- Baha’is abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset for 19 days. While this abstention from food and drink is a test of one’s will and discipline, the Fast is not just about abstaining from food. The Fast is, primarily, a spiritual practice.
Repetition is an interesting aspect of striving to live a life in accordance with the teachings and laws of the Baha’i Faith whether in specific individual observances or collective life. I believe repetition has intrinsic values and mysteries we can attempt to consciously unlock. However, repetition could also easily be blindly applied and ritualistic, if we are not careful.
On a collective scale, communities are implementing cycles of study, action, and reflection and cycles of expansion and consolidation. On a larger historical scale, there are the repeating seasons of humanity’s progress.
Just as in the physical world there are four seasons, in the world of religion there is also a divine spring season and spiritual springtime. When the divine outpourings cease, the trees of existence lose their freshness, and lack of life prevails on the farms, then it is like winter. The souls become depressed and low; the country of the hearts becomes choked with weeds and thorns; not a rose and not a flower; no beauty, no charm, and no pleasure. Therefore, the divine springtime starts again. This is the divine law and the requirement of the creative world; this is the cause of the continuous appearance of the Holy Manifestations and the renewal of religious laws and ordinances. 1Abdu’l-Baha
Repetition is also a feature of an individual Baha’i’s life: we are counselled to repeat “Allah’u’Abha” 95 times daily, to recite Obligatory Prayers every day, to read and study the Writings every morn and evening, and to take ourselves into account each night. There are also certain prayers and passages whose repetition is prescribed for a variety of reasons. For example, Baha’u’llah stated:
In regard to his affairs, let him repeat nineteen times: “Thou seest me, O my God, detached from all save Thee and cleaving unto Thee. Guide me, then, in all mine affairs unto that which profiteth me for the glory of Thy Cause and the loftiness of the station of Thy loved ones.” Let him then reflect upon the matter and undertake whatever cometh to mind. This vehement opposition of the enemies will indeed give way to supreme prosperity.Baha’u’llah
Bid them recite: “Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!” Tell them to repeat it five hundred times, nay, a thousand times, by day and by night, sleeping and waking, that haply the Countenance of Glory may be unveiled to their eyes, and tiers of light descend upon them. 2Baha’u’llah
One of many perspectives on the wisdom of repetition is shared by Steven Schol where he states the following in his book:
Abdu’l-Baha teaches how the practice of invocation or repetition of ‘The Greatest Name’ (Allah-u-Abha, God is Most Glorious) leads to union with God, illumination and spiritual rebirth. The use of invocation is well developed among the mystics of Islam, the Sufis. The repetition of sacred phrases is called dhikr (pronounced zikr, meaning remembrance). This spiritual practice of invocation is praised by Abdu’l-Baha. He encourages spiritual seekers to ‘recite the Greatest Name at every morn, and (to) turn…unto the kingdom of Abha, until though [sic] mayest apprehend the mysteries.’
Through the invocation of the Greatest Name, Abdu’l-Baha maintains that ‘the doors of the kingdom of God open, illumination is vouchsafed and divine union results…The use of the Greatest Name, and dependence upon it, causes the soul to strip itself of the husks of mortality and to step forth freed, reborn, a new creature.’ 3
Perhaps, in light of the above excerpt, one power of repetition is its close association with remembrance and its reinforcement. I think we are forgetful beings and, especially in this day and age, quite distracted. Therefore, repetition helps remind us of God (zikr) and also keeps us focused when distracted. Sometimes we have to repeat something several times until the idea hits us or even to keep us focused. That’s only one benefit to repetition and I believe there are others, as Nahal explores in her personal reflections on why Baha’is are enjoined to repeat “Allah’u’Abha” 95 times a day.
I have also noticed times when Abdu’l-Baha would repeat something for emphasis. I believe this has been called “rule of three”, when any idea, thought, concept, etc. is presented in threes to render the speech more memorable and effective.
Abdu’l-Baha used this technique to give advice to a woman from New York when He said:
The first thing to do is to acquire a thirst for Spirituality, then Live the Life! Live the Life! Live the Life! The way to acquire this thirst is to meditate upon the future life. Study the Holy Words, read your Bible, read the Holy Books, especially study the Holy Utterances of Baha’u’llah; Prayer and Meditation, take much time for these two. Then will you know this Great Thirst, and then only can you begin to Live the Life! 4
Abdu’l-Baha is also quoted as saying:
As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be. This is the balance—this is the balance—this is the balance. 5
Most definitely, there are numerous wisdoms that lie enshrined in repetition that this article can barely explore. However, to summarize the benefits and mysteries mentioned so far, repetition helps us be in a constant state of Divine remembrance in an age of distraction and negligence. Furthermore, repetition helps enhance and sharpen our focus and mindfulness when in a state of prayer and meditation, and so forth. Finally, it is a powerful means of helping us to understand the learn. Why do you think repetition is important?
Footnotes & Citations
- Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 9, p. 381
- Baha’u’llah, as quoted in God Passes By, p. 119
- Wisdom of the Master: The Spiritual Teachings of Abdu’l-Baha, ed Steven Schol
- Abdu’l-Baha, Star of The West, Volume 9, p. 86
- Abdu’l-Baha quoted in Adib Taherzadeh’s The Revelation of Baha’u’llah, volume 4, p. 217
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