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Religion Library: Baha'i

Principles of Moral Thought and Action

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The Baha'i scriptures do not lay out a Holy Law giving humanity detailed instructions on what to do in each situation. Rather they list and describe a large number of spiritual qualities that human beings are urged to acquire in the course of their lives. One way of classifying these spiritual qualities would be to divide them into three areas:

  1. Those that relate to God include such attributes as love of God, trust in God, submissiveness before God, self-surrender (surrendering one's own will to that of God), steadfastness (fortitude and courage in keeping to the path laid down by God), patience (reliance on God in times of trial), servitude toward God (which paradoxically becomes the true source of human liberty), humility before God (which paradoxically becomes the source of human exaltation and glory), and piety.
  2. There are also the virtues associated with making spiritual progress. These include detachment (from the things of the world and turning toward the spiritual realm), purity (of mind and heart, of motives and intentions), and chastity (control of one's passions and desires).
  3. Finally, there are the virtues that apply in a human being's relationships with other humans. These include truthfulness (regarded as the foundation of all human virtues), sincerity and honesty (which manifest truthfulness in dealings with others), trustworthiness (which is regarded as the supreme instrument for the prosperity of the world), justice (through which one can know of one's own knowledge and not through the knowledge of others), moderation, wisdom, love, mercy, and compassion. This classification is not however clear-cut. Steadfastness and patience, for example, while listed as virtues that relate to God are also needed in one's relations toward other human beings. Furthermore certain inner moral qualities are associated with certain outward attributes; for example, inner purity is associated with personal cleanliness. The actual list of virtues in the Baha'i scriptures is much longer than these few mentioned here, however.

Some of these virtues have a particular application in social ethics—for example, justice (upon which social order and good governance depend) and moderation (Baha'u'llah stated that many aspects of human civilization that were good have become a source of evil because they have been carried beyond the bounds of moderation). Perhaps the prime social virtue, the Baha'i scriptures would maintain, is unity (a social expression of the personal virtue of love), without which no social progress can be made.

As well as commending and encouraging the above-named attributes, the Baha'i scriptures also condemn their opposites, such actions as lying, hypocrisy, pride, envy, malice, and greed. Not only must human actions be good, motives and intentions must also be pure. For example, a charitable act can be negated if the intention is to make oneself look good. Baha'u'llah reserved some of his strongest words of condemnation for backbiting, which he taught quenched the light of the heart and extinguished the life of the soul, hurting the person who said it, the person who heard it, and the person about whom it was said.

 

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