Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tablet of Wisdom, part 3

Well, that last paragraph was a bit of a downer. But don't worry. Just as He is there to show us how far down we are, or at least where we are headed, Baha'u'llah is also there to lift us right back up again. He not only shows us where we can be, but also tells us how to get there. (Nice of Him, isn't it?)

If we are at all concerned about the vision that He gave us in that last paragraph, and I think we should be, then it is this next paragraph that gives us the tools to get out of that rut.
O peoples of the world! Forsake all evil, hold fast that which is good. Strive to be shining examples unto all mankind, and true reminders of the virtues of God amidst men. He that riseth to serve My Cause should manifest My wisdom, and bend every effort to banish ignorance from the earth. Be united in counsel, be one in thought. Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday. Man's merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches. Take heed that your words be purged from idle fancies and worldly desires and your deeds be cleansed from craftiness and suspicion. Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest. Be generous in your days of plenty, and be patient in the hour of loss. Adversity is followed by success and rejoicings follow woe. Guard against idleness and sloth, and cling unto that which profiteth mankind, whether young or old, whether high or low. Beware lest ye sow tares of dissension among men or plant thorns of doubt in pure and radiant hearts.

Ah, the usual problem: where to begin? Well, let's go for my usual answer: at the beginning.

As you know, dear Reader, I am a big fan of the idea that everything is there in order for a reason. Now I'm not saying that this is the case, just that it is a nice hypothesis.

I've had a few questions about my methodology in blogging, so here it is. What I've done here, in case you want to follow along, is cut and paste that first paragraph below. I will take the first sentence, or clause, and write my thoughts about it, adding lots of blank lines between it and the rest of the paragraph. When I am ready, I will delete those blank lines and continue with the next phrase or sentence.

For example, it begins, "Forsake all evil, hold fast that which is good." (Simple insertion of a few line breaks allows me to look at this one sentence on its own for a moment, and you don't even notice the long blank below, as I've deleted it by the time you read it.) Well, that's just good general advice. It's not easy to do, mind you, but still, a good beginning. Forsake, just for clarification, means to either give up or to abandon. If we're giving it up, it means that we had it in the first place. If we are abandoning it, it means we were with it. either way, it implies that what we have been doing, either on purpose or by through circumstance, has been evil. In other words, He is asking us to change our lives. After all, if we embrace the Faith, acknowledge His teachings, but don't change the way we behave, what is the point? But just letting go of what is bad in our lives is not enough. "Stop doing bad." Great. Ok. Now what? Here He tells us to really hold on to doing what is good. (That's it for this sentence, even though I could really keep going. I do like to keep it relatively brief, you know.)

Now that we are doing good, he asks us to kick it up a notch: "Strive to be shining examples unto all mankind..." (That was a simple cut and paste.) There are many people out there who are generally nice people who are doing good things. This is great, and we should encourage them, but we are actually being asked to do more. Most people who do good generally keep a low profile. And while I do not believe that Baha'u'llah is asking us to be boastful, He is asking us to shine. This means that people should notice us. They should notice our example, even without us telling them about it. Remember, deeds, not words.

And that leads into the next phrase: "...and true reminders of the virtues of God amidst men." Many people talk about the importance of virtues, but do not demonstrate them. That is sort of like the parent who yells at their child to be quiet. It's totally ridiculous. No. The true reminder of the virtues is our demonstration of them. I tell my son to be courteous, but more importantly, I demonstrate courtesy. (Or at least I try. There are times when he reminds me that I forgot to say please, or something.) For years now, Shoghi has seen me being nice to those around me, and guess what? He is a nice kid. His level of courtesy astonishes me! I was never that nice as a kid. God truly is merciful, for I totally deserved a brat of a kid. I know how awful I was to my parents. (Amusing, sure, but I must have been a constant source of frustration to them.) Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, our ability to be true reminders of the virtues of God lies squarely in our ability to demonstrate those virtues in action.

But sometimes acting on those virtues can sometimes be tricky. I could be excelling in truthfulness but sorely lacking in tact. ("Wow, that dress looks awful on you.") Fortunately Baha'u'llah comes to our rescue again: "He that riseth to serve My Cause should manifest My wisdom..." Remember, in Words of Paradise, Baha'u'llah says "the greatest gift and the most wondrous blessing hath ever been and will continue to be Wisdom... It is all-knowing and the foremost Teacher in the school of existence." (For more on that, you can go here and here.) If we truly want to shine in our generation, then we need to use wisdom in our application of the virtues. Indeed, we need to strive to show wisdom at all times, and under all conditions. And part of that wisdom will be demonstrated in where we put our efforts, and what we strive to convey to others.

And hey, that leads right into the next phrase. Coincidence? I don't think so. He tells us to "bend every effort to banish ignorance from the earth." After all, the more we can banish ignorance, the better off we will all be. Can you imagine a world in which people were aware of the effects of their actions? A world in which people understood what was behind the various political policies or corporate schemes? When we become more aware of the world around us, including other people and their motivations, then we can make more informed decisions and really change far more than we ever dreamed of changing. My favorite simple example is the dolphin-safe tuna. Through a simple campaign of awareness, way back 30 or 40 years ago, enough people decided to stop buying canned tuna because they didn't like the thought of accidentally killing dolphins. The result? The industry changed. They found a new way to catch the tuna that would allow the dolphins to escape unharmed. The more that we can banish ignorance, the more we can shed the light of knowledge and understanding, the greater the changes we will see in the world around us.

Again, that sounds really great, but how do we do this? One way is to get together with others and discuss the problems that need to be faced. While immersed in these discussions, which will often times be in the form of consultation, we can remember Baha'u'llah's next sentence: "Be united in counsel, be one in thought." This first phrase implies a harmony of opinion, and it continues on a deeper level in the second. Through this unity of counsel and thought we will better be able to tackle the issues that face us. And we won't all tackle the same issues. We can't. There are just too many of them. But if each group tackles its own issue, communicates with like-minded groups, supports each other in their endeavours, then we can make great strides. One area in which this is so important is in agriculture. We need to grow food, but by putting too many fertilizers on the fields we are damaging our watersheds, and even the ocean itself. This is where we have to find a balance between the various needs of our culture. If we keep an overall goal in mind, such a feeding all people in a sustainable manner, then we can deal with each problem under that light. By identifying our overall vision, then we can slowly make our way towards that, day by day, step by step.

"Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday." (Have you noticed that I'm still cutting and pasting one line or phrase at a time?) Every day, a little at a time. This is a reminder, to me at least, that these issues mentioned in the previous step will take time. They will not be solved quickly. After all, this Dispensation is to last at least 1000 years, so we can presume that the issues it addresses will take most of that time to solve. But solve them we will. It will take time, effort and resources, but each and every one them are solvable.

This may seem like an aside, but it isn't really. It has been estimated that the most major issues facing humanity today are all within our means to solve. Whether we are talking about fresh water for all people on the planet, or cleaning up greenhouse gases, a price tag has been put on every one of these major issues. The price tag was a realistic estimate based on scientific and economic criteria by a number of various scientists. The total bill for solving something like the top 25 (my memory says top 100, but let's be conservative here) was something like one week of the world's military budget. So, if we manage to reduce our military budgets to a reasonable level for internal security, then we will begin to see a huge amount of money freed up for other uses. Let's say we cut the global budget by only a half, that still gives us 25 of these huge issues solutions paid for in a week. What do we do with the other 25 weeks of money? Oh, and that's only the first year's of budget. What about next year? Either way, there is a reminder for us in the very next line: "Man's merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches." Whatever we do, we need to remember that our true merit comes from our service to humanity, and not in the glorification and flaunting of our wealth. But this is not to say that we can't enjoy our wealth. After all, if we work hard, pay our Huququ'llah, or give to charity if you're not a Baha'i, then we can enjoy the benefits. But we should remember that they are not a demonstration of our merit. It is our selfless service that should distinguish us.

But even that service comes with a warning. There have been many who have done all sorts of service acts for ulterior motives. Some have done it only for the tax benefits, while others perform such deeds in order to win people over the their particular cause. Over the years this has prejudiced many, forcing them to be cautious of those who arise to serve. This is why it is so important that we heed the next line of counsel from the Pen of Glory: "Take heed that your words be purged from idle fancies and worldly desires and your deeds be cleansed from craftiness and suspicion." Whether it is by word or by deed, we need to ensure the purity of heart is there. I do not write these articles in order to make anyone Baha'i. I write them to share my thoughts, and perhaps even get some of them in order. I write them because others have asked me to keep sharing. And when I perform any sort of service to my community, it is very important to me that I have no other motive than to merely serve out of love. Even when talking to some friends, I have heard some say that they are doing service in order to have the opportunity to mention the Faith. And while mentioning the Faith is good and all, I cannot do service with that as my motive. To me, and others think otherwise and that is fine, if I did that, it would be crafty.

Of course, there is a lot more that I can in my life than serve. I could spend all sorts of extra time working to get money to go on a cruise. I could spend all my free time playing video games. I could spend an inordinate amount of time watching television or movies. Instead I budget my time. I have to work a certain amount. I write a certain amount. I have to spend time with my family. And I dedicate a certain amount of time to my service work. Out of the time that is left, some is spent playing video games. I see the occasional movie. I watch the odd video on youtube (and sometimes they are very odd, let me tell you). I spend a bit of money on myself, usually in the form of books. But in all, I really try to take to heart what Baha'u'llah says here: "Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest." (Yup. I'm still doing the cut and paste thing. Not much left now.)

"Be generous in your days of plenty..." As long as we are on the subject of wealth, it is good to remember that it is when we have a lot that we can give the most. Whether it is about our financial success, or about a bountiful harvest in our garden, or even in the amount of time we have when we are in good health, it is during these times when we can give the most that we really should. "...(A)nd be patient in the hour of loss." And when we have less, we should recognize that it is part of the cycle of our life. There are times when we will fall ill (I'm still trying to shake off a cough), or times when that harvest isn't as good as we had hoped. It is during these times that we need to be thankful and patient. We need to be grateful for all that we did have, and the fact that we were able to share at that time, and work towards a better time. (I'm drinking a really marvelous cup of tea, hoping to help get rid of that persistent cough.) We also need to be willing to allow others to extend their helping hand toward us. Of course, we could be bitter, upset, cursing and screaming all the while, but has that ever really helped anybody? (I mean, it might make you feel a bit better in the short term, but it tends to drive others away, and not accomplish much in the long term.)

It is during these ups and downs, and especially in the downs, that we need to remember "Adversity is followed by success and rejoicings follow woe." This is true not only in our daily life, but also in the life of the planet. We are living in a time of great adversity, with tremendous woes all over the planet. But this line gives us the hope to continue on striving for a better future. Yes, things are bad, and they may even get worse. Alright, they will likely get worse. But is a guarantee that they will get better. When and how is most likely up to us. The harder we work towards a better future, the more likely that this better future, this success and these rejoicings, will come sooner.

But we need to "Guard against idleness and sloth, and cling unto that which profiteth mankind, whether young or old, whether high or low." It requires work. It requires selfless, dedicated work. And we are not just doing this service for one small group of people. It is, and must be, for everyone. We are too interconnected to say that we will only help the poor, or those of our particular class or ethnic background. If we want to help the planet, we must help everyone, always.

And there is still one last warning: "Beware lest ye sow tares of dissension among men or plant thorns of doubt in pure and radiant hearts." It is too easy to say that one particular group is responsible, or that some other group hurt us. We cannot afford this kind of dissension, no matter how justified it may seem. And those thorns of doubt can do nothing less than cripple the efforts of those who would otherwise have been able to lend their great share. When I am talking with my dear son, who is only 7, so I truly think of him as one of those with a pure and radiant heart, I try to be so careful. I will unhesitatingly talk with him about the problems of the world, explaining the problems as I see them in terms that I think he will understand. I will use such metaphors as make these trying times clear to me, and hopefully to him, too. But I always leave him with solutions. I speak as if these problems are already on the way to being solved, and that we just need to work a little bit more. I leave no room for doubt, for Baha'u'llah has not given us any. While I will tell him of the grave problems we face, and those even graver issues he will face in his lifetime, I also speak so glowingly of that bright promise Baha'u'llah has given us for the future.

And you know what? Shoghi seems to understand. He expresses his concerns back to me, and he always seeks the solutions that he knows must be hidden within each problem, for he knows that every crisis has within it the seeds of its own victory. And that is wisdom.

1 comment:

  1. What an important thing to do - giving your children a higher perspective! Thanks for that thought!