Direct, true, and succinct spiritual advice need not always be framed in the form of a commandment beginning with the words: “Thou shalt not …”
Have you noticed? We are all too often confronted with laws defining what we are not allowed to do rather than with spiritual guidance counseling us as to what we should do.
Spiritual advice is far more useful as a guide to life than any criminal code. Civil laws are written in an attempt to deter crime and control bad behavior. They are not much different from the rules we often create to control children. But spiritual advice is different, because it is given to adults who know that they are responsible for their own actions. The best spiritual advice doesn’t always attach negative sanctions delineating the punishment of a failure to comply. Built in to such advice is the recognition that certain things have natural consequences.
The physical universe, governed by the laws of nature, has natural, inevitable consequences for ignoring things like gravity and inertia. The result of ignoring these natural laws can be painful and injurious to our bodies. Gravity and inertia are always with us, and whenever we attempt to break these laws, whether knowingly or unknowingly, the consequences are, in a sense, self-imposed. No need to make a law that states, “Thou shalt not step off the roofs of tall buildings.” It is sufficient to advise against it and to explain how natural laws work.
It is the same in the spiritual universe. It should not surprise us to know that there are also spiritual laws at work in the world. There are natural spiritual consequences for running counter to spiritual verities.
The spiritual laws are always with us; if we violate them, whether wittingly or unwittingly, the consequences are inevitable and are, in a sense, self-initiated and self-imposed. For example, if we do not endeavor to share what we have or do not strive to address the needs of others, the resulting dynamics of selfishness and indifference are painful to our souls and injurious to our personal spiritual development. However, whenever we comply with the spiritual laws and heed the spiritual advice that is available to us, the Baha’i teachings repeatedly point out, the rewards are limitless:
Make me ready, in all circumstances, O my Lord, to serve Thee and to set myself towards the adored sanctuary of Thy Revelation and of Thy Beauty. If it be Thy pleasure, make me to grow as a tender herb in the meadows of Thy grace, that the gentle winds of Thy will may stir me up and bend me into conformity with Thy pleasure, in such wise that my movement and my stillness may be wholly directed by Thee. – Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, p. 240.
Assist the world of humanity as much as possible. Be the source of consolation to every sad one, assist every weak one, be helpful to every indigent one, care for every sick one, be the cause of glorification to every lowly one, and shelter those who are overshadowed by fear. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 453.
Turning to God in prayer is an appropriate first step if we desire to be of service to others, for God is the source of a strength greater than our own and will guide us to where we can be most useful. After all, service is a sacred activity, and work done in that spirit is akin to a prayer to God. These Baha’i prayers call on the Creator to help us:
O God, and the God of all Names, and Maker of the heavens! I entreat Thee by Thy Name through which He Who is the Dayspring of Thy might and the Dawning-Place of Thy power hath been manifested, through which every solid thing hath been made to flow, and every dead corpse hath been quickened, and every moving spirit confirmed—I entreat Thee to enable me to rid myself of all attachment to any one but Thee, and to serve Thy Cause, and to wish what Thou didst wish through the power of Thy sovereignty, and to perform what is the good pleasure of Thy will.
I beseech Thee, moreover, O my God, to ordain for me what will make me rich enough to dispense with any one save Thee. Thou seest me, O my God, with my face turned towards Thee, and my hands clinging to the cord of Thy grace. Send down upon me Thy mercy, and write down for me what Thou hast written down for Thy chosen ones. Powerful art Thou to do what pleaseth Thee. No God is there but Thee, the Ever-Forgiving, the All-Bountiful. – Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, p. 226.
O God! O God! This is a broken winged bird and his flight is very slow— assist him so that he may fly toward the apex of prosperity and salvation, wing his way with the utmost joy and happiness throughout the illimitable space, raise his melody in Thy Supreme Name in all the regions, exhilarate the ears with this call, and brighten the eyes by beholding the signs of guidance.
O Lord! I am single, alone and lowly. For me there is no support save Thee, no helper except Thee and no sustainer beside Thee. Confirm me in Thy service, assist me with the cohorts of Thine angels, make me victorious in the promotion of Thy Word and suffer me to speak out Thy wisdom amongst Thy creatures. Verily, Thou art the helper of the weak and the defender of the little ones, and verily Thou art the Powerful, the Mighty and the Unconstrained. – Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 89.
O my God! O my God! Verily, these servants are turning to Thee, supplicating Thy kingdom of mercy. Verily, they are attracted by Thy holiness and set aglow with the fire of Thy love, seeking confirmation from Thy wondrous kingdom, and hoping for attainment in Thy heavenly realm. Verily, they long for the descent of Thy bestowal, desiring illumination from the Sun of Reality. O Lord! Make them radiant lamps, merciful signs, fruitful trees and shining stars. May they come forth in Thy service and be connected with Thee by the bonds and ties of Thy love, longing for the lights of Thy favor. O Lord! Make them signs of guidance, standards of Thine immortal kingdom, waves of the sea of Thy mercy, mirrors of the light of Thy majesty.
Verily, Thou art the Generous. Verily, Thou art the Merciful. Verily, Thou art the Precious, the Beloved. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 112-113.