Enjoying what the world offers

Recently I have been thinking about one’s attachment to the world, and what it is proper to enjoy, and when enjoyment leads to excess.

In the Bahá’í Writings, Bahá’u’lláh makes it clear that everything in heaven and earth has been created for us – except the heart. The quote from the Hidden Words is:

O Son of Dust! All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame.1

Does this mean that it is wrong for us to enjoy the good things of life? Certainly we know that asceticism is not allowed. But sometimes, if we take great pleasure in the material, it causes us a sense of guilt, like we were being forgetful or allowing ourselves to be carried away.

In the sayings of the Buddha, He says we should be like the lotus flower, which dwells in the middle of the pond without getting wet. Or that we should regard this life and its concerns as a wound, which we care for gingerly but without loving it.

This morning I thought of another analogy. Often when I am trying to understand the relationship between the believers and God, it helps to imagine a similar human relationship which serves as a symbol of the spiritual relationship. In this case I thought of two people who were enamored of each other.

The boy, having romantic intentions toward the girl (and believing there to be some reciprocity), buys her a fantastic gift. He goes to great lengths in order to purchase the finest gift he can, so that he can prove his interest to her.

The day comes, and he presents her with the gift. She of course is overwhelmed and flattered. She becomes so involved with the wonders of the gift, however, that she pays greater attention to it than she does to her suitor.

Ultimately the boy realizes that she has become fully absorbed in the gift, and now it is as if he did not exist for her anymore. Their time spent together is strained, because she is longing to return to the gift (perhaps it is a car, or something involving like that).

So the purpose of the gift was to improve the relationship, to draw her closer, and to give her something beautiful as a token of love. But the result of the gift was to drive her further away.

This is how I see our relationship with the good things of this world. God has given us the Gift of Life so that we might enjoy and appreciate it. After all, it was a gift of love: “I loved thy creation, hence I created thee”. The only tragedy is if we turn away from the Giver in order to turn toward the gift, since the gift was only meant to draw us nearer. But if received in the right spirit, I can imagine that it would only bring delight to the Giver for us to enjoy it, since the gift was one of love and not of self-interested motive.

  1. Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, p. 31↩︎