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Were man to appreciate the greatness of his station and the loftiness of his destiny, he would manifest naught save goodly character, pure deeds, and a seemly and praiseworthy conduct. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 172.
Loftiness designates the last month of the Baha’i Calendar (March 2 to March 20). Last but not least, the Baha’i month of “Loftiness” honors yet another “Name” or attribute of God. Think of “loftiness” not only as a quality of God, but as a human virtue. In this sense, loftiness indicates nobility of character, as expressed in intention and action.
So, on the human plane of existence, what does being “lofty” mean? If “lofty” is as “lofty” does,” then this word has to do with upliftment and exaltation, personal and social—or, better still, personal in terms of social.
Of course, most people have some idea of what “lofty” means. But let’s see what the Oxford English Dictionary has to say:
2. In figurative and immaterial applications.
a. Haughty, overweening, proud.
b. Exalted in dignity, rank, character, or quality. Of expectations, aims, desires: Directed to high objects. – Oxford English Dictionary.
The first part of this definition is negative, because it has to do with pride. Yet the second part of the definition is positive. A sublime paradox! A koan of contradiction. How can two seemingly contrary (and therefore contradictory) definitions abide together in the same lexical entry?
Most people who believe in God would agree that “Exalted in dignity, rank, character, or quality” is a fair description of God—even though God is beyond description. We would never think of God as being “Haughty, overweening, proud.” However, we can easily think of ourselves as prideful if we are not humble before God. From a spiritual perspective, being humble before God exalts our character, both in our own eyes and the eyes of others.
Now let’s see how “loftiness” applies to human existence. Consider these words of Baha’u’llah:
…man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. Having attained the stage of fulfilment and reached his maturity, man standeth in need of wealth, and such wealth as he acquireth through crafts or professions is commendable and praiseworthy in the estimation of men of wisdom, and especially in the eyes of servants who dedicate themselves to the education of the world and to the edification of its peoples.
They are, in truth, cup-bearers of the life-giving water of knowledge and guides unto the ideal way. They direct the peoples of the world to the straight path and acquaint them with that which is conducive to human upliftment and exaltation. The straight path is the one which guideth man to the dayspring of perception and to the dawning-place of true understanding and leadeth him to that which will redound to glory, honour and greatness. – Ibid., pp. 34–35.
In this celebrated passage, notice how “loftiness” — as it relates to this world — is defined as whatever is “conducive to human upliftment and exaltation.” Here, being “lofty” does not mean being higher than others. It means being “on the same plane” in terms of service. That is to say, those who are truly lofty are those “who dedicate themselves to the education of the world and to the edification of its peoples.”
So here’s the irony: to be lofty in character, one has to be free of any sense of superiority, aloofness, privilege, and elitism, with all its attendant disengagement from the real world. True loftiness does not have to do with one’s social position in life, but with one’s spiritual station.
“Station” does not mean “stationary.” One’s “station” is not a static position, but the sum total of one’s actions in relation to others. One’s station in life is measured by action. In other words, attaining a lofty station in life means being concerned—and doing something about—the station of others. By raising the station of others, we raise our own.
Loftiness is characterized by upliftment, not self-aggrandizement. One’s own station will automatically be uplifted purely as a function of trying one’s best to raise the consciousness of others, and to help them better their lot in life. Not only will such activity prove to be its own reward, it will also prove to be your own social mirror. By gazing into the eyes of others, you see yourself.
Instead of looking in the mirror on the wall, look into the mirror of other people’s eyes. They will reflect, for the most part, something about you in the way they look back at you, as they respond to you.
If you have been of service to others, they will look upon you with a bright and friendly face, filled with gratitude. If you have educated others, they will truly respect you. If you are humble (not self-effacing, but respectful and concerned about others), then, in the esteem of others, you will be regarded more highly. Self-pride is vain. But when others are proud to know you, that’s good.
So the paradox of loftiness is that it is the reflex of lowliness. By “lowliness” is not meant self-denigration, but service to others.
From another perspective, consider what Baha’is do during the Baha’i month of Loftiness (March 2 to March 20). This is the period of fasting from sunrise to sunset, when Baha’is abstain from all food and drink during that time. Generally speaking, the purpose of fasting is detachment from all things material and mundane, in favor of seeking that which is truly immaterial and spiritual.
Being of service to others expands our moral aptitude and social horizons, in such a way that we begin to define ourselves along the lines of this African proverb: “Through others, I am somebody.”
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, “loftiness” is far more “horizontal” than “vertical”—a godly quality, and a goodly virtue, as Baha’u’llah writes:
Great and blessed is this Day—the Day in which all that lay latent in man hath been and will be made manifest. Lofty is the station of man, were he to hold fast to righteousness and truth and to remain firm and steadfast in the Cause. In the eyes of the All-Merciful a true man appeareth even as a firmament; its sun and moon are his sight and hearing, and his shining and resplendent character its stars. His is the loftiest station, and his influence educateth the world of being. – Ibid., p. 220.