Steadfastness in the Covenant
The part that man has to play in the Covenant with his Creator is described by Bahá'u'lláh in the opening paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas:
The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition
of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of
His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom
of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty
hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath
gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It
behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this
summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him
Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable.
Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been deemed
by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.
[350 Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas, para. 1.]
We see, then, that there are two requirements of man in this Covenant: to recognize the Manifestation of God as the source of all good and then to follow His commandments.
As previously stated, one of the most important commandments of Bahá'u'lláh is to turn to the Centre of His Covenant after Him. This injunction was revealed in both the Kitab-i-Aqdas and the Kitab-i-'Ahd.
Therefore, to a true Bahá'í who is steadfast in the Covenant, obedience to the utterances of 'Abdu'l-Bahá is obedience to God. As important as recognition of the station of Bahá'u'lláh and belief in Him are, they are not a sufficient guarantee of faith unless one remains loyal and steadfast in His Covenant. One of the distinguishing features of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is that He has not abandoned His followers to their own devices but has left in their midst a source of divine guidance to which they can turn. He conferred His divine powers and authority upon 'Abdu'l-Bahá and made a firm Covenant with the believers to follow and obey Him with absolute devotion and love. This Covenant was extended to include Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice. Faith in Bahá'u'lláh is, therefore, not a mere acknowledgement of His divine message but also involves obedience and faithfulness to those upon whom He conferred the mantle of infallibility.
The Kitab-i-'Ahd and the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá may be summarized in two words: 'turn towards'. Bahá'u'lláh enjoined His followers to 'turn towards' 'Abdu'l-Bahá, after whose passing the believers had again to 'turn towards' Shoghi Effendi. Today they 'turn towards' the Universal House of Justice.
To emphasize this important feature of the Covenant, the following analogy may be helpful. An aircraft flies because its engines create a special condition that enables the machine to do so; without them the craft will not move. Similarly, belief in Bahá'u'lláh as the Supreme Manifestation of God in this age uplifts the soul and enables it to soar into the spiritual realms. A believer's faith in Bahá'u'lláh thus acts like the engine in the analogy. But a powerful engine, however necessary, cannot ensure the safety of an aircraft or its smooth landing at its destination. There is a need for the navigational signals which a modern aircraft receives from the control tower to determine its direction, height and speed, and the pilot obeys these instructions until the machine lands safely. Without these navigational aids and the pilot's readiness to follow them, there is every likelihood that a disaster will take place.
Similarly, faith in Bahá'u'lláh is not sufficient unto itself. The believer must faithfully obey the guidance he receives from the Centre of the Cause. If someone reaches the pinnacle of faith and certitude in the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh but refuses to follow the guidance of Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi or the Universal House of Justice, he cannot be considered a true believer.
Many people today frown upon the word 'obedience'. In present-day society, in which all moral and spiritual values are declining, the concept of obedience is often associated with dictatorship, tyranny, religious fanaticism and narrow-mindedness. This view is held by educated men and women who are otherwise open-minded and intelligent. These people come from all walks of life; some belong to religious movements with liberal leanings, while others may be humanists, agnostics or atheists. They have keenly observed the terrible consequences that blind obedience to various political regimes or religious hierarchies has engendered and they are fearful of any movement, whether religious or secular, that demands absolute obedience to its commandments. One can appreciate the honesty of these people and sympathize with their views, for they may have only experienced injustice and cruelty everywhere.
However, in his daily life a human being wholeheartedly obeys the directives of many individuals or institutions that speak with the voice of truth. He is willing to accept authority that appears credible and trustworthy. For instance, a motorist will unhesitatingly follow the signpost on a road until he reaches his destination. This blind following springs horn his faith in the authority of the body that has set up the signposts. Similarly, a patient will willingly allow a surgeon to operate on a cancerous growth because he has faith in the doctor's diagnosis.
A similar response results from an individual's recognition of the truth of the Cause of God. Once he sees the teachings as credible, he will not find it difficult to obey them. And since man's part in the Covenant of God is obedience to God's teachings, it is clear that he cannot fulfil his obligation unless he recognizes the truth of His Revelation.
When the individual recognizes Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation of God, a spark of faith is ignited in his heart. At first a faint glimmer of light, this spark must be allowed to become a fire of ever-growing intensity for it is then that the believer will fall in love with Bahá'u'lláh But how can a person who has just embraced this belief draw closer to Bahá'u'lláh, fan into flame the spark of his faith and increase his love for Him day by day?
A statement in Islam, which Bahá'u'lláh confirms and reiterates, says that 'Knowledge is a light which God casteth into the heart of whomsoever He willeth.' The assertion that the heart is the dawning-place of the knowledge of God may sound strange to some because it is commonly thought that the mind, rather than the heart, is the vehicle for acquiring knowledge. But faith and knowledge of God, like seeds, are planted first in the heart. It is only afterwards that the mind grasps the truth and begins to understand it. In the end it is the interaction of the two — the heart and the mind — that brings confirmation and certitude to the soul.
Although in some cases a believer's faith in Bahá'u'lláh may come to him intellectually, its intensification and growth day by day cannot continue purely through intellectual pursuits. And if a person's faith does not increase with the passage of time, it is like a child who is born but fails to grow. Such a person is very likely to feel a measure of doubt in his innermost heart concerning the Faith and may experience great conflicts in his mind, especially when he goes through tests. Although intellectually he may accept Bahá'u'lláh as a Manifestation of God and may even be well versed in His writings, he does not have that absolute certitude that endows a human being with spiritual qualities and confers upon him perpetual contentment, assurance and happiness.
The heart is the focal point of warmth and love. It is characteristic of the heart to fall in love with another but it is the individual who finds and chooses the object of that love. If he turns his affections to the material world, his heart will very easily become attached to it. But if he turns to God and spiritual things, then his heart can fall in love with his Creator, provided he fulfils one condition stated by Bahá'u'lláh:
O Son of Being! Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent.
Thy spirit is My place of revelation; cleanse it for my Manifestation.
[351 Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic no. 59.]
How can one sanctify the heart? In another passage, Bahá'u'lláh explains:
O Son of Dust! All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for
thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation
of my beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling
to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness
sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and,
homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved.
[352 ibid. Persian no. 27. (Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words.)]
O My Friend in Word! Ponder awhile. Hast thou ever heard that
friend and foe should abide in one heart? Cast out then the
stranger, that the Friend may enter His home.
[353 ibid. Persian no. 26. (Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words.)]
To acquire faith, then, and to enable the revelation of God to shine within the heart, one must cast out the 'stranger', or man's attachment to this world, of which the most formidable and most harmful type is attachment to one's own self. It manifests itself mainly in pride in one's own knowledge and other accomplishments, such as rank and position. Love of one's self renders the individual opinionated, self-centred, proud and egotistical and, in fact, denudes him of spiritual qualities. Such a person has indeed harboured within his heart a great enemy, namely, the 'stranger' referred to by Bahá'u'lláh. Even if he becomes a Bahá'í, he will find it difficult to derive spiritual upliftment from the writings of Bahá'u'lláh because this attachment has become a barrier between himself and God.
To read the writings purely with the eye of intellect, while proudly regarding oneself as a being endowed with great qualities and accomplishments, undoubtedly closes the door to the bounties and confirmations of Bahá'u'lláh, and His words therefore cannot influence the heart. When a person truly recognizes Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation of God he becomes humble before Him and this is one of the main prerequisites for driving the 'stranger', step by step, out of one's heart. 'Humble thyself before Me, that I may graciously visit thee' is Bahá'u'lláh's clear admonition to man:
[354 ibid. Arabic no. 42. (Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words.)]
Blind thine eyes, that thou mayest behold My beauty; stop thine
ears, that thou mayest hearken unto the sweet melody of My voice;
empty thyself of all learning, that thou mayest partake of My
knowledge; and sanctify thyself from riches, that thou mayest
obtain a lasting share from the ocean of My eternal wealth.
[355 ibid. Persian no. 11. (Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words.)]
There is a beautiful Persian story in verse that elucidates this point quite vividly. It concerns a drop of rain falling down from the clouds. The drop knows itself to be the water of life, the most precious element that God had created, and so it is proud of itself. Boasting all the way down, it suddenly sees that it is falling into an ocean, whereupon it recognizes its own insignificance and exclaims: 'If this exists then what am I?' When the ocean hears this expression of humility it attracts the drop to itself and, as a reward, makes it a companion of the pearl.
The following portion of one of the obligatory prayers of Bahá'u'lláh, though very brief, is reminiscent of the story of the drop and the ocean, and serves as a perfect confession of who we are:
I bear witness, O my God, that thou has created me to know Thee
and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness
and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth.
[356 Bahá'u'lláh, in Bahá'í Prayers, p. 4.]
The daily recital of any of the three obligatory prayers can act as a mighty weapon in the spiritual battle against one's own self, a battle that every believer must fight in order to subdue his greatest enemy and drive the 'stranger' away. The recital of the obligatory prayer, which is enjoined upon every believer by Bahá'u'lláh and constitutes one of the most sacred rites of the Faith, is a major factor in enabling a soul to recognize its own impotence in relation to its Creator and to acknowledge its own shortcomings.
The saying of obligatory prayers, along with the daily recitation of the holy writings as ordained by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitab-i-Aqdas and a deeper study of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, will enable the believer to gain a glimpse of the majesty and grandeur of the Blessed Beauty. Like the drop when it sees the ocean, he will become humble and self-effacing. The 'stranger' will be driven out and the heart will be filled with the spirit of God's Faith.
The following prayer revealed by a caring Master for His devoted lovers is a fitting conclusion to this book.
12-WT O God, my God! Shield Thy trusted servants from the
evils of self and passion, protect them with the watchful eye of
Thy loving kindness from all rancour, hate and envy, shelter
them in the impregnable stronghold of Thy care and, safe from
the darts of doubtfulness, make them the manifestations of Thy
glorious Signs, illumine their faces with the effulgent rays shed
from the Dayspring of Thy Divine Unity, gladden their hearts
with the verses revealed from Thy Holy Kingdom, strengthen
their loins by Thy all-swaying power that cometh from Thy
Realm of Glory. Thou art the All-Bountiful, the Protector, the
Almighty, the Gracious!