Sunday, November 27, 2011

On Purity

The second of the three spiritual prerequisites for the success of all Bahá’í undertakings is that “of a chaste and holy life”, "with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance, decency, and clean-mindedness".  We are summoned to a life unsullied "by the indecencies, the vices, the false standards, which an inherently deficient moral code tolerates, perpetuates, and fosters,” [Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 31].

There is one level of understanding this requirement that is addressed primarily to the individual. No amount of social policies and societal restraints can equal the decisions and actions of individuals. If the individual is unconvinced, or gives in to temptation, then no amount of exhortations will have much effect. In this sense then we are all responsible for our own conditions.

We should adhere to purity in all its forms. By purity we strip away the mud that is clinging to us and become our true selves, pure and simple. Pure hands do not steal or cheat; pure tongues do not utter unseemly words, or tell untruths or lies; pure lives do not engage in sexual activity outside the sanctified fortress of marriage; pure minds do not engage in fanciful day-dreams; pure eyes do not see indecent exposures, inappropriate images, or pornography; pure people dress modestly; pure habits avoid sexual vices and false standards; pure conduct avoids dishonesty, unfair dealings, bribery, tyranny or oppression; pure intensions manifest themselves in pure actions, and in taking full responsibility after unintentional mishaps.

While the actual practical implications of these principles may differ from society to society, there is a growing body of research to suggest that there are many universal norms and principles. We do not subscribe to moral relativism.

But beyond appeals to the individuals, there are things that we can do, in our families, communities, and the society, to promote and foster purity.

In older times, say in a small community setting such as in a village, certain social inhibitions and pressures would act as restraints, and as a system of reward and punishment, to regulate people’s desires and appetites for instant gratification. Much of these restraints have evaporated in the social convulsions that have characterized what is ironically called modernization.  In fullness of time a New World Order will have other mechanisms in place to allow for all people to contribute to and benefit from global prosperity. But in this age of transition there are certain pernicious forces at work that influence the mind and hart of young people. And these are aggravated by a relentless media, in pursuit of corporate profits. We need to take collective action to minimize the effects of these forces on our families and communities.

As children grow up to become junior youth and then youth they are very perceptive. If the parents preach purity, but pursue a different agenda, these young minds are bright enough to detect the contradictions. It almost always comes to a choice between materialistic worldview and spiritual perception. Admiration for power, adoration of status, love of luxuries, attachment to frivolous pursuits, glorification of violence, and obsession with self-gratification are among the manifestations of a materialistic worldview. Can you formulate the opposite phrases that articulate spiritual perception?

The best method for a young person to demonstrate purity is not merely to avoid pollution of impurity, but to actively pursue an agenda that renounces materialism. A very good example of this is when a young person moves to a receptive neighborhood in his cluster, in the spirit of pioneering, and takes up the challenge of building a community using the methods and instruments of the training institute, building capacity in the inhabitants of that neighborhood, multiplying the core activities, and rising above the trivial considerations and pursuits of an ephemeral world. And if the parents do not emulate this heroic action, if they do not wholeheartedly, and financially, support it, then how can they believe that they have done all that is possible for the fostering of purity?

In study of this, the 33rd paragraph of the 28 December 2010 letter of the Universal House of Justice, the following questions come to mind.

  1. What are the forces at work on the hearts and minds of the young?
  2. To what extent are exhortations to remain pure and chaste effective?
  3. Isolation and despair, from which so many suffer, are products of what sort of an environment?
  4. What does an all-pervasive materialism have to do with impurity?
  5. What are the powers that flow through pure channels?

Baha’u’llah wrote: “O ye My loved ones! Suffer not the hem of My sacred vesture to be smirched and mired with the things of this world, and follow not the promptings of your evil and corrupt desires… O ye the beloved of the one true God! Pass beyond the narrow retreats of your evil and corrupt desires, and advance into the vast immensity of the realm of God, and abide ye in the meads of sanctity and of detachment, that the fragrance of your deeds may lead the whole of mankind to the ocean of God’s unfading glory.” [Baha'u'llah, quoted in the Advent of Divine Justice, p. 32]

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