A Happy and Joyful Being
I suspect that many Bahá'ís have a special place in their hearts for this short prayer penned by 'Abdu'l-Bahá:
O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in Thy hand. Thou art my Guide and my Refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. O God! I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life.
O God! Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to Thee, O Lord."
Happiness is a theme that runs throughout 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Writings and, indeed, His entire life. Often at the start of His talks He would ask if those gathered were happy, and often He encouraged those around Him to be happy in spite of the trials and tribulations they suffered. Lady Blomfield, a prominent London Bahá'í in the early part of the 20th century, recorded many stories of the Master's visit to England in her book, The Chosen Highway. Among them, we find the following:
Another day, whilst several personages were talking with 'Abdu'l-Bahá, a man's voice was heard at the hall door. "Is the lady of this house within?"' The servitor answered "Yes, but—" "Oh please, I must see her!" he interrupted with despairing insistence. I, overhearing, had gone into the hall.
"Are you the hostess of 'Abdu'l-Bahá?" he asked.
"Yes. Do you wish to see me?" "I have walked thirty miles for that purpose." "Come in and rest. After some refreshment you will tell me?" He came in and sat down in the dining-room. In appearance he might have been an ordinary tramp, but as he spoke, from out the core of squalor and suffering, something else seemed faintly to breathe.
After a while the poor fellow began his pitiful story: "I was not always as you see me now, a disreputable, hopeless object. My father is a country rector, and I had the advantage of being at a public school. Of the various causes which led to my arrival at the Thames embankment as my only home, I need not speak to you.
"Last evening I had decided to put an end to my futile, hateful life, useless to God and man!
"Whilst taking what I had intended should be my last walk, I saw 'a Face' in the window of a newspaper shop. I stood looking at the face as if rooted to the spot. He seemed to speak to me, and call me to him!"
"Let me see that paper, please," I asked. It was the face of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
"I read that he is here, in this house. I said to myself, 'If there is in existence on earth that personable, I shall take up again the burden of my life.'
"I set off on my quest. I have come here to find him. Tell me, is he here? Will he see me? Even me?"
"Of course he will see you. Come to Him."
In answer to the knock, 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself opened the door, extending His hands, as though to a dear friend, whom He was expecting.
"Welcome! Most welcome! I am very much pleased that thou hast come. Be seated."
The pathetic man trembled and sank on to a low chair by the Master's feet, as though unable to utter a word.
The other guests, meanwhile, looked on wonderingly to see the attention transferred to the strange-looking new arrival, who seemed to be so overburdened with hopeless misery.
"Be happy! Be happy!" said 'Abdu'l-Bahá, holding one of the poor hands, stroking tenderly the dishevelled, bowed head.
Smiling that wonderful smile of loving compassion, the Master continued:
"Do not be filled with grief when humiliation overtaketh thee.
"The bounty and power of God is without limit for each and every soul in the world.
"Seek for spiritual joy and knowledge, then, though thou walk upon this earth, thou wilt be dwelling within the divine realm.
"Though thou be poor, thou mayest be rich in the Kingdom of God."
These and other words of comfort, of strength, and of healing were spoken to the man, whose cloud of misery seemed to melt away in the warmth of the Master's loving presence.
As the strange visitor rose to leave Him Whom he had sought and found, a new look was upon his face, a new erectness in his carriage, a firm purpose in his steps.
"Please write down for me His words. I have attained all I expected, and even more."
"And now what are your going to do?" I asked. "I'm going to work in the fields. I can earn what I need for my simple wants. When I have saved enough I shall take a little bit of land, build a tiny hut upon it in which to live, then I shall grow violets for the market. As He says 'Poverty is unimportant, work is worship.' I need not say 'thank you,' need I? Farewell." The man had gone.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, p. 159-161)
Happiness comes, 'Abdu'l-Bahá taught, not from material conditions. It does not consist of freedom from pain, hardship, or even persecution. He was intimately acquainted with pain, hardship, and persecution, having shared in Bahá'u'lláh's exiles from childhood and having been Himself confined in 'Akká long after His Father had left this world. Of His imprisonment, He said,
Unless one accepts dire vicissitudes, he will not attain. To me prison is freedom, troubles rest me, death is life, and to be despised is honour. Therefore, I was happy all that time in prison. When one is released from the prison of self, that is indeed release, for that is the greater prison. When this release takes place, then one cannot be outwardly imprisoned. When they put my feet in stocks, I would say to the guard, "You cannot imprison me, for here I have light and air and bread and water. There will come a time when my body will be in the ground, and I shall have neither light nor air nor food nor water, but even then I shall not be imprisoned." The afflictions which come to humanity sometimes tend to centre the consciousness upon the limitations, and this is a veritable prison. Release comes by making of the will a Door through which the confirmations of the Spirit come.
('Abdu'l-Bahá in London, p. 120)
So this was no mere theory He set forth. This was His life, and He constantly reminded us that it was a life that we could have, too, a life that at all times flows to us from God. The source of happiness is spiritual, not material, so material conditions do not need to be an impediment to happiness (and neither can they sustain it). Indeed, tests and trials are actually a way by which true happiness can be discerned:
Meditate profoundly, that the secret of things unseen may be revealed unto you, that you may inhale the sweetness of a spiritual and imperishable fragrance, and that you may acknowledge the truth that from time immemorial even unto eternity the Almighty hath tried, and will continue to try, His servants, so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses from thorns.
(Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 8)
True happiness can't be destroyed by such tests, while that lesser and ephemeral happiness that is based in the things of this world is easily dislodged by them.
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