Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Hidden Concern, Part 2

As you know from yesterday's post, a question was raised to me (by my wife) about 2 of the Hidden Words. She was wondering about the use of the word "accursed".

The texts in question are the following:

How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.

Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.

At the end of the last post, I added my few notes regarding this and I think I had already addressed two of the three. I do not think the word "accursed" means a final judgement, beyond all hope of redemption. And this addresses, in my own mind at least, the first note, which is how we can explain this term to those with a visceral reaction against "hellfire and damnation". Quite simply, it's not what we usually think.

But what is Baha'u'llah talking about? Why does He use that term?

While it could easily be seen as a restatement of the teaching from Jesus, in which He says to take the plank out of your own eye before you even think about removing the speck from someone else's (thanks Jeanine for the reference), I think Baha'u'llah may be raising this to a higher level. After all, Jesus does not say that there will be a curse upon those who don't.

Another thing that I noticed is how different it appears when I look at those two in the context of the verses around them:

Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.

To the eternal I call thee, yet thou dost seek that which perisheth. What hath made thee turn away from Our desire and seek thine own?

Transgress not thy limits, nor claim that which beseemeth thee not. Prostrate thyself before the countenance of thy God, the Lord of might and power.

Vaunt not thyself over the poor, for I lead him on his way and behold thee in thy evil plight and confound thee for evermore.

We have been created noble (#22), have been called to God, and yet, we turn away (#23). Even though we are noble, we should be careful not to overstep our bounds (#24). We should also be careful not to laud it over those who may seem less fortunate than us, for if we do, God will put troubles in our path (#25).

Now comes the two verses Marielle asked about.

We may not have much control over what fortune comes our way, but we certainly have control over whether or not we find fault with others. But merely noticing the faults of others is not the full condition of receiving the curse in #26. To be cursed, we must first forget our own faults, thinking that we are somehow perfect. But even if we do that silly a thing, that is still not enough. We would then have to busy ourselves with the faults of others. We would need to constantly work at "correcting" other people flaws, which would be unending, for nobody is perfect. If this is what we did, how we lived our lives, continually looked at the faults of those around us, it seems to me that we would never be happy, never could be happy.  That sounds like being under a curse to me.

And then, just in case we are somehow busying ourselves with other people's faults and not speaking about them, which I guess is possible if we quietly try to always correct others, we come to #27. "Breathe not the sins of others..." Do not backbite. I'm sure we all know the damage that backbiting and gossip can do, and so I don't need to go into it here. It's probably enough to remind us all that "backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul".

Finally, for the sake of this line of thought, we come to the next Hidden Word:

Know thou of a truth: He that biddeth men be just and himself committeth iniquity is not of Me, even though he bear My name.

If we say we are followers of Baha'u'llah and act in this poor way, contrary to His express command, then we are not truly of Him, or of His community (#28).

Or, as 'Abdu'l-Baha put it, "It makes no difference whether you have ever heard of Bahá'u'lláh or not, the man who lives the life according to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is already a Bahá'í. On the other hand a man may call himself a Bahá'í for fifty years and if he does not live the life he is not a Bahá'í. An ugly man may call himself handsome, but he deceives no one... not even himself!"

So, in the end, am I concerned about how people will react to the word "accursed" in these two verses? Nope. Not any longer.


  1. Thank you very much for this wonderful post. My own thoughts are that I don't think accursed is meant to be taken literally. The original Arabic is mal`un which comes from the word la`na. In Arabic, this word is used to express extreme displeasure or dislike of something. I think the Guardian's explanation here is apropos:

    "As regards backbiting, i.e. discussing the faults of others in their absence, the teachings are very emphatic. In a Tablet to an American friend the Master wrote: 'The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting, more especially when it emanates from the tongues of the believers of God. If some means were devised so that the doors of backbiting were shut eternally and each one of the believers unsealed his lips in praise of others, then the Teachings of His Holiness Bah?'u'll?h would spread, the hearts be illumined, the spirits glorified, and the human world would attain to everlasting felicity.' (Quoted in Star of West, Vol. IV. p. 192) Bah?'u'll?h says in Hidden Words; 'Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command ACCURSED ARE THOU.' The condemnation of backbiting could hardly be couched in stronger language than in these passages, and it is obviously one of the foremost obligations for Bah?'?s to set their faces against this practice. Even if what is said against another person be true, the mentioning of his faults to others still comes under the category of backbiting, and is forbidden."

    (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles, February 11, 1925)

    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 88)

  2. This is a curse in the sense of something spoken, not in the sense of the family curse that is passed down through generations (in fiction). Shoghi Effendi translates it elsewhere as God's malison, and as vilify, revile, execrate, but most often as curse and accursed. It is appropriate that it is a verbal act of God, for it is a verbal transgression to breathe the sins of others.

  3. Paul: The above explanations are sound and good. May I add... If our heavenly home is reunion with God, whatever we do that takes away from that goal, is "accursed", is displeasing to God. Talking about the sins of others is one way, there are other ways, to bring about God's displeasure with our use of our free will.

    All of these can be temporary and are meant to be replaced with a more refined, purified, spiritual nature and heart.

    HW 1...possess a pure kindly and radiant heart.....The way pure gets more pure is by replacing God's disappointment with actions and words that are more centered on developing the spiritual nature of our soul and leaving the mistakes of others to their own process of refinement.