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Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves. – Confucius
He who wishes to revenge injuries by reciprocated hatred will live in misery. – Spinoza
Vengeance is mine… saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. – Romans, 12:19-20.
Beware lest ye harm any soul, or make any heart to sorrow; lest ye wound any man with your words, be he known to you or a stranger, be he friend or foe. Pray ye for all; ask ye that all be blessed, all be forgiven. Beware, beware, lest any of you seek vengeance, even against one who is thirsting for your blood. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 73.
Have you ever wanted revenge? I know—it’s not the most spiritual quality—but all of us feel it, don’t we? When we suffer at the hands of another person, we want retribution, right?
Let’s say someone said something terrible and untrue about you, or bullied you, or even hit you. The usual reaction, one you see on most school playgrounds, involves reactive anger and hitting back. Some parents even teach their children that every slight, every insult and every case of physical aggression has to be met with equal or superior retaliatory force.
“If he hits you,” I can remember my own father saying to me when I was a child, “you hit him back–harder.” (This, by the way, never struck me as a good solution, even when I was five. What if the other kid’s father had given him the same advice?)
How can we free ourselves from this kind of escalating arms race? How can we avoid the vicious cycle of vengeance and violence that always ensues when revenge has its way with us? This vitally important question has plagued humanity across its entire history, and not only between individuals but between races, religions and nations.
The Baha’i teachings say that turning toward the spiritual world can free us from this ferocious sequence of eye-for-an-eye assaults:
In the world of nature there are aggression, bloodthirstiness, oppression, struggle for existence, rapacity. These qualities are the natural laws of nature. Just as these animals are captives of nature, similarly man is conquered, subjugated and humbled by nature. For example, anger gets the better of man, ferocity prevails upon him, and he becomes the subject of the lower passions. What are all these? They are no other than the mandates of the world of nature.
Only those persons who are in reality believers in God, who have witnessed the Signs of God, are attracted to the Kingdom of God and turned their faces toward God-they and they alone are freed from the bloody claws of nature. Whereas formerly they were the subjects of nature, now they become the rulers. Whereas before they were vanquished by nature, now they become its victors. In brief, while nature invites man to the baser propensities of ego and self, the Love of God attracts him to the worlds of sanctity and holiness, justice and generosity, mercy and humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 182.
Baha’is believe that spiritual and material education can best moderate and transmute our ferocious lower nature:
The individual must be educated to such a high degree that he would rather have his throat cut than tell a lie, and would think it easier to be slashed with a sword or pierced with a spear than to utter calumny or be carried away by wrath. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 136.
Experience has shown that crime is less prevalent among civilized peoples—that is, among those who have acquired true civilization. And true civilization is divine civilization, the civilization of those who combine material and spiritual perfections. As ignorance is the root cause of crime, the more knowledge and learning advance, the less crime will be committed. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 313.
That education, which encourages the acquisition of spiritual virtues, the constructive use of anger and the elimination of bigotry and prejudice, also focuses on transcending the self. The Baha’i teachings say that moral and spiritual growth in each individual occurs when we turn the focus of our lives away from our own needs and desires, and toward the needs and desires of others. For that reason, the Baha’i path involves a selfless determination to transcend the material and seek the spiritual:
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 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.