Everywhere I look in our society, I see the constant, insatiable quest for material goods and material wealth—an obsession with, as some say, “the almighty dollar.”
Just look around, and you’ll see it, too. Our societies are hyper-focused on the material aspects of life. When driving down the street, I see all types of commercial signs and billboards. Every few minutes on network television, I am bombarded by a plethora of commercials using every type of psychological ploy to motivate me to buy something. When thinking of a place to move to, people I know always ask, “What is the investment potential of property in that area?” In short, we are drowning in a sea of materialism and commercialism. Many people have one main goal in life: to become wealthy. All else is marginalized and left to languish.
The Baha’i teachings address this societal problem directly, and with great clarity:
All the Prophets have come to promote divine bestowals, to found the spiritual civilization and teach the principles of morality. Therefore, we must strive with all our powers so that spiritual influences may gain the victory. For material forces have attacked mankind. The world of humanity is submerged in a sea of materialism. The rays of the Sun of Reality are seen but dimly and darkly through opaque glasses. The penetrative power of the divine bounty is not fully manifest. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 12.
On a more personal note, when my wife and I were living in the Dallas area, my mother-in-law, who was very ill, lived with us. Eventually, cancer overwhelmed her and she passed away in our home. Her husband, who had passed away two decades earlier, had provided well for her. She was a relatively wealthy woman. When they carried her body from our home at three in the morning, I couldn’t help thinking, “She had so much wealth, but she could not take even a penny with her.”
This eternal truth about our lives seems to have eluded us:
… consider how base a nature it reveals in man that, notwithstanding the favors showered upon him by God, he should lower himself into the animal sphere, be wholly occupied with material needs, attached to this mortal realm, imagining that the greatest happiness is to attain wealth in this world. How purposeless! How debased is such a nature! God has created man in order that he may be a dove of the Kingdom, a heavenly candle, a recipient of eternal life …
A friend of mine recently emailed a video to me containing words popularly attributed to Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, recorded from his death-bed. Among his statements, Mr. Jobs said:
I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In other’s eyes, my life was an epitome of success. However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life I am accustomed to. At this moment, lying on the sick-bed, and recalling my whole life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth I took so much pride in paled and became meaningless in the face of impending death. … I can feel the breath of God and death drawing closer. Now I know, when we have accumulated sufficient wealth to last a lifetime, we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth. It should be something that’s more important. Perhaps relationships. Perhaps art. Perhaps a dream from younger days. Non-stop pursuing of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me. God gave us senses to let us feel the love in everyone’s heart, not the illusions brought on by wealth. The wealth that I have won in my life, I cannot bring with me. What I can bring is only the memories precipitated by love. That’s the true riches which will follow you, accompany you, giving you strength and light to go on.” Love can travel a thousand miles … Material things lost can be found. But there is one thing that can never be found when it’s lost: life. … Whichever stage in life you are at right now, with time, you will face the day when the curtain comes down. Treasure love for your family, love for your spouse, love for your friends, treat yourself well, cherish others.
We can discover this important truth on our death-bed or we can discover it now, in the prime of our lives. Because everyone must discover it sooner or later, sooner is better.
Every great Faith tells us that we cannot find any real importance or sustenance in material things—and that we must detach ourselves from them in order to focus on the truly important aspect of life—the human spirit. In his book of laws, Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith wrote:
The days of your life flee away as a breath of wind, and all your pomp and glory shall be folded up as were the pomp and glory of those gone before you. Reflect, O people! What hath become of your bygone days, your lost centuries? Happy the days that have been consecrated to the remembrance of God, and blessed the hours spent in praise of Him Who is the All-Wise. By my life! Neither the pomp of the mighty, nor the wealth of the rich, nor even the ascendancy of the ungodly will endure. All will perish at a word from Him. He verily, is the All Powerful, the All-Compelling, the Almighty. What advantage is there in the earthly things which men possess? That which shall profit them, they have utterly neglected. – The Most Holy Book, p. 35.
The important things of life are giving love to our family and friends, and to everyone we meet, and most importantly, knowing, loving, and obeying our Creator.