Monday, August 17, 2009

Deeds, Not Words?

I happened to be reading Persian Hidden Words #5 today, which contains the much-quoted admonition "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning." It's clear why everyone, not matter what their take on the Baha'i Writings, has this one as a favorite. Of course, one should "walk the walk", rather than just "talk the talk".
There's really nothing to contextualize, puzzle out, discuss, or argue about.

But what never seems to come up is just how difficult putting that simple practice is. The whole of one's spiritual life, at least the part of it that is involved in dealing with the world outside yourself, is contained in it. If we start asking ourselves, do we really act according to our ideals, do we put into practice the things we say we believe? -- if we are honest with ourselves, we will come up woefully short. Even more likely, we'll come up with reasons why, in that particular situation, we must act otherwise.

For a concrete example: All of the world's great religions insist on generosity towards and compassion for the poor. Yet, most of us don't do much about that -- write a check once in a while, maybe. And, when actually confronted with a poor person, we don't feel compassion so much as a sense of unease, maybe even fear. I've always figured that the emphasis placed on this in scriptures is because the poor just aren't very attractive on their own -- to the eyes of the non-poor they often seem ignorant, unhygenic, and possibly even dangerous.

So, what of our lofty ideals then? "Deeds, not words" just crumbles sometimes, without our even thinking about it.

Nobody lives up to their ideals -- nobody. That's why, in email discussions, I was always would feel a bit uncomfortable if the word "hypocrite" got thrown around. On some level, all of us fit that description, because none of us act entirely according to what we believe. So, I never thought it made much sense to point fingers. Just about the only way not to be a hypocrite would be not to have ideals in the first place -- which would not be a good way to go.

When I look at myself, I find that for me to act in a spiritual way in all my interactions with others, it leaves me feeling very vulnerable. When I do otherwise, a lot of times, it's because the situation or person makes me feel defensive. In order, to treat others with compassion, we have to drop our protective walls. But, I struggle with that, because in some cases those walls are necessary -- and it becomes a matter of whether or not the harm I fear is realistic or not., or whether the risk outweighs the spiritual imperative.

When you think about it, a great deal of human evil boils down to unwarranted fear.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ask: Does it help?

It's been a long time since I've written anything in detail about my spiritual life, because I've been going through some changes. One of the obstacles that I'm confronting in trying to hang on to what is good in the Writings of Baha'u'llah and let go of the rest is that so much in the Faith is over-laden with emotional baggage for me. With the light comes the shadow, and the shadow is a damned distraction. Right now, all my friends are in a tizzy about Peter Khan's latest pronouncement -- something that at one time would have had me blogging in outrage and disgust.

With all respect and affection to my online Baha'i friends, I've come to regard that stuff a waste of time. The administration of any religion is a worldly activity, and enmeshed in wordly considerations, and we were foolish to expect it to be any different. Either promoting or criticizing the latest plan from Haifa is irrelevant to anyone's spiritual growth -- which is the whole point of being religious in the first place.

I was reading the first page of the Kitab-i-Iqan the other day -- that's the passage that sort of hit me square between the eyes when I was first investigating the Faith. Baha'u'llah there insists that all that is worldly, and the sayings of religious authorities need to be cast aside by the seeker -- and that seems to me as true now as the day I first read it.

For me, the question "Do you believe that Baha'u'llah is the Manifestation of God for this Day?" had become rather like the question "Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?" A denial would be completely false, but an affirmation isn't right either, because these are, very simply, the wrong questions. In fact, don't ask me anything about belief, because I don't think belief is all that important. It's just an egoistic construct that, because of human weakness, we seem to need. "I belong to this; I am called by this name; we are really important." And notice, I said "we" -- I'm not immune; I understand it. But I also understand that this need caused me a great deal of heartache. And, in the end, that kind of identification just bolsters up the self.

A better question would be "Do you love Baha'u'llah?", and there, I could give you an unqualified "Yes". Not a day goes by that I don't read his Writings; it's a part of my spiritual practice that I couldn't do without.

But the question I ask myself most often is "Does it help me on the Path, or doesn't it?" And, if it doesn't help, I should be trying to detach myself from it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ten Years of Being An Unenrolled Baha'i

This Naw-Ruz marked the tenth anniversary of my resignation from the Baha'i Faith, and although I've not been saying much online, I thought I shouldn't let such a significant anniversary pass without comment. As many people know, I left in a blaze of anger after discovering how the American NSA cracked down on the Baha'i magazine *dialogue* back in the mid-80s, but this was a last straw after many years of frustration in trying to make a Baha'i community work. I could maintain a sacrificial attitide as long as I believed the problems were essentially local, but when I found they ran top to bottom -- well, what more is there to sacrifice for?

But I could not abandon Baha'u'llah. To this day, I recite His Writings, meditate on His name, perform His prayers, and count myself His follower.

My experience, though, over the last decade has been a mixed bag -- as life usually is. I became very active on email forums, wrote articles, etc. partly as a much-needed emotional release, and partly as a means of making sense of what had happened to the Faith.

Postive things about my leaving, and being in Baha'i cyberspace:
- I was free to work out my issues in a way that I never could have done had I stayed. I'm really not that courageous, nor was I technically savvy enough, when I first came into cyberspace, to maintain anonymity. If I was still enrolled, I'd have been terrified of that phone call from the ABM with every email post. I simply couldn't have done it. I can be eloquent and passionate in writing, but I turn into a big stammering puddle of nerves in direct confrontation.
- I learned so much! I got to associate with Baha'is more intelligent, knowledgeable, and creative than I ever knew existed. A whole new world opened up for me.
-The online translations of the Writings. It was the Writings of Baha'u'llah that made me a Baha'i, and it was just wonderful to find these once-hidden treasures.
- I'm a lot less frustrated now that I don't have to do all that administrative stuff, which so dominates Baha'i community life. I neither know nor care what year Plan it is.
- I made some wonderful friends out there.
- I felt freer to experiment with other religious ideas and practices -- something I had abandoned when I became a Baha'i.
- I'm more firmly grounded in reality, with a more realistic sense of the Baha'i Faith's place in the world.
- I like myself better, without that oppressive sense of constant failure -- I don't teach enough, I don't give enough to the Fund. I'm more concerned with the development of my own spiritual qualities e.g. whether or not I am behaving in a compassionate way. My sense of spirituality is broader, and not limited to the Baha'i mold.
- I enjoyed expressing my own creativity; I like research, and writing, and never would have had the opportunity elsewhere.

Negative things:
- I came out into cyberspace, hurting and very naive. I got too swept into online politics, which at times warped my judgement. I tried very hard to be honest and fair, but I sometimes got carried away and did things I now regret.
- I wish I'd never known how ugly Baha'is can get at even the mildest criticisms of their sacred cows.
- I sometimes miss the people in my local community. For several years, I kept in contact, even going to Holy Day celebrations and other non-administrative events. But about five years after I left, one of the newer locals discovered my identity, named me a covenant-breaker and while my old friends don't shun me if I run into them around town, I'm not invited to any Baha'i events anymore. Baha'is, for the most part, are good people; it's the whole system that's really the problem.
- Although I made some great friends online, there are some people out there that I wish I'd never met.

Anyway, life goes on. I have less to say than I once did, but I'm still walking the Path like I always did -- and, God willing, always will.