What we must become
What are these virtues that we must acquire to become truly human, to achieve lasting contentment and happiness?
They are numerous and only a few will be considered here.
Bahá'u'lláh places great importance on our developing justice as a personal quality. The ability to be just and equitable in our assessment of situations and in our dealings with others is reckoned by Bahá'u'lláh as the "most fundamental among human virtues." This is because "the evaluation of all things must needs depend upon it." Therefore, "The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye."
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice. 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 neighbour. 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.
Part of justice is being fair in the way that one treats others: to choose "for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself" (Bahá'u'lláh); not "to deny any soul the reward due to him" (Bahá'u'lláh); and "to respect the rights of all men (`Abdu'l-Bahá)."
Human beings have a great capacity for love. `Abdu'l-Bahá says that:
There are many ways of expressing the love principle; there is love for the family, for the country, for the race, there is political enthusiasm . . . These are all ways and means of showing the power of love.
He warns, however, that these expressions of love are of a limited nature and may in fact also arouse hate.
The love of family is limited . . . Frequently members of the same family disagree, and even hate each other. Patriotic love is finite; the love of one's country causing hatred of all others, is not perfect love! . . . The love of race is limited . . . To love our own race may mean hatred of all others, and even people of the same race often dislike each other . . . Political love also is much bound up with hatred of one party for another . . . All these ties of love are imperfect. It is clear that limited material ties are insufficient to adequately express the universal love.
Real love, the spiritual love to which human beings should aspire, should be unlimited and universal:
Love is unlimited, boundless, infinite! Material things are limited, circumscribed, finite. You cannot adequately express infinite love by limited means. The perfect love needs anunselfish instrument, absolutely freed from fetters of every kind . . . The great unselfish love for humanity is bounded by none of these imperfect, semi-selfish bonds; this is the one perfect love, possible to all mankind, and can only be achieved by the power of the Divine Spirit. No worldly power can accomplish the universal love.
Associated with love are several other qualities that Bahá'u'lláh praises and that should govern our relations with others. Among these are kindliness, friendliness, compassion, charity, forebearence, and generosity.
Trustworthiness is the basis for all of human social life. In the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, it is accorded great importance since "the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it." It is described as "the greatest portal leading unto the tranquillity and security of the people" , and the "supreme instrument for the prosperity of the world."
Truthfulness is the"foundation of all human virtues" (Bahá'u'lláh). This is because it, together with justice, protects us from self-deception and enables us to measure our spiritual progress. It forestalls hypocrisy and insincerity.
Beautify your tongues, O people, with truthfulness, and adorn your souls with the ornament of honesty. Beware, O people, that ye deal not treacherously with any one. (Bahá'u'lláh).
Part of the truthfulness and sincerity that Bahá'u'lláh advocates is for his followers to act in accordance with the high ideals that they profess.
iv. Purity and Chastity
Purity is not a word that is fashionable in the world today. To a person who is struggling to develop spiritually, it signifies the attempt to free oneself from self-interest, from the corruption and degeneracy of the modern world, and from such base instincts as envy, malice, pride, lust, hypocrisy and hatred. The aim, however, is not to achieve a haughty puritanism or to become priggish; nor is a severe asceticism considered desirable.
It must be remembered, however, that the maintenance of such a high standard of moral conduct is not to be associated or confused with any form of asceticism, or of excessive and bigoted puritanism. The standard inculcated by Bahá'u'lláh, seeks, under no circumstances, to deny anyone the legitimate right and privilege to derive the fullest advantage and benefit from the manifold joys, beauties, and pleasures with which the world has been so plentifully enriched by an All-Loving Creator. (Shoghi Effendi)
To advance along the road of purity frees one from the insistent demands of our lower nature. Since these demands can never be satisfied, advancing along this path in fact leads to freedom and contentment.
Live then the days of thy life, that are less than a fleeting moment, with thy mind stainless, thy heart unsullied, thy thoughts pure, and thy nature sanctified, so that, free and content, thou mayest put away this mortal frame, and repair unto the mystic paradise and abide in the eternal kingdom for evermore. (Bahá'u'lláh)
Chastity is the sexual aspect of purity. Again it should not be mistaken for prudery or thesuppression of sexuality. It is rather the acknowledgment that the sexual instinct is strong and requires some degree of conscious control.
The Bahá'í Faith recognizes the value of the sex impulse, but condemns its illegitimate and improper expressions such as free love, companionate marriage and others, all of which it considers positively harmful to man and to the society in which he lives. The proper use of the sex instinct is the natural right of every individual, and it is precisely for this purpose that the institution of marriage has been established. The Bahá'ís do not believe in the suppression of the sex impulse but in its regulation and control. (Shoghi Effendi)
This control should ideally extend not just to actions but even to one's thoughts.
And if he met the fairest and most comely of women, he would not feel his heart seduced by the least shadow of desire for her beauty. Such an one, indeed, is the creation of spotless chastity. (Bahá'u'lláh)
The Bahá'í writings emphasize that the result of our efforts on the spiritual path must be seen in our character and our actions. Bahá'u'lláh calls upon his followers to match their actions to theirwords: "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning." It is easy for anyone to speak pious words and to utter sanctimonious platitudes. But Bahá'u'lláh says that "the essence of faith is fewness of words and abundance of deeds." What distinguishes the person who is truly advancing on the spiritual path is their character and their actions.
Guidance hath ever been given by words, and now it is given by deeds. Every one must show forth deeds that are pure and holy, for words are the property of all alike, whereas such deeds as these belong only to Our loved ones. Strive then with heart and soul to distinguish yourselves by your deeds.
As has already been said above, these Bahá'í teachings should not be regarded as advocating asceticism or a rigid puritanism. Both Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá are recorded as having enjoyed laughter and joking. Bahá'u'lláh has even said that we can enjoy the things of this world as long as we do not allow them to come between us and our quest for the spiritual and the divine:
Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him. Eat ye, O people, of the good things which God hath allowed you, and deprive not yourselves from His wondrous bounties.
One important attribute, one characteristic that distinguishes those who are truly developing their human and spiritual characteristics is their willingness and ability to serve others. It is, as Bahá'u'lláh has said, the characteristic of being truly human.
That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth.
Part of our service is the work that we do to earn our living. Bahá'u'lláh makes it a duty for all his followers to engage in some useful occupation and raises the status of such work to the level of worship.
It is enjoined upon each one of you to engage in some occupation, such as a craft, a trade or the like. We have exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship . . . Waste not your hours in idleness and sloth, but occupy yourselves with what will profit you and others.
vii. Can we reach these goals?
Some may question whether these goals that Bahá'u'lláh has set are too high and whether Bahá'ís are being too idealistic in trying to pursue them. Others may assert that the path that Bahá'u'lláh describes is too austere and sombre a way of life for most people.
There can be no intellectual answer to such objections. It is only by the experience of trying to live according to these teachings that one can see whether these objections have any basis or not. In writing of the need to plunge oneself into the experience to know what it is like rather than to stand on the edge observing, Bahá'u'lláh relates:
The story is told of a mystic knower, who went on a journey with a learned grammarian as his companion. They came to the shore of the Sea of Grandeur. The knower straightway flung himself into the waves, but the grammarian stood lost in his reasonings, which were as words that are written on water. The knower called out to him, "Why dost thou not follow?" The grammarian answered, "O Brother, I dare not advance. I must needs go back again." Then the knower cried, "Forget what thou didst read in . . . books . . . and cross the water."
Bahá'u'lláh does not expect human beings to be perfect from the outset, only that we take the first step and advance little by little. The path is long, hard and narrow, and Bahá'u'lláh has explained that patience and perseverance are needed and that some degree of pain is inevitable. Bahá'u'lláh has, however, promised guidance and support from the spiritual world for those who seek to follow it. Part of this guidance and support comes from such spiritual exercises as prayer and meditation. If we live with our thoughts concentrated upon the spiritual world, then the misfortunes and difficulties that we experience do not affect us for there is an underlying contentment and joy.
. . . 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)
Excerpt from A Short Introduction to The Bahá'í Faith by Moojan Momen.