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O Son of Spirit! There is no peace for thee save by renouncing thyself and turning unto Me; for it behooveth thee to glory in My name, not in thine own; to put thy trust in Me and not in thyself, since I desire to be loved alone and above all that is. – Ibid., p. 5.
Regarding the statement in The Hidden Words, that man must renounce his own self, the meaning is that he must renounce his inordinate desires, his selfish purposes and the promptings of his human self, and seek out the holy breathings of the spirit, and follow the yearnings of his higher self, and immerse himself in the sea of sacrifice, with his heart fixed upon the beauty of the All-Glorious. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 206.
Have you ever heard of the “Dark Triad?” No, it’s not a science fiction film, a video game, an evil empire or a group of comic book villains. The Dark Triad—narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism—describes what psychologists see as one of the very worst and most treatment-resistant combinations of malevolent human traits:
Narcissism, as you already know if you’ve been reading this series of essays, produces hubris, excessive egotism and self-love, and a grandiose, entitled self-conception.
Psychopathy, or sociopathy, is reflexive selfishness, lack of empathy and remorse, and an impulsive, callous approach to life.
Machiavellianism—named after Niccolo Machiavelli, the crafty, deceitful 14th Century Italian author and statesman—means amoral manipulation of others, expediency and a total focus on self-interest.
You get the picture. According to the Handbook of Interpersonal Theory and Research, people diagnosed with the Dark Triad of personality disorders have a “callous, manipulative interpersonal style.” They have little or no regard for others, and an excess of self-love and self-regard. In other words, probably not someone you’d want to spend the day with.
But as we’ve learned in this series of essays, we each have at least some trace of these character traits. Everyone human has to work to develop the spiritual virtues of life, because we all exist in this world with its unique mix of the spiritual and the animal, the ignorant and the knowing, the natural and the supernatural. Every man and woman has a mixture of dark and light inside:
If we wish to illumine this dark plane of human existence, we must bring man forth from the hopeless captivity of nature, educate him and show him the pathway of light and knowledge, until, uplifted from his condition of ignorance, he becomes wise and knowing; no longer savage and revengeful, he becomes civilized and kind; once evil and sinister, he is endowed with the attributes of heaven. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 308.
So how do we acquire those “attributes of heaven?” How do we rid ourselves of the vanities of self-love? How do we avoid the Dark Triad and other serious spiritual afflictions? By focusing every day, the Baha’i teachings suggest, on our imperfections rather than our perfections:
Dissatisfaction with one’s self is a sign of progress… If a person has one thousand good qualities he must not look at them; nay rather, he must strive to find out his own defects and imperfections. For example, a person having a palatial residence furnished with the most expensive furniture and decorated with the most exquisite arts, unquestionably will forget all these adornments as soon as he finds out there is a crack in the wall or ceiling and without loss of time will set to repair it. On the other hand absolute perfection is unattainable by man. However much a man may advance yet he is imperfect, because there is always a point ahead of him. No sooner does he look up toward that point than he becomes dissatisfied with his own condition and aspires to attain to that. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 185.
This course of action, so rare and unusual in our time, asks us to face our demons and then continually work and strive to become better, more spiritual beings. It requires vigilance, self-knowledge and self-abnegation, which can and does eventually reduce the power of the individual ego over our hearts. Over time, focusing on our imperfections gently prompts us to enhance and encourage our higher aspirations, our love for humanity and our kindness and service toward others:
To the orphans be ye kind fathers, and to the unfortunate a refuge and shelter. To the poor be a treasure of wealth, and to the sick a remedy and healing. Be a helper of every oppressed one, the protector of every destitute one, be ye ever mindful to serve any soul of mankind. Attach no importance to self-seeking, rejection, arrogance, oppression and enmity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 6, p. 138.
O ye loved ones of God! In this, the Baha’i dispensation, God’s Cause is spirit unalloyed. His Cause belongeth not to the material world. It cometh neither for strife nor war, nor for acts of mischief or of shame; it is neither for quarrelling with other Faiths, nor for conflicts with the nations. Its only army is the love of God, its only joy the clear wine of His knowledge, its only battle the expounding of the Truth; its one crusade is against the insistent self, the evil promptings of the human heart. Its victory is to submit and yield, and to be selfless is its everlasting glory. In brief, it is spirit upon spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 256.
If thou seekest to be intoxicated with the cup of the Most Mighty Gift, cut thyself from the world and be quit of self and desire. Exert thyself night and day until spiritual powers may penetrate thy heart and soul. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 362.