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Spirituality

Spiritual Laws and the Pleasure Principle

Thomas W. Yale | Feb 28, 2015

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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Thomas W. Yale | Feb 28, 2015

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

Baha’u’llah, as well as other divine messengers of God, teach us that spiritual progress comes from a conscious decision.

Unlike development of the physical body in the womb, over which an unborn child has no control, spiritual growth is open to all in this world who sincerely strive:

Know thou that all men have been created in the nature made by God, The Guardian, the Self-Subsisting… All that which ye potentially possess can, however, be manifested only as a result of your own volition. Your own acts testify to this truth. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 149.

But does spiritual progress constrain our freedom? Does it interfere with our earthly pleasures?

The Baha’i teachings say no–genuine divine teachings confer infinitely greater freedom, pleasure and happiness to those who follow them:

True liberty consisteth in man’s submission unto My commandments, little as ye know it. Were men to observe that which We have sent down unto them from the Heaven of Revelation, they would, of a certainty, attain unto perfect liberty… Whoso hath tasted its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 63.

These spiritual guidelines allow us to acquire the inner qualities that will enhance our lives and the lives of those we love. But how do we reconcile this with our physical, “lower”, “animal” aspects, those parts of our personalities responsible for our baser desires, selfish impulses, and excessive attachment to material things? How do we find ways to lovingly forego our own pleasures for the welfare of others?

The answer: self-mastery, self-knowledge, detachment, and the recognition that these pleasures, as potent as they are, cannot last.

The Baha’i teachings assure us that we can enjoy the pleasures of this world, but only as long as they’re not carried to excess or extremes. That way, they’re less likely to become an obstacle to our spiritual progress or get in the way of our spiritual connection with the Creator:

Take heed lest pride deter you from recognizing the Source of Revelation, lest the things of this world shut you out as by a veil from Him Who is the Creator of heaven. – ibid, p. 49.

The fleeting, temporal pleasures of life can remind us that they are only a faint semblance, a shadow of the deep and lasting joys of the spirit. We may not always know the full significance or meaning of the spiritual laws religion offers us, but if we apply those laws and principles, for our own benefit and the benefit of humanity, we can gradually develop a better understanding of their wisdom:

Your utmost desire must be to confer happiness upon each other. Each one must be the servant of the others, thoughtful of their comfort and welfare. In the path of God one must forget himself entirely. He must not consider his own pleasure but seek the pleasure of others. He must not desire glory nor gifts of bounty for himself but seek these gifts and blessings for his brothers and sisters. It is my hope that you may become like this… – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214.

With the gift of free will, each of us makes our own decisions about how best to abide by these spiritual laws. We each decide how to value the pleasures this world offers us. The Baha’i writings gently suggest that we turn our focus, our attention and our full concentration to those spiritual pleasures that last beyond this short, limited physical life:

O Son of Man! My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy. Hasten thereunto that thou mayest become an eternal light and an immortal spirit. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 15.

O Son of Man! If adversity befall thee not in My path, how canst thou walk in the ways of them that are content with My pleasure? If trials afflict thee not in thy longing to meet Me, how wilt thou attain the light in thy love for My beauty? – ibid.

O Son of Man! The true lover yearneth for tribulation even as doth the rebel for forgiveness and the sinful for mercy. – ibid.

O Son of Man! For everything there is a sign. The sign of love is fortitude under My decree and patience under My trials. – ibid.

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