Category: Alison Marshall's Column
Created: Friday, 05 May 2006 00:59
Published: Friday, 05 May 2006 00:59
Written by Alison Marshall
One of the reasons I took to the concept of detachment like a duck to water was that I was compelled by the argument Baha'u'llah puts in its favour. I guess people associate being detached with being moral or a goody-two-shoes. But the concept is based on reason and it is not that Baha'u'llah wants to take the fun out of life or avoid the serious issues of life.
I said earlier that perhaps the best way to see detachment is as a state of being in love with God/Baha'u'llah. What happens when we are in love—with a person or a thing—is that it becomes the centre of our inner universe. And that's where the problem lies. Baha'u'llah points out that everything in this world is contingent—in other words, it's going to die or fall apart or disappear or be taken from us or something. In some way or other, it will change. Over and over again, Baha'u'llah points to the fact that the things in the contingent world are unreliable and not worthy of our trust. The following is one of the clearest statements on this that I know of. It certainly had an enormous influence on me and my outlook on life, the faith and the Baha'i community.
"Say: People of the earth, do you not see the transformations occurring in the land, and the changes the earth is undergoing, such that no second goes by without most affairs therein suffering an alteration? Therefore, what sign reassures your hearts and souls? Woe unto you! Upon what basis have you acted in this vain life? For you have advanced toward your base selves, and turned away from the one who created you, nourished you, and showed greater compassion to you than has any other. Say: By God, you are only as a wayfarer resting in the shade of a tree. But that shade is of necessity ephemeral, and you must not repose your confidence in it or in anything that will pass away. Put your trust in what does not perish, in what endures in the immortality of God, the everlasting, the eternal, the glorious." Baha'u'llah: City of Radiant Acquiescence
I hear Baha'u'llah saying that to put our trust in anything but God is not logical and is vain. Everything apart from God/Baha'u'llah is ephemeral, just like the shade of a tree. How long will that last? It is just a way station, not our home. Why not take refuge in the thing that provides permanent shelter?
The trouble is that the things of the world that we rely on are immediately available to our senses; that is, the people in our everyday life, the society in which we life, even the Internet and the realities people create there. We become immersed in these things because we have ready access to them. The everlasting things that Baha'u'llah is referring to cannot be accessed in that immediate way with the senses. They are unseen realities. Baha'u'llah tells us that God has deliberately set the worlds up this way so that the foolish would be tricked.
"O son of my handmaid! Didst thou behold immortal sovereignty, thou wouldst strive to pass from this fleeting world. But to conceal the one from thee and to reveal the other is a mystery which none but the pure in heart can comprehend." PHW 41
If people really thought about what Baha'u'llah is saying here, a tremendous light would go on and they would see that they have been duped all their lives. You can see this kind of realisation in those who come back from a near-death experience. Such people have actually died and been forced to witness everything that constituted their physical existence vanish into thin air.