Materialism and Sacrifice
Updated: May 2
How does the Baha'i Faith view materialism in the light of sacrifice?
It is sometimes easy to forget the insidious forces of materialism that are continuously acting on us from every direction and can shape so many of our decisions, often unconsciously. In this environment, it isn't easy to see how we can move through life with our appetite for wealth and material goods growing daily. We could be convinced that we can buy our way to happiness, that wealth is the path to permanent fulfillment. We could be lured into measuring success in terms of the quality and price of the material goods we can buy, or in the size of our salaries. Such materialism would be more justifiable if there was evidence that material goods and wealth do lead to happiness. And materialism certainly can give us a kind of happiness — but not the happiness it was envisioned for us by Bahá’u’lláh. Materialism
gives us the temporary happiness which comes with the thrill of buying something new, and the ego-inflating thrill of owning it afterward. Studies conducted by psychologists continue to show that there is no correlation between wealth and happiness. This is of course consistent with the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
“Know thou that there are two kinds of happiness, spiritual and material. As to material happiness, it never exists; nay, it is but imagination, an image reflected in mirrors, a spectre and shadow. Consider the nature of material happiness. It is something which but slightly removes one’s afflictions; yet the people imagine it to be joy, delight, exultation and blessing. All the material blessings, including food, drink, etc., tend only to allay thirst, hunger and fatigue. They bestow no delight on the mind nor pleasure on the soul; nay they furnish only the bodily wants. So this kind of happiness has no real existence. As to spiritual happiness, this is the true basis of the life of man, for life is created for happiness, not for sorrow; for pleasure, not for grief. Happiness is life; sorrow is death. Spiritual happiness is life eternal. This is a light which is not followed by darkness. This is an honor which is not followed by shame. This is a life that is not followed by death. This is an existence that is not followed by annihilation. This great blessing and precious gift is obtained by man only through the guidance of God... This happiness is the fundamental basis from which man is created, worlds are originated, the contingent beings have existence and the world of God appears like unto the appearance of the sun at mid-day. This happiness is but the love of God. Were it not for this happiness the world of existence would not have been created.” - ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted in the Divine Art of Living, pp. 17-18
The above passage reminds us that our attachment to the material world
does not satisfy our desire for feeling content and happy.
The means of achieving contentment and happiness is to simply sacrifice it for
the ‘love of God’.
“To attain eternal happiness one must suffer. He who has reached the state of self-sacrifice has true joy. Temporal joy will vanish.” - ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 178
Saying that, it does not mean material possession is irrelevant. On the contrary,
it is vital that we are materially civilised as well as spiritually so that we can attain
“For man two wings are necessary. One wing is physical power and material civilization; the other is spiritual power and divine civilization. With one wing only, flight is impossible. Two wings are essential. Therefore, no matter how much material civilization advances, it cannot attain to perfection except through the uplift of spiritual civilization.” - ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 12
Recognising this correlation between the material and spiritual worlds, the
question we must ask is, if the material wealth we accumulate for ourselves
cannot give us true happiness, then how can this be achieved? What kind of
material sacrifice can we make in order to “attain eternal happiness”?