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O Son of Being! Busy not thyself with this world, for with fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants.
O Son of Man! Thou dost wish for gold and I desire thy freedom from it. Thou thinkest thyself rich in its possession, and I recognize thy wealth in thy sanctity therefrom. By My life! This is My knowledge, and that is thy fancy; how can My way accord with thine?
O Son of Man! Bestow My wealth upon My poor, that in heaven thou mayest draw from stores of unfading splendor and treasures of imperishable glory. But by My life! To offer up thy soul is a more glorious thing couldst thou but see with Mine eye. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, pp. 16-17.
These three passages from Baha’u’llah’s mystical book The Hidden Words all center around the huge difference between worldly wealth and actual riches, between the temporary lure of gold and the permanent luster of the pure soul.
I live in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California, in the region known as the Gold Country, where the historic Gold Rush of the late 1840’s occurred. Studying that time in history, I’ve learned that the enormous influx of panners, prospectors and miners in the mid-1800s came west to seek gold—and encountered tribal groups of Native Americans who had known for centuries about the shiny metal nuggets that littered the ground. To the Indians those gold nuggets had no value; but to the miners, the material wealth represented by gold caused them to die by the thousands just getting to California; and then to starve and slaughter the Indians who stood in the way of their “gold fever.” As a result, massacres and mass starvation ensued, with the native population of California dropping precipitously—from 150,000 people in 1845 to 30,000 by 1870. Historians now agree that the Gold Rush turned into genocide.
After statehood in 1850, California’s first governor, Peter Burnett, declared the state a battleground between whites and Indians, saying “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected.”
You can still see the sparkle of gold flecks embedded among the granite and quartz in the mountains here. Those big gold nuggets once found in plain sight on the ground are gone now, as are most of the native peoples, whose cultures, had they thrived, might have tempered and moderated the rampant materialism of today’s Golden State.
The Baha’i writings say “Thou dost wish for gold and I desire thy freedom from it.” Every prophet of every great Faith has reiterated this theme of detachment from material wealth to humanity:
The hereafter never rises before the eyes of the careless child, deluded by the delusion of wealth. “This is the world,” he thinks, “there is no other.” Thus he falls again and again under my sway. – Death Speaking, from the Hindu Katha Upanishad.
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. – Ecclesiastes 5:10
There are people it is necessary to consider as rich—one is he who is perfect in wisdom; the second whose body is healthy, and he lives fearlessly; the third, who is content with that which is come; the fourth, he whose destiny is a helper in virtue; the fifth, who is well-famed in the eyes of the sacred things; and by the tongues of the good; the sixth, whose trust is on this one, pure good religion… and the seventh, whose wealth is from honesty. – Zoroaster, the Zend-Avesta.
Faith is wealth! Obedience is wealth! Modesty also is wealth! Hearing is wealth, and so is charity! – Gautama Buddha, The Dhammapada
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge me to ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. – 1 Timothy 6:9-10.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. – Mathew 19:24.
Riches are not from an abundance of worldly goods, but from a contented mind. It is difficult for a man laden with riches to climb the steep path that leads to bliss. – The Sayings of Muhammad
Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 138.
This consistent theme, which runs through all religions, asks us to look beyond the transient material wealth of this world and towards the lasting spiritual wealth of the world of the soul.