When we aspire to live up to the teachings of Baha’u’llah and strive to emulate the immense array of virtues, we can become a little overwhelmed. It can be helpful to limit the range of qualities we focus on. Luckily, there are four qualities that Baha’u’llah especially liked.
Baha’u’llah is said to have often remarked:
There are four qualities which I love to see manifested in people: first, enthusiasm and courage; second, a face wreathed in smiles and a radiant countenance; third, that they see with their own eyes and not through the eyes of others; fourth, the ability to carry a task once begun, through to its end.1
There are so many virtues that we are called to develop, so why did Baha’u’llah single out these four qualities? Here are my thoughts:
1. “…enthusiasm and courage…”
It is not enough to believe in God: we must act on our belief in God. It is not enough to simply act, but we must act enthusiastically. If we recognise the miracle of being alive at the dawn of the promised time of all ages, then we will be extremely enthusiastic about our role in the establishment of the Most Great Peace. And in this endeavour we must have total courage. We must do whatever it takes to live up to the teachings of Baha’u’llah. We can see this enthusiasm in Baha’is such as Rahmatu’llah Muhajir, who devoted his life to spreading the message of Baha’u’llah with passion. We can see this courage in the martyrs of the Faith like Mona Mahmudnizhad, who died for her religion instead of recanting it. This same courage is needed when sharing the message at times and in places where the Baha’is are discriminated against. I can remember when I became a Baha’i. I was so excited to have received the news that a new Messenger of God had come and brought the teachings needed to transform the world. I was filled with an electric eagerness to share this message with others. And I was a lot more audacious than I am now.
2. “…a face wreathed in smiles and a radiant countenance…”
The fact that Baha’u’llah liked to see people radiant shows that being happy is very important. Living a spiritual life is not a sombre thing. Even when Baha’u’llah calls on us to recognise the transient nature of life, we should not be saddened. Devoting ourselves to a spiritual path requires a type of seriousness. But this doesn’t mean that we should become puritans who become obsessed with living a perfect life, and judge people who don’t. We also do not live as ascetics who inflict pain on themselves. Not only should we be joyous, but we should also share our joy with others – just as the sun shares its heat and light. Humour is another attribute that is linked to radiance because it makes people feel joyous. Both Baha’u’llah and Abdul-Baha had a great sense of humour.
3. “…that they see with their own eyes and not through the eyes of others…”
Seeing things with our own eyes means that we investigate reality for ourselves instead of just blindly following other people. When we investigate the truth we need to use justice. Baha’u’llah says,
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.2
Abdul-Baha explains what this means:
[…] no man should blindly follow his ancestors and forefathers. Nay, each must see with his own eyes, hear with his own ears and investigate the truth himself in order that he may follow the truth instead of blind acquiescence and imitation of ancestral beliefs.3
This helps prevent negative practices from taking root in culture and becoming fixed traditions. Because we can think for ourselves, we won’t yield to peer pressure or repeat the mistakes of our forefathers.
4. “…the ability to carry a task once begun, through to its end.”
Carrying a task to its end is important in so many areas of life, both at work and at home. It requires determination, resilience and commitment. The ability to finish what we start is required in order to achieve goals and live a life devoted to a higher purpose. If we do not finish things, we get nowhere – our lives plateau because we end up doing the things that take the least effort, or the things we normally do. It is especially important to complete things that we have promised other people we will do because this develops trust between people and in turn, builds unity.
What strikes me about these four qualities is that they are all very active. This shows that the Bahai Faith is very much about action. Yes, we need other virtues like acceptance, acquiescence and humility. But these must be combined with the virtues that enable us to engage with the world with the intention of improving it. When I think of these qualities, I see the image of a vibrant person who is full of energy. This person has a positive outlook and is not afraid to have a go at things. They step out of their comfort zone and make things happen. And when they start a project they put themself fully into it, until the project is completed. This is not work for them: this is passion.
In contrast to these positive qualities, Abu’l-Qasim Faizi tells us Baha’u’llah also felt sad about the following five negative qualities:
- Those who see themselves as knowledgeable and feel proud of it.
- Those who render a valuable service or initiate a useful innovation, but show pride about their accomplishment.
- Those who feel proud about their lineage.
- Those who are proud of their physical beauty and attraction.
- Those who regard themselves as wealthy and are proud of it.4
We can see here that the key word in all the five sentences is pride. The person described above, who is living a joyous, devoted and active life, in no way distinguishes themselves from other people. They are humble and unaware of their accomplishments. So for us who are striving to live this type of life we have to aim to be enthusiastic, courageous, radiant, independent and dedicated. When we recognise that we are making progress we cannot fall into the trap of feeling overly proud of ourselves. Because our attention is becoming more and more focused on helping others, we will have no time for ego-tripping.