Enriching our Recitation of
the Greatest Name
to this simple site whose twofold purpose is to make available the article, Enriching our Recitation of the Greatest Name, and provide an option to share the different approaches we use to make the recitation of the Greatest Name more meaningful.
The perspective offered here comes out of the collective thinking of a group of Bahá’í friends who were exploring the nature and application of meditation around the turn of the century. This particular article, modified and expanded now to a booklet, was published in the U.K. January 2002 Bahá’í Journal. Recently there has been some positive feedback about it, and so rather than just leaving it on file it is now being made generally available. It does not presume to be either authoritative or comprehensive. Ultimately, part of being Bahá’ís is about developing our own understandings, but sharing ideas can be valuable too.
This article has been approved for distribution by the Literature Review Panel of the National Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the UK, who included the comment from one of the reviewers that they, “found it to be inspiring, dignified and beautifully linked to the Writings in a simple, encouraging way. It will be a very supportive document for enriching one’s devotional time.”
Currently it is not available for download from this site but if you would like to do this, or have a printer friendly version, go to ‘Contact’ in the left tab. You are welcome to share links, files or printouts with anyone who you think they may be of benefit to.
There must be countless different approaches that we use to make this devotional practice more meaningful to us. Please share yours with others in the comments box at the bottom of the page. These will be added to ‘Other Approaches’ in the left tab.
This Worshipful Meditation
The Benefits of Repetition
Nominal Stages of Recitation
The Importance of Regular Recitation
Some Practical Considerations
The Faculty of Meditation
Improving our Concentration
Pausing the Momentum
This Worshipful Meditation
It hath been ordained that every believer in God, the Lord of Judgement, shall, each day, having washed his hands and then his face, seat himself and, turning unto God, repeat ‘Alláh-u-Abhá’ ninety five times. Such was the decree of the Maker of the Heavens when, with majesty and power, He established Himself upon the throne of His Names.[i]
With the words, ‘Let all experience the spiritual enrichment brought to their souls by this simple act of worshipful meditation’ the Universal House of Justice, in their letter of December 1999, universally applied the law of the Kitab-i-Aqdas relating to the daily recitation of ‘Alláh-u-Abhá[ii] ninety-five times. This sacred discipline which provides us with a regular opportunity to work on refining our relationship with God, bring ‘spiritual enrichment’ to our souls, and inspire our service to humanity, must surely be regarded as one of the great gifts of Bahá’u’lláh in this Dispensation.
Cause me to taste, O my Lord, the divine sweetness of Thy remembrance and praise. I swear by Thy might! Whosoever tasteth of its sweetness will rid himself of all attachment to the world and all that is therein, and will set his face towards Thee, cleansed from the remembrance of any one except Thee.[iii]
The term ‘meditation’ used by The House of Justice identifies this spiritual practice with similar ones used by the followers of all the major Faiths. In the Islamic world from which Bahá’u’lláh appeared, this practice was known as dhikr, and through the regular, repetitive use of sacred words, aspirants would seek to polish the mirror of their hearts from all obscuring dust and make them more receptive to God’s bounties. Dr. Wendi Momen throws interesting light on this practice in her book, ‘Meditation’:
A form of the practice of dhikr, which Sufis use to achieve this polish, can also be found in the Baha’i Writings. Indeed, the daily repetition of the Greatest Name…while sitting ‘turned to God’ can be seen in this light.[iv]
In English dhikr translates as ‘remembrance’, but it means more than just remembering, as is emphasised in the following quotation:
Inspire then my soul. O my God, with Thy wondrous remembrance, that I may glorify Thy name. Number me not with them who read Thy words and fail to find Thy hidden gift which, as decreed by Thee, is contained therein, and which quickeneth the souls of Thy creatures and the hearts of Thy servants.[v]
Though not the only meaning for the term ‘remembrance’ it is interesting to consider that this is one of the meanings, and that this form of devotional practice can be a source of great bounty to our souls. It is surely worthy of consideration that Bahá’u’lláh has given us the recitation of the Greatest Name to be part of our daily devotional activity.
The following analogy of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá provides a thought-provoking insight into the value of this repetitive form of practice:
Consider how a pure, well-polished mirror fully reflects the light of the sun, no matter how distant the sun may be. The more pure and sanctified the heart of man becomes, the nearer it draws to God, and the light of the Sun of Reality is revealed within it. This light sets hearts aglow with the fire of the love of God, opens in them the doors of knowledge and unseals the divine mysteries so that spiritual discoveries are made possible.[vi]
Each time we repeat ‘Alláh’u’Abhá we are polishing the mirror of our hearts a little bit more.
The Benefits of Repetition
Some thoughts are useless to man; they are like waves moving in the sea without result.[vii]
Taking forward the analogy of the mirror and the sun, if we think of a lake it is in some ways like a mirror, and when the water is still it can reflect the image of the sky and the scenery around its edge. Also within it beautiful fishes and plants can live. If we think of our soul as being like this lake, it too has the capacity to receive and reflect understanding, so long as it is not disturbed by ‘thought waves’, and potentially contains beautiful qualities and capacities such as compassion and insight.
If we wanted to see what was in a lake we wouldn’t get a stick and poke around in it, for that would create waves and stir up sediment that would obscure our vision, but that is what we tend to do when we want to look into and connect with our ‘inner self’. The waves and sediment represent our stirred up thoughts and emotions, and the stick is our effort to be in control of the situation and analyse, which only makes matters worse. If we can learn just to hold the stick of our mind’s nature still for long enough, just be an observer, the thought ‘waves’ and emotions will settle down and we will be more likely to become enthralled by the spiritual world within.
Unfortunately, in a meditative setting we cannot usually focus our attention for more than a very short period before thoughts and feelings from the world within us or sounds and sensations from the world around us intrude into our consciousness. Devotional practices that use some form of repetition can help by teaching us to become more still within, and to develop our focus by just concentrating repeatedly for a few seconds at a time. Holding the stick still, for even a short while, over and over again, allows the ‘disturbance in the lake’ to settle.
Having tried it we know that even this is not easy, but there are some things we could consider that will help.
Nominal Stages of Recitation
O SON OF SPIRIT! My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart…[viii]
Based on this counsel, that we should posses a ‘pure, kindly and radiant heart’, a period of recitation could be seen as a three-stage process:
These are offered only as nominal stages. Sometimes we will find it natural to worship with heartfelt spontaneity and the following thoughts will seem irrelevant, but at other times we may feel disconnected, or lose our focus easily, and it may be valuable having a structure to help us.
Underpinning a devotional process, such as the one offered here, is the ability to focus our attention; otherwise our thoughts will drift, our hearts be less attuned, insights may not develop, and any potential outcomes may be less fruitful.
About this ability to focus ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote:
One cannot obtain the full force of the sunlight when it is cast on a flat mirror, but once the sun shineth upon a concave mirror, or on a lens that is convex, all its heat will be concentrated on a single point, and that one point will burn the hottest. Thus is it necessary to focus one’s thinking on a single point so that it will become an effective force.[ix]
We could understand from this that if our devotions are to become an ‘effective force’ that bears greater fruit in our lives, we need to be able to focus our attention, ‘on a single point’.
One way to think of ‘purification’ is to see it as a process of clearing our minds and hearts of the clutter of thoughts and wants and intentions that normally fill them, so they can be unobstructed and receptive, like a ‘well-polished mirror‘. To be as one who will:
…rid himself of all attachment to the world and all that is therein, and will set his face towards Thee, cleansed from the remembrance of any one except Thee.[x]
If we are not careful our lives can tend to become something we live automatically, without being fully awake, which could include our devotional activities. The way we begin a period of recitation is at least as important as what we do next, because it is likely that we will be bringing to our practice the ongoing momentum of all our thoughts, emotions, activities and plans of the day. These will vary, so we won’t always be starting from the same place but, to make the rest of our practice more effective it will be helpful to find a way to settle our minds down that works for us, before we start. As Bahá’u’lláh wrote, to:
Forget all save Me and commune with My spirit.[xi]
Ablutions and turning to The Qiblih (The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, Bahji)
Bahá’u’lláh has prescribed some specific instructions to help prepare us for our recitation of the Greatest Name. These involve washing our hands and then face, sitting, and turning to God, (the Qiblih):
It hath been ordained that every believer in God, the Lord of Judgement, shall, each day, having washed his hands and then his face, seat himself and, turning unto God, repeat ‘Alláh-u-Abhá’ ninety five times.[xii]
The following example offers one possibility for how these could be performed in a more ‘effective’ way – a more focused way.
If we perform our ablutions mindfully they will focus our thoughts away from the momentum of our everyday thinking. One way to do this would be to let our attention attentively be with the physical watery sensations of washing away our ‘attachment to the world’, and then to those of using the towel to dry ourselves.
If we are moving to another room to perform our devotions, one way not to lose our sense of being in the present moment could be to focus our attention on the physical sensations of our feet connecting with the ground as we walk, or cultivate the feeling that we are actually making a pilgrimage to the Qiblih, which in a sense we are.
Though the initial focus here is on physical sensations of the outer world, these do provide a tangible ‘single point’ on which to ‘focus’ our mind, which will help settle its tendency to wander, in preparation for focusing toward the inner world.
Turning to The Qiblih
It will not always be possible because of circumstances, but when these do permit we could surely benefit greatly from spending a little time considering the implications of facing the Qiblih, and use our intuition to find different ways to enrich our sense of connection with it.
Bahá’u’lláh has indicated that we should be seated for this devotion. Closing our eyes, we could become aware of, and focus our attention on, the physical sensations connecting us with what we are sitting on, be it a chair or the floor; how this is connected through the floor to the ground below; how, around many horizons, this ground is actually connected with the very ground where the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh sits: How, through being aware of this, we are physically connected to that sacred threshold.
We could then focus our attention inwards towards our heart, the ‘home’[xiii] of God within us, and get a sense of whatever feeling is there at that moment. Whether it is a feeling of yearning, or feelings of remoteness from or closeness to God, or just a vague feeling, is not what matters here so much as that these feelings connect us with our inner self, confirm that we are alive and that within us is the spirit which sustains all life. They could be compared to the light of the sun: No matter how dimly we may experience its light, and through whatever clouds it has to shine to reach us, the fact that we experience it at all confirms the sun is there. Likewise, however commonplace we may consider our feelings, longings, our desires, to be, they are in a sense the dim light of what ‘Abdu’l-Baha often referred to as the ‘spiritual feelings’[xiv] that shine through the clouds of ‘desire’ and ‘self’ and connect us to the Sun of Reality. As Bahá’u’lláh indicates in this prayer:
Grant that the eyes of Thy people may be lifted up to such heights that they will discern in their desires naught except the stirring of the gentle winds of Thine eternal glory, and may recognize in their own selves nothing but the revelation of Thine own merciful Self,…[xv]
The intention is that as we turn to and open our hearts to the Qiblih, any preparation such as this will make us more aware that we are actually physically and spiritually connected with it, and provide a meaningful, heartfelt foundation for our practice.
Such somewhat elaborate preparation will perhaps not always be practicable, but giving some thought occasionally to something we will be performing regularly, and developing our own approach and understandings, must be of benefit: And whatever we practice we will become quicker and better at.
Other factors, more relevant on a daily basis, once we have performed our ablutions, could be:
Rather than moving without thinking from our normal day mode into our recitation, we could bring ourselves into the present moment by briefly pausing to ask ourselves what the reason is that we are choosing to practise now: Not only because Bahá’u’lláh has asked us to, or finding other logical reasons why we should, but letting a truthful, heartfelt reason arise. Perhaps because we have felt remote or stressed and need to feel connected or calm; perhaps because all is well and we want to express gratitude. Whatever this heartfelt reason, be it humility, longing, devotion, gratefulness or the like, the act of identifying it brings us into the here and now, enhances our motivation, and prevents our practice becoming an unconscious ritual. Essentially, it also makes each recitation a genuine expression of our heart:
Let not thy tongue pay lip service in praise of God while thy heart be not attuned…[xvi]
Also, during our practice, when we become aware that our mind has drifted, remembering this heartfelt affirmation can be a useful tool for helping us to ‘tune in’ to meaningful recitation again.
Over time we notice how the more intense a sensation, thought or feeling is, the easier it is to stay focused on it. This is why finding a genuine heart-felt reason for why we are practising, to act as our focus, can be so helpful.
Having recognised the importance of recitation, and having increased our motivation, next we resolve to let go of everything else and wholeheartedly dedicate this short period for the ‘enrichment’ of our souls:
Give thy best attention to the remembrance of God, that thy heart may at all times be animated with His Spirit…[xvii]
Kindle in thy heart the fire of the love of God to such an extent that any one who approaches thee will feel its warmth…[xviii]
Now, having committed ourselves, we begin our recitation of Alláh’u’Abhá and enter what is presented here as the second stage of our devotional process – enkindlement.
If we wanted to light a fire we could put a match to some sticks of wood, and then to help them burn we might need to kindle them by blowing on them. We wouldn’t just blow once; we keep blowing until the wood has caught fire. In one sense this is what we do when we recite the Greatest Name: We are kindling our hearts. Each invocation kindles our hearts a little more; enkindles the woodenness. Eventually our hearts take on the quality of the fire of God’s love and become increasingly radiant. Perhaps our hearts require quite a bit of kindling for Bahá’u’lláh has prescribed that we kindle them 95 times; not just the odd few puffs.
Attuning is the concept The Báb used to describe this process and He provides us with a clear understanding of what should be going on here:
Let not thy tongue pay lip service in praise of God while thy heart be not attuned to the exalted Summit of Glory, and the Focal Point of communion.[xix]
We can understand from these words that this devotional practice is about more than inwardly or outwardly reciting the words, or drifting in and out of worldly thoughts. It is about engaging with a process that will help our hearts to become attuned to ‘the exalted Summit of Glory’ and ‘the Focal Point of communion’: Tuning them in from a condition of relative remoteness to one of greater closeness to heavenly assistance and grace; but however much we may long to feel connected with God’s love, cultivating an open, unconditional attitude, free from expectations and preconceptions, is the foundation of practice here. As The Báb wrote:
Worship thou God in such wise that if thy worship lead thee to the fire, no alteration in thine adoration would be produced, and so likewise if thy recompense should be paradise. Thus and thus alone should be the worship which befitteth the one True God…Although when true worship is offered, the worshipper is delivered from the fire, and entereth the paradise of God’s good-pleasure, yet such should not be the motive of his act. ‘However…’
He continues in the same passage:
God’s favour and grace ever flow in accordance with the exigencies of His inscrutable wisdom. The more detached and the purer the prayer, the more acceptable is it in the presence of God. [xx]
Something well worth bearing in mind when considering any of the thoughts or suggestions presented in this essay.
Refining our Attitude
Prayer need not be in words, but rather in thought and attitude.[xxi]
One of the advantages of this repetitive form of devotional activity is that it helps us to become tuned into God a little bit at a time, as with the analogy of holding still the stick in the lake; it will help to settle the ripples of thoughts and sediment of worldly desires. Attuning, as The Báb describes this process, suggests making adjustments to our attitude. Not just repeating words, but refashioning, reconfiguring the attitude of our soul; becoming more humble, more open and receptive, more aware of our dependence on God, more grateful, more ‘kindly’. As with so many revealed prayers, humility is often a very appropriate starting point:
Humble thyself before Me that I may graciously visit thee.[xxii]
A helpful attitude would also include faith; trusting that beyond the clouds of our mundane consciousness the Sun of Reality is always there, but we cannot expect or demand that its rays reach us. However, if we can focus patiently on just one heartfelt invocation at a time, affirming our longing for and need of God’s help, that indeed ‘God is Most-Glorious’ and the only Source of our deliverance, then gradually the prevailing clouds of self and desire will become thinner and the ever-present Sun of Reality will break through. Once we feel the sun emerging through the clouds of self and its golden rays falling upon us, we open like flowers to them, and fall in love with their warmth. The more we fall in love with the Source of comfort and strength that we experience, the more we become enraptured and embraced by it. As Bahá’u’lláh affirmed:
My love is in thee, know it, that thou mayest find Me near unto thee.[xxiii]
It is likely, as our recitation moves on, that whatever heartfelt feelings we started off with will evolve naturally as we become more ‘attuned’: For instance, humility or yearning may evolve through gratefulness to become feelings of praise. Bahá’u’lláh, quoting wondrous words from the Qur’an, refers to this evolving devotional process:
A servant is drawn unto Me in prayer until I answer him; and when I have answered him, I become the ear wherewith he heareth…. For thus the Master of the house hath appeared within His home, and all the pillars of the dwelling are ashine with His light.[xxiv]
At times it may be natural for us to wholeheartedly recite the Greatest Name; on other occasions we may a struggle to make it feel real. Even though we can be aware that this form of practice is a source of great blessing, it would be unrealistic to expect always to have sufficient focus to perform it without drifting off into thought or becoming distracted in some way. When we fall short, even repeatedly, it would be more helpful to acknowledge that this is how we are at the moment, learners trying to grow spiritually, and it should be a positive, nourishing experience. So when we lose our focus we should avoid getting frustrated, which is completely counterproductive. It would be like thrashing the lake with our stick in the analogy; everything would just become agitated. Shoghi Effendi wrote:
We must not only be patient with others, infinitely patient!, but also with our own poor selves…[xxv]
When we do lose our focus, an approach such as the following can be very helpful:
- notice what has distracted us,
- focus on it briefly and identify it (e.g. noise, worry, memory, daydream),
- then, without any frustration whatever about having become distracted again,
- let it go and return to our heartfelt recitation of the Greatest Name.
If we are able to recite ‘Alláh’u’Abhá mindfully, with feeling, just some of the time, that is a positive start. This sort of practice, as well helping us learn humility, and open our hearts to God’s love, can improve our concentration and ability to focus, and make our minds and hearts more open and receptive to insights and intuitions.
Transforming our established patterns of thinking, feeling, our attitudes and responses, can be a challenge but what we enjoy practicing we will get better at and, if we practice regularly, we will notice the difference.
Therefore strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers.[xxvi]
Having completed our period of recitation, how we respond to life, how we interact with it in a more ‘kindly’ and ‘radiant’ way, is the nominal third stage of this devotional process.
Though sometimes we may feel the need to pray and meditate to find personal calmness or clarity, if these and other spiritual qualities are to become an established part of us they need to be put into practice in our daily lives. The extent to which we could further this aim following a period of recitation could be infinitely varied and will depend upon our circumstances. Each time we practise provides an opportunity to evolve our own ways of fostering this.
Sometimes the recitation of the Greatest Name may be performed along with our prayers and study of The Writings, which it will enhance, or we may use it to focus our minds and hearts prior to some project or activity. At other times we may perform it by itself and, as we will to some extent have entered a meditative state, it would seem appropriate to draw upon this heightened sensitivity and awareness to give some thought to how we could advance our contribution to life in some way. Rather than just completing our recitation and getting on with life, we could at least, from that sacred spot, remember our loved ones, and others, and to each let a wish of loving-kindness go out from our heart; or we could briefly ponder the day ahead and the people we will meet, and envisage in what ways we could respond to life in a more kindly and appropriate way.
These are just some ways the illumination of our hearts and minds can bring tangible benefits both to ourselves and others.
The Importance of Regular Practice
Endeavour thou day by day to increase thy yearning and attraction, so that the attitude of supplication and prayer may be realized more often.[xxvii]
Though how we each in our own way learn to make our recitation of the Greatest Name more meaningful is vitally important, for our souls to be transformed it is essential that we practice regularly.
All our lives we have been consciously and unconsciously practising both the positive and negative attitudes, moods and responses that have become part of us; the ‘habits of thought’, and ‘tendencies’ the House of Justice referred to in their December 2010 letter: What we practise we get better at, whether it is of benefit to us or not.
We have all spent time learning to do complex things like writing or playing an instrument, and while doing these things initially took an effort eventually, with practice, they become natural to us. Making our practice effective, rather than an unconscious ritual, is therefore very important, otherwise we are just programming ourselves with an unhelpful frame of mind, but it is also essential that we practise regularly to nurture the new qualities we would like to see in ourselves. On this subject Shoghi Effendi was clear:
The friends must observe the specific times for the remembrance of God, meditation, devotion and prayer, as it is highly unlikely, nay impossible, for any enterprise to prosper and develop when deprived of divine bestowals and confirmation. One can hardly imagine what a great influence genuine love, truthfulness and purity of motives exert on the souls of men. But these traits cannot be acquired by any believer unless he makes a daily effort to gain them.[xxviii]
Reveal then Thyself,…that the holy ecstasy of prayer may fill our souls – a prayer that shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds…[xxix]
The recitation of the Greatest Name provides us with a regular opportunity to rise ‘above words and letters’, to work on refining our relationship with God, to bring ‘spiritual enrichment to our souls’, and to the souls of others too through our service to humanity. Describing the nature and purpose of worship the House of Justice wrote:
Prayer is the essential spiritual conversation of the soul with its Maker, direct and without intermediation. It is the spiritual food that sustains the life of the spirit. Like the morning’s dew, it brings freshness to the heart and cleanses it, purifying it from attachments of the insistent self. It is a fire that burns away the veils and a light that leads to the ocean of reunion with the Almighty. On its wings does the soul soar in the heavens of God and draw closer to the divine reality. Upon its quality depends the development of the limitless capacities of the soul and the attraction of the bounties of God, but the prolongation of prayer is not desirable. The powers latent in prayer are manifested when it is motivated by the love of God, beyond any fear or favour, and free from ostentation and superstition. It is to be expressed with a sincere and pure heart conducive to contemplation and meditation so that the rational faculty can be illumined by its effects. Such prayer will transcend the limitation of words and go well beyond mere sounds. The sweetness of its melodies must gladden and uplift the heart and reinforce the penetrating power of the Word, transmuting earthly inclinations into heavenly attributes and inspiring selfless service to humankind.[xxx]
We are all learners and what has been described here is one limited point of view. Ultimately, rather than following a predetermined prescription for how we might recite ‘Alláh’u’Abhá, we could learn to let ourselves become more awake and open to being creatively inspired with how we might become more deeply attuned to the Divine, with ‘this simple act of worshipful meditation’.
We begin by mindfully washing our hands and then face, and sitting down facing in the direction of The Qiblih.
To help us, ‘Forget all save Me’, and give our ‘best attention to the remembrance of God’, ‘it is necessary to focus one’s thinking on a single point so that it will become an effective force’.
Finding a genuine, heartfelt reason for why we are performing this devotional activity provides just such a ‘single point’: It helps keep us in the here and now and ensures that we follow The Báb’s teaching, ‘Let not thy tongue pay lip service in praise of God while thy heart be not attuned,..’
That our attitude correspond to the bidding, ‘Humble thyself before Me that I may graciously visit thee’, would be a most appropriate starting point, but our attitude should also be open and free from expectations for, ‘Although when true worship is offered, the worshipper is delivered from the fire, and entereth the paradise of God’s good-pleasure, yet such should not be the motive of his act.’
If we can focus patiently on just one heartfelt invocation at a time, repeatedly affirming our longing for and need of God’s help, that indeed, ‘God is Most-Glorious’ – and the only Source of our deliverance, then gradually the prevailing clouds of self and desire will become thinner, and the ever-present Sun of Reality will break through: ‘For thus the Master of the house hath appeared within His home, and all the pillars of the dwelling are ashine with His light.’
When we lose our focus we should accept that we are learners and keep going without frustration, for ‘We must not only be patient with others, infinitely patient!, but also with our own poor selves…’ and if we feel that overall our practice is not progressing, ‘Endeavour thou day by day to increase thy yearning and attraction, so that the attitude of supplication and prayer may be realized more often.’
Rather than just completing our recitation and getting on with life, we could briefly ponder the day ahead and envisage in what ways we could add to the day; in what ways we could be more kindly in our relationships with others.
Beyond whatever ideas are suggested here it is important to remember that, ‘God’s favour and grace ever flow in accordance with the exigencies of His inscrutable wisdom…’ not according to whatever efforts we make and understandings we may think we have, ‘The more detached and the purer the prayer, the more acceptable is it in the presence of God.’
Some Practical Considerations
Where to Practise: ‘Blessed is the spot’
Though it is not always possible, having a special place that we regularly use for our obligatory devotions can be helpful, for sub-consciously our soul associates it with states of communion. It is not essential but we might like to have a picture of the Greatest Name hung in the direction of the Qiblih, light a candle, or use our imagination in any way that makes that ‘spot’ special to us. Try to ensure this special spot is private, quiet, and free from distractions.
Ablutions and facing the Qiblih
Guidance regarding the performing of ablutions is to be found in The Kitáb-i-Aqdas which has a comprehensive index. In brief these are that we wash the hands and then the face before saying obligatory prayers and the repetition of the Greatest Name, which should be done as a separate act even if we have just bathed. Warm water can be used in cold conditions. If water is not available or is harmful to the skin, the following verse can be repeated 5 times instead: ‘In the Name of God, the Most Pure, the Most Pure’.[xxxi]
Bahá’u’lláh has indicated that we should be seated on a chair or cross-legged on the floor for the repetition of the Greatest Name. In either case it will aid our attentiveness if we are sitting comfortably upright, rather than being slumped.
The direction we face is towards the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh located in Bahjí near Acre, Israel. It contains the remains of Bahá’u’lláh and is near the spot where he died in the Mansion of Bahjí.
Counting to 95
One easy way to keep count is to use a string of 95 beads, and run one through your fingers for each invocation. The speed at which we perform this recitation is not as important as that we recite with heartfelt sincerity. Some friends find the cyclical intonations of chanting helpful. Others may follow the rhythm of the breath – opening the heart on the in-breath, breathing out each ‘Alláh’u’Abhá with feeling, either silently or audibly.
With our devotional activities, as with other things, we need to be motivated, otherwise our good intentions will come to nothing. When we are endeavouring to pray or meditate, if our desire to be doing something else is greater than our desire to practise our devotions, our efforts will be hindered. Finding a regular time that will fit in well with our often busy schedules will be helpful, and in time, feeding our soul will become as natural as feeding our body.
A tendency to drowsiness when practising suggests the time of day we have chosen may be wrong for us. Perhaps we could use a less comfortable chair, and ensure we are sitting upright. We could also practise with our eyes open, focused on something appropriate, and repeat The Greatest Name out loud, rather than inwardly. We could also ask ourselves whether the drowsiness indicates a resistance to practise, but not become overly self-critical. If we focus on making the most of the time we are alert, we will improve. A practical consideration is that many people find that it’s not useful to try and meditate soon after a large meal as that may make it easier to feel drowsy.
A decision to initiate regular practise will involve altering our established routine and we can expect to meet opposition from that part of us that resists change. Becoming aware of subtle thoughts that seek to discourage us from practising will be part of our regular learning but, rather than having an inner battle with them, it is preferable to dedicate ourselves positively to practice. As Baha’u’llah wrote:
We cherish the hope that through the loving kindness of the All Wise obscuring dust will be dispelled and the power of perception be enhanced.[xxxii]
The Faculty of Meditation
There are many different perspectives about what meditation is. It might be associated with mindfulness, relaxation, healing, achieving insight and spiritual states of consciousness, to name a few. The following extracts from a talk by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá provide a unifying perspective. Rather than focusing on the practices or outcomes, He describes a special capacity we all have which He calls ‘the faculty of meditation’. By engaging with it we can achieve all of the above and more. He indicates that it is not an end in itself and that by it we can bear fruit in many ways. To some extent we will have entered such a meditative state during our practice of recitation.
Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit — the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation.
The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food.
Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves.
This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.
This faculty brings forth from the invisible plane the sciences and arts. Through the meditative faculty inventions are made possible, colossal undertakings are carried out; through it governments can run smoothly. Through this faculty man enters into the very Kingdom of God.[xxxiii]
Improving our Concentration
If we are experiencing great difficulty in keeping focused during our devotions, the following exercise is a useful way to prove to ourselves that we can improve our concentration.
Bearing in mind other factors such as choosing an appropriate time, being in a quiet place and sitting appropriately:
Begin by focusing your attention on the sensations of breathing.
Focus attention wherever it suits you, e.g. at the level of the heart or abdomen.
With each breath experience attentively the feelings of expansion and relaxation.
With each breath allow your attention to become absorbed in these sensations.
But in addition:
After each out-breath, count the breath:
Breathe in… and out, count one to yourself; breathe in… and out, count two to yourself;….
up to the 9th breath, then start again.
(If there is difficulty getting to 9, choose a lower number)
Give most of your attention to experiencing the breath rather than to the counting.
Improvise as necessary to suit yourself.
Practise this for a few minutes, or only as long as you can do it well – the point is to develop good habits, not poor ones.
Try this once a day for a while and you will notice that your ability to keep in touch with counting will have improved and, if you choose to, you may even be able to count to a higher number before losing focus.
This sort of exercise is comparable to sportsmen practising running or weight lifting: They may not be practising their chosen sport, but they will have more stamina or strength when they do. Likewise, if we are struggling to remain focused whilst reciting Alláh’u’Abhá, this breathing exercise can improve our ability to concentrate.
Pausing the Momentum
This is another valuable exercise. It can be a very helpful way to free ourselves from the momentum of all the thoughts and emotions that may be driving us, and help us to be more awake in the present moment.
Perhaps try using it before the short obligatory prayer, and see if it makes a difference; or at any time when facing what feels to us like a challenge.
1) Pause your daily activity for a short while – around a minute.
Acknowledge to yourself that it is okay to do this
Pause the momentum of the thinking that is driving your current activity – must be doing this, worrying about that, etc…
If any thoughts comes up accept they are there in a kindly way,
but acknowledge to yourself that it is okay to pause this thinking just for now.
2) Focus on experiencing the sensations of breathing – perhaps for 10 breaths.
This is the important part – to let the sensations of breathing help liberate us from whatever thinking is driving us.
3) Appreciate feeling relaxed.
Feel grateful for being alive in the moment.
Choose to move more calmly back into activity.
Cultivate a kindly attitude towards yourself. Every time we ‘pause’ is a success, and with practice we improve.
Prayer, Meditation and the Devotional Attitude, UHJ compilation no. 11. Meditation, Wendi Momen. George Ronald.
Unlocking the Gate of the Heart, Lasse Thoresen. George Ronald, 1998. In particular p. 149 et seq.
CALM Handbook and Coordinator’s Guide, Paul Profaska. George Ronald
[i] Bahá’u’lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas, v. 18
[ii] The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 742 – The Greatest Name – The name Bahá’u’lláh (The Glory of God) and its derivatives, such as ‘Alláh’u’Abhá (God is Most Glorious).
[iii] Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations, p.82
[iv] Wendi Momen, Meditation, p. 28
[v] Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations, p.83
[vi] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 147
[vii] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 175
[viii] Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Words, no. 1
[ix] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections, p. 111
[x] Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations, p.83
[xi] Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Words, no. 16
[xii] Bahá’u’lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas, v. 18
[xiii] Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Words, no. 59 – ‘Thy heart is My home’
[xiv] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets, vol. 2, p.243 – ‘Thanksgiving for the bounty of the Merciful One consists in the illumination of the heart and the feeling of the soul…for the foundation is spiritual feelings and merciful sentiments’
[xv] Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations, p. 324
[xvi] The Báb, Selections, p.93
[xvii] The Báb, Selections, p.93
[xviii] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets, vol. 1, p. 113
[xix] The Báb, Selections, p.93
[xx] The Báb, Selections, p.77
[xxi] The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 11, p. 236
[xxii] Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Words, no. 42
[xxiii] Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Words, no. 10
[xxiv] Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, p. 22, (quoting Qur’án, 83:28)
[xxv] Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 456
[xxvi] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 80
[xxvii] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets, vol. 3, p.522
[xxviii] Shoghi Effendi, Universal House of Justice Messages 1963 – 86, p. 436
[xxix] ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Bahá’í prayers, Broadwater Press, 1975 Edition, p. 104
[xxx] The Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 18th December 2014
[xxxi] Bahá’u’lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas, p.23
[xxxii] Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets, p. 35
[xxxiii] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 174