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Do all ye can to become wholly weary of self, and bind yourselves to that Countenance of Splendours; and once ye have reached such heights of servitude, ye will find, gathered within your shadow, all created things. This is boundless grace; this is the highest sovereignty; this is the life that dieth not. All else save this is at the last but manifest perdition and great loss. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 76-77.
An interviewer asked the well-known author and University of Georgia professor of psychology W. Keith Campbell how best to avoid narcissism. He said:
Practice caring and compassion for others. Do things you are passionate about rather than make you look good, and take responsibility for your actions. Basically, practices that minimize the ego and increase connection with the world.
Fascinating advice, isn’t it? You’ll find very similar advice in the Baha’i teachings:
Without cooperation and reciprocal attitude the individual member of human society remains self-centered, uninspired by altruistic purposes, limited and solitary in development like the animal and plant organisms of the lower kingdoms. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 338.
Let us put aside all thoughts of self; let us close our eyes to all on earth, let us neither make known our sufferings nor complain of our wrongs. Rather let us become oblivious of our own selves, and drinking down the wine of heavenly grace, let us cry out our joy, and lose ourselves in the beauty of the All-Glorious. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 236.
In fact, Abdu’l-Baha—known around the world for his own loving, compassionate nature—suggested six specific steps for overcoming the ego and building a more unified world:
- To show compassion and goodwill to all mankind.
- To render service to humanity.
- To endeavour to guide and enlighten those in darkness.
- To be kind to everyone, and show forth affection to every living soul.
- To be humble in your attitude towards God, to be constant in prayer to Him, so as to grow daily nearer to God.
- To be so faithful and sincere in all your actions that every member may be known as embodying the qualities of honesty, love, faith, kindness, generosity, and courage. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 73.
These six steps embody the actual inner spiritual work all true religion asks us to undertake—to transcend the self; to go beyond our own narrow individual concerns; to expand our horizons of love and kindness; to endeavor with all our might to become less and less focused on the narcissistic and selfish aspects of life:
Just as the earth attracts everything to the centre of gravity and every object thrown upward into space will come down; so also material ideas and worldly thoughts attract man to the centre of self. Anger, passion, ignorance, prejudice, greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion prevent man from ascending to the Realms of Holiness, imprisoning him in the claws of self and the jail of egotism. The physical man, unassisted by divine power, trying to escape from one of these invisible enemies, will fall unconsciously into the hands of another. No sooner does he attempt to soar upward than the density of the love of self, like the power of gravity, draws him to the earth. But the only power that is capable of delivering man from this captivity, is the power of the breaths of the Holy Spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 6, pp. 126-127.
The negative qualities Abdu’l-Baha mentions here imprison us in the “claws of self and the jail of egotism.” Captive to those qualities, the “density of the love of self” prevents us from soaring into the spiritual realms of life. Only a powerful spiritual force can free us:
As long as man is a captive of habit, pursuing the dictates of self and desire, he is vanquished and defeated. This passionate personal ego takes the reins from his hands, crowds out the qualities of the divine ego and changes him into an animal, a creature unable to judge good from evil, or to distinguish light from darkness. He becomes blind to divine attributes, for this acquired individuality, the result of an evil routine of thought becomes the dominant note of his life.
May all of you be freed from these dangers and delivered from the world of desires that you may enter into the realm of light and become divine, radiant, merciful, Godlike. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 133.