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?
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.
In a previous article, we’ve looked at Understanding Obedience, and now we’re going to look at how we can become obedient.
There are certain steps we can take on our path towards obedience:
- Enter into a covenant with God:
He must enter into a covenant with his Lord in order that he shall obey the divine commands. (`Abdu’l-Baha: Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 163).
- Fear God:
. . . lacking the fear of God an infinity of odious and abominable actions will spring up, and sentiments will be uttered that transgress all bounds. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Education, p. 6)
- Mention God’s name day and night:
Fear thou God, thy Lord, and make mention of His Name in the day-time and at eventide. (The Bab, Fire and Light, p. 16)
Well is it with them who obey him, and call him to remembrance. (Baha’u’llah: Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 79)
- Don’t follow the faithless:
Follow not the promptings of the faithless, lest thou be reckoned among the exponents of idle fancies. Faithfully obey the Primal Point Who is the Lord Himself, and be of the righteous. (The Bab: Selections from the Bab, p. 160)
- Don’t follow the ungodly or those who are also committing sins:
Obey ye My commandments, and follow not the ungodly, they who have been reckoned as sinners in God’s Holy Tablet. (Baha’u’llah: The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 43)
- Make an effort so God can guide you:
Whensoever he hath fulfilled the conditions implied in the verse: “Whoso maketh efforts for Us,” he shall enjoy the blessings conferred by the words: “In Our Way shall We assuredly guide him.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 266)
- Guard yourself, defend your Faith and Oppose your passions (desires, hungers, cravings, lusts, urges, rage, fury, outbursts, obsessions, crazes):
Whoso among the learned guardeth his self, defendeth his faith, opposeth his desires, and obeyeth his Lord’s command, it is incumbent upon the generality of the people to pattern themselves after him. (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 118)
- Pattern yourself after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
. . . he must guard himself, defend his faith, oppose his passions and obey the commandments of his Lord. It is then the duty of the people to pattern themselves after him. (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 34)
- Have faith:
It is often difficult for us to do things because they are so very different from what we are used to, not because the thing itself is particularly difficult. With you, and indeed most Bahá’ís, who are now, as adults, accepting this glorious Faith, no doubt some of the ordinances, like fasting and daily prayer, are hard to understand and obey at first. But we must always think that these things are given to all men for a thousand years to come . . . Bahá’u’lláh would not have given us these things if they would not greatly benefit us, and, like children who are sensible enough to realize their father is wise and does what is good for them, we must accept to obey these ordinances even though at first we may not see any need for them. As we obey them we will gradually come to see in ourselves the benefits they confer. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 342)
- Let all your actions conform to His laws:
Through the power of faith, obey ye the teachings of God, and let all your actions conform to His laws. (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 35)
- Sacrifice your personality:
They have to sacrifice their personalities, to a certain extent . . . (Shoghi Effendi: Lights of Guidance, p. 83)
. . . when He desired to impress a person with the necessity of obeying the Teachings and rectifying his life, He never said: You must do thus and so, be self-sacrificing, see no fault in others, and so on — He always said: We must… (Marzieh Gail, Dawn Over Mount Hira, p. 200)
- Know that no matter how difficult it might seem, the solution is within your power:
Certainly the problem confronting you is a difficult one. However, its solution lies within your power . . . (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 366)
- Use doctors, pray and meditate and serve the Faith and your community:
You can be confident that with the help of doctors, by prayer and meditation, by self-abnegation and by giving as much time as possible to serving the Cause in your community you can eventually succeed in overcoming your problem. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 366)
What helps you become obedient? Post your comments below.
All of us have both a lower and higher nature. Every good habit or noble quality belongs to man’s spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature. In the lower nature, we live for the world alone; in the higher, we approach God.
In our material nature man expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; whereas in his Divine nature we find love, mercy, kindness, truth and justice.
All the imperfections found in the animal are found in man (antagonism, hatred and selfish struggle for existence; jealousy, revenge, ferocity, cunning, hypocrisy, greed, injustice and tyranny). On the other hand, we also find in him justice, sincerity, faithfulness, knowledge, wisdom, illumination, mercy and pity coupled with intellect, comprehension, the power to grasp the realities of things and the ability to penetrate the truths of existence.
None of us spend our lives entirely in one world or another – our reality stands between the two natures. If man’s animal side becomes predominant, he becomes lower than the brute, whereas if his heavenly powers become predominant, he becomes the most superior being in the world of existence.
We all have the ability to choose good or evil. If our power for good predominates and our inclination to do wrong is conquered, we can be called saints.
The choice is up to us.
Everyone’s life has both a dark and bright side. The key is to turn our backs to the darkness and our faces to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
Why do we have a dual nature?
We seem to need contrasts. If there was no wrong, how would we recognize the right? If there was no sin, how would we appreciate virtue? If evil deeds were unknown how could you commend good actions? If sickness did not exist how would we understand health?
How do we tell the difference between inspiration from the lower nature or higher?
Knowledge is of two kinds: Divine and Satanic. The one comes from the fountain of divine inspiration; the other is a reflection of vain and obscure thoughts. The source of the former is God Himself; the motive of the latter comes from the whisperings of selfish desire.
How can we tell if an inspiration comes from God or our lower nature, when both are the influx of the human heart?
It’s simple! Every good thing is of God, and every evil thing is from us.
If we are turned towards the Kingdom of God, we can have conversations with our higher selves and we can hear ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s voice in our hearts.
What We Know About Our Lower Nature
What is Our Lower Nature?
Anything that is contrary to the will of God comes from our lower nature, or ego. Whatever is interpreted as evil refers to the lower nature in man. Our baser nature is symbolized in various ways. Often, it’s symbolized as Satan, described as the evil ego within us rather than an evil personality outside. God never created an evil spirit – these ideas have always been symbols of our earthly nature:
The greatest of degradation for man is to leave the Shadow of God and enter under the shadow of Satan (or our ego or lower nature).
Characteristics of the Lower Nature
All the imperfections found in animals are also found in man. Innate in man is rancour; the struggle for existence; the propensity for warfare; love of self; jealousy; hypocrisy, slyness, greed, ignorance, injustice, tyranny and so on. Our reality, therefore, is clad in the garment of the animal or the world of nature. It’s a world of darkness; imperfection, and infinite baseness.
Whenever we see Sins such as injustice, tyranny, hatred, hostility, strife jealousy, greed, the struggle for survival, deception, hypocrisy, tyranny, oppression, disputes, strife, bloodshed, looting and pillaging, which all emanate from the world of nature, we realize that we are all immersed in the world of nature to one degree or another.
The lower nature appeals to everyone differently, according to each person’s own way.
The lower nature can be manipulated by others.
Other people will try to mislead us through temptations which arouse our selfish desires and cause us to follow our own lower natures, taking us away from God.
We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves, because if our lower nature has its way, we will be stuck in it, with no promptings from our higher nature to help us get free.
Why do we Have a Lower Nature?
We seem to need opposites in life. In this case, we see that even the world of nature is defective. It’s in our nature to find enjoyment in that which is gratifying to the senses, yet the struggle between our lower nature and the Divine teachings draw us towards our true station.
Effects of Living in our Lower Nature
Most of us are oblivious to the existence of our dual nature, so we do things because they’ve become habit. These habits, when coming from our lower nature, keep us pursuing the dictates of self and ego and leave us vanquished and defeated. The ego then takes the reins from our hands so we’re no longer able to judge good from evil. We become blind to divine attributes and our evil, routine thoughts become the dominant notes of our lives.
When we are captives of our self and desire, engulfed in the passions of our lower nature, we find wealth and fame and enjoy the comforts of life, but in the end, the outcome is always utter evanescence and oblivion. No trace of us remains; no fruit; no result; no benefit to carry forward to eternity.
When we follow the promptings of the self, it takes us insistently to wickedness and lust.
Our lower nature subverts our individuality to such a degree that the poison of darkness becomes the means of our existence. Our nature becomes so degraded and our individuality so deflected that our one purpose in life will be to obtain the death-dealing drug of darkness.
If the spiritual qualities of the soul are never used, they become atrophied, enfeebled, and at last incapable. Unhappy and misguided, we become more savage; more unjust; more vile; more cruel and more malevolent than the lower animals themselves. When all our aspirations and desires are being strengthened by the lower side of our soul’s nature, we become more and more brutal, until our whole being is worse than the beasts that perish.
Our lower nature and those of the people around us are dangerous because, by standing as “observation posts”, they prevent us from taking the path to God, by every means of deception and ruse possible:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá compares those who chose to stay in their lower natures to the earthworm, whose highest aim is to struggle to dig down to the depths of the earth despite the fact that they are bound by a thousand cares and sorrows; never safe from danger, or secure from sudden death. After a brief span, they are utterly effaced, and no sign remains to tell of them, and no word of them is ever heard again.
Is this really the life we want to live?
How do we stay trapped in our lower nature?
Since we were created noble; in the image of God; a mine rich in gems of inestimable value, what causes us to change?
We acquire evil habits.
God originally endowed us with an individuality which enjoyed that which was beneficial to us but man, through his evil habits, changed God’s creation into satanic darkness.
We stop paying attention to the Kingdom of God, and step off His path. We remain attached to worldly attractions. We’ve become defiled with qualities which are not praiseworthy in the sight of God. We have become so completely steeped in material issues and tendencies that we fail to partake of the virtues of humanity.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that man can become conscious; discover the mysteries and realities of life; be in touch with the realm of God; use his mighty will to rule over his lower nature; modify the influence of his instincts; voluntarily discontinue vices; acquire divine virtues and make progress:
He can’t do it by himself, though. The soul needs training and guidance to get beyond the lower nature:
Man’s outlook on life is too crude and materialistic to enable us to elevate ourselves into the higher realms of the spirit, so religion’s role is to improve and transform us.
The Manifestations of God come into the world to dispel the darkness of our animal nature and purify us from our imperfections so that our spiritual nature can become quickened, our divine qualities awakened, our perfections made visible, our potential powers revealed and all the virtues of the world of humanity latent within us to come to life.
They are the educators, trainers and teachers able to liberate us from the darkness of our lower nature, deliver us from despair, error, ignorance, imperfections and all evil qualities.
They clothe us in the garment of perfections and virtues; make us wise and lead us into kingdoms of light and love. They cause us to become just; sever us from self and desire; make us meek, humble and friendly. They make us heavenly; transform us and develop us into maturity. They endow us with wealth and uplift us into dignity, nobility and loftiness.
Religion teaches that moderation and daily vigilance are necessary, if we want to be in control of our carnal desires and corrupt inclinations.
Religion teaches us to protect ourselves and shun anyone who tells you to do anything against the commandments of God, even though they may be quoting from all the right books.
Religion teaches us it’s important to turn away from satanic promptings, because divine bestowals bring forth unity and agreement, whereas satanic leadings induce hatred and war.
Religion teaches us we need to use our free will; exert ourselves and make an effort.
Religion teaches we must be prepared to go through pain; suffering; tests; deprivation and sacrifice in order to subdue the self. This is because there is always a reaction when a force is suppressed.
To be freed from every bond and become attached to the Kingdom of God, we need to strive to become characterized with His attributes.
Very few of us have been freed from this darkness and ascended from the world of nature. Those who have been freed, have followed the divine Teachings and served the world of humanity, and, as a result, are resplendent, merciful, illumined and like unto a rose garden:
Benefits to Breaking Free
When we make a sacrifice something of material value in the path of God and wholly for His sake, we are rewarded spiritually. We become detached from the material world and are able to draw closer to God, and thereby fulfil the purpose of our lives.
If we can dominate our lower nature, we can become detached from this world.
What We Know About Our Higher Nature
Shifting from the Lower Nature to the Higher
Man is captive of nature and ignorant of the divine world until the breaths of the Holy Spirit lead him out of the physical conditions of limitation and deprivation.
Then we get out of our lower natures by letting the flame of God’s love burn brightly within our hearts; and feeding that love with His guidance (reading the Writings morning and night). We protect it with our constancy; and guard it with trust and detachment from everything save God; so that the evil whisperings of others won’t extinguish its light.
We make a conscious choice to pay attention to what’s going on around us, and use our powers of discernment, so that if someone tells you something from their lower natures, you put them behind you.
We close our eyes and stop listening to the people of the world and drink from the water of God’s knowledge.
Benefits of living in our Higher Nature
When we live in our higher nature, we are thankful, desiring to fly only in the high heavens and sing out our songs to the best of our ability.
Those of us who understand the dual nature of man have a responsibility to strengthen; train; assist; nurse; love; inform and educate others, to restore them to health. This takes extreme patience; sympathy and love.
How has this helped you understand your dual nature? Post your comments below.
Ian Semple, former member of the Universal House of Justice, gave a wonderful talk on Obedience, in which he talks about coming to obey the laws of Baha’u’llah as being a 5-Step process:
Accept ourselves as the ultimate source of authority
Bahá’u’lláh’s first call to us is not to obey, but to use our minds, to judge fairly, to recognize, and then to believe and then to obey. He assures us that we have the capacity to recognize the truth and to follow it.
We know that ultimate authority resides in ourselves, whether we understand it or not. We can choose not to use this authority, drifting along like a bit of flotsam at the pull of the tide, or we can take charge of our own life. The choice is ours to make.
Many people exist from day to day, following the fashions and whims of the society in which they live, absorbing its prejudices and pursuing its standards. Making the choice to take the steps necessary to change may take effort and result in hardship, and we may decide it’s not worth our while, but that is our decision. We always have a choice.
Recognize our insufficiency.
As soon as we begin to consider not what we can do to please ourselves, but what we ought to do, we begin to look around for examples, for patterns of behaviour that are apparently successful and which we can follow to achieve similar success.
We start out with a whole range of behaviours learned in childhood and absorbed from society around us, but unless we find a central point of reference outside ourselves, we will find it very difficult to rise above our current level. It’s like pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps– you just can’t do it.
So long as he remains the centre of his own universe, he remains limited by his own nature. To enable the full development of the individual and enable it to work in harmony with others for the betterment of the world, it is essential for each of us to recognize our own insufficiency and seek a collective centre outside ourselves.
Validate a source of authority outside our self.
If we are going to submit ourselves to an external authority, we have a duty to validate the source of that authority.
The essential difference between religion and philosophy is that religion claims to be linked to God Himself, the Creator, Upholder and Mover of the universe. It is not merely a formulation of well-argued ideas, but a revelation of eternal truth. The authority it claims is absolute. When we are linked to God, we are in harmony with all Truth and Justice and Beauty but if we give the obedience due to God Himself to a false prophet, we can descend into a perversion far worse than any that a philosophy can create.
No knowledge is more important than the understanding that, while we are responsible for seeking truth and distinguishing it from error, once we’ve found it, we have the obligation to follow it wherever it may lead. God cannot be bargained with. As we come to realize that, if God is God, we can’t say anything to God; we can’t bargain with God.
C.S. Lewis commented on this once. When he was drawn to recognize the reality of God he realized a demand was being made of him. God wasn’t saying “Give me all or nothing.” There was no choice; He said, “All.” That’s it, there is no alternative. God is God.
There is no way for us to understand the nature of God or His purposes, and we have to accept that.
To admit that God is God, to accept that we are a tiny part of His creation, and to understand that we need to surrender our will to the authority of God, can be a very humbling and painful experience. Once done, however, it brings an increase in joy and strength that can scarcely be imagined.
Understand the requirements of that source of authority
Finding Bahá’u’lláh is not the end. When we accept that He is the Manifestation of God, that He and His actions and His words are a perfect mirror of the nature of God, of His Truth and of His intentions for this age, then we begin the long task of learning exactly what He is telling us, putting His commands into practice and permitting the light of His Revelation to illumine our hearts and our understanding. We need to draw ever closer to Him, to absorb His teachings and to integrate them into our lives. In order to deepen ourselves in the teachings, we must think about them, relate them to one another, try them out and study them in the light of experience. It is only through independent, clear thinking about the vast range of the teachings that we can foster the growth of our understanding. This cannot take place if we close the shutters of our minds.
Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings will be in effect for at least a thousand years. Can we imagine then that, without a lot of profound thinking, we can really understand what He is saying and what He intends us to do?
What can we do when we find ourselves unable to accept His requirements?
This can happen at various levels, and is a problem that should be squarely faced and tackled:
- there may be a law of Bahá’u’lláh’s which we either fail to understand or feel averse to obeying
- there may be a principle of the Faith or an instruction of the Guardian or of the Universal House of Justice which causes us great inconvenience or even danger to obey
- there may be a decision of a Spiritual Assembly which we are convinced is wrong
How are we to react in such cases?
They all lead back to validating the source of authority. If we have trouble with understanding or obeying a law of Bahá’u’lláh’s, we should not balk from examining the basis of our faith. We have accepted Him as the Manifestation of God for reasons which we were convinced were valid.
What does this one disagreement with His Writings signify? Is it sufficiently serious to throw into doubt all the evidence on which we have accepted Him in the first place, or is it an indication of a shortcoming in myself?
If we find that our faith in Bahá’u’lláh is not shaken, and that it is merely the particular law that is a problem, we should obey on the basis of faith. This is not blind faith or blind obedience. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said:
By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 383)
We have a solidly based reliance on Bahá’u’lláh as a source of authority in all things. Sometimes we can go forward in clear understanding of what He wants us to do. Sometimes we are left in the dark because our understanding has not yet grown sufficiently. The light that enable us to go forward through such dark patches is our faith in Him, our conscious knowledge that, in spite of immediate appearances, He is right, and He really does know better than we do. This knowledge enables us to act with full confidence.
It isn’t reluctant obedience to a law that one disagrees with; it is full-hearted obedience to a law one cannot understand but knows must be right. As Shoghi Effendi wrote:
Is not faith but another word for implicit obedience, whole-hearted allegiance, uncompromising adherence to that which we believe is the revealed and express will of God, however perplexing it might first appear, however at variance with the shadowy views, the impotent doctrines, the crude theories, the idle imaginings, the fashionable conceptions of a transient and troublous age? If we are to falter or hesitate, if our love for Him should fail to direct us and keep us within His path, if we desert Divine and emphatic principles, what hope can we any more cherish for healing the ills and sicknesses of this world? (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 62-63)
The authority of the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice go back to the authority of Bahá’u’lláh Himself, so similar principles apply. We should obey them because we know that they are divinely guided. The ways of God are mysterious, even when they come through His institutions. We can’t expect to know everything at the outset.
Obeying out of faith causes us to grow spiritually, enriches our understanding and promotes the growth of the soul.
Obeying a Spiritual Assembly which we believe to be wrong can be much more difficult. Here we obey because of the overriding principle of upholding unity in the Faith. If we judge the matter to be serious enough, we can always appeal the decision.
Although we have the right to appeal a decision, we should consider not only our own interest or the principle of the matter, but also the interests of the Cause. Consider: Is it right to occupy the time of the Assembly by insistently pursuing the point, even if we are sure that its decision is wrong, or is it better to pass it over and allow the Assembly to carry on with its main task, which is the teaching of the Cause of God? Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong; sometimes we should insist, sometimes we should let it go. It’s a matter of judgement and good reason.
Exercise judgement in carrying out these requirements.
There are two different sources of authority we need to think about, because they are a little bit different. One is an issuer of commands, and the other is laws and regulations.
A specific command coming from a source of authority is often quite clear, explicit and related to a particular matter, while a law or regulation is usually a more general commandment and its application to a specific case may need study and correlation with other regulations.
For example: During the 1960s in America was a time when there was great tension between the races. The problem put before the House of Justice was: What happens if you’re in one of the southern states where there’s a law that prohibits a certain degree of association between people of different colours? Do the Bahá’ís have to obey it because we obey the civil law and it’s a principle to obey the government, no matter which one it is?
The House of Justice said, no, the Bahá’ís should carry out the principles of the Faith as far as they can, but if a person in authority says, “Don’t do it”, you don’t do it. In other words, if the law says that whites and blacks shouldn’t be around together, the Faith obviously says they should be. All right, they should go around together. But if a policeman comes up and says, “You sit in different places,” you go and sit in different places.
This came up in similar situations in Nazi Germany. I am told that there, for example, when the Nazi authorities instructed the Bahá’ís to segregate their meetings between Jews and non-Jews, their solution was simply to stop having meetings. You can get around such problems in various ways.
There is also the matter of obeying laws and principles of the Faith when to do so causes one difficulty or even suffering. Obedience through faith and accepting unpleasant choices makes us grow spiritually. It is a difficult balance to be firm and principled, but not fanatical or bigoted.
Life is not easy, nor was it meant to be. If we acknowledge and accept this and work with it, we grow and progress through all trials and tribulations. All growth in life causes pain at certain stages.
True obedience requires courage, endurance and the exercise of judgement in carrying out the requirements of the authority we have accepted. We need to know when to be strict, when to be lenient, which exceptions are justifiable and which are not; how to be forbearing without sacrificing principles, how to be righteous without being fanatical. Generally speaking, it is a good guideline to be very strict with ourselves and lenient with others.
The exercise of our minds and the use of judgment in obeying a law or instruction are also avenues for divine guidance. I was profoundly impressed by something that the Hand of the Cause Paul Haney once related. He said that sometimes when the Universal House of Justice asked him to undertake a task, he was able at the outset neither to see the wisdom of it, nor how he was to carry it out but, confident in the divine guidance given to the House of Justice, he would set out to do it, and he would find that at every step that he took forward a door would open and the next step would become clear, and he would find at the end that he had been enabled to achieve just what he had been requested to do and he could see the reason for it. This is a perfect example of obedience, faith, wisdom and judgement.
The processes of accepting personal responsibility, recognizing our insufficiency, seeking and validating an external source of authority and finding the Manifestation of God, understanding His teachings and using our intelligence in implementing them are essential for the development of our souls and enable us to fulfil our destiny of coming into harmony with the purpose of God and living in perfect obedience to His designs.
Only the guidance of God and Bahá’u’lláh’s system of united and willing obedience of individual souls to His guidance can carry mankind from a world of tyranny and oppression across the narrow bridge over the abyss of fragmentation and chaos to the bliss of the Kingdom of God on earth. Then all peoples will recognize the truth of Bahá’u’lláh’s words:
The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 336)
When we have gone through this process and learn to obey out of love for Baha’u’llah, it will be because our whole lives have been transformed and reoriented towards God:
In this way they will obey them not through fear of punishment but out of love for Baha’u’llah and because their whole lives have been transformed and re-oriented in the Way of God. (Universal House of Justice: Lights of Guidance, p. 342)
How has this helped you better understand obedience? Post your comments below!
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On becoming a member of the Bahá’í Faith, we understand that there are certain laws which we must obey, not out of “blind obedience” which is contrary to the spirit of the Faith, but as the free exercise of our will to follow what we believe to be right. With blind obedience we abdicate our free will; with true obedience, we make a conscious choice to obey.
The standard of the Faith is “instant exact obedience and submissiveness” to Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice; and if we hesitate, even for a moment, we will be regarded as transgressors:
Those who have reached the pinnacle of faith and recognize the station of Bahá’u’lláh with absolute certitude — that He and no one else is God’s Viceregent on earth — cannot but render instant and exact obedience to every one of His commandments. In a spirit of love and devotion, they will also show the same measure of obedience and submissiveness to the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and to the directives of the Universal House of Justice.
The following words of Bahá’u’lláh revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas establish for all time the criterion for constancy and firmness in His Covenant:
“Were He to decree as lawful the thing which from time immemorial had been forbidden, and forbid that which had, at all times, been regarded as lawful, to none is given the right to question His authority. Whoso will hesitate, though it be for less than a moment, should be regarded as a transgressor.” (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 268)
Instant, exact obedience and submissiveness doesn’t come easy for many of us who grew up with tyranny!
The Bahá’í Writings teach us that as children, we are to learn to obey our parents, so that as adults, we will know how to obey God. In this sense, our parent’s role in our lives when we are small children is that of “god”.
Parents must exert every effort to rear their offspring to be religious, for should the children not attain this greatest of adornments, they will not obey their parents, which in a certain sense means that they will not obey God. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Education, p. 6)
Unfortunately, most of them didn’t do a very good job representing God to us, and as a result, we have a hard time translating our allegiance to a loving God as adults.
I’m not blaming our parents! This kind of poor parenting is pretty universal! Our parents didn’t know how to parent us because their parents didn’t know how to parent them, and so on, and so on, back through the generations.
Because many of us didn’t have these kinds of “loving parents”, we have no concept of how to turn to or trust in a “Heavenly Father”, let alone want to obey Him! Fortunately the Baha’i Writings can teach us what we need to know in order to obey God.
Attitudes toward Obedience
It’s not easy being obedient, since it entails suffering; is often difficult; and requires hardship and great personal sacrifice:
. . . suffer me to remain steadfast in my obedience to Thee . . . (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers (US edition), p. 265.
The Baha’is everywhere . . . find it very difficult to adjust themselves. They have to learn to obey . . . for the sake of unity. . . These things are difficult. (Shoghi Effendi: Lights of Guidance, p. 83)
As you point out, it is particularly difficult to follow the Laws of Bahá’u’lláh in present-day society whose accepted practice is so at variance with the standards of the Faith. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 342)
Obedience to the Laws of Baha’u’llah will necessarily impose hardships in individual cases. (Universal House of Justice: Lights of Guidance, p. 341)
This involves often great personal sacrifice, but we know that, when we do the right thing, God gives us the strength to carry it out, and we attract His blessing. We learn at such times that our calamity is indeed a blessing. (Shoghi Effendi: Living the Life, p. 26)
We can’t expect that once we become Bahá’í we’re somehow protected from tests that can seem almost unbearable:
No one should expect, upon becoming a Baha’i, that his faith will not be tested, and to our finite understanding of such matters these tests may occasionally seem unbearable. But we are aware of the assurance which Baha’u’llah Himself has given the believers that they will never be called upon to meet a test greater than their capacity to endure. (Universal House of Justice: Lights of Guidance, p. 341)
When other people see us striving to be obedient, they’re likely to not understand and try to encourage us to take the easier, softer way. At these times it’s important to not allow them to come between us and obeying Baha’u’llah:
Although it is good not to provoke conventional people too much, on the other hand, we must not allow them to come between us and obeying Baha’u’llah. (Shoghi Effendi: Guidelines for Teaching, p. 317)
It’s good that we know this, because it makes it easier to do the right thing when we know what to expect
It’s a Process
Obedience doesn’t come naturally – we need to learn to obey:
They have to learn to obey, even when the Assembly may be wrong, for the sake of unity. They have to sacrifice their personalities, to a certain extent, in order that the community life may grow and develop as a whole. These things are difficult – but we must realize that they will lead us to a very much greater, more perfect, way of life when the Faith is properly established according to the administration. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 83)
It is often difficult for us to do things when they are so very different from what we are used to, and when the people around us are not doing them. When we can accept the need for obedience, even though at first we may not see any need for it, we will gradually come to see the benefits obedience confers:
It is often difficult for us to do things because they are so very different from what we are used to, not because the thing itself is particularly difficult. With you, and indeed most Baha’is, who are now, as adults, accepting this glorious Faith, no doubt some of the ordinances, like fasting and daily prayer, are hard to understand and obey at first. But we must always think that these things are given to all men for a thousand years to come. For Baha’i children who see these things practised in the home, they will be as natural and necessary a thing as going to church on Sunday was to the more pious generation of Christians. Baha’u’llah would not have given us these things if they would not greatly benefit us, and, like children who are sensible enough to realize their father is wise and does what is good for them, we must accept to obey these ordinances even though at first we may not see any need for them. As we obey them we will gradually come to see in ourselves the benefits they confer. (Shoghi Effendi: Living the Life, p. 19-20)
While everything else in nature has a cycle of ebb and flow and ultimately leads to disintegration, the human soul’s only movement is toward perfection:
All creation, whether of the mineral, vegetable or animal kingdom, is compelled to obey the law of motion; it must either ascend or descend. But with the human soul, there is no decline. Its only movement is towards perfection; growth and progress alone constitute the motion of the soul. (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 89)
Advantages to the Individual
It helps keep us motivated when we see “what’s in it for me”.
Obedience is man’s highest distinction; his greatest glory; his most exalted rank and honor, and our progress, achievement and happiness depends on it!
It is certain that man’s highest distinction is to be lowly before and obedient to his God; that his greatest glory, his most exalted rank and honor, depend on his close observance of the Divine commands and prohibitions. Religion is the light of the world, and the progress, achievement, and happiness of man result from obedience to the laws set down in the holy Books. (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 71)
When we do the right thing, we establish our Faith and win other people’s hearts to it. In addition, God gives us the strength to carry it out, and we attract His blessings:
. . . the Baha’is must, in view of the condition of the world today, stand forth firmly and courageously as followers of Baha’u’llah, obeying His Laws, and seeking to build His World Order. Through compromise we will never be able to establish our Faith or win others’ hearts to it. This involves often great personal sacrifice, but we know that, when we do the right thing, God gives us the strength to carry it out, and we attract His blessing. (Shoghi Effendi: Living the Life, p. 26)
We’re able to solve our own personal problems and set a noble example for others:
You should have confidence that in obeying the orders of your National Assembly you will not only succeed in solving your own personal problems with the friends, but will in addition set a noble example before them. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 62)
We’ll be led to a much greater, more perfect, way of life
These things are difficult – but we must realize that they will lead us to a very much greater, more perfect, way of life when the Faith is properly established . . . (Shoghi Effendi: Lights of Guidance, p. 83)
Nothing can shake us:
But once a Baha’i has the profound conviction of the authority from God, . . . and creates order based on obedience – once a Baha’i has this, nothing can shake him. (Shoghi Effendi, Light of Divine Guidance, Vol.2, p. 84)
Our health depends on it!
Physical healing cannot be complete and lasting unless it is reinforced by spiritual healing. And this last one can be best obtained through obedience to the laws and commandments of God. (Shoghi Effendi: Compilation of Compilations vol. 1, p. 477)
We gain greater strength in teaching and are able to direct our energies towards different channels of service:
They must come to realize that the Administration is a system both living and dynamic, and that, through obedience to its principles and regulations, they will gain greater strength in teaching the Faith, and be able to direct their energies as a united force into the different channels of service that lie open to them. (Shoghi Effendi, Light of Divine Guidance Vol.1, p. 181)
We grow spiritually and prepare our souls for the next life:
In considering the effect of obedience to the laws on individual lives, one must remember that the purpose of this life is to prepare the soul for the next. Here one must learn to control and direct one’s animal impulses, not to be a slave to them. Life in this world is a succession of tests and achievements, of falling short and of making new spiritual advances. Sometimes the course may seem very hard, but one can witness, again and again, that the soul who steadfastly obeys the law of Baha’u’llah, however hard it may seem, grows spiritually, while the one who compromises with the law for the sake of his own apparent happiness is seen to have been following a chimera: he does not attain the happiness he sought, he retards his spiritual advance and often brings new problems upon himself. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 359)
Advantages to the World
In addition to benefiting ourselves, our obedience also has a positive effect on the whole world.
We know that it only takes one soul to be the cause of the spiritual illumination of a continent.
But the only way, or perhaps I should say the first and best way, to remedy such situations, is to oneself do what is right. One soul can be the cause of the spiritual illumination of a continent. (Shoghi Effendi, The Importance of Deepening, p. 230-231)
Your example will enkindle the hearts of your fellow Bahá’ís:
Now that you have seen, and remedied, a great fault in your own life, now that you see more clearly what is lacking in your own community, there is nothing to prevent you from arising and showing such an example, such a love and spirit of service, as to enkindle the hearts of your fellow Baha’is. (Shoghi Effendi, The Importance of Deepening, p. 230-231)
Our community life will grow and develop
They have to learn to obey, even when the Assembly may be wrong, for the sake of unity. They have to sacrifice their personalities, to a certain extent, in order that the community life may grow and develop as a whole. (Shoghi Effendi: Lights of Guidance, p. 83)
The Faith will expand:
Not until your group learns to work efficiently through obedience to the local assembly and under its guidance can there be any hope for future expansion. (Shoghi Effendi, Light of Divine Guidance Vol.1, p. 80)
Society will be reformed and prevented from sinking into an ever-worsening condition:
[O]nce they are applied, [these laws] must be followed, or else society will not be reformed but will sink into an ever worsening condition. It is the challenging task of the Baha’is to obey the law of God in their own lives, and gradually to win the rest of mankind to its acceptance. (Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, p. 106)
The world will become illumined with love and reconciliation:
All are commanded to seek the good pleasure of the Lord of unity, to follow His command and obey His will; in this way the world of humanity shall become illumined with the reality of love and reconciliation. (`Abdu’l-Baha: Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 316)
The world will become flooded with light; the dead body of mankind will arise and live and every soul will ask for immortality:
Wherefore, O ye who are God’s lovers, know ye the value of this precious Faith, obey its teachings, walk in this road that is drawn straight, and show ye this way to the people . . . Spread far and wide the precepts and counsels of the loving Lord, so that this world will change into another world, and this darksome earth will be flooded with light, and the dead body of mankind will arise and live; so that every soul will ask for immortality, through the holy breaths of God. (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 2-3)
Our achievements will be both constructive and enduring:
. . . by this means alone can the community work as a united body and achieve something constructive and enduring. (Shoghi Effendi: Light of Divine Guidance Vol.1, p. 80)
Prayers for Assistance with Obedience
Strengthen my heart, O my God, in Thine obedience and in Thy love and grant that I may be clear of the entire company of Thine adversaries. Verily I swear by Thy glory that I yearn for naught besides Thyself, nor do I desire anything except Thy mercy, nor am I apprehensive of aught save Thy justice. I beg Thee to forgive me as well as those whom Thou lovest, howsoever Thou pleasest. Verily Thou art the Almighty, the Bountiful. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 215)
Assist me and assist them, O my Lord, to obey Thee and to keep Thy precepts. Thou, verily, hast power to do what Thou choosest. (Baha’u’llah: Prayers and Meditations, p. 10)
I, therefore, beseech Thee . . . to enable us to serve and obey Him, and to empower us to become the helpers of His Cause and the dispersers of His adversaries. Powerful art Thou to do all that pleaseth Thee. No God is there beside Thee, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the One Whose help is sought by all men! (Baha’u’llah: Prayers and Meditations, p. 86)
Attire, O my Lord, both my inner and outer being with the raiment of Thy favors and Thy loving-kindness. Keep me safe, then, from whatsoever may be abhorrent unto Thee, and graciously assist me and my kindred to obey Thee, and to shun whatsoever may stir up any evil or corrupt desire within me. Thou, truly, art the Lord of all mankind, and the Possessor of this world and of the next. No God is there save Thee, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, p. 225)
O God! as my body has become purified and cleansed from physical impurities, in the same way purify and sanctify my spirit from the impurities of the world of nature, which are not worthy of the Threshold of Thy Unity! (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91).
O God! make my heart good and pure, freed and sanctified from all save Thy love. (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91).
How has this helped you understand obedience better? Post your comments below!
One of my readers wondered:
Would an LSA be backbiting if they discuss the negative qualities of an individual at an LSA meeting when the individual was not present?
Do Assemblies have the right to hear and talk about community members’ negative qualities if the LSA is being asked to make a decision about this member, even when the community member is not present?
Can an Assembly make decisions about community members, by NOT listening to negative reports of bad character traits and praying for guidance instead?
First of all, dealing with this issue is working on the spiritual frontier of an Assembly’s growth, and patience is needed as we learn to rise to these challenges:
As you know, there can be many reasons for Assemblies not to respond to the believers. Undoubtedly, in some cases, it is because the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the frontier of their spiritual growth. Such a process can lead to tremendous development on both the individual and the collective levels. Sometimes we can facilitate this process of spiritual growth for individuals, and of maturation for Local and National Assemblies, by viewing these situations not as a problem but as opportunities for development. Taking part in this process should be a source of joy to us since we are, in effect, helping to build the kingdom of God on Earth. Nevertheless, patience is needed, particularly when it involves a subject that is close to our hearts, and when it seems that progress on the matter is lagging or has ceased entirely. We must maintain our confidence that the divinely ordained administrative system given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, and the inspiration of the Creative Word, will enable us to rise to these challenges. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)
I’m glad you want to be a peace-maker in your community, helping the weaker members learn to function as true believers:
What the believers need is not only … to really study the teachings, but also to have more peace-makers circulating among them . . . It is one of the functions of the older and the more mature Bahá’ís, to help the weaker ones to iron out their difficulties and learn to really function and live like true believers! (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
You are quite correct in your understanding of the importance of avoiding backbiting; since it strikes at the very unity of the Bahá’í community.
You are quite correct in your understanding of the importance of avoiding backbiting; such conduct strikes at the very unity of the Bahá’í community. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
In a letter written to an individual believer on behalf of the Guardian it is stated:
If we are better, if we show love, patience, and understanding of the weakness of others, if we seek to never criticize but rather encourage, others will do likewise, and we can really help the Cause through our example and spiritual strength. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 83)
This reinforces the role of the Assembly to act as loving parents. If we learn from the example shown by the House of Justice in their letters to individuals, they are always loving and encouraging.
However, learning not to concern oneself with the faults of others seems to be one of the most difficult lessons for people to master, and failing in this is area is a fertile cause of disputes among Bahá’ís, as you’ve discovered!
Learning not to concern oneself with the faults of others seems to be one of the most difficult lessons for people to master, and that failing in this is a fertile cause of disputes among Bahá’ís as it is among men and women in general. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
Unfortunately it seems easier to gossip and criticize than to put into practice love, constructive words and cooperation:
Unfortunately, not only average people, but average Bahá’ís, are very immature; gossip, trouble-making, criticism, seem easier than the putting into practice of love, constructive words and cooperation. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
It’s an imperfect eye that beholds imperfections in others:
The imperfect eye beholds imperfections. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 93)
This is the standard we need to reach for:
One must expose the praiseworthy qualities of the souls and not their evil attributes. The friends must overlook their shortcomings and faults and speak only of their virtues and not their defects. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)
One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, one can be a friend to the whole human race. If, however, we look at people from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend to them is a formidable task. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 168)
Here’s a story of how to apply the standard:
It is related that His Holiness Christ—May my life be a sacrifice to Him!—one day, accompanied by His apostles, passed by the corpse of a dead animal. One of them said: ‘How putrid has this animal become!’ The other exclaimed: ‘How it is deformed!’ A third cried out: ‘What a stench! How cadaverous looking!’ but His Holiness Christ said: “Look at its teeth! how white they are!’ Consider, that He did not look at all at the defects of that animal; nay, rather, He searched well until He found the beautiful white teeth. He observed only the whiteness of the teeth and overlooked entirely the deformity of the body, the dissolution of its organs and the bad odour. This is the attribute of the children of the Kingdom. This is the conduct and the manner of the real Bahá’ís. I hope that all the believers will attain to this lofty station. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)
In the next quote it looks pretty clear that discussing the faults of others in their absence is forbidden:
As regards backbiting, i.e. discussing the faults of others in their absence, the teachings are very emphatic. In a Tablet to an American friend the Master wrote: ‘The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting, more especially when it emanates from the tongues of the believers of God. If some means were devised so that the doors of backbiting were shut eternally and each one of the believers unsealed his lips in praise of others, then the Teachings of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh would spread, the hearts be illumined, the spirits glorified, and the human world would attain to everlasting felicity.’ (Quoted in Star of West, Vol. IV. p. 192) Bahá’u’lláh says in Hidden Words; ‘Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command ACCURSED ARE THOU.’ The condemnation of backbiting could hardly be couched in stronger language than in these passages, and it is obviously one of the foremost obligations for Bahá’ís to set their faces against this practice. Even if what is said against another person be true, the mentioning of his faults to others still comes under the category of backbiting, and is forbidden. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 87)
In the following quote, the position is clear and it doesn’t say there are exceptions to the rule:
Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.
(Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words, 27)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá does not permit adverse criticism by name in discussion unless the situation is of such gravity as to endanger the interests of the Faith:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá does not permit adverse criticism of individuals by name in discussion among the friends, even if the one criticizing believes that he is doing so to protect the interests of the Cause. If the situation is of such gravity as to endanger the interests of the Faith, the complaint, as your National Spiritual Assembly has indicated, should be submitted to the Local Spiritual Assembly, or as you state to a representative of the institution of the Counsellors, for consideration and action. In such cases, of course, the name of the person or persons involved will have to be mentioned. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)
Here is a checklist we could all use!
- Would this detraction serve any useful purpose?
- Would it please the Blessed Beauty?
- Would it contribute to the lasting honour of the friends?
- Would it promote the holy Faith?
- Would it support the covenant?
- Would it be of any possible benefit to any soul?
The answer to all of these is No, never!
If any individual should speak ill of one who is absent, it is incumbent on his hearers, in a spiritual and friendly manner, to stop him, and say in effect: would this detraction serve any useful purpose? Would it please the Blessed Beauty, contribute to the lasting honour of the friends, promote the holy Faith, support the covenant, or be of any possible benefit to any soul? No, never! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)
The consequences are clear – it makes the dust to settle so thickly on the heart that the ears would hear no more; the eyes would no longer behold the light of truth; it dampens the zeal of the friends; makes them indifferent; and is the leading reason why the friends withdraw:
On the contrary, it would make the dust to settle so thickly on the heart that the ears would hear no more, and the eyes would not longer behold the light of truth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)
If any soul speak ill of an absent one, the only result will clearly be this: he will dampen the zeal of the friends and tend to make them indifferent. For backbiting is divisive, it is the leading cause among the friends of a disposition to withdraw. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)
Even when an Assembly is dealing with an issue, backbiting causes more damage than the original offence:
If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’ís conduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course, always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or assistant. Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offense. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)
This one seems to have been written just for you, since you are standing for righteousness already!
Beware lest ye give ear to the words of those from whom the foul smell of malice and envy can be discerned; pay no heed to them, and stand ye for righteousness. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 200)
And you are doing your utmost to educate and prevent others from making complaints against others in your presence.
It is obvious that if we listen to those who complain to us about the faults of others we are guilty of complicity in their backbiting. We should therefore, as tactfully as possible, but yet firmly, do our utmost to prevent others from making accusations or complaints against others in our presence. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)
Every believer must know that he can confide a personal problem to an institution of the Faith, with the assurance that knowledge of the matter will remain confidential:
Every believer must know that he can confide a personal problem to an institution of the Faith, with the assurance that knowledge of the matter will remain confidential. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
If a Bahá’í accepts confidential information, he is in duty bound to preserve that confidentiality:
Members of Assemblies, whether they are assistants [to Auxiliary Board members] or not, are obviously in a position to receive confidential information as individuals from several sources. It is an important principle of the Faith that one must not promise what one is not going to fulfill. Therefore, if a Bahá’í accepts confidential information either by virtue of his profession (e.g. as a doctor, a lawyer, etc.), or by permitting another person to confide in him, he is in duty bound to preserve that confidentiality. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Any information which comes to the notice of an Assembly member by reason of his membership on that Assembly must not be divulged by that member, even though the Assembly itself may later decide to share it:
Any information which comes to the notice of an Assembly member, solely by reason of his membership on that Assembly must not be divulged by that member, even though the Assembly itself may later decide to share it. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Assistants have the same duty to observe the confidentiality of its consultations, and of matters considered by the Assembly to be confidential, as does any other member:
Assistants who are members of a National Assembly or a national committee do not function as assistants in relation to that body, and they have the same duty to observe the confidentiality of its consultations, and of matters considered by the Assembly to be confidential, as does any other member. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
If a member of the Assembly knows of a personal problem, and if he has not undertaken to keep it confidential, he may bring it to the Assembly’s attention if he feels it would be in the interests of the Faith for him to do so, but he is not obliged to:
If a member of the Assembly knows of a personal problem, and if he has not undertaken to keep it confidential, he may bring it to the Assembly’s attention if he feels it would be in the interests of the Faith for him to do so, but he is not obliged to. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Every institution in the Faith has certain matters which it considers should be kept confidential, and any member who is privy to such confidential information is obliged to preserve the confidentiality within the institution where he learned it:
Every institution in the Faith has certain matters which it considers should be kept confidential, and any member who is privy to such confidential information is obliged to preserve the confidentiality within the institution where he learned it. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Where no confidentiality is involved the institutions must strive to avoid the stifling atmosphere of secrecy:
Where no confidentiality is involved the institutions must strive to avoid the stifling atmosphere of secrecy. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
The Assembly must carefully consider which information should fall in the category of confidential information; which should not be shared with others, and which may be divulged under special circumstances, and how:
The Assembly must itself carefully consider which information should rightly fall in the category of confidential information and which should not be shared with others, and which information may be divulged under special circumstances, and how such information may be divulged. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Should confidential matters regarding personal problems be freely shared with others, the confidence of the believers in the Assembly and its members will obviously be destroyed:
Should confidential matters regarding personal problems be freely shared with others, upon application, the confidence of the believers in the Assembly and its members will obviously be destroyed. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Several weeks later, another reader asked similar questions:
- Is an Assembly bound by the same prohibition against backbiting as an individual?
- Can an Assembly discuss an individual who is not present in the room?
- What are the implications for the Assembly as a Local House of Justice?
- Would a Local Assembly, National Spiritual Assembly and the Universal House of Justice
- all use the same guidelines?
- What is the Assemblies role/responsibility in protection? (for example in cases of child abuse)
- If an Assembly is not allowed to make a decision with someone who is not a member in the room – how could it rule on cases concerning individuals (again for example in the case of child abuse or marital disputes)? Does the Local Assembly actually have the right/responsibility to deal with such issues?
Great question! Thanks for asking! I’ve done a bit of thinking on this subject already! You might want to take a look (at what I wrote above)!
While it doesn’t deal specifically with some of the individual questions you ask, it will get you into the ballpark!
Here is the most pertinent answer I’ve been able to find:
If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’ís conduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course, always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or assistant. Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offense. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)
In terms of reporting abuse, these quotes might give you what you’re looking for
I think what I was trying to say (in the article above) and perhaps didn’t do it very well as I’m just thinking on the spot . . .
We live in a society absolutely immersed in backbiting; to the extent that most of us get caught up in it as second nature; and we often don’t examine our participation in it very much, even though we’ve been told:
The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 88)
So since most of us are immature in this way; when we come to Assemblies, we bring this tendency with us, and it’s easy to hide behind our role as Assembly members as permission to engage in backbiting.
I think a much higher spiritual principle is being called on us here. Perhaps a close study of these quotes on backbiting might result in a fruitful discussion for the Assembly.
Remember, when we come to a Spiritual Assembly meeting, it’s a “spiritual” meeting; not a “problem solving” one; so spiritual principles need to take ascendency. My hunch is that if whatever issue is before your Assembly now, could be better served if everyone became thoroughly acquainted with the quotes on backbiting; and for the Assembly to attempt to make a decision based on them. Even though it’s an unusual approach to decision making, I think both individually and as an institution, you’d see tremendous spiritual growth by applying them.
Does this make sense?
Another thing to consider is that the Assembly is called on to be “loving parents”; and we have absolutely no idea what a loving parent would do!
In an ideal world, both parents would consult together and arrive at a decision in unity.
In order for both parents to have the same information, it would be a more effective consultation if they were both present when all the information was gleaned from their wayward child and those who feel wronged by their behaviour.
Many Assemblies appoint counselling committees composed of a small number of Assembly members, and rely on them to give the information to the whole Assembly. While this might be expedient, surely it’s just another form of backbiting with institutional support!
The following quote suggests that every Assembly member needs to have access to the same information, heard directly from the source, so that they can attain make an informed decision:
O SON OF SPIRIT!
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 2)
When every individual Assembly member has heard all the facts, directly from the source, there will be no need for backbiting. Consultation and decision making done this way will be a lot easier and more effective.
I’d really be interested in continuing a dialogue with you and your Assembly about this; as it’s a very important topic for the whole world!
It may even be time to consult the House of Justice on it!
Hope you find this helpful! I realize most of it talks about individuals; but I believe that it applies to individual Assembly members as well.
How has this been helpful? What’s been your experience? What would you add?