Detachment

Whereas riches may become a mighty barrier between man and God, and rich people are often in great danger of attachment, yet people with small worldly possessions can also become attached to material things. The following Persian story of a king and a dervish illustrates this. Once there was a king who had many spiritual qualities and whose deeds were based on justice and loving-kindness. He often envied the dervish who had renounced the world and appeared to be free from the cares of this material life, for he roamed the country, slept in any place when night fell and chanted the praises of his Lord during the day. He lived in poverty, yet thought he owned the whole world. His only possessions were his clothes and a basket in which he carried the food donated by his well-wishers. The king was attracted to this way of life. Once he invited a well-known dervish to his palace, sat at his feet and begged him for some lessons about detachment. The dervish was delighted with the invitation. He stayed a few days in the palace and whenever the king was free preached the virtues of a mendicant’s life to him. At last the king was converted. One day, dressed in the garb of a poor man, he left his palace in the company of the dervish. They had walked together some distance when the dervish realized that he had left his basket behind in the palace. This disturbed him greatly and, informing the king that he could not go without his basket, he begged permission to return for it. But the king admonished him, saying that he himself had left behind his palaces, his wealth and power, whereas the dervish, who had preached for a lifetime the virtues of detachment, had at last been tested and was found to be attached to this world—his small basket.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 1, p. 76-77)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the true Exemplar of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, demonstrated this form of detachment by His actions. He never in the course of His life wished to exalt His name, nor did He seek publicity for Himself. For instance, He had an immense dislike of being photographed. He said, ‘...to have a picture of oneself is to emphasize the personality...’. During the first few days of His visit to London, He refused to be photographed. However, as a result of much pressure by the newspaper reporters, and persistent pleas by the friends to be allowed to take His photograph, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá acquiesced in order to make them happy.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 25-26)


The master Nan-in had a visitor who came to inquire about Zen. But instead of listening he kept talking about his own ideas. After a while, Nan-in served tea. He poured tea into the visitor’s cup until it was full, then he kept on pouring. Finally the visitor could not restrain himself. “Don’t you see that it is full?” he said. “You can’t get any more in!” “Just so,” replied Nan-in, stopping at last. “And like this cup, you are filled with your own ideas. How can you expect me to give you Zen unless you offer me an empty cup?”
(Zen Buddhism: An Introduction to Zen with Stories, 1959)


Whilst her beloved husband was in prison, Navvab, the wife of Bahá’u’lláh, a pearl, a flower amongst women, was pregnant and alone with their three children, most of their servants ran away, it was too dangerous to stay in their home. Gathering up her marriage treasures Navvab took the children and fled. They lived in fear, it seemed the whole city was baying for Bahá’u’lláh’s blood. Each day they heard that one of the Bab‘is had been put to death, the streets rang with the sound of a beating drum, crowds jeering and cursing in the public square as another Bábí was martyred. They clung together, begging God that it was not Bahá’u’lláh. A great mob of men had burst into the house and plundered all their possessions. Their enemies clamoured for a death sentence for her Husband, but through all their hysterical demands one thing became clear. Bahá’u’lláh had had nothing to do with the attempt on the life of the King. After four months the authorities could prove no guilt, they had to release Him. “The condition of your release? Exile!” Having little else, Navab sold most of her precious wedding treasures, her jewels and embroidered garments to provide for the journey, they had barely enough to survive.
(Ruhi Book 4)


Jinab-i-Haji Amin was a shining star who served the Cause as the Trustee of Huququ’lláh for forty-seven years with eagerness and zeal, showing magnanimity, courage and incredible steadfastness. During the Ministry of Bahá’u’lláh he was imprisoned twice, by order of Násiri‘d-Dín Sháh and his son Kamran Mirza. In the course of his second imprisonment, in the prison of Qazvin, referred to as Sijn-i-Matin (the Mighty Prison) by Bahá’u’lláh in the opening verses of the Tablet of the World, he was with the Hand of the Cause Jinab-i-Haji Akhund. Here, Jinab-i-Haji Amin suffered gravely, his legs in fetters and a chain around his neck. His jailers, in order to torment him, would add castor oil to his food. With manifest resignation and submission, he would neither complain nor refuse the food, eating as though nothing were amiss. He was a symbol of magnanimity and detachment. He had no worldly possessions, no home or shelter of his own. His habitation was in the hearts and souls of the Bahá’í friends who would receive and entertain him with warmth and love. Each one would impatiently await his arrival, to enjoy the sweet melody of his prayers and chanting of the Tablets, and the glad-tidings and encouragement he would bring. Every day he would bid goodbye to one family to spend the night in another household, illumining another gathering with his presence. He was continually on the move, travelling to most Iranian cities and being the trusted adviser of many Bahá’í friends in their personal affairs.
(Universal House of Justice, 2002 Jul 30, Revised - Development of Institution of Huququ’llah, p. 2)


The exalted titles conferred upon Him by Bahá’u’lláh are indicative of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s lofty station. Yet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá never applied them to Himself. Instead, after the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh, He took the title of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Servant of Bahá) and urged the believers to call Him only by this name. True servitude at the threshold of Bahá’u’lláh was all He prized. These are some of His words as He describes with utter self-effacement the reality of His station: “My name is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. My qualification is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. My reality is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. My praise is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Thralldom to the Blessed Perfection is my glorious and refulgent diadem, and servitude to all the human race my perpetual religion... No name, no title, no mention, no commendation have I, nor will ever have, except ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. This is my longing. This is my greatest yearning. This is my eternal life. This is my everlasting glory.” (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 25-26)


Many a night, no less than ten persons subsisted on no more than a pennyworth of dates. No one knew to whom actually belonged the shoes, the cloaks, or the robes that were to be found in their houses. Whoever went to the bazaar could claim that the shoes upon his feet were his own, and each one who entered the presence of Bahá’u’lláh could affirm that the cloak and robe he then wore belonged to him. Their own names they had forgotten, their hearts were emptied of aught else except adoration for their Beloved... O, for the joy of those days, and the gladness and wonder of those hours!
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 214 -216)


He then related a story about detachment: the Persian friends travel mostly on foot. They sleep whenever they get tired. They rest whenever they see a shady tree. Once a person came to the Amir. The Amir wished to present him with a gift and with insistence he gave him a robe. Later, when he became tired, he laid down under a tree in the forest with the robe folded under his head. But he could not sleep as he repeatedly imagined that a thief was crouching nearby to take away the robe. At last he rose, threw the robe away and said: “As long as this robe is with me, I shall not find rest. To find rest, I must give it up.” How long will you desire a robe for your body? Release your body that you may have no need for a robe.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 206)


In Europe, on one occasion, remembering the desperate days in Tihran when Bahá’u’lláh was incarcerated, their home sacked and their properties confiscated, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá could yet say, ‘Detachment does not imply lack of means; it is marked by the freedom of the heart. In Tihran, we possessed everything at a nightfall, and on the morrow we were shorn of it all, to the extent that we had no food to eat. I was hungry, but there was no bread to be had. My mother poured some flour into the palm of my hand, and I ate that instead of bread. Yet, we were contented.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 164)


200 years ago in Persia, there were many with the same expectation, that the Qa‘im, the promised one, would soon appear. Amongst them lived Siyyid Kazim, wise man, teacher, spiritual divine, who studied the texts of the Holy books and taught his students. He told his students that at his death, they were to leave their homes, and with hearts free from earthly desires, spread out in quest of the Promised Beloved. But when he died, his students found it easier to have long discussions, and came up with countless excuses as to why they should not arise and seek, … except for one, Mulla Husayn, who took himself to a mosque, he prayed and fasted fervently for forty days, opening his heart to the inspiration of God, begging for guidance. Then, he set out on his quest. Walking along dusty roads for many months, sleeping on the hard ground or the stone floor of a caravansary he travelled he knew not where. Guided by God, he journeyed until he came to Shiraz, that fragrant city of roses. As he stood by the gate of that city, he was greeted by a young merchant in a green turban, who welcomed him warmly and invited him to refresh himself after his journey at His house. Deeply impressed by His gentle and compelling manor, Mullah Husain thought Him to be a student of Siyyid Kazim sent to greet him. His host sent for a water jug to wash the dust from his feet, and made him tea with his own hands. Over the course of that wonderful night they spoke together. The young merchant’s name was the Bab, meaning the Gate, and He claimed to be the gateway to a new era, and the Herald of a greater Messenger of God to come. The Bab unfolded mysteries so profound and glorious that, with the dawn of the new day, so it dawned in the heart of Mullah Housain that this was the Promised One, the Qa‘im, the one he sought. With a heart full of wonder and joy he arose and was the first to proclaim belief in Him.
(Ruhi Book 4)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá told a story about a Persian believer’s journeys and how he could not sleep at night while in the wilderness for fear of someone stealing his new shirt, a new gift from a prominent person. After several sleepless nights he decided to get rid of the shirt so he could relax.
(Rafati, Vahid, Sources of Persian Poetry in the Bahá’í Writings, Vol. lll, p. 80)


As an example of the methods of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s teaching: My father was having difficulty
understanding this matter of Detachment. Just what were we supposed to become detached from? We were taught not to become isolated and detached as were the monks in a monastery. It was also an obligation to work and support those dependent upon us. So where did detachment fit into this picture? One day Father asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about all this. They were walking up Broadway after a meeting and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made no answer. After walking a few blocks, Father repeated his question. Still no answer. They reached 76th Street, where the Kinneys lived and turned left to West End Avenue. As they mounted the outside steps, Father asked for the third time. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá reached the front door, opened it, and started up the inner stair to His room, Father pattering along after. They reached the second floor, and turned on up to the third, Father following doggedly. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá entered His room with Father close on His heels. And there the Master turned. “Mistair Ives,” He asked gently, “Are you interested in detachment?” Father, his face scarlet, was silent. He couldn’t say he was and he wouldn’t say he wasn’t.
(Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories: Stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 40)