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How do I become Baha’i?

Fulfilling our Spiritual Duty with Detachment

Robert McGehee | Jul 12, 2018

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Robert McGehee | Jul 12, 2018

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

Every religion asks us an important question: what’s our spiritual responsibility? In other words, does each person have a personal duty to God?

In our modern, individualistic, materialistic, largely ego-centered Western society, we can tend to lose sight of a sense of personal duty and responsibility towards God—if we choose to believe in God.

Most of us understand our duty towards our family members and friends, towards society at large and ultimately to the world—but it is so easy to focus on satisfying our own needs and desires, and get lost in the frantic rat race we call modern society.

The Baha’i teachings have this to say about duty:

The whole duty of man in this Day is to attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth for him. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8.

This brings to mind a reflection from the 18th century Japanese samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo, many of whose thoughts are collected in the book Hagakure:

How should a person respond when he is asked, “As a human being, what is essential in terms of purpose and discipline?” First, let us say, “It is to become of the mind that is right now pure and lacking complications.” People in general all seem to be dejected. When one has a pure and uncomplicated mind, his expression will be lively. When one is attending to matters, there is one thing that comes forth from his heart. That is, in terms of one’s lord, loyalty; in terms of one’s parents, filial piety; in martial affairs, bravery; and apart from that, something that can be used by all the world.

This is very difficult to discover. Once discovered, it is again difficult to keep in constant effect. There is nothing outside the thought of the immediate moment.

Yamamoto-san has a different approach to discipline and duty. He called it the “one thing that flows from the heart,” which informs and guides us in executing our various duties in life—and what flows from that leads us to the mysterious.

That sounds a lot like “the flood of grace which God poureth for him” mentioned by Baha’u’llah.

The idea that this mysterious “one thing” which flows from the heart brings us back to the rational faculty of the soul, mentioned in the first article of this series. I personally do feel very strongly, from my experience of life so far, that it tends to be in those moments when I am more fully aware of the present that I feel that burning passion, the rays of light of the soul shining in my heart, illuminating my being and guiding and shaping my thoughts, feelings, and actions.

This very Zen-like presence in the here and now implies a level of detachment from hopes and worries about the future, and also from regrets and desires to relive the past. Jesus in his sermon on the mount also exhorted his followers to live in the present, trusting wholly in God, to guide them, protect them, and take care of their needs. From the Gospel of Matthew chapter 6:

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. – Mathew 6:18-34.

The Bhagavad Gita contains several verses where Krishna counsels his disciple Arjuna to go about his dharma—his duty or path in life—with utter detachment, to abide in the moment while performing any and all action, without regard to egotistical hopes about what fruits may come in the future from that action. Here is a translation of chapter 2, verse 47:

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

Yamamoto Tsunetomo understood that the Bushido code of the samurai involves many duties, and also encourages one to be detached from fear of death. There is a samurai belief in which life is conceived of as a kind of dream, death being the gate to waking up from that dream. Going about one’s duties with sincerity and ultimately dying an honorable death is the highest goal of a samurai. Yamamoto-san here encourages us to go about our duties in life with absolute detachment from our material life:

The Way of the Samurai is found in death … If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.

In the Baha’i Faith and in other religious traditions we are taught this same basic truth—that our true existence is not in this world. It is good to remember this in our daily lives, and as the Buddha and Christ and Baha’u’llah and Yamamoto-san all say, live completely detached from the things of this world:

While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:18.

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  • Jeanine Caughlin
    Jul 15, 2018
    Please note that in the quote from Yamamoto, I think the word "marital" is mis-spelled, but I'm not sure. It says martial, but that doesn't sound right. If I'm wrong, please ignore my humbly offered correction. Thank you.
  • Sara Jones Bagby
    Jul 13, 2018
    Good read! Krishna's teaching in Chapter 2 Verse 47 especially. Reminds me of the movie Razor's Edge & Ram Das' Be Here Now. His Holiness the Blessed Beauty writes "In the Name of God and by His Grace trust in the Lord and in Him you shall abide in safety." Believe, Love, Obey.
  • Grant Christensen
    Jul 12, 2018
    Very intelligently written. How fortuitous of me to gravitate towards this inspiring article, as I was exploring the intricacies of detachment while we are still in this world. Thank you for this uplifting dissertation. ... Laurianne
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