He reminded them through stories, that we’re all one family and have a responsibility to each other:

A Persian king was one night in his palace, living in the greatest luxury and comfort. Through excessive joy and gladness he addressed a certain man, saying: “Of all my life this is the happiest moment. Praise be to God, from every point prosperity appears and fortune smiles! My treasury is full and the army is well taken care of. My palaces are many; my land unlimited; my family is well off; my honor and sovereignty are great. What more could I want!”  The poor man at the gate of his palace spoke out, saying: “O kind king! Assuming that you are from every point of view so happy, free from every worry and sadness — do you not worry for us? You say that on your own account you have no worries — but do you never worry about the poor in your land? Is it becoming or meet that you should be so well off and we in such dire want and need? In view of our needs and troubles how can you rest in your palace, how can you even say that you are free from worries and sorrows? As a ruler you must not be so egoistic as to think of yourself alone but you must think of those who are your subjects. When we are comfortable then you will be comfortable; when we are in misery how can you, as a king, be in happiness?”  The purport is this that we are all inhabiting one globe of earth. In reality we are one family and each one of us is a member of this family. We must all be in the greatest happiness and comfort, under a just rule and regulation which is according to the good pleasure of God, thus causing us to be happy, for this life is fleeting.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 41)

He reminded them that God has many mansions prepared for servants of the poor:

He admonished all that we must be the servants of the poor, helpers of the poor, remember the sorrows of the poor, associate with them; for thereby we may inherit the Kingdom of heaven. God has not said that there are mansions prepared for us if we pass our time associating with the rich, but He has said there are many mansions prepared for the servants of the poor, for the poor are very dear to God. The mercies and bounties of God are with them.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

He reminded them to be grateful:

Day by day friends brought offerings of flowers and fruit, so that the dinner table was laden with these beautiful tokens of love for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Whilst cutting off bunches of grapes and giving them to various guests, He talked to us of the joy of freedom, of how grateful we should be for the privilege of dwelling in safety, under just laws, in a healthy city, with a temperate climate, and brilliant light – “there was much darkness in the prison fortress of `Akka!”  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

He reminded them to be moderate:

After His first dinner with us He said: “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.”  What a lesson to the guests present!  We at once agreed that one substantial, plentiful dish, with salad, cheese, biscuits, sweetmeats, fruits, and flowers on the table, preceded by soup and followed by coffee or tea, should be quite sufficient for any dinner. This arrangement would greatly simplify life, both as to cookery and service, and would undeniably be more in accordance with the ideals of Christianity than numerous dishes unnecessary and costly.  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

He reminded them that deeds were more important than words:

Later that evening ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was seated with a number of visitors to whom He was saying as He laughed: ‘Assuredly give to the poor! If you give them only words, when they put their hands into their pockets they will find themselves none the richer for you.’ (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 177)

He made sure they understood that service to others was to be given for the sake of God and not for praise or fame:

A day or two later, Abdul-Bahá talked about charitable works: “As charitable works become praiseworthy, people often perform them merely for the sake of fame and to gain benefit for themselves, as well as to attract people’s admiration.  But this does not render needless the teachings of the Prophets because it is spiritual morals that are the cause of training one’s innate nature and of personal progress.  Thus will people offer service to one another with all their hearts for the sake of God and in order to fulfill the duties of devotion to Him and service to humanity and not for the purpose of acquiring praise and fame. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 158)

He reminded them to see everyone, no matter how blurred or torn, as a letter from God:

“Mrs True, when you go back I want you to look at every human being and say to yourself, “you are a letter from my Beloved, and I must love you because of the Beloved Who wrote you. The letter may be torn, it may be blurred, but because the Beloved wrote the letter, you must love it.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from the book, Corinne True)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá once gave the example of a soiled and crushed letter that reaches the hand of a lover from his beloved.  That letter, He said, is no less precious because of the condition in which it has arrived.  It is cherished because it has come from a loved one.  In the same way, we can learn to love a fellow man, no matter who he is, because he is God’s creature.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 96)

How has this helped you understand how you should treat the poor?  Post your comments below!

Study Guide To The Letter On Economic Life

 

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

1 March 2017

To the Bahá’ís of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

Paragraph One

In an increasingly interconnected world, more light is being cast on the social conditions of every people, giving greater visibility to their circumstances. While there are developments that give hope, there is much that should weigh heavy on the conscience of the human race. Inequity, discrimination, and exploitation blight the life of humanity, seemingly immune to the treatments applied by political schemes of every hue. The economic impact of these afflictions has resulted in the prolonged suffering of so many, as well as in deep-seated, structural defects in society. No one whose heart has been attracted to the teachings of the Blessed Beauty can remain unmoved by these consequences. “The world is in great turmoil,” Bahá’u’lláh observes in the Lawḥ-i-Dunyá, “and the minds of its people are in a state of utter confusion. We entreat the Almighty that He may graciously illuminate them with the glory of His Justice, and enable them to discover that which will be profitable unto them at all times and under all conditions.” As the Bahá’í community strives to contribute at the level of thought and action to the betterment of the world, the adverse conditions experienced by many populations will more and more demand its attention.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

Why is more light being cast on the social conditions of every people now?

  • We live in an increasingly interconnected world

What are we seeing as a result?

  • greater visibility to their circumstances.

What should weigh heavily on the conscience of the human race?

  • Inequity
  • Discrimination
  • Exploitation

How are these 3 issues described?

  • a blight on the life of humanity

What do they seem to be immune to?

  • the treatments applied by political schemes of every hue.

What has the economic impact of these afflictions resulted in?

  • the prolonged suffering of so many
  • deep-seated, structural defects in society

How are Bahá’ís being asked to respond?

  • No one can remain unmoved by these consequences

How is the world reacting now?

  • the minds of its people are in a state of utter confusion.

What will help?

  • We entreat the Almighty that He may graciously illuminate them with the glory of His Justice, and
  • enable them to discover that which will be profitable unto them at all times and under all conditions

As the adverse conditions experienced by many populations demands more and more of our attention, how is the Bahá’í community being asked to respond?

  • strive to contribute to the betterment of the world at the level of thought and action

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of an increasingly interconnected world, which gives greater visibility to people’s circumstances?
  1. What political schemes have been tried to address the issues of inequity, discrimination and exploitation, and why didn’t they work?
  1. What are some of the deep-seated structural defects causing an economic impact?
  1. Which prayers would you like to use to beseech God to graciously illuminate them with the glory of His Justice?
  1. When and how will you say them?
  1. How will you know what is profitable to you in any given moment?
  1. What would this look like if we were able to achieve it?
  1. What steps can we as individuals take?
  1. How does what’s being asked of us differ from our own inclinations?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Two

The welfare of any segment of humanity is inextricably bound up with the welfare of the whole. Humanity’s collective life suffers when any one group thinks of its own well-being in isolation from that of its neighbours or pursues economic gain without regard for how the natural environment, which provides sustenance for all, is affected. A stubborn obstruction, then, stands in the way of meaningful social progress: time and again, avarice and self-interest prevail at the expense of the common good. Unconscionable quantities of wealth are being amassed, and the instability this creates is made worse by how income and opportunity are spread so unevenly both between nations and within nations. But it need not be so. However much such conditions are the outcome of history, they do not have to define the future, and even if current approaches to economic life satisfied humanity’s stage of adolescence, they are certainly inadequate for its dawning age of maturity. There is no justification for continuing to perpetuate structures, rules, and systems that manifestly fail to serve the interests of all peoples. The teachings of the Faith leave no room for doubt: there is an inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

The welfare of any segment of humanity is inextricably bound up with what?

  • the welfare of the whole.

When any one group thinks of its own well-being how does humanity’s collective life suffer?

  • When it is in isolation from considering the well-being of its neighbours
  • When it pursues economic gain without regard for how the natural environment, which provides sustenance for all, is affected

Which stubborn obstruction stands in the way of meaningful social progress?

  • time and again, avarice and self-interest prevail at the expense of the common good.

What happens when unconscionable quantities of wealth are being amassed?

  • It creates instability

When and how is it made worse?

  • When income and opportunity are spread unevenly both between nations and within nations.

There is no justification for continuing to perpetuate structures, rules, and systems that manifestly fail to serve the interests of all peoples.

The teachings of the Faith leave no room for doubt: there is an inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What is the inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources?
  1. What are some examples of income and opportunity being spread unevenly between nations? Within nations?
  1. Even though such conditions are the outcome of history, why don’t they have to define the future?
  1. What are the current approaches to economic life that are satisfying humanity’s stage of adolescence?
  1. Why are these approaches inadequate for humanity’s dawning age of maturity?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

 Paragraph Three

The stresses emerging out of the long-term process of transition from a divided world to a united one are being felt within international relations as much as in the deepening fractures that affect societies large and small. With prevailing modes of thought found to be badly wanting, the world is in desperate need of a shared ethic, a sure framework for addressing the crises that gather like storm clouds. The vision of Bahá’u’lláh challenges many of the assumptions that are allowed to shape contemporary discourse—for instance, that self-interest, far from needing to be restrained, drives prosperity, and that progress depends upon its expression through relentless competition. To view the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others is wholly alien to Bahá’í thought. But neither are the teachings in sympathy with sweeping dismissals of wealth as inherently distasteful or immoral, and asceticism is prohibited. Wealth must serve humanity. Its use must accord with spiritual principles; systems must be created in their light. And, in Bahá’u’lláh’s memorable words, “No light can compare with the light of justice. The establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend upon it.”

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

Where are the stresses emerging out of the long-term process of transition from a divided world to a united one being felt?

  • within international relations
  • in the deepening fractures that affect societies large and small.

What does the world desperately need?

  • a shared ethic
  • a sure framework for addressing the crises that gather like storm clouds.

What assumptions that are allowed to shape contemporary discourse does the vision of Bahá’u’lláh challenge?

  • that self-interest, far from needing to be restrained, drives prosperity
  • that progress depends upon its expression through relentless competition.

What is wholly alien to Bahá’í thought?

  • To view the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of
    • how much one can accumulate
    • how many goods one can consume relative to others.

Do Bahá’ís dismiss wealth as inherently distasteful or immoral?

  • But neither are the teachings in sympathy with sweeping dismissals of wealth as inherently distasteful or immoral, and asceticism is prohibited.

What is the purpose of wealth?

  • Wealth must serve humanity.
  • Its use must accord with spiritual principles
  • systems must be created to align with spiritual principles

What does the establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend on?

  • the light of justice

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What would a shared ethic look like?
  1. What’s an example of a system of wealth aligned with spiritual principles?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Four

Although Bahá’u’lláh does not set out in His Revelation a detailed economic system, a constant theme throughout the entire corpus of His teachings is the reorganization of human society. Consideration of this theme inevitably gives rise to questions of economics. Of course, the future order conceived by Bahá’u’lláh is far beyond anything that can be imagined by the present generation. Nevertheless, its eventual emergence will depend on strenuous effort by His followers to put His teachings into effect today. With this in mind, we hope that the comments below will stimulate thoughtful, ongoing reflection by the friends. The aim is to learn about how to participate in the material affairs of society in a way that is consistent with the divine precepts and how, in practical terms, collective prosperity can be advanced through justice and generosity, collaboration and mutual assistance.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

What is a constant theme throughout the entire corpus of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings?

  • the reorganization of human society

Consideration of this theme inevitably gives rise to questions of economics. Of course,

What will the future order conceived by Bahá’u’lláh look like?

  • It is far beyond anything that can be imagined by the present generation.

How will it come into being?

  • Its eventual emergence will depend on strenuous effort by His followers to put His teachings into effect today.

What does the House of Justice want us to do with this letter?

  • stimulate thoughtful, ongoing reflection
  • learn how to participate in the material affairs of society in a way that is consistent with the divine precepts

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How can collective prosperity be advanced through justice and generosity, in practical terms?
  1. How can collective prosperity be advanced through collaboration and mutual assistance, in practical terms?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Five

Our call to examine the implications of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh for economic life is intended to reach Bahá’í institutions and communities but is directed more especially to the individual believer. If a new model of community life, patterned on the teachings, is to emerge, must not the company of the faithful demonstrate in their own lives the rectitude of conduct that is one of its most distinguishing features? Every choice a Bahá’í makes—as employee or employer, producer or consumer, borrower or lender, benefactor or beneficiary—leaves a trace, and the moral duty to lead a coherent life demands that one’s economic decisions be in accordance with lofty ideals, that the purity of one’s aims be matched by the purity of one’s actions to fulfil those aims. Naturally, the friends habitually look to the teachings to set the standard to which to aspire. But the community’s deepening engagement with society means that the economic dimension of social existence must receive ever more concentrated attention. Particularly in clusters where the community-building process is beginning to embrace large numbers, the exhortations contained in the Bahá’í Writings should increasingly inform economic relationships within families, neighbourhoods, and peoples. Not content with whatever values prevail in the existing order that surrounds them, the friends everywhere should consider the application of the teachings to their lives and, using the opportunities their circumstances offer them, make their own individual and collective contributions to economic justice and social progress wherever they reside. Such efforts will add to a growing storehouse of knowledge in this regard.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

Who is their call to examine the implications of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh for economic life intended to reach?

  • Bahá’í institutions and communities
  • more especially to the individual believer

What is needed to bring about a new model of community life, patterned on the teachings?

  • For the Bahá’ís to demonstrate a rectitude of conduct in our own lives

What is the effect of our choices?

  • Every choice a Bahá’í makes leaves a trace

Who does this apply to?

  • employee or employer
  • producer or consumer
  • borrower or lender
  • benefactor or beneficiary

What does our moral duty to lead a coherent life demand from us?

  • that our economic decisions be in accordance with lofty ideals
  • that the purity of our aims be matched by the purity of our actions to fulfil those aims

Where do we find the standard?

  • Naturally, the friends habitually look to the teachings to set the standard to which to aspire

What needs more concentrated attention?

  • the economic dimension of social existence must receive ever more concentrated attention

What’s the reason?

  • the community’s deepening engagement with society

Where should the exhortations contained in the Bahá’í Writings increasingly inform economic relationships within families, neighbourhoods, and peoples?

  • particularly in clusters where the community-building process is beginning to embrace large numbers

What are we being asked to reject?

  • the values that prevail in the existing order that surrounds us

What are we being asked to consider?

  • the application of the teachings to their lives
  • using the opportunities their circumstances offer us, to make both individual and collective contributions to economic justice and social progress wherever we reside

What will be the effect of such efforts?

  • Such efforts will add to a growing storehouse of knowledge in this regard

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How can we demonstrate in our own lives, the rectitude of conduct that is patterned on the teachings?
  1. What would living a coherent life look like?
  1. What opportunities exist in your neighborhood to make an individual contribution to economic justice?
  1. What opportunities exist in your neighborhood to make an individual or collective contribution to social progress?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Six

A foundational concept to explore in this context is the spiritual reality of man. In the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, the nobility inherent to every human being is unequivocally asserted; it is a fundamental tenet of Bahá’í belief, upon which hope for the future of humankind is built. The soul’s capacity to manifest all the names and attributes of God—He Who is the Compassionate, the Bestower, the Bountiful—is repeatedly affirmed in the Writings. Economic life is an arena for the expression of honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, generosity, and other qualities of the spirit. The individual is not merely a self-interested economic unit, striving to claim an ever-greater share of the world’s material resources. “Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue”, Bahá’u’lláh avers, “and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches.” And further: “Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest.” By consecrating oneself to the service of others, one finds meaning and purpose in life and contributes to the upliftment of society itself. At the outset of His celebrated treatise The Secret of Divine Civilization, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states:

And the honour and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world’s multitudes should become a source of social good. Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

What is a foundational concept to explore in this context?

  • the spiritual reality of man

What is a fundamental tenet of Bahá’í belief, upon which hope for the future of humankind is built?

  • the nobility inherent to every human being

What is repeatedly affirmed in the Writings?

  • the soul’s capacity to manifest all the names and attributes of God

What does economic life provide us an arena for the expression of?

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Trustworthiness
  • Generosity
  • other qualities of the spirit

What does society believe we are?

  • a self-interested economic unit
  • striving to claim an ever-greater share of the world’s material resources

What does Bahá’u’lláh tell us we are?

  • Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches

What does He ask us to do?

  • Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection
  • Don’t let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest

What happens when we consecrate ourselves to the service of others?

  • We find meaning and purpose in life
  • We contribute to the upliftment of society itself

What does ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us about our honour and distinction?

  • that we should become a source of social good among all the world’s multitudes
  • there is no larger bounty conceivable than to see that we have become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to our fellow men
  • there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How does economic life provide us with an arena for the expression of (give examples for each):
  • Honesty?
  • Integrity?
  • Trustworthiness?
  • Generosity?
  1. What’s the problem with self-interested economic units, striving to claim an ever-greater share of the world’s material resources?
  1. How are you serving humanity now, and what changes would you like to make in your life, to serve humanity more selflessly?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Seven

Viewed in this light, many seemingly ordinary economic activities gain new significance because of their potential to add to human welfare and prosperity. “Every person must have an occupation, a trade or a craft,” explains the Master, “so that he may carry other people’s burdens, and not himself be a burden to others.” The poor are urged by Bahá’u’lláh to “exert themselves and strive to earn the means of livelihood”, while they who are possessed of riches “must have the utmost regard for the poor”. “Wealth”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has affirmed, “is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes.” At the same time, the Hidden Words is replete with warnings of its perilous allure, that wealth is a “mighty barrier” between the believer and the proper Object of his adoration. No wonder, then, that Bahá’u’lláh extols the station of the wealthy one who is not hindered by riches from attaining the eternal kingdom; the splendour of such a soul “shall illuminate the dwellers of heaven even as the sun enlightens the people of the earth!” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá declares that “if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people, there could be no undertaking greater than this, and it would rank in the sight of God as the supreme achievement”. For wealth is most commendable “provided the entire population is wealthy.” Examining one’s life to determine what is a necessity and then discharging with joy one’s obligation in relation to the law of Ḥuqúqu’lláh is an indispensable discipline to bring one’s priorities into balance, purify whatever wealth one possesses, and ensure that the share which is the Right of God provides for the greater good. At all times, contentment and moderation, benevolence and fellow feeling, sacrifice and reliance on the Almighty are qualities that befit the God-fearing soul.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

When viewed in this light, what gains new significance because of their potential to add to human welfare and prosperity?

  • many seemingly ordinary economic activities

What must everyone have?

  • a trade or a craft

Why?

  • so that he may carry other people’s burdens, and not himself be a burden to others

What are the poor urged to do?

  • exert themselves
  • strive to earn the means of livelihood

In which areas are we encouraged to find work?

  • commerce
  • agriculture
  • art
  • industry

What are they who are possessed of riches urged to do?

  • They must have the utmost regard for the poor

When is wealth praiseworthy in the highest degree,?

  • if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts
  • if it is acquired through the grace of God
  • if it be expended for philanthropic purposes
  • when the entire population is wealthy

What is the station of the wealthy one who is not hindered by riches?

  • They’ll attain the eternal kingdom
  • The splendour of such a soul “shall illuminate the dwellers of heaven even as the sun enlightens the people of the earth!”

What is the greatest undertaking and ranked in the sight of God as the supreme achievement?

  • if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people

What is an easy way we can bring our priorities into balance and purify whatever wealth we may possess?

  • Examine our life to determine what is a necessity and then discharging with joy our obligation in relation to the law of Ḥuqúqu’lláh

What else will that ensure?

  • that the share which belongs to the Right of God will provide for the greater good

What 5 qualities befit the God-fearing soul at all times?

  • contentment
  • moderation
  • benevolence
  • fellow-feeling
  • sacrifice
  • reliance on the Almighty

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What are some examples of seemingly ordinary economic activities?
  1. What prevents the poor from exerting themselves to strive to earn their means of livelihood in this economic climate?
  1. How could they who are possessed of riches help the poor to exert themselves as they strive to earn their means of livelihood?
  1. When is wealth a “mighty barrier” between us and God?
  1. What steps can we take to make sure that wealth does not become a mighty barrier?
  1. How does paying the Right of God provide for the greater good?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Eight

The forces of materialism promote a quite contrary line of thinking: that happiness comes from constant acquisition, that the more one has the better, that worry for the environment is for another day. These seductive messages fuel an increasingly entrenched sense of personal entitlement, which uses the language of justice and rights to disguise self-interest. Indifference to the hardship experienced by others becomes commonplace while entertainment and distracting amusements are voraciously consumed. The enervating influence of materialism seeps into every culture, and all Bahá’ís recognize that, unless they strive to remain conscious of its effects, they may to one degree or another unwittingly adopt its ways of seeing the world. Parents must be acutely aware that, even when very young, children absorb the norms of their surroundings. The junior youth spiritual empowerment programme encourages thoughtful discernment at an age when the call of materialism grows more insistent. With the approach of adulthood comes a responsibility, shared by one’s generation, not to allow worldly pursuits to blind one’s eyes to injustice and privation. Over time, the qualities and attitudes nurtured by the courses of the training institute, through exposure to the Word of God, help individuals to see past the illusions that, at every stage of life, the world uses to pull attention away from service and towards the self. And ultimately, the systematic study of the Word of God and the exploration of its implications raises consciousness of the need to manage one’s material affairs in keeping with the divine teachings.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

What 3 contrary lines of thinking do the forces of materialism promote?

  • that happiness comes from constant acquisition
  • that the more one has the better
  • that worry for the environment is for another day

What do these seductive messages fuel?

  • an increasingly entrenched sense of personal entitlement

What language do they use?

  • the language of justice and rights

For what purpose?

  • to disguise self-interest

When the language of justice and rights are used to disguise self-interest, what do these seductive messages fuel?

  • an increasingly entrenched sense of personal entitlement

When entertainment and distracting amusements are voraciously consumed, what becomes commonplace?

  • Indifference to the hardship experienced by others
  • the enervating influence of materialism seeps into every culture
  • unless they strive to remain conscious of its effects, they may unwittingly adopt its ways of seeing the world

What must parents be acutely aware of?

  • that, even when very young, children absorb the norms of their surroundings.

How does the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme help?

  • It encourages thoughtful discernment at an age when the call of materialism grows more insistent.

What responsibility comes with the approach of adulthood?

  • not to allow worldly pursuits to blind one’s eyes to injustice and privation.

How does the training institute help over time?

  • the qualities and attitudes nurtured by the courses of the training institute, help individuals to see past the illusions that, at every stage of life, the world uses to pull attention away from service and towards the self.

How does it do this?

  • through exposure to systematic study of the Word of God, and the exploration of its implications

What are the benefits?

  • It raises consciousness of the need to manage one’s material affairs in keeping with the divine teachings.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What does personal entitlement look like?
  1. How is the language of justice and rights used to disguise self-interest?
  1. Give some examples of entertainment and distracting amusements that our society voraciously consumes.
  1. How does this breed indifference to the hardship experienced by others?
  1. What steps can parents take to make sure that very young children don’t absorb the norms of their surroundings?
  1. How do we prevent worldly pursuits from blinding our eyes to injustice and privation?
  1. If you were managing your material affairs in keeping with the divine teachings, what would you need to do?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Nine

Beloved Friends: The extremes of wealth and poverty in the world are becoming ever more untenable. As inequity persists, so the established order is seen to be unsure of itself, and its values are being questioned. Whatever the tribulations that a conflicted world must confront in the future, we pray that the Almighty will help His loved ones to overcome every obstacle in their path and assist them to serve humanity. The larger the presence of a Bahá’í community in a population, the greater its responsibility to find ways of addressing the root causes of the poverty in its surroundings. Although the friends are at the early stages of learning about such work and of contributing to the related discourses, the community-building process of the Five Year Plan is creating everywhere the ideal environment in which to accrue knowledge and experience, gradually but consistently, about the higher purpose of economic activity. Against the background of the age-long work of erecting a divine civilization, may this exploration become a more pronounced feature of community life, institutional thought, and individual action in the years ahead.

[signed: The Universal House of Justice]

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

What is becoming ever more untenable?

  • the extremes of wealth and poverty in the world

What happens as a result?

  • the established order is seen to be unsure of itself
  • its values are being questioned

What will help with the tribulations that a conflicted world must confront in the future?

  • we pray that the Almighty will help us overcome every obstacle in our path
  • we pray that the Almighty will assist us to serve humanity

What is a great responsibility when the larger the presence of a Bahá’í community in a population grows?

  • to find ways of addressing the root causes of the poverty in its surroundings.

Where are we in this?

  • at the early stages of learning about such work
  • at the early stages of contributing to the related discourses

What is creating the ideal environment in which to accrue knowledge and experience about the higher purpose of economic activity?

  • the community-building process of the Five Year Plan

At what level can this exploration of erecting a divine civilization become a more pronounced feature of?

  • community life
  • institutional thought
  • individual action

 Questions for Reflection:

  1. Give examples of how the established order is seen to be unsure of itself.
  1. What are the values of the established order?
  1. How are these values being questioned?
  1. What can the individual do to find ways of addressing the root causes of poverty in your cluster?
  1. How can the community building process help address the root causes of poverty in your cluster?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

What was your favorite part of the letter?  Post your comments below!