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The first steps in Abdu’l-Baha’s six-stage path to nobility involve transforming the merely human into the beautifully humane. Each of the first three steps looks outward, beyond self and toward selflessness. Those steps kindly motivate us to go past our own individual needs and desires, and to focus on the needs of humanity. This third step, though, doesn’t just recommend helping people—it asks us to inspire them.
So if you’d like to live a noble life, you’ll want to find a way to help, inspire, guide and enlighten others.
The first two recommendations in Abdu’l-Baha’s six-step “firm foundation” for nobility—to show compassion and goodwill to all people; and to render service to humanity—are followed by this third step: To endeavor to guide and enlighten those in darkness:
…knowledge is figuratively described as light, and ignorance as darkness. But reflect: Is knowledge sensible light or ignorance sensible darkness? Certainly not. These are only intelligible conditions, but when you wish to express them outwardly you call knowledge light and ignorance darkness and say: “My heart was dark and it became illumined.” Now, the light of knowledge and the darkness of ignorance are intelligible realities, not sensible ones, but when we seek to express them outwardly, we are obliged to give them a sensible form. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised version, pp. 94-95.
So what does it mean to “endeavor to guide and enlighten those in darkness?” Simply, it means to joyfully demonstrate, by your actions, the love and unity of the Creator:
Some of the people of the earth desire conquest over others; some of them are longing for rest and ease; others desire a high position; some of them desire to become famous; thank God that our desire is for spirituality and for union with God.
Now that we are gathered here our desire is to hoist the Standard of the Unity of God, to spread the Light of God and to make the hearts of the people heavenly…
I pray for all of you, that all of you may become heavenly soldiers and that you may everywhere spread the news of the Unity of God and may enlighten the East and the West and give to all hearts the love of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 2, pp. 4-5.
So how do we actually “guide and enlighten those in darkness?”
The Baha’i teachings have a recommendation:
O ye beloved of the Lord! Commit not that which defileth the limpid stream of love or destroyeth the sweet fragrance of friendship. By the righteousness of the Lord! Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. Let your eye be chaste, your hand faithful, your tongue truthful and your heart enlightened. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 138.
For Baha’is, giving guidance and inspiring enlightenment involves deeds more than it does words. In other words, enlightening hearts and souls requires an enlightened heart and soul. A wise, enlightened person acts in ways that help, guide and inspire others:
Let your acts be a guide unto all mankind, for the professions of most men, be they high or low, differ from their conduct. It is through your deeds that ye can distinguish yourselves from others. Through them the brightness of your light can be shed upon the whole earth. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 305.
Guiding and enlightening others, then, chiefly involves your own inner character. If your inner character shines with light, with goodness, with compassion, it will inspire people to try to mirror, reflect and then develop those same attributes. We naturally want to acquire the joyful, happy, radiant characteristics of those we know, so guiding others doesn’t come primarily from the words you speak—it comes directly from the efforts you make with your heart, mind and soul:
Man must be tireless in his effort. Once his effort is directed in the proper channel if he does not succeed today he will succeed tomorrow. Effort in itself is one of the noblest traits of human character. Devotion to one’s calling, effort in its speedy execution, simplicity of spirit and steadfastness through all the ups and downs, these are the hallmarks of success. A person characterized with these attributes will gather the fruits of his labours and will win the happiness of the kingdom. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 21.
Next: Learning the Language of Kindness
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