How to Find and Follow the Straight Path to a Virtuous Life

Every morning, I’m greeted with an emailed “Quote of the Day” from World Unity Media — a good way to get my spiritual caffeine with a jolt of divine inspiration from the Baha’i writings. 

Today, the quote came from Baha’u’llah’s mystical book The Hidden Words

O Children of Dust! Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues.

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When I read this beautiful passage, I was struck by the equivalence between the phrases “attributes of Mine” and “My virtues.” If my reading is correct, it allows for this understanding: “well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues,” to be understood as “well is it with him that adorneth himself with” … “attributes of Mine.” 

This apparent equivalence between God’s attributes and God’s virtues — which Baha’u’llah encouraged us to adorn ourselves with — piqued my interest. So I consulted the original text of this Persian Hidden Word, the first part of which was originally revealed in Persian, and the last part in Arabic. (You can hear this Hidden Word beautifully and clearly chanted online.)

Here, the Arabic term for “attributes” and “virtues” is one and the same: “خصال” (khaāl), a plural word, the singular form of which is “خصلة” (khula). These terms are related to the more common expressions in Babi and Baha’i terms — the “Names” (asmā’) and “Attributes” (ṣifāt) of God. The choice of “attributes” and “virtues” for the same word in Arabic in the original text of this Hidden Word is an enlightened translation by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith.

This functional equivalence between attributes and virtues has important implications for our spiritual growth and development.

This becomes more readily apparent when recognizing that certain “names” of God — as selected by the Bab to designate the days of the week, days of the month, months of the year, and the names of the years themselves in the Baha’i Calendar — can be exemplified as human virtues. 

Shoghi Effendi, in Principles of Baha’i Administration, had this to say about the Baha’i Calendar:

The Bab, the Primal Point of a new creation, brought humanity into a new division of time in a calendar of nineteen months. All through our past heritage the months of the years and the days of the week have borne the names of pagan feasts and Roman holidays. The Bab swept these ancient landmarks away, and replaced them by the Qualities of: Splendour, Glory, Beauty, Grandeur, Light, Mercy, Words, Perfection, Names, Might, Will, Knowledge, Power, Speech, Questions, Honour, Sovereignty, Dominion, and Loftiness. Meditating upon these sublime attributes, man is enabled to gaze beyond the curve of time, wherein the swing and change of planetary movements exists, to the eternal qualities that stabilize the soul. 

“Meditating upon these sublime attributes” is, therefore, one of the primary purposes of the Baha’i Calendar. 

These “eternal qualities that stabilize the soul” may be thought of as human virtues. Not only should we meditate on the attributes of God to the extent humanly possible, we can, and should, also manifest some of the attributes of God, to limited degrees, depending on the intersection and interplay of our knowledge, will, and actions. In London, in September 1911, Abdu’l-Baha is reported to have said:

To man, the Essence of God is incomprehensible, so also are the worlds beyond this, and their condition. It is given to man to obtain knowledge, to attain to great spiritual perfection, to discover hidden truths and to manifest even the attributes of God; but still man cannot comprehend the Essence of God. Where the ever-widening circle of man’s knowledge meets the spiritual world a Manifestation of God is sent to mirror forth His splendour.

Virtues are the adornment of human character. Easy to say, but hard to do! Where to begin? How do we acquire “these sublime attributes” and the “eternal qualities that stabilize the soul?”

Acquiring spiritual virtues begins with one special attribute, considered to be the foundation for all virtues — which, according to Abdu’l-Baha, is:

truthfulness, for truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the human world, and without it prosperity and salvation are unattainable to any soul in all the worlds of God. Whensoever this holy attribute becometh securely established in one’s being, the acquisition of all heavenly virtues will be realized.

How is this possible? By what means can “the acquisition of all heavenly virtues … be realized”? The key, according to Abdu’l-Baha, is found in truthfulness, that foundational virtue:

Truthfulness, uprightness and integrity are the attributes of the righteous and the hallmarks of the pure. Truthfulness is the goodliest of qualities as it comprehendeth all other virtues. A truthful person will be protected from all moral afflictions, will shrink from every evil deed, and be preserved from every wicked act, inasmuch as all vices and misdeeds are the very antithesis of truthfulness, and a truthful man will hold them all in utter abhorrence.

To acquire that foundational attribute, Baha’u’llah wrote that we can find the answer in a new dimension of what being truthful truly requires: 

O servants! Verily I say, he is to be accounted as truthful who hath beheld the straight Path. That Path is one, and God hath chosen and prepared it. It shineth as resplendent amongst all paths as the sun amongst the stars. Whosoever hath not attained it hath failed to apprehend the truth and hath gone astray. Such are the counsels of the incomparable, the peerless Lord. 

In this remarkable passage, Baha’u’llah adds a whole new dimension to truthfulness, defining it as far more than simply telling the truth. 

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Instead, truthfulness means recognizing the greater truth as well. In other words, Baha’u’llah’s expanded definition of being truthful is not only to tell the truth, but to see the truth. By virtue of this ability to perceive the truth of the “straight Path,” then each one of us discovers the secret to acquiring virtues. 

So to acquire virtues, first see the straight Path and then follow it, as Baha’u’llah prescribed:

… man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. … The straight path is the one which guideth man to the dayspring of perception and to the dawning-place of true understanding and leadeth him to that which will redound to glory, honor and greatness. 

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