Monday, 23 January 2017

Representatives of all that dwell on earth

In 1869, Queen Victoria received a letter from a religious prisoner in a Turkish jail. The prisoner was Bahá’u’lláh, who told her, “O queen in London… We have been informed that thou hast forbidden the trading in slaves, both men and women… God hath, truly, destined a reward for thee, because of this.” The British parliament had passed legislation to put an end to the practice of people being captured from villages in West Africa and transported to the Americas and the Caribbean. Not only was this inhumane treatment of the slaves themselves, but their forced movement to other countries still presents problems for their descendants today.

Bahá’u’lláh also commended the queen on the extension of representative democracy: “We have also heard that thou hast entrusted the reins of counsel into the hands of the representatives of the people. Thou, indeed, hast done well, for thereby the foundations of… thine affairs will be strengthened.” He then commented on the way that those in Parliament should regard their task: “It behoveth them… to be trustworthy… and to regard themselves as the representatives of all that dwell on earth.” Many people in the world today are hoping that the present generation of rulers will adopt this approach, and not try to seek what they perceive as advantages for their own country, at the expense of humanity as a whole. Across the world there seems to be a rising trend towards strident nationalism, often referred to as “patriotism” to make it sound more acceptable. Love of one’s country is important, of course, but love of humanity should take precedence.

In this same letter to Queen Victoria, Bahá’u’lláh advised her to: “Regard the world as the human body which, though at its creation whole and perfect, hath been afflicted, through various causes, with grave disorders and maladies.” Talking about the world, He said, “We behold it, in this day, at the mercy of rulers, so drunk with pride that they cannot discern clearly their own best advantage.” Obviously, Bahá’u’lláh was speaking of the rulers of the late nineteenth century, and it is to be hoped that mankind has learned much since then. The queen sent the Author of the letter a polite reply.

Although Bahá’u’lláh chose to make these particular points in His letter to Queen Victoria, He made many other points in His letters to the other rulers of the time. He explained that all religions are in essence one. Each one teaches principles to guide human behaviour and to build up bonds within society. The points of difference between the religions are partly because they were given to man at different times, when society was in differing stages of development. Other differences have developed over time, as people add things according to their understanding. But the underlying essence of each one is based on spiritual truths, and each religious community should recognise the divine origin of the others. Bahá’u’lláh taught that all mankind is one, and that all peoples are part of the one human race. He stressed that the world should be one: “This handful of dust, this earth, let it be in unity.” He explained that “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” Let us hope that the elected rulers of the twenty-first century adopt Bahá’u’lláh’s approach, and regard themselves as the representatives of all that dwell on earth.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Only when we live in the spirit

The year 2016 saw a lot of famous people, including actors and musicians, pass from this life. There may be many reasons why, but one of them surely is that many of them have had their lives blighted or cut short by misuse of drugs and alcohol.

 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, talking about the true nature of a human being, said: “Man is, in reality, a spiritual being, and only when he lives in the spirit is he truly happy.” If people are missing this spiritual dimension in their lives, it is easier to understand why they might find false happiness in drugs or alcohol.

Life in this world is temporary, but Bahá’ís believe the life of the spirit lasts forever. When we pass to the next world, it is like a bird being freed from its cage, it soars onward and upward. So while we are here on earth we need to prepare ourselves by strengthening our spiritual wings. Bahá’ís see this life on earth as a matrix, in which we learn lessons and qualities which we will need in the next world. It seems likely that surrendering our faculties to alcohol or to a habit-forming drug may delay or prevent us from learning such lessons, or acquiring such faculties. The natural nobility of the human mind is often brought low by these substances. Bahá’ís think that alcohol and drugs are best avoided altogether.

So how do we prepare ourselves? Living in the spirit is not just thinking spiritual thoughts, action is required as well! One big help is the faculty of meditation which leads us to look for ideas inside ourselves. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said: “It is an axiomatic fact that while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed.”
Prayer, another useful practice for anyone wishing to live in the spirit, is “conversation with God”. To work properly, however, conversation needs to be two-way. We pray to God, then remain quietly, to see what we are inspired to do in response.

If we understand the importance of the spiritual life, it will help us to deal with the problems we encounter: “Today, humanity is bowed down with trouble, sorrow and grief, no one escapes; the world is wet with tears; but, thank God, the remedy is at our doors. Let us turn our hearts away from the world of matter and live in the spiritual world! It alone can give us freedom!” Then there will be no need for drugs or alcohol to deaden the pain.

If we live in the spirit then we have a purpose in life, and something to work towards. In the Bahá’í view, it is our innermost essence – our spirit, our soul, which survives after death. It is our spirit which needs to be connected with God, or at least to spiritual ideas. If we are at peace with ourselves, and living in the spirit, we will be happy and make progress both in this world and the next.


When David Bowie died, last January, I wrote a blog post about him, and about life after death: