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The Baha’i teachings empower people—but how?
In a Baha’i context, power is all about the power to do—not power over others. In other words, Baha’i “power” focuses on self-empowerment, with the assistance of spiritual forces.
For instance, in his Tablet of the Omnipotent, Baha’u’llah expands on the meaning of “power:”
… God hath shed His effulgence upon all creation through His Name, the Omnipotent, that all beings, whether in the heavens or on earth, might be empowered thereby, lest any soul be deprived of the power of His sovereign might. This is that which hath been sent down by Him Who is the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsistent. – provisional translation by Joshua Hall, Athār Qalam al-ʿAlā, Volume Four, pp. 374–375.
Here, Baha’u’llah proclaims that we can tap into God’s power for a worthy purpose. This power is a source of divine confirmation, as it were, so that you and I “might be empowered thereby.” Baha’u’llah goes on to say:
O thou who art the Luminary of My Name, the Omnipotent: do thou shed thy radiance over all created things by the marvels of the power of thy Lord, that all may testify in themselves unto the might of God, the All-Powerful, the All-Glorious, the Well-Beloved. …
Wherefore, O people, make your hearts to be mirrors for this Luminary, that the rays of its light and the splendor of its effulgence may be reflected therein. Thus have ye been bidden by your Lord, if ye be of them that recognize this truth. He in whom the effulgence of this Name is reflected, shall, verily, be granted a power by God over all things, in such wise that they all would be revolutionized at his command.
And if it were the desire of such a one to conquer the entire universe, at but a word of his behest, he would be able to do so by virtue of the might of his Lord; this is, verily, a manifest grace. – Ibid.
Here, “conquer the entire universe” defines the power to do, not power over. (Baha’u’llah’s use of hyperbole—a figure of speech—is not to be taken literally.)
How does this spiritual power work? Baha’u’llah explains:
From this Tablet are the fragrances of divine might wafted over all possessed of strength, and they waft wheresoever He willeth in conformity to His command, if ye be of them that reason. The allegory of this Name made in this Tablet is that of a bountiful spring wherefrom myriad rivers flow. Thus, by virtue of this Name do the waters of divine might flow in the currents of existent realities, and all partake therefrom, as He willeth, to a determined measure. – Ibid.
So Baha’u’llah analogizes God’s power to a “a bountiful spring wherefrom myriad rivers flow.” Like generating electricity in a hydroelectric dam, flowing water has considerable power. You and I have access to this unlimited power—but only to a degree, to “a determined measure.”
Now, how do we tap into this “bountiful spring,” in order to augment our power to do something worthy? One way is through concentration, meditation, and decision-making that invokes a spiritual focus using prayer. Here’s one such prayer:
Glorified be Thy name, O Lord my God! I beseech Thee by Thy power that hath encompassed all created things, and by Thy Sovereignty that hath transcended the entire creation, and by Thy Word which was hidden in Thy wisdom and whereby Thou didst create Thy heaven and Thy earth, both to enable us to be steadfast in our love for Thee and in our obedience to Thy pleasure, and to fix our gaze upon Thy face, and celebrate Thy glory.
Empower us, then, O my God, to spread abroad Thy signs among Thy creatures, and to guard Thy Faith in Thy realm. Thou hast ever existed independently of the mention of any of Thy creatures, and wilt remain as Thou hast been for ever and ever.
In Thee I have placed my whole confidence, unto Thee I have turned my face, to the cord of Thy loving providence I have clung, and towards the shadow of Thy mercy I have hastened. Cast me not as one disappointed out of Thy door, O my God, and withhold not from me Thy grace, for Thee alone do I seek. No God is there beside Thee, the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Bountiful. Praise be to Thee, O Thou Who art the Beloved of them that have known Thee! – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 160–161.
One caveat: this prayer is not some magic formula. Baha’u’llah explains further in this prayer:
I pray Thee, O Thou Who art the Lord of all names and the Ruler of both earth and heaven, to grant that all who are dear to Thee may each become a cup of Thy mercy in Thy days, that they may quicken the hearts of Thy servants. Empower them also, O my God, to be as the rain that poureth down from the clouds of Thy grace, and as the winds that waft the vernal fragrances of Thy loving-kindness, that through them the soil of the hearts of Thy creatures may be clad with verdure, and may bring forth the things that will shed their fragrance over all Thy dominion, so that every one may perceive the sweet smell of the Robe of Thy Revelation. Potent art Thou to do what Thou willest.
The power of Thy might beareth me witness! Whoso hath drunk of the cup which the hand of Thy mercy hath borne round will strip himself of all things except Thee, and will be able, through a word of his mouth, to enrapture the souls of such of Thy servants as have slumbered on the bed of forgetfulness and negligence, and to cause them to turn their faces toward Thy most Great Sign, and seek from Thee naught else except Thyself, and ask of Thee only what Thou hast determined for them by the pen of Thy judgment and hast prescribed in the Tablet of Thy decree. – Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, pp. 191–192.
Baha’is pray for the power to influence—not to coerce or dominate or control. One of the secrets of spiritual power is simply that. The rest is a matter of effort, making use of subtle spiritual resources to succeed in accomplishing a goal for a noble purpose.