Thornton Chase, the First Western Baha'i, in his Study
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmete, Used With Permission

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Turn Towards Our Higher Self

In our quest for God, are we to turn toward ourselves, or away from ourselves?  

On the one hand, Baha'u'llah urges us to turn away from ourselves:

O Son of Man! If thou lovest Me, turn away from thyself . . . 
(Arabic Hidden Words 7)

Center your thoughts in the Well-Beloved, rather than in your own selves.
(Gleanings, p. 168)

On the other hand, He urges us to turn toward ourselves:

O son of Spirit! . . . Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.    (Arabic Hidden Words 13

He even states that "he hath known God who hath known himself" Gleanings XC) and that the purpose of the duty to praise God is so that the believers might "ascend unto the station conferred upon their own inmost being, the station of the knowledge of their own selves." (Gleanings I).

Shoghi Effendi even urges the believers, "let them focus their attention, for the present, on their own selves, their own individual needs, their own personal deficiencies and weaknesses." The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 20) This hearkens back to these words of Abdu'l-Baha explaining the significance of the Seven Valleys, the seeker's guide to the attainment of the knowledge of God:

It is my hope that you may consider this matter, that you may search out your own imperfections and not think of the imperfections of anybody else. Strive with all your power to be free from imperfections. Heedless souls are always seeking faults in others. What can the hypocrite know of others' faults when he is blind to his own? This is the meaning of the words in the Seven Valleys. It is a guide for human conduct. As long as a man does not find his own faults, he can never become perfect. Nothing is more fruitful for man than the knowledge of his own shortcomings.

(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 244)

How can we reconcile these apparent contradictions?  How can we both turn to ourselves and turn away from ourselves?

We can be sure there is no conflict in the Sacred Texts.  As the Universal House of Justice has written, 

"In attempting to understand the Writings, therefore, one must first realize that there is and can be no real contradiction in them, and in the light of this we can confidently seek the unity of meaning which they contain."
(Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, p. 156, paragraph 75.4)

The Guardian reconciled this for us.  His secretary wrote on his behalf:

"Regarding the questions you asked: Self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Bahá'í writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as 'he hath known God who hath known himself etc.'. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.
       "Self-sacrifice means to subordinate this lower nature and its desires to the more godly and noble side of ourselves. Ultimately, in its highest sense, self-sacrifice means to give our will and our all to God to do with as He pleases.  Then He purifies and glorifies our true self until it becomes a shining and wonderful reality."
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, December 10, 1947; Lights of Guidance, p. 113, #386)  

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