Select Page

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

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

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

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

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

He uses a very clear example here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adib reminds us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Life Has No Fruit

Some people have told me that this quote terrifies them:

The basest of men are they that yield no fruit on earth. Such men are verily counted as among the dead, nay better are the dead in the sight of God than those idle and worthless souls.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words #81)

They’ve come to understand “fruit” as meaning children, family life, productive work, service, philanthropy etc, and when they don’t marry and/or have children, or they lose a job or they don’t make enough to make ends meet, they judge themselves harshly and punish themselves with this quote.

But I think the Bahá’í Writings have a different understanding of what this quote means.

It’s true:

The fleeting hours of man’s life on earth pass swiftly by and the little that still remaineth shall come to an end, but that which endureth and lasteth for evermore is the fruit that man reapeth from his servitude at the Divine Threshold.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 234)

We know that one of the reasons we’re put on this earth is to develop the virtues we’ll need in the next world, so perhaps the “fruit that man reapeth from his servitude at the Divine Threshold” are the virtues we are continually acquiring.

With regards to your life bearing no fruit – I know this is a chronic source of pain for some of us, and I have every confidence we will be absolutely astonished when we get to the next world, to find out just how much fruit we’ve harvested to bring with us, I promise!  Let’s have this discussion then, OK?

Keep these quotes in mind – so you can banish the lies (my life has no fruit) from your hamster wheel, and replace it with the truth:

Read this:

One who performeth neither good deeds nor acts of worship is like unto a tree which beareth no fruit, and an action which leaveth no trace. Whosoever experienceth the holy ecstasy of worship will refuse to barter such an act or any praise of God for all that existeth in the world.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting)

Ask yourself:

  • Have you ever performed a good deed? Make a list of 25 of them!
  • Have you ever performed an act of worship? Said your daily prayers?  Attended a devotional gathering?

If so, your life has fruit!

Read this:

The Tree of Life is full of blossoms, leaves and fruits!—shade thereof is a peace to the soul and a rest to the consciousness. Whosoever is under this Tree will certainly partake of fruit. But shade trees are many in the forest, which, though fresh and verdant, are, nevertheless, fruitless. This truth shall finally become clear and manifest unto thee.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 126)

Ask yourself:

  • Are you under the “tree of life”?

If so, your life has fruit!

Read this:

The fleeting hours of man’s life on earth pass swiftly by and the little that still remaineth shall come to an end, but that which endureth and lasteth for evermore is the fruit that man reapeth from his servitude at the Divine Threshold.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 234)

Ask yourself:

  • Have you ever performed an act of service? At home?  To your parents?  Your spouse?  Your children?  Your boss?  Your coworkers?  The Faith?

If so, your life has fruit!

Read this:

What are the fruits of the human world? They are the spiritual attributes which appear in man. If man is bereft of those attributes, he is like a fruitless tree. One whose aspiration is lofty and who has developed self-reliance will not be content with a mere animal existence. He will seek the divine Kingdom; he will long to be in heaven although he still walks the earth in his material body, and though his outer visage be physical, his face of inner reflection will become spiritual and heavenly. Until this station is attained by man, his life will be utterly devoid of real outcomes. The span of his existence will pass away in eating, drinking and sleeping, without eternal fruits, heavenly traces or illumination—without spiritual potency, everlasting life or the lofty attainments intended for him during his pilgrimage through the human world. You must thank God that your efforts are high and noble, that your endeavors are worthy, that your intentions are centered upon the Kingdom of God and that your supreme desire is the acquisition of eternal virtues. You must act in accordance with these requirements. A man may be a Bahá’í in name only. If he is a Bahá’í in reality, his deeds and actions will be decisive proofs of it. What are the requirements? Love for mankind, sincerity toward all, reflecting the oneness of the world of humanity, philanthropy, becoming enkindled with the fire of the love of God, attainment to the knowledge of God and that which is conducive to human welfare.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 335)

Ask yourself:

  • What are your spiritual attributes? We all have them?  If you are stuck, this list will help.  Make a list of your strengths and/or ask your loved ones.  They’ll be able to tell you.
  • Are your aspirations lofty?
  • Have you developed self-reliance?
  • Do you seek the divine Kingdom?
  • Do you long to be in heaven?
  • Is your face of inner reflection spiritual and heavenly?
  • Are your efforts high and noble?
  • Are your endeavors worthy?
  • Are your intentions centered upon the Kingdom of God?
  • Is your supreme desire the acquisition of eternal virtues?
  • Do you have love for mankind and sincerity toward all?
  • Do your deeds reflect the oneness of the world of humanity?
  • Are you philanthropic through sacrificial donations to the Fund?
  • Is your Right of God up to date?
  • Are you becoming enkindled with the fire of the love of God?
  • Do you have a knowledge of God?
  • Do you understand that which is conducive to human welfare?

If so, your life has fruit!

If not, you know what you need to work on!

Read this:

… the fruit of man’s earthly existence, which is the recognition of the one true God …
(Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 344-345)

Ask yourself:

  • Have you recognized God?

If so, your life has fruit!

Conclusion:

So let’s summarize.  As you can see, the fruits of your life include:

  • Recognition of the one true God
  • performing good deeds and acts of worship
  • shade to others, which is a peace to their souls and a rest for their consciousness
  • servitude at the Divine Threshold
  • spiritual attributes
  • lofty aspirations
  • seeking the divine Kingdom
  • longing to be in heaven while you still walk the earth
  • your face of inner reflection is spiritual and heavenly
  • gratitude that your efforts are high and noble, that your endeavors are worthy, that your intentions are centered upon the Kingdom of God and that your supreme desire is the acquisition of eternal virtues
  • acting in accordance with these requirements
  • all your deeds and actions
  • your love for mankind
  • your sincerity toward all
  • reflecting the oneness of the world of humanity
  • philanthropy
  • becoming enkindled with the fire of the love of God
  • attaining knowledge of God and that which is conducive to human welfare.

How has this helped you understand this topic better?  Post your comments below.

Overcoming Our Ego

What is Our Ego?

We all have two natures – the higher and the lower.

In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature.  In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone.  Signs of both these natures are to be found in men.  In his material aspect he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcome of his lower nature.  The attributes of his Divine nature are shown forth in love, mercy, kindness, truth and justice, one and all being expressions of his higher nature.  Every good habit, every noble quality belongs to man’s spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 60)

The ego is the animal side of us, which is full of selfish desires:

The ego is the animal in us, the heritage of the flesh which is full of selfish desires.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

Other names for ego include lower nature, and Satan:

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

According to the Bahá’í teachings, there is no such being as Satan. Satan is a human being who is led by his ego to live a life of wickedness and ungodliness. Shoghi Effendi’s secretary states on his behalf that ‘devil or Satan is symbolic of evil and dark forces yielding to temptation’ (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 513)

How is the Ego Developed?

From early childhood, human society trains us to exalt ourselves above others with the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power:

Human society at present exerts a pernicious influence upon the soul of man. Instead of allowing him to live a life of service and sacrifice, it is highly competitive and teaches him to pride himself on his accomplishments. From early childhood he is trained to develop his ego and to seek to exalt himself above others, in the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)

How Does the Ego Manifest?

Instead of allowing us to live a life of service and sacrifice, our ego is highly competitive and teaches us to pride ourselves on our accomplishments. From early childhood we are trained to exalt ourselves above others, with the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power.

Instead of allowing him to live a life of service and sacrifice, it is highly competitive and teaches him to pride himself on his accomplishments. From early childhood he is trained to develop his ego and to seek to exalt himself above others, in the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)

It manifests when we are thinking only of ourselves:

If man were to care for himself only he would be nothing but an animal for only the animals are thus egoistic. If you bring a thousand sheep to a well to kill nine hundred and ninety-nine the one remaining sheep would go on grazing, not thinking of the others and worrying not at all about the lost, never bothering that its own kind had passed away, or had perished or been killed. To look after one’s self only is therefore an animal propensity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 41)

It manifests when we are willing to be well off while others are in misery and distress:

It is the animal propensity to live solitary and alone. It is the animal proclivity to look after one’s own comfort. But man was created to be a man—to be fair, to be just, to be merciful, to be kind to all his species, never to be willing that he himself be well off while others are in misery and distress—this is an attribute of the animal and not of man. Nay, rather, man should be willing to accept hardships for himself in order that others may enjoy wealth; he should enjoy trouble for himself that others may enjoy happiness and well-being. This is the attribute of man. This is becoming of man. Otherwise man is not man—he is less than the animal.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 41)

It manifests as personal desires and achievement of leadership:

Now some of the mischief-makers, with many stratagems, are seeking leadership, and in order to reach this position they instil doubts among the friends that they may cause differences, and that these differences may result in their drawing a party to themselves. But the friends of God must be awake and must know that the scattering of these doubts hath as its motive personal desires and the achievement of leadership.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 214)

It manifests when we ascribe certain attributs as belonging to us and not to God; and when we employ them to boost our own ego:

In many of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh exhorts His followers not to become the bond-slaves of the Kingdom of Names. The well-known Islamic saying, ‘The Names come down from heaven’, has many meanings. In this world every one of God’s attributes is clad with a name, and every such name reveals the characteristics of that attribute. For instance, generosity is an attribute of God, and it manifests itself in human beings. However, a person who has this attribute often becomes proud of it and loves to be referred to as generous. When his generosity is acknowledged by other people, he becomes happy, and when it is ignored, he is unhappy. This is one form of attachment to the Kingdom of Names. Although this example concerns the name ‘generosity‘, the same is true of all the names and attributes of God manifested within the individual. Usually man ascribes these attributes to his own person rather than to God and employs them to boost his own ego. For instance, a learned man uses the attribute of knowledge to become famous and feels gratified and uplifted when his name is publicized far and wide. Or there is the individual whose heart leaps with feelings of pride and satisfaction when he hears his name mentioned and finds himself admired. These are examples of attachment to the Kingdom of Names.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 25)

It manifests when we take responsibility of the Faith into our own hands and try to force it into ways that we wish it to go:

The Universal House of Justice has emphasized the importance of our avoiding any tendency to take responsibility for the Cause into our own hands: ‘Service to the Cause of God requires absolute fidelity and integrity and unwavering faith in Him. No good but only evil can come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go regardless of the clear texts and our own limitations. It is His Cause. He has promised that its light will not fail. Our part is to cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions that He has created to preserve His Covenant.’  (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 119)

It manifests during Bahá’í consultation, particularly on the Assembly:

The application of these spiritual standards makes Bahá’í consultation a testing ground for every member of the Assembly. All the virtues of the individual—his faith, his courage and his steadfastness in the Covenant—undergo a rigorous test as the members sit around the table to consult. Here the spiritual battle within the soul of the individual begins and will continue as long as the ego is the dictator. Indeed, in many cases this battle lasts a lifetime. In this battlefield the forces of light and darkness are arrayed against each other. On the one side stands the spiritual entity, the soul of the believer; on the other, a great enemy, the self or ego. Whenever the soul hearkens to the lofty standards set by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and applies them during consultation, the ego, defeated, recedes into the background. The soul emerges victorious in this battle and becomes radiant with the light of faith and detachment. The application of these spiritual principles, however, must be genuine and not merely superficial. The feelings of love, unity, detachment and harmony must come from the heart. Humility and servitude, radiance, devotion, courtesy and patience, along with all the other virtues, are qualities of the spirit. These cannot be manifested by paying lip service to them. If this is the case, then the ego is the victor.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 36-37)

It manifests as Covenant Breaking:

Many people are puzzled by the fact that almost the entire family of Bahá’u’lláh defected. Why is it that those who were nearest to Him, who were members of His household, His sons and daughters, should be foremost among the violators of His Covenant? In normal circumstances, when a person attains a prominent position in the community, it is often the family members who rally around him and lend their whole-hearted support. But in the case of Bahá’u’lláh it was the reverse and a similar situation was created within the family of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá after His passing. To appreciate the reasons for this, we observe once again that the proper attitude of a believer towards the Manifestation of God should be a true demonstration of servitude, self-effacement and complete obedience. Whenever these qualities are absent, a barrier will be created between man and God. In such a case the believer may be associating with the Manifestation of God in person, yet because of this barrier he will not be able to appreciate His glory or become enchanted with His Revelation.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 25)

What Happens When We Give In To Our Ego’s Demands?

We are prevented from ascending to the realms of holiness:

Anger, passion, ignorance, prejudice, greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion prevent man from ascending to the realms of holiness, imprisoning him in the claws of self and the cage of egotism.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241)

Sin and error continue:

As long as the ego is subject to carnal desires, sin and error continue. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 184)

Our spiritual life is imperilled:

Shoghi Effendi writes: “After recognition of the Manifestation, the believer will be tested by God in many ways. Each time he passes a test, he will acquire greater spiritual insight and will grow stronger in faith. The closer he gets to the person of the Manifestation the more difficult become his tests. It is then that any trace of ambition or ego may imperil his spiritual life.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 1, p. 129)

We are changed into an animal, unable to judge good from evil, or to distinguish light from darkness:

As long as man is a captive of habit, pursuing the dictates of self and desire, he is vanquished and defeated. This passionate personal ego takes the reins from his hands, crowds out the qualities of the divine ego and changes him into an animal, a creature unable to judge good from evil, or to distinguish light from darkness. He becomes blind to divine attributes, for this acquired individuality, the result of an evil routine of thought becomes the dominant note of his life.  May all of you be freed from these dangers and delivered from the world of desires that you may enter into the realm of light and become divine, radiant, merciful, Godlike.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 133)

We lose our faith, our goodness and virtues; and fall into the abyss of degradation and ignominy:

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

We are summoned to wickedness and lust:

O people of the world!  Follow not the promptings of the self, for it summoneth insistently to wickedness and lust; follow, rather, Him Who is the Possessor of all created things, Who biddeth you to show forth piety, and manifest the fear of God. He, verily, is independent of all His creatures.  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 41)

We will wander in the desert of heedlessness and regret:

Whosoever is occupied with himself is wandering in the desert of heedlessness and regret. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

We will remain deprived of the outpourings of God:

But if … any one betray the least of trusts or neglect and be remiss in the performance of duties which are intrusted to him, or by oppression takes one penny of extortion from the subjects, or seeks after his own personal, selfish aims and ends in the attainment of his own interests, he shall undoubtedly remain deprived of the outpourings of His Highness the Almighty! Beware! Beware! lest ye fall short in that which ye are commanded in this Tablet!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 403)

We will be entirely severed from God:

They do not know the subtlety of the ego of man. It is the Tempter (the subtle serpent of the mind), and the poor soul not entirely emancipated from its suggestions is deceived until entirely severed from all save God.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 487)

How Do We Subdue Our Ego?

Man can never completely eliminate the ego, but it can and should be ever-increasingly subordinated to the enlightened soul of man:

The complete and entire elimination of the ego would imply perfection—which man can never completely attain—but the ego can and should be ever-increasingly subordinated to the enlightened soul of man. This is what spiritual progress implies.  (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 11)

We can seek to become more perfect:

The only people who are truly free of the “dross of self” are the Prophets, for to be free of one’s ego is a hall-mark of perfection. We humans are never going to become perfect, for perfection belongs to a realm we are not destined to enter. However, we must constantly mount higher, seek to be more perfect.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

We can recognize that the Manifestation of God abides in a realm far above that of man

If we recognize that the Manifestation of God abides in a realm far above that of man, it becomes evident to us that the human intellect, when freed from self and ego, will admit its inability to appreciate fully the inner realities of the Word of God and His Covenant. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 1, p. 129)

We can understand that when we give free rein to our egos, we’re acting against God:

The mere consciousness of the fact that one is acting against God in condemning and attacking his fellow man, is sufficient to deter him in the pursuit of such reprehensible behaviour. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 189)

We can obey the laws of God, seek to live the life, pray and struggle:

By obeying the laws of God, seeking to live the life laid down in our teachings, and prayer and struggle, we can subdue our egos. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 453)

We can adorn ourselves with the virtues of humility and self-effacement:

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

We can detach from all earthly things and banish all traces of passion and desire, of ego and  self-glorification:

But the requirements of faith and the path to Baha’u’llah……..remain unchanged. It is necessary for the believer of today, ………, to detach himself from all earthly things and to banish from his soul the traces of passion and desire, of ego and  self-glorification in order that he may truly appreciate the awe-inspiring station of Baha’u’llah …….. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 215)

We can renounce and forget our “self”:

The ‘Master Key’ to self-mastery is self- forgetting. The road to the palace of life is through the path of renunciation.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

We can eliminate the use of the word “I”:

Bahá’u’lláh calls on the individual to kindle a fire within his soul and burn away every trace of self so that the concept and the very word ‘I’ may totally disappear from his being. Indeed this is one of the most profound teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. When a person tries to exalt himself, to celebrate his own name and aspires to become famous he is, in fact, going right against the plan of creation. Such an individual hinders the flow of the bounties of God to himself. Although outwardly he may be considered a great success, in reality he has failed to fulfill the purpose for which he was created. When a man attains to real greatness, he then recognizes his helplessness, unworthiness and impotence. And when he becomes truly learned he genuinely discovers that he is ignorant. It is then that he can manifest the attributes of God within himself and impart them to others.   (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 43)

We can sever ourselves from the Kingdom of Names:

To sever oneself from the Kingdom of Names may prove to be the most difficult task for a Bahá’í, and the struggle may indeed last a lifetime. If a man can only realize that his virtues are not intrinsically his own, but rather are manifestations of the attributes of God, then he is freed from the Kingdom of Names and becomes truly humble. Such a man will bestow divine perfections upon the world of humanity. This is the loftiest station that God has destined for man. To the extent that a believer succeeds in severing himself from these three forms of attachment, will he be fulfilling his part in the Covenant of God.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 28)

We can leave authority in the hands of the institutions :

One of the distinguishing features of Bahá’u’lláh’s embryonic world order is that it does not harbour egotistical personalities. Bahá’u’lláh has conferred authority on its institutions, whether local, national or international, but the individuals who are privileged to serve on them are devoid of any authority. Unlike men who wield power in the world today and seek to acquire fame and popularity, members of Bahá’í institutions cannot but manifest humility and self-effacement if they are to remain faithful to Bahá’u’lláh. Those who do not succeed, through immaturity or lack of faith, in living up to these standards are indeed attached to the Kingdom of Names and become deprived of the bounties of God in this age.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 25-26)

We can protect ourselves from becoming complacent or indifferent:

Life is a constant struggle, not only against forces around us, but above all against our own ‘ego’. We can never afford to rest on our oars, for if we do, we soon see ourselves carried down stream again. Many of those who drift away from the Cause do so for the reason that they had ceased to go on developing. They became complacent, or indifferent, and consequently ceased to draw the spiritual strength and vitality from the Cause which they should have.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

We can repent and return:

We have repeatedly revealed similar utterances, but they have not profited the heedless ones, for they are found to be captives to egotism and lust. Ask thou God to enable all of them to repent and return . . . It is hoped that the hand of the Divine mercy, and the blessings of the compassionate One may assist them all, and adorn them with the garment of forgiveness and favor; and that He may also guard them from that which impairs His Cause among His servants. Verily, He is the powerful, the mighty, and He is the forgiving, the merciful! (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 184)

We can never afford to rest on our oars, for if we do, we soon see ourselves carried downstream again:

Life is a constant struggle, not only against forces around us, but above all against our own ‘ego‘. We can never afford to rest on our oars, for if we do, we soon see ourselves carried downstream again.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

We can burn away every veil that comes between us and God:

There are passages in the Mathnavi in which Bahá’u’lláh exhorts man to burn away every veil that comes between him and God. Then and only then can he behold the beauty and grandeur of his Lord. One of these veils is the ego.   (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 43)

The best way to do this is through prayer – as this line from the Long Obligatory Prayer tells us:

I beseech Thee by them Who are the Daysprings of Thine invisible Essence, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, to make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils which have shut me out from Thy beauty, and a light that will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence.  (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 6)

What Happens When We Overcome Our Ego?

We will be called saints:

We call people “saints” who have achieved the highest degree of mastery over their ego.  (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 453)

We will not be discouraged by  criticism or pleased with praise and glorification:

When a person reaches this stage of maturity and discernment, he will neither be discouraged by undue criticism, nor pleased with praise and glorification. It is always the ego which feels offended in the former case and gratified in the latter. The above-mentioned teaching of Bahá’u’lláh helps the individual to subdue his ego.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 189)

We will recieve the confirmations of the Kingdom:

Today the confirmations of the Kingdom of Abha are with those who renounce themselves, forget their own opinions, cast aside personalities and are thinking of the welfare of others.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

We will make spiritual progress:

Regarding the points you refer to in your letter: the complete and entire elimination of the ego would imply perfection — which man can never completely attain — but the ego can and should be ever-increasingly subordinated to the enlightened soul of man. This is what spiritual progress implies. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 11)

We will strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection:

The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.   (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

Adib Taherzadeh has a story of those early believers who were able to subdue their egos:

“There were many among His disciples who were enabled to subdue their ego. By their words and deeds they demonstrated their utter nothingness when they came face to face with their Lord. These became the spiritual giants of this Dispensation, and through their faith they shed an imperishable lustre upon the Cause of God. It is concerning such men, during the days of Baghdad, that Nabil writes:

Many a night, no less than ten persons subsisted on no more than a pennyworth of dates. No one knew to whom actually belonged the shoes, the cloaks, or the robes that were to be found in their houses. Whoever went to the bazaar could claim that the shoes upon his feet were his own, and each one who entered the presence of Bahá’u’lláh could affirm that the cloak and robe he then wore belonged to him. Their own names they had forgotten, their hearts were emptied of aught else except adoration for their Beloved… O, for the joy of those days, and the gladness and wonder of those hours!”  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 214 -216)

How has this helped you understand the ego better?  Post your comments below!

Healthy and Unhealthy Guilt and Shame

 

Is it possible to rid myself of a childhood steeped in Catholic guilt?  Is guilt a healthy emotion?  Does God want me to feel guilty for “sins of omission”, things I didn’t do which the Baha’i Writings suggest I do, and I want to do?

If I pray each day for God to guide my movement and my stillness, and don’t do any direct teaching that day, will He cut off all the bounties He’s promised for those who do?  These are some of the questions that plague me from time to time.

Healthy Guilt: 

Shoghi Effendi suggests that we can feel guilty for the things we’ve done (including misdeeds) as well as the things we’ve left undone (including failure to accomplish our duty towards God):

It is because of this dual guilt, the things it has done and the things it has left undone, its misdeeds as well as its dismal and signal failure to accomplish its clear and unmistakable duty towards God, His Messenger, and His Faith, that this grievous ordeal, whatever its immediate political and economic causes, has laid its adamantine grip upon it.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 115)

He seems to be suggesting in this quote, that not only have these things damaged our own souls but have also contributed to the political and economic ordeal the world is going through.

So if I feel guilty then, is it because my soul is acutely aware of the part I’ve played or is it my ego taking responsibility for things that are beyond my control?

Going back to the quote, when Shoghi Effendi says “whatever its immediate political and economic causes”, suggests to me that while the immediate causes and subsequent ordeals we’re going through are beyond me, I do have a part to play.

This makes sense when I think about the global economic crisis, where governments are so far in debt they’ll never be able to pay it back.  This is a reflection of society in general.  We’ve never seen a time when so many people are going bankrupt at a personal level.  As individuals we don’t know how to handle debt so at a societal level, what would make our government officials and their decisions any different?

Perhaps it all goes back to truthfulness as the foundation.  If I buy something I can’t afford and put it on credit, I’m not being truthful about living within my means.  I’m lying to myself about what I can afford and what I can’t.  At that level, I can see how I as an individual can and should feel guilty for my part in contributing to the current economic problems.  If my guilt causes me to understand this, and change my behavior, so I become debt free, not only will I get clear with God, but will be contributing to the betterment of the world as well.  So this would be an example of healthy guilt. 

What causes guilt? 

Shoghi Effendi suggests we will be held accountable before God for committing evils and vices which are the direct consequence of the weakening of religion.

Not only must irreligion and its monstrous offspring, the triple curse that oppresses the soul of mankind in this day, be held responsible for the ills which are so tragically besetting it, but other evils and vices, which are, for the most part, the direct consequences of the “weakening of the pillars of religion,” must also be regarded as contributory factors to the manifold guilt of which individuals and nations stand convicted.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 237)

The corollary of this, then, seems to be that by strengthening our religion, we will be protected from committing evils and vices. 

Unhealthy Guilt:

Here’s a quote that puzzles me:

Eschew all manner of wickedness, for such things are forbidden unto you in the Book which none touch except such as God hath cleansed from every taint of guilt, and numbered among the purified.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 277-278)

I understand the first part of the sentence, which says I need to avoid all the things that are forbidden in God’s book of laws.  That makes sense!  What I don’t understand is the second part: “which none touch except such as God hath cleansed from every taint of guilt and numbered with the purified”.

Does this mean that those who read and understand His Book of laws have been cleansed from every taint of guilt and numbered with the purified? Is this suggesting that any guilt I feel from this point on is unhealthy guilt?  What do you think?

How many times have we all said this prayer?

O God, guide me, protect me . . . (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 36)

It occurred to me in this morning’s meditation, that if I pray for God to guide me, and then feel guilty for not doing something other than I did, it’s because I don’t trust God.

Why would I ask him to guide me and protect me, and then not trust Him when He does?

So perhaps guilt in that sense is not about failing to do something I thought I “should” do, but for not trusting God.  He won’t hold me accountable for failing to do something when He’s protected me from it; but He will hold me accountable for not trusting Him.

Shoghi Effendi tells us that nothing is as important as our trust in God:

No matter what happens, nothing is as important as our feeling of trust in God, our inner peacefulness and faith that all, in the end, in spite of the severity of the ordeals we may pass through will come out as Bahá’u’lláh has promised.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 237)

Baha’u’llah assures us of God’s protection as something we can trust in:

He that placeth his complete trust in God, God shall, verily, protect him from whatsoever may harm him, and shield him from the wickedness of every evil plotter.  (Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 47)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá shows us what trusting God’s assistance can do in our lives:

Therefore, let us ever trust in God and seek confirmation and assistance from Him. Let us have perfect and absolute confidence in the bounty of the Kingdom. Review the events surrounding souls of bygone times in the beginning of their day; and again consider them when, through the aid and assistance of God, they proved to be the mighty ones of God. Remember that Peter was a fisherman, but through the bounty of the Kingdom he became the great apostle. Mary Magdalene was a villager of lowly type, yet that selfsame Mary was transformed and became the means through which the confirmation of God descended upon the disciples. Verily, she served the Kingdom of God with such efficiency that she became well-known and oft mentioned by the tongues of men. Even today she is shining from the horizon of eternal majesty. Consider how infinite is the bounty of God that a woman such as Mary Magdalene should be selected by God to become the channel of confirmation to the disciples and a light of nearness in His Kingdom. Consequently, trust ye in the bounty and grace of God, and rest assured in the bestowals of His eternal outpouring. I hope that each one of you may become a shining light even as these electric lights are now brilliant in their intensity. Nay, may each one of you be a luminary like unto a sparkling star in the heaven of the divine Will. This is my supplication at the throne of God. This is my hope through the favors of Bahá’u’lláh. I offer this prayer in behalf of all of you and beg with a contrite heart that you may be assisted and glorified with an eternal bestowal.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 420)

In this quote He seems to promise that when we:

  • trust God
  • seek His confirmations and assistance
  • have perfect and absolute confidence in His bounties

He comes to our aid and assistance so that we can become the mighty ones of God.  Isn’t it wonderful to know that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is praying that we may be assisted in this!

Again ‘Abdu’l-Bahá shows me that I need to let go of my shame and guilt for not living up to someone else’s expectations of me:

Trust in God and be unmoved by either the praise or the false accusations declared by people towards thee, depend entirely on God and exert thyself to serve His holy vineyard. All else save this is but imagination, though it be the praises of all people in thy behalf; because all else is of no result and bears no fruit.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 158)

Are there other examples of unhealthy guilt in the Writings?

The House of Justice suggests that being exposed to horrific consequences of racism can cause us to feel a profound sense of shame at the depths of evil that humanity is capable of:

Even before hostilities had ended, public audiences throughout the world were stunned by film coverage of the liberation of Nazi death camps, which exposed for all to see the horrific consequences of racism. What can adequately be described only as a profound sense of shame at the depths of evil that humanity had shown itself capable of committing shook the conscience of humankind.  (Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p. 72)

Mankind also suffers from a legacy of victimization and guilt around race unity issues:

Owing to the legacy of victimization and also the sense of guilt which many feel in relation to this issue, the race-unity work can often arouse strong emotions. Thus, it is inevitable that there will be exaggerated expressions on the subject from time to time.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1998 Mar 24, Most Challenging Issue)

And that trauma also leaves us with a legacy of feeling guilty for things that weren’t our fault:

The confused feelings on your part are understandable, considering the extreme trauma you have experienced, and it is not unusual for those who are victimized to feel guilty for situations that occurred through no fault of their own.  (Universal House of Justice, to an individual, 12 January 2010)

So what can we do when we feel guilty for things that aren’t our fault or are beyond our control?

Detachment seems to be the key; so then we can take responsibility for our part in transforming society around us:

The personal transformation required for true equality will undoubtedly be difficult for men and women alike. Both must relinquish all attachment to guilt and blame and courageously assume responsibility for their own part in transforming the societies in which they live.  (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Sept 13, Role of Religion in Promoting Advancement of Women)

 Healthy Shame:

Are there things we should feel shame about?  If so, what are they?  Baha’u’llah tells us we should feel shame if we do anything to bring shame to ourselves; or dishonor the Cause in the eyes of men:

Commit not, O people, that which will bring shame upon you or dishonor the Cause of God in the eyes of men, and be not of the mischief-makers. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 277-278)

And for anything our minds condemn:

Approach not the things which your minds condemn. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 277-278)

And from doing anything that’s forbidden in God’s laws:

Eschew all manner of wickedness, for such things are forbidden unto you in the Book . . . (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 277-278)

And for being veiled from God:

Thy servant’s shame is to be shut out as by a veil from Thee.  (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 208)

And for perpetrating violence against women:

Women will not be safe until a new social conscience takes hold, one which will make the mere expression of condescending attitudes towards women, let alone any form of physical violence, a cause for deep shame.  (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Oct, Turning Point For All Nations)

Shame seems to be normal, in that even Baha’u’llah suffered from it:

Thou beholdest, O my God, the tears that my shame hath caused to flow, and the sighs which my heedlessness hath led me to utter.  (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 5)

Our faculty of shame deters and guards us against doing things that are unworthy or unseemly:

Indeed, there existeth in man a faculty which deterreth him from, and guardeth him against, whatever is unworthy and unseemly, and which is known as his sense of shame. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 27)

And we should be grateful if we have it, because not everyone does!

This, however, is confined to but a few; all have not possessed, and do not possess, it.  (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 27)

Whether we have it or we don’t, we’re all still responsible for knowing what leads us to loftiness or abasement, shame or honor:

Man should know his own self, and understand those things which lead to loftiness or to abasement, to shame or to honor, to affluence or to poverty.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 145)

Our greatest shame is to worship things at the lowest levels of existence:

At the same time we see man worshipping a stone, a clod of earth, or a tree: how vile he is, in that his object of worship should be the lowest existence that is a stone, or clay, without spirit; a mountain, a forest, or a tree. What shame is greater for man than to worship the lowest existence?  (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i World Faith, p. 332)

Baha’u’llah gives us a story to illustrate what this looks like:

Alas, most of the people are fast asleep. They are even as the man who, in his drunkenness, became attracted to a dog, took it in his embrace, and made it his plaything, and who, when the morn of discernment dawned and the light of the sun enveloped the horizon, realized that the object of his affection was but a dog. Then, filled with shame and remorse, he repaired to his abode.  (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 170)

 Does shame serve a purpose? 

‘Abdu’l-Bahá suggests that shame is a sign of progress, since it encourages us to do better:

To a woman who said she was unhappy with herself, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá responded:  “This is a sign of progress.  The person who is satisfied with himself is the manifestation of Satan and the one who is not satisfied is the manifestation of the Merciful One.  An egotist does not progress but the one who thinks himself imperfect will seek perfection for himself and will progress . . . .the attainment of absolute perfection for a human being is impossible; thus, however much he may progress he is still imperfect and has above him a point higher than himself.  (Mahmoud’s Diary, p. 216)

The Baha’i International Community, in “Who is Writing the Future”, suggests that out of our collective shame following World War 2, came a commitment that led to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights:

Exposure of the appalling suffering visited on the victims of human perversity during the course of the war produced a worldwide sense of shock – and what can only be termed deep feelings of shame. Out of this trauma emerged a new kind of moral commitment that was formally institutionalized in the work of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and its associated agencies.  (Baha’i International Community, 1999 Feb, Who is Writing the Future)

 What do we do to weaken our sense of shame? 

We turn away from God’s love:

And whatsoever people turneth its heart away from this Divine Love — the revelation of the Merciful — shall err grievously, shall fall into despair, and be utterly destroyed. That people shall be denied all refuge, shall become even as the vilest creatures of the earth, victims of degradation and shame.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 27)

And when we do, it causes us to:

  • err grievously
  • fall into despair
  • be utterly destroyed
  • be denied all refuge
  • become even as the vilest creatures of the earth
  • become victims of degradation and shame.

No wonder the Writings are so full of quotes reminding us to “cling to the cord” of God’s love!

Cling thou to the hem of the Robe of God, and take thou firm hold on His Cord, a Cord which none can sever.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 307)

Especially when we feel the extent of our transgressions and evildoings:

Though my transgressions be manifold, and unnumbered my evildoings, yet do I cleave tenaciously to the cord of His bounty, and cling unto the hem of His generosity.  (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 110)

Here’s another example of how we lessen our sense of shame.  We

  • stray from God’s path
  • turn away from God
  • corrupt His principles
  • center our attention on the wrong people

 As they gradually strayed from the path of their Ideal Leader and Master, as they turned away from the Light of God and corrupted the principle of His Divine unity, and as they increasingly centered their attention upon them who were only the revealers of the potency of His Word, their power was turned into weakness, their glory into shame, their courage into fear.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 69)

When we do this:

  • Our power turns to weakness
  • Our glory turns into shame
  • Our courage turns into fear

In the following quote, Baha’u’llah tells us what happens in the next world every time we:

  • Breath a word counter to His wishes
  • Inflict shame or humiliation on his neighbor
  • Commit a transgression

.  . . which we all do every single day, since we are all sinners!

This is what happens:

  • The “All-Merciful” repairs, grief-stricken and disconsolate to its abode;
  • The “Concealer” turns back chagrined and sorrowful to its retreats of glory, where He weeps and mourns with a sore lamentation.
  • The “Ever-Forgiving” cries out in great distress, and, overcome with anguish, falls upon the dust, and has to be carried away by a company of the invisible angels to its habitation in the realms above.

Here’s the quote:

Every time My name “the All-Merciful” was told that one of My lovers had breathed a word that runneth counter to My wish, it repaired, grief-stricken and disconsolate to its abode; and whenever My name “the Concealer” discovered that one of My followers had inflicted any shame or humiliation on his neighbor, it, likewise, turned back chagrined and sorrowful to its retreats of glory, and there wept and mourned with a sore lamentation. And whenever My name “the Ever-Forgiving” perceived that any one of My friends had committed any transgression, it cried out in its great distress, and, overcome with anguish, fell upon the dust, and was borne away by a company of the invisible angels to its habitation in the realms above.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 308-309)

That’s enough to bring shame to my heart and make me want to do better, how about you?!

In case it didn’t, here’s another one:

The fire that hath inflamed the heart of Bahá is fiercer than the fire that gloweth in thine heart, and His lamentation louder than thy lamentation. Every time the sin committed by any one amongst them was breathed in the Court of His Presence, the Ancient Beauty would be so filled with shame as to wish He could hide the glory of His countenance from the eyes of all men, for He hath, at all times, fixed His gaze on their fidelity, and observed its essential requisites.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 309)

Here Baha’u’llah seems to be saying that whatever lamentation we might be feeling, He feels it more and that every single sin we commit causes Him to feel such shame that He wants to hide his glory from the eyes of everyone.

It makes God sad to know that He created us for glory and we’ve chosen shame:

Imperishable glory I have chosen for thee, yet boundless shame thou hast chosen for thyself.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 21)

He doesn’t want us to choose shame, and conceals it every time we give our hearts to anyone or anything but Him:

All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 27)

How do we overcome shame?

As usual Baha’u’llah gives clear guidance.

How well hath it been said: “Cling unto the robe of the Desire of thy heart, and put thou away all shame; bid the worldlywise be gone, however great their name.”  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 69)

We’re to:

  • Cling to God
  • Stop doing things that bring shame upon us
  • Turn away from the worldlywise

We’re also to seek glory for ourselves:

Love accepteth no existence and wisheth no life: He seeth life in death, and in shame seeketh glory.  (Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 9)

And our glory lies in knowing God:

. . . and his glory is to know Thee.  (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 208)

And being obedient to His laws:

In all these journeys the traveler must stray not the breadth of a hair from the “Law,” for this is indeed the secret of the “Path” and the fruit of the Tree of “Truth”; and in all these stages he must cling to the robe of obedience to the commandments, and hold fast to the cord of shunning all forbidden things, that he may be nourished from the cup of the Law and informed of the mysteries of Truth.  (Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 39-40)

It all goes back to our purpose in life, which is to know and worship God as we’re reminded when we recite the short obligatory prayer:

I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.  (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3)

Did you ever wonder why God wants us to admit to our powerlessness and recognize our poverty every single day of our lives?  Baha’u’llah explains:

Inspire them, O my Lord, with a sense of their own powerlessness before Him Who is the Manifestation of Thy Self, and teach them to recognize the poverty of their own nature in the face of the manifold tokens of Thy self-sufficiency and riches, that they may gather together round Thy Cause, and cling to the hem of Thy mercy, and cleave to the cord of the good-pleasure of Thy will.  (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 47)

It’s so that we may:

  • gather together around His Cause
  • cling to the hem of His mercy
  • cleave to the cord of the good-pleasure of His will.

Shoghi Effendi tells us why it’s important to say these prayers every day:

As to the attitude of resentment which the young believers are inclined to assume regarding certain precepts of the Cause such as Obligatory prayers; there can and should be no compromise whatever in such matters that are specifically enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh. We should neither have any feeling of shame when observing such laws and precepts, nor should we over-estimate their value and significance.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 639)

It looks to me that knowing and worshiping God is a good prescription for overcoming guilt and shame.

Unhealthy shame:

It’s quotes like this that can easily trigger profound shame for not doing enough:

Ours rather the duty, however confused the scene, however dismal the present outlook, however circumscribed the resources we dispose of, to labor serenely, confidently, and unremittingly to lend our share of assistance, in whichever way circumstances may enable us, to the operation of the forces which, as marshaled and directed by Bahá’u’lláh, are leading humanity out of the valley of misery and shame to the loftiest summits of power and glory.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 123)

When I look at the quote more carefully, though, it brings me back to praying for God to “guide and protect me” and to “let my movement and my stillness be wholly directed by Thee”, when it says “in whichever way circumstances may enable us”.  So if circumstances don’t enable me to do the things I think I should do, I can trust that God has another plan for me.

The Báb reminds us:

Whatever God hath willed hath been, and that which He hath not willed shall not be.  (The Báb, Baha’i Prayers, p. 131)

Conclusion:

Everything that happens to us and how we react to it goes back to our thoughts.  We can choose whether to stay in our lower nature (abasement), or go into our higher nature (loftiness), since all the negative emotions come from our lower nature:

All our sorrow, pain, shame and grief, are born in the world of matter; whereas the spiritual Kingdom never causes sadness.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 110)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá shows us how our lower nature works, and tells us what our lives will look like when our thoughts turn to our higher nature:

For instance, a merchant may lose his trade and depression ensues. A workman is dismissed and starvation stares him in the face. A farmer has a bad harvest, anxiety fills his mind. A man builds a house which is burnt to the ground and he is straightway homeless, ruined, and in despair.  All these examples are to show you that the trials which beset our every step, all our sorrow, pain, shame and grief, are born in the world of matter; whereas the spiritual Kingdom never causes sadness. A man living with his thoughts in this Kingdom knows perpetual joy. The ills all flesh is heir to do not pass him by, but they only touch the surface of his life, the depths are calm and serene.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 109)

If we want our depths to remain calm and serene, free from depression, anxiety, despair, sorrow, pain, grief and shame, all we need to do is fix our thoughts on the spiritual Kingdom.

The bottom line is love.  God loves us and forgives us everything if our guilt and shame show us what we need to change.  Here’s a story of Juliet Thompson, and her experience of God’s love through ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

Then He dismissed us, saying, “Go and rest.”  . . . Alas for the sin of disobedience! He had said “Go and rest.” But we were so anxious to write down His words while they were fresh in our minds that we stayed in the dining room until late, and — shameful to confess after our day in Heaven! — began to argue about the New York Assembly: as to whether or not it was united!  Mr Kinney declared that it was. I said it was not. I even went so far as to mention the breeder of the discord, to condemn her destructive work!  But when X and I crept off to the room we were temporarily occupying — crept through the black, vaulted halls and rooms, over the old stone floors, to the rear wing of the house — a feeling of guilt such as I could hardly bear consumed me.

Next morning when I met our Lord outside the dining room door, in the sunny little court I so love because it is associated with His footsteps, with the benediction of His Presence, looking with eyes that … forgave? … no, that understood … deep, deep into my eyes, He put out His hand and took mine in a clasp of love.  (The Diary of Juliet Thompson)

God sees our puny little efforts, all of them and He love us for them, and forgives us:

[Then ‘Abdul-Bahá said] “Do not think your services are unknown to Me. I have seen. I have been with you. I know them all. Do not think I have not known. I have known all. For these you are accepted in the Kingdom.”

My “services” — and He knew them all! He had “seen”: seen their pitiful smallness and the lack of real love with which I had tried to serve. I bowed my head with shame.

“Forgive my failures.”

“Be sure of this.” After a moment He said again, “Be sure of this.”  Then He dismissed me.  (Diary of Juliet Thompson)

 

How has this helped you to understand guilt and shame differently?  Post your comments here:

 

 

 

 

 

Love is a Veil

by Rachel Perry

In doing some research into the topic of veils that come between us and God, I found the following quote:

“Love is a veil betwixt the lover and the beloved.”  (Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, p. 60)

Since I’d been thinking about love between men and women lately, this struck me as an odd statement, and I sent it to my wise friend, Rachel Perry, to see what her take on it was.  What follows is her email to me.  I thought it was too good to let go, so I wanted to share it with you too.

To best understand the meanings in The Fourth Valley it is best to have read through all 7 of the Seven Valleys.  To understand this phrase we have to do 3 things:

  1. Consider this phrase in the context of the paragraph:  At the beginning of the paragraph it says “This is the realm of full awareness, of utter self-effacement.” And “…longing hath no dwelling here.” So it is possible that one part of “love” that veils us is the feeling of longing. Let’s consider this idea of love and longing in more detail. To do that, we look back at The Valley of Love and Knowledge.

2.  Consider this reference to “Love” in light of what we know about Love from the study of The Valley of Love and the Valley of Knowledge.  In the first paragraph of the Valley of Love we find that “In this city the heaven of ecstasy is upraised and the world-illuming sun of yearning shineth”….you see the reference here to “yearning” and that is a synonym for “longing” which was mentioned in the paragraph in the Fourth Valley. So one part of “love” that is a veil is the “longing”….when the lover longs for his beloved this in fact becomes a veil.

Interestingly enough, in The Valley of Knowledge it refers to this “Love is a veil” idea again where is says “Love is a veil betwixt the lover and the loved one; More than this I am not permitted to tell.”

God knows that we are filled with longing, love, and desire – God knows we want to know more and that to tell us that Baha’u’llah is not permitted to tell us more would make our hearts cry out in frustration…so what does the next paragraph tell us that eases our sorrow? It tells us that “If thou be a man of communion and prayer, soar up on the wings of assistance from Holy Souls, that thou may best behold the mysteries of the Friend and attain to the lights of the Beloved.”

3.  So that brings us to the third thing we must do – commune/meditate and pray but before we do that we are going to consider “what shall we pray and meditate about?” and the answer to that is in the next sentence which reads…”After passing through the Valley of Knowledge, which is the last plane of limitation, the wayfarer cometh to The Valley of Unity and drinketh from the cup of the Absolute, and gazeth on the Manifestations of Oneness.”

The reason this statement is important is because if we consider back in The 4th Valley the paragraph we are exploring said “This is the realm of full awareness” and here again now we learn that when one passes through the Valley of Love, and then the Valley of Knowledge, then the wayfarer comes to the Valley of Unity where there is UNION with the beloved. I can’t write all the wonderful, wonderful things that are written about in the Valley of Union but you can read it and see it there and let the divine words fill your heart with pleasure and joy because of the possibilities that God guides our souls to consider.

When I consider how is love/longing a veil between me and my beloved in light of these valleys what I conclude is that when as there is longing there is a feeling of separation. And this becomes the very limitation which we seek to remove. In prayer and meditation we can feel ourselves become One with God and we can “gaze on the Manifestations of Oneness” that are all around us and in us. (Once we find it in meditation which is where God tells us we will find it…then we can enjoy it in the rest of our active lives as well.)

To reflect in our own hearts to what the meaning of longing/yearning has for us and how removing this veil can bring us into full awareness of the Unity of God.

On a separate but related note – something so funny happened while I was writing this! I had been in my room typing with the light on but it woke my 5 year old daughter Grace up and she asked me to turn it off. So I say “sure” and go out to the hall and there is one of my house-mates on her hands and knees looking at the floor. I ask her if everything is okay (it’s 1am in the morning!) and she tells me she has lost a part of her tongue ring. I hear the word “RING” and immediately think of that story in the Valley of Search when the woman is found on the other side of the wall just looking for a ring. I smiled at her and joined right in on the search for that ring. All the while smiling at the coincidence of the scenerio. (By the way – I did find it for her 🙂 and could tell by the look on her face she was astonished as I think she was just about to give up when I had come out)

So I wanted to mention that scenario because maybe it happened for a reason and there is something in that story that I am supposed to share with you that may be a further light along the path.

Lastly, something that Abdu’l-Bahá has said has come to mind while I was writing this. He once said that at any given time God gives Him all the knowledge He needs for what is required at that moment. That statement has been something I consider often. I’m sorry I can’t even remember if it was something I read or someone told me. It’s been a part of me for so long I forget its origin. Are you familiar with it? Anyway, to me, in the light of what we are talking about here it seems relevant in that Abdu’l-Bahá was in the condition of not “searching” for answers or searching for anything. It seems He was at One with God…and this appears to be the condition that we are aiming for here. The statements in The Valley of Unity say more about this way of “seeing through the eyes of God, hearing through the ears of God, etc” and I believe this is the goal we are seeking.

I encourage you to reflect on these ideas during your meditation and not in journaling so that you can use your heart as your guide and not your head. This is a Valley to be felt and experienced and not written about…as it says “The tongue faileth in describing these three Valleys and speech falleth short.” (From the Valley of Contentment)

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to return to one of my favourite books, Susan.