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Detached From All Things

by Dale E. Lehman

Appeared: 03/08/2002

Among the themes that Bahá'u'lláh returns to time and again is detachment. In the English translations of His Writings, there are some 150 instances (according to a text search I did) of forms of the word "detach." Such an important concept deserves consideration and exploration.

In the opening words of the Kitáb-i-Iqán, one of the most important Books of this revelation, we find the following:

No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth. Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you and enter thus the tabernacle which, according to the dispensations of Providence, hath been raised in the firmament of the Bayán.

(Kitáb-i-Iqán, p. 3)

And again, He says:

But, O my brother, when a true seeker determineth to take the step of search in the path leading to the knowledge of the Ancient of Days, he must, before all else, cleanse and purify his heart, which is the seat of the revelation of the inner mysteries of God, from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge, and the allusions of the embodiments of satanic fancy. He must purge his breast, which is the sanctuary of the abiding love of the Beloved, of every defilement, and sanctify his soul from all that pertaineth to water and clay, from all shadowy and ephemeral attachments. He must so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth. Even as thou dost witness in this day how most of the people, because of such love and hate, are bereft of the immortal Face, have strayed far from the Embodiments of the divine mysteries, and, shepherdless, are roaming through the wilderness of oblivion and error. That seeker must at all times put his trust in God, must renounce the peoples of the earth, detach himself from the world of dust, and cleave unto Him Who is the Lord of Lords.

(ibid, p. 192)

Thus, detachment from all save God is a prerequisite for recognizing truth in general and God's Messengers in particular. If one allows oneself to become attached to anything--be it wealth or fame, power or prestige, or even simply an idea of what God would or would not do--that attachment might become a "veil", a roadblock, that prevents one from seeing the truth.

But even should one succeed in recognizing God and His Messengers, the journey of detachment has not ended. At the close of The Hidden Words, Bahá'u'lláh sets forth this challenge to His followers:

I bear witness, O friends! that the favor is complete, the argument fulfilled, the proof manifest and the evidence established. Let it now be seen what your endeavors in the path of detachment will reveal. In this wise hath the divine favor been fully vouchsafed unto you and unto them that are in heaven and on earth. All praise to God, the Lord of all Worlds.

(The Hidden Words, p. 52)

Detachment is therefore a goal towards which we strive throughout the course of our lives. The challenge of detachment takes on many forms, frequently as the tests and trials of life. These trials, Bahá'u'lláh tells us, are meant to teach us to place our whole trust in God, to test our sincerity and our devotion to Him, and to provide us with the means for acquiring virtues. He points to those who have sacrificed their lives in God's path as the epitome of detachment:

Such was their faith, that most of them renounced their substance and kindred, and cleaved to the good pleasure of the All-Glorious. 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.

(Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XCI, p. 180)

While we are not all called to sacrifice our lives, we are all called to make a sacrifice of our lives. Bahá'u'lláh instructs us to live by God's laws and principles solely for love of God, to prevent anything from coming between us and God, and to work for the promotion of the divine teachings. Only by cultivating our detachment from all save God can we achieve such goals.

It is also critical to realize, however, that our own efforts at detachment are only part of the story. Without assistance from the "unseen kingdom" we would be utterly powerless to progress at all, let alone to revive the world. 'Abdu'l-Bahá tells us,

The beloved of God must be as firm as a mountain, and must not quiver under the most violent shock, nor grieve at the greatest calamities; but must be as a solid foundation. They must cling to the hem of Glory and trust in the Beauty of the Most High. They must lean on the help and assistance of the Ancient Kingdom and confide in the care and protection of the Generous Lord. They must at every instant nourish and refresh themselves with the dew of favor, and in every breath revive and cheer themselves through the waves of the Holy Spirit, raise themselves to serve the Cause of the Supreme, and endeavor their utmost to diffuse the breath of God.

(Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 372)

It is precisely this willingness to trust in God, to rely upon Him, to be invigorated by the Holy Spirit, that opens us up to the bounties of God--the divine confirmations, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá would have said--which cause us to become more detached, until we are a channel through which the divine works in the world. We cannot do it alone. We must rely upon God's help. Yet we must be willing to allow God to help us. As Bahá'u'lláh says in The Hidden Words, "Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee."

Although detachment is a crucial part of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings, it is nothing new. Examples and discussions of detachment abound in other religions, as well. Recall Abraham's obedience to God when told to make a sacrifice of His son (Isaac according to the Bible, Ishmael according to the Qur'an). Consider the story of Job. Ponder the instructions Jesus gave to the rich man (Matthew 19:16-24, Mark 10:17-25), and reflect upon His own glorious sacrifice on the cross. Buddhism, too, calls for a strong effort at detachment on the part of its followers, while many traditions speak of the physical world as "unreal" while extolling the spiritual as true reality.

Given the importance of detachment in all these traditions, it may not be too much of a stretch to say that the very definition of holiness is "detachment."

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