Mysticism is often a confused term. To many people it conjures up thoughts of the magical and fanciful. However, most mysticism is concerned with experiencing the ultimate truth in life. There have been mystics from many different religions. Some have used the term “God” to signify the ultimate reality while others have used other terms such as the Absolute, Brahman, Nirvana, the Tao. But what seems to underlie all mysticism is the transcendence from everyday experience and attainment of a higher state of being.
Let me say from the outset that I’m certainly no mystic. At best I’m a mystical aspirant, a mystical wannabe. My investigations into the topic are not based on my own personal experience; they are my reflections on the Bahai Writings, which I strive to put into practice. So, I’d like to share my thoughts on the place of mysticism in the Baha’i Faith. Continue reading
If you are someone who follows a defined spiritual path (Catholic, Hari Krishna, Sufi, Baha’i), you will have adopted a set of values and spiritual practices that you believe are true and useful. This does not mean that you have stopped thinking for yourself. But it does entail that you choose to abide by those principles, with mindfulness and intelligence, no doubt.
Quite naturally when we are trying to follow a spiritual path properly, we utilise our conscience to decipher right from wrong. Having a conscience is vital: it is a distinguishing feature of being human. One example of when I rely on my conscience relates to the Baha’i Fast and being sick. Continue reading
Sacrifice. It sounds like such a harsh word. But that might just be a sign of the times. These days, sacrifice can be seen as unnecessary self-denial. I’ve been thinking about it lately, and it actually seems to me that anyone who wants to accomplish anything difficult cannot do so without sacrifice, especially when it comes to spirituality.
When we think about sacrifice, the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac to God often comes to mind. Now, there are a multitude of meanings and interpretations to this story which I won’t go into here. But what seems most basic is that Abraham was called to sacrifice his son out of his devotion to God. And to me, that’s what stands at the heart of true sacrifice. We don’t sacrifice things haphazardly or without a purpose: we renounce things as an act of devotion to something higher. But why do we do this? Because those things stand in our way; they are preventing us from attaining the object of our devotion. Continue reading
What is a true friend? Someone who is always there for us? Someone who never lets us down? Someone who is completely sincere? I think that a true friend is all of these things.
On the one hand, a true friend is someone who doesn’t need to force themselves to be your friend because friendship is about sincerity. But on the other hand, a true friend is someone who doesn’t let you down, and this does require effort – to meet, visit, and stay in touch. Inevitably, since we are only human, we will sometimes let each other down. I know I have felt let down by friends, and I’m sure that I have let my friends down too, and probably in ways that I’m not even aware of.
This can make us feel quite alone, like our friends are not really there for us. But this feeling of aloneness and abandonment is also a gift. All of us, whether we believe in God or not, must at some time face ourselves and feel our aloneness because while we do live together on this earth, we all live within the prism of our own consciousness. And if we do happen to believe in God, in that place of aloneness, we are perhaps even better able to see that God is our True Friend.
So, in what way is God our True Friend? Here are five things I’ve learned: Continue reading
The body is great at telling us when something isn’t functioning. Aches, pains, rashes, lumps… all of these tell us that something is wrong with the body and we need to find out what it is. The symptoms are signs leading to a deeper underlying problem. But we don’t just have a body; we also have a soul. In fact, we are souls living with a body. So, if there are signs in the body of good and bad health, are there similar signs in the soul?
The perplexing thing about the soul is that it is so elusive and mysterious. We cannot see or touch it. Baha’u’llah says of the soul:
Verily I say, the human soul is exalted above all egress and regress. It is still, and yet it soareth; it moveth, and yet it is still. ((Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p.161))
Like all animals, we are naturally pleasure-seeking creatures. The desire for pleasure drives, and has driven, many of our endeavours. And we might even say that in the technological age we live in, it drives us even more. But what if we realised that our task in life is not to pursue our own pleasure, but instead to pursue God’s? Baha’u’llah counsels us:
O SON OF MAN! If thou lovest Me, turn away from thyself; and if thou seekest My pleasure, regard not thine own; that thou mayest die in Me and I may eternally live in thee.
O SON OF HIM THAT STOOD BY HIS OWN ENTITY IN THE KINGDOM OF HIS SELF! Know thou, that I have wafted unto thee all the fragrances of holiness, have fully revealed to thee My word, have perfected through thee My bounty and have desired for thee that which I have desired for My Self. Be then content with My pleasure and thankful unto Me.
These are beautiful words. But they can be hard to follow. In today’s world, for many people, desires can be quickly met. We want a coffee; we buy one on the go. We want to be entertained; we find something interesting to watch on YouTube. I think that we have become accustomed to having our desires instantly satiated, so the notion of pleasing God, instead of ourselves, can be a completely foreign concept. Continue reading
We are all human and that means we are in the same predicament: we are like a bird that is stuck in the clay of the world, its wings sullied and heavy; we have two selves, one lower, the other higher. So, our task in life is to elevate our souls and escape the grip of the ego. But how?
This is no easy endeavour. But according to the Baha’i Writings, there are a number of ways through which we can grow spiritually. Here are six ways that I’m striving to better myself: Continue reading
Over a year ago I had a job interview that I had to rush to from my workplace. I’m not the most technologically savvy person but I will still blame the GPS on my phone for what happened. I looked up how to get from work to the interview, jumped on the light rail (or tram), then the train, then tapped the function on my phone to show me how to walk the rest of the way. After walking some time, I arrived back at the train station where I got on the train! With only 10 minutes until the job interview, I started to panic. But then I said to myself: “Well, what will happen if I miss the interview? I have a job anyway. It’s not the best job in the world but it helps me pay the rent and bills and feed my family. I really have nothing to lose!”
So I decided to try to get there on time but not get stressed about it. I was spurred on by a sense of detached determination. I made a second try at navigating my way and I finally arrived at the place half an hour late, my shirt soaked with sweat, and had the interview. Continue reading
(Photo courtesy: Baha'i International Community)
“It’s the thought that counts” is a common English expression. Perhaps we give someone a present that we think they will love, and either they already have it, or they just don’t like it. The person is (hopefully) pleased anyway because they know that we meant well.
Abdu’l-Baha says that purity of motive is extremely important:
Your hearts must be pure and your intentions sincere in order that you may become recipients of the divine bestowals… This is the day when pure hearts have a portion of the everlasting bounties and sanctified souls are being illumined by the eternal manifestations.
So, in regards to the “failed” present, it doesn’t matter so much that the present was not loved or needed by the recipient. It is that we gave it out of the goodness of our heart. Continue reading
As the activities of the Baha’i community have grown and developed in complexity, a pattern of action has emerged. Baha’is all around the world are engaged in cycles of activity that are guided by reflection, planning and action. This creates a collective rhythm and unifies a diversity of activities, such as devotional meetings, children’s classes and study circles.
I learned from the fifth book in Ruhi Institute sequence of courses, Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth, that living an integrated life means placing service at the centre and integrating other facets around it. To me, this means that we can benefit from using these three capacities and can add the rhythm of reflection-planning-action to our personal lives. In addition to service, we can also focus on other things we wish to include and develop in our daily lives. Continue reading