In 1858, Baha’u’llah, in exile to Baghdad, walked the banks of the Tigris river, and, over time, revealed a book He called ‘The Hidden Words’, the inner essence of “that which hath descended from the realm of glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might, and revealed unto the Prophets of old. … clothed in the garment of brevity, as a token of grace unto the righteous, that they may stand faithful unto the Covenant of God, may fulfill in their lives His trust, and in the realm of spirit obtain the gem of Divine virtue”
Adib Taherzadeh, in his attempt to describe the breadth of the revelation of Baha’u’llah in a 4 volume work, regarded Baha’u’llah’s chief aim of ‘The Hidden Words’ to detach us from the mortal world and protect our soul from our greatest enemy, ourselves. Among ‘The Hidden Words’ are a set of gems which point towards the development of method in this spiritual endeavour:
26. O SON OF BEING! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.
27. O SON OF MAN! Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.
28. O SON OF SPIRIT! Know thou of a truth: He that biddeth men be just and himself committeth iniquity is not of Me, even though he bear My name.
29. O SON OF BEING! Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it.
30. O SON OF MAN! Deny not My servant should he ask anything from thee, for his face is My face; be then abashed before Me.
31. O SON OF BEING! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.
Number 26 though 29 of the above (in order of appearance in The Hidden Words) reflects the judgmentalism that most of us bring to life. Number 30 seems quite different. Certainly any of Baha’u’llah’s ‘Hidden Words’ can be studied in isolation. However, consider the possibilities by placing it in a context between the first 4 and the last. In this context we see it as part of a pattern of education that Baha’u’llah is providing us against our beliefs and response to others. At least one view would be to consider the early four as a lead up, like saying, “look here, look there, at your fellow humans, all with our follies, yet pay attention only to yourself dealing with them as faultless, and being just and fair.” Then Baha’u’llah follows up this lead by raising the stakes, as if to say, “now that you have removed the basic barrier against the other approaching you, now that you have recognised there is no separateness, the other can approach you and, when they do, give them what they ask, with humility.” The set is rounded up by Number 31, a profound challenge to accountability, suggesting, in the context, that we will be reckoned against whoever we denied.
Although the language of these ‘Hidden Words’ are chastising in form, it would be unfortunate for the reader to become afraid to the extent they are unable to reach for an understanding of the lofty possibility that Baha’u’llah has placed before us, the possibility of love, a condition of desire for the benefit of the other against one’s ownself.
Further, how do we grapple with a concept of allowing everyone to approach and then giving them whatever they ask? On first glance it might suggest that Baha’u’llah is asking us to allow ourselves to be victimised. Yet, if we dig deeply around this idea, we begin to see another set of possibilities stemming from the first act of allowing others to approach through non-judgementalism and love. When we are being open to the other with love, there is simple no separation, they approach, we are listening to them, we are listening to ourselves, there is no separation. Indeed, Baha’u’llah says, “his face is My face“, we are listening to Baha’u’llah. And what are we hearing. On the face of it we are hearing any type of sharing from another: happy, sad, angry, complaining, encouraging. We might think, well happy is better from the other than complaining. Yet isn’t it true that their happiness is our happiness, their complaint our complaint. On one hand, Baha’u’llah is drawing us to the insight that there is no-one else being happy but ourselves, no-one complaining but ourselves. Baha’u’llah’s goad, when considered in the light of Abdu’l-Baha’s suggestion that “all souls become as one soul, and all hearts as one heart … all be set free from the multiple identities that were born of passion and desire, and in the oneness of their love for God find a new way of life”, even suggests that ‘ourselves’ is a bigger entity than that lying within one brain, one mind, but the ourselves as a community. Isn’t it also true that the happiness or the complaint of another is but a request to us. Aren’t we always asking something of each other? “Deny not My servant should he ask anything from thee”, and we are asking of each other at all times. And, given their request is our request, what shall we deny? For we can deny ourselves even requests we know come from within our own desires, so why not the request of another. Yet what we do not deny ourselves is to present our request to ourself. Neither then, shall we deny another to present their request to us. Conversely, does it make sense that we would withhold our own request of another?
So, what is that request? Whether the other is angry or happy, whether they are complaining or encouraging, isn’t the request for love. So, when another comes looking for love, give the other love. And, yes, often, in giving love, we give the other what they say they are desiring, for we have no need for it. And sometimes we might not give it because we do have need for it. Making a distinction between what we need and what we do not need is our most significant spiritual challenge.
So, spiritually, what do we need? Baha’u’llah responds, “Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty. Happy is the lover that hath inhaled the divine fragrance of his Best-Beloved from these words, laden with the perfume of a grace which no tongue can describe. By My life! He who hath drunk the choice wine of fairness from the hands of My bountiful favour will circle around My commandments that shine above the Dayspring of My creation.”
It follows, then, that: we give whatever we have no need of, to observe Baha’u’llah’s commandments; we give whatever, in giving, fulfils Baha’u’llah’s commandments; and in any case, whatever we need to fulfil the laws of Baha’u’llah are not ours to give, do not belong to us, but are ours to provide the observation of those commandments.
The profound challenge to accountability reckoned by Baha’u’llah in Hidden Word number 31, by suggesting that we will be reckoned against whoever we denied, and, as such, how much we have denied our own selves. In denying our own selves, we are not only separate from the others, we are causing separateness within ourselves. Not denying ourself and others, then proposes that we shall not deny their request. Their request, being a request for love, receives through love, the observation of Baha’u’llah’s law.
Yet, if we acknowledge our ineptness in regard our judgmentalism, how do we bring ourselves to account? From my own experience, just sitting everyday, acknowledging my failures of that day and promising myself to do better, tomorrow, has provided limited fruit. If anything, the best fruit it has brought to me has been the question that my current approach is not working so well; and that has allowed me to open a search for methodology that might serve to enhance my accountability.
I would like to describe two methods for daily accountability that I have found valuable in bringing me to looking accountably at my being in life, in order to be open to the other.
The first method is ‘The Work’ by Byron Katie. Listening to Byron Katie’s talks, I am fascinated by the turn of phrase that she occasionally uses, that provided me a new insight to the above ‘Hidden Words’. One of these was, “mind your own business”. Now, we tend to use this phrase in a defensive manner with rejecting connotations. This is not the sense of Byron Katie’s usage. Katie means it very literally, that our business is, as Baha’u’llah frames it, is to look at our own faults, our own sins, our justice towards others, and share the observation of His law with His servants. Katie recognises that we tend to be ‘minding someone else’s business’ by telling them what they should be doing in life or for us. ‘Minding someone else’s business is what Baha’u’llah points to as a denial of Himself, an accursed thing. Byron Katie reflects that because of the effort required, we really have no time to mind anyone else’s business. Yet our mind, at least that aspect which some refer as our ego, prefers not to mind our own business, and therein lies the rub.
So Katie devise a series of questions to bring our minds into focus on our own business. She advises us to remember a stressful situation or a person you think could use your advice. Fully revisit the situation and its emotions. BE HONEST.
- Describe the situation: I am (emotion) with (name) because (elaborate).
- What do you want them to do: I want (name) to (elaborate).
- What advice would you offer them: (Name) should / shouldn’t (elaborate).
- What do you need of them, to be happy: I need (name) to (think, say, feel, do).
- What do you think of them: (Name) is (elaborate).
- What is it that you never want to experience again: I don’t ever want (elaborate).
Once you have completely been honest with these questions, and it might not look good, Katie suggests a set of questions against the original scenario.
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know it is true?
- How are you being when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without that thought?
Keeping the last in mind, Katie then suggests that you turn the thought around as many ways as you can but especially to be about yourself; to be that you are doing it to the other; and the complete opposite idea, and therefore there is not a problem.
Each time you turn it around, Katie suggests you find three genuine examples of how that turnaround is true.
You can see the discipline it is creating for bringing yourself to account about how you created separateness in your own mind towards others.
Finally, and here is the mighty spiritual reach, Katie encourages we commit to acceptance of the challenge that we perceive from the other, to learn to dispel our sense of separateness. For this, she suggests returning to the 6th statement of need you elaborated earlier, and, instead of “I don’t ever want …” turn that around to “I am willing to …” or “I look forward to …
I want, now to turn to the second method for accountability that I am working. A lighter idea, an idea of gratitude. In this method, look back over your day for an example to be grateful of. Remember, even journal it in full. Do some exercise for your fitness and brain health. Meditate to train calmness of the mind. And finally, make one small random act of kindness, even just a note of gratitude in an email or text message. This might seem different to the goals we set for accountability. However remember that accountability is about removing our separateness between our fellows. Learning joyfulness that comes with gratitude for our interactions with others, dispels judgement, brings our own business to the fore which is to be joy with others.