Thinking of selflessness in terms of material things is an immature way to view life, but it was the way I saw it in childhood training. Such an abstract thought really is easier to grasp in physical ways, perhaps. However, maturity should bring with it the ability to understand abstract ideas. The core of religion is very abstract, spirit being expressed as virtues that in turn are expressed as righteous acts.
The Bahá'í Faith has as its primary teaching that there is only one God, the source of one religion revealed in progressive chapters, to a humanity each of whom is a child of that God. Further, those children have a dual nature, immortal spirit associated for a time with a mortal physical body. That creation is evolving and growing in understanding and abilities.
Bahá'ís believe that this latest revelation in that ongoing guidance from God is to unify the planet and achieve what has been promised in the past. Virtuous behavior will be required. Mankind, as usual, is expected to make the changes that will build a peaceful and prosperous world. And Bahá'ís are endeavoring to do just that, little by little, day by day, each in her or his own self.
Selflessness is one of those virtues that seems obvious and relatively easy--until I'm asked to make a sacrifice. And then I have difficulty figuring out how to forget personal wants and needs, let alone, desires. It turns out that giving away some money or used clothing is very much easier than giving up a particular prejudice towards erratic drivers or noisy neighbors!
Bahá'u'lláh, Prophet/Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, instructed His followers:
"Do not busy yourselves in your own concerns; let your thoughts be fixed upon that which will rehabilitate the fortunes of mankind and sanctify the hearts and souls of men. This can best be achieved through pure and holy deeds, through a virtuous life and goodly behaviour." - Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 86His son, and appointed interpreter, explained the specific instruction to be forgetful of self in this way: "With reference to what is meant by a individual becoming entirely forgetful of self: the intent is that he should rise up and sacrifice himself in the true sense, that is, he should obliterate the promptings of the human conditions, and rid himself of such characteristics as are worthy of blame and constitute the gloomy darkness of this life on earth--not that he should allow his physical health to deteriorate and his body to become infirm." - Selected Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p.180
"Regarding the statement…that man must renounce his own self, the meaning is that he must renounce his inordinate desires, his selfish purposes and the promptings of his human self, and seek out the holy breathings of the spirit, and follow the yearnings of his higher self, and immerse himself in the sea of sacrifice, with his heart fixed upon the beauty of the All-Glorious." - Selected Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 207
So it would appear that fussing about giving up money or material goods, for instance, are perhaps misplaced. I should be giving up some old habits and comfortable prejudices, polishing the mirror of my character. If my attitudes change, so will my behavior, which will affect my ability to let go of some 'things' in my life, as well. As a Bahá'í, I believe this to be the road to world peace.
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