After many years of pondering and questioning life, I finally decided that spirituality was the most important thing and that I should devote my life to it.
Initially I saw this as joining some kind of monastic order, so that I could focus completely on leading a life devoted to a higher purpose. However, after searching through many of the world’s religions and spiritualities, I eventually discovered the Baha’i Faith, which showed me a way to devote myself to spirituality while living in the world—as well as how to contribute to the betterment of the world.
The Baha’i Faith was founded about 150 years ago by the prophet Baha’u’llah, whose main teaching was that the Earth’s promised day of peace had come and that everyone should live a life devoted to world unity. In this view, our purpose here on Earth is two-fold: to bring peace to the world and find peace within ourselves.
And for Baha’i’s, these two ends are intimately and unavoidably interwoven.
In order to bring peace to the world, we need to be peaceful ourselves.
But equally so, in order to find peace within ourselves, we need to engage in service to the world. One cannot be accomplished without the other.
To enable us to live a spiritual life in this material world, there are certain practices Baha’i’s utilize which help them develop themselves and contribute to society. Some of these are: prayer, meditation, reading words of God and striving to put them into action and reflecting on our actions. These tools, which can be used by anyone, have made the world my spiritual training ground.
Each morning I do a basic breath awareness meditation to clear my mind. After that, I say some prayers to connect to the Creator. I then read some words of God and reflect on their meaning and how I can apply them in my life.
After this I go about my daily tasks, trying to carry this consciousness with me throughout the day. Of course my attention wanders but I keep trying to bring myself back to that spiritual center. At the end of the day I reflect on what challenges I dealt with well and what I could have done better. I also ponder the progress I have made over time—or the lack thereof. This is followed by some more meditation, prayer and readings.
This process of reflection and action sets our attention on the spiritual ideals we wish to embody. It opens us up to the Higher Power that will give us the strength to live up to them. And it allows us to reflect on our progress and become more conscious of ourselves and those around us, as we strive together to transform this world.
Through applying this action/reflection approach, the Baha’i’s and like-minded individuals world-wide are engaged in an endeavor that seeks to transform individuals and their communities.
In this process they are:
Studying the word of God and applying it in their everyday lives.
Holding devotional meetings to spiritualize their communities.
Running children’s classes to instill core values in the young.
Forming youth groups to awaken the intellectual, moral and spiritual powers of youth.
Along with this are grass-roots service projects that address the needs of a community that arise naturally along the way. To enable this organic system to sustain itself, tutors are raised who can bring people through this educational and spiritualizing process.
This is how the Baha’i way of life enables us to treat our “ordinary” lives as a training ground for spiritual awakening—just as we would treat a monastery or ashram. In fact, I believe our ordinary surroundings actually offer us unique challenges that cannot be experienced away from the world. While a life lived in seclusion allows the spiritual seeker to focus wholeheartedly on him or her self, it can lack the kind of vital stumbling blocks that both test and teach us.
A sadhu may live tranquilly in his cave but if someone came in and stole his beads, he might be filled with a rage that did not match his ascetic outlook.
On the other hand, we who live “in” the world are faced with inter-personal and practical challenges on a daily basis that give us opportunities to test and strengthen our spiritual muscles—our courage, patience, kindness and forgiveness.
This is part of the reason that Baha’i’s do not live monastic lives. The other reason is their love for humanity and desire to serve others.
Baha’u’llah teaches us that the best way to progress spiritually is to endeavor to make this world a better place—for through the act of striving to serve our fellow brethren, we must muster the spiritual qualities this world so vitally needs. This is our two-fold purpose in life: to improve ourselves and improve the world.
Author: Peter Gyulay
Assistant Editor: Hilda Carroll/ Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: Owen Allen/Flickr