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To be a Baha’i means to strive to become an agent for positive change in all aspects of society. This striving must necessarily begin with making inner changes through prayer, meditating on the sacred writings and reflecting on the purpose and meaning of life. With continued effort, our thoughts and attitudes are gradually refined to the point that our day-to-day activities—whether they be studying, working or another activity—become an extension of our spiritual practice.
Every branch of learning, conjoined with the love of God, is approved and worthy of praise; but bereft of His love, learning is barren—indeed, it bringeth on madness. Every kind of knowledge, every science, is as a tree: if the fruit of it be the love of God, then is it a blessed tree, but if not, that tree is but dried-up wood, and shall only feed the fire. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 251.
The perennial dichotomy between spiritual and material pursuits has driven people to either extreme throughout history. At one extreme, some people have sought to cut themselves off from society in the hope of discovering God or attaining self-realization. At the other extreme, the immediate security and gratification offered by power and money has driven many to reject all forms of religion as being an irrelevant distraction from their material pursuits.
The Baha’i writings resolve this tension by seeing the material and the spiritual as complementary facets of life, both of which demand continuous effort to refine and perfect. In a practical sense, the bridge between these two realities is the attitude we adopt. Any activity, whether spiritual or material, must be driven by a desire to serve others if we are to use it as a means of personal progress. Only then will it attain its consummation as a pure act which yields benefits all around.
In the Cause of Baha’u’llah, it is incumbent upon every soul to acquire a trade and an occupation. For example, I know how to weave or make a mat, and you know some other trade. This, in itself is an act of worship, provided that it is conducted on the basis of utmost honesty and faithfulness. And this is the cause of prosperity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Vol. 19, No. 7, p. 219.
The beginning of this process is simply to ask what opportunities exist in our working lives to practice any of the concepts elucidated in the sacred writings. Doing this effectively requires preparation. First, we need to contemplate what each task physically and mentally entails and consider which virtues can be applied to it. The second step is to go about our activities with mindfulness so that we can identify opportunities, when they arise, to practice the virtues. Finally, it is useful, at the end of each day, to reflect on whether we have achieved what we set out to accomplish, and then commit to making the necessary adjustments for next time.
Using this approach, we soon realize there is virtually no activity in our day-to-day lives which doesn’t offer ground for personal transformation. One could even argue that we are depriving ourselves, our colleagues and society in general of great benefit if we fail to recognize and act upon these opportunities.
It is also interesting to consider how material benefits can arise from the application of spiritual practices in the workplace. For example, consider a situation where the owner of a business consistently pays the staff above the minimum entitlement and ties their remuneration to the success of the business. With the correct attitude, this is also a spiritual investment since it is an expression of the divine principles of kindness and justice. In a material sense, this form of investment is likely to create a more effective business, as there is now additional incentive for the staff to make effort and take ownership of their work.
By placing spiritual values at the heart of our transactions, we are making a long-term investment not only in ourselves but also in those around us. This investment must eventually pay material as well as spiritual dividends, as trust is created between people and balance is restored between the creation, distribution and utilization of material wealth.