Thought and Reality
Thursday, May 10, 2007
From: Planet Baha'i at: http://www.planetbahai.org
by Dale E. Lehman
"The reality of man is his thought, not his material body. The thought force and the animal force are partners. Although man is part of the animal creation, he possesses a power of thought superior to all other created beings".
('Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 17)
On the surface, this seems to be saying that our minds are what define us, not our bodies. If so, most of us would probably agree. But He goes on to talk about how thought actually creates reality:
"If a man's thought is constantly aspiring towards heavenly subjects then does he become saintly; if on the other hand his thought does not soar, but is directed downwards to centre itself upon the things of this world, he grows more and more material until he arrives at a state little better than that of a mere animal."
('Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 17-18)
In effect, the Master says that our destiny is in our own hands, or rather in our own minds. We can choose which direction to move, either to greater levels of spirituality or to greater depths of materiality, by focusing our thoughts in that direction. Again, most of us would probably agree that this has some validity, but we might suspect it's not quite that simple. Does merely thinking spiritual thoughts really make us spiritual?
At this point, 'Abdu'l-Baha makes a key distinction between two kinds of thought. The first is "thought that belongs to the world of thought alone" and the second is "thought that expresses itself in action." The first kind, He states, is useless. Thought's power depends upon its translation into deeds. He cites the example of a philosopher who speaks of justice but who encourages an oppressive monarch to practice tyranny. Of what use are this philosopher's thoughts on justice when he himself behaves in the opposite manner?
Baha'u'llah carries this a step further. Comparing those who were the Bab's followers to their persecutors, He writes:
"They laid down their lives for their Well-Beloved, and surrendered their all in His path. Their breasts were made targets for the darts of the enemy, and their heads adorned the spears of the infidel. No land remained which did not drink the blood of these embodiments of detachment, and no sword that did not bruise their necks. Their deeds, alone, testify to the truth of their words."*
"Be fair: Is the testimony of those acceptable and worthy of attention whose deeds agree with their words, whose outward behaviour conforms with their inner life? The mind is bewildered at their deeds..."
(Baha'u'llah, Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 224-225)
Here, the alignment of inner life (thought) and outward behavior (deeds) is held forth as a sign of truth, whereas the gross misalignment of these two is regarded as a sign of falsehood and treachery.
This emphasizes 'Abdu'l-Baha's point that thought not translated into action is worthless. What good is it to mentally accept the teaching that we should forgive those who harm us, for example, if in practice we seek revenge against them?
Only when we accept the teaching of forgiveness and then strive to act on it do our thoughts produce good results and serve as witness to the truth. Further, we can't expect to teach others the value of the divine principles if we do not embody them ourselves:
"Whoso ariseth among you to teach the Cause of his Lord, let him, before all else, teach his own self, that his speech may attract the hearts of them that hear him. Unless he teacheth his own self, the words of his mouth will not influence the heart of the seeker. Take heed, O people, lest ye be of them that give good counsel to others but forget to follow it themselves. The words of such as these, and beyond the words the realities of all things, and beyond these realities the angels that are nigh unto God, bring against them the accusation of falsehood.
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, CXXVIII, p. 277)
The Baha'i Writings emphasize the acquisition of virtues precisely for these reasons. Acquiring virtues is usually a gradual process. Few people are transformed overnight. Yet in making the effort we attract divine confirmations that over the course of time will enable us to achieve our goal and compensate for our weaknesses. It isn't a matter of being perfect from the start, but of acquiring perfections over time.
And that process begins with thought, our reality. Planet Baha'i
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