What is the Baha'i Covenant?
2008 Oct 16, 19 Mashiyyat 165 BE;
What is the Baha'i covenant? You could come up with many technical answers to that question, but to me it can all be wrapped up in one word, loving-kindness. Okay, it is two words in English, or maybe one double barrelled word, but it is definitely one word in the original Persian: "Mehreban." Mehr is not love in a withdrawn, theoretical sense, like, "I have deep feelings for that person or thing," but love actively applied as kind acts. The Master described it perfectly in Paris,
"Put into practice the Teaching of Baha'u'llah, that of kindness to all nations. Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path." (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 16)
That is covenant. It is not being loyal in the sense of sitting back in your sofa watching television secure in the feeling that you are not betraying God, no! Firmness in the covenant is setting your heart ablaze with affection for real people, face to face, mixing with every kind of person you come across in the most radiant joy. Consider what the Master wrote in His Will and Testament, His foundational document of covenant,
"Wherefore, O my loving friends! Consort with all the peoples, kindreds and religions of the world with the utmost truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness, that all the world of being may be filled with the holy ecstasy of the grace of Baha, that ignorance, enmity, hate and rancor may vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light of Unity. Should other peoples and nations be unfaithful to you show your fidelity unto them, should they be unjust toward you show justice towards them, should they keep aloof from you attract them to yourselves, should they show their enmity be friendly towards them, should they poison your lives, sweeten their souls, should they inflict a wound upon you, be a salve to their sores. Such are the attributes of the sincere! Such are the attributes of the truthful." (Abdu'l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 13)
Covenant is communing so intimately with the Spirit that you catch the burning energy of the sun. You blaze so hot that you do not worry about whether your love has an effect or not. The parable of the tares and the wheat illustrates this attitude. The workers tell the master farmer that somebody has sown poison among the wheat, and he says, "Don't sweat it, let it grow, we can sort the good from the bad out in the harvest." This is the cause of God. The harvest is God's, so those who are faithful to the covenant should never go among the plants judging them, saying this is good or this is bad. God created all the plants. Whether a given plant will turn out to be acceptable or not is His concern. We are stars in His heaven. Stars blaze, they are far too distant and dim to be able to sort or judge. To lash out, to burn with anything but love, is to break the covenant. Here the Master's Will makes it a law,
"O ye beloved of the Lord! In this sacred Dispensation, conflict and contention are in no wise permitted. Every aggressor deprives himself of God's grace."
We would do well to memorize that. The Master embodied this advice. He never lashed out. His family aggressed against Him and He never defended Himself. In fact He stayed silent about their betrayal and covered their transgressions for almost ten years. They undermined Him, lied to and provoked the authorities, thus keeping Him a prisoner far longer than otherwise would have been the case. He tolerated their suppression of Him and the Cause for almost exactly nineteen years, at which time He embarked on His climactic proclamation in Western lands. His tolerance of the insincere was truly superhuman. He asks just as much of us, who would be firm in the Covenant.
"It is incumbent upon everyone to show the utmost love, rectitude of conduct, straightforwardness and sincere kindliness unto all the peoples and kindreds of the world, be they friends or strangers. So intense must be the spirit of love and loving kindness, that the stranger may find himself a friend, the enemy a true brother, no difference whatsoever existing between them. For universality is of God and all limitations earthly. Thus man must strive that his reality may manifest virtues and perfections, the light whereof may shine upon everyone. The light of the sun shineth upon all the world and the merciful showers of Divine Providence fall upon all peoples." (p. 13)
I thought of this sun-like loving-kindness taught by Abdu'l-Baha in His Will when I came across the following recent report of a scientific study at the University of Toronto,
"A Cold Stare Can Make You Crave Some Heat"
"... the latest finding from the field of embodied cognition, in which researchers have shown that the language of metaphor can activate physical sensations, and vice versa. Just as spreading a bad rumor can make people feel literally dirty, so did research subjects who felt socially excluded perceive a significantly lower room temperature than those who felt included. `We know that being excluded is psychologically painful,' said the lead author, Chen-Bo Zhong, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, `and here we found that it feels just like it's described in metaphors,' like an icy stare and frosty reception..." (Benedict Carey, New York Times, September 15, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/16/health/research/16cold.html?ex=1379217600&en=33234489e6ebb98e&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink)
This reminded me of the chilly cold, and the filthy behavior of His enemies. They not only rejected and betrayed him, they also gossiped and even went so far as to calumniate Him (calumny is knowingly inventing and spreading false rumors). I thought of the effect of His sun-like loving kindness on all who visited Him. How warm, how cleansed they felt! And then He tasked us with almost literally warming and cleaning up the planet by turning up the loving-kindness. So to be firm in the covenant is to be firm in the knowledge that literal overheating, global warming, is the result of our an imbalanced, impure search for material warmth and comfort rather than the real, spiritual Mehreban. It is as well the result not only of burning hydrocarbons by industry but also by raging flames of hatred and estrangement among peoples. The Covenant is our only hope for spiritual warming in order to achieve material cooling.
Here is a prayer that the Master put into His Will and Testament, written around 1907 at the height of their influence, a prayer for all that, writting not for friends but for His enemies, a prayer that material be replaced by spiritual heat.
"I call upon Thee, O Lord my God! with my tongue and with all my heart, not to requite them for their cruelty and their wrong-doings, their craft and their mischief, for they are foolish and ignoble and know not what they do. They discern not good from evil, neither do they distinguish right from wrong, nor justice from injustice. They follow their own desires and walk in the footsteps of the most imperfect and foolish amongst them.
"O my Lord! Have mercy upon them, shield them from all afflictions in these troubled times and grant that all trials and hardships may be the lot of this Thy servant that hath fallen into this darksome pit. Single me out for every woe and make me a sacrifice for all Thy loved ones. O Lord, Most High! May my soul, my life, my being, my spirit, my all be offered up for them.
"O God, my God! Lowly, suppliant and fallen upon my face, I beseech Thee with all the ardor of my invocation to pardon whosoever hath hurt me, forgive him that hath conspired against me and offended me, and wash away the misdeeds of them that have wrought injustice upon me. Vouchsafe unto them Thy goodly gifts, give them joy, relieve them from sorrow, grant them peace and prosperity, give them Thy bliss and pour upon them Thy bounty.
"Thou art the Powerful, the Gracious, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting!"
from: Abdu'l-Baha, The Will and Testament, pp. 18-19