The Baha’i teachings do not condemn pleasure, knowledge or enjoyment—instead, they say “just as the spiritual delights are here in profusion, so too the material delights.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 90.
Baha’is don’t think of pleasure and knowledge as bad. Baha’u’llah praises knowledge and also desires for us to be happy in this life. Nor is it wrong to possess material things. Wealth is good and necessary, but it must be based upon true knowledge of ourselves; that is to say, awareness of our spiritual reality.
Baha’u’llah writes, “In all matters moderation is desirable.” – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 69. This crucial principle helps us to understand many of his laws and teachings, which guard us against spiritually self-defeating extremes of behavior. For example, while Baha’u’llah warns us not to become attached to our possessions, he also forbids asceticism, self-denial, and other such practices, which can actually retard spiritual progress.
Abdu’l-Baha advises us not to waste our lives in the pursuit of material treasures, yet this does not mean that the things of this life are not to be enjoyed:
All that has been created is for man, who is at the apex of creation, and he must be thankful for the divine bestowals. All material things are for us, so that through our gratitude we may learn to understand life as a divine benefit. If we are disgusted with life we are ingrates, for our material and spiritual existence are the outward evidences of the divine mercy. Therefore we must be happy and spend our time in praises, appreciating all things. – Abdu’l-Baha, quoted in J.E. Esselmont’s Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 103.
To teach us moderation, Baha’u’llah revealed many laws and ordinances designed for the individual and for society. He revealed these laws in a spirit of love for humanity, with the aim of promoting its best interests. Moreover, the laws are divine in origin and are, therefore, in a category quite apart from the laws of man.
Baha’u’llah strongly advocates human freedom, which Baha’is see as essential to individual dignity and happiness. In particular, he emphasizes freedom of conscience, which permits a person to follow his chosen religion. But this is not license to do whatever we please. One can easily see that any good thing carried to an extreme is injurious to the individual and to society. The laws of Baha’u’llah are designed to provide humanity with the kind of freedom that ensures true happiness.
It is essential to understand that God’s law is the only sure safeguard for the human soul and for the prosperity of all humanity. In the opening paragraphs of the Most Holy Book Baha’u’llah writes:
They whom God hath endued with insight will readily recognize that the precepts laid down by God constitute the highest means for the maintenance of order in the world and the security of its peoples. He that turneth away from them is accounted among the abject and foolish. We, verily, have commanded you to refuse the dictates of your evil passions and corrupt desires, and not to transgress the bounds which the Pen of the Most High hath fixed, for these are the breath of life unto all created things. . . .
O ye peoples of the world! Know assuredly that My commandments are the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures. Thus hath it been sent down from the heaven of the Will of your Lord, the Lord of Revelation. Were any man to taste the sweetness of the words which the lips of the All-Merciful have willed to utter, he would, though the treasures of the earth be in his possession, renounce them one and all, that he might vindicate the truth of even one of His commandments, shining above the Dayspring of His bountiful care and loving-kindness. – pp. 19-20.
To accept God’s messenger implies that we also accept that all of his teachings are for our benefit. This is similar to the relationship between parent and child. The loving parent must lay down rules and restrictions to protect the child and ensure its proper development. The child may not understand the wisdom of such rules for many years, but will certainly come to appreciate it in the fullness of time. The same is true for the laws that come down from our Creator—their value will eventually become evident in the course of time, even if at first we do not fully understand them.